Defence of Canada Genealogy History

Pte. William James Kirkland

Great-grandson of Private William James Kirkland of the 41st Brockville Battalion of Rifles, Douglas Kirkland, accompanied by family members, presented the private’s Fenian Medal with bars (also known as the Canadian General Service Medal) to Corporal Joey Ashford of the Brockville Rifles, on Thursday, Oct. 6.

“I received it (the medal) through my mother, Laura, who left it to me,” said retired Ottawa police officer Kirkland. “She got it from my aunt Jean, my grandfather’s sister. My aunt was the custodian of it from when my grandfather died.”

Although most of the history surrounding William with his brother, Hugh, was verbal, Kirkland told of these two brothers escaping the Irish potato famine, by boat, crossing the ocean to Canada.

They travelled on foot from Neury to the docks at Dublin and on the morning of their paid departure, the parents both died from starvation and exhaustion,” explained Kirkland, “leaving the boys to be taken care of by another family destined for Montreal.” 

Kirkland did know that Hugh (who received a Fenian Medal), is recorded in the Carleton County records as a farmer, and William stayed in Merrickville using his aptitude for mechanical things and apprenticed as a stationary engineer at the Merrickville Mill.

In 1866, now 36 years old, William reported for duty, as a rifleman, and again in 1870.

The story as to how this medal was handed over to the Brockville Rifles, for their museum, was explained by Kirkland.

“While driving to Chantry, I was thinking about the medal and what I was going to do with it, as it really should be preserved,” said Kirkland.

So while at the Township of Rideau Lakes office, Kirkland was looking around and saw a 150th Brockville Rifles celebration notice.

“I said to myself, hey wait a minute, I think that has to be connected to the Merrickville Rifles,” shared Kirkland.

According to the Brockville Rifles Museum Curator, retired Major Roger Hum, the 41st headquartered in Brockville with outlying companies in Gananoque, Perth, Merrickville, Carleton Place and Pakenham.

Kirkland drove to the Armouries in Brockville where he spoke with Sergeant Josh Hopper, who had heard about the Fenian Raids and felt there was a great significance associated with the medal.

Hooper contacted Hum who, in turn, called Kirkland.

“I gave him a call, we met and he showed me the medal and here we are tonight,” stated Hum.

“Roger knew the significance of it,” said Kirkland. “Again, it just felt more and more right; it was meant to be.”

The greatest impact of the Fenian Raids was the developing of a sense of Canadian nationalism and leading the provinces into a confederation.

“This was seen as necessary for survival and self-defence,” said Hum. “The raids showed Canadians that safety lay in unity and were an important factor in creating the modern nation-state of Canada.”

What a fitting birthday gift to the Brockville Rifles. Happy 150th!

Doreen Barnes, St. Lawrence News

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