Rollason's grandfather ‘is just one example’
Brian Rollason, 42, stands with his sons, Marcus, 11, and Andrew, 7. The two boys hold certificates from the Ontario Genealogical Society honouring their ancestor’s participation in the War of 1812 and in the 1837 Rebellion. (Katrina Clarke Photo)
Brian Rollason had always been a War of 1812 history buff, but he didn’t expect a box of old photographs to reveal that he had a 200-year-old connection to the battles.
The Barrie resident and York Region police officer was curious about the names on the backs of family photographs given to him by his mother.
He began researching on his family tree and eventually discovered that his great-great-great-great-grandfather had been a soldier in the War of 1812 and the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.
“I was really proud,” said Rollason, 42. “It was nice to know my grandfather helped defend Canada to make us what we are.”
Rollason’s grandfather, Robert Wagstaff, was a member of an elite team of soldiers known as the 95th Rifles — some of the first sharpshooters, Rollason said.
Originally from England, the five-foot-six, sandy haired Wagstaff left home at age 18 to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. Four years later, in 1814, he was sent to North America to fight in the War of 1812. There, he participated in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, but was forced to return to England after he was shot in the neck, Rollason said.
“To be shot in the neck and survive is pretty remarkable. … If you got hit in the arm with (a musket ball) it would actually break your arm in half,” he said. “So to get shot in the throat, I’m not even sure how he lived, to be honest.”
After recovering from his injuries, Wagstaff was offered land in Canada for his services in the war. He accepted and moved to York — now Toronto — in 1837 with his wife and two children.
But a calm, peaceful life didn’t await him just yet.
“He comes to this new land and thinks he’s going to start a new life with his kids,” Rollason said. “And next thing you know, he’s fighting again.”
As a War of 1812 veteran, Wagstaff was called on to defend Upper Canada during the 1837 Rebellion, Rollason said.
So he fought again.
He survived, and after this round of service, Wagstaff was finally able to settle down. He had three more children and started a bricklaying business, Rollason said.
He lived until 1844, when he died of complications from his battle wounds.
Rollason wanted to tell his grandfather’s story before this year, the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, comes to a close. He shares it in honour of other soldiers who died fighting for the future of Canada, and who lay nameless beneath battlefields.
“This is just one example of thousands of people who fought here for our freedoms,” he said. “And we’ll never know their names or their stories.”