Shiners' War

The Shiners' War was a conflict between Irish Catholic immigrants and French Canadians in Bytown from 1835 to 1845.[3] The war started when Peter Aylen, a major Irish timber operator, organized a group of Irishmen to attack other timber operations. This group was known as the "Shiners."[1][2] They attacked French Canadian timber rafts and fought against the French Canadian on the streets of Bytown.

Shiner's War
Date1835 to 1845[1]
45.417°N 75.7°W / 45.417; -75.7 (Location of Bytown)
Result Combatives arrested[1]
Irish Catholic immigrants, known as "Shiners" French Canadian
Other citizens of Bytown[2]
Commanders and leaders
Peter Aylen Joseph Montferrand

The Shiners also attacked political institutions. In the August 1835 Aylen and his supporters went to The Bathurst District Agricultural Society's annual meeting. His violent supporters incited the attending members to elect Aylen as President of the society. Aylen attempted the same strategy to take over a Nepean Township meeting but was met with too much resistance.[4]

Bytown's citizens created "The Association of the Preservation of the Public Peace in Bytown" which included armed patrols to try to control the violence, but it still continued.[2] In the spring of 1837 the government deployed troops to arrest the Shiners and the violence was brought under control.[1] Occasional violence still occurred until 1845 by groups claiming to be the Shiners.


At the time the Rideau Canal had just been constructed, so many Irishmen who were working on the canal were now out of work.[2] Also, the Irish were considered to be at the lowest rung of the social ladder because of historical antipathy and their refusal to assimilate.[4] Peter Aylen was sympathetic to these Irishmen which gained him their allegiance. He ordered them to attack the French Canadian to drive them out of the area so that the Shiners could take their jobs. Aylen gained an advantage from this violence because it disrupted his competitors.[4]


It is unknown how the name "Shiners" was given to Irish Catholics of the region. Some possibilities exist:[4]

  • A derivation of the French word "chêneur," meaning cutter of oak trees,
  • A self-designation to "shine" above others, or
  • The new, "shiny" coins that they were paid in.

Richard Lanigan writes of the Shiners in his book, They Two or Phases Of Life In Eastern Canada Fifty Years Ago. Published 1888, page 111, line 30, stating the Shiners were: "all wearing white sheets up to their chins."

In 2018, a graphic novel, The Shiners' War, was published in Ottawa. The story, written by Conor Ryan and illustrated by Shawn Daley, follows two fictional characters through the conflicts of the era, and features figures of the time within the plot, including Joseph Montferrand and Peter Aylen.


  1. Cross, Michael S. "Shiners' War - ( c. 1835 – 45 ), chêneurs - Irish, Timber, Aylen, Bytown, Jobs, and Ottawa". Retrieved 2015-05-16.
  2. "Shiner's Wars". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  3. Donald MacKay (15 May 2007). The Lumberjacks. Dundurn Press Ltd. pp. 28–. ISBN 978-1-55002-773-0. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  4. "THE SHINER'S WAR" (PDF). Workers' Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
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