21 December

Canadian Force Fails to Reach Khartoum in Time

Canada's first contingent sent overseas to help Britain in a war was made up not of soldiers, but of canoe men. It lost a desperate race against tragedy by three days.

In 1884 Britain became involved in a Holy War in the Egyptian Sudan. General Charles Gordon was instructed to evacuate British citizens there, and managed to save 2,000 people before being besieged at Khartoum. General Lord Wolseley, who as Colonel Garnet Wolseley had put down the Red River uprising in 1870, was placed in command of a force to break the siege and get Gordon out. The best way to transport the force to Khartoum was up the Nile River, and General Wolseley remembered the voyageurs who had helped in the transportation of his 1,200 soldiers from Fort William to Fort Garry. They had built boats which they portaged on wooden rollers in a fantastic journey through the wilderness. They were the kind of men Wolseley wanted to take his men and supplies up the Nile.

A group of 386 lumbermen and Caughnawaga Indians was organized and sailed for Egypt on September 15, 1884. The men were under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Fred C. Denison but did not wear uniforms as they had not been recruited as soldiers. Nevertheless, they were Canadians serving overseas in an Imperial war which was in no way even remotely connected with the defence of Canada. It was a precedent, although the men were paid by Britain, not Canada.

On December 21, 1884, Wolseley's force was battling the elements to reach Khartoum in time. General Gordon’s garrison had been under siege since February and it was known that he could not hold out much longer. The lumbermen and Indians gave it everything they had, but Wolseley’s force arrived at Khartoum three days too late. The entire garrison had been massacred.

Although Wolseley's rescue effort failed, he had high praise for the Canadians, and wrote: "I desire to place on record, not only my own opinion, but that of every officer connected with the direction and management of the boat columns, that the services of these voyageurs has been of the greatest possible value, and further, that their conduct throughout has been excellent. They have earned for themselves a high reputation among the troops up the Nile."


21 December

-1620    Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. One of the ship's planks is included in the Peace Arch between British Columbia and the State of Washington.

-1708    The French under St. Ovide captured St. John's, Newfoundland.

-1814    Colonel Henry Procter was tried by court-martial at Montreal for his defeat at Moraviantown (see October 5).

-1838    Joseph Cardinal and Joseph Duquette were executed for crimes during the Lower Canada Rebellion.

-1865    George Brown withdrew from the coalition Government (sec June 22).

-1866    The Bytown and Prescott Railway be came the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway.

-1894    Sir Mackenzie Bowel] became prime minister.

-1942    Butter rationing began in Canada as a wartime measure. Gasoline had been rationed since April 1.

-1956    Pandit Nehru, Prime Minister of India, visited Canada

-1962    Prime Minister Diefenbaker went to the Bahamas for talks with Prime Minister Macmillan of Britain, and President Kennedy of the United States.