Visiting the Scarborough Rifle Co. Mural: remembering 19th century Ontario history at 1577 Kingston Road, Scarborough
Marching militarily and politically towards Confederation
This fine memorial commemorating the Scarborough Rifle Company. Its artist was John Hood, and it dates from 1990.
The mural is situated at 1577 Kingston Road, Scarborough, Toronto, Ontario. The historical background to the events depicted in the mural was the threat of attack in the short-lived United Province of Canada from Fenians: Irish nationalists seeking to publicize the cause of their conflict against the British authorities in Ireland. Typically, the Fenians would organize south of the US border, beyond the reach of British forces, though not of British spies (1), and then attack a border area, relying considerably on the element of surprise. However, preparations were made to combat what was seen as the Fenian menace. In 1865 and 1866, the Scarborough Rifle Company, a militia raised in 1862, was sent on three occasions to fight the Fenians.
This large scale painting forms one of a series of murals prepared under the auspices of the Heritage Trail Mural series. The mural depicts the Company marching to martial music. The significance of the marching scene in this painting relates to a school building, situated near the intersection of Eglinton Avenue and Markham Road, in which the Company was formed in 1862.
The Scarborough Rifle Company was later absorbed into the Queen's York Rangers, an entity which recalls the former York County.
The war memorial situated in front of the mural remembers those who served in World Wars One and Two, and the Korean War.
It might be argued by a very few that the existence of a mural which remembers those who fought Fenian raiders in the historically pivotal years leading to Confederation is somehow disrespectful of those of Irish heritage, but there is no need whatsoever for this conclusion to be drawn. It is an undeniable fact that Sir John MacDonald and others sought to defend the United Province of Canada and the Maritime colonies from attacks, or the threat of attacks, by radical Irish nationalists and others. To accomplish this, a twin, military and political track was employed: one of these was to raise militias in armed defence, and another was to encourage the colonies to unite under the Crown in Confederation. In any case, even the most radical of contemporary Irish nationalists have in recent years proved willing to attend ceremonies of the Royal British Legion, similar to the Royal Canadian Legion (2), when the sacrifice of British troops is commemorated. Indeed, many early Upper Canadians traced their heritage to United Empire Loyalists, then in conflict with American Revolutionaries; unresolved issues during the late 18th century led to the War of 1812. Subsequently, the US - Canadian border emerged to be regarded as the most peaceful international border in the world. The aspiration for peace among former antagonists in the Irish conflict may be similarly entertained.
So whom does this work of art proclaim to have been 'right' in the conflict? Those of British and Canadian perspectives? the Irish nationalist? and what of the point of view of the American government, which, emerging from a devastating Civil War, was neither inclined to inconvenience itself in defence of British interests in Canada, not to incur British wrath to the extent of being drawn into armed conflict in opposition to those interests. Or is the real lesson the futility of all war? (3) Well, maybe such questions miss the point. Cross-border conflicts are rarely monochrome, and usually many-faceted in character. It was Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) who summed up conflicting, cross-border interests thus: 'Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error on the other side' (4). In any case, over decades and centuries, ideologies pass; but what remains are geography, memory and history. (Indeed, the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges famously said that history is what we wish to remember and wish to forget.)
(1) Peter Edwards of the Toronto Star has traced various of the covert measures employed by the British authorities before and after Confederation, 1867, in order to combat the Fenian threat, and the uneasy relationship between Sir John MacDonald and US President Andrew Johnson; see: Peter Edwards, Delusion, Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2008
(2) In Ireland, representatives of Sinn Féin, inheritors of a radical interpretation of Irish nationalism, have attended Royal British Legion Poppy Day ceremonies on November 11 over a number of years.
(3) Stated differently, Benny Andersson and Bjoern Ulvaeus have written, informed by a background of martial music:
'Soldiers write the songs that soldiers sing
The songs that you and I don't sing
They blow their horns and march along
They drum their drums and look so strong
You'd think that nothing in the world was wrong
Soldiers write the songs that soldiers sing
The songs that you and I won't sing
Let's not look the other way
Taking a chance
'Cause if the bugler starts to play
We too must dance.'
('Soldiers', Abba, 1981. Copyright: Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group)
(4) French: Vérité en deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au-delà ; Blaise Pascal.
Also worth seeing
Scarborough , Ontario, has various other murals belonging to the Heritage Trail series; these include the Half Way House Mural at 2502 Kingston Road and the In the Way of Progress Mural 2835 Kingston Road. The McCowan Log Cabin and Cornell House, which houses the Scarborough Historical Museum, are historic properties situated at Thomson Memorial Park.
How to get there: Air Canada, flies to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. (Distance from Toronto Pearson Airport to the area of the mural: approx. 39.6 kilometres). However, visitors may prefer to use the TTC public transit: services to the area include the #12 bus. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
Other of my hubpages may be of interest
- Visiting Fort York: over two centuries of military and Toronto, Ontario history
- Visiting the Castle Frank Historical Marker, Toronto, Ontario: remembered and forgotten history
- Visiting Woodside, Kitchener, Ontario: boyhood home of William Lyon Mackenzie King and National Hist
- Visiting Kipawa Lake, Laniel: boating and fishing opportunities in western Quebec
- Visiting Detroit, Michigan, over the Ambassador Bridge: an impressive, river skyline