You might be excused if you’ve never heard of Decoration Day – but from 1890 to 1931 it was our first official day of remembering those who had died in the service of their country.
Peter Vronsky wrote:
“After nearly twenty-five years of silence, in 1890, suddenly murmurs and whispers of Ridgeway began to bubble to the surface in public discourse. A short paragraph in the Globe, ―Ridgeway Remembered‖ reported that the veterans of the battle had ―taken the matter in hand and would meet for the first time publicly on the twenty-fourth anniversary to lay flowers on the monument to the fallen on the U of T campus near Queens Park. The Globe described the ceremony under the headline, ―Our Decoration Day and reported that from now on it would be commemorated annually. It was the beginning of Canada‘s national Remembrance Day.”
As time passed it also came to also serve as a day to remember those who had died in the Northwest Rebellion and the South African War. Then came the First World War and the massive casualties which soon overshadowed these earlier and in comparison, less significant conflicts. An Act of Parliament in 1931 would change our national day of remembrance to November 11 and as the last of the Fenian Raid survivors died off, so did the June 2nd Decoration Day.
If you’re on Facebook, you’ve all seen those “lists” designed to tweak your interest and click through to their website – hotels with breathtaking views, amazing animal photos, abandoned Olympic facilities. Today we present our own list – the list of those of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada who were the first to die in the service of their country and the reason we still remember Decoration Day:
1. Ensign Malcolm McEachern – No. 5 Company
Thirty five years of age, this father of five young children was the first to fall on June 2nd.
2. Rifleman William D. Smith – No. 2 Company
Sadly we know very little about Rifleman Smith.
3. Lance-Corporal Mark B. Defries – No. 3 Company
He worked as a cellarman or malster in this brother Robert’s East-end Brewery.
4. Rifleman Christopher Alderson – No. 7 Company
He’d married his wife Janet Black exactly 3 months before the Battle of Ridgeway.
5. Rifleman William Fairbanks Tempest – No. 9 Company
His father, a Whitby medical doctor who had rushed to Ridgeway to assist the wounded, discovered the corpse of his son.
6. Rifleman Malcolm McKenzie – No. 9 Company
He enlisted in the University Company and was the first in his to fall, killed instantly with a shot to the heart.
7. Rifleman John Harriman Mewburn – No. 9 Company
His father had scraped together nearly $400 to put him through a year of school, but his grades were so good that he was expected to win the annual University College Scholarship.
8. Sergeant Hugh Matheson – No. 2 Company
Matheson was wounded in the leg on June 2nd but infection set in and despite amputation, we would die on June 11th.
9. Corporal Francis Lakey – No. 2 Company
Lackey also suffered horrible wounds to his face and head on June 2nd and would like Matheson, die a few days later.
Each year members of the Queen’s Own and the QOR Association still travel to the Battle of Ridgeway Memorial and conduct a ceremony of remembrance and decoration.