It was the verge of Confederation, and people in what was then the Province of Canada were in fear of an imminent invasion.
For months, agitators in the United States had been inflaming the passions of thousands of displaced Irishmen who were angry at Britain. Fresh from fighting in the American Civil War, the battle-hardened veterans were eager to attack Britain’s North American possessions in a bid to regain autonomy for their homeland.
Sure enough, in early June, an army of Fenians, as they were known, crossed into Canada at the Niagara Peninsula. A hastily trained force of volunteer soldiers met them on the field in the Battle of Ridgeway.
The Irish-Americans easily overcame resistance, at first, but eventually retreated. Although little remembered, the event is seen by some historians as a turning point in Canadian history. It was the first the battle fought exclusively by Canadians, as opposed to British troops stationed in Canada.