Posted by: Cornwall Community Museum | March 20, 2014

In History – Cornwall at War

War of 1812

"Red" George Macdonell

Lieutenant-Colonel “Red” George Macdonell

If this areas proud and impetuous military history could be epitomized by one man, that person would be Lieutenant-Colonel “Red” George Macdonell. Known as “Red” George because of his hair, he and Father Alexander Macdonell were largely responsible for raising the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencible Regiment when war with the United States seemed inevitable in 1812.

By 1813 the corps numbered 822 men and was known as the “Black Stump” brigade because of their green uniforms, use of camouflage, and skill in wilderness campaigns. Elements of the Regiment fought at St. Regis, York, Fort Oswego, Sackets Harbor, Stoney Creek, Lundy’s Lane, Fort George, Fort Erie, and Ogdensburg.

On February 22, 1813, “Red” George ordered a demonstration on the ice near the fort at Ogdensburg. Familiar with watching the British drill on the ice, the American pickets initially ignored the movements of the two columns. Once the British reached the halfway point, the opposing sentries opened fire. The right column of Glengarry Fencibles, led by Captain John Jenkins, was halted by fire.

The left column under “Red” George pressed forward through the deep snow, bayoneting resisters, and threatening to cut the American fort off. Seeing this, Jenkins and his men rallied to help carry the day. Rather than surrender, the Americans retreated. Once “Red” George possessed the fort he dismantled it, burned the barracks, and carried off valuable military provisions.

During the course of this one and a half hour action, the British lost six killed and 34 wounded (including Jenkins), while the American casualties amounted to 20 dead and 70 captured.

The Glengarry Fencibles were disbanded in 1816.

Fenian Threat

Confederation was largely a defensive reaction to the threat of military take-over from the United States. This attitude was fueled by the Irish-American Fenian brotherhood, who believed they could strike a blow for Irish freedom by involving the British in a costly war with the United States over Canada.


In 1899, the Canadian Militia Department issued General Service Medals to those who took part in guarding the frontier (and were still living). A total of 210 medals were issued.

While SD&G wasn’t invaded, in 1866 Fenians began to congregate at Malone. In response Cornwall and area was defended by the 30th Regiment of Foot along with members of the 47th Foot, Grey Battery, Royal Artillery and volunteer cavalry from Montreal, the 14th battalion from Kingston, the 11th Argenteuil Rangers from St. Anne’s, and two volunteer companies from Ottawa. These troops were supplemented by the local militia. While the Fenians left Malone, the subsequent “invasion” of the Niagara Peninsula and Battle of Ridgeway placed the province on high alert.


Letter from J.P. Whitney asking Judge Pringle for his service medal.

The Fenian threat appeared again in 1870 and 27 officers and 216 men of the 59th Battalion were called to guard the canals. Within six days the threat has passed and the canals were safe until the First World War.

First World War

'D' Squadron of the 4th Hussars patrolled the Cornwall Canal and St. Lawrence River from the outbreak of war on August 4, 1914.

‘D’ Squadron of the 4th Hussars patrolled the Cornwall Canal and St. Lawrence River from the outbreak of war on August 4, 1914.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, the military build-up on both sides of the Atlantic was relentless. In Ontario alone, 22 armouries were constructed, while across Canada the Cadet Corps grew from 11,000 to 32,000.

There was a fear that Canada itself would become a target of enemy saboteurs, particularly along the vulnerable St. Lawrence – Canal Route. There was indeed a plot for German Reservists living in the United States to invade Canada. The plan hinged on Max L. Louden, who assumed the name Count von Loudow and posed as an officer in the Prussian Guard. Von Loudow was to obtain maps of the St. Lawrence frontier from the Canadian Department of Militia which would then be distributed to loyal German-American organizations acting as fronts for the German army.

Rifles and ammunition were stored in German operated breweries near the Canadian border. Once war was declared they were to sail across the International Boundary on rented charter boats and seize the Welland Canal, Windmill Point, near Prescott, Windsor, strike at Kingston from Watertown, and cross at Cornwall.

In Cornwall, von Loudow was to cut and destroy telegraph, telephone, and railway lines leading to Ottawa to undermine the Canadian Militia’s ability to issue general mobilization orders.

In a peculiar twist, the plot was thwarted when officials of the American Department of Justice, intent on maintaining their country’s neutrality, arrested von Loudow on charges of bigamy at the outbreak of the war.

Even though Canadian authorities were unaware of the plot, on the eve of the outbreak of war in Europe, the St. Lawrence frontier was patrolled by ‘D’ Squadron of the 4th Hussars, guarding the Prescott-Cornwall corridor, ‘E’ Company of the 56th Grenville Regt. (Lisgar Rifles) stationed at the locks at Cardinal and Iroquois, and ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies of the 59th Stormont and Glengarry Regt. picketing the locks at Morrisburg, Farran’s Point, and Cornwall.

Headquartered at Morrisburg, the force numbered 22 officers and 258 men. It was disbanded in June 1917 when the RCMP took over its duties.


glens0003Founded by the army in 1784, Cornwall has had a long and proud military tradition – yet until comparatively recently the militia did not have a permanent home.

After the Fenian disturbances in the 1860s the Department of Public Works’ records revealed a Drill Shed was located at the southwest corner, Lot 16 of Fourth Street (the site of the old Town Hall and fire department). It is possible the old 59th Regiment Stormont and Glengarry Infantry occupied part of the town hall, or at least had a shed next to it, but it is doubtful this arrangement was long lasting as there is no further mention of this building. In 1901, the military were still petitioning town council for a home.

glens0004As part of the Department of Militia’s wholesale armoury and drill shed expansion program leading up to the First World War, Cornwall’s facility would have been just one of the 56 such buildings constructed in Edwardian Ontario centres. However, something went wrong. While Alexandria receives its brick building in 1913, Cornwall entered World War I without a building. Consequently, recruiting for D Company of the 21st Battalion CEF was conducted at Ross’ Mill. After the war drill practice was held either in a room at the customs office or in the basement of CCVS.

glens0012Officers from the regiment finally found a champion in Lionel Chevrier in 1935 and construction began in April 1938. The $250,000 facility was the last armoury to be built before the Second World War. It was designed by architect W.C. Beattie in the popular castle style complete with crenelations and towers. The building’s 246-feet of buff brick and stone facade artfully conceals the 100-foor by 185-foot drill hall, one of the largest in Canada.

glens0005In May 1939 the armouries opened. Four months later Nazi Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.

Basic Training Camp


The Cornwall Armoury and Canadian Army Basic Training Centre No. 31 for Military District 3.

The 35-acre training camp, located between Marlborough and McConnell on the Dingwall estate, opened on October 9, 1940.

glens0009When it closed in 1944, Lt.-Colonel R. Larose had put approximately 15,000 men through the 30-40 day basic training course.

Second World War

In Cornwall, the outbreak of war in September 1939 was marked when 150 officers and men, under the command of Lt.-Colonel G.D. Gillie, were called out to guard the Cornwall Canal.


The war came even closer to home on June 18, 1940 the the SD&G Highlanders were mobilized as an infantry unit of the 3rd Canadian Division. In July 1941 the Glens’ 1st battalion, under the command of Lt.-Colonel Hicks-Lyne, were sent to Britain. The unit landed in France on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Officers of the 1st Battalion in France, June 1944.

Officers of the 1st Battalion in France, June 1944.

Back home, Cornwall gave 100 per cent to the war effort. With most of European rayon under German control, Courtaulds retooled to produce cord yard for truck and bomber tires, as well as fabric for parachutes. Canadian Cottons made air force and navy uniforms, ticking for the army, and textiles for nursing. Howard Smith printed blueprint paper fir scale drawings to design weapons. Cornwall Pants and Prince Clothing fabricated navy uniforms. Ives Bedding made double-deck bunks for barracks and field ambulance beds, while Bingley Steel Works repaired ships at the dry docks in the Cornwall Canal. In the west end, Stormont Chemicals was opened under great secrecy for the production of chemical weapons, including mustard gas.

cornwall0001In 1941, Cornwall purchased more War Savings Stamps per capita than any other community in Canada and nearly $11 million worth of Victory Bonds were purchased.

To prepare for the war’s end, 38 houses were built in 1943, north of Ninth Street, for returning veterans. Eventually another 89 homes were constructed.

Highlanders0004Finally on December 29, 1945 the 366 men of the 1st Battalion, SD&G Highlanders returned home under the command of Lt.-Colonel Gemmel. They marched in their last parade through the streets of Cornwall to the armoury where they met with their families for the first time in as many as five years.

Of the 3,342 officers and men of the 1st Battalion who fought their way from Normandy to Germany, 278 were killed and 781 wounded.

Individual Glens received 74 awards for distinguished service, while the unit was awarded 25 battle honours.


Names of people who worked at Canadian Cottons who served in the Second World War.

Altogether out of a population of 14,000, over 4,000 local men and women contributed to the war effort, of which 183 were killed in action: 10 sailors; 109 soldiers, and 64 airmen.


Camera dump Mar 25 14 679

59th Battalion shako badge, ca. 1895. It consists of three parts: star, crown and “Canadian militia,” and the number 59.

Helmet plate, 59th Regiment, ca 1904. Made of gilding metal it shows the roman numeral LIX within a circle, surmounted by a Royal Crown with a beaver below, and the words “Stormont” and “Glengarry” on the circle, with the whole surrounded by a wreath of thistle leaves and flowers.

Helmet plate, 59th Regiment, ca 1904. Made of gilding metal it shows the roman numeral LIX within a circle, surmounted by a Royal Crown with a beaver below, and the words “Stormont” and “Glengarry” on the circle, with the whole surrounded by a wreath of thistle leaves and flowers.

Camera dump Mar 25 14 675

Brass collar dog worn by 154 Battalion CEF, ca. 1916.

Camera dump Mar 25 14 674

Silver officers cap badge worn by the SD&G Highlanders ca. 1941-52.

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