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The Eccles Hill site: A National Memorial in the MRC of Brome-Missisquoi
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By Laurent Busseau 12 February 2018

The Fenian Raids Memorial, a federal heritage site within the MRC of Brome-Missisquoi, has become the focal point of a tour offered to tourists by the Stanbridge-East Missisquoi Museum. Located on Eccles Hill Road and bordering the United States near Frelighsburg, this site was named in memory of two Irish invasions, entering from the United States into Canada in 1866 and again in 1870, a major event in the history of the Canadian Confederation.

On the first of July 1902, three decades after the Eccles Hill confrontation, Canada erected a commemorative monument dedicated to the local volunteers who repelled the Fenians. The Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier, in collaboration with the Missisquoi Historical Society, placed a granite monument exactly where the conflict took place. On its inaugural day, many spectators participating in the event, wore red scarves to honour the veterans present and for whom the picnic was organized. Bright red streamers were placed in the bushes all along the road to guide the more than a hundred guests towards Eccles Hill.

Brome-Misisquoi veteran soldiers from the Missisquoi 60th battalion proudly wore their new commemorative military medals engraved with the Fenian Raids of 1866–1870 inscription. In fact, after being forgotten for over thirty years, the Canadian authorities decided to decorate all veterans who participated in pushing back the Fenian invasion. Thanks to the incorporated registry constituted in 1866 and 1870, today we know the names and origins of all the local volunteers of the Canadian militia.

This belated recognition was political for Great Britain, since Canada had committed itself to the British Empire and its war in South Africa against the white farmers of Dutch origin, known as the Boers. This colonial conflict (1899–1902) divided English Canadians who supported the cause and a majority of French Canadians who were opposed to Canada’s involvement in this “Boers War,” asserting their refusal to engage in this campaign.

By distributing medals of courage to the local veterans, the government of the Dominion of Canada hoped to consolidate the symbolism of its military commitment to Great-Britain at the start of this 20th century. Furthermore, the Eccles Hill site is symbolic for the British Crown since, on May 30, 1870, just after the Irish raid on May 25, Prince Arthur, the youngest son of Queen Victoria, then a military officer stationed in Montreal, came in person to salute the Red Sashes and the Canadian militia’s Missisquoi 60th battalion.

The second commemoration was held on Sunday, July 26, 1959, with almost 3,000 Canadian and American spectators taking part in a full-scale reenactment of the Eccles Hill Battle. Taking advantage of the tercentenary anniversary of Quebec and the United States’ shared history of Lake Champlain, the Brome-Missisquoi and Brome historic societies, along with those of Vermont, organized this cross-border event to symbolize Canadian-American peace as well as the common history between the Eastern Townships and its neighbouring American states.

Thanks to a dance microphone, the host of the event was able to have all those present recall specific dates of Irish history (The great famine caused by a potato mildew, the immigration of 2 million people to North America). He also thanked the great-grandchildren of the only civilian victim of this local war, Margaret Vincent who was killed my mistake on June 10, 1866. About a hundred volunteer actors, some wearing red sashes, others in tunics and green caps, reenacted the events by firing more than 5,000 blank shots.

A historic symbol of our heritage, the barrel of a breech-loading cannon, taken from the Fenians by the Brome-Missisquoi veterans on May 25, 1870, is still exhibited at the memorial site. Since August 2009, a bilingual, illustrated plaque explains the events that occurred on this National Canadian historical site known as “The Battle of Eccles Hill.” The project completed by Historien sans Frontière in partnership with Parks Canada and the Missisquoi Historical Society, offers information about this episode of our past.

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Laurent Busseau

Historien consultant sous le label Historien sans Frontière, Laurent Busseau est diplômé d'un M.A en Histoire et d'un certificat en journalisme (Université de Montréal). Conférencier auprès des Belles Soirées de l'Université de Montréal et l'UTA de l'Université de Sherbrooke, il a publié « Les Féniens arrivent.. histoire illustrée des invasions irlandaises 1866-1870 » et « Alcool, crime et prostitution sur la frontière à Frelighsburg » en 2016.

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