Wallaceburg is the home of the first Lee Rifle, the predecessor to the Lee-Enfield Rifle. The river front echoed the very first test shot of this repeater rifle as it whistled clear across the river and into an oak tree. A plaque in Municipal Park now marks this 1878 event and the museum houses this important military artifact. .
This world famous predecessor to the modern repeater rifle was invented by James Paris Lee (below), a native of Hawick, Roxburgh, Scotland. He was born on August 28, 1831, the son of a prominent watchmaker. When the family first immigrated to Canada, they lived in Galt, but later moved to Chatham, where Lee's father opened a jeweller's shop.
At age 7, James got a job in this shop and first started to experiment with firearms. In 1850 James opened his shop. By 1862, he had patented his first rifle - a single shot, breech loading rifle. The U.S. War Department ordered 1,000 of these, but a misunderstanding about the calibre led to the cancellation of the order. Lee claimed damages from the government, but was forced to close his shop.
It was in 1878, when James made his greatest contribution. He invented a rifle with a box magazine capable of firing 30 shots per minute. The rifle was perfected in Wallaceburg on a site opposite the Municipal Building. The gun was tested successfully in Wallaceburg. Bullets were fired from the Lee Brothers Foundry across the Sydenham River into an oak tree hundreds of yards away.
Ten thousand of these rifles were sold to the U.S. Navy and they also became the standard issue for the British Army for over 60 years. The Patent rights were purchased by England for 50,000 pounds plus 50 cents for each magazine. The rifle was produced in Enfield, England in 1888, thus the "Lee Enfield" name. The rifle on display is the original prototype and the desk on display was used to store the tools that helped construct the Lee Rifle. A plaque commemorating the rifle was erected on July 2, 1975 in Municipal Park.
Rifle Production Facts:
2,506,307 models of the gun were by USA for Britain, 1917-1918
2,120,000 produced by Royal Small Arms, 1914-1918
1,504,000 produced by Lithgow Arms Australia, 1913-1942
1,250,000 produced by British Small Arms, 1939-1942
910,368 produced by Canada Small Arms, 1939-1945