Brennan's Hill, Quebec
and the "Battle of Brennan's Hill" Song
Painting by Ruth McMillan in 1976
Shows the Head of the Rideau Canal Locks in Ottawa, Canada in 1893
March 16, 2007:
Hi Al; I thought this would make you grin... The story to follow.
... Garry McFadden
Come all you young fellows, come listen to my song
It is not my intention to delay you very long
For I know you all have read of it, it's in the papers still
All about the famous battle that was fought at Brennan's Hill
The County Officers started their duty for to do
And they were assisted by the Provincial Crew
The came up at midnight when everything was still
For they were afraid to pass that place called Brennan's Hill
Camp was pitched at Brook's Hotel at Low
And early next morning Officers were heard to say
Check your revolvers to see they are in good trim
Then I'll put through your exercises and we start for Brennan's Hill
They examined their revolvers and found them all serene
They put them through their exercises the best you ever seen
Their horses they were ready and they started them
You would think it was for Sebastopol instead of Brennan's Hill
The first places they visited the men they were away
The houses were unguarded and the Officers did play
They acted up unmanly, they thought they were great men
But they were forced to take backwater on reaching Brennan's Hill
They were hunted from Driscoll's to the hotel at Low
To see them marching up the road, they made a splendid show
Major (the lawyer) was awful angry and Bailiff Groulx did grin
They said they'd bring the Militia to conquer Brennan's Hill
The Militia unto his men did say
I believe tomorrow morning you have got to bear away
Up the Gatineau Valley unto a place called Low
Where they do hunt the Bailiffe when up to them they go
The gallant 43rd came up and pitched their tents in Low
The people of our township to visit they did go
They used us very friendly, they seemed to be nice men
But that was their best policy with the town of Brennan's Hill
They started them for Willis's they duty for to do
To see them marching down the road they were a splendid crew
The winding paths around the hills that led them to their den
But they could not find Willis, he was out at Brennan's Hill
The place it was deserted and nothing could be found
So Bailiff Groulx he got to work and seized the ground
They returned back to Ottawa to practice up their drill
And thanked the Lord they were safe from the boys of Brennan's Hill
Surnames for search engine: Brook, Groulx, Willis, Brennan, Driscoll
E-mail Allan Lewis
March 20, 2007:
As promised the Story of The Battle of Brennan's Hill as sent to me by my
cousin Eric Mahoney whose mother was my great Aunt Violet Myles of Low, Quebec.
Prince George, BC.
Battle of Brennan's Hill
The Low Rebellion
On November 14, 1895 some remarkable news hit the headlines in the Ottawa
papers. Subscribers to The Journal must have been surprised to read
"Pay or Seizure…. The Provincial Police are now in Low Township…
Arrived in the Rebellious Settlement late last night…. They are all
armed to the teeth and payment will be forced" The county council had
finally decided to take action against the ratepayers of Low township
only 36 miles up the Gatineau from Ottawa, who had successfully avoided
paying their taxes for 15 years.
The headlines sounded fierce, but there were in fact only 8 policeman
in this armed force, and their orders were to help the bailiffs collect
arrears from over 200 delinquent ratepayers, mainly of Irish descent
who, to quote The Journal again, "All possessed the vigor and
determination that characterizes their race." For some reason the
authorities didn't expect glorious resistance from these vigorous
Irishmen, although officers of the law had frequently been chased
away on previous occasions, and once poor bailiff Flatters of Aylmer
had been locked in a cellar without food or drink for 48 hours.
However, this time each Provincial Policeman carried two Smith and Wesson
revolvers and they were all big, strapping fellows…." Just the class of
man that would not flinch from duty". They were accompanied by county
solicitor C.B. Major, and county treasurer Desjardin / Desjardins,
bailiff Groulx, high constable Genest, and two men sworn in as special
constables to drive the police wagons. Although the roads were horribly
muddy, it had been decided to travel by wagon, rather than by train, and
to arrive late at night so that the party would have an initial element
of surprise on their side.
Unfortunately this advantage was denied the little force since news of
the expedition had somehow leaked out and the delinquent ratepayers had
been busy hiding cattle and belongings back in the bush behind their farms.
It wasn't surprising that so many farms had appeared deserted the
following morning, but finally the police finally encountered one very
lively inhabitant, a Miss O'Rourke who threatened to pour boiling water
on anyone who tried to serve a tax notice on her. Hearing that she owed
$2.35 in taxes she seized a stick of firewood and started to belabor one
of the policemen. But the upholders of the law and order retired gracefully
with the warning that the farm would have to be sold to pay for arrears.
The same unsympathetic reception awaited the constables at the next
O'Rourke farm. Only this time it was a neighbour, John Raine who stole
the show, apparently brandishing a shillelagh. He made an eloquent speech
that ended "as long as there is heart blood in an Irishman in the Gatineau,
we will fight. You want to treat us as our fore fathers were treated in
Ireland. They came out here to escape heavy taxes. Now, gentlemen, ye's
better git". However, Mr. Raines suggestion was ignored and the little
party continued on its discouraging search for delinquents until a mob
of about 40 men began to hamper operations to such an extent that it
was decided to go back to Brock's Hotel for lunch.
To somewhat shorten a long story, the next morning, a Friday, it was
discovered that all the bolts had been removed from the police wagons overnight.
Further operations had been neatly sabotaged until the wagons had been mended.
So, an irate solicitor Major returned to Hull and armed himself with a
requisition for military assistance signed by the Sheriff and 3 Justices
of the Peace. Once the legality of the request had been established,
the Honourable A.R. Dickey, Minister of Militia, General Gascoigne,
commander of the Canadian troops, Lt. Col. The Honourable Matthew Aylmer
and Lt. Col. Joshua Wright, held a council of war which resulted in the
Orders by Lt. Col. Aylmer, commanding Military District No. 4, on the
occasion of being called upon to assist the civil authorities in the township
of Low, county of Ottawa, province of Quebec. 21 NCO's and men, and 21
horses of the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, with 40 rounds of ball
ammunition per man; one Major, two subalterns, one Medical Officer, one
Vetinary Surgeon, one trumpeter, and 21 NCO's and men with 25 horses of
the No. 2 Ottawa Field Battery, with 40 rounds of ammunition per man.
One Lt. Col., two Captains, four Subalterns, one Quartermaster and
60 NCO's and men; two Buglers and two horses of the 43 Battalion,
Ottawa and Carleton Rifles, with 70 rounds of ball ammunition per man.
Will entrain at the Gatineau Valley Railway Depot at Ottawa at 08:30am
Sunday, the 17th inst., and proceed to Low.
Early Sunday morning a large crowd gathered to wave farewell to this
force of over 120 men. There was a military band, and General Gascoigne
inspected and addressed the troops. Finally, to the tune of "The Girl
I Left Behind Me" the military special steamed out of the station with
3 passenger coaches, 4 stock cars for the horses and 2 box cars full
of ammunition, camping equipment, hay and oats. There had been a rumour
that the belligerent men of Low might try to blow up sections of the
track, but the journey went smoothly and the men came into the Low station
while most of the inhabitants were still at church.
The Rev. Father Foley of Farrelton and father Blondin of Low had been
asked, and were indeed trying to convert their Parishioners to a more
docile state of mind. Father Blondin used as his text "render onto
Caesar those things which are Caesars". Certainly from the minute the
white tents were pitched and the troops were finally encamped, there
was a notable lowering of blood pressure. Perhaps more than anything
else the knowledge that Low Township would have to pay for these
impressive maneuvers rapidly cooled the tempers of the wiser townsmen.
However the throngs of repentant ratepayers who woke county Treasurer
Desjardin from a sound sleep early Monday morning, positively clamoring
to pay their taxes must have astounded the authorities. Two cavalrymen
had to be detailed from the camp to keep the queues in order.
At this point, it is only fair to say that not all the farmers had not
been equally adamant in their stand against taxpaying. The men of
Brennan's Hill and a group known as the Stag Creek Kickers had shown
the most determined opposition to court orders and bailiffs. There were
others who were said to have paid over their taxes to unauthorized bailiffs
who then took the money to Brooks Hotel and drank it. It is sometimes hard
to tell where the truth lies. But the facts of payment were fairly clear
that Monday and Tuesday. Accounts that had originally totaled about $1.80
and now amounted with costs to $47.00 were paid off without hardly a murmur.
Although this wonderful replenishment of the county council coffers had
been one of the main aims of the expedition, there was another vital point
of principal to establish. Obviously it would be impossible to send an
annual military expedition to Low. A responsible town council would have
to take care of things in the future. The comfortable ostrich theory that
because there was no elected council, therefore there was no assessable
township, would have to be abandoned. So that Monday there was an exchange
of telegrams with Quebec City, including a formal petition to the Hon.
J.A. Chapleau to appoint as Municipal "Councilors" the following men:
Messers. T. McDonald, William McCrank,
P. Gannon, John Skillen, D. Smith, J. Sullivan,
Edward McSheffery - Mayor, Patrick Hayes - Sec. Treas. On these 7 men
fell the heavy responsibility of seeing that the $5,000 bill for the
expedition was paid.
Meanwhile the only attempted military skirmish took place on Tuesday
afternoon. The Citizen aptly described it as "Mountain and Mouse". How
a mounted escort rode 4 miles for nothing. A detachment of 30 cavalrymen
under the command of Major Bliss proceeded with proper caution to the
southern most holding of the township which belonged to a Mr. Jim Willis.
Unfortunately Mr. Willis' cabin had been abandoned for a considerable
period, and it appeared that Mr. Willis himself was of rather unsound mind.
So there were now only a handful of taxpayers left who had not reported
with cash and these lived in remote sections, inaccessible locations
until there was sufficient snow for travel by sleigh.
A certain amount of snow fell Tuesday evening which was to be the last
night under canvas for the troops, but it would have needed more than snow
to chill the lively spirit of the expedition. A sample of the troop's
behaviour which had so impressed the townshippers, could be seen Wednesday
afternoon while the cavalry were waiting on the station platform. They
had to stand for two hours in an icy wind while extra cars were sent
up from Ottawa, but with supreme gallantry they removed their greatcoats
and spread them over their horses.
Finally, about 6 O'clock a triumphant army arrived back in Ottawa where
a great welcome, and the prospect of a fine Thanksgiving dinner,
awaited the boys. A magnificent song was published in The Journal celebrating
the victory. Here is the verse:
And in the days to come when veterans brave
Tell of the glorious tales of the past
Of the victories won 'neath the banners that wave
Over Britannia's unconquered host,
Our boys will simply smile and say
With accents complacently gay
No doubt you made a goodly show
But We are the boys who conquered Low
Note: One of the Hughes held the bailiff for 3 days in a root cellar on
Jim Brennan's farm up behind Delberts. (Brennan?)
The above was sent to me by Mr. Eric Mahoney formerly of Low and who
has resided in Edmonton, Alberta with his wife Jean Givens for sometime now.
Eric is into his family history and has been a great encouragement to me
and is a wonderful person. Thanks to my wonderful wife Veronica for dictating
to me. This helped immensely with the time factor of the typing.
Prince George, B.C.
August 22, 2007:
Hi Mr. Lewis, my name is Linda and am originally from Timmins, Ontario.
My grandfather's name was Thomas Brennan and he met my grandma here,
Maria Vincent who he married and had 12 kids. One being my
mom. Have you ever heard of a place here called Brennan's Hill? Located near
My great grandfather was James Brennan of County Kilkenny Ireland. Am Looking
forward to knowing more. I was wondering if you or anyone else out there would
know the history.
February 12, 2012:
Thanks to Doug Hughes for the following:
I went back to your site and came across the poem about The Battle of Brennan's Hill and was curious to find out more.
I found the item from the Ottawa Journal below at the web site shown.
(November 14, 1895 Ottawa Journal clipping, describing the Battle of Brennan's Hill)
It may be of interest to you.
Extracts from the article:
"It is well known that all efforts by the country authorities to collect these taxes have
been baffled by the resistance of the ratepayers. Not only have the officers of the law
been openly assaulted in the past, but driven from the township. This state of open
defiance to the law has existed for years, but with the appearance of this armed force
it promises to arrive at a speedy termination one way or the other.
The squad of police have been sent here from Quebec by the provincial government to
protect and assist the country officers while they compel the ratepayers to pay the
taxes which they rightfully owe. This armed force consists of eight persons, under
the command of Sergeant Poitrais. Tomorrow morning they and the bailiffs, accompanied
by Country Solicitor Major and Country Clerk Desjardins, who are also here, start
out to perform their mission.
Pay up or seizure.
All the ratepayers in the township upon whom the bailiffs have succeeded in serving
notices of arrearages in taxes, and who since the service of such notice upon them,
have not paid up will be forced to pay without a moment's grace or the effects will
promptly be seized upon to cover the amount of taxes owing by them. The delinquent
ratepayers in the township number 209. Owing to the resistance which the bailiffs
had to encounter last week only twenty-four ratepayers could be served with notices.
One hundred and eighty-five delinquents have not yet had notices served upon them,
having successfully avoided the bailiffs, who had endeavoured to fulfill this part
of their duty. These will now be forced to accept the notices and if they do not
pay their arrears within fifteen days their effects will be in turn be seized upon.
"The bailiffs and provincial police," said Country Solicitor Major tonight, "will
remain here until every cent of the taxes are paid. We are not going to do this
thing by halves now. The ratepayers of Lowe have given us too much trouble already,
and now they must pay and pay promptly. Their day of grace is past."
It is not believed here that there will be any serious resistance, for although
the ratepayers have hitherto shown no reluctance to drive a company of two or
three bailiffs out of the township they will not be prepared to offer resistance
to an armed force, especially when such a force comes upon them unexpectedly.
The force drove up.
The provincial police and bailiffs drove in two large express wagons from Hull,
arriving here long after midnight, having taken more than seven hours to drive
the distance of 36 miles, owing to the muddy condition of the road and the
darkness of the night. They might have come the entire way by train, but County
Solicitor Major explains that it was arranged that they should reach here in
the middle of the night, so that the people of the neighbourhood would have no
intelligence that they were coming until they had arrived. There is, however
another reason which shows with what prudence the trip was planned. Had they
arrived by train it is exceedingly doubtful if any of the people in the
vicinity would have cared to supply horses and rigs to drive the officers
back to the locality, where they will begin to carry out their mission, for
fear that they would put themselves on bad terms with the people in the
vicinity by giving such assistance to the officers of the law. Bailiffs
sent up a similar errand have several times been refused rigs for the
reasons stated. The officers will drive through the township, having the s
ame accommodation that brought them up from Hull. The drivers of the rigs
are sworn [...] special constables, and consequently there is no fear of
them deserting at a crucial moment."