150 years ago on this day the Fenian raids began, which were staged across border against British army forts, customs posts and other targets to pressure British withdrawal from Ireland between 1866 and 1871. Thanks to the city of Toronto boasting a large Irish Catholic population by the 1860s, there came the usual fears of just how many might have sympathies with the Fenian cause, and could even take up arms in their aid were an invasion to come.
With intelligence agencies yet to really come into existence, investigation of this possibility fell to Chief Constable William S. Prince of the Toronto Police. In the years leading up to the raids the Chief of Police not only sought to confront the Fenian threat in Toronto, but also Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, and New York City. During my studies at the University of Toronto, Professor Wark who taught Espionage studies there, cites Prince’s efforts as one of the earliest examples of true espionage work, with the Constable having overseen the collection of intelligence reports from a cross border network of contacts, spies, and informants as he followed the Fenian’s purchase of weapons, and received minutes from their meetings organized in Detroit and Chicago.