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BRUYERES, RALPH HENRY, military engineer; b. c. 1765 in Montreal, Que., son of John Bruyères* and Catherine-Élisabeth Pommereau; m. there 16 April 1790 Janet Dunbar, daughter of Captain William Dunbar; d. 15 May 1814 at Quebec, Lower Canada, survived by his wife and four children.

Ralph Henry Bruyeres was the son of a Huguenot who had come to Canada during the Seven Years’ War as an officer in the British army and who had settled there afterwards, and of the co-heiress of the seigneury of Bécancour. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the engineers on 22 Dec. 1781. The date of his first assignment is unknown, but it is recorded that he was serving as a supernumerary engineer at Quebec in 1784. Promoted first lieutenant on 24 May 1790 and captain-lieutenant on 31 Dec. 1795, he achieved the rank of captain an 1 July 1799. Bruyeres saw active service in Flanders in 1793 and in the Netherlands in 1799, and after a brief sojourn at Dover, England, returned to Lower Canada. He reported for duty at Montreal in July 1800, but was soon transferred to Quebec.

In the spring of 1802 Bruyeres was dispatched on a tour of inspection in Upper Canada, an exercise which gave him invaluable insights into the problem of defending the immense reach of frontier between Montreal and the Niagara River. His formal reactions were embodied in a “Report of the state of the public works and buildings at the several military posts in Upper Canada” addressed to Colonel Gother Mann*, commanding engineer in the Canadas. This document presented a dismal picture of neglect and decay but, although its author made many recommendations for remedial action based on current or future estimates, they apparently had only minimal effect since official policy necessitated that the meagre funds available for defensive works should be expended at Quebec.

Bruyeres became commanding engineer in the Canadas on his promotion to lieutenant-colonel on 1 July 1806, Mann having left in 1804. Like Mann, he was frustrated by a lack of funds, but by 1807 the deterioration in Anglo-American relations [see Sir George Cranfield Berkeley] convinced him that at least the first phase of Mann’s plan for Quebec – an advance work of four interdependent towers ranged across the Plains of Abraham – should be implemented immediately. He planned to use adaptations of the formidable towers erected in Halifax, N. S., under the direction of the Duke of Kent [Edward Augustus], but Sir James Henry Craig, who became governor in chief of British North America in 1807, preferred the Martello type then favoured in Britain for coastal defence. With this change in plan Bruyeres was authorized to proceed. His great work was completed early in 1812, by which time Craig had been succeeded by Sir George Prevost.

The outbreak of war with the United States on 18 June 1812 forced Bruyeres to concentrate on the frontier posts, in particular Kingston, Upper Canada, which, although it was the headquarters of the marine establishment on the lakes, remained undefended. On 19 Jan. 1813 he reported to Prevost on the state of Kingston, affirming that he had ordered the immediate strengthening of its defences, and for its protection urged an early attack on the rival American base at Sockets Harbor, N.Y. His report of 13 February on York (Toronto) and the Niagara frontier commented adversely on York as a naval base since he considered its site not properly defensible. On 1 March he was granted the acting rank of colonel in Upper Canada, and on 1 September Prevost ordered that he be detained in that province indefinitely. In the mean time Bruyeres had received urgently needed reinforcements: several engineers and a substantial detachment of the Royal Sappers and Miners. A severe illness forced him to return to Quebec during the autumn, but while he was still convalescent news of the British capture of Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.) in December persuaded him to return to Upper Canada. He supervised repairs to the fort and then, in severe winter weather, returned to Quebec fatally ill. His obituary in the Quebec Mercury described him as a meritorious officer “fallen victim to professional zeal” who was a “good citizen of Quebec.” In his will he left his immediate family the sum of £14,500, a not inconsiderable fortune in 1814.

John W. Spurr

PAC, RG 8, I (C ser.), 387, 512, 692, 1170, 1220–1, 1227. PRO, PROB 11/1580/505. Select British docs. of War of 1812 (Wood), vol.2. Quebec Mercury, 17 May 1814. Roll of officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers from 1660 to 1898 . . . , ed. R. F. Edwards (Chatham, Eng., 1898). Hitsman, Incredible War of 1812. Whitworth Porter et al., History of the Corps of Royal Engineers (9v. to date, London and Chatham, 1889– ; vols. 1–3 repr. Chatham, 1951–54), 1. Gérard Malchelosse, “La famille Pommereau et ses alliances,” Cahiers des Dix, 29 (1964): 193–222. I. J. Saunders, “A history of Martello towers in the defence of British North America, 1796–1871,” Canadian Hist. Sites, no. 15 (1976): 5–170.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

John W. Spurr, “BRUYERES, RALPH HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 25, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bruyeres_ralph_henry_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bruyeres_ralph_henry_5E.html
Author of Article: John W. Spurr
Title of Article: BRUYERES, RALPH HENRY
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: July 25, 2014