Port Hope Ontario, Batoche Hero

“One of the Midland men on the slopes of the hill near the cemetery was hit by a volley from the west side of the river, and the ambulance men going to his relief were also fired upon. This seemed to infuriate the men and their officers saw there was no holding them any longer. Colonel Williams therefore decided upon charging and with only two Companies of the Midland, he led the way, counting on the 90th (Winnipeg Rifles) and the Grenadiers for support.” Sargent Denison, acknowledged Williams as the leader of the final charge.   Battle of Batoche – Parks Canada History

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Trefusis Heneage Williams is the name of the local hero featured on the large bronze monument that can be found in the Port Hope Town Park in front of the Port Hope Town Hall on Queen Street. The Ranger never paid much attention to this monument until recently when it was noticed how many tourists are attracted to it and how many pictures they take. One of the first things I noted in my research on this man was how many town streets honor him and his family… Heneage, Arthur, Charles, Seymour, Percy and Percival Streets.  The Port Hope Golf & Country Club is located on the Williams Homestead…Penryn Park.

Arthur was born June 13, 1837 in Port Hope, the eldest son of John Tucker Williams, MHA for Durham (now Northumberland) and the first elected mayor of Port Hope, and Sarah Ward, daughter of Thomas Ward, judge and registrar of Durham County.  Arthur Williams grew up at the Penryn Homestead, on Victoria Street South, his father’s estate at Port Hope. His father John Tucker (J.T.) Williams came to Canada during the War of 1812 as an officer in the British Royal Navy having served under Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar and later commanded a vessel on Lake Ontario. J.T. also commanded the Durham Regiment during the Rebellion of 1837.

After his service J.T. acquired a vast tract of land at the west end of Port Hope called the Penryn Homestead. Penryn was named after an area of Cornwall England where J.T. was born. Built of lumber cut on the property and sawn in an early water-powered mill on the Ganaraska River and with bricks for the fire place and chimney came from a local brick yard. His home here is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Port Hope, built circa 1828 in the neo-classical style it is still a very attractive building today

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Arthur Williams attended Upper Canada College in Toronto and inherited major holdings when his father died in 1854. After working for a year in the law office of James Scott and Nesbit Kirchhoffer in Port Hope, he finished his education at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and traveled throughout Europe. He enrolled with the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1859, but he was not called to the bar. It is said that “he preferred to call himself a farmer” managing his vast Port Hope property.

In October, 1862 Arthur was appointed captain of one of Port Hope’s three volunteer militia companies. These citizen soldiers were clerks, farm boys, canal and lake workers and in the winter of 1865-66 with his company was spent on the St. Clair frontier watching for Fenian attacks. In 1866 he commanded a provisional military battalion at Kingston Ontario. Later that year in November when rural militia companies were formed into battalions, he took command of the 46th East Durham Battalion, a post he held for 19 years until his death.

In 1867, Arthur Williams was elected to the provincial legislature as a Conservative member for East Durham and was returned by acclamation in 1871. From 1867 – 1875 Williams represented East Durham in the Ontario Legislature and in the House of Commons from 1867 – 1875. At this time he did not stand for re-election but in 1878 he defeated a Liberal to win the seat in the House of Commons for East Durham, to which he was re-elected in1882. By this time he was a justice of the peace, a real estate agent, a director of the Midland Railway of Canada, and chairman of the Port Hope harbour commission. In 1873 he launched the Midland Loan and Savings Company and served as its president.

In 1885 as the British neared a war with Russia, Williams was one of several Canadian militia colonials who offered to raise battalions for Imperial service. Williams search for a military career was not as Sir John A. Macdonald once suggested as “anxious for excitement or notoriety” but in reality it was due to his temporary poor financial affairs. As a land speculator, Williams had invested $50,000 for eight sections of land in southern Manitoba from the CPR without any returns. When the Riel Rebellion broke out in late March of 1885, Commander Williams and his Midland Battalion, a collection of rural companies from eastern Ontario set off for the front on April 6, 1885.

After boarding the train in Port Hope, the Battalion was forced to travel along the uncompleted route of the Canadian Pacific Railway north of Lake Superior, they arrived on the ‘Northcote’ by the South Saskatchewan River with two companies to join Major-General Frederick Dobson Middleton’s column before the battle at Batoche, Saskatchewan. On the fourth day of the battle he precipitated the pell-mell rush of militiamen that cost the Canadians 30 casualties, five dead and 25 wounded, but ended the Metis resistance. To militia officers, some doubting Middleton’s leadership, Williams became the hero of the campaign. The hardships and exertions of the trip with bad food and sleeping on muskeg were blamed when Williams collapsed a few days later. In the captain’s cabin of the steamer ‘Northwest’, after three days of fever and delirium, he died.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Trefusis Heneage Williams was the only nationally known figure to die in the northwest campaign and his body was brought home in state. A huge funeral was held in Port Hope where citizens erected a statue in his honor. Sir John A. MacDonald unveiled this statue on September 4th, 1889 at 56 Queen Street. Parliament voted his orphaned children a special pension.

The monument inscription reads: “To commemorate the devoted patriotism and heroic bravery of Lieutenant Colonel Arthur T.H. Williams MP commanding the Midland Battalion of the volunteer militia who after gallantly leading the victorious and decisive charge at the Battle of Batoche during the rebellion in the Northwest Territories died of sickness contracted in the discharge of his duty, near Fort Pitt, NWT on the 4th July 1885. This monument is erected by his native town by his admiring countrymen throughout Canada assisted by his companions in arms and the Government of the Dominion.”

Regards, Ranger.

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