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The Long Walk of the 104th Regiment of Foot

For the week of Monday February 11, 2013

On February 16, 1813, the Fredericton-based 104th Regiment of Foot began their 1,125 kilometres, 52-day march through the St. John River Valley to Quebec City on their way to Kingston, Upper Canada (present-day Ontario). They arrived accomplishing an amazing feat in the dead of winter in the face of cold, hunger, and with remarkably few casualties.

A private of the 104th Regiment of Foot
Reconstruction by D. Fitzjames © Parks Canada
Originally raised as the New Brunswick Fencible Regiment, recruited for service only in British North America, the regiment became the 104th when it volunteered for service anywhere in the empire in 1810. It was composed mainly of men from New Brunswick and Lower Canada (present-day Quebec). The American invasions of Upper Canada during the first year of the War of 1812 made Sir George Provost, Governor of British North America, worried about future attacks. He felt that the Atlantic provinces would be well-defended by the Royal Navy while he expected renewed American assault on the Canadian provinces. He ordered the 104th Regiment to strengthen the forces in Upper Canada. The 573 men of the regiment set out in temperatures of -31 degrees Celsius, and Lieutenant John LeCouteur recalled the cold: “When we got to the end of our day's march the cold was so intense that the men could scarcely use their fingers to hew down the firewood, or to build huts, and it was dark before we could commence cooking; if sticking a bit of salt pork on the end of a twig and holding it in a fire could be so termed.” The regiment arrived in Kingston on April 15, 1813, after a brief two-week rest in Quebec City.

A brass shako plate (insignia) of the 104th Regiment of Foot
© Niagara Falls History Museum
After they arrived, the regiment took part in the assault on Sackets Harbour, New York in May 1813, the Battle of Beaver Dams in June and the siege of Fort George until December. Two companies of the regiment were also present at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane on July 25, 1814, the bloodiest battle of the War of 1812. The regiment remained in Quebec after the War of 1812 until it disbanded in 1817.

The March of the 104th Regiment was designated a National Historic Event in 1934 for services in the defence of Canada and its endurance and strength during their winter march. It also drew attention to the importance of the St. John River during the winter, which was the main route of communication between the Atlantic provinces and central Canada.

This year is the second of the bicentennial of the War of 1812. For more stories about the war, read Fort Erie: Rebuilt Three Times!, Hot Pursuit at French Creek, and Midnight Assault at Fort Niagara in the This Week in History archives. Commemorative events will take place all over Canada! For more information on the War of 1812, visit Commemorating the War of 1812 on the Parks Canada website.

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