Skip to content

Newmarket's 12th York Battalion fought in Fenian raids, North-West Rebellion

In this week's Remember This, History Hound Richard MacLeod begins a series exploring the history of the illustrious Queen's York Rangers

This is the first of a series of articles on the history of our very own Queen’s York Rangers. This first article will focus on the origins and early history of the organization. In subsequent articles, we shall narrow our focus to more of a local perspective, military service, cadet program, and provenance of its musical element. I have been researching the topic out of profound interest over the past year. 

Over the course of this series, I shall examine the 127th and the 220th Battalions in more detail as they hold a prominent place in our more recent local history.

The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) RCAC can trace their origins back to Robert Rogers and his Rangers, a company of New England frontier men, loyal to the British Crown, who formed in 1756 during the French and Indian Wars from 1755 to 1763.

The unit was disbanded after seven years of service with Rogers reformulating the Rangers in 1775, becoming the Queen's Rangers, First American Regiment under the British Army list. The Rangers were to distinguish themselves under John Graves Simcoe, a British Army general and the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada from 1791 until 1796. 

 In 1777 they participated at the Battle of Brandywine, fought between the American Continental Army led by General George Washington and the British Army of General Sir William Howe on Sept. 11, 1777, part of the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783. 

In recognition of their service, they were given a designation as the 1st American Regiment, a designation they carry today. They were re-located to New Brunswick at the conclusion of the war in 1783.

When Simcoe was appointed the first lieutenant governor, he travelled to New Brunswick and resurrected the Queen's Rangers yet again, bringing them to Upper Canada around 1793. The Rangers were yet again ‘stood down’ in 1802 and became the York Militia, a volunteer militia unit in Upper Canada formed after the passage of the Militia Act of 1793. Members of the York Militia were drawn from the settlers of York County, our ancestors.

The militias of York County have a long and colourful history. Today’s Queen’s York Rangers, a militia unit made up of citizen-soldiers, would appear to be modelled after its predecessor, the Roger’s Rangers.  They participated in the capture of Louisburg in 1758 and served with General Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham. 

As mentioned above, during the American Revolution, a battalion dubbed the Queen’s Rangers was commanded by John Graves Simcoe. It was transformed by Simcoe into an Upper Canada regiment and retained many of its former officers and recruits. One of its tasks was to build Yonge Street, opening up York County to rapid settlement.

The Militia consisted of the following infantry regiments:

1st and 3rd Regiments of York Militia, a Canadian Army Primary Reserve Royal Canadian Armoured Corps regiment based in Toronto and Aurora. The regiment is part of 4th Canadian Division's 32 Canadian Brigade Group. The regiment consists of one reconnaissance squadron (D Sqn), and a Headquarters and Training Squadron. The regimental family also includes The Queen's York Rangers Band (volunteer) along with two Royal Canadian Army Cadets corps and a Royal Canadian Air Force Cadet squadron. This unit is referred to as the Rangers, abbreviated to the QY Rangers.

The 2nd Regiment of York Militia were a Canadian Provincial Militia Line Infantry Regiment at the time of the War of 1812. They were part of the York Militia, primarily recruited from the area around present-day Halton and Peel Regions. It consisted of all men between the ages of 16 and 50. 

These regiments of the York Militia fought in several engagements during the War of 1812. The 1st Regiment of the York Militia was involved at the Siege of Fort Mackinac, the Siege of Detroit, the Battle of Queenston Heights, and the Battle of York.

The 2nd Regiment of the York Militia fought at Detroit, Queenston Heights, and at the Battle of Lundy's Lane, while the 3rd Regiment of the York Militia fought at Detroit, Queenston Heights, and York.  Within the current Canadian Army structure, the 1st and 3rd Regiments of York Militia are perpetuated by the Queen's York Rangers while the 2nd Regiment is perpetuated by the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.

The Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers spawned a series of military units, considered the grandfather unit if you will, of our local military units today.  These units included:

  • 1st American Regiment (Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers)
  • 25th Armoured Regiment
  • 2nd Battalion Canadian Railway Troops
  • 4th Battalion of the first Expeditionary Force.
  • 12th Battalion York Volunteers (York Rangers)
  • 20th Battalion (York Rangers)
  • The 127th Battalion (York Ranger)
  • The 4th Division for North-West duty (the Wolsey Expedition)
  • 3rd Regiment, York Militia
  • The 24th Regiment of foot, British Army
  • The 1st York Militia 

All these units are interwoven into our collective histories. Below is a brief overview of the reorganization and redesignation history of the unit from about 1866.

The York County Militia was reconstituted again on Sept. 14, 1866 as the 12th York Battalion of Infantry. It was redesignated as the 12th Battalion of Infantry or York Rangers on May 10, 1872, as the 12th Regiment York Rangers on May 8, 1900 and, following the Great War, as The York Rangers on May 1, 1920. 

The Queen's Rangers, 1st American Regiment was formed in Toronto on Jan. 15, 1921 as The West Toronto Regiment. On Aug. 1, 1925, it was amalgamated with the 2nd Battalion (35th Battalion, CEF), becoming the York Rangers and redesignated The Queen's Rangers. It was redesignated The Queen's Rangers, 1st American Regiment on Dec. 1, 1927. On Dec. 15, 1936, it was amalgamated with The York Rangers.

On Dec. 15, 1936, it was amalgamated with The Queen's Rangers, 1st American Regiment and redesignated The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (MG). It was redesignated as the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion, The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) on March 5, 1942, as The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (Reserve) on Sept. 15, 1944, as The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) on Nov. 30, 1945, as the 25th Armoured Regiment (Queen's York Rangers), RCAC on June 19, 1947, The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (25th Armoured Regiment) on Feb. 4, 1949, The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (RCAC) on May 19, 1958, The Queen's York Rangers (RCAC) on Sept. 5, 1985 and The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (RCAC) on Nov. 12, 2004. 

The 12th York Battalion of Infantry, a descendant of the Queen’s Rangers and direct ancestor of our current Queen’s York Rangers was formed in 1866 with the amalgamation of five local militias: The Aurora Rifle Company that had been organized in 1862; the Lloydtown Infantry Company organized in 1862; the King Infantry Company organized in 1863; the Newmarket Infantry Company organized in 1866; and the Scarborough Rifle Company organized in 1862.

The Newmarket Era tells us that during the Fenian raids, York County’s 12th Battalion,York Volunteers, was organized in September 1866 with their infantry headquarters located in Newmarket until 1873. They camped on the vacant common between the Agricultural Hall and Gorham Street. The tents that the men occupied were brand new, of excellent material and of good size, each providing sleeping room for 10 to 12 men. Each tent cost $20.

Another article from the Era tells us that during the period when the 12th Battalion had been located in Newmarket, they had provided the community with plenty of ‘community enthusiasm’ whenever local celebrations were planned. A monster celebration on Dominion Day, 1869 was organized by the 12th Battalion, with sports, fireworks, a torch light procession and awarding of prizes. On such occasions their bright red uniforms contributed added colour to the general scene.  

The 12th York Battalion was initially headquartered in Newmarket but when the new drill hall was constructed in 1873, it moved to Aurora. The newly formed Newmarket Company had been one of those called upon to repel the Fenian threat in the summer of 1866, called to serve on the Niagara frontier.

In 1885, four companies of the 12th Battalion (now the Queen’s York Rangers) were called upon to respond to the North-West Rebellion of Louis Riel under the banner of the York-Simcoe battalion made up of troops from the 12th battalion and the Simcoe Foresters. 

In the second instalment of my articles on the history of the Queen’s York Rangers, we will look at their transformation and their contribution through the years.  I will examine their contributions in the following fields of conflict:

  • The War of 1812
  • Defence of Canada – 1812-1815 – Detroit; Queenston; Niagara
  • The 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion
  • The North West Rebellion
  • North West Canada, 1885.
  • The First World War - Ypres, 1915, 
  • '17; Festubert, 1915
  • Mount Sorrel; Somme, 1916, 
  • '18; Flers-Courcelette; Thiepval; Ancre Heights; ARRAS, 1917, 
  • '18; Vimy, 1917
  • Hill 70; Pilchkem; Langemarck, 1917; 
  • Menin Road; Polygon Wood; Broodseinde; Poelcappelle; Passchendaele; St. Quentin; AMIENS; Scarpe, 1918. 
  • Drocourt-Quéant; Hindenburg Line; Canal du Nord; Cambrai, 1918. 
  • Pursuit to Mons; France and Flanders, 1915-18.

To all those ‘military enthusiasts’ out there, if you wish to clarify any points, please contact me and I will include your suggestions as part of the next edition.  

Sources: The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (RCAC); Wikipedia; The Queen's York Rangers: An Historic Regiment by Stewart H. Bull (1984); The Queen's Rangers in the Revolutionary War by Colonel C.J. Ingles, D.S.O., V.D. (1956); Queen's Rangers: John Simcoe and his Rangers During the Revolutionary War for America by John Simcoe (1787); Remembering Their Gallantry in Former Years – A History of the Queen’s York Rangers by David Schimmelpenninck Van Der Oye; Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Canadian Department of Defense - Official Lineages, Volume 3: Armour, Artillery, Field Engineer, and Infantry Regiments; History of the York Rangers by Captain A. T. Hunter (1913)


Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.