During the SEVEN YEARS' WAR (1756-63) the French abandoned most of the region to the British, and upon the surrender of Montréal in Sept 1760, Britain effectively took over the territory which would later become Upper Canada. After the Treaty of PARIS (1763), the borders of Britain's new Province of Quebec were extended S into the Ohio Valley. When the AMERICAN REVOLUTION began, the permanent European population of western Québec consisted of a few French-speaking settlers around Detroit. By 1783 - the end of the American revolt - what had been a trickle of wartime LOYALIST refugees became a stream; 5000-6000 set a tone and fashioned an ideology that would influence much of Upper Canada's future.
The 2-century-old Loyalist myth has these sturdy people overcoming hardship and deprivation but, in fact, few refugees anywhere have been so privileged. Gov Sir Frederick HALDIMAND began Loyalist settlement initiatives, establishing disbanded army regiments in ranges of quickly surveyed townships stretched along the American frontier; in the event of war, these veterans were intended to form a defensive barrier. Three main areas were selected: along the St Lawrence, around Kingston and the Bay of Quinte, and in the NIAGARA PENINSULA. A fourth, near Detroit, was considered, but its scheduled surrender to the US postponed development. Land was granted in lots, with heads of families receiving 100 acres (40.5 ha) and field officers up to and eventually more than 1000 acres (405 ha). Clothing, tools and provisions were supplied for 3 years. Although there were difficulties, these favoured displaced persons did well, and many disgruntled Americans - some simply "land-hungry" - moved N to join them. By 1790 western Québec had a population of nearly 10 000.
The Loyalists who came to Upper Canada, mostly American frontiersmen, were well able to cope with the rigours of new settlements; moreover, they were not politically docile. Many had been in the forefront of political protest in the old American colonies, and although they had not been ready to take up arms for colonial rights, they were prepared to use every legal and constitutional means at their disposal to better their lives. It was their constitutional complaints that caused Britain in 1791 to modify the inadequate QUEBEC ACT of 1774.
The Constitutional Act was a clear response by London to the American Revolution. The excess of democracy that had permeated the southern colonies would not be allowed in the 2 new provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. A lieutenant-governor was established in each province, with an executive council to advise him, a legislative council to act as an upper house, and a representative assembly. Policy was to be directed by the executive, which was responsible not to the assembly but to the Crown. The Church of England (see ANGLICANISM) was to tie the colonies more firmly to Britain: in Upper Canada, a permanent appropriation of funds "for the Support and Maintenance of a Protestant clergy" was formally guaranteed by the establishment of one-seventh of all lands in the province as reserves, with the proceeds from sale or rental going to the church (see CLERGY RESERVES). Subsequent instructions established crown reserves, another seventh of the land, the revenue from which would be used to pay the costs of the provincial administration. Land ownership, the question that concerned most settlers, was to be on the British pattern of freehold tenure. The SEIGNEURIAL SYSTEM was permanently eradicated in the upper province. The franchise was fairly wide, and the assembly numbered no fewer than 16 members while the Legislative Council was made up of 7.
The first leader of this new wilderness society was Lt-Gov John Graves SIMCOE, whose avowed purpose was to create in Upper Canada a "superior, more happy, and more polished form of government," not merely to attract immigrants but to renew the empire and by example to win Americans back into the British camp. Governmental institutions were established, first at Newark [Niagara-on-the-Lake] and then at the new capital at York [Toronto]. Simcoe used troops to build a series of primary roads, got the land boards and land distribution under way, established the judiciary, grandly abolished SLAVERY and showed a keen interest in promoting Anglican affairs. When he left the province in 1796 he could take pride in his achievements, although he had failed to convert Americans from republicanism and to persuade Britain to turn Upper Canada into a military centre. To Britain, Canada still meant Québec, and Simcoe's elaborate plans for the defence of a western appendage beyond the sea-lanes were unrealistic.
Upper Canada did not flourish under Simcoe's followers, the timid Peter Russell, the busy martinet Gen Peter Hunter, the scarcely busy Alexander Grant and the lacklustre Francis GORE. It was still a remote frontier of fragmented settlement; and land, the only real source of prosperity, had been carelessly carved up in huge grants by lax administrators. Politics began to emerge in provincial life, bearing the mark of the Constitutional Act, which, by its very nature, had created a party of favourites. Lieutenant-governors chose their executive and legislative councils from among men they could trust and understand, who shared their solid, conservative values: Loyalists or newly arrived Britons. These men (later called the FAMILY COMPACT) quickly became a kind of Tory faction permanently in power. They could not conceive any brand of loyalty to the Crown apart from their own; when opposition arose, as it did frequently over money bills, those advocating extension of the shackled assembly's powers were branded, in exchanges of fiery rhetoric, as Yankee Republicans. But the influence of political critics such as Robert Thorpe, Joseph Willcocks and William Weekes, who were not merely "smoke-makers" but true parliamentary whigs, was to be washed away in the vortex of the WAR OF 1812.
During the war, Upper Canada, whose inhabitants were predominantly American in origin, was invaded, violated and, in parts, occupied. American forces were repulsed by British regulars assisted by Canadian militia. The war strengthened the British link, rendered loyalism a hallowed creed, fashioned martyr-heroes Sir Isaac BROCK and TECUMSEH, brought a certain prosperity, and appeared to legitimize the political status quo. Later commentators would find in it a touchstone for Canadian NATIONALISM and the explanation for much of Canada's persistent public, if not personal, anti-Americanism.
The war ended Upper Canada's isolation. American immigration was formally halted, but Upper Canada received an increased number of British newcomers - some with capital. The economy continued to be tied to Britain's declining MERCANTILISM, and the wheat trade gained primacy among Upper Canadian farmers. Still, the province remained capital-poor: for example, the Welland Canal Co, a public works venture, had to look abroad for investors. The expense of administering the growing colony increased substantially in the early 1820s. Schemes to reunite the 2 Canadas were occasionally considered. In 1822 an effort was made to adjust the customs duties shared with Lower Canada to provide the upper province, which had no ocean port, with a larger share of revenue.
Revenues remained inadequate and the province was plunged into debt, unable to pay the interest on its own badly received debentures without further borrowings. The establishment of the BANK OF UPPER CANADA (1821) and other banks failed to bring real fiscal stability, and neither did the contributions of the massive British-based colonization venture, the CANADA COMPANY. In fact, Canada Co payments were used to defray the salaries of government officials (the civil list) and thus the assembly was sidestepped in its desire to control government revenues.
The War of 1812 consolidated the political control of the province's ruling oligarchy, whose leading light was Anglican Archdeacon (later bishop of Toronto) John STRACHAN. Many commentators have labelled the Family Compact corrupt, although recent evidence suggests that the group was rigorous and methodical in its administration and thorough in its investigation of irregularities. It had a strong sense of duty to development, as shown by its unswerving support of public works such as the WELLAND CANAL. But an oligarchy, enlightened or not, was an anachronism in an age in which democracy was becoming the fashion.
By 1820 opposition in the province was becoming sophisticated but had not yet taken the form of disciplined parties. Some agitators such as Robert GOURLAY, the celebrated "Banished Briton," had earlier dramatized popular grievances in martyrlike fashion. Until the mid-1830s the major impulse of opposition was frequently conducted by more moderate and whiggish politicians such as Dr William BALDWIN, Robert BALDWIN and Rev Egerton RYERSON. Reformer William Lyon MACKENZIE sometimes wanted Upper Canada to be a kind of Jeffersonian dream and envisaged a province composed of yeomen-farmers wedded to the soil, firmly patriotic and ready to become British-American minutemen. At the same time he never failed to laud technological advances. He, like the compact he so vigorously opposed, was actually a stranger to the forces and values that eventually dominated the 19th century: moderate liberalism and increasing industrialism. His REBELLION OF 1837 misfired because, like so many politicians after him, he failed to understand the basic, moderate political posture of Upper Canadians. The rebellion marked the nadir of Upper Canada's never buoyant fortunes. Political chaos was accompanied by economic disaster as the panic of 1837 swept Anglo-American finance and the province found itself over a million pounds in debt.
Mackenzie's violent posturing and his poorly supported rebellion turned out to be unnecessary, since gradual reforms were already under way in both the colony and Britain. The inadequacies of the rigid Constitutional Act were by now apparent. For battered post-rebellion Upper Canada the impetus for real political change could only come from Westminster, although it might be accelerated by advocates in the province, as was later shown by the brief but powerful government of Robert Baldwin and Louis LAFONTAINE. Some immediate change came through the efforts of the earl of DURHAM in 1838. As governor general he spent only a few days in Upper Canada, but he found time for a short, formal visit to Toronto and an interview with Baldwin. He also received sound counsel from his advisers, especially Charles Buller, all of which he placed in his report (see DURHAM REPORT).
Durham set in motion a scheme that had long been considered: the reunification of Upper and Lower Canada. By 1838 Upper Canada had a diverse population of more than 400,000 and stretched W from the Ottawa R to the head of the Great Lakes. It was still a rough-hewn and somewhat amorphous community, poorly equipped with schools, hospitals or local government. Durham, from his lofty imperial perch, argued that a reunion of the provinces would swamp the French of Lower Canada in an English sea and, more important, that the economic potential of both colonies would be enhanced and they would thus be less burdensome to Britain. All this Durham insisted would easily be advanced under RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT, whereby the Cabinet is rendered responsible to the assembly rather than to the Crown. The errors of the Constitutional Act could be exorcised and unruly politics temporized without fear of further revolts. Britain approved the union, although the granting of responsible government would take almost a decade more. On 10 Feb 1841 Upper Canada's short, unhappy history came to an end. The relationship with its French-speaking counterpart would remain to be worked out under the new legislative union. Meanwhile, Upper Canadians could make some claim to having a collective past and, with the prospects of a rapidly increasing population and improving agricultural opportunities, a collective future. See also PROVINCE OF CANADA.
Author ROGER HALL
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Library and Archives Canada
The website for Library and Archives Canada. Offers searchable online collections of textual documents, photographs, audio recordings, and other digitized resources. Also includes virtual exhibits about Canadian history and culture, and research aids that assist in locating material in the physical collections.
Canada: A People's History
This CBC feature program highlights significant events, issues, and personalities in Canadian history.
French Canada and the Early Decades of British Rule (1760 - 1791)
A digitized copy of a booklet that examines the issues and policies that defined Britian's administration of its North American colonies in the decades preceeding the implementation of the Quebec Act and the Constitutional Act. From the Canadian Historical Association and Library and Archives Canada.
The Medical Profession in Upper Canada
View a digitized copy of an 1894 book that chronicles the early years of medical practice in Canada. Click on the pages to advance through the book. From Early Canadiana Online.
This UNB website provides access to extensive references and resources about the United Empire Loyalists and their descendents.
Canadian Geographic: Historical Maps
Take a walk through the history of Canada. Select a year to see the maps and the history related to that era. From the "Canadian Geographic" website.
This nicely illustrated website is dedicated to the history of Fort Frontenac. From the Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation.
The website for the Galafilm documentary series "CHIEFS," which is devoted to the life stories of First Nations leaders, including Sitting Bull, Pontiac, Joseph Brant, Black Hawk, and Poundmaker.
Sir John Johnson House National Historic Site
This Parks Canada website features a profile of Sir John Johnson and an illustrated tour of the national historic site in Williamstown, Ontario.
Settlement of Adolphustown
This RootsWeb.com website focuses on the early Loyalist settlements in the Napanee region of Ontario.
John Graves Simcoe
This Archives of Ontario website profiles John Graves Simcoe, leader of the Queen's Rangers during the American Revolution and the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada.
A historical overview of the political turmoil and military action that engulfed Lower and Upper Canada during the Rebellions of 1837 – 1838. Many illustrations and interesting historical minutiae.
Archives of Ontario: Black History
A selection of archival documents that relate to Black history in Ontario. An Archives of Ontario website.
Sir Isaac Brock
A biography of Sir Isaac Brock, a colonial administrator and British officer who was lauded as a hero of the War of 1812. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
A Collector's Passion - The Peter Winkworth Collection
View an extensive collection of distinctive paintings that document more than four centuries of Canadian history. Also features artist's biographies and notes about specific paintings. From the Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana at Library and Archives Canada.
Fathers of Confederation
Biographies of the Fathers of Confederation are part of the "Canadian Confederation" website from Library and Archives Canada. Includes historical photographs and other archival resources.
Toronto Public Library
The website for the Toronto Public Library. Check out the library's many collections on music, history, science fiction and fantasy, genealogy, and many other themes that may be of interest to you.
Invasion Repulsed, 1812
This capsule history of the War of 1812 documents the primary issues that determined the course of the war and some of its outcomes. From the website for The Canadian Atlas Online.
The Rebellions of 1837-1838
Learn about the simmering political and social issues that set off the insurrections in Lower and Upper Canada from 1837 to 1838. Features biographies of leading figures, great illustrations, maps and snippets of some of the fiery oratory of the time. Part of the Histori.ca “Peace and Conflict” educational website.
Search for historical maps of specific locations in Canada at this website from Research Collections, McMaster University Library.
This website describes artifacts retrieved from the apparent remains of the H.M.S. Speedy, which sank in a violent storm in 1804. Scroll down the page for more information about the historical significance of this shipwreck.
The Constitutional Act
Read an online digitized copy of the landmark "Constitutional Act," a decree signed by King George III of England on June 10, 1791, that created the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. On its pages are details pertaining to the establishment of effective government institutions, the responsibilities of the lieutenant governor, the role of the church, and more. From Canadiana Online.
Sir John Harvey
View an illustrated biography of military officer and colonial administrator Sir John Harvey. From the website "The New Brunswick Land Company & The Settlement of Stanley and Harvey."
Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe
A biography of Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe, British army officer in the War of 1812 and colonial administrator. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
A biography of John Strachan, teacher, clergyman, officeholder, and bishop. Also provides much detail about the history of Upper Canada. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Choosing Canada's capital: conflict resolution in a parliamentary system
Read excerpts from a book that details the political considerations and negotiations concerning the location of Canada's capital in the 19th century. From Google Books.
View a series of video clips that chronicles the attack by US war ships under the command of Captain Isaac Chauncey on the HMS Royal George and Kingston, Ontario, in the War of 1812.
Drummond to Bathurst
See a digitized copy of a letter from Sir Gordon Drummond to Henry Bathurst in regard his reaction to Major General de Rottenburg's proclamation of martial law in Upper Canada in 1813. See page 441 for Bathurst's reply to Drummond and subsequent documents on this topic. From "Documents Relating to the Constitutional History of Canada, 1791-1818" at canadiana.org.
This overview of the political history of Upper Canada is part of the "Canadian Confederation" website at Library and Archives Canada. Also features historical maps.
Facebook: Canada's History Magazine
Join the conversation about noteworthy events and personalities in Canadian history.
The Early Political and Military History of Burford
See the full text of an illustrated 1913 book about the early history of southern Ontario. From the Brantford Library.
A biography of Charles Duncombe, physician, politician, and a leader of the rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Queen Victoria's journals
See brief comments about rebellions in Upper Canada in a Tuesday 16th January 1838 entry in a digitized copy of Queen Victoria's journals. Search or browse this site for other references to Canada and political figures involved in Canadian affairs during the reign of Queen Victoria. From the website "Queen Victoria's Journals."
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...