Canada: Peeps at History - Beatrice Home

The Early Years of the English Dominion in Canada

Three months after the Peace of Paris was signed a serious rebellion broke out in Canada against the new rulers. It did not include the French Canadians, who had had quite enough of fighting, and who realized the hopelessness of struggling against the power of England. The conspiracy was a rising of Indians, the last serious effort of the Red man to assert his independence.

Its leader was Pontiac, the clever, far-sighted chief of the Ottawas. With the going of the French had gone also the power of the Indians, who could no longer play off one white race against the other. The English, never so tactful in their dealings with savages as the French, did not trouble to hold them by diplomacy, knowing they had no enemy to whom they could turn in their displeasure. Realizing that if he did not strike early it would be too late, Pontiac laid his plans so skillfully that it took more than a year to crush him.

An attempt was made to take Detroit by surprise. Having asked for a conference, the chiefs arrived at the fort with their rifles concealed under their blankets; but Major Gladwyn, the commandant, having been warned of the plot, received the chiefs with his troops drawn up in line. Foiled in this way, the Indians besieged the fort closely for many months. A relieving force was cut to pieces, and a daring sortie failed



At Michilimackinac, a fort at the entrance to Lake Michigan, the Indian game of strategy was completely successful. Unaware of the rising, the garrison was persuaded to leave the fort to watch the Indians playing lacrosse. While the game was proceeding, the squaws, carrying hidden weapons, strolled into the fort. Presently the Indians drove the ball close to the walls, and suddenly dashing through the gates, seized their guns and captured the place before the officers or soldiers knew what was happening.

All along the borders of Virginia and Pennsylvania, the lonely cabins of the settlers were burnt and their owners scalped. But by the next year, 1764, the rebellion was put down, though Pontiac did not finally submit till 1766. With his submission all the tribes, who owned his sway along the Ohio, laid down their arms, and quiet reigned once more upon the borders. Pontiac, himself, was slain the following year, by an Indian chief.

In order to please the French Canadians, the Quebec Act was passed in 1774. By this Act freedom of worship, the French civil law, and the use of their language was secured to them. In this way, Canada, though ruled by an English governor, remained essentially French. The English Government was anxious to satisfy its new subjects quickly, for grave signs of disaffection were already noticeable in the thirteen English colonies. Under English rule, the French Canadians, released from the tyranny of greedy officials, gained freedom and prosperity. Evidence of this may be found in their loyalty throughout the Revolution and the War of 1812.

Meanwhile the English colonies were suffering from undoubted grievances: the principal one being that of taxation without representation. Colonial shipping, too, was hindered in its growth, by the restriction that American goods should only be sold to Great Britain. The colonists grew bitter and sullen under the unwise actions of the English Government, until finally war broke out in 1775.

Appeals having failed to shake the loyalty of Canada, the Congress of the United Colonies determined to force the sister province into their union, by war. General Montgomery marched against Montreal, while Captain Benedict Arnold made his way up the Kennebec River to Quebec.

Sir Guy Carleton, the Governor, had only a small force with him in Quebec. All those who were not absolutely to be trusted were sent out of the city, leaving a garrison of 1,600 men. Montreal soon fell, leaving Montgomery free to come to the aid of Arnold at Quebec, which was then besieged for the last time. Great disgust was felt by the invaders that the French Canadians did not flock to their camp. England's new subjects remained neutral in the struggle, and thus helped to save the situation.

Indians attack Machilmackinac


Sheltered only by tents from the severe wintry weather, the besiegers suffered more hardships than those confined within the city. Fearing the arrival of a British fleet in the spring, Montgomery decided to make a determined and unexpected attack. When heavy flakes of snow were just beginning to fall, upon New Year's Eve, two assaulting parties crept silently up to the walls. Arnold, leading the party from the St. Charles, forced his way into the Lower Town; but, being himself wounded, was driven back by the defenders from the Upper Town. On the opposite side of the city Montgomery had advanced in the blinding snow. Carleton, who was prepared for the intended surprise, met the enemy with a fierce fire, causing such a panic among them that they broke and ran. When his men ventured out the next morning, they found among the dead bodies, those of General Montgomery and his two aides. The fallen general was buried within the city with all the honours of war.

The siege was still continued, but when the British fleet appeared the Americans hastily retreated, and by the end of the year had been driven out of Canada.

Owing to the very general feeling in the Mother-country of the injustice of the cause, England did not pursue the war with her rebellious colonies with any enthusiasm, with the natural result that she suffered many humiliating defeats. By the Treaty of Versailles, in 1783, she gave up to the triumphant United Colonies, all the country south of the Great Lakes, by which Canada lost the fertile valley of the Ohio. The St. Croix River became the western boundary of Nova Scotia.

[Illustration] from Peeps at History - Canada by Beatrice Home


An unforeseen consequence of the war was the great influx of colonists into Canada. Those who had fought on the side of the Mother-country during the War of Independence, found that peace did not bring a healing of wounds, but a time of ceaseless persecution. Most of these men, who afterwards became known as the United Empire Loyalists, were distinguished men of high standing, numbering among them many judges, clergy, and physicians. The new Republic treated them so vindictively that, after vainly appealing to England, they migrated in great numbers to Canada. More than forty thousand left their homes: some going eastward to settle on the St. John River, where they founded the province of New Brunswick, and others turning westward, to settle around Lake Ontario.

The Government was very generous in giving land, and all necessary supplies, till cultivation should give some return. But most of the loyalists were totally unused to a life of hardship and privation, having been accustomed to stately and luxurious homes. Their sufferings, in consequence, were severe; but the worst year—known as the Hungry Year—was in 1788, when Government supplies had ceased. A bad harvest brought starvation, forcing the unhappy loyalists to live upon what game they could shoot with a scanty store of powder and shot, to dig for roots or anything which would keep them alive till the next harvest should be ripe. With the passing of the famine, prosperity smiled upon the loyalists, who became one of the great forces in the making of the Dominion.

Discontent began to spread among the English colonists in Canada, who disliked being subjected to French law. They clamoured for representative government, and in this they were joined by the French Canadians. Sir Guy Carleton, who had been made Lord Dorchester, came out as Governor-General in 1787, and soon soothed the ruffled feelings of the colonists. Carrying out his suggestions, the British Parliament passed an Act, known as the Constitutional Act, dividing Canada into two provinces, called Upper and Lower Canada. The Government of each province consisted of a Governor, a Legislative Council (appointed by the Crown for life), and a House of Assembly (composed of the representatives of the people). Toronto became the capital of Upper Canada.

War broke out between Canada and the United States in 1812. The Americans had become angry at the restrictions England had been obliged to place upon her commerce to retaliate on Napoleon, who had devised a great scheme to ruin English trade. Allied with France, the Republic hoped to win the whole of the New World for herself; and was glad of any pretext to quarrel with Canada. The New England States were much opposed to this needless war, which in the end brought nothing but disaster to the Americans.

During the two years during which the war lasted, many serious engagements took place. England, fully occupied in her struggle with Napoleon in Europe, was unable to assist the Canadians, who were left to their own resources. But this apparent misfortune proved to be an inestimable boon, for the Canadian militia were able to demonstrate their capacity to defend their own country; and in so doing, aroused a spirit of patriotism in all classes.

One of the earliest incidents in the war, was the capture of Detroit by General Brock, who has gained a place among Canada's heroes. Though a regular soldier, with experience of many campaigns in Europe, and with only ten years' residence in Canada, Brock had learnt to understand and appreciate the militia, who, in consequence, would follow him anywhere. In the autumn of 1812, Brock was slain while leading a charge, in an endeavour to drive the Americans from Queenston Heights (on the Canadian shores of Niagara). Furious at the death of their adored commander, the Canadians, reinforced by General Sheaffe, stormed the Heights, till the Americans surrendered with eleven hundred men. A fine stone column commemorates the death of Brock upon the Heights of Queenston.

In the following year, 1813, the Canadians suffered a shameful defeat at Moravian Town. Colonel Proctor, abandoning Detroit, was attacked by General Harrison, and having by some gross oversight utterly neglected to secure the safety of his camp, was overwhelmed by the suddenness of the American assault. His army fled precipitately, together with himself and all his officers. Only the Indians, led by Tecumseh, the famous Chief of the Shawanoes, made any stand, fighting bravely till their heroic chief was slain.

But the disgrace of Moravian Town was wiped out by the signal success of Châteauguay, in the autumn of the same year, when 350 Canadians defeated an American army, ten times their number. General Wade Hampton, of the United States army, was marching on Montreal from Lake Champlain. Colonel de Salaberry, a member of the old French noblesse, held the way on the Châteauguay River, in the midst of a dense forest. From behind hastily thrown-up defences he resisted a frontal attack, while his buglers, hidden among the trees, sounded their bugles continuously. Driven back in their attempt to cross the river, and thinking that the bugles meant the advance of the whole Canadian army upon them, the Americans broke into a panic and retreated hastily, strewing their path with muskets and baggage.

Peace was arranged in December of 1814, at the Treaty of Ghent, though several disputes were left unsettled.