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CANADA: A Celebration of Our Heritage
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A Celebration of Our Heritage
Chapter 6: Immigration, Colonial Growth and Strife: 1815-1841
While the West was still caught up in fur-trade rivalries, eastern British North America had entered a new era in 1815, with the ending of the Napoleonic and American wars. It was an era to be marked by surging British immigration, commercial and agricultural expansion and political strife, as rising reform movements came up against entrenched colonial elites. Moreover, all three factors, British settlement, economic advance and the clash of Reform and Tory elements, were decidedly interlinked. That remains to be shown; but we can start with the mounting tide of migrants from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
In 1815, the barriers to large-scale movement overseas were lifted from a fast-multiplying British population, pent up during long years of war. Transatlantic passages became much more accessible. Their costs fell sharply, for there was now a surplus of ocean shipping, and high wartime insurance rates had disappeared. Furthermore, pushes to emigrate rose powerfully at the same time. There was wide post-war depression as the British economy went through drastic readjustments, while thousands of discharged soldiers were flung into the labour market. And depression was made yet worse by the effects of Britain's ongoing Industrial Revolution. The industrialism of steam and iron machinery had helped defeat Napoleon; but it had also struck hard at traditional cottage handcrafts in Britain, disrupted whole districts and communities, and produced ill-built, crowded factory towns that were hives of misery and disease. Furthermore, unbridled industrial capitalism fostered hectic boom-and-bust cycles, of flush times followed by bleak years, which brought down merchant and farmer alike, and spread unemployment, poverty and hardship among both old-style rural workers and new-style factory hands. Here, then, were compelling drives that sent migrants out to Britain's transatlantic holdings. They were drawn there, as well, by the colonies' demands for workers and their broad lands available; by prospects of new jobs, farms and security, or by dreams of opportunity and a bright future, especially for the children. Such drives and draws are classic in the history of emigrations. And in this movement from Great Britain, they brought around a million people across to British North America between 1815 and the mid-1850s, when the outflow finally subsided from a more securely adjusted and prospering British homeland.
The numbers who thus entered Canada-to-be are not to be measured in terms of our own day, but in those of the much smaller colonial societies of an earlier age. There were only some half a million settled residents in all British North America when this "Great Migration" began. It started in trickles; less than 700 in 1815, though that was not fully a peace-year. It swelled to 15,000 by 1818; then on to 66,000 in 1832 and 109,000 in 1849; sweeping floods for the provinces of the time. As a result, the much older French-Canadian community was placed decisively in a minority. Existing Anglophone inhabitants, moreover, who were largely of North American backgrounds -- whether pre-Loyalist, Loyalist or post-Loyalist -- were increasingly outweighed by new immigrants from Britain. Hence Canadian society in general became more fully and directly "British" than it had ever been before. Furthermore, that change went on during the very period when the colonies moved towards self-government and then union, on British lines indeed. It may be easy to overdo the British heritage that came with the immigrant waves of the earlier nineteenth century. But it would be thoroughly wrong to underrate it.
"Assisted" immigrants played a considerable part in the earlier years of this transatlantic outflow; for example, those groups brought in by charitable projects such as Lord Selkirk's at Red River, the disbanded soldiers and poor Scots who were sent with government backing to the Perth Settlement in eastern Upper Canada in 1816-17, the needy Irish set down near Peterborough in that province after 1823, or the English rural paupers located in western Upper Canada beyond London in 1832, to get them off parish relief-rolls at home. But increasingly, non-assisted, private efforts took over, as individuals (and their families) scrimped and saved to raise the money for passage and settlers' supplies. Often men would come first, and work as labourers, farm hands or lumbermen in order to earn enough to bring out their wives and children. Women came tending the family young and the old; though some came singly as house or farm servants. The cheapest passages were in timber ships returning empty to Quebec or Saint John for more wood cargoes. Crowded in their dark and soggy holds, on rough tiers of bunks put up for the long, slow voyage, many would-be immigrants went through ordeals for sheer survival; and some of them, among the elderly and the children in particular, did not survive at all.
Not everyone who made the crossing under sail did so in this hardest way -- even if the faster, easier voyages of those who could afford them would still have looked grim enough to later travellers, journeying by steamship or even ultimately by air. But along with impoverished crofters, handloom weavers or hard-pressed factory workers in this Great Migration of the earlier nineteenth century there also came solid farmers after fresh, and fertile acres of their own, skilled artisans wanting to better their earnings, and aspiring merchants looking to new business ventures. As well, there were middle-class professionals, lawyers, doctors, teachers and journalists; plus a scattering of upper-class gentry hoping to build more rewarding estates, or half-pay officers, retired after years of war service, who sought to make their limited incomes go further in a new land. In sum, here was a cross-section of contemporary British society.
Of all these varied immigrants, the fewest came from Wales, the smallest national community in the United Kingdom, though with a language and proud culture of its own. The largest and most thickly populated realm, England, sent substantial numbers throughout, on every level, but still ranked second to Ireland. For while Ireland, too, was populous, it was also far worse off: a country bound up in big landed estates and meagre tenant-plots, from which the Irish poor had long sought escape by emigration, even during the French wars. Consequently, after 1815, the largest continuing transatlantic streams of settlers usually flowed from Ireland, both from its heavily Catholic, farming south and from its strongly Protestant northern province of Ulster, where the weavers, artisans and citizens of business towns like Belfast had suffered through stern industrial depressions. Northern Irish Ulstermen, moreover, were staunch defenders of Protestant faith and the British Crown, as seen in the popular Orange Societies they brought with them. The Southern Irish were equally devoted Roman Catholics, and as well kept feelings for an Irish nationalism that had long fought against the British tie. And so the ethnic contests of Orange and Green would be transferred into Canada. As for the Scots, whose rugged northern country contained considerably fewer inhabitants than either England or Ireland, they perhaps made up for quantity by quality. At any rate, whether Catholic Highlanders or Presbyterian Lowlanders, Scots set their own strong mark on English-speaking Canada; assuredly in business or political circles, and often helped by their kin loyalties and excellent Scottish schooling. The Scottish heritage stays powerful in Anglo-Canada still: although a popular notion that this indeed was "a Scotch country" can also be overdone and unhistorical, especially in view of major Irish and English contributions.
The largest number of British migrants went to Upper Canada, which in the provinces of the day had the broadest frontiers of fertile land still to be occupied. Yet other colonies gained many also. In Newfoundland, some incoming Scots settled on its southwestern coast off Nova Scotia, while many more Irish and English entered to the east. The Irish particularly arrived in major waves from 1825 to 1833, after which their influx to this rugged isle rapidly declined. The English came there in lesser flows, but continued on much longer. As a result, Newfoundland kept a small if lasting Protestant majority (such things mattered deeply in society and politics then), although the Irish Catholics held an emphatic local majority along the eastern Avalon peninsula and in the capital, St. John's. The big island, however, scarcely had frontiers to settle in a harsh interior of rocky uplands and swampy woods. Newfoundland's real frontiers lay in the open surrounding seas; so that population growth and expanding trade activities essentially stayed along its rim of fishing outports and shore towns. Similarly, Nova Scotia's own inland country was often difficult and rugged, without great river highways or rich new Annapolis valleys. More Highland Scots, largely Catholic, came to Cape Breton in the 1820s; more Presbyterian Scots to the flourishing Pictou area; and some Irish and English to Halifax and other older districts. But generally, the stage of pioneering settlement reached its end in Nova Scotia of the 1830s, with few new frontiers then left to occupy.
Prince Edward Island was different -- small and mostly fertile. Here more than 10,000 West Country English, from Devon and Cornwall, settled after 1817, taking to the timber trade and sizeable shipbuilding. Effectively, they cleared the island for more farms, although its burden of absentee landlords still slowed farming occupation. There was yet another story in mainland New Brunswick, where the timber trade and British settlement were also closely related, but in a much larger territory. Indeed, that colony's great inland forests, reaching into the Appalachians, were of prime importance in its economic advances after 1815, since most of those areas more suited to agriculture had already been occupied: by the farms of Loyalist descendants beside the Fundy coast or in the Valley of the Saint John; by Acadian village settlements north from the Chignecto along the Gulf of St. Lawrence shore. But timber ships landed regular cargoes of British immigrants (largely Irish, both Catholic and Protestant) at Saint John or at Gulf-shore harbours, from where they widely moved on inward to the lumber camps. They also cleared bush farms or became farmer-lumberers -- working at the camps in winter, on their fields in summer -- while still others remained in the ports as labourers and shipyard hands. Less Scots and English arrived in New Brunswick; yet more often they were to rise as skilled shipwrights, timber bosses or merchants. At the top of provincial society, however, thriving on a forest trade that was protected by the continuing British timber preference (and was largely based on British immigrant labour), were the timber merchants and chief shippers or shipbuilders: less Loyalist gentlemen, now, than hard-headed business enterprisers.
Lower Canada presented a picture both similar and different. Even more timber shipping (and immigrants) travelled up the St. Lawrence water route to Quebec: which was British North America's leading timber port and by far its prime landing-place for overseas arrivals, right from 1815 into the 1850s. Most of the arrivals there continued on by river to Upper Canada. Yet some migrants instead stayed in the lower province, much increasing the dock and shipyard hands at Quebec or the unskilled labourers and building workers in a fast-expanding Montreal: Catholic Irish especially, for English and Scots more notably took up new farms in the Eastern Townships. Here the British American Land Company, chartered in 1834, bought some 850,000 acres to sell to the settlers; though most of its sales occurred from the forties into the fifties, in the process, building up a major Townships centre, the town of Sherbrooke. And English-speaking traders, manufacturers, professionals and monied men were also added to the dominant Anglophone elite of Montreal and Quebec; while in particular, the largely Scottish business magnates of Montreal maintained and enlarged their power.
Nevertheless, Upper Canada was unquestionably the most affected by the British settlers who poured in yearly. Thanks to this immigration, plus natural increase, its population climbed from less than 100,000 in 1815 to well over 200,000 in 1831, then on to 450,000 by 1841. Older districts filled in; farm frontiers spread out. And towns grew up, from Cornwall and Kingston to Hamilton, St. Catharines and London; while York became Toronto in 1834, Upper Canada's first city, with some 9,000 residents -- its own numbers having nearly doubled in the two proceeding years, largely because it was a focus for arriving migrants. In the east of this province, Ulster and Catholic Irish who had landed at Quebec came on to timber camps up the Ottawa, on both the Upper and Lower Canadian sides of the river. They also chopped out bush farms that provided the northward-advancing camps with hay and oats for their horses, root crops for their axemen. The Ottawa became almost a workers' world itself -- of Irish and Canadien shanty-dwellers, under Scots and English masters, hewing and rafting the massive square timbers down to Quebec.
In the centre of the Upper Canadian province, newcomers after 1815 cleared farms further inland above Lake Ontario or north of Toronto up Yonge Street: still a rough and muddy route, but by now a busy highway for settlements to Lake Simcoe, bringing farm produce to the city, taking mail, supplies and wholesale goods by return. In the province's western Peninsula, however, the widest growth took place. Along Lake Erie stretched the Talbot Settlement, where Colonel Thomas Talbot, an aristocratic Irishman once secretary to Governor Simcoe, opened main roads and commandingly located British colonists on his half-million-acre grant. There were, as well, lesser "Scotch blocks" or English and Welsh settlements in southwestern Upper Canada. But the biggest project of all was that of the Canada Company, chartered in England in 1826 under the Scottish novelist John Galt. That enterprise obtained two million acres in Crown land reserves scattered across the provinces, and another 1,100,000 in the Huron Tract, a great triangle of fertile wilderness bordered on Lake Huron, with its tip inland at the new town of Guelph, headquarters for the Tract. The Company also built roads, and generally gave good service in filling the Huron area with British settlers during the 1830s and 40s.
Throughout this variegated growth, English arrivals did not just reinforce the established strength of Anglicanism, since their middle and lower ranks considerably supported Methodism or other dissenting Protestant sects in politics. The Scots, similarly, might not only be Tories, both Presbyterians and Catholics, firmly behind the ruling order, but equally firm exponents of new Liberal political views fast making headway in Great Britain. And antagonisms between Ulster Orangemen and Catholic Irish repeatedly erupted in public fights or riots, especially at election times. Consequently, British immigrants brought more with them than population increase -- their own social and political inheritances as well. But one other thing they brought, no less, was powerful economic stimulus. They greatly enlarged the labour supply of British America. They added fresh capital, skills and enterprise; and much expanded production and demand in every colony -- to shape a prosperous, lively era of advance.
The timber trade grew with its largely immigrant workforce; yet also because it was no longer serving wartime ship construction in Britain, but instead the larger and more lasting needs of British industrialism: in beams and deals (heavy boards) for factory or urban building, in shaft-timbers for the vital coal mines, and soon, in ties for new steam railways which had first developed in Britain from the 1820s. Furthermore, the colonial wheat trade rose strongly to feed Britain's industrial population, and was effectively given imperial tariff protection, after 1822. Grain exports continued out of Lower Canada. Still, new high-yielding fields in Upper Canada increasingly entered into the trade, as immigrants' farms, from Peel County near Toronto west to the London District, sent out their grain and flour. And in the process, the pioneer "four corners," where once mill, general store, blacksmith shop and tavern had marked bare frontier beginnings, now widely increased to settled inland hamlets; while down on the "fronts," solid business communities gathered within the rising towns.
The advance of business interests was plain across the provinces -- in harbour development companies from the Atlantic ports to the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes, in major wholesale firms from Halifax and Saint John to Quebec or Toronto, and most notably, in the rise of banking. The Bank of Montreal, long to be Canada's premier bank, began in 1817; the Bank of Upper Canada at York (Toronto) in 1820, the Bank of Nova Scotia at Halifax in 1832. At the same time, Montreal merchants quickly recovered from the transfer of the fur trade from the St. Lawrence to Hudson Bay in 1821. For they had turned to the vigorous Upper Canada trade, forwarding goods in from Europe, bringing down grain for export, in a far heavier and more valuable traffic than former canoe-loads of western furs. Thus not just timber yields, wheat crops, or fishing harvests expanded in these years, but major towns and business power, right from Newfoundland through Upper Canada.
Still further, transport by water was vastly improved, thanks to the steamship and canal. The Frontenac, first steamer on Lake Ontario, was financed by Kingston merchants and launched in 1817; after which steamboats steadily added to schooner traffic on the Lakes. In 1834, the Royal William, built by Quebec interests, was the first vessel to cross the Atlantic wholly under steam -- the beginning of a new age of Atlantic steamships, in which Samuel Cunard, Halifax ship-owner, would play a prominent part. Meanwhile, canal construction had come to British America; but especially to the inland Canadas. The Lachine Canal, opened in 1825 to by-pass the rapids in the St. Lawrence just above Montreal, was an initial step in the long development of an Upper St. Lawrence canal system. Then in 1829 the Welland Canal, promoted by William Merritt of St. Catharines, linked Lakes Erie and Ontario for ship traffic, avoiding the huge barrier of Niagara Falls. In 1832, the Rideau Canal was put in service from the Ottawa down to Lake Ontario at Kingston; while Bytown, founded as that canal's headquarters on the Ottawa by its builder, Colonel John By, would one day become Canada's capital city of Ottawa. More canals were also started on the Upper St. Lawrence; although their expensive completion would take till 1848.
In any event, canal routes largely widely constructed by immigrants, Irish in the main, became a notable, large-scale feature of this age of sweeping growth. But no less evident than the costly, government-backed canals were the ever-growing political strains; to which we now should turn.
After 1815, the pace of change accelerated in the politics of the British American colonies, just as in their economic and social lives; all part of a turbulent era of immigration and development. In some ways Newfoundland went through the biggest change, when in 1825 its long reign of visiting naval admirals was ended, and the first resident civil governor, Sir Thomas Cochrane, took office. In 1832 representative government was also established, so that Newfoundland at last became a full-fledged province like the others. Still, quarrels arising between its Legislative Assembly and Council over the control of finances led to factional splits and election violence. Governor Cochrane, once popular, had his coach pelted with mud as he left the province in 1834. Chiefly, he was blamed for showing favouritism to the Council, a small elite group of substantially conservative and Protestant appointees, while the Assembly, looking for wider popular power, had come under the sway of reform-minded members such as Dr. William Carson and John Kent, a young Liberal and brother-in-law of the weighty Catholic Bishop Fleming of St. John's. Backed by formidable Catholic Irish support in and around the capital, the reform elements pushed protests right to the Colonial Office of the British government in 1837; though with little immediate result.
Of course, each province still followed its own political pattern. In Prince Edward Island, for example, politics continued to revolve closely about the enduring question of land-ownership. Governors and appointed Councils largely sustained the legal rights of British absentee proprietors; elected Assemblymen sought their removal, or at least that the distant landowners be compelled to pay the taxes due from their grants to support the province's administrative costs. Even before 1815 there had been groups urging tenant rights in the Assembly, and reform fronts among its members grew increasingly insistent afterwards. Of course, it could be said that these elected populists were not necessarily noble champions of small tenants, but also meant to free the way for local land speculators -- in which cause they might even find Council allies. Nonetheless, the land reform question both dominated and bedeviled Island politics for many years to follow.
Nova Scotia did not have such over-mastering problems of land or religion; but that did not prevent a lengthy, if fairly orderly, contest between its ruling Council oligarchy and the representative Assembly. The Halifax oligarchy of officials, big merchants and landowners or shipping and banking magnates -- all centred in the "Council of Twelve" around the Governor -- was none too inclined to yield its own dignified authority to a rabble-rousing Assembly largely composed of country lawyers, rustic farmers and outport merchants who had rashly proclaimed their own right to speak for the people. (This was the view of the Council gentlemen, of course.) But these superior gentry made a bad mistake when they charged an obstreperous Halifax journalist, Joseph Howe, with libel. Howe, outspoken editor of the popular Novascotian since 1828, had been attacking a government beyond control of the representatives of the people. Of Loyalist parentage, he was, besides, a whole-hearted believer in the British tie and British parliamentary institutions. And so, when the oligarchy took him to court in 1835 to set an example to their foes, Howe, defending himself, made a stirring speech on British freedom of the press against tyranny, a speech that resounded across Nova Scotia. He not only won the lawsuit, he won an Assembly seat in 1836, and fast rose to prominence in that house. In fact, he organized and led Reformers as a parliamentary party, and thereby gained concessions from the Colonial Office in 1837 which separated the old oligarchic Council into two bodies, a Legislative and an Executive Council -- with four Assembly members henceforth sitting in the latter. It was still a long way to a government constitutionally responsible to the people's house. Yet Howe had taken a sound first step in Nova Scotia.
New Brunswick, too, followed its own political course, one very much concerned with timber, its great staple. The chief political issue here involved crown-land revenues, whether they should be dealt with by governing Council or elected Assembly; yet what was really at stake was who should control the crucial timber leases to these forest preserves -- the friends and associates of Council officials, or the big timber dealers who had come to dominate the Assembly. In short, political ideas or constitutional stands really had little to do with it. Not much but timber rivalry divided oligarchy and opposition viewpoints in this province. A good deal of reform-sounding Assembly rhetoric, however, was directed against Thomas Baillie as Crown Lands Commissioner from 1824. Baillie, an able but arrogant official, took very seriously the collecting of revenues from timber leases; yet by giving free run to his favoured subordinates he further outraged timbermen forced to pay "tyrannical" taxes. Through the Assembly, their protests went to the Colonial Office, which in 1837 much reduced Baillie's powers. Assembly leaders, in fact, now gained such a hold on timber lands and revenues that New Brunswick seemed a remarkably contented and peaceful province in that very year when armed rebellion broke out in both the Canadas.
The path through reform to rebellion was a complex one in both these much larger provinces. And it was still more complicated in Lower Canada, thanks to the basic ethnic and social division there between French and English-speaking communities. Political issues in this colony would not just express a clash of conservative and reform viewpoints over the governing system, or on matters of financial powers, business projects, land rights and religious rights. All these aspects were present in Lower Canada. But beyond them was the underlying conflict of two distinctive language and cultural communities; the one upholding economic advance, commerce and British allegiance, the other, striving to preserve French Canada's farm interests and heritage in its own national homeland. That conflict ran through almost every Lower Canadian dispute between the governing oligarchy and "British party" on the one side, the French-dominated Assembly on the other. It expressed British commercial Toryism no less than French agrarian Reformism: though fervent Canadien Reformers might further express both liberal nationalist hopes and conservative Catholic leanings of their own.
Still further, since political conflict was more deeply seated in Lower Canada, it had arisen there well before 1815, as the pre-war contest of the Parti Canadien with Governor Craig had shown. Hence when wartime dangers had passed, the earlier strife between the Assembly and the oligarchy (the "Chateau Clique" in Lower Canada) quickly reappeared; but now in times of rising economic change, and while masses of British immigrants were landing yearly at Quebec and Montreal. French Canadians began to feel more and more embattled. They looked especially to the eloquent, imposing Louis-Joseph Papineau, a lawyer who was chosen Speaker of the Assembly in 1815, after service as a militia captain in the War of 1812 -- which saw him at the capture of Detroit. He sat for Montreal West till 1837, almost constantly as Speaker; and he gained wide knowledge of British parliamentary practice, as well as high respect from Lower-Canadian Reformers, who made him their chief leader. Yet Papineau, who gradually became a democratic liberal in his political pronouncements, remained an aristocratic conservative in his own social outlook: a believer in old-regime seigneurialism who became an eminent seigneur himself. Thus he effectively embodied Canadien Reformism, which sought to use the new ways in politics to preserve the old in society. And so, although some English-speaking liberals or radicals allied with him -- largely drawn from American-origin settlers of the Eastern Townships -- the chief support he roused came from those French-Canadian liberals who, like Papineau, were beginning to think in terms of national freedom. It was not for nothing that the old Parti canadien was reconstituted as the more urgent Parti patriote in 1826, with its own journal, La Minerve.
Meanwhile, Papineau had directed his political comrades in efforts to wrest financial powers from the ruling Chateau Clique. In 1819 the House of Assembly thus revised a government budget to cut the salaries of disliked officials. That caused the British-appointed upper house, the Legislative Council, to throw out the revised budget in total. And in an ensuing long struggle over finances, the Assembly refused any budget at all in 1827, whereupon Governor Lord Dalhousie dissolved it. Subsequent moves by the British parliament in London, to offer conditional concessions on budget matters, were rejected by renewed Assembly forces; until finally in 1831, the British authorities transferred control of most of Lower Canada's revenues to its own legislature without any conditions. But this victory did not remove the bitter feelings that had mounted. Papineau and his followers went on to still more uncompromising radicalism.
That was evident in 1834, when the Assembly set out its thunderous Ninety-Two Resolutions, proposing an American-style elected, democratic government (though keeping the antique seigneurial system), and hinting at American-style revolution if these demands were not met. In effect, Papineau and the radical liberals with him were toying with prospects of revolt. Yet their aggressive mood was backed by wide popular discontents in the countryside. Here habitant farmers faced declining wheat yields from over-used soils, while British migrants streamed in, strengthening the grip of les Anglais. These settlers, above all, were filling up the Eastern Townships: thereby depriving French Canadians -- who by now were overcrowding the established seigneurial districts -- of new lands which they had considered theirs by very birthright.
Accordingly, by 1834, the Reform movement in Lower Canada was reaching a critical threshold. Much the same was true for Upper Canada, although in circumstances decidedly its own. Here there obviously was no such all-important ethnic division. Yet emotional issues of loyalty, of British allegiance versus American influence, could sometimes make the struggle between Reform forces in Upper Canada's Assembly and those behind its governing elite look just about as heated. In this upper province, the ruling oligarchy, to be dubbed the Family Compact, was certainly the focus of the chief officials around the Governor, along with large landowners and top merchants, and was generally supported by pro-British Tory-Conservative opinions which were anti-American rather than anti-French in character. In any event, this Family Compact kept considerable popular backing in an Upper Canada founded on Loyalism and moulded by war against invaders from the democratic United States. After 1815, moreover, the Compact was busily concerned with economic development, a popular cause in itself. Beyond that, it had some capable if keenly partisan leaders: chief among them Dr. John Strachan, Scottish-born Anglican minister and later bishop, and John Beverley Robinson, Canadian son of Virginia Loyalists.
Strachan, York schoolmaster and leading cleric, was as forceful as he was stubborn. He was appointed to Upper Canada's Executive Council in 1818, the Legislative Council in 1820, and made head of the new General Board of Education in 1822. For this first-rate, devoted teacher believed strongly in enlarging education; a belief which also led him to seek, and obtain, a royal charter for a provincial university in 1827 -- ultimately to become the University of Toronto. As for Beverley Robinson, the best mind in the Tory Compact and an outstanding lawyer and judge by any measure, he had fought under Brock at Detroit and Queenston Heights while still a law student. Then he had been made acting Attorney-General in 1813 at 21, since his predecessor and legal mentor had been killed at Queenston. Robinson, once John Strachan's prize-pupil, became regular Attorney-General in 1818, and won election to the Assembly, besides, in 1821. Clearly, connection and favour had much to do with his early advancement. Yet he also came to merit it by no less clear intelligence and integrity. Furthermore, Robinson was an effective spokesman in the Upper Canada Assembly, which held a sizeable group of Tory-Conservative members. Indeed, the Tories in the 1820s and 30s elected popular majorities to that House about as often as their Reform opponents did.
All the same, in the age of change after 1815, more Upper Canadians came to question oligarchic rule, and voice grievances over patterns and privileges that no longer seemed acceptable. Hence demands for reform steadily mounted, especially in regard to land policies. The yearly influx of British settlers seeking farms inevitably raised land values. While good, wild land was still available by free grant within the province, it now lay deep in tangled backwoods; and the nearer, semi-opened land -- with rough roads to markets, neighbours and some services -- had to be bought at ever-rising prices. It had to be bought from big private holders, good friends of the Compact, from the Canada Company close to the government, or else leased (later purchased) from the Anglican Church, which had been granted its extensive land reserves under the Constitutional Act of 1791, in order to support the "Protestant clergy" of this privileged, semi-official church. There might be resentment in any case against speculative owners holding back empty properties for higher prices. Yet religious differences still more sharply underlined complaints over the tracts withheld as Anglican clergy reserves. As early as 1817 a resolution in the Assembly attacked these reserves as being "beyond all precedent lavish." And criticisms multiplied, leading to calls to divide the clergy land endowment among all the Protestant Churches. The more "advanced" Reformers by the 1830s were even urging secularization, to turn the valuable lands over to the support of public education instead.
Though Anglicanism was still a major element in the colony, and was reinforced by many English immigrants, plus some Protestant Irish, its official privileges regarding the reserves, and more, drew criticisms from other growing church bodies such as the Scottish Presbyterians -- but above all, from the Methodists. Rooted among both Loyalists and post-Loyalist Americans, and decidedly strong in the countryside, Methodism now was being further enlarged by arriving English Wesleyan Methodists; to shape a serious challenge to the Anglican church dominance upheld by Compact Tories. In 1829 Egerton Ryerson, a young minister of Loyalist family, became the combative first editor of the Methodists' new Christian Guardian. He campaigned tellingly against religious privilege in church, law or public education; and he and Methodist forces became powerful allies of the Reform movement. Still, Ryerson and his co-religionists were really more of a middle group in provincial affairs: in truth, almost conservative-loyal as regards any drastic political change, though determinedly reforming on matters of Anglican dominance, land policy, schools, and some other Upper Canadian problems that typically engaged Reform elements against the Compact side.
Loose-knit reforming forces, moreover, first organized themselves into a definite Reform party in the Upper Canada Assembly of 1824, although it still had no one recognized leader or much party discipline. In response, Tories soon also shaped a distinct Assembly party -- beyond former vague factions with little more programme than "support the Governor and his friends." This basic process of party growth, so vital to the rise of parliamentary self-government, took place in all the provinces; but in Upper Canada it went on most clearly under Reform leaders who emerged over the 1820s into the 30s. Among these were Marshall Spring Bidwell, a careful, moderate liberal of American origin, who led a successful struggle to prevent post-Loyalist American settlers being treated as unworthy second-class citizens; and thus tied a sizeable "American" vote closely to Reform. As well, there was the Anglo-Irish Dr. William Warren Baldwin, a wealthy Toronto landowner who wanted to see British responsible government established in Canada, whereby the governing Executive Council would become a true parliamentary cabinet, dependent on the vote of the elected house.
Still further, there was an English radical lawyer and physician, astute John Rolph, and in particular, a fearlessly aggressive Scottish journalist, William Lyon Mackenzie -- whose power as an agitator and passion for justice could scarcely be doubted; though his judgement might. By no means the one, prime leader, Mackenzie, who entered parliament in 1829, still led in pressing the pace of Reform in the province, carrying it finally to armed rebellion. That violent outcome took eight more years. Yet since his role in bringing on an Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 was so influential, we must look at that theme next.
Mackenzie had set up his newspaper, the Colonial Advocate, at York in 1824, and it rapidly won both friends and enemies for slashing editorials on the Family Compact, a term its editor would do much to popularize. In response, young offshoots of the Compact brainlessly attacked and vandalized his printing-office in 1826, dumping its type into the harbour, and making Mackenzie a hero-martyr of Reform. Two years later he was running for parliament, for a seat in York County above the town, where farm settlers were largely Reform in outlook. And in the Assembly from 1829, this popular champion increasingly led in denouncing the Compact's sins, whether in regard to finance, banking, and canals, lands or education. In fact, Mackenzie's fiery onslaughts brought charges of libel in 1831, in an Assembly that now held a Tory majority, and which carried a vote to expel him. Yet his faithful constituents returned him in a by-election of 1832 -- after which more expulsions and re-elections followed until the Tories at last gave up, and Mackenzie was triumphantly confirmed in 1833. The next year, 1834, he was chosen first mayor of the new city of Toronto, though his warmest interest stayed with the provincial struggle. Moreover, he took up radical ideas of American written constitutions and elective democracy to cure the ills of oligarchic rule, especially emphasizing an elected Legislative Council. More moderate Reformers still sought measures within the existing parliamentary structure in order to remove Compact excesses or remedy clergy reserves. In particular, Robert Baldwin, the lawyer son of Dr. W.W. Baldwin, had also entered the Assembly in 1829, to seek his father's principle of responsible government, and thus to urge a British constitutional pattern of reform.
But a tirelessly accusing Mackenzie now chaired (and largely compiled) the Assembly's massive Seventh Report on Grievances in 1835. This was a shot-gun blast of protests which helped bring a new Lieutenant-Governor to Upper Canada: Sir Francis Bond Head, sent by the Colonial Office presumably as a reform-minded arbiter; yet one who mostly proved opinionated and overbearing -- a good match for Mackenzie. Head in 1836 appointed Reformers to his Executive Council, including Robert Baldwin and John Rolph. But when Baldwin sought an all-Reform council, to suit an Assembly once again filled with a Reform majority, Head dismissed his councillors and dissolved an angry house. That brought on a violent election in 1836, wherein the Governor blatantly appealed to the loyalty of the people (especially British immigrants), while Orange gangs attacked or threatened Reform voters. The result was a landslide Tory victory in an anti-republican province; but it also left deep bitterness among more radical Reformers, who felt they had been condemned as disloyal -- and might just as well be so.
Indeed, the radicals were becoming more desperate as their support fell off. The Methodists had moved away when Egerton Ryerson broke with Mackenzie in 1833 over the latter's extremism. Moderate Liberals like Robert Baldwin and his followers, seeking responsible government on the British model, were already far from Mackenzie and the American constitutional plans he was proposing. Even Marshall Spring Bidwell and other long-enduring Reformers were dubious of Mackenzie's drift toward revolutionary change. Beyond that, 1837 brought the onset of a major world depression after years of boom; and Upper Canada farmers -- their own incomes falling but their debts to banks still high -- grew restive and ready to take on city fat-cats or their Compact friends. William Lyon Mackenzie (who had lost his own Assembly seat) hence found eager audiences when he travelled north of Toronto in the summer of 1837, preaching the people's wrongs and the need for emphatic action. That summer, in fact, he was organizing "committees of vigilance" in the countryside, and by mid-October there were secret radical meetings in Toronto, discussing schemes to seize control of the government.
Late in November came the outbreak of actual rebellion in Lower Canada, under Reform leaders with whom Mackenzie had had some, if insufficient contact. Yet it seemed the moment for an Upper Canadian uprising also: especially when Governor Head, brashly inviting trouble, sent off his own regular troops to help in Lower Canada. Thus in early December, Mackenzie and radical comrades like Rolph called for revolt, without any very clear plan or decision; although Mackenzie issued a glowing Declaration of Independence and a "draft constitution" for Upper Canada, while suggesting its absorption into the American union -- some independence! At any rate, some seven hundred uncertain farmers gathered on Yonge Street north of Toronto, many thinking it just a demonstration, but all deluded by Mackenzie's rosy-bright yet utterly vague promises. If this sounds harsh, he did throw away farm families, their lives and hopes, for his own airy schemes -- which he later rejected, when he said that he was sorry.
This inept little Yonge Street Rising ended on December 7, 1837, as loyal militia from Toronto, backed by men from the Hamilton area, scattered the disorganized rebels in woods and fields near Montgomery's Tavern above Eglinton, which was then well outside the city. One rebel was killed; Mackenzie and Rolph escaped to the United States; and Marshall Bidwell went there also (when pressed by Governor Head) although he had not been involved himself. It was the sorry outcome of a futile effort; which does not lessen the true facts of grievances -- or of the determined men like Mackenzie, who faced up to them courageously, if not well. An even more limited rising of a few hundred in the western London District quickly collapsed without fighting. For Upper Canada might assuredly want reform, but not on Mackenzie's radical pro-American terms.
More could be said, and will be. At this point, however, the much larger and more serious rebellion in Lower Canada demands our attention: to trace its rise from 1834, where we left reformism in this lower province. After Papineau's resounding manifesto, the Ninety-Two Resolutions, British authority had got nowhere in looking for solutions. The Resolutions, in truth, demanded the impeachment of Lord Aylmer, the Governor since 1831; and he was recalled in 1835; not in blame, but because he simply could not make contacts with an unyielding Papineau and his Assembly majority. Governor Lord Gosford followed him till late 1837, instructed to conciliate but not concede -- an absurdly futile policy which certainly confirmed that the faults lay not only on the Assembly side. All that Gosford's most charming efforts did was to alienate a suspicious British Party without winning over their French-Canadian opponents. Then came the inflaming Ten Resolutions of the British parliament in March of 1837, refusing self-government and elective institutions, while authorizing the Lower Canadian oligarchy to take revenues without Assembly consent. The Ten Resolutions were an outright challenge to revolt; and within months they brought that very result.
Papineau and his party had by no means been doing well. The extremist doctrines of the Ninety-Two Resolutions had taken John Neilson and many moderates away -- Neilson, a bilingual Scot devoted to French Canada, but who wanted it reformed, not made into a revolutionary American state. On the other hand, the brothers Wolfred and Robert Nelson, English-speaking radicals though of Loyalist descent, stayed with Papineau, as did most of his French patriote supporters; notably Augustin Morin, part-author of the Ninety-Two Resolutions, and Elzéar Bédard, son of Pierre Bédard, the pre-war leader of the Parti canadien. And Papineau's support, at least in the Montreal district, continued strong among Canadiens of town and country -- although it grew evident, as the time of test approached in 1837, that he had little left to offer except noble messages. Like Mackenzie in Upper Canada, in fact, this Lower Canadian champion of the people was long on words but short on decisions. Events, not Papineau, carried the march through to open rebellion.
In Montreal, ethnic fears among the English-speaking populace spawned the Doric Club, whose rowdy members paraded in semi-military style or fought with their French counterparts, the Sons of Liberty. As street violence spread, the authorities ordered patriote leaders arrested, and Papineau fled the city. Still a talker, not a doer, he went to orate at grand countryside rallies. Yet attempts to arrest him and his friends brought on armed resistance against troops sent out from Montreal. At St. Denis in the Richelieu Valley, a blundering military column was repulsed on November 23 by Canadien rebels under Wolfred Nelson. In nearby St. Charles two days later, patriotes with only old muskets and pitchforks were effectively defeated. And at St. Eustache north of Montreal, on December 14, the heaviest fight saw rebel leader Dr. Jean-Olivier Chénier killed in a crushing attack by regulars under Sir John Colborne, the veteran British commander-in-chief for both Canadas. This broke the back of a revolt which its political inspirer, Papineau, had never really commanded. He fled safely to exile in the United States instead.
Another attempt came in February, 1838, at Lacolle, when Robert Nelson led rebels and American supporters back over the American border into the Eastern Townships, but was driven out by loyal militia. The same thing happened to him in November at Odelltown, in a second abortive invasion from Vermont. All in all, it was a hopeless rebellion: limited to the Montreal district alone, opposed by many French Canadians as well as British, and strongly condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, whose influence was still great. Yet compared with the little Upper Canadian affair, this Lower Canadian revolt was far more serious; involving many more people, if still a restricted minority of the Canadiens. It also produced many more casualties and prisoners, and it revealed considerable passive sympathy for the patriotes, if not as much active willingness to back them. In any case, the rebellion in Lower Canada was rightly taken far more seriously by the imperial government in Britain; though even an undoubtedly loyal Upper Canada raised other compelling problems, as American border raids followed its own small internal uprising.
While the last outburst of revolt in Lower Canada came briefly in November, 1838, in its neighbour-province an undeclared frontier war went on recurrently throughout that year, thanks to armed attacks from a most un-neighbourly United States. These were unofficial, private efforts to wrest Upper Canada by force from British rule, although for months American state authorities did little effective to check them. At first, with the flight of Upper Canadian rebels to the republic after their own rising had failed, there was a significant Canadian share in new attempts to carry on the fight, while the refugee radicals appealed to American sympathizers for help. Thus William Lyon Mackenzie and others reaching Buffalo in early December, 1837, sought to thrust back across the Niagara frontier. Indeed, Canadian "patriots," and increasing American supporters, occupied Canada's Navy Island in the Niagara River in mid-December, as their base camp for invasion. But the Canadian patriot role was very soon outweighed, when more and more Americans took up warlike forays into Upper Canada.
Among these raiders, at the one extreme, were those termed "border ruffians," out for plunder. At the other were visionary, democratic idealists, seeking revolutionary freedom for a people groaning (of course) under imperial British tyranny. In between were seekers after excitement, fortune, power -- and fertile lands, which Mackenzie for one, promised lavishly. And over all, there was general American expansionism, which then was pushing south to Texas and Mexico as well as north into British territory: full of a belief in Manifest Destiny, the God-given right of the United States to extend its own empire over a whole continent.
Navy Island, held by largely American invaders, was soon sealed off, then bombarded by Upper Canada's militia forces. While Mackenzie was busy there drafting further governing schemes for the State of Upper Canada, his supporting forces drifted away; until by mid-January, 1838, Navy Island was evacuated. Yet this was only the start of border troubles. Raids took place that winter along the Detroit frontier. In March, a sizeable American invasion across Lake Erie to Pelee Island was defeated by combined British regulars and militia. In May, the Canadian steamer Sir Robert Peel was seized and burned off Brockville by "river pirates," and in June the Short Hills raid was repelled in the Niagara area. These were only some of the alarms and incidents of 1838, which ended at last at the Battle of Windsor in December, throwing back one final American foray. But the "war" had really climaxed at the Battle of the Windmill in November near Prescott, where a mass of American invaders who had crossed the Upper St. Lawrence caused as many British deaths as had the Battle of Queenston Heights, during four days before they surrendered.
In fact, if Americans liked to think that this was a second American Revolution, it was really much more a second War of 1812 to Upper Canada's defenders, constantly resisting attacks from the United States. Consequently, an angry Tory reaction swept this province that had been subjected to lootings, burnings and bloodshed, following its own far-from-popular local revolt. Revolt, in truth, to most Upper Canadians seemed only treason that meant misery, not freedom. And so, "traitor" rebels were flung into prison -- though only two of them were hanged. Moderate Liberals like Robert Baldwin, while no friends of rebellion, had to lie low; and Reformers gave way to vehement Orange Tories, especially in Toronto. Yet things began to change in both the Canadas from mid-1838, when a new Governor-General, Lord Durham, reached Quebec: commissioned by the imperial government to inquire into the Canadian rebellions, and to recommend full-scale remedies for them.
John Lambton, Earl of Durham -- known as "Radical Jack" -- was a keenly reforming Liberal himself. In fact, he had been a thorn in the side of Britain's established Whig-Liberal government, now under Lord Melbourne, which finally recognized that a lot would have to be dealt with in British North America, and did not mind giving the task to a major political critic -- who would either get rid of the problem or himself in the attempt. Durham, as imperious in conduct as he was democratic in beliefs, acted all too imperiously when, in dropping charges against all those still held for rebellion, he sent eight others already convicted in Lower Canada to a mild exile in Bermuda: a move attacked as beyond his powers by his enemies at home, who gleefully pushed him into resigning. But in the five months before Durham returned to England in November, 1838, this governor-commissioner did monumental work; mostly in Lower Canada, yet including a fruitful trip to Upper Canada besides. For Lord Durham both saw for himself and took solid advice; including on the Atlantic provinces, which were within his mandate as well. And in Upper Canada he heard particularly from Robert Baldwin on the principle of responsible cabinet government, as applied to meet colonial problems.
Durham's findings and answers all came out in the great Report he produced on his return to England, published in February, 1839. Its creator never saw its results, since in 1840 he died from the tuberculosis he had battled for years. Yet the Durham Report would prove a milestone in Canadian history and heritage, by helping to bring on a different era of political advance well beyond the ineffectual colonial strife of the 1820s and 30s. To begin with, the Report of 1839 dealt trenchantly with old grievances: with abuses of oligarchy, high-level favouritism and speculation in land grants; with Anglican privilege and clergy reserves, or problems of finance, canal-building, local administration and more. But far more important, it put forward two main recommendations: responsible government and the union of the Canadas, each of which demands a closer look.
Durham asserted that a maturing British colony should run its own affairs as Britain did at home, under a government duly responsible to its parliament. Given the British constitutional inheritance, he argued, the inhabitants of such a colony would scarcely stay content with less. True, he felt that the external aspects of colonial affairs -- for instance, foreign relations, defence or overseas trade -- could still remain under imperial control. But in all internal matters, a colony's government should stand or fall by the votes of its own elected, representative assembly, just as the British cabinet stood by the will of the House of Commons in London. This parliamentary approach cut out all talk about elected upper houses, the Legislative Councils. For while select, small upper chambers might usefully amend and improve laws, they should not interfere with the popular Assembly's right, alone, to give or withhold confidence in the government -- in the ministers who composed the ruling Executive Council. With this assertion Durham clearly echoed Robert Baldwin's own submissions on responsible self-rule for British North America; although it should be noted that he did not go as far as Baldwin did in recognizing the need for complete party government, and thus still tended to see the Governor, not a party premier, as directing government policy; even though that Governor was only to act through ministers who held majority-party support in the Assembly.
Accordingly, responsible government was still not fully envisaged by Durham, and would have to evolve further. Nonetheless, his powerful advocacy was vital in getting the whole process moving. The words of the Earl of Durham plainly carried more weight, in the power centres of London, than those of a mere loyal colonial like Robert Baldwin. But in any case, it still took time before even the Durham Report's call for responsible rule was conclusively accepted by the imperial authorities.
As for a union of the Canadas, however, this was quickly taken up by the British government. At first, Durham had looked for a complete or legislative union of all the colonies. Yet he soon had found that even a federal union, which would still leave provincial governments in being, was unacceptable to the Atlantic provinces. From the information he received, they were not interested, or were even opposed, to joining with the big, distant and unruly Canadas. New Brunswick appeared quite happy and "harmonious," with full Assembly control of its revenue already. Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island were caught up in their own particular internal contests; and in Nova Scotia, the issues were those of ordinary party manoeuvring, not of deep and dangerous conflict. In consequence, Durham came to a union of the Canadas alone as a fundamental part of his Report.
For one thing, that union could make responsible government safely possible in these two colonies. His months spent in a still bitterly divided Lower Canada, had convinced this imperial investigator that the only final answer to what he indelibly described as, "two nations warring in the bosom of a single state," was French Canada's own absorption into a larger, loyally British unit. In such a unit, Francophones would not only enjoy the benefits of British economic progress, but would share in responsible rule -- yet could be outvoted by the combined weight of the Upper and Lower Canada British. From Durham's own national faith in Britain's constitution and industrial progress, it seemed self-evident that the Canadiens, a small, backward people without any real history or future, could in time become peaceably and happily assimilated in a far greater society. Here was a typically biassed (and wrong) assumption of many a complacent Anglophone before and since, which only led Canadiens to keep up a lively defence of their own distinct society and culture. In effect, Durham himself re-stimulated French heritage in Canada.
All the same, his analysis seemed convincing in other respects. What both Canadas surely needed, economically, was a broad union which would remove the barriers on their common St. Lawrence trunkline to mid-continent, and which would have the capabilities and credit to complete the expensive St. Lawrence canal system. In economic terms, such a union promised richly to both the leading merchants of Montreal and the business interests of Upper Canada; and there is little doubt that it also promised growth in lumbering, farming and settlement for ordinary residents along the way. Yet further, even a union without responsible government -- which the Melbourne ministry in Britain still did not mean to concede -- should bring new development and prosperity, spread peaceful progress and help contain the French element within one securely British united province.
In the calculations of the imperial government, such a union could win Assembly consent in an Upper Canada close to bankruptcy because of its canal expenditures, if union was backed substantially by an imperial loan. And as Lower Canada was being ruled by a small, emergency Special Council, there would be no French-dominated Assembly to refuse its own approval. Hence the Melbourne ministry went after a Canadian union without responsible government, although with considerable political improvements as well as new financial aid. Furthermore, the ministry sent smooth Charles Poulett Thomson, later Lord Sydenham, to Canada as Governor General, charged with promoting some of the particular reforms proposed by Lord Durham; but above all, with carrying through the Canadian Union project.
Thompson was no radical aristocrat like Durham, but a Manchester business representative and a skilled political manager. In the fall of 1839 he arrived in the Lower Canadian province, where he set adroitly to work to ensure union. That was relatively easy in Lower Canada, since its Special Council approved his business-like arguments; even though a voiceless French-Canadian majority was left with gloomy doubts. In Upper Canada it took more effort; but here Thomson's commercial knowledge and promised British funding for development drew the Tories, while his vague talk of responsible rule attracted many Reformers. He even brought Robert Baldwin into the government in 1840; and that year, too, steered a significant change in the Upper Canada clergy reserves system through the Assembly: whereby some share of the money from the sale of clergy lands would go to other Protestant churches besides the Anglican. Also, he made plain that the proposed union scheme would give less populous Upper Canada as many seats in a united legislature as Lower Canada. Accordingly, by mid-1840 the convincing Governor had achieved his basis of consent; and that summer the Act of Union passed the British parliament, while in recognition Thomson was named Baron Sydenham of Kent and Toronto.
The Union Act went into effect in February, 1841, as Lord Sydenham stayed on as first Governor-General of the United Province of Canada. This Act, and what it did, can best be discussed in the next chapter. But it does bear saying, now, that it led on to responsible self-government and ultimately to the federal union of all British North America; although neither of these historic consequences looked like near possibilities when the Union of the Canadas actually began in early 1841. At the present point, however, it seems better to look back. Out of a quarter-century of immigration and economic advance -- both of which had by no means ended in 1841 -- out of the accompanying discords which had exploded into the Canadian rebellions, two much more politically aware colonial societies had developed. Their heritage of revolt might rest for Upper Canada in what were largely myths about William Lyon Mackenzie's gifts to Canadian self-government -- mostly non-existent. But in Lower Canada, they had enshrined a romantic but real Francophone nationalism, to last right on into separatism in modern Quebec.
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