Conflict and Struggle

There were many bumps along the road to peace and equality in Bytown. One of the worst stretches of violence occurred between 1835 and 1845 when an increasing number of unemployed Irish vied for jobs in the timber industry typically held by French Canadians. Being too poor to relocate, and treated badly because of their refusal to assimilate, many Irish settlers saw no choice but to lash out violently against the French in a longstanding battle called the Shiners War. Timber baron Peter Aylen played a key role in organizing attacks on other timber camps. While early battles like this were fought over employment, later confrontations took on explicitly political overtones. Following riots in Montreal over the controversial Rebellion Losses Bill, Governor General Lord Elgin scheduled a visit in September 1849 to explore the possibility of naming Bytown the seat of parliament. Even as supporters of Lord Elgin were preparing a welcoming address for his visit, outrage from opposing Tories triggered the infamous Stoney Monday Riots. Armed with stones, sticks, muskets, firearms, and cannons, Tories (Catholics) and Reformers (Protestants) faced off over the Rideau Canal at Sappers Bridge. While the potential for extreme violence was high, the local military was largely successful in keeping the two sides a safe distance apart. Still, the threat was high enough to convince Lord Elgin to cancel his trip to Bytown, and alternative seats of parliament were explored, at least for the moment.

Points of Interest

Framed portraits of Mr. & Mrs. Dan O’ConnorEnlarge

[Source: Frame Portraits of Mr. & Mrs. Dan O’Connor, ca. 1820, print, Bytown Museum, P80.]

Portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel O’Conner

Many Irish citizens took an active role in fighting for the rights of the immigrants and giving a voice to those who had none. This artistic rendition is of Daniel O’Connor and his wife, Margaret Power, who, having established the Friends of Ireland network, continuously showed support for Bytown’s many Irish immigrants. O’Connor was even known to have helped one Shiner escape persecution in Bytown by facilitating his boarding of a ferry across the Ottawa River to safety in Hull.

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Photograph of a British Navy cutlass (sword)Enlarge

[Source: British Navy Cutlass, Sword (Owned by Shiner Mark Gill), ca. 1840-1860, brass, steel & wood, Bytown Museum, M55.]

Sword of Shiner Mark Gill

This sword was owned by Mark Gill, a self-proclaimed Shiner rowdy. This type of weaponry would have been used during battles against the French-Canadian lumberjacks-or anyone else who dared to oppose the Irish immigrant class.

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Photograph of men selling lumber in Lower TownEnlarge

[Source: Wood market, Ottawa, Ont. John Boyd fonds, John Boyd / Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1971-120 NPC, PA-085978]

Stoney Monday Riots

This photograph, dated January 2, 1922, shows the place in which the Stoney Monday Riots took place on September 17, 1849. The streets of Lower Town in particular were unsafe for days following this particular violent event.

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Creating a Capital» Lawlessness«