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ERMATINGER, FREDERICK WILLIAM (usually known as William), soldier and officeholder; b. in 1811 probably in Sault Ste Marie, Upper Canada, son of fur-trader Charles Oakes Ermatinger* and Charlotte Kattawabide (Cattoonalute), daughter of an Ojibwa chief; d. 22 Jan. 1869 at Montreal.

Frederick William Ermatinger, a descendant through his father of a Swiss merchant who settled in Canada shortly after the Conquest, had family connections with the British military, Montreal’s official class, and French Canadian society. His uncle, Frederick William Ermatinger*, was postmaster and sheriff of Montreal from 1810 to 1827, and his brother, Charles Oakes Ermatinger, was captain of the Royal Montreal Cavalry during the 1840s; his wife, Caroline-Élisa, whom he married on 14 July 1845 at Saint-Ours, was of the prominent Juchereau Duchesnay family.

Ermatinger studied law in the office of Samuel Gale from 1829 to 1834. He was admitted to the bar on 23 Sept. 1844 but never practised. His military career began in the Royal Montreal Cavalry in which he was a lieutenant by 1833. He served in Spain during the Carlist wars from about 1835, first with the British Legion and then in the Spanish service, reaching the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In 1839 he returned to Montreal where he was appointed police commissioner of the city on 16 Feb. 1842. In 1843 the offices of inspector and superintendent of police were combined and Ermatinger was given the new post.

As police superintendent, Ermatinger was charged with assisting in curbing civil disturbances when they went beyond the control of the local magistrates. In 1843 two strikes, the first in March by workmen on the Lachine Canal and the second three months later by canal workers at Beauharnois, resulted in rioting. Ermatinger was sent with troops to quell the riot at Lachine and was placed in charge of the inquiry following the Beauharnois riot. The workers involved in the Beauharnois strike were demanding higher wages (3s. instead of 2s. 3d.), to be paid semi-annually in place of annually, and shorter hours (they wanted a 12-hour day). They also did not want to have to pay for the shanties they lived in while employed on the canals, and there were complaints that they were compelled to purchase their food from company stores when it could be procured at less cost from local farmers. Ermatinger was later assigned the task of organizing canal police at both Lachine and Beauharnois.

During the disturbances in Montreal in April and May 1849 and again in August following the passage of the Rebellion Losses Act [see James Bruce], Ermatinger was instrumental in organizing joint action by police and troops. In 1850 he led the police in establishing order during a riot over the question of the annexation of Canada to the United States. Both Ermatinger, as superintendent of police, and his elder brother, Charles Oakes, as chief of police in Montreal, were wounded in June 1853 when a mob attacked Zion Church where the ex-Barnabite Alessandro Gavazzi was lecturing [see Charles Wilson*]; the brothers had attempted to keep rioters from entering the church. Early in the 1850s Ermatinger organized, at the request of the provincial government, the Water Police, a corps of about 30 men recruited largely from former soldiers and men of the Royal Irish Constabulary, its purpose being to protect wharves and canal shipping in the vicinity of Montreal and generally to deal with disturbances of the peace in Canada East.

Ermatinger remained police superintendent until 1855. In 1856 he became field inspector of the active volunteer militia of Canada East. It was to him that George-Étienne Cartier*, attorney general of Canada East, turned in 1864 to undertake new duties as a police magistrate on the American border when tension was increasing because of the threat of raids by Fenians. Ermatinger was able to maintain good relations with American border authorities and, when Fenians began making border raids, he kept his own government informed of Fenian movements. The exposure and strain of this work, however, undermined his health, and in 1866 he was appointed to the lighter post of joint clerk of the crown and peace in Montreal with Louis-Antoine Dessaulles*. But he was again pressed into service as a police magistrate; in the same year he was sent to Sweetsburg (Cowansville) in the Eastern Townships to command the government police while Fenian prisoners were being tried.

At his death in 1869, Ermatinger’s wife was left with a family of four sons and one daughter to care for but she appealed in vain for a widow’s pension, even though her husband had been one of the most important men in the Montreal civil service for almost 30 years.

Colonel Ermatinger was an able, courageous, and reliable public servant, tall and commanding in appearance, whose experience in civil disturbances made him eminently valuable to the authorities. In an era when political tensions pervaded both private and public relationships, he remained aloof from political entanglements and carried out his duties as police superintendent under several different administrations over a period of 15 years. His success in handling riotous mobs of all kinds came from a combination of firmness, courtesy, and forbearance towards the rioters. In 1853, for example, he refused to identify those who had injured him during the Gavazzi riot.

Elinor Senior

McCord Museum, McCord papers, M. Aylmer to D. R. McCord, 17 July 1901; Edward Ermatinger to D. R. McCord, 31 May 1913; C. O. Ermatinger to D. R. McCord, 29 April 1912, 9 April 1917 ; Military papers, misc. no.2, M5728.

PAC, MG 19, A2, ser.4; MG 26, A, 240, p.106391; 241, p.107046; 472, pp.235157–59; RG 8, I (C series), 319, pp.82–85; 616, pp.238, 249, 255, 289. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1843, II, app.T; 1851, I, app.B. [Edward Ermatinger], “Edward Ermatinger’s York Factory express journal, being a record of journeys made between Fort Vancouver and Hudson Bay in the years 1827–1828,” ed. C. O. Ermatinger and James White, RSC Trans., 3rd ser., VI (1912), sect.ii, 67. Gazette (Montreal), 12 July 1850; 6 March, 10 June 1853; 23 Jan. 1869. Montreal Transcript, 4 March 1843. P.-G. Roy, La famille Juchereau Duchesnay (Lévis, Qué., 1903), 353–57.

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Elinor Senior, “ERMATINGER, FREDERICK WILLIAM (1811-69),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ermatinger_frederick_william_1811_69_9E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ermatinger_frederick_william_1811_69_9E.html
Author of Article:   Elinor Senior
Title of Article:   ERMATINGER, FREDERICK WILLIAM (1811-69)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   February 24, 2024