History - Early Conflicts
Many of Bruce County's early settlers had previous military experience, either in the British Army or Royal Navy or with militia units during the War of 1812. At least one, John Stewart, the owner of the Paisley Agricultural Works, had joined William Lyon Mackenzie in his Rebellion of 1837.
Sergeant John Pearson, one of the first winners of the Victoria Cross, is buried in an Eastnor Township cemetery. Pearson won his V.C. during the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857.
The formal military history of Bruce County began with the passing of the Militia Act of 1855. The Act created a sedentary militia with all men 18 to 60 required to be ready for service when summoned. After compulsory service gave way to independent companies of volunteers, four were organized in Southampton, Paisley, Kincardine and Kincardine Township.
A regime of weekly drill, target practice and Queen's Birthday parades was interrupted when Fenians invaded Canada in June 1866. Volunteer companies from Huron and Bruce including ones from Southampton, Paisley, Kincardine, and Kincardine Township assembled at Goderich to repulse a rumoured attack. After a short stay, all Bruce County companies returned home except for the Southampton Company that was sent to Point Edward where it remained until August 1866.
On September 14th, 1866, six Bruce County volunteer companies were formed into the 32nd Bruce Battalion of Infantry. After its formation, the battalion was presented with a set of colours fashioned by women of the county. The colours were presented in Kincardine to the battalion on June 19th, 1872 by Mrs. Sproat, the wife of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Sproat, commander of the Bruce Battalion. In 1899, Lieutenant Colonel Adam Weir assumed command of the Bruce Regiment. He would go on to command the 160th Battalion in the First World War.
When the Red River Rebellion began in 1870, three men from each of the 32nd Battalion's companies assembled at Collingwood and were sent to Thunder Bay. None experienced battle. In 1885, the Riel Rebellion broke out in Saskatchewan. When it seemed that a large military force was needed to put down an uprising of Metis and First Nations people, the 32nd Bruce Battalion was activated. Eight companies assembled at Southampton, expecting to be sent to Port Arthur. After a short wait, they were disbanded, returning to their homes.
Two Bruce County men saw action during the Red River Rebellion. John Morton, at one time a major in the 32nd Battalion, was killed at Duck Lake while leading a party of Prince Albert Volunteers. James Williscroft of Elderslie Township died in the Frog Lake Massacre.
With the outbreak of the South African War, approximately 20 Bruce County men volunteered, serving with various military units. One, Gordon Cummings of Port Elgin, lost his life in battle in December 1900. A monument at Port Elgin commemorates his sacrifice.
The Bruce Battalion became the Bruce Regiment in 1900 which it would remain until the 160th Bruce Battalion was formed in 1916.