Author: Dr Jason F. Kovacs and Dr. Brian S. Osborne
Publication Date: 2009
WHAT STARTED IT ALL
About midnight on May 16, 1889, a fire broke out in St. Sauveur, a village to the west of Quebec City.1 the population fled their homes as the fire raged through the wooden houses, virtually unchecked by the feeble efforts of the village's poorly equipped volunteer fire-brigade. Even the hastily dispatched Quebec City brigade couldn't help because of the lack of water, and several hundred houses were soon destroyed. Faced with a growing disaster, the Mayor of St. Sauveur telephoned Quebec City's Citadel and over 130 soldiers from the 'B' Battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery were soon on the site. After failing to demolish the buildings fuelling the inferno with ropes and tackle, they turned to their own expertise: gunpowder! Small kegs were deployed successfully in razing four buildings but, at 6:45 A.M., something went wrong. A 100-pound charge was set in a fifth building, but the fuse failed. Perhaps foolishly, but certainly bravely, Major Charles Short and Staff-Sergeant George Wallick entered the building to correct the problem just as the charge exploded. The house was destroyed, the two soldiers were killed, and two heroes were added to Canada's pantheon. But they had died in vain. The fire didn't burn itself out until 2:00 P.M. when it reached the surrounding fields, leaving behind, "A mass of smouldering ruins." Some 1,050 buildings had been destroyed, 900 to 1,200 families rendered homeless, and 4,000 to 6,000 people were camped out in the surrounding fields or accommodated in public buildings.
The "Short-Wallick" Monument in front of Drill Hall, Quebec City, QC, (circa 1910).
(Photo courtesy of the McCord Museum MP-0000.1162.10).
TWO HEROES, ONE WELL-KNOWN: MAJOR C. J. SHORT
But who were these 'intrepid heroes' whose death was "Aussi glorieuse que celle qu'ils auraient trouvée dans la bataille." Both the "gallant" Major Short and the "handsome young sergeant" Wallick were said to have been well-known in the city and, "General favourites," among their colleagues and acquaintances.2
Much is known about Major C. J. Short's military career: his promotion to Lieutenant in 1874, Brevet-Major in 1878, the command of 'B' Battery in 1882, and Aide-de-Camp (A.D.C) to the Governor General in 1888.3 He had won acclaim for his service in the Montreal Orange riots of 1878, the Quebec stevedore riots in 1879, and in several actions in the North-West Rebellion of 1885. As if that were not enough, he was gallant, charming, a splendid horseman, excellent boxer amateur actor, and wonderful swimmer, who had risked his life to save others. And, while born in Sherbrooke, he had strong connections with Kingston, where he had married Miss Carruthers, daughter of a prominent Kingston merchant and politician. On hearing of her husband's death, Mrs. Short arranged for his remains to be transported to Kingston for burial.4
Accordingly, on May 18th, Major Short's cortege left the Citadel for Quebec City's Anglican cathedral, through crowd-lined streets with official buildings flying flags at half-mast, houses draped in mourning and stores closed. The procession consisted of many prominent people, a detachment of police, a contingent of soldiers, and military bands. Major Short's coffin was carried on a flag-draped gun-carriage, accompanied by his helmet, sword, and many floral tributes. Following the service at the cathedral, the procession continued to the waterfront where the coffin was transferred to the S. S. Queen which transported it to the Grand Trunk Station to be transported by rail to Kingston where it arrived on the morning of May 19th.
The next day, a large military procession with all the usual trappings was accompanied by distinguished pall-bearers, an array of local dignitaries, and masses of the general public. It proceeded through the streets of Kingston for the four miles to Cataraqui Cemetery. It was concluded that,
"Never before in the history of Kingston has there been such an enormous turnout to do honour to any one man."
Subsequently, a grave marker was erected. It is a simple marble plinth cut off as if to symbolize dramatically Short's tragically interrupted life:
"In memory of Major Charles John Short A.D.C. commanding 'B' Battery R.C.A. (Royal Canadian Artillery), who lost his life in the discharge of his duty at the Great Fire at St. Sauveur, 16th May 1889, age 42."
Sergt. Wallick Le Monde. Illustre Vol. 6, No. 265. p. 35, (June 1, 1819).
(Photo courtesy of the Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales Du Quebec).
THE OTHER HERO: SERGEANT GEORGE WALLICK
But less is known about Staff-Sergeant Wallick. A native of Guelph, Ontario, he had served with 'B' Battery for seven years and was its riding-master in Kingston. He too had left Kingston in 1885 to serve inn the suppression of the North-West Rebellion, and had become, "Famous for his bravery." At the time of his death, he was about to be married; to whom we don't know. But he didn't return to Guelph for burial or recognition of his valour.
Rather, on the same day and at the same hour of Major Short's burial in Kingston, Wallick was buried with full military honours in Quebec City's Mount Hermon cemetery.5 The ceremony conformed to the usual pattern: a service at the Citadel where the body had been resting; a coffin on a horse-drawn gun-carriage accompanied by a military firing party and bands; a procession of local dignitaries and the general public; a burial service administered by four ministers at the Methodist Church in St. Ursule Street; and the interment accompanied by a volley fired over the open grave. With the formalities over, some of the floral offerings were handed to Wallick's step-father, George Jackson, to take back to Wallick's mother, Elizabeth, in Mossboro, near Guelph.
PUBLIC TRIBUTES AND COMMEMORATION
There were to be other tributes to Short and Wallick. In April 1890, Short's brother officers placed a memorial tablet in Quebec City's Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. A year later, on November 12, 1891, a twelve-foot-high monument featuring busts of the two heroes designed by the prominent French Canadian artist, Louis-Philippe Hébert, was unveiled in front of the drill-hall on the Grand Allée before an, "Enormous crowd."6
View of St. Sauveur after the Fire. Le Monde Illustré, Vol. 6, No. 266. p. 45, (June 8, 1889).
(Photo courtesy of the Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales Du Quebec).
It was a grand affair. Detachments of the Montreal Garrison Artillery, the Quebec 'B' Battery, the Royal School of Cavalry, 8th and 9th Battalions, and the Queen's Own Hussars were arrayed around the monument which was draped with the Union Jack. The immediate space surrounding the monument was; however, reserved for religious and military figures, along with members of the Short-Wallick Memorial Committee and prominent civilians. Mayor Frémont addressed the large crowd in French and English and delivered a dramatic and emotional account of how Short and Wallick were victims of their own devotion to their fellow citizens. At 3:00 P.M., the monument was unveiled, the honour guard presented arms, military bands played the "Old Hundred," and, "Magnificent flower wreaths," were laid by senior officers. The ceremony ended with a speech from Hon. Mr. Mercier, the Premier of Quebec, who related the bravery of Short and Wallick to highlight Canadian unity and commented on the emotive power of the monument that was no mere bronze sculpture:
"Listen! What does it say?... [I]t recalls two Englishmen sacrificing their young, vigorous, and promising lives to rescue a French section of this city from the ravages of a disastrous fire... As long as it stands here, this monument will say to us: You are all brothers: you are all children of one and the same country! Forget the dimensions and conflicts of the past! Be united and have only one rivalry - to see who will do the most honour to the Canadian name."
While Mercier's "eloquent speech," was delivered in English, it nonetheless resonated throughout the entire city. Indeed, the report observed that neither English nor French spectators could keep their hands in their pockets during the Premier's eloquent appeal for the flag flying over the Citadel and for the union between the peoples.
But these warm, patriotic sentiments were not to last. If originally described as, "One of the most beautiful ornaments," of Quebec City, the location of Hébert's monument at the Mènage Militaire was seen to be problematic. In 1892, Hébert himself urged the relocation of his 'monument' to a more aesthetically appropriate site.7 A year later, French nationalist sentiments were to the fore, and this prompted discussion about the possible relocation of the Short-Wallick monument away from the vicinity of the symbolic Plains of Abraham, a site which should be reserved solely for historical markers of French-Canadian history.8 Others argued for re-situating it in St. Sauveur, the community where the two soldiers had died.9 Despite these pressures, the Short-Wallick monument was not moved. Apart from a recent brief and controversial interlude, it has remained on the grounds of the Drill Hall, close to Quebec City's Grande Allée.
BUT WHAT DID GUELPH DO FOR GEORGE WALLICK?
What is surprising is that while Short and Wallick were lionized in the Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City newspapers, there was little attention paid to his local connection. To be sure, the national coverage was re-printed in the Guelph Daily Mercury. On May 16, 1889, an article in the local paper reported on the "Great Fire in Quebec's Suburbs: Two Lives Lost by an Explosion," and identified the two people who were killed by name. But it doesn't make a Guelph connection. The next day, another column on, "The Quebec Disaster," is more forthcoming, if somewhat unsure:
"According to the dispatches, Sergt. Wallick, who was so seriously injured in the explosion at the St. Sauveur fire, came from Guelph, but the artillery men here cannot place him. It has been mentioned that he came from near Mosboro, and was at one time attached to the College battery, but this is not definite."
More details are provided of, "Sergt. Wallick's History," in the May 18th edition in what turned out to be the most fulsome exploration of George Wallick's local connections:
"As was thought yesterday, it has been ascertained that Sergt. Wallick, killed at Quebec, belonged to this neighbourhood. He was the grandson of John Wallick of Mosboro, and son of Mrs. George Jackson, of that neighbourhood, by her first marriage. He was raised at the farm next to Mr. James Taylor, auctioneer, and left home when about 18. He joined the 'B' Battery, 1st Brigade Field Artillery, here, in 1879, and a year later went to the Kingston School of Gunnery and afterwards joined 'B' Battery of regulars at Quebec, as gunner, rising by his ability to the post of head riding instructor. He was a general favorite with the men."
The Kingston News has the following commendatory notice:
"He was born in Guelph and luckily leaves no wife to weep over his grave. He will be buried on Monday at Mount Hermon, Quebec, with military honours. Mr. Jackson left this morning to be present... Wallick's friends, after a long silence, received a letter and photograph from him about two months ago, when he stated that he intended to be home shortly."
Over the next few days, the Guelph Daily Mercury provided further details of Wallick's death. On May 20th, it reported that,
"Evidence at the Quebec inquest shows that Sergt. Wallick was tenderly moved to the Marine Hospital where he was revived sufficiently to state that the barrel of powder, opened to receive the fuse, was ignited by a spark."
The following day, the "Funeral of Sergt. Wallick," relied on the coverage provided by the other national newspapers. There was no local commentary. Nor was there two years later when, on Thanksgiving Day 1891, the unveiling of the Short-Wallick Monument in Quebec City again attracted national attention. There was not even a single line in any of the local newspapers acknowledging the nationally noted event and the connection between Sergt. Wallick and the city. Why?
Kitchener's John Jackson might have the answer.10 He recently contacted us after reading an article we had written on the Short-Wallick monument in Historic Kingston.11 He told us of his interest being sparked by, "Newspaper clippings about the Short-Wallick incident from the Guelph paper in a box of papers that my grandmother left me." Stating that it was, "Always a mystery." He pondered whether the newspaper references to George Wallick as, "The son of Mrs. George Jackson by her first marriage and of his grandfather as John Wallick fitted our family." Interested in a connection to his family, he noted that, "It is important to know that the putative grandfather had endured various spellings of the name: Walsch, Walche, Wallich, Walich, Walach, Wallack."12 Further, he had determined the origins of "John Wallick" when:
"...[He] came to Waterloo Township from Alsace Lorraine between 1846 and 1850. They were German. He and his wife Magdalena lived with their eight children near Mosborough on the border of Waterloo and Wellington counties. Only one of the eight was a boy, who never married. One of their daughters - Elizabeth - married a neighbour George Jackson on October 2, 1878. Having been born on December 17, 1845, she was 27 when they married."
Map shows Mosborough in relation to Guelph.
(Source: Historical Atlas of Wellington County, 1906).
Enlargement of precious map which shows a detailed view of Mosborough.
(Source: Historical Atlas of Wellington County, 1906).
But here is the problem if Elizabeth is the mother of George Wallick by a previous marriage. She is listed as "single" on the marriage registration to George Jackson and no previous marriage registration for her has been found. Nor is there a death registration for a previous husband by the name of Wallack/Wallick in any of its various spellings. Obviously, as daughter of John Wallick, Elizabeth's maiden name was Wallick. To be sure, she may have married a person with the same last name but there is only one other male with that name in the area, and he is the age of her father, and is married to someone else. Further, George Wallick must have been born around 1864 when Elizabeth was about nineteen, but again, there are no records of this. Then again, he would have been about seven years of age at the time of the 1871 census, but he is not recorded, although it does confirm that the "unmarried" Elizabeth Wallick is still living at home with her father John "Wallack." Further, the May 18, 1889 report in the Guelph Daily Mercury claims that George Wallick was, "Raised at the farm next to Mr. James Taylor, auctioneer, and left home when about 18." Certainly, it can be confirmed that John Wallick's farm, lot 95 in the German Company Tract on the east side of Waterloo Township, was near James Taylor's farm.
Perhaps this litany of historical evidence, present and missing, contributes to an understanding of Guelph's amnesia about one of their sons who was acclaimed as a hero elsewhere. Yes, the nationally prominent story of the derring-do of two Ontario military men did make the front page of the Guelph Daily Mercury at the time. But while the two people killed were identified, including Mossboro's George Wallick, no local connection is made. Indeed, on the second day of coverage, he is "reported" to have come from Guelph near Mossboro, but apparently, the people there do not remember him. By the third day, a limited history has been reconstructed, but he appears like a stranger in the community in which he was born.
In our initial evaluation of this glaring omission in Historic Kingston, we speculated that it may be attributed to the class-driven values of the day and that he was ignored because of his lower rank in the military hierarchy. John Jackson, has another theory for neglect in his home community:
"My conclusion: I believe that Sergt. Wallick is the illegitimate child of Elizabeth Wallick, born nine years before she married George Jackson. I suspect that because of embarrassment with his illegitimacy his birth was never registered, and he was not reported on at census time."
Not surprisingly, therefore, there appears to be no evidence of any official recognition of George Wallick's valour on that fateful day, far away in Quebec City. And, certainly, no memorial was erected for him in his home community, of Guelph.
A PLACE FOR WALLICK IN GUELPH'S MEMORY?
For close to a century, the heroes of the St. Sauveur fire were honoured at several commemorative sites. Short's grave in Kingston's Cataraqui Cemetery and Wallick's in Quebec City's Mount Hermon were splendid testimonies to their courageous self-sacrifice. Their dual monument crafted by the doyen of nineteenth-century monumental portrait sculpture, Louise-Philippe Hébert, graced a prominent public space in the grounds adjacent to Quebec's National Assembly. To be sure, perhaps as befitting an officer, Major Short was the beneficiary of even more attention: his plaque in Quebec City's Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity; and, on "Gunners' Day," on May 25, 1985, a replica of that plaque was installed by members of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery on the wall of the Officers' Mess at Fort Frontenac, Kingston. Perhaps it is time that something was done in Guelph to mark the heroism and sacrifice of one its citizens: Sergt. George Wallick, 'B' Battery, of the Royal Canadian Artillery.
- Quebec L'Électeur, Montreal Daily Star, May 16, 1889; Quebec L'Électeur, Ottawa Daily Citizen, Ottawa Evening Journal, Montreal Gazette, Toronto Globe, Toronto Daily Mail, May 17, 1889; Montreal Gazette; Ottawa Daily Citizen; Toronto Globe, Toronto Daily Mail, May 18, 1889; Quebec L'Electeur, May 22, 1889; Toronto Daily Mail, May 23, 1889.
- Several articles profiled the two heroes: Quebec L'Électeur, May 17, 1889; Ottawa Evening Journal, May 17, 1889; Toronto Daily Mail and Toronto Globe, May 18, 1889; Toronto Globe, Quebec Canadien, Quebec Électeur, November 13, 1891; Quebec Électeur November 14, 1891.
- Kingston Daily Mail, Montreal DaiIy Star, May 16, 1889; Ottawa Daily Citizen, Ottawa Evening Journal; Kingston Daily Mail (re-printed in Toronto Daily Mail) May 17, 1889; Toronto Daily Mail, Toronto Globe, Quebec L'Électeur, May 17, 1889; Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Daily Citizen, May 18, 1889.
- Montreal Gazette; Toronto Globe, Quebec L'Électeur, Kingston British Mail, May 20, 1889; Montreal Gazette, Toronto Daily Mail, Montreal Gazette, May 21, 1889.
- Toronto Daily Mail, May 21, 1889.
- Toronto Globe; Quebec Canadien, Montreal Gazette, Quebec L'Électeur, November 13, 1891; Quebec L'Électeur, November 14, 1891.
- Quebec Courier du Canada, June 13, 1892.
- Quebec L'Électeur, May 26, 1893.
- The following quotes and statements are from correspondence with Mr. John Jackson over the last year.
- Jason F. Kovacs and Brian S. Osborne, "A Tale of Two Heroes and Two Cities: The Short-Wallick Monument, Kingston and Quebec," Historic Kingston, Vol. 53, 2005, p. 99-122.
- A name search was affected in the "Illustrated Atlas of the County of Wellington Walker & Miles 1877," and a section of Historical Atlas of Waterloo & Wellington Counties Ontario, Illustrated by H. Parsell & Co. (Toronto: Walker & Miles, 1881-1877.) It located a J. Walch, G. Walch, and R. Walch (three properties), in Maryborough (Western part of Wellington County). A search of the 1871 and 1881 censuses under several possible alternative spellings of Wallick (Walleck, Wallack, Wallich, Wallech, Wallach) was only partially successful: In 1871, a James Wallack, age 38, born in USA, living in Oshawa; and otherwise, only Wallaces and a Walsh turned up in Guelph in 1881, and a Frances Wallack, born in Ireland.
- Kingston Mail. Standard, May 29, 1985.