Social Violence in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and area
(the Shiners' Wars)
beginning in the 1820's



June 6, 2008:

This is a new page and will contain some material regarding the Shiners' War in early 
Bytown / Ottawa. This is a sensitive subject -- Bytown was a typical frontier town with
a mix of young, single, male labourers from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Recreational fighting was common at the time. The fighting often became feuding because of 
the varying ethnic and religious backgrounds of the population.

January 19, 2012:
Source of text below: Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America, by Kerby Miller, page 60 Pre-famine Social Violence in Ireland
My ancestors, who were all in this area in the 1800's, are composed of Irish Catholics, Irish Protestants, Scotch Presbyterians, Anglicans from England and French Canadians. Their experiences are probably typical of many of the early families in the Ottawa area.
"And loud and fierce the clamor rose And words soon lost themselves in blows The very stones began to speak And skulls, of course, began to break And black thorns and maple sticks Played such fantastic ugly tricks That soon the well-thronged battle plain Was strewn with bodies of the slain The "Kilt" who fell to rise again Without the doctor's mystic aid And plunge once more into the raid Stones flew in showers The windows shook Around that famous donnybrook While Tipperary's battle yell Did loudly o'er the conflict swell And many a Celt with accent racy Roared for a SLAVIN or a CASEY And fierce the struggle raged around Where the seven Slavins stood their ground Seven brothers back to back they stood Like heroes tho their streaming blood Told bravely how they turned at bay Against hundreds in that savage fray O'erpowered at last they did retreat Face to the foe, still in defeat Defiant as they moved along Pursued by the relentless throng They reached their home, shut fast the door And stood within upon the floor Ready to meet the coming foe Who in their vengeance were not slow Stones showered from the assailing crew In pieces every window flew Then, with a loud and savage yell They rushed to storm the citadel! A gun barrel through a broken pane Made the invaders pause again A sharp axe sticking through another Their thirst for slaughter seemed to smother. A battle council then took place And very soon there was no trace Of conflict or of bloody fray Round where the Slavins stood at bay! Thus ended Bytown's first old Fair A donnybrook most rich and rare This annal of the olden time Was not premeditated crime It sprung from what sprung quite a part Of every genuine Irish heart A sort of Faugh a Ballagh way That sticks to Irishmen today."
Source: Lett's Bytown One Byrne, One Slavin About five years ago I was going through some microfilm reels in the basement of the library at Carleton University. The work was called Dark Druidical Groves; the Lumber Community and the Commercial Frontier in British North America, to 1854., 1968, by Michael S. Cross, University of Toronto. This thesis had some interesting material regarding social violence in the Ottawa Valley. A phrase caught my attention: "One Byrne received a cracked skull at the hands of One Slavin". This event occurred in the late 1820's in Bytown. At the time, I just put this down as a couple of young Irish lads who were passing time on a Saturday night in a rough frontier town. Now, in 1831, my Great Great Grandfather, let's just call him "One Byrne", was married at Notre Dame Cathedral on Sussex Drive in downtown Ottawa. His best man was none other than "One Slavin". This is an example of the tenor of the young members of the Bytown society. The men were quick to fight but also very quick to shake hands and move on. At least among their own social group.

Peter Aylen, "King of the Shiners" was a major player in the lumbering industry in the 1830's. He was able to organize the Irish labourers, unemployed for the most part when Rideau Canal construction came to an end in 1832, into a gang. He hired many of them to work in his lumber camps and they competed for jobs with the French Canadian workers. The drawing below shows Joe Montferrand battling a gang of Shiners. More to come ... A good article which describes this era in our history is The Shiners' War: Social Violence in the Ottawa Valley in the 1830's, article by Michael Cross, in Canadian Historical Review (1973). (see excerpt below, dated December 12, 2012).
Source of Drawing below: Where Rivers Meet: An Illustrated History of Ottawa, page 49 Joe Mufferaw / Joe Montferrand

May 30, 2014: Book: The History of Joseph Montferrand: The Canadien Athlete, aka Joe Mufferaw, by Benjamin Sulte, The Historical Society of Ottawa, Bytown Pamphlet Series No. 74, Translated by Iris M. Neville, 2008, ISBN 0-920960-87-1 June 25, 2008:
The following appears on the inside back flap of Carleton Saga, by Harry and Olive Walker It captures the flavour of life in frontier Bytown. Excerpt from <U>Carleton Saga</U>

Coming soon: The Ballyghiblin Riots of 1824.
Historic Plaque at Carleton Place, Ontario Ballyghiblin Riots, 1824

July 16, 2008: 1833.—Street fair held to celebrate the opening of canal. On this occasion there was a fight between the Canalers (original Shiners, who were afterwards joined by the Shanty men) and the farmers from Carleton. The fight like the fair was a " street," and " free " to all, and yet both sides said it wasn't fair. Colonel By, being present, said: "This is the last 'exhibition' to be held in my time," and so it was, as the next one was not held until in the so's. Miss Catherine Coombs, now Mrs. Tracey, of 221 Stewart Street, born this year. She is the oldest woman, living in Ottawa, who was born here. Source: The Hub and the Spokes, written by Anson Gard in 1904, page 46.
September 13, 2008: Much has been written of the Shiners' riots in Ottawa. By the mid-'30s, these roving gangs of shantymen -- led by a man named Peter Aylen -- virtually controlled Lowertown. When Aylen was arrested once, the Shiners stormed the Ottawa lockstation (on the Rideau Canal) and set fire to a steamer. Their leader was promptly released. It was only after Aylen tried to murder a prominent Uppertown lawyer that paid constables were finally brought to town and the gang brought under control. Aylen had to flee, although he didn't go far. He simply crossed the river, built a fine stone house and founded the city of Aylmer. Many historians have concluded the brawls were caused primarily by religious and cultural hatred between the Irish and the French -- the Irish going by the name of Shiners, which seemed to suit them, for reasons that cannot easily be articulated. But this ignores a far simpler explanation. That every raftsman in 19th-century Ottawa was in a hurry to get downriver, and a rival raftsman always stood in his way. As for the Shiners, and their part in every riot (or so it seemed), why they may simply have felt more entitled than most, because on their rafts they carried oak staves. Which made them a better breed of raftsmen. Or so the Shiner argument went. So it may have been wood, not religion, that caused all the drag-down, blood-in-the-mud fights in Ottawa. Source: Ron Corbett in an article in the Ottawa Sun, dated August 24, 2008.
March 15, 2010: Photo of Daniel O'Connor, Bytown (Ottawa), Ontario, Canada> Photo of Daniel O'Connor, Bytown (Ottawa), Ontario, Canada>

December 12, 2012:
Source of text below: The Shiners' War: Social Violence in the Ottawa Valley in the 1830's, article by Michael Cross, in Canadian Historical Review (1973), page 1. Article about the Shiners in the Ottawa Valley, 1830's
Keywords for search engine: Dow, Nicholas Sparks, Braddish Billings, Shiners.
October 21, 2014: Rethinking the Shiners' War ... ... is an interesting paper by professor Chad Gaffield in the book History of the Outaouais, pages 209-215. Some of the characters discussed are Peter Aylen, Baxter Bowman, George Hamilton, Joe Montferrand, Michael Burke (ML# 365 ?), Philemon Wright, Louis Joseph Papineau, James Prendergrast (Clarendon Township) and Joseph Bouchette. Some of the subjects covered are the Gatineau Privilege, the early growth of Aylmer, Quebec which, in its economic development leapfrogged the original settlement of Hull, Quebec.
E-mail Allan Lewis

Back to Bytown or Bust - History and Genealogy in the Ottawa, Canada area