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Camp Life at Point Henry, Kingston, May 1813
Edited by Robert Henderson

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Canadian Voltigeur Officer by G.A. Embleton
(courtesy of Parks Canada)

    This account was originally translated from French and published in 1895 by Hubert Neilson under the title Reminiscences of the War of 1812-14: Being Portions of the Diary of a Captain of the "Voltigeurs Canadiens" While in Garrison at Kingston, Etc.  The captain in question was Jacques Viger, who went on to became Montreal's first mayor in 1833.   This particular excerpt deals with an encampment located in Kingston, Upper Canada (Ontario) on an elevated stretch of land called Point Henry.  The strategic advantages on this location induced military officials in 1814 to construct a fort.  Called Fort Henry this military site grew and evolved to become one of the largest fortifications in Canada. Today,  Fort Henry is one of Ontario's major tourist attractions where the visitor experiences life in an 1860s garrison along with numerous exhibits on various military topics. 

"...we were ordered by General Prevost on the 17th of May to cross over to Point Henry, where we now occupy tents which we again once more put up in a wilderness of stumps, fallen trees, boulders, and rocks of all sizes and shapes; sharing our blanket with reptiles of varied species; carrying out the precepts of the most self-sacrificing charity towards ten million insects and crawling abominations, the ones more voracious and disgusting than the others.  Phlebotomized by the muskitoes, cut and dissected by gnats, blistered by the sand flies, on the point of being eaten alive by the hungry wood rats as soon as they shall have disposed of our provisions.  Pray for us! Pray for us! ye pious souls.

    Broken down with fatigue, drenched with rain, I enter my tent to find that the birds of the air have besmirched me with lime; I have no sooner sat on my only camp stool when a horrid toad springs on to my lap in a most familiar way; I cast my wearied limbs on to my couch, a slimy snake insists on sharing with me the folds of my blanket, I hastily retire and leave him in possession.   Let us have supper!  The frying pan is produced to fry the ration pork.   Horror!  A monstrous spider has selected it for his web; he holds the fort in a viciously threatening attitude in the centre of its rays, he defiantly seems to sya, remove me if you dare!  The flinty biscuit must be pounded and broken or one can't eat it, here again the beastly wood-bugf must needs crawl under the masher, and in losing his life infect everything with his sickening odor.  Oh! Captain, what can we do?   exclaims my valet.  Fiat lux!  What, Sir?  Light the candle, you blockhead, light the candle.  Let us write to our distant friends the excess of our misery.  O ye gods, what a place this is!  The candle is lighted, it is the next moment surrounded by myriads of flying things.  My table is littered with writhing abominations,  June bugs hasten from all sides, they besiege the light, extinguish it under one's very nose, strike you in the eye, and as a parting shot stun you with a blow on the forehead.  What a paradise this spot would be for an entomologist!

    We remained in this inferno a whole fortnight, but thank heavens these very unpleasant experiences came to an end and were followed by better times.  After showing you the dark side of the medal it is but right you should now be shown the bright. 

    When we first came to Point Henry on the 17th of May, it was covered with stumps and the ground was nothing but holes and bumps.  The trees had been cut down but quite recently.  With much labour our Voltigeurs succeeded in levelling their camp ground.  The camp consists of two rows of Marquises, facing one broad central avenue at the head of which are our Major's quarters and at the foot a small entrenchment.  On a fine day our encampment presents quite a pretty sight.  the Point is high and commands the view over all the surrounding country.  We can here perceive the immense expanse of Lake Ontario, on the distan horizon a few wooded islands, to the right the town and its pretty back-ground; the harbour and its sailing craft; Point Frederick, its fortifications and shipyears are mapped before us;  to the left is Wolfe Island with its extensive forests dotted here and there with new settlements.  Away from the town and the control of the "Big Heads", under the immediate command of an officer who is popular, we can hope to live here in peace, quiteness and happily."

Copyright Access Heritage Inc (formerly The Discriminating General) 1999


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