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CANADA: A Celebration of Our Heritage
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A Celebration of Our Heritage
Chapter 5: The Moulding of British North America: 1791-1815
Between 1791 and 1815, British North America took on outlines that it would largely carry into the Canadian federal union of 1867. In the West, its fur-trade territories expanded across the continent to the Pacific. In the East, its Atlantic provinces became more integrated communities, moving beyond basic settlement and meeting new tests of war. And in the Centre, Upper and Lower Canada -- the first overwhelmingly English-speaking, the second predominantly French -- grew as distinctly different though interrelated provinces, which both faced major invasions during the American War of 1812-14. Still further, the two Canadas acquired a common political system, set out for each of them in the Constitutional Act of 1791.
That founding Act provided an imperially-appointed Lieutenant-Governor for each Canada, under a joint Governor-in-Chief, still Lord Dorchester when the measure went into effect. Since Governor Dorchester and his successors normally resided at the fortress in Quebec city, now Lower Canada's capital, the Lieutenant-Governor of that province was sometimes overshadowed. Yet in more distant Upper Canada, the Lieutenant-Governor was in practice all-but "Governor", unless his overlord back at Quebec decided to draw in the reins. An Executive Council, consisting of chief officials and advisors, would work closely with the Lieutenant-Governor in either Canada, to carry on his administration and execute his policies, a small, informal but powerful group, somewhat like a little cabinet of ministers.
As well, the Act set up a provincial legislature or parliament for each Canada, composed of two houses, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly. The members of the Legislative Council were named for life by the imperial authorities, and were to play an influential role in approving, amending or rejecting laws sent up from the assembly -- much like the House of Lords in Britain. This élite upper house, in fact, was meant to be a conservative, restraining body between governing officials and the elected representatives of the people in the Canadas. The Maritime Provinces did not acquire this particular new chamber, and each still kept an older-style single Council, which carried out both executive and legislative duties. For the Canadas, however, the anti-democratic doubts left from the American Revolution, or raised afresh by the mass-violence of the French Revolution now exploding in Europe, impelled the planners of the Act of 1791 to place the Legislative Council in their new Canadian design, as a watchful, built-in barrier against popular political excesses.
The Legislative Assembly, the lower house in either Canada, expressed the age-old, vital English inheritance of the people's right to a representative law-making and tax-granting body -- vital, as well, to free government under a British Crown controlled by law and parliament. In both Canadas the assembly members would be elected on a fairly wide franchise for that time, open to the solid, seigneurial tenants of Lower Canada and to the ordinary farm-proprietors of Upper Canada; that is, to those holding lands worth forty shillings yearly (no great sum in land-rich colonies), or, besides, to town-dwellers who owned real estate worth five pounds annually or rented property worth ten pounds a year. Money values would change enormously; but these qualifications plainly allowed a substantial popular electorate, including female property-holders as well as male. The common people really could share and declare their views in these young Canadian assemblies.
Nevertheless, although elected members in the two Canadas could now voice public sentiments and give consent to taxes (kept fairly low), the Constitutional Act still left the weight of power with the Governor and the Executive or Legislative Councils. Moreover, governors had revenues of their own from lands or customs duties outside parliamentary control; while the appointed councils, entrenched and powerful, were effective restraints on the popular will in either province. But one must not overdo the impact of such restrictions, then, on the conservative-minded peoples of both Canadas. In new Upper Canada, the colonists were generally too busy with the hard demands of pioneering to pay close heed to politics; and most were happy enough with their gains of English law and land tenure, along with their own provincial government and assembly. In Lower Canada, the English-speaking minority were also sufficiently content with the new structure which at last had provided British parliamentary institutions. The French-Canadian majority largely took to it as well, seeing that their numbers could dominate the Lower Canadian assembly, while their own special guarantees from the Quebec Act had been maintained in the Act of 1791. Still further, the mass of Canadiens, deeply linked in the past to the Catholic Church and the French monarchy, beheld a despoiling French Revolution in Europe that had overthrown them both -- and thus looked the more favorably on their own new, safely-ordered British constitution. Hence the Constitutional Act, despite its limitations, suited both Canadas reasonably well; so that some time would follow before its restrictive features led to enduring demands for reform.
Other future issues would develop from the Act's setting aside lands to maintain a "Protestant Clergy" in Upper Canada. The conservative London authors of that measure had regarded state-backed religion as a bulwark of social order. And, of course, state-enforced tithes to support the Catholic Church had been continued in the Act of 1791 for long-settled Lower Canada. But as for new, underpopulated Upper Canada, so largely Protestant, the Act reserved an amount equal to one-seventh of all the wild lands to be granted to settlers, in order to build up a land endowment to fund clergy of the Protestant faith -- which in the thinking of the designers really meant the Anglican Church, the established Church in England. In Upper Canada, however, while Anglicans would remain a leading denomination, there also were many German Lutheran and evangelical Protestants present, along with Scots or Irish Presbyterians, and a rising number of Methodists among the Loyalists themselves. Protestantism by its very nature presented variety, not Catholic uniformity. As a result, the Anglican claim to Clergy Reserves -- which held back various farm lots and whole blocks of land from settlement for later lease or sale -- would all but certainly produce lasting grievances in Upper Canada, both for economic and religious reasons. Nevertheless, the fact that there were plenty of wild lands available as free grants to settlers, also meant that it would take some time before the Upper Canadian Clergy Reserves themselves became a pressing issue.
In any event, an Upper Canada mainly concerned with pioneer settlement might well be pleased with its first Lieutenant-Governor, named when the Act of 1791 went through: Colonel John Graves Simcoe, from Devon in England. He had fought through the American Revolutionary War at the head of the Loyalist Queen's Rangers, and brought that reconstituted regiment with him to Upper Canada to be a construction corps. Devoted to the Loyalist settlers, as most of them were to him, Simcoe aimed at making his new province a very model of British law, liberty and progress set beside a misguided American republic. Hence, even before he reached Kingston from Quebec and Montreal in 1792, he was full of eager plans for highways, towns and economic enterprises, or for defences against a still unfriendly United States; capably aided in all this by Elizabeth Simcoe, his observant and intelligent wife, who drew out some of the plans, and wrote or sketched vividly on life in this opening Upper Canada.
An energetic, determined Governor Simcoe (but no less set in his views) issued a crucial proclamation as early as February, 1792, to attract more settlers to his province from the American states, which he earnestly believed still held many people of hidden Loyalist sentiments. Accordingly, his proclamation, widely circulated below the border, offered 200-acre free grants to all who would settle them and swear an oath of British allegiance. This open invitation to free land (known to be fertile from the Loyalist's experience) in time brought many American frontier families, pushing westward, to make just a minor swing to the northern side of the Lower Great Lakes, and thus locate in Upper Canada. Feelings for allegiance had less to do with this new inflow than Simcoe had optimistically hoped. Some of the newcomers at first might still have been "Late" Loyalists in sympathy, but more and more they were really land-hungry American frontiersmen, who came with little political concern themselves, and so did not find it too difficult to return to the domains of King George III, under whom they had been born. In any case, this Post-Loyalist American influx would assuredly develop Upper Canada well beyond its initial Loyalist foundations. The movement started small under Simcoe -- though he had opened the way. But largely because of it, a province of some 14,000 in 1791 rose to around 90,000 before the War of 1812 effectively closed off more entries from the republic.
Other than in settlement (most basic) Simcoe did still more to put Upper Canada under way. After a brief stay in Kingston, where he met with his Executive Council and named his Legislative Council, the governor moved deeper into the heart of the province, to Niagara as capital; and here he called Upper Canada's first parliament in September, 1792. But the next year Simcoe decided to shift the government seat away from Niagara on the exposed American border to the northern shore of Lake Ontario: to the harbour of Toronto, where the time-old Toronto Passage gave access overland to Georgian Bay and the Upper Lakes, while the protected harbour could be made a safe naval and military base against American border attacks. And so in mid-1793 the new capital village and garrison centre of York was laid out by the Simcoe's Queen's Rangers: later to become the city of Toronto.
Beyond this capital, the Governor had main roads cut by the Rangers: Yonge Street inland, up the Toronto Passage north, Dundas Street west into the heart of southwestern peninsula, where the projected town of London would arise. And to Fort Detroit at the southwest tip of the province, or northward to Lake Huron, the ever-active Simcoe traversed and planned a province that should command the Great Lakes. He did more: under his lead, the province's legislature in 1793 decreed that Black slavery would end in Upper Canada; seventy years before the presumably democratic United States abolished it. Then in 1796 the Governor departed York, his now-established capital, and was shortly re-assigned to command British forces in the West Indies. Peter Russell, his diligent inspector-general (finance minister) followed him as chief administrator of the province, until a new Lieutenant-Governor, Peter Hunter, was appointed in 1799. But Simcoe and Russell together strongly stamped the initial years of Upper Canada.
In those years, too, there were menacing strains along the border between that province and the United States. Since the Treaty of 1783, native Indian peoples below the Great Lakes, who had once been French, and then British, allies against American thrusts westward, had been left uneasily within territories ceded by Britain to the new United States. Their outlook was bleak, to say the least. The British, however, had not yet given up their forts on what was now, by the treaty, the American side of the border. The reason they put forward (and it had force) was that the Americans had not fulfilled their own treaty commitments to Loyalists. But other reasons were that the Indians still relied on the British fur trade for supplies, secured at the border posts in question; that these posts represented some protection to Upper Canada against American expansion, right from Forts Oswego and Niagara to Detroit and Michilimackinac; and that if the inland tribes were indeed abandoned, they might turn in desperate revenge against the weaker, thinly-held Upper Canada frontiers.
Consequently, Simcoe instructed by Dorchester played a tense diplomatic game in the American border areas -- not much aided by Six Nations Chief Isaac Brant, who realistically thought it impossible to create a neutral Indian state there, as Simcoe had hoped. American military power soon settled the question in any case, shattering Indian resistance and forcing the western tribes to virtual surrender in 1794. British-American armed clashes were just barely avoided; but the Indians' defeat was decisive. And at the same time, an American delegation led by John Jay went to London and negotiated Jay's Treaty in 1794, whereby the Americans (belatedly) agreed to deal with neglected Loyalist claims, while the British (belatedly) agreed to evacuate their border forts on the American side, completing the move by 1796.
And so by the late 1790's Upper Canada had settled down to quieter phases of continued immigration and development. Meanwhile, Lower Canada had seen important developments of its own, notably in its political life under the Act of 1791. In that respect, that province's appointed Legislative and Executive Councils were controlled from the start by an English-speaking elite of officials and top merchants; but its elected Legislative Assembly was dominated by the French-Canadian majority: since, after all, they numbered over 145,000 to only some 10,000 in the Anglophone minority. The result was ethnically-based politics, with the British minority elite stressing the demands of commerce, finance and public works, the French popular majority championing Canadien rural society, its traditional institutions and cultural heritage. Of course, there were a limited number of English-speaking representatives also in the House of Assembly, mostly sitting for the business towns; but the elected house essentially became an instrument of the Francophone community; a process aided by the fact that, from the start, the Assembly established French along with English as an official language in Lower Canada's parliament.
At the same time in economic life, Lower Canadian farmers were prospering on wheat exports sent overseas to feed the towns of an increasingly industrial Britain. More than that, while Montreal's chief merchants thrived on the long-range, continental fur trade, lumbering, shipping and fishing interests in Lower Canada all benefitted soon from the sweeping rise of wartime prices in Europe. In 1793 Great Britain joined European allies in general war on France; seeking to quell a ravaging French Revolution which, quite literally, had just cut off the French monarchy at the neck by guillotine. The French wars that followed would last over two decades with little break, widely engaging both Britain and its North American colonies. And if inland Upper Canada experienced mostly distant echoes of the French conflict, Lower Canada on the St. Lawrence-Ocean highway felt it more largely, though mainly through busy wartime commerce. Here, however, we are moving into another era, the opening nineteenth century, which itself demands attention in both the Canadas.
Economic advances certainly continued in Lower Canada, so much longer settled and more fully grown. As but one example, John Molson, an English immigrant to Montreal of the 1780s, imported a new-fangled steam engine to serve his flourishing brewery; and the technical knowledge thus gained led Molson in 1809 to put steam power into a pioneering vessel on the St. Lawrence, the Accomodation, running between Montreal and Quebec. Steamboat navigation, thus successfully begun thereafter spread up-river and on beyond the rapids into the Great Lakes: to prove one of the most significant developments of the young century.
More immediately important, and no less extensive, was the rise of an ever-growing lumber trade out of Lower Canada to Britain. Lumbering, which had been practiced from French colonial times along the St. Lawrence, acquired a whole new scale in the wars against Revolutionary France; and then against its supreme dictator, Napoleon, who was proclaimed French Emperor in 1804 and whose conquests spread across Europe right to Russia. Only an island, Britain, protected by its great naval fleet and carrying on worldwide ocean commerce, had managed virtually alone in Europe to withstand Napoleon's tremendous land-based power. But sea-power in that age of wooden sailing-ships still depended on plentiful timber from abundant forests -- such as lay in British North America. And even by 1804 Britain was facing a crisis in her domestic wood supply, in that her own home-grown prime timber had become almost exhausted by the heavy construction needs of both warships and merchant vessels, on which her very freedom and economic security depended. She still could look to nearby Baltic lands for timber; these had indeed become an increasing reliance. But in 1806, the conquering Napoleon issued his Berlin Decrees, intended to choke the economy of an island realm he could not subdue by military force. Among many other things, his decrees prohibited the sending of timber to Britain out of Baltic ports. Some cargoes would still get through. Yet for wood-dependent British shipping, colonial timber was now transformed from a helpful shipbuilding supplement, to a crucial necessity in itself.
Consequently, in 1809, the British government placed high duties on foreign timber, but left colonial timber virtually duty-free; thus giving a strong tariff preference to wood shipped from British North America over closer, cheaper, but unsure Baltic supplies. This imperial preference was also calculated to bring British firms into tackling transatlantic colonial forests, and it did so. Yet above all, it meant that the protective rate set for colonial wood sent to British markets would now cover its ocean shipping costs -- and thus could hugely stimulate lumbering already under way from the Maritimes to Lower Canada, and into Upper Canada, for many years to come. In effect, the imperial timber preference (ultimately paid for by the British taxpayer) widely encouraged economic growth across British North America; but nowhere more than on the St. Lawrence and up its great tributaries, the Saguenay, the St. Maurice, the Richelieu, the Ottawa and more, all offering secure and ample forest resources for imperial trade.
Cutting for this overseas commerce emerged early on the Richelieu and fast spread to other streams: the square-hewing by broad-axe of giant "sticks" of timber, which then were shipped overseas from the port of Quebec in roomy if unwieldy sailing vessels. And square-timbering particularly reached up the Ottawa to its own vast forests of red and white pine. At Hull, opposite the present city of Ottawa, Philemon Wright had settled in 1800 with a party of post-Loyalist Americans from Massachusetts. From Hull by 1806 he was already sending large rafts of square-hewn timber down to the St. Lawrence and Quebec. And as big lumber firms like Pollock and Gilmour sent agents and partners out from Britain to Quebec -- and as William Price from England became "King of the Saguenay" through opening up its timber resources -- so the port of Quebec boomed as capital of a lumber empire, while clattering shipyards rose near its close-crammed timber coves. French Canadians moved as lumbermen into new forest frontiers, under bosses mainly British or American in background. In any case, not only did Quebec city receive a major economic input, offsetting Montreal's hold on the fur trade and on up-river traffic, but also, a Canadian staple export had appeared in lumber, to share with wheat in its importance beyond the old trade staples of fish and fur.
More locally important was the settlement of the Lower Canadian region to be termed the Eastern Townships, lying southeast of Montreal and stretching to the Appalachians and the American border. Never occupied by the French Canadians, this wide tract once home to native Abenaki had remained outside the limits of seigneurial holdings; yet the Act of 1791 did allow grants of land in Lower Canada to be made by "free and common soccage" (farm proprietorship) beyond the established seigneuries. Accordingly, with the thought of attracting more Loyalist ventures, this near-border stretch was surveyed as townships from 1791, to be granted in such units to "leaders" (with capital) and their "associates" (would-be settlers). But not till late in the nineties did much more than airy speculation take place; and when actual settlers did come in, they were less Late Loyalists than land-seeking post-Loyalist Americans, often drawn from neighbouring northern New England. They made capable pioneers, however, in opening up good farmlands. Hence by 1810 they had added another segment to the English-speaking minority in Lower Canada, one which was largely composed of country-dwellers, not city merchants, and one which would be further enlarged by the British immigrants who came into this Anglophone Townships community after 1815.
All the same, the Lower Canadian French remained in the great majority: confounding unreal hopes among the Anglophone elite in power (the "British party") that the Canadiens could somehow be absorbed into a very much smaller English-speaking population. Instead, an increasingly self-aware "French party" took to political action on their own in the Assembly, to uphold and promote the distinctive interests of French Canada. This political element was mainly centred among an emerging professional class of Canadien lawyers, doctors, notaries and the like; though French-Canadian seigneurs, Catholic clergy and government job-holders largely stayed outside as moderates, between both French and British parties. The French party members largely admired the British parliamentary constitution yet sought to realize it more fully, and thus to enlarge the rights already held by the French-Canadian community, as they beheld them. On such broad questions, however, there were inevitable differences of outlook between French and British sides; and differences on specific issues, as well, brought the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council of Lower Canada into mounting conflict.
A particularly sharp clash came in 1805 over an Assembly bill to erect much-needed jails across the province, to be paid for by new import duties on trade. But the Council, petitioned by merchants linked with the British party, sought to meet the costs from a tax on land instead. Angry arguments followed, as the question eventually went right up through the councils and governor to the imperial powers in London. In the outcome, the tax was imposed on land; for this was a local measure for local, not external purposes -- and if local residents could afford to build churches, why not jails? Nevertheless, the debate it roused really expressed the basic division between French agrarian interests and British commercial concerns. And it brought on the founding of a self-declared Parti canadien in the Assembly to work for change, along with a first Francophone journal, Le Canadien of Quebec city, directed by Parti canadien members and dedicated to French Canada's institutions, law and customs. Paper and party threw themselves vigorously into the cause. Then in 1807 they came up against a formidable new governor, Sir James Craig, a military officer deeply suspicious about the possible spread of French Revolutionary ideas into Lower Canada. His suspicions were much exaggerated; but they did not ease Lower Canadian politics.
Under men like Pierre Bédard and Jean-Thomas Taschereau, keen-minded lawyers, Le Canadien not only attacked government favoritism and corrupt land deals, but suggested a potent idea for the future; that members of the government might be held responsible to the elected assembly. The Assembly itself acted to expel two government supporters from its own membership, on what were acceptable legal grounds of that day -- though the expulsion of one of them, Ezekiel Hart, a Jewish merchant of Trois Rivières, also smacked of religious prejudice. The expulsions, in fact, helped make the general election of 1808 violent, while Craig saw disruptive French democratic nationalism behind it all. When a scarcely-changed Assembly flatly confirmed the expulsions, both in 1809 and 1810, the governor dissolved the house outright; seized the press of Le Canadien, put military patrols in Quebec, and imprisoned Bédard and two others also involved with the paper. But when Craig, backed by the British elite, went on to urge the imperial government to revoke the whole Constitutional Act, the London authorities in 1811 wisely recalled him instead. Thereafter, a different and conciliatory governor, Sir George Prevost (a British soldier but of French Swiss origin), effectively calmed and restored the situation. He changed some members of his Executive Council, appointed Canadiens to judgeships, including Bédard, and largely won over French-Canadian support -- a matter of grave importance, as renewed strains grew with the United States that soon would burst into the War of 1812. For the time being, at least, Lower Canadian politics and Assembly-Council relations were set on a more even course; although the work accomplished by the Parti canadien would not be forgotten by the Francophone community in the years ahead.
Upper Canada saw far less political excitement in the opening nineteenth century. Neither so developed nor divided, the upper province did not yet produce lasting organized parties in politics, but rather just temporary groups associated with persons more than programmes. And though there might be Assembly-Council disagreements, these hardly roused wide popular responses in Upper Canada where the governing elite, an oligarchy of firm-set officials, landowning gentry and some merchants, kept much wider acceptance in town or country than in the ethnically split lower province. Moreover, Upper Canada's governors, like its politics, were generally not of strong historic note after Simcoe and down to the War of 1812. And so, other aspects held more significance; particularly the ongoing settlement process in this still very young society.
A continued inflow of Post-Loyalist Americans occupied the shores of Lake Ontario between the Bay of Quinte and the capital of York, spread from the head of the lake through the western peninsula to the Detroit border, and thrust inland up Yonge Street from York itself. Moreover, along with ordinary pioneers, "Plain Folk" also came from the United States: evangelical Protestant group like the Quakers, who located near Yonge, or the German-speaking Mennonites who went into the Niagara peninsula and especially up the Grand River to Waterloo county. Thanks to this whole influx -- a spill-over from the westward movement of the great American frontier -- the majority of Upper Canada's population was of American origin by the War of 1812; and only a minority of that element were actually Loyalists in background. As for British immigration in this same period, it was restricted both by the costs and dangers of wartime passage across the Atlantic, and because manpower demands in Britain were high, whether for armed forces, factories or farms. Some Scots Highland soldiers and families were brought to Glengarry in eastern Upper Canada in 1803, to add to the Loyalist Highlanders already there. Some English, Scottish or Irish merchants and artisans also came to Upper Canada's few urban centres, where their qualitative impact mattered more than their limited numbers. But over all, the pre-war province was still largely a land of bush cabins and stump-field farms occupied by Loyalist or American families, with the latter decidedly Methodist, not Anglican, and strongly individualist in their views. The British element clustered at the power centres stayed influential. But there lay trouble for the future in Upper Canada's own division in heritage -- whether loyally British or American democratic in origin.
Economic growth accompanied this enlarging Upper Canadian settlement, from the flourishing timber world along the Ottawa to new farms beside Lake Erie, or along the valley of the Thames. Certainly the southern stretches of Upper Canada were now much beyond the fur trade; although it still dominated great northern forest reaches all the way to Fort William at the head of Lake Superior -- which was built up from 1801 as a jumping-off point for the western commerce in furs, now that an earlier base, Grand Portage, was recognized as being on the American side of the line. But in the southern areas of Upper Canada, livestock and grain as well as timber were emerging as prime exports for the province's settlers, to be sent down the St. Lawrence or across the Lakes. One can overdo the progress within this frontier community of still well under 100,000 settled inhabitants by the War of 1812. Nonetheless, the evidences of growth in young Upper Canada were plain by then: from the first brick buildings erected at York to the cutting of more through roads, the rise of lake shipping, or even the first provincially-aided schools. And similar growth was no less apparent down to 1812-15 in the Atlantic provinces of a future Canadian union.
From the 1790s on, the three Maritime provinces and Newfoundland were more directly affected than the Canada's by the French wars because of their Atlantic coastal position; although the subsequent War of 1812 found them less exposed to American onslaughts -- thanks to the British Navy -- than were the inland Canadian provinces. And in addition, this whole period down to 1815 brought political and economic developments to the eastern colonies, which further shaped their lasting roles in British North America.
In New Brunswick, the timber trade to Britain became of dominant value, beginning with tall, straight pines for shipmasts, here in plentiful supply. But the vast resources of wood up the Saint John and other rivers, that could be rafted down to Atlantic harbours, came increasingly into trade even before the imperial timber preference was set up in 1809. From then on, the hewing of long squared beams sent by merchant firms to Britain spread still more extensively, from Bay of Fundy streams around to the River Miramichi on the north shore. In fact, thanks to its broad, thick forests extending up to the Appalachians, New Brunswick became a timber province first and foremost. Agriculture of course continued around its shores, along the low Chignecto Isthmus and in the richly fertile intervales of the Saint John. Fishing and shipbuilding equally grew active on the coasts -- while Saint John the city became a focus of rising shipyards as well as a chief provincial port. And so New Brunswick thrived with wartime markets. Yet also, the quiet return of Acadians brought it new French-speaking farms or fishing settlements from Memracook in the Chignecto area up to the north shores. Here villages like Buctouche, Richibucto and Shippegan marked the steady building of a restored Acadian community, one which over time would form nearly half the population of the province.
But New Brunswick's political life stayed mostly in the hands of a ruling Loyalist oligarchy, a small, powerful ruling group. It featured enduring councillors like Ward Chipman from Massachusetts, Solicitor-General from 1784 to 1808, and Chief Justice after that; or Edward Winslow, also from Massachusetts (and Harvard), who had worked with Chipman as a top Loyalist officer during the American Revolution, and from 1784 to 1806 sat in New Brunswick's executive until named a Supreme Court judge himself. These are but two leading examples of the Loyalist elite that ran the province -- and fairly well at that -- under a long-lived Governor Thomas Carleton, who held his own post officially right from 1784 to 1817; though he actually returned to England in 1803, already aged sixty-eight. Thus New Brunswick, in its first age down to 1815, seemed to be what its Loyalist landed gentry liked to think of as a province fit for gentlemen, run in well-mannered style from the placid country town of Fredericton. Yet plain farmers, and fishermen, rough timber-cutters and wood bosses, striving merchants and port-workers in bustling Saint John, no less represented another growing society of a considerably different outlook. That indeed was shown by the career of James Glenie in the province's Assembly from 1789 to 1803: a Scottish officer-settler (and lumberman) who led a popular coalition in the elected house that attacked the policies of the ruling oligarchy, and even withheld money votes from them through 1795-99. Still, the Glenie opposition largely turned on personalities, not party; and not till long afterward would the conservative political world of New Brunswick effectively be altered.
As for Nova Scotia politics, in this older Maritime province at first reflected the problems of absorbing a large Loyalist element that threatened to swamp the existing pre-Loyalist population. To the pre-Loyalist "native Nova Scotians" (so they would term themselves), the newcomers were merely "New York office-grabbers" who expected only the best as they scrambled to safety. To the Loyalists, the self-styled native inhabitants were little more than Yankees who had never faced or fought the American Revolution, yet still pretended to all the hard-earned benefits of British allegiance. Undoubtedly there was sore rivalry for jobs and positions along with mutual prejudice. But in many respects pre-Loyalists and Loyalists in Nova Scotia were much the same people, in their American seaboard origins, their life-styles and Protestant faiths, and in their common concerns with farming, fishing and shipping. In short, the two groups settled down quite readily together in society, and thus ultimately in politics besides. In the process, however, there were clashes between Loyalist opposition forces in the Nova Scotian Assembly and the pre-Loyalist old-guard in the Council -- which indeed led to the Assembly securing the right to bring in money bills, and even to impeach Supreme Court judges for corruption and incompetence. Being a Loyalist did not mean you could not attack abusers of the King's law!
Nonetheless, reformism among Loyalists rather faded after one of their own became Governor of Nova Scotia in 1792: Sir John Wentworth, previously a Governor of New Hampshire, who held his new place in Halifax on to 1808, when Sir George Prevost briefly succeeded him before the War of 1812. Wentworth was well practised in the art of patronage, and free-handedly put relatives and Loyalist friends into his Council or in other official posts. Yet this urbane and capable governor both kept control and his own popularity, despite renewed troubles with the Assembly from about 1802. William Cottnam Tonge, an English naval officer in charge of shipping regulations, had entered the elected house and there organized countryside support against Wentworth and the ruling Halifax group, the "Council of Twelve" (so-called), which sharply challenged their oligarchic power. In many respects the rural opposition front that Tonge built up was a classic case of "country" versus "town" interests. But it broke down when in 1807 Wentworth had its leader dismissed from his naval office and removed the country magistrates who had authorized local, pro-Tonge meetings. Moreover, Wentworth's own public hold, and the loyal conservatism of wartime Nova Scotia, allowed him to get away with such legal but overbearing acts. Oligarchy continued to run Nova Scotia, where parties beyond mere town-versus-country factions would still take years to develop. In truth, a chastened but co-operative Assembly now built Wentworth a fine stone Government House, and voted a stately new Province House for the legislature as well.
Such sizeable expenditures as these at the capital marked the fact that wartimes were good times in Nova Scotia generally: in farming and fishing, in supplying the military, and in sending provisions, saltfish and lumber to West Indies markets. Convoys massed at Halifax harbour for escort from its naval base to Europe; while under British naval protection Nova Scotian ships reached into Mediterranean trade. Without doubt there were also dangers of enemy attack; but in 1805 Britain's decisive sea-victory at Trafalgar off Spain shattered the main French fleet and its Spanish allies, rendering the high seas safe from all but scattered raiders. Meanwhile, too, Halifax defences had been much strengthened under Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, a younger soldier son of George III, and later the father of Queen Victoria. Formerly in charge of the Quebec garrison, Edward from 1794 was commander-in-chief for Nova Scotia and its Atlantic approaches. And there he worked vigorously (and lavishly) to build up Halifax, the imperial stronghold; in public edifices as well as in the armaments and the stone ramparts of a newly massive Halifax Citadel. He even introduced a semaphore telegraph system. In effect, Prince Edward ministered to the Halifax and Nova Scotian war boom, that continued long after his own departure in 1800. Assuredly, not just Halifax but all the province, enjoyed extensive ocean commerce behind the British naval shield.
At the same time, there was increasing settlement in Nova Scotia, largely of Scottish clansmen come from Argyll or Perth, Ross or Sutherland. They still found their way across the wartime Atlantic because of their desperate need to escape starvation-farming in the Highlands, where the thin land was inadequate for an expanding population, and big landlords were "clearing" their estates, replacing tenant crofters with more profitable sheep. The Highlanders, Gaelic-speaking Catholics and Protestants, came to Picton and Antigonish, or opened farms on rugged Cape Breton Island, not unlike the Highlands in its own stark beauty. Even by 1803 there were probably up to 10,000 Scots in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, while the island alone held some 6,000 by 1815. A high birthrate helped: Cape Breton might be a rigorous land of pioneer hardships, but for poor croft-tillers accustomed to still worse at home, it offered health, room and their own acres -- a good recipe for growth. Moreover, returning Acadians also settled stretches on the western shores of Cape Breton, as well as establishing new fishing villages at empty harbours around the southern end of mainland Nova Scotia.
Scots and Acadians also went to St. Johns Island, renamed Prince Edward Island in 1799 in honour of Edward, Duke of Kent. Yet despite good lands, fishing grounds and timber reserves, development took place only slowly, since landholders on the island were not actual landowners, but still tenants of big absentee proprietors back in Britain. Thus in 1797, thirty years after this landlord system had begun, twenty-three township grants held not one occupant, and twelve others only thirty-six families in all. A few of the absentee owners did make more efforts to plant settlers; but in 1798 there were still just over 4,000 people in a naturally well-endowed island. One proprietor who did work to establish settlement, however, was the Earl of Selkirk, a wealthy Scottish philanthropist deeply concerned with the fate of evicted crofters in his home country. In 1803 he thus brought 800 Highlanders out to his estate in Prince Edward Island -- though at its little capital, Charlottetown, he found an idle governor and a "bad" Council, and everyone "asleep". Nevertheless, Selkirk's colony thrived, and Scottish numbers generally increased on the island -- where the much less numerous Acadians also grew well established, notably around Rustico on its north shore.
Yet the big Atlantic island, Newfoundland, grew still more strongly through the war years down to 1815. The quick capture in 1793 of France's fishing bases at St. Pierre and Miquelon, which were held till peace returned, removed French competition from Newfoundland's basic industry. Moreover, continued decline in the seasonal English fishery (since war made it costly for the English fishing ships to cross to Newfoundland, and again took their men into the Royal Navy) led to the final disappearance of that centuries-old visiting enterprise soon after 1800. This further freed the resident fishermen of the island from competition, leaving them a virtual monopoly of high prices for their catch, even while they sent Newfoundland-built schooners loaded with salt cod to invade Mediterranean markets. As a consequence, more migrants came to settle in a booming Newfoundland, still chiefly drawn from Ireland despite the difficulties of wartime passage. By 1803 there were some 20,000 permanent residents on the island, 8,000 listed as Roman Catholics, 12 000 as Protestants. But in St. Johns, where 3,500 of the population lived in a lively, rowdy, jumbled town, Catholics outnumbered Protestants two to one, for this was a chief place of arrival, and so of concentration, for recent Irish immigrants. Since 1784, when Reverend James O'Donnell had arrived as Prefect Apostolic, under new arrangements for Catholic toleration in the island, Catholic congregations had grown steadily. But so had Protestant churches, especially Methodist, the first regular Methodist missionaries having arrived in 1785. In sum, with fishing exports soaring, and sealing rising, with St. John and outport merchants prosperous and "men for the boats" in constant demand, a better-off society was losing its frontier roughness, spreading churches or charitable activities and setting up schools.
Yet Newfoundland, the fishing base, still was not a regular colony: having no full-time, civil governor, certainly no provincial legislature, or even full legal rights for private property. The last, at least, Dr. William Carson took up, a reform-seeking Scottish arrival of 1808. In 1811-13 he urged that "war gardens" around St. Johns, patriotic attempts to raise island food, be legitimized as private property; and he won the concession of private plots to individuals. There was a long distance to go. But Newfoundland by 1815 was on its way to recognized property and provincehood at last.
Stemming out of the French wars from 1807, new American-British troubles developed on the Atlantic, which actually brought further benefits to the trade of Newfoundland and its colonial neighbours. Napoleon's Berlin Decrees of 1806, blocking off British commerce with Europe, had been matched by Britain's Orders in Council that forbade trading with France and the French-dominated continent. Yet while Napoleon's blockade, for want of sea-power, was only effective in European ports, the Royal Navy enforced the British blockade on the high seas, searching and often seizing neutral ships judged to be blockade-runners -- a right recognized in international law. Still, this forceful interference particularly affected the merchant fleet of the United States, by now becoming a major maritime nation.
The Americans, in response, passed embargo and non-intercourse acts in 1808-10, officially shutting down their own overseas commerce with the warring powers; though this largely amounted to punishing themselves, especially seafaring New England. But as New England craft lay idle in harbour, or sailed only in local traffic along American shores, so colonial vessels to northward moved in gladly to fill the gap; above all, by taking over more of the carrying trade to the West Indies from New England shipping. Newfoundland dry cod thus reached larger and further Caribbean markets. And a whole new trade emerged, whereby New England ships, illicitly but profitably, ferried provisions up to Halifax, Shelburne and Saint John (declared "free ports" in 1808), provisions which then were sent to the West Indies in the colonial vessels that also took down fish and lumber. In return, they brought back sugar, molasses and rum, much of it to be forwarded to New England, in a helpful trade that pleased nearly everybody.
What was far less pleasing, however, was the British use of the right of search to wrest deserters from the British Navy out of United States ships: men who had fled its old-style brutality, or had left for the pay and opportunity of American merchant service and by now might even claim United States citizenship. This high-handed British assault on young American national pride mattered in some ways more than the seizures of ships and cargoes. It put patriotic outrage behind American cries for "free trade and sailors' rights" -- particularly after individual British and American warships had clashed in thundering combat over the right of search in 1807 and 1811.
In any event, along with these Atlantic troubles that pointed toward the War of 1812, still other strains had arisen in the western interior of the United States. Here there were Indian problems that seemingly involved British influence, and certainly involved the expansionist dreams of western American politicians. An advancing American frontier looked south to Spanish Florida or north to British Upper Canada, where so many Americans had recently been settling; realms that now seemed ripe for taking. And in the centre, land-hungry frontiersmen from Kentucky through Indiana and Michigan were pressing on the remaining native tribes -- which brought on armed resistance by an Indian confederacy organized under the pre-eminent Shawnee warrior Tecumseh, and his charismatic brother, The Prophet.
Late in 1811, near the native village of Tippecanoe south of Lake Michigan, the Indians, confederates, however, were defeated by American military power. And this fight not only heightened the westerners' resolve to be rid of the Indian barrier, but also their desire to take Upper Canada from the British, viewed in popular tradition and suspicion as the real force behind the natives' struggle for their own lands. Consequently, western politicians at Washington clamoured for war with Britain, convinced that an Upper Canada full of American settlers could be won easily, especially while British forces were so thoroughly engaged against Napoleon in Europe. In Congress, western expansionists who wanted support for seizing Florida in the south backed those who sought Canada in the north, and vice versa. Moreover, although New Englanders stayed largely opposed, sufficient votes were added from other eastern areas angry over the right of search, and keen to see Britain taught a lesson. And so, in June, 1812, Congress voted for war with Britain: well called by one American historian, "a western war for sailors' rights".
It mostly was a western war, as far as British North America was concerned, fought largely in outstretched, exposed Upper Canada. Though Lower Canada also underwent attacks, its main St. Lawrence lifeline stayed firmly in British hands; and the eastern provinces were well within the grasp of British sea-power, besides bordering on a New England eager for trade, yet far less eager for the war. Upper Canada, however, lay across the open upper St. Lawrence and Great Lakes from far more populous American states. It held little more than one regiment of professional British soldiers when war began. Its own militia forces were small, untrained, and faced the question of whether American settlers would serve at all, since so many of them simply expected an easy takeover from the United States -- where one high government official thought it "a mere matter of marching". Nevertheless, to offset such ready assumptions, Upper Canada did have several not-so-secret weapons, beginning with the British regulars themselves.
Although only limited British reinforcements could be spared to Upper Canada till late in the War of 1812, well-trained regulars, skilled and confidently disciplined, could match much larger bodies of American militia, who were raw, loosely organized, and darkly anxious about Indians lurking in ambush. As for the Indians, they had good reason to ally with the British, once they saw that the King George men would fight. They proved invaluable within the forest wilds of Upper Canada, in maintaining -- or attacking -- lines of communication, in supplying intelligence on enemy movements, and generally, in spreading alarm and dismay among invaders who had long memories of Indian raids. And then there were the Loyalist, still strongly established in crucial border areas like the Upper St. Lawrence or Niagara peninsula -- and grimly determined not to lose their new homes as they had lost their old. Yet beyond all these, there was General Isaac Brock himself, seasoned by the French wars, by service at Quebec from 1802, and in 1811 given command in Upper Canada. A daring but clear-sighted leader, inspiring in his tall, forceful presence, Brock organized Upper Canadian defences, then began the war with bold successes: and so put a very doubtful province on its path to survival and security.
Isaac Brock hit first when war was declared, by capturing Fort Michilimackinac at the top of Lake Michigan: once a French base, then British, and now American. This sudden surprise thrust brought Indians of the whole area to the British side, where Brock and Tecumseh, the Indian leader, worked in close trust. Next, the British commander struck at the American army that invaded the southwestern tip of Upper Canada from Fort Detroit, moving swiftly by lake with regulars and York militia to beseige that fort, even though his forces were much outnumbered. The Indians cut off the United States regulars and Michigan militia holed up at Detroit; Brock cannonaded from the river, then boldly demanded the Americans' surrender -- whereupon an outbluffed and fearful General William Hull yielded his whole army. This Detroit victory greatly encouraged loyal Upper Canadians, and led uncertain American settlers to do their militia service, lest they lose their lands, since the British were plainly not going to collapse as expected.
Then Brock swung to meet another invading army, which crossed the Niagara River from the New York side near Queenston. Here in October, 1812, he was killed at the Battle of Queenston Heights, leading a typically bold charge up to high ground already held by some American troops. Yet British regulars and militia under General Roger Sheaffe (of Boston Loyalist background) soon hit the Americans from above, driving their whole force back to the river and disaster. And so if Isaac Brock's role was short, it was still decisive in preventing all-too-likely defeat at the outset, and in heartening Upper Canadians to fight. In fact, it helped instill a new Anglo-Canadian patriotism in defence of homeland -- such as French Canadians already had long known. Furthermore, American settlers, too, could come to share that spirit. They had felt small quarrel with the British authority that had granted them farms, and many came to see the invading troops of the United States not as liberators (from what tyranny?) but as would-be occupiers, crop-looters and barn-burners, whom they must fight to protect their own homes built from wilderness.
The next year, 1813, saw further hardening of spirit, as conflict surged back and forth. After breaking through at Niagara, the Americans pushed up to Stoney Creek near present-day Hamilton. There, however, they were compellingly defeated in June, and sent back to Niagara border once more. Meanwhile, United States forces raided the capital at York by lake, briefly seizing that town, then leaving it with parliament and government buildings destroyed, along with lasting anti-American memories among its citizens. More widely significant, a United States naval victory on Lake Erie in September, 1813, opened the way for a drive by land into southwestern Upper Canada, bringing British defeat at the Battle of the Thames, where Tecumseh was killed. Nevertheless, this western defeat was offset in November at the eastern end of the province, where a more dangerous American attack across the upper St. Lawrence, which could have snapped the vital supply route from Lower Canada, was beaten at Crysler's Farm near Cornwall. The British units present, regulars and militia, also included voltiguers, well-drilled volunteer Canadien light infantry, who fought notably in both Canadas, and signified French Canada's own willing response to this war of defence against American aggression.
Voltiguers, moreover, had just played a valuable part at the Battle of Chateauguay in Lower Canada. Here another American army directed at Montreal was driven back at the Chateauguay River as it approached the St. Lawrence, by British forces which comprised ordinary French-Canadian militia as well as voltiguers. And this success was chiefly due to Colonel Charles de Salaberry, who had raised the voltiguers; a distinguished soldier of a distinguished French-Canadian family, who had already seen long service in Europe against Napoleon. In any event, the year ended with the American war still neither won nor lost. And thus it went on through 1814: with more raids by lake and river, another United States offensive into Lower Canada, checked firmly at Lacolle in March, and a British counter-offensive down to Lake Champlain, checked in turn at Plattsburgh in the fall. The struggle continued, too, in the Niagara borderlands, where the Battle of Lundy's Lane in June, 1814, was the heaviest and bloodiest of all the war, but ended without a clear decision.
The truth was that both sides were now pretty evenly matched -- reinforced British regulars against disciplined American regulars, supported by experienced militia on either side. Yet both combatants were wearing down. The United States had wholly failed to take any part of Canada, saw British naval and military forces occupy Castine in Maine in 1814, and then raid Washington itself. Britain, watching dangerous rifts appear in the European alliance that had finally overthrown Napoleon (while France looked hopefully for its Emperor's return), very much wanted to be freed from a draining, stalemated war in North America. Accordingly, on Christmas Eve, 1814, British and American envoys signed a treaty of peace at Ghent in Belgium; though the peace would not be known to icebound, warring Upper Canada till into 1815. Incidentally in June of 1815, Napoleon, back from exile, met his final defeat at Waterloo. And so the long cycle of French wars came to an end at last, as well as the American conflict.
The Treaty of Ghent did little more than restore the status quo ante bellu, things as they were before the war. Neither Britain nor the United States made gains or concessions. Still, the treaty did lead to the Rush-Bagot Convention in 1817, limiting warships (and hence armed bases) on the Great Lakes; and also to the Convention of 1818 that ran the American-Canadian boundary on to the Rockies along the forty-ninth parallel. British North America had survived. But more, its existence had further won United States recognition, in a process that at long last -- and certainly not in 1815 -- eventually brought about a peaceful, undefended border between two great North American nation-states. This was heritage, too, in which the War of 1812 had played its own bloodstained part.
Far beyond the developing colonies of eastern and central British North America, far from the impacts of European or American wars, the western half-continent might seem to be little changing into the early nineteenth century. And yet it was changing, as North West Company traders aggressively pushed onward, and as Hudson's Bay Company men offered increasing competition -- which finally brought war, fur-trade war, to the West itself. The outcome saw the amalgamation of the two rival companies in 1821 under the Hudson's Bay Company name, and a western fur empire ruled by the new combined organization. All this greatly affected and moulded the emerging West. To tell that heritage story in these pages does require going a few years past 1815. Still the West has often had its own time-frame, which here best takes us to the fur companies' merging of 1821.
To begin with the 1790s, an enlarged North West Company centred in Montreal had grown so dominant that by 1795 it controlled two-thirds of the Canadian fur trade, bringing out some 20,000 beaver pelts yearly. It spread posts from the Assiniboine to the foothills of the Rockies, to Fort Augustus where Edmonton now stands, and Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabaska, a new base for the valuable Athabaska trade. It maintained a widely organized system of canoe brigades (fed on pemmican, dried buffalo meat from the plains) that took goods and supplies to the western posts and brought out their furs. And the Nor'Westers were both more adaptable and enterprising than their Hudson's Bay rivals, for unlike the more rigid older Company, their traders in the interior were not wage-paid "servants", but "wintering partners", who shared in the profits distributed annually. They had good reason to go on expanding trade into rich new country, as long as there was good beaver country left to tap.
Continual expansion, however, meant ever-lengthening canoe routes, and ever-mounting costs of transportation. Increasingly it took first grade furs skimmed from new territory to meet the heavy transport burden; so that need as well as greed drove Nor'Westers on to fresh resources. But one who sought to do something about transport burdens was Alexander Mackenzie, a wintering partner at Fort Chippewyan. He had heard stories of a great river flowing out to the Pacific, and determined to find it: for then the inland North West posts might be supplied much more cheaply from the western ocean than by costly overland hauls from the east. Accordingly, in 1789, this young Scot had set out from Lake Athabaska and reached the great Mackenzie River that ran northward, and which ultimately took him and his party of Indians and voyageurs to the Arctic Ocean. Mackenzie actually called this giant stream the River Disappointment, when he realized it ran to chill Arctic saltwater. Yet he had opened a far more practicable route to the northern ocean than Samuel Hearne had earlier done across the Barren Lands: a broad waterway in the long run suitable for bulk traffic to Arctic ports, through a vast wooded valley of high future importance. Mackenzie, however, just went on trying. In 1793 he turned westward from Lake Athabaska to the mountain-piercing Peace River, crossed from it to an unknown upper Fraser, and beyond that struck overland by Indian trails through lofty ranges -- to come out on the Pacific at Bella Coola inlet: the first European to cross to the West Coast. He and his party here left a message painted on a rock in vermilion and melted grease: "Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada by land, July 23, 1793".
Thus the drive of the Canadian fur trade had spanned the continent with Mackenzie; twelve years before the Lewis and Clark expedition from the United States reached the Pacific further south, at the mouth of the Columbia. Yet maritime explorers were already sounding the North Pacific coasts when Mackenzie reached there. In fact, at Bella Coola he just missed a naval expedition headed by Captain George Vancouver of the British Navy. Vancouver was then charting the coastal waters: following on from his old commander, Captain James Cook, the grand explorer of the Pacific from New Zealand and Australia to Hawaii and Alaska, who had landed at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island in 1778. Moreover, Spanish navigators, working north from Spain's Mexican empire, were also examining what was to be the British Columbia shoreline; until Nootka Sound became the focus of a diplomatic clash between Britain and Spain from 1789 to 1795. Still, in the end British ships won ascendancy in these waters, coming to trade at Indian shore villages for luxuriant sea-otter pelts to be sold in China at high prices -- a trade in which American vessels soon gave more serious competition.
In any event, North West Company venturers advanced their own fur trade into the Pacific West, opening better routes across the mountains than Mackenzie's original passage. Outstanding among these pathfinders, who came not just for commerce but to find what lay behind each beckoning range, were Simon Fraser, of Loyalist stock, a Company partner in charge of the operations beyond the Rockies from 1805; or London-born David Thompson, initially a poor Hudson's Bay apprentice who had transferred to the North West Company as a winterer in 1797, and then spent till 1812 on the plains and Pacific slopes. Simon Fraser in 1808 travelled the river that bears his name to its Pacific outlet, down towering canyons and past the swirling rapids of its own "Hellsgate". And in so doing Fraser uncovered the great valley carved through mountains which would none day carry transcontinental rails and highways to the metropolis of Vancouver set on magnificent Burrard Inlet -- probed by George Vancouver in his own coastal ventures. As for David Thompson, this eminent map-maker as well as explorer set out in 1806 from Rocky Mountain House, near the head of the North Saskatchewan, to open trade with Indians beyond the Rockies by pack team and canoe. The next few years he spent exploring the Upper Columbia River region, building the first post on that river, Kootenay House, in 1807, and rounding the Great Bend of the Columbia thereafter. In 1811 Thompson followed this waterway to the sea, only to find an American trading base, Astoria, already established at its mouth. And so the Columbia was not to become a Canadian through-route to the Pacific. Yet for many years it carried North West and (later) Bay Company traffic -- while the very name "British Columbia" recalls the vast Columbia River inlands that David Thompson first opened.
Meanwhile, through plains and forests back to Upper Canada, the Nor'Westers held sway: even though the wide lands stretching eastward from the Rockies that were drained by the Saskatchewan into Hudson Bay legally formed part of Rupert's Land, owned by the Bay Company under its Charter of 1670. The Athabaska country and other areas north that drained into the Arctic were not within the "English Company's" old title; but in any case, title meant little in the wilds, where the Nor'Westers set posts and garnered trade with scant concern about any charges of trespass -- quite unenforceable. Their fur cargos flowed back each summer to the Company's interior headquarters at Fort William. Here the wintering partners came down with their canoe brigades in swift canots du nord, to meet the Montreal partners and their bigger canots du maitre which carried up supplies and could brave Great Lakes storms. Here indeed, Fort William became one of the largest urban places in early Upper Canada when the summer meetings were held; when the hommes du nord and the manguers du lard (the eastern voyageurs who ate salt pork, not pemmican) joined in happy festivities and fights. At the same time, chief Montreal leaders like William McGillivray, who took over from his uncle "Marquis" Simon McTavish when the latter died in 1804, went over the costs and profits with the winterers, and briskly discussed plans for the year ahead -- it was anything but a dull session of directors droning over statements.
Still, as the North West regime continued, so did challenges from its Hudson's Bay opponents. They set up close, competing posts, Brandon House near Fort Assiniboine, Fort Edmonton by Fort Augustus, and many others. They developed the York boat (from York Factory on Hudson Bay) to meet their own lack of canoe transport: a roomy, rowed craft with sails that did well on western rivers. They also capitalized on their direct sea access from England to the West via Hudson Bay -- which Alexander Mackenzie, having failed to find an effective Pacific-based supply route, sought unsuccessfully to share through a deal with the Bay Company. And they used their own solid capital reserves, as an old incorporated company, to outlast the shifting North West partnerships, even buying over the expert services of disgruntled Nor'Westers like Colin Robertson, a capable veteran of the interior.
The critical contest of the fur companies, however, only came to a head after Lord Selkirk, the philanthropic, wealthy founder of settlements both in Prince Edward Island and at Baldoon in Upper Canada, bought financial control of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1810, in order to found a new colony within its territory of Rupert's Land. There he obtained a forty-five-million acre grant from the Company in the Red River valley of present Manitoba, on fertile prairie accessible by lake and river from Hudson Bay. In 1812, the first group of some ninety poor, dispossessed Scots arrived to open farms on Manitoba prairie just north of present Winnipeg; and in following years more colonists, including some Irish, were sent out; in all numbering a few hundred by 1816. Yet troubles with Nor'Westers in the area soon developed, although at first they charitably helped the unprepared settlers. For if the Selkirk colony in the Bay Company's opinion represented a living enforcement of its ownership right on the plains, from the North West Company's viewpoint, this new settlement lay across the vital route from Canada northward into the rich Athabaska trading realm, beyond Bay Company territory. It implied a dangerous threat to cut off Nor'Westers' trade: a threat which very soon looked real, when because of food shortages in the struggling Red River colony, its governor, Miles Macdonnell from Glengarry, Upper Canada, put an embargo on the export of pemmican from the area. That seemed a flagrant blow at North West Company provisioning, and led to Nor'Westers seizing Macdonnell, driving the colonists away, then burning their settlement.
But that was not all. Though some colonists came back and more arrived, a fiercer assault in 1816, by Nor'Westers and Métis, the offspring of French traders and local Indian peoples, resulted in the so-called Massacre of Seven Oaks, wherein twenty settlers and their new governor, Robert Semple, were killed in a prairie skirmish. And this in turn brought no less violent response. Selkirk came to Canada to restore his own colony, equipping himself with magistrate's power in Upper Canada, and with the De Meuron regiment of disbanded soldiers who had fought in the War of 1812. With the De Meurons, he swept powerfully up to Fort William in the summer of 1817, took over the fort, arrested leading North West officers for trial back east, and went on to the Red River, where Colin Robertson and his own Bay Company men were already taking control. At any rate, Selkirk ensured that the Red River Colony was enduringly re-established as a pioneer settlement on the plains: quietly living from its grain fields, receiving both Catholic and Anglican missionaries, and generally providing a permanent little core for farming growth within the huge, empty British North American West.
Nevertheless, the still powerful North West Company hit back at Selkirk for grossly exceeding his limited magistrate's authority at Fort William and in the West. A lengthy series of lawsuits followed which exhausted much of the Earl's fortune and -- more -- the strength of a sick man ridden with tuberculosis, Selkirk died in 1820, utterly worn out. But beyond that, the fur trade war of North West and Hudson's Bay Companies had come down to exhaustion also. There had been fierce ambushes, rival seizures of cargoes. Colin Robertston, as designer of Bay counter moves, had been arrested by the North West Company. But over all, both sides had lost considerably. Still, the Nor'Westers could not overcome the Bay's advantage of a short sea route to the West, while their own morale had been eroded through years of rising costs and falling profits. Thus by 1821, even William McGillivray, prime Nor'West leader, was ready at last to meet terms -- for all his own force and determination to keep going.
That year, a settlement was reached through the British government, which had faced powerful lobbying from either side. A renewed Hudson's Bay Company took over holding a fur-trade monopoly, though with McGillivray, his associates and Nor'West wintering partners sharing in an amalgamated enterprise. This new monopoly would not only keep charter rights to Rupert's Land, but hold control by licence to the Arctic West beyond, and the transmontane West out to the Pacific. And so, by 1821,the West of British North America was reshaped under this Hudson's Bay Company, in a form mainly to last until Confederation. Here was yet another heritage: sprung from the age of western fur trade giants, and bequeathing the first farm settlement on the plains of Manitoba.
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