Joseph Legare

Joseph Legare (Legary)
Canadian Fencibles

By Bill Amell, author and gr-grandson

The British governors of Quebec were always suspicious of Yankee intentions after the American Revolution in 1776. Eventually, in 1803, a law was passed to enroll local militia, and a regiment with the peculiar name of “Embodied Militia” was formed at Quebec City in 1808. A young, bilingual fellow, Joseph Legare, age 18, was among the first recruits to join the colonial regiment.

The Library and Archives Canada provided a copy of a neatly-written payroll sheet, dated January 1813, two centuries ago, revealing Joseph Legare’s signature when he received his pay allowance. Between 1808 and 1813, Quartermaster Sergeant (QMSgt) Joseph Legare had risen through the ranks and was a staff member of the regiment. A few months later, the regiment was dispatched south of Montreal, and would help to defend the territory against an American invasion in October 1813 at the Battle of Chateauguay.

In the meantime, the British were fighting fierce battles against Napoleon in Europe. In Canada, more British troops were needed on the western front at Niagara and Detroit.

The colonial regiment was renamed the Canadian Fencibles, and posted to serve garrison duty between 1814 and 1815 to defend Fort Henry at Kingston, which was a strategic location at the entrance of the St. Lawrence River, and the gateway to Lake Ontario.

Three decades later, the Military General Service Medal (MGSM) with the Chateauguay clasp would be awarded in 1847, but the miserly government did not mint the medals until 1875.

Very few veterans were still standing over 60 years after the battle. A bronze plaque at the entrance of Fort Henry commemorates all regiments that served until 1940. The Canadian Fencibles was the only colonial regiment to serve until the early 1900’s, a century later.

After the turmoil of war, the Canadian Fencibles and two Swiss regiments, the DeMeuron and the DeWattville, were disbanded in 1816 at Kingston. Then the government offered free land grants to entice the soldiers to remain in the region to defend against another possible invasion. The discarded soldiers lost their identity and livelihood. They had to make a hasty decision for the future: return home, or seek a section of land in the wilderness.

Joseph Legare decided to follow many other veterans to the Rideau Military Settlement in the wilderness, now Perth, halfway between the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers.

On 31 December 1816, a land grant was issued for Lot 27 Conc 10, Bathurst Township, Lanark County. When the survey was done in the township, the lot was less than 100 acres. A QMSgt could claim 200 acres, so he was given an additional lot in North Crosby Township, Leeds County. He completed the requirements for land grants: over the next three years, he built a log cabin, and cleared 10 acres for cultivation. An Order-in-Council approved the issue of the Crown Patents on 20 May 1820 for both lots.

Joseph Legare settled on Lot 27 in Bathurst Township about six miles north of Perth. The Mississippi River flowed along the northern side of the property. During the next summer, a fair young lass and her brother’s wife, from Montreal, arrived on the adjacent lot. The scene was set for romance in the wilderness. The wedding of Joseph Legare and Ann (Nancy) Ellison rook place on 4 November 1817. It was the fist recorded marriage at Perth.

By 1821, Joseph was one of six licensed innkeepers in the Rideau Military Settlement. Two years later, he was commissioned an Ensign (Warrant Officer) in the 1st Regiment Lanark Militia. and was still on the roster five years later.

Also he served as an elder of Sr. John Roman Catholic Parish, established 1823 in Perth.

Back on the lot, he cleared more forest for a farm, and used some timber to build rafts and boats to paddle across the Mississippi River. A decade later, he purchased the adjacent 100 acres on Lot 27 Concession 9, Bathurst Township.

In the mid-1830s, some marriages were performed at Legary’s Ferry. The first nominal census in 1852 reported that the family resided in a stone house. The agricultural section listed five cows, five calves, 26 sheep, five horses, 11 pigs, 240 bushels of wheat, 200 bushels of oats, and 200 bushels of potatoes. Thus, 35 years after arriving in the wilderness, the couple had developed a decent livelihood for the family.

Joseph and Ann (Nancy) had 11 children:

  • Mary, b1821
  • Joseph, b1823, died before 1825
  • Joseph, b1825, died before 1841
  • Anne, b1827
  • John, b1830, died before 1852
  • William, b1832
  • James, b1833
  • Henry, b1836
  • Richard, b1838 (he remained a bachelor);
  • Joseph, b1841
  • Margaret, b1844

A decade later, Joseph Legary died on 7 September 1854, aged 65 years. The burial was recorded in the parish register. His spouse would survive another decade until June 1865. Both were interred in the Olde Burying Grounds near the Wee Tay River, which flows through Perth. The homestead would be sold three years later.

The three girls and four boys had married and moved to other communities in the country. There are thousands of descendants, but the surname disappeared from the district a century later.


Joseph Legare, 1813, Lower Canada Nominal Rolls and Paylists, RG 9, lA7. vol. 18; Library and Archives Canada.

L. Homfray Irving, Officers of the British Forces in Canada during the War 1812-15 (Toronto; Canadian Military Institute, 1908).

George F. G. Stanley, The War of 1812: Land Operations (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1983).

Fort Henry: The Citadel of Upper Canada and Soldiering at Fort Henry (Kingston: The St. Lawrence Parks Commission, 1986).

Joseph Legare petition, 1816, Upper Canada Land Petitions, RG I, L3, Vol. 420, microfilm reel C-2738, Library and Archives Canada.

Joseph Legare and Ann Ellison, marriage, Register of Rev. Wm. Bell 1817-41, Library and Archives Canada.

Jean S. McGill, A Pioneer History of the County of Lanark (Toronto T H. Best Printing Co. Ltd., 1968).

Bruce S. Elliott, Dan Walker, Fawne Stratford-Devai, Men of Upper Canada: Militia Nominal Rolls (Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1995).

175 Years of Faith: The Story oftbe Parisb of St. John tbe Baptist, Perth 1823-1998 (Smiths Falls, Performance Printing, 1998).

Dan Walker, Fawne Stratford-Devai, Wm (Bill) Amell. The Marriage Registers of Upper Canada/Canada West: Vol. 5, Bathurst

Veteran Summary

Joseph Legare (Legary)
Quarter-Master Sergeant, Canadian Fencibles
Place of Birth
Quebec City, QC, CAN
Place of Death
Perth, ON, CAN
Died on: 13 SEP 1854
Reason: Old Age
Location of Grave
Olde Burying Grounds, Craig St
Perth, ON, CAN
Latitude: 44.899014N Longitude: -76.240721