Artifact Spotlight: Queen’s Own Rifles, Nominal Roll, March 1866

          It’s been a long while since I’ve used the blog, but I’d like to revive it. With that in mind I’m publishing a a bit of research I did recently for the Queen’s Own Rifles Regimental Museum in Toronto. I have been volunteering at the museum since October 2015 doing collections management/curatorial work. I’ve got a few other projects in the works so hopefully the next blog post won’t be another ten months.



Globe, 10 March

“Arrival and Drilling of Volunteers”, The Globe (Toronto), 10 March 1866

In the early hours of 7 March 1866, the men of the Queen’s Own Rifles were called to arms. They enthusiastically assembled and paraded at the drill shed near Toronto Habour, and remained on active duty for the next few weeks. In winter and spring 1866, Canadians were wary of the threatening Fenian Brotherhood, a group of militant Irish nationalists, who were openly organizing in the United States. The Fenians talked about seizing part of Canada, to be used as a bargaining chip towards Irish independence from the United Kingdom. The QOR were called to active duty in anticipation of trouble around St Patrick’s Day (March 17), which was frequently a day of sectarian conflict between members of Toronto’s Protestant and Catholic Irish communities.


One particularly revealing document we have from that period is the regimental nominal rolls, a record of every man and officer in the regiment. The roll was written in a large hardcover book, the black cover is heavily worn. This particular book was used by the Queen’s Own from 1866 to 1882. Inside, there are more than 400 pages, each page number is neatly printed the top corner. The pages are ruled and lined book like a school notebook.



Queen’s Own Rifles, Nominal Roll, March 1866

The nominal roll as a physical artifact is quite fragile. It is at least 150 years old and was in active use for 16 years. Fortunately we don’t need to use the artifact to study its contents. The nominal rolls were manually scanned by some anonymous, but much appreciated, archivist. The whole book can be viewed as a PDF through the Archives section of this website. Being able to scroll through the nominal rolls as a PDF on my computer screen is great but to really understand it, I needed to sort and manipulate the data. If the tables of the nominal rolls were typed I could have used an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program, which interpret scanned text and turn it into machine-readable ones and zeros. But even the best OCR programs have trouble with handwriting, so the next step was to transcribe the data for the whole regiment, nearly 600 men.


Military clerks would take a record the regiment’s strength at regular intervals during times of peace and active-duty. This task fell to rotating cast of Non Commissioned Officers (NCO). The rolls are not without gaps though. Human error shows up from time to time. A whole page seems to be missing between No. 6 and No. 7 companies, so the record for both companies is incomplete. There is also a note where No. 10 company should be, indicating that the roll of that company was never brought to the orderly room, so we lack a record for that company as well.


sample of nominal roll

Nominal Roll, No. 3 Company, 20 March 1866

Each pages neatly drawn into a ledger. The data being collected changes from year to year. We chose to analyze the entry for March 1866 because it is the first entry in the book, it contains the most data, and because it marks the beginning of a particularly active period for the regiment. The nominal roll entry for March 1866 tells us a lot about the regiment at the time. This entry collects the following data: Rank, Name, Date of Service, Country, Religion, Trade or Calling, Age, and Remarks. From this data we can learn about the demographics of the regiment, and draw comparisons to Toronto of past and present.

In some ways the QOR represented the demographics of Toronto in 1866, in other ways it did not. The general population of Toronto was around 95% British, born either in the British Isles or a colony. Fifty five percent of the regiment are listed as born in Canada, but in the year before Confederation that would be the Province of Canada, composed of Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario). New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were still distinct colonies, each represented in the nominal rolls by one individual. Finally, three soldiers were born in the United States. The soldiers born in Canada were patriotic British subjects, but there was an emerging sense of uniquely Canadian identity.

country of origin

QOR, Country of Origin, 1866

The regiment was as overwhelmingly Protestant as it was British. More than half the soldiers identified as Episcopal, another name for the Church of England and Ireland. Taken together with the Presbyterians (22%) and the Wesleyan/Methodists (17%), the three dominant Protestant denominations made up 94% of the regiment. British and Protestant identities were central to military service and feelings of loyalty. The proportion of Roman Catholics in Toronto peaked at 27% in 1861, but they are disproportionately underrepresented among the QOR, making up just 2%. Almost all of the Catholics in Toronto at the time were from Ireland. Catholics were considered outsiders by the dominant Protestant culture, but unlike the small numbers of Jews, Germans, and Italians in the city they were not considered ‘foreigners’.

religious affiliation

QOR, Religious Affiliation, 1866

British Protestants were not the only Torontonians ready to defend Canada from the Fenian menace. The Globe newspaper reported [10 March, 1866] that 120 men of the city’s “coloured population” had assembled in two companies and had offered their services to the government. Toronto had a small population of people of African descent, some of whom had come to the city along the famous Underground Railroad after escaping from slavery in the United States.

Coloured Volunteers

“Coloured Volunteers”, The Globe (Toronto), 10 March 1866

By 1866, Toronto was established as a regionally-important commercial, administrative, and educational centre. It was also valuable as a transportation hub for the export of Canadian agricultural products and the import of manufactured goods from Britain. In addition, it was becoming an important centre of industrial manufacturing. The men of the regiment represent 66 different occupations and reflect Toronto’s increasingly diverse economy. The heterogeneous occupational composition of the QOR provides an interesting contrast to its homogenous religious and ethnic origins. Several companies of the regiment were initially affiliated with particular trades or institutions and later became numbered units: Merchant’s Company, No. 5 Coy; Civil Service Company, No. 7 Coy; Trinity and University companies, No. 9 Coy. Students from the city’s colleges, universities and medical schools were the largest occupational group, making up 26% of the total; 8 and 9 coys were almost exclusively composed of students. The students were closely followed by clerks who made up 23% of the regiment, many of them concentrated in the No. 5 coy (Merchant’s Company). No other occupations were nearly as numerous as the students and clerks, but several were well represented, including merchants (17), shoemakers (13), laborers (11), and printers (9). There are also many more niche trades among the regiments, including Private R. Watson, silversmith; Private J.C. Smith, sailmaker; and Corporal J.B. Howe, dentist, age 19.

The nominal rolls for 1866 provide a glimpse into the spiritual and working lives of the Queen’s Own Rifles and of Victorian Toronto. The city retained its British Protestant identity well into the 20th century, even as it became increasingly diverse. The QOR has also evolved to reflect the cosmopolitan city.



William Jenkins, Between Raid and Rebellion: the Irish in Buffalo and Toronto, 1867-1916, (Montreal, McGill & Queen’s University Press, 2013). 

John Lorinc, et al. eds., The Ward: the Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood, (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2015).

William Smith, Toronto, The Belfast of Canada: the Orange Order and the Shaping of Municipal Culture,  (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2015).



Play Ball! 3: More Machine than Man

In a recent post, I explained the coded back-end of my interactive baseballs. Developing a patch using Max software from Cycling ’74 was a challenge for me because it was a new programming language with a modest learning curve. I had much more confidence constructing the interactive front end of the baseball exhibit. I have experience taking things apart and (sometimes) putting them back together, than I do with computer programming languages.

Early in the project I thought I might have one baseball wired with three separate colour coded contact points to trigger the MakeyMakey and the Max patch. I quickly realized this would be unfeasible. The baseball would be too crowded and the odds that the user would accidentally touch multiple contacts was high. So I decided to go with three separate interactive baseballs, each representing a different pitch.

Step 1: I started by drilling two holes into the baseball where the user would place their fingers for each pitch grip. A modern baseball consists of high-strength yarn tightly wrapped around a core of rubber and cork, which gives the ball its spring off the hitter’s bat. The ball of wrapped-yarn is covered by two pieces of cow hide stitched together by hand with exactly 108 stitches. I am using synthetic baseballs because they are cheaper than real leather-covered baseball. I could do a whole other exhibit and series of blog posts about the evolution and science of baseballs.

Drilling holes for contact points.

Drilling holes for contact points.

Step 2: I wired the baseballs with washers and two screws wrapped in insulated copper wire. To guide the user, I drew finger marks onto the baseball. The wires from the baseballs lead to alligator clips which connect to the MakeyMakey.

Baseball with wired contact points.

Baseball with wired contact points.

Step 3: To make the baseballs more tactile and inviting I wanted to mount them off of a platform, rather than affixed flush to it. I quickly settled on the idea of attaching each baseball to the end of a length of flexible tubing or garden hose. On a supply run to the Home Hardware in Wortley Village, London, I found just what I needed: coils of black 3/4″ rubber heating hose. I cut the coil into 30cm lengths as stalks for the baseballs. To mount the baseballs to the tube I drilled onto to each one a stump of 3/4″ wooden dowel which slid perfectly into the end of the rubber hose. To hide the wires coming off the baseballs I drilled holes near the end of the rubber hose and ran the wires down the inside. This step also prevented the wires from becoming tangled.

Lengths of rubber heating tube.

Lengths of rubber heating tube.

Step 4: The base of the exhibit is piece of ply-wood cut with my dad’s table saw into the shape of a pentagonal home plate, and painted white. To attach the baseballs with their rubber hose stalks to the base I once again screwed stumps of 3/4″ wooden dowel to the board. This works better than I could have hoped because it also allows me to easily mount or remove the baseballs and stalks from the base for transportation.

Home plate.

Home plate.

Home plate with mounting stalks.

Home plate with mounting stalks.

Step 5: Finally, to emphasize the game-ness of the exhibit I created baseball-themed cardboard covers to hide my laptop. I drew a baseball diamond with players on the piece covering the keyboard, and framed the Max window on screen with a piece of cardboard to look like a jumbotron above the cardboard field. There’s even a blimp advertising beer.

Root. Root root for the home team. If they don't win it's a shame.

Root. Root root for the home team. If they don’t win it’s a shame.

Overall, I am quite happy with the final product of my interactive baseball exhibit. Having never worked with Max, or done much coding period, prior to four months ago, I am pleased with how the back end turned out. There is definitely room for improvement or future modifications. For instance, I had thought about trying to build a hitting mechanism into the pitch-randomizer, so that each touch of the ball could result in a ball, strike, or hit. I really enjoyed building the front-end interactive part of the exhibit, the hands-on construction process was a very different experience from traditional reading and writing classes. Here too, I see opportunities for greater interaction and tactility; perhaps the user could manipulate the ball a certain way to change the outcome. I hope I will have opportunities to design and construct exhibits in the future.

Thanks again to Professor Bill Turkel for providing for providing guidance and suggestion; and to my dad, John Meyers, for the tools and work space to construct this project, and for the confidence to make mistakes and try again.

For it's ONE! TWO! THREE  STRIKES! You're out! At the old ball gaaaaame!

For it’s ONE! TWO! THREE STRIKES! You’re out! At the old ball gaaaaame!

Rooooad Triiiiiiiiiip

Tomorrow morning I will get behind the wheel of my parents’ station wagon and drive 10 hours from London, Ontario to NASHVILLE, Tennessee. Why would I do this you ask? For a gathering of the tribe known as ‘Public Historians’. A #PhalanxOfPHistorians will descend on Music City USA for five days to attend the annual conference of the National Council on Public History. W00t! #NCPH2015 Joining me on this obyssey will be my friends and classmates Taryn Dewar (@dtdewar) and Vasanthi Pendakur (@pendakur). This will be the first trip to NCPH for all of us, and hopefully not our last. The delegation from Western will will be joined in Nashville by our classmate Tamar Cachet and two of our professors.

The conference gives professionals, students, faculty members, and anyone else interested in public history a chance to commiserate and share ideas. Which suits me fine. I’m not driving 10 hours to sit in a hotel conference room for four days. Especially not in Nashville. I’ve been listening to Lighting100 local Nashville radio for about a year and I can’t wait to stroll the honky tonks of Music Row. If this conference is like any other gathering of historians I’ve attended it will end at the bar. Show me a profession that doesn’t like to drink, and I’ll show you a bunch of GOTDAM LIARS.

There’s gas in the car and Dolly Parton on deck. Nashville LET’s GOOOOOOOOO!

More to follow?