Our Empire Story - H. E. Marshall
"There where the Loyalists came,
And the houses of men were few,
Little was all their wealth,
And great were the hardships they knew.
But greater the hardy faith
They kept unflinching and fine,
And chose to be naught in the world
For the pride of a loyal line."
After the taking of Quebec the war dragged on for another year. Then Montreal fell, and on 8th September 1760, the Marquess of Vaudrenil, the French Governor, gave up Canada to the British. In 1763, the Peace of Paris was signed, and by it, all Canada, and all the land east of the Mississippi, became British Possession.
"With a handful of men," said Pitt, "General Wolfe has added a Kingdom to British rule." By the Peace of Paris the story of New France was ended, and the story of British Canada began.
Britain is a Protestant country. It is also a free country, where no man is made to suffer for his religion. But at this time, the Roman Catholics were harshly treated. They were not allowed to hold any public office. They could not be members of parliament, or officers in the army or navy. In no way were they allowed to serve their country. King George wanted to make these same rules for Canada. But nearly all the people in Canada were Roman Catholic, and many saw how unfair this would be. So in 1774 the Quebec Act was passed. Among other things, this Act did away with the differences between Protestant and Catholic, and gave the Canadians many of their old French laws again. Thus their religion was left to the people of Canada, and in many other ways they had far more freedom than ever before.
This pleased the Canadians, but it made many of the old British Protestant colonists angry. They declared that the French rebels were treated better than they were. They grew angry about other things too, and at last they rose in rebellion against the mother country. Then the great war began which ended in the loss of all the British colonies in America except Canada. For Canada, which had been so lately won, not only refused to join the rebellion, but fought against the United States, as these lost colonies are now called. Once again Quebec was besieged. This time it did not fall. The Americans were driven away, and Canada became more surely a British possession.
But although the Americans had rebelled against their king, there were many among them who were still loyal, that, too, in face of scorn and persecution. After peace was made, these loyalists would not remain in the United States. They would not be ruled by a rebel President. To prove their loyalty to king and country, they chose rather to leave land, houses, money, friends, and all that they had. Some went home to England, but most journeyed across the boundary line and found a refuge in Canada.
Many a weary mile they trudged on foot, carrying their children and the few things they had been able to save on horseback. Houseless and tentless they slept at night under the open sky. They suffered from cold, hunger and weariness, often having to beg their bread, glad to accept kindness from the Indians on the way. But no hardship made them turn back.
The British were, and are, proud of these Loyalists. Parliament voted a large sum of money to help them in their troubles, and they were allowed to put the letters U.E. after their names. These letters mean United Empire.
The money sent from Britain was spent on food, clothes, and tools for the United Empire Loyalists. To each was given a hoe, spade, and axe. A plough and a cow were given between each two families, and many other things to help them to begin life over again were divided amongst them. Each one, too, received two hundred acres of land in Canada. But in spite of all that was done, the first few years were very hard for the Loyalists.
A great part of the west of Canada was still unknown. It was wild prairie-land or dark and tangled forest. But there, most of the United Empire Loyalists found a home. But at first it was a life of hardship. Many of them had left rich and beautiful homes where they had been accustomed to every comfort. Now before they could find a shelter for their heads, they had to fell the trees and build their houses. They had to clear the ground and sow and reap, before they could get corn for bread. They had to hunt and trap wild animals for food, often in the end having scarce enough to eat. One year the harvest failed, and things were so bad that r it was called the Famine Year. That year, many of the Loyalists had to live on roots, wild berries, and nuts. But, through all the suffering and the struggle, none wished to go back to America. And we may be proud to remember that it is from such brave and loyal men and women, that many of the Canadians of to-day are descended.
Some of the Loyalists scattered through Canada, some went to what is now Nova Scotia, but most went to the west. That part became known as Upper Canada, and the part along the St. Lawrence already settled by the French, Lower Canada. So it came about that Canada was really divided into two. Upper Canada was peopled by British Protestants, Lower Canada by French Catholics. Each part had its own Legislative Council and Assembly, that is, a kind of parliament. In the one there was British law, in the other, for the most part, French law. One would think that there was no union, or likelihood of union, between the two. But they had one bond of union—loyalty to their king. And out of these widely different peoples came the United Canada of to-day, and the French Canadians, through every storm and trouble, have proved themselves as staunch and true as any Briton born.