Once considered the most dangerous town in British North America, Bytown (later Ottawa) was a breeding ground for conflict. With the completion of the Rideau Canal in 1832, hundreds of Irish labourers found themselves unemployed. Many banded together as “the Shiners” and resorted to strong-arm tactics to acquire jobs in the lumber camps traditionally dominated by French Canadians. Confrontations between religious and cultural identities, fueled by alcohol consumption, often turned violent.
Case in point, the story of “Croppie” Gleeson: Gleeson, a member of the Shiners, picked a fight with a man named Hobbs for supporting an Orangeman in town council over Peter Aylen, the leader of the Shiners. In the winter of 1837, Gleeson and his men attacked Hobbs’s family as they traveled toward the Byward Market. The Shiners took off with the Hobbs’s horses, leaving his family stranded by the roadside. The following day, Hobbs and a group of armed men came to town seeking retribution. What they found were his horses, their ears and tails cut off, and a group of Irish Catholics gathered in support of the Shiners. Later, in an act of brutal revenge, Hobbs cornered Gleeson at a blacksmith’s shop and cut off his ears. Gleeson was known as “Croppie” for the rest of his days.
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