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HomeNewsCan The Founding Of Ops Township Be Traced Back To Napoleon?

Can The Founding Of Ops Township Be Traced Back To Napoleon?

Guest post written and submitted by Jeffrey Burke

KAWARTHA LAKES-If I were to ask you who is indirectly responsible for the founding of Ops Township, this “land of plenty”, and the multi-generational families who have resided here, working its land for over two centuries, I would wager that nobody would answer “Napoleon”.  Well if your family, like mine, has resided here for centuries many could trace their ancestors migration to the then Colony of Canada during the early 19th century.

The Napoleonic Wars were a series of conflicts fought from 1803 to 1815, primarily involving France against various European powers. The wars had a profound impact on British society, and in particular, on the soldiers who fought in them. Many of these soldiers suffered physically and emotionally, and The Crown was keen to find ways to support them. One such way was to offer free land in Ops Township.

The idea of offering free land to veterans was not a new one. In fact, it had been tried before in other parts of Canada, such as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. However, Ops Township was one of the largest and most successful of these settlements. Established in 1821, it covered an area of approximately 34,000 acres and is located in what was then Upper Canada (today, Ontario).

The offer of free land was designed to provide opportunities for veterans to start new lives in a more positive and productive way. It was a response to the high level of poverty and unemployment that many veterans faced upon their return to England. Many of them were disabled or had suffered from wounds inflicted during the war, and were unable to find suitable work. The Crown hoped that by offering them free land in Canada, they would be able to establish farms or businesses and support themselves and their families.

To qualify for the land, veterans had to meet certain criteria. They had to have served in the British army or navy during the Napoleonic Wars, and they had to be of good character. In addition, they had to agree to clear and cultivate at least 10 acres of land within the first three years and build a house on the property.

In total, around 400 veterans took up the offer to settle in Ops Township. Most of them arrived between 1821 and 1824, and it is estimated that they brought with them around 1,200 family members. The settlers faced many challenges and difficulties, including harsh weather conditions, disease, and financial problems. Despite these challenges, many of them managed to establish successful farms and businesses, and their descendants still live in this region today.

Researching the “Burke” family tree it appears every branch migrated to Canada five or six generations ago, all veterans of these Napoleonic wars.  Through the British Archives, I was able to acquire the military records of five Great Great Great Great (Gx4) Grandfathers: Burke, Blaylock, Calvert, Wood and Thorn and discovered that they all had served under The Duke Of Wellington at the most important battle of the 19th century, The Battle of Waterloo.

The Battle of Waterloo took place on June 18, 1815, near the town of Waterloo in present-day Belgium. It was fought between the French army, commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte, and a coalition of British, Dutch, and German forces led by the Duke of Wellington. The battle was significant as it marked the final defeat of Napoleon and the end of his reign. At the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon was defeated due to a combination of factors including strategic errors, equipment and logistical problems, and a superior allied force. Napoleon misjudged the strength of his opposition and failed to anticipate the arrival of additional troops. The muddy terrain also made it difficult for his troops to move and communicate effectively. In contrast, the allied forces maintained tighter formations and better communication, which allowed them to quickly respond and outflank Napoleon’s army. Finally, the arrival of soldiers led by the Duke of Wellington and the timely intervention of Prussian forces turned the tide of the battle and secured victory for the allies. The battle lasted around 10 hours, with over 50,000 lives lost. The Battle of Waterloo changed the course of European affairs up to and including today.

Those who fought at Waterloo were awarded “The Waterloo Medal”. The Waterloo Medal was the first British campaign medal which had the name of the soldier and his regiment inscribed along its bottom edge. The medal was issued to all British and colonial soldiers who served in the campaign including the British Army and the King’s German Legion. The medal was made from silver and featured the bust of King George III on one side, and the figure of Victory holding a palm and wreath on the reverse.  I would love to find a Waterloo Medal which was awarded to one of my grandfathers but alas I think the chances of that are slim to nil. I have located and purchased a Waterloo Medal belonging to Thomas Daniels of the 51st Regiment of Foot. Acquiring the medal roll for the 51st Regiment of Foot I see my Gx4 Grandfather, George Calvert, listed one above Daniels, I suspect this is the closest I’ll ever come.

The legacy of Ops Township and the settlement of veterans here is an important part of Canadian history. It is a reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought in the Napoleonic Wars and the challenges they faced upon their return home. It is also a tribute to the resilience and determination of our ancestors who took up the offer of free land and sought to build new lives for themselves and their families in a new country


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