Hespeler Rifle Association & Gun Club
Most residents are unaware of the shooting history of our community, but for many decades Hespeler was renown locally, nationally and internationally for the skill and accuracy of many its early citizens.
Following the American Civil War, the Fenian Brotherhood, largely composed of Irish-American veterans, sought to achieve Ireland’s independence from Britain by capturing Canada to be used as hostage during negotiations. Between 1841 & 1871, Canada organized permanent militia units and repelled raids by the Fenians.
In 1855, Canada passed a Militia Act creating cavalry, infantry, and artillery units, made up of volunteer, part-time soldiers. Strained Anglo-American relations during the American Civil War (1861-65) had led Britain to send 11,000 troops to protect its North American colonies. During this period, a wave of patriotism swept the nation and many young lads enlisted in “The Volunteers”. Signing for three years, they were obligated to train locally and attend Military Camp for two weeks each summer.
A great many “Drill Sheds” were built as local Militia Company Headquarters. Hespeler became headquarters for “E” Company of the 29th Waterloo Battalion of Infantry commanded by Colonel George Hespeler, Jacob’s oldest son.
The Drill Shed was built in 1869 on land donated by Jacob Hespeler at the “Grove” (now Milling Road). A wood frame building 52 x 88 feet, it was built without a foundation, floor or windows, but with a small annex 14 x 19 feet where the uniforms, rifles, side arms, and other necessary equipment was stored. In addition to the Drill Shed, rifle ranges were established were the Militia could practice and become proficient with a military arm. This led to the formation of local shooting associations that included military and civilian members.
The government assisted with grants to build and maintain the ranges, and ammunition was supplied at a low cost. Most associations held annual shooting matches with prizes donated by local merchants. Shooters came long distances to compete and show their skill on match day. Usually the riflemen fired three regular matches of seven shots at two, three and six hundred yards. This was considered one ticket; at other extra series matches the competitor could fire any number of tickets. Many of the best shooters of the Hespeler Rifle Association attended annual matches far and wide; and those achieving the highest Bisley Aggregate scores were entitled to attend the National Rifle Association matches in England.
Hespeler riflemen Josh Wayper, Peter Jardine, John W. Gilchrist and John Limpert each represented Canada at these matches. The first Hespeler range was on the northwest corner of Fishermill and Guelph Avenue and the riflemen fired into the hill to the northwest. The targets were iron plates 3’ x 8’x 3/4”thick set side by side at the different ranges. They were painted white, with a black bullseye and rings.
Following each shot, a “marker” would indicate where the bullet struck with a flag, and then paint over the spot. Shooters used the Snyder Enfield rifle firing a black powder cartridge. When this land was subdivided for housing; the rifle range moved to the Ellis Farm. A new six hundred yard range was constructed with the firing line below the Forbes Mill (Len’s Mill) on the Speed River and shooting was into the hill towards Fishermills Road. When a shoot was in progress, a watchman was stationed on the road to stop traffic in case of stray bullets.
The Martini Henry rifle was mainly used at this range. With the development of more powerful rifles using cordite instead of black powder cartridges, a safer location was acquired on the Beaver Farm west of Beaverdale Road. Canvas targets on frames replaced the iron plates, and moved up and down in pits where the “markers” were stationed. The Lee Enfield 303 caliber and the Ross Rifle were the main arms used on this range.
Following the First World War, the range was abandoned and the Hespeler Rifle Association was dissolved. The Hespeler Gun Club also saw great success while using shotguns during their shoots. Many of the same shooters competed at the Club shoots as well. Josh Wayper became the Canadian National Wing Shot Champion by bagging 190 live pigeons out of 200 released, in the day when live targets were the norm.
The Club later switched to clay targets and held competitions at different rural locations and on the Forbes estate. George “Alex” Forbes became a champion skeet & trap shooter before concentrating on raising waterfowl. Other fine shooters with the Club were R. McCreary, G. Murray and W. Cooper. The Hespeler Gun Club was discontinued in the 1960s.