Canada – a short and very incomplete history.
A set of dueling pistols made in about 1823
There was a time in
Sometimes there was something approaching a reason for these duels such as future power or money or continued freedom. On most occasions the “reason” was no more important than the outcome of a grade school soccer match.
Some several months ago I wrote and posted that the last recorded duel held in
Canada took place in Ontario in 1833 thirty four years before there was a Canada or a . I have since learned that another instance – of some 300
in a time frame spanning 300 years - holds the distinction of being the last fatal, recorded duel. province
The particulars of this second last duel are as follows.
The participants were Robert Lyon and John Wilson accompanied by their respective seconds, Henri Lelievre (probably Lel-ee-vray) and Simon Robertson respectively. The focus of the confrontation was a school teacher Elizabeth Hughes.
Robert Lyon was born in
on Inverurie, Scotland December 30, 1812. Along with his family he moved to Canada in 1829.
John Wilson was born
February 5, 1807 in Paisley, and came to “the colonies” with his family in Renfrewshire, Scotland about 1823. In 1833 he was studying law under James
Boulton. Perth, Upper Canada
In early June of 1833
Lyon, also a
law student, made disparaging remarks about Elizabeth Hughes. John Wilson heard
these remarks and, since he had begun a relationship with the young school
teacher, demanded that Lyon retract the
remarks which at the instant he did.
Most of us are aware how the passage of a few minutes which then become hours can change the view one might have of events. Apparently this happened with Robert Lyon for, at the urging of a “friend” Henri Lelievre, he challenged
Wilson. Due to an ordinance which had recently been passed in one
county they arranged for the duel to take place across the in another jurisdiction. Tay River
June 13, 1833. The two combatants paced off the distance, turned and
fired. Both missed.
Everyone is satisfied, right?
No, not for Lelievre. He insisted that satisfaction had not been achieved and demanded a reload; the pistols where recharged and re-primed.
When they where fired this time
Lyon fell. He was
rowed back across the river to Perth where he died a short time later.
Wilson and his second, Simon Robertson where arrested by the Sheriff and tried in
Brockville for murder … and acquitted.
Dec. 30, 1812 – June 13, 1833.
Feb. 5, 1807 – June 3, 1869.
The last duel took place five years later on
May 2, 1838 in what was then Lower Canada in Verdun a suburb of Montreal. Again, the attentions toward a woman became the stated
reason. Major Henry Warde of the First Regiment of Foot (the “Royals” of the
British “regular” army) sent a letter to a female member of the household of
lawyer and Canadian militia Colonel Robert Sweeney. We don’t know at this late
date, with any assurance at least, who the expectant recipient of the letter
was to be but upon interception Sweeney took extreme exception and challenged Warde.
When the black powder smoke cleared Major Warde was down. He was carried to a local tavern but soon died.
During the subsequent inquest and trial it was determined that Warde died due to “a gunshot wound administered by persons unknown”. The shooter was in the court and known to all but no one apparently had witnessed the duel despite the large crowd that had been in attendance. With the identity of the shooter unknown to the court, Sweeney went free.
In 1844 at the insistence of Queen Victoria British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel managed changes to the Articles of War which removed any semblance of support for dueling and initiated penalties not only for dueling but for suborning or acting as second in a duel.
So this, I believe is the last official duel but not the last gun battle. There seems to be one every few months, usually in an urban area between gang members or with one of the police forces involved.
Most of the gun battles within the confines of
Canada, at least those recorded in the late 1800s where between
groups with several shooters on each side. Some of the confrontations were
exaggerated with the telling and some became, "oh, nothing worth talking
One that was not exaggerated was the one in the Cypress Hills between wolfers and buffalo hunters opposing a group of Métis and
Assiniboine. This battle helped
to speed up the deployment of the North West Mounted Police in Western Canada.
It also served as the climax for a great historical novel (and movie) by Guy
Vanderhaeghe, “The Englishman’s Boy.”
By the way, any idea why the British police are referred to as “Bobbies” or “Peelers”?