The Big Fight of 1895
Osgoode Township, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

 March 20, 2002:

The Justice / Police System:
	Ironically, between the years 1830 and 1900, the relationship of the Irish Catholics 
    with the justice system in Ottawa reversed. In the 1830's they were usually associated 
    with the criminal element but by the 1890's the front-line police force was dominated by 
    the Irish. As an example, in 1895, my grand uncle took part in the last great bare-knuckled 
    boxing match in the Ottawa area.(1) It took place on a Sunday afternoon in O'Leary's field 
    near Manotick. Hundreds of spectators watched several hours of combat which was regulated 
    by "gentlemen's rules". After the match was over, the combatants were arrested by the 
    Ottawa police for taking part in a sporting activity on the Sabbath. After being 
    transported to Ottawa, they were both hired by the Ottawa Police Force (the main 
    qualification being toughness) and spent long careers with the Ottawa Police Department. 
    Incidentally, a few of the stereotypical "big, friendly  Irish cops" in New York, Chicago 
    and Detroit grew up in the tough neighbourhoods of Ottawa and the Valley.

	The first civilian constable for Bytown had been hired in 1827 but it wasn't until 1863 
    that a full-fledged Police Commission and a regular uniformed force was established. 
    During the interim period, an inadequate police system was supplemented by the militia 
    which was called out to control the almost annual riots which occurred on St. Patrick's 
    Day and the Twelfth of July. 

	There are many examples of discrimination against Irish Catholics by the legal system. 
    In 1856, following the municipal election, Denis Tierney of Nepean was murdered by a 
    gang of Orangemen. "What we do know is that the township election precipitated a sorry 
    incident that would become a symbol of injustice to Nepean's Catholic population for 
    decades to come". Eight years later, with the Denis Tierney murder still fresh in the 
    community's mind, Timothy Keough / Kehoe was clubbed to death before hundreds of witnesses 
    at the Metcalfe Fair. No one was brought to justice for either of these crimes.

	Here's a quote from the Ottawa Citizen of March 7, 2002 regarding the assassination of 
    Thomas Darcy McGee on Sparks Street in 1868. An Irish Catholic named James Patrick Whelan 
    was detained for the murder. The words are those of Senator Eugene Whelan: 
    "George Etienne Cartier (Attorney General for Canada) went to the Prime Minister 
    (Sir John A. Macdonald, who belonged to the Orange Order) and said ‘I don't think they 
    should hang that young man because it's all circumstantial evidence.' Macdonald turned 
    and asked Cartier ‘what's his name?' Cartier replied ‘James Patrick Whelan' and Macdonald 
    is quoted as saying ‘Let him hang, that little Irish son of a bitch. That little Irish 

	This case exemplified the mix of raw politics at the national and local levels. Religion 
    and country of birth were never far from the surface on any issue. Approximately 
    two hundred "usual suspects" were rounded up for questioning by the Ottawa Police at 
    the time of McGee's murder. They were almost all Irish Catholics, suspected of being 
    Fenian sympathizers.

Source: Al Lewis, unpublished paper The Welfare of Irish Catholics in Ottawa, 1820-1900,
        March 2002. 

(1) Val Olander sent me an undated copy of an article from the Ottawa Citizen, sometime 
    during the 1920's, which gives great detail on "The Big Fight". The combatants were 
	James Henry Burns and Lawrence Sutton.

Note: The above material seems overly biased and pro-Catholic. Protestant-Catholic animosities 
      were very real during the 19th century in Ottawa and area. Thankfully, times have changed. 
      For an interesting paper on how the two communities became "Canadian" and left behind the
      old Irish feuds, see David Shanahan's PhD. Thesis: 
      The Making of Nations: The Irish Question in Canada, 1830-1925.

      See also The Orange Order.

E-mail Al Lewis

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