- Historic Sites
For an American, there is an ironic clue to the history of our neighbor to the north; she became a nation because her people did not wish to be swallowed up by the United States Quant aux Canadiens français, ils ne voulaient pas seulement éviter être absorbés par les États-Unis; ils ne voulaient pas davantage être absorbés parleurs compatriotes “anglais”
December 1965 | Volume 17, Issue 1
The faces of the men in the group portrait above are more important than their exact identities. They reflect the typical characteristics of the oligarchs, appointed in the name of the Crown hy the provincial governors, who wielded most of the power in both Upper and Lower Canada from 1791 to 1840: aristocratic bearing, good breeding, intelligence, shrewdness in business and finance, impatience with democracy. Typical also is the strongly British look, for not only were the systems of government the same in the two colonies, but even in Quebec the members of the ruling group normally were non-French despite the overwhelming French ancestry of the population. The Family Compact, as the oligarchy was commonly called in Upper Canada, and the Chateau Clique, its counterpart in Quebec, advised the provincial governors sent over from Great Britain, and often were able to nullify the efforts of the only elective body in each province, the Legislative Assembly. Self-government was still something but dimly glimpsed on the horizon, and repeated frustration led to steadily growing discontent with the old colonial forms. In Lower Canada, where the French-speaking majority controlled the Assembly, the ethnic split aggravated feelings against the English-speaking oligarchy; but in both Canadas, by the 1820’s, radical leaders were beginning to mount rebellious movements against the non-democratic aspects of the system. In Quebec, Louis Joseph Papineau, Speaker of the Assembly and a man of great eloquence and verve, vehemently demanded an upper legislative body, patterned after the United States Senate, to replace the Chateau Clique; in Upper Canada, the fiery little William Lyon Mackenzie, editor, first mayor of Toronto, and prominent member of the Assembly, made much the same demands. Violence broke out in both provinces in the late fall of 1837. But neither Papineau nor Mackenzie had much military ability, and their confused followers were quickly defeated by government troops and loyal volunteers. Both men soon lied to the United States, where Mackenzie organized sporadic and ineffectual raiding parties against Canada from among his American sympathizers. Yet the abortive rebellions of 1837 were to have significant repercussions.
To solve the problems of Canadian unrest, Great Britain sent over a remarkable man, “Radical Jack” Lambton, Lord Durham, socially an aristocrat but politically a democrat. Durham submitted a report (1839) that became a classic of Canadian history. It recommended union of Upper and Lower Canada and “responsible government” on the British model—that is, replacement of the old oligarchical councils by a cabinet representing the majority in the elective assembly and having full executive power. Despite opposition from conservatives, the two Canadas became one province in 1841, and in 1848 the Governor-General, Lord Elgin, appointed a ministry whose members all belonged to the Reform party Responsible government had arrived in Canada.
The flood of immigrants and a high birth rate in the Canadian provinces naturally demanded a greatly increased flow of goods to sustain the burgeoning population. Lumber and grain moved from the Great Lakes region down the St. Lawrence to the Maritimes, and from there in Canadian ships to Great Britain: back came a steady supply of British manufactured products. Between 1815 and 1850, the natural waterways of Canada were greatly supplemented by canals. The rough Lachinc rapids of the upper St. Lawrence were bypassed by canal in 1825: in 1829 the first Welland Canal, circumventing Niagara Falls between Lake Eric and Lake Ontario, was completed. Steam brought more reliable power for ships, and eventually made railroads an equally important factor in the commercial development of British North America.