This Day in History – June 3rd

1608 – Samuel de Champlain arrives in New France for the third time, before travelling west to found Quebec City – When Samuel de Champlain, “The Father of New France,” was beginning his career as a French explorer of the New World, he was already several generations behind his hero Jacques Cartier – who made his first voyage to Canada in 1534. When Champlain made his first trip to North America in 1603, his ambition was to see all Cartier had seen and to go even farther, if possible. Tadoussac, a trading post located at the confluence of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence Rivers was treated as a starting point for European exploration in the early 1600s, and it is where Champlain first encountered North American natives. He published an account of his experiences upon his return to France, and then returned to Canada once more the following year, intending to report on even more discoveries. This time, he helped establish France’s first successful North American settlement, Port Royal, in 1605. Then, in the spring of 1608, Champlain was outfitted and sent back with the misson of establishing a new settlement on the shores of the St. Lawrence. He completed his third voyage to Canada on this date in 1608, when his small fleet of three ships arrived at Tadoussac. Exactly one month later, on July 3, 1608, Champlain founded what is now Quebec City. Great though that city is, Tadoussac is considered the oldest surviving French settlement in the Americas. Coincidentally, also on this date in 1621, the Dutch West India company received a charter that gave them exclusive rights to the fur trading over a large chunk of the New World not too far south of New France. Four years later, the Dutch established a capital city for their province of New Netherland on the island of Manhattan that they dubbed New Amsterdam; today, it’s called New York City.

1866 – “Fenians,” Irish-Americans supporting an independent Ireland, are driven out of Fort Erie, Ontario into the United States – Early in the morning of this date in 1866, the last foreign invasion of the province of Ontario came to an end. After the close of the American Civil War, Irish Republicans who were living in the United States saw an opportunity. As members of the Fenian Brotherhood, they were still passionate about Ireland achieving Independence from Britain, and came up with a scheme to round up experienced veteran soldiers and occupy Canada. In exchange for regaining control of Canada, they thought, Britain would agree to give up control of Ireland. The first Fenian raid took place in New Brunswick in April 1866 and was quickly dispersed by the Royal Navy and British troops. Then, on June 2, 1866, Fenians near Niagara Falls in New York launched an attack on Canadian militia forces in the Battle of Ridgeway and, later, the Battle of Fort Erie. Ridgeway marked the first modern battle fought by Canadians, and the first to be fought exclusively by Canadian troops led by Canadian officers. It didn’t end the way we would have hoped. Some confusion among the troops over the apparent arrival of British reinforcements caused many Canadians to begin falling back, leading to a successful Fenian charge and victory. At Fort Erie, the Canadians were outnumbered about five to one, and soon taken prisoner. For the Fenians, this was a classic case of winning the battle but losing the war. Holed up in Fort Erie and realizing that about 5,000 British and Canadian troops would soon be converging on them, on this date in 1866, the roughly 800 Fenian soldiers fled back across the Niagara River, on makeshift rafts or by swimming, and surrendered their weapons to the waiting American military. As late as 1871, Fenians made several other attempted raids that were all quickly put down, but the threat they posed to the individual provinces were an important factor in pushing Canadians towards unifying, which they did just over a year after the Battle of Ridgeway, with Confederation. June 3, 1885 is another notable date in the history of Canadian battles, as it was then Major Sam Steele and the North-West Mounted Police fought Big Bear and a band of Cree warriors in the Battle of Loon Lake in Saskatchewan. To this day, it is the last military engagement on Canadian soil. Later that year, Big Bear was tried and convicted of treason. He died in 1888.

Casey_Bat1888 – Ernest Thayer’s classic poem “Casey at the Bat” is published in The San Francisco Examiner – “From five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell / it rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell / it knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat / for Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.” These are some lines from American poet and humourist Ernest Thayer’s classic poem “Casey at the Bat,” which the world first read on this date in 1888 when it was published in the San Francisco Examiner. Thayer, who was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard, was hired as humour columnist for the Examiner in 1886, and this was the last piece he wrote for the paper, shortly before his 25th birthday. Its insights into the attitudes of both players and fans of the sport ring as true today as they did over 100 years ago. It’s easy to imagine Toronto’s Jose Bautista portraying the role of “Casey” — and who can’t relate to final lines: “somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright / the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light / and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout / but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.” The poem soon became a popular part of vaudeville performances, and was first recorded in 1893; an early film of it being recited dates to 1922. Walt Disney later immortalized the poem as an animated short, in which Casey appears as a barrel-chested womanizer in the 1946 film “Make Mine Music.” Today, Thayer’s poem is considered one of the best-known poems in American literature.

1935 – One thousand unemployed Canadian workers board east-bound box cars in Vancouver, intending to take their protest to Ottawa – About 50 years after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, in the height of the Great Depression, things were not good for workers in Western Canada. About one in nine people were on welfare, and the Conservative government of Prime Minister R. B. Bennett insisted on the creation of work camps so unemployed men could help build roads and other public works. Thousands of men across British Columbia in the Prairies lived and worked in deplorable conditions on these camps, where they were paid about 20 cents per day. Fed up, they went on strike in April 1935. The workers converged in Vancouver, demanding such reforms as 50 cents an hour for unskilled work and union wages for skilled labour. On this date in 1935, they decided to take their grievances directly to Ottawa and hundreds boarded boxcars headed east to the nation’s capital in what came to be known as the “On-to-Ottawa Trek.” They made it as far as Regina, where federal representatives met with them and allowed eight protest leaders to continue on to Ottawa to meet Bennett. The meeting achieved nothing, and the representatives were sent back to Regina. A scheduled meeting of the protesters on Canada Day 1935 erupted into a riot between police and protesters that left two people dead. Despite an absence of proof, police and government officials insisted it had been the protesters who had started the violence, and over 100 “Trekkers” were arrested. Saskatchewan’s premier sent a letter to Ottawa, calling on Bennett to assist the men and blaming the police for the riot. Bennett held fast against them, but the public sided with the workers and, that October, Bennett’s party went from holding 134 seats in the House of Commons to just 39 as William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberals stormed into office. Some of the Trekkers’ demands were eventually met, and many new social programs were instituted in the years that followed.

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