Years after they were placed in a city warehouse for safe-keeping, a dedicated group of restoration activists will soon finish the work required to restore Westmount’s two cannon to their former glory. While research continues to be done on the old cannon, former Westmount City Councillor Patrick Martin told The Suburban that if properly taken care of, “...they should last well into the next century.”
“At this point, the city is responsible for two of the most important Canadian heritage objects in the country,” said Martin. “It’s nice to see that the work’s finally been done and that we’re finally going to get them back.”
Originally cast in Britain’s Woolich Foundries in 1810, historians think the cannon were used in 1815 during the battle of Waterloo after which British gunners probably used the ‘light’ guns – both 12-pounders — in the Crimea. However, as the British Army’s records were destroyed when the Luftwaffe bombed a warehouse in Portsmouth during World War !!, nobody can be absolutely sure as to what happened to the guns until they ended up in Canada in the mid- 1860s when Britain decided to beef up the colony’s defences following the American Civil War. Further evidence indicates that in 1862, Lt. Colonel Alexander Stevenson and his Montreal Field Battery – later to become the city’s 2nd Field Artillery Regiment — used the two cannon as part of a four-gun battery to fire a 100 gun ‘royal’ salute Afrom the top of the city’s Mount Royal.
As Stevenson was also a city councillor who was trying to save the mountain from a number of voracious real-estate developers, the salute did a lot to convince the city’s council that the mountain was, in fact, accessible, that it could be used as a park, and the rest is history. In 1876, Stevenson used the guns for another 100-gun salute when the park was officially inaugurated on the queen’s birthday. In 1899, the guns were used for a ‘feu d’honneur ‘ to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. Later, as the government was calling in all of the army’s old brass cannon in order to have the guns melted down to make cartridges for breech-loading guns, Stevenson saved ‘his’ guns when the regiment somehow decided to give them away to a local Masonic Lodge known as ‘The Sons of England’. Only a few years later, the lodge decided to give the guns to the newly formed City of Westmount in order to help the city celebrate the inauguration of Westmount’s new park. Based upon an old Notman period photograph that was taken at the turn of the 20th century, children have been playing on the cannon for decades until the gun carriages began to rot under the weight of the guns.
Based upon a restoration project that was started in 2008 by former Westmount councillor George Bowser, Westmount resident and former councillor Patrick Martin used his own influence with the city’s military community to help the city find someone who could restore and rebuild the guns. Based upon his contacts with the city’s 2nd Field Artillery, he then got in touch with Montreal’s 3rd Artillery Battery – a non- profit organization made up of a number of committed historical restoration activists — who jumped at the chance to restore the guns.
“At this point, we’re down to incidental details such as chains, a few fittings, and doing something about the bolts on the wheel rims,” said Martin. “All in all, it’s been a remarkable project, and once completed, these two guns will be unique artifacts of their kind because their sequential markings (serial numbers) indicate they’ve been a pair ever since they left the foundry back in 1810.”
According to Martin, there are only five ‘twelve –pounders’ left in the world, and within a few weeks, at least two of them may well be back on their steles in Westmount’s park before the snow flies.