Fenians in the Townships

The Fenians were an Irish nationalist group that aimed to overthrow British rule in Ireland. Many North American members were seasoned American Civil War veterans. Between 1866 and 1871, they staged five cross-border raids on Canada, all of which ended with surrender or retreat. The Pigeon Hill raid of 1866 targeted communities in what is now Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Hundreds of Fenians occupied the area between St. Armand and Frelighsburg, stealing from farms and intimidating the locals. They were chased out by Canadian militia and volunteers within a few days in an invasion usually dismissed as farcical and “a fizzle.”

This was no farce to locals in these communities. Heather Darch, curator of the Missisquoi Museum, brings up the example of Caroline Tittemore, a single woman and seamstress living on her own in an isolated part of the borderlands. When news of the Fenian raiders arrived, she fled to a friend’s house in Frelighsburg, thinking she would be safer in a larger community. To her dismay, the Fenians occupied Frelighsburg. Caroline was horrified to see that one of these Fenians was draped in a quilt that she had stitched. Indignation got the best of her fear as she ran out and grabbed the stolen quilt off the Fenian’s shoulders.

Heather Darch at Bishop’s University, November 23, 2017.


Heather Darch is the curator of the Missisquoi Museum and a projects manager, writer and researcher for the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network. She grew up in Niagara Falls, Ontario where she first learned about the Fenians as an elementary school student and from repeated school trips to Fort Erie and the Battle of Ridgeway site. When Heather moved to Quebec, she was delighted to discover that Fenians had crossed the border here too.

Further Reading

Busseau, Laurent. “The Fenians Are Coming...”: An Illustrated History of an Irish Invasion in the Early Years of Canadian Confederation (1866-1870). Stanbridge East, Que. and Montreal: Missisquoi Historical Society Collection and Les Éditions Histoire Québec, 2016.

Busseau, Laurent. Freligsburg dans la tourmente: les invasions irlandaises de juin 1866 et mai 1870. Frelighburg, Qué.: Société d’histoire et de patrimoine de Frelighburg, 2012.

Darch, Heather A. “Vagabonds and Scoundrels: History on the Line in Old Missisquoi County.” Quebec Heritage News Vol. 5, no. 11 (Autumn 2010): 27–30

Grace, Robert J. The Irish in Quebec: An Introduction to the Historiography. Québec: Institut québécois de recherché sur la culture, 1993.

Little, J. I. “From Borderland to Bordered Land: Reaction in the Eastern Townships Press to the American Civil War and the Threat of Fenian Invasion.” Histoire sociale/Social History Vol. 45, no. 89 (May 2012): 1–24.

MacDonald, Cheryl. Canada Under Attack: Irish-American Veterans of the Civil War and Their Fenian Campaign to Conquer Canada. Toronto, ON: Lorimer, 2015.

Senior, Hereward. The Last Invasion of Canada: The Fenian Raids, 1866-1870. Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press in collaboration with Canadian War Museum, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1991.

Smith, P. G. “War at the Border: With Fenians Massing on Our Border, It Fell to an Unlikely Band of Sharpshooting Citizens in Quebec to Defend Canada.” The Beaver Vol. 87, no. 5 (2007): 16–23.

Toner, Peter Michael. “The Rise of Irish Nationalism in Canada, 1858-1884.” Dissertation, National University of Ireland, 1974.

Wilson, David A. “The Narcissism of Nationalism: Irish Images of Quebec.” Canadian Journal of Irish Studies/Revue canadienne d’études irlandaises Vol. 33, no. 1 (2007): 11–19.

…or read more about Quebec’s Irish History in our bibliography.