I began this book with a question, why should I, a Canadian, be interested in the battle of Ridgeway. I had some vague ideas about it, a little skirmish with some Fenians that ended in an embarrassing retreat.
Well, after reading this book, I know that most of my vague notions were wrong. Vronsky pulls together material from various sources to shed light on this crucial moment in Canadian history. Most importantly, the account of the battle itself is gripping, despite the fact that Vronsky has to work to reconcile very contradictory accounts of what happened. The elements of a military debacle are here - inexperienced soldiers, unsuitable leadership and the basic flaws of human nature.
Vronsky has given Canadians an invaluable gift by writing this book, and any Canadian who has an interest in the history of their own country ought to pick this up. It will improve your understanding of Canada's history and where Canada has come from.
on June 27, 2012
On June 2, 1866, a large force of decommissioned Civil war veterans crossed the Canadian border, in an abortive attempt to seize the colony from the British empire.
It's the battle of Ridgeway and I bet you haven't heard of it. Which is a shame because it's one of the more fascinating moments in early Canadian history.
Don't get me wrong, you've got to be a real history buff to enjoy Ridgeway (which I am), or your eyes may glaze over from Peter Vronsky's commendable attention to detail.
But if the Battle of Ridgeway warranted only one paragraph in your school history textbooks, and you are pining to know more about Colonel Booker and John O'Neil, don't worry. Author Peter Vronsky has trained a telescopic lens on Ridgeway and meticulously assembled the historical accounts and details of the battle.
From the command structure of both forces; to the lines of march used; the order of battle; right down to the precise timings and movements of individual companies, Vronsky has written the definitive history of the battle.
If you share the academic notion that Canadian history should be focussed on "unpacking" and examining the post-structuralist "agency" of young working class women, newly arrived immigrants or some other approved identity group, don't read this book.
Yet if you want a real story about events and actions that actually matter, like honour, duty, warfare, sacrifice and the birth of Canada, do yourself a favour and read Ridgeway.
on January 15, 2012
This non-fiction book about the Battle of Ridgeway came out almost simultaneously with Guy Vanderhaeghe's "A Good Man" the fictional plot of which also centers on the battle. Peter Vronsky's book is an excellent example of "truth being stranger than fiction." The true story of the Fenian invasion, Canada's first shadowy secret services, the birth of the Canadian Army and the Battle of Ridgeway as described in Vronsky's book is much more dramatic and bizarre in its authenticity than the fictional treatment in Vanderhaeghe's excellent novel. If you want to know what 'really' happened at Ridgeway, Vronsky's non-fiction study is the place to look. "Ridgeway" reads like a page-turner of a novel, except the accounts and every word of dialogue is absolutely true and authenticated, much like an Erik Larson book ("The Devil in the White City" & "In the Garden of Beasts".)
Vronsky (who in 2004 wrote a definitive history of serial homicide "Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters") spent some five years researching "Ridgeway" in American, British, Irish and Canadian archives to reconstruct almost a holographic, ultra-real ground-level view of Canada's first modern battle and the Canadians who fought in it, based on letters, diaries, court-martial testimony, government documents and secret service reports. The University of Toronto awarded Vronsky a Ph.d doctorate in history based on the draft of his book.
Vronsky makes a good case in his argument that this long forgotten (actually censored from history) battle 'made Canada' in the sense that it tested Canada's new military infrastructure, her democratic institutions and parameters of loyalty and justice in an 1866 national security 'terrorist' crisis on the eve of Confederation. He describes in detail a conspiracy by John A. Macdonald and his allies to whitewash the history of this battle out of existence to such a point that most Canadians have never heard of the Battle of Ridgeway, fought near Fort Erie, Ontario in June 1866, the last battle fought in Ontario.
I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to read something new about Canada's origins. This is a compelling book from a new historian that looks at both the military, technological, cultural and socio-political dynamics of modern Canada at its birth.
on December 5, 2011
I bought this book a week before its book launch, I was lucky enough to be in Professor Vronsky's history class, and was invited to the book launch. In the little free time I had I decided to read as much as possible before the launch. The book is written in an ample amount of detail, I was surprised to listen to one of his lectures on the fenian invasion and was able to follow along with the book. He went into an amazing amount of detail to explain the event, and he did this by looking at vast quantities of primary sources.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read the full true story of the American Fenian Invasion and who enjoys reading side bits of supplementary information that causes this book to go beyond the call of duty.