on November 20, 2011
From the making of the Canadian Army and the Irish American Fenian insurgent invasion threat to the disaster that befell the Canadians at Ridgeway and the subsequent cover-ups and scandals, the meticulously researched and well told story exposes an entirely new dimension of Canadian history that few of us have heard of. Based on forgotten files found in Canadian archives and in 19th century US Army and US State Department intelligence reports on Canada in US archives, Ridgeway uncovers a very different Canada from the one taught to us in school.
With its descriptions of the back room politics of the pre-Confederation colonial provincial militia minister John A. Macdonald, on whose watch the disaster at Ridgeway happened, operations of the Civil War-era Canadian secret services, the bitter rivalries within the Canadian volunteer officers corps, the new infantry weapons introduced on the field at Ridgeway and the death and wounds inflicted by them on the young inexperienced Canadian soldiers, including a company of University of Toronto volunteer riflemen, this book pushes the reset button on Canadian history just when you though there was nothing new to discover.
The narrative of the Ridgeway battle is harrowing, often told in the soldier's own words as discovered by the author in forgotten manuscripts, letters, articles in small town newspapers, and military medical compensation reports reconstructing the flow of the combat. This is a story that did not come out in 1866 when the debacle at Ridgeway was quickly covered up and stayed covered up for 145 years. In fact, the last book dedicated to Ridgeway was published over a hundred years ago in 1910 (J.A. Macdonald, Troublous Times In Canada: A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870.)
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.
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.
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 February 7, 2012
This book is a very well-written analysis of what went wrong at the last battle in Ontario. The author has a wonderful grasp of his characters and gives a detailed and very interesting account of how failure at this battle was covered up, to the point that the battle itself was eventually forgotten. The book was a page-turner. Once I started it, I had to read it all.
on February 16, 2013
This is an excellent history book covering the Battle of Ridgeway and the state of affairs in the mid-1860's. As a native of Ridgeway, I wish that material such as this was available in the school system during my K-12 years in the 1950's and 60's. Chapters of the book are very detailed and include excellent maps of the local area.
on April 15, 2014
Would recommend to anyone interested in this battle that occurred in Ridgeway ontario back in "66"!
Found some interesting information regarding the KIA and died of wounds.
on September 9, 2015
Great historical book
on June 14, 2016
Excellent read, very informative and I learned more about my local history.