The story of the Battle of Crysler’s Farm memorial

This illustration of the Battle of Crysler’s Farm memorial was first published in September 1895 by the Morrisburg Courier, predecessor newspaper to The Leader. Illustrations of this type were carved into a wood block in reverse image, similar to a photographic negative.

MORRISBURG – This year the 205th anniversary of the Battle of Crysler’s Farm was commemorated on November 11th. For more than a decade, the Friends of Crysler’s Farm Battlefield have paid tribute to those who fell during the 1813 campaign that has been billed as the battle that saved Canada. That monument was almost never built to begin with.

The idea of a monument was first raised March 29, 1893 by Homer Hugo Ross in the House of Commons. Ross, the Conservative member of parliament for Dundas County, served from 1891 to 1896, and was from Iroquois. He asked the Minister of Militia, James Patterson that the battlefield at Crysler’s Farm have a monument built to commemorate the battle. Already being built with private and government funds were monuments to the War of 1812 battles at Lundy’s Lane and Queenston Heights.

“I wish to put in a word for the battlefield of Chrysler’s Farm,” Ross told the House of Commons. “Now, we have two battlefields in the western peninsula provided for and I think a word ought to be said for Central Canada and for the province of Quebec.”

Ross said that given the number of American forces that were attempting to capture Montreal, the victories at Crysler’s Farm and Chateauguay were important to commemorate. Part of Ross’ reasoning was to ensure the proper location was noted.

“I notice that one of the Kingston newspapers in attempting to locate the battlefield places it opposite Ogdensburg (New York). I think Chrysler’s Farm deserves to be better marked,” he said.

The monument at Crysler’s Farm and at the Battle of Chateauguay in Allans Corners, Quebec, were both commissioned by the government of Canada and dedicated in 1895.

According to the Friends of Crysler’s Farm Battlefield, the monument was placed on a portion of the farm, then owned by Abram Vanallen, on Lot 12, Concession 1 of Williamsburg Township. The monument was designed by Eugène Étienne Tachè, son of Étienne-Paschale Tachè, a Father of Confederation, and stood 38 feet high. Two 24-pound cannons cast in 1806 were set, one on each side of the monument. Both Crysler and Chateauguay monuments were of identical design. The third monument, at Lundy’s Lane, also unveiled in 1895, was of a different design.

The Crysler monument was formally unveiled by the minister of railways and canals, John Haggart, on September 25th 1895 before a reported crowd of about 6,000 people. Among the dignitaries present was Canadian Prime Minister Sir Mackenzie Bowell, a number of cabinet ministers including the minister of the Militia.

The Morrisburg Collegiate Institute Cadet Corps formed an honour guard and marched from the Morrisburg Wharf to the commemoration site, under the command of Trooper Lorne W. Mulloy, as part of the ceremony.

In the years since the dedication of the battlefield memorial, there have been a number of milestone events at the site.

Battle centennial

In 1913, a two-day commemoration was held in honour of the centenary of the battle. That event drew a crowd of over 5,000 people. According to local historian Jim Jordan, the “East Front” was crowded with people making their way to the event, referring to the importance of the Crysler’s Farm battle a national historical event.

In attendance at the celebration, as it was billed at the time, was Prime Minister Robert Borden, Ontario premier and Dundas county member of provincial parliament Sir James Pliny Whitney, and several federal and provincial cabinet ministers. As part of the celebration, one of the Crysler’s Farm buildings was set up by the local Women’s Institute as a museum with artifacts on display.
On both days, there were daytime and nighttime fireworks displays.

After the formation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1919, the monument and battlefield were designated as a National Historic Site on January 30, 1920. It was among the first to be designated in Canada.

Relocation

Located on the north side of Highway 2, overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the monument was moved from its original location in 1957 as part of the St. Lawrence-Seaway project. The battlefield and the monument site was flooded to create Lake St. Lawrence on July 1, 1958. The new monument location was built on a man-made hill, made with dirt dredged from the river and other fill from the area. The monument and cannons were placed on the top of the hill, and a new battlefield interpretive centre opened at the foot of the hill, all next to Upper Canada Village on St. Lawrence Parks Commission land. The new battlefield site was dedicated in 1961.

Remembering 200 years later

In 2013, a crowd of about 1,000 people including over 700 students from area schools, attended the bicentennial commemoration of the battle. In attendance was Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and representatives from historic 1812 regiments, indigenous peoples, the Voltigeurs de Quebec, and the Royal 22nd Regiment, and about 100 members of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders.

During his speech, Harper summarized the battle, “Canadians stood here against an invasion from the United States…Although outnumbered three to one, Crysler’s Farm Battle was a decisive victory for our forces. This proved again that it is not the size of the army in the fight, but the size of the fight in the army which makes the final difference…”

The monument site saw a crowd of over 100 present at the memorial this November 11th. They were treated with a surprise firing of the 212-year-old cannons that flank the site. It was the first time since 1961 that the cannons had been fired.

It’s good to have Friends

The Friends of Crysler’s Farm Battlefield are a volunteer group dedicated to remembering the “Battle that Saved Canada” and staging bi-annual reenactments at the site. More information on the group is available at http://cryslersfarm.com.

Note – Records from the Parliament of Canada show both Chrysler and Crysler spellings recorded.