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      The Falls at Sainte-Anne, by Cornelius Krieghoff

The last time we discussed Canada, the Rebellions of 1837 had been crushed and, in Lower Canada, 58 men had been deported to Australia, 12 were executed and the leaders had fled. In Upper Canada, where the Rebellion had been less severe, Lount, Matthews and Doan were executed and the leaders fled fearing reprisals and, possibly, death.

Carrying a Canoe to the St Maurice River, by Cornelius Krieghoff

Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine was appointed Prime Minister in 1842, a year after the Act of Union, with Robert Baldwin leading the western part of the new Canada. Lafontaine resigned in 1843 because Lord Metcalfe was opposed to responsible government, but opposition would not last. On the contrary, colonial officials were prompt to grant more autonomy to a people whose struggle for greater autonomy they had repressed in a very punitive manner.

For instance, in 1843, the year he opposed responsible government, Lord Metcalfe pardoned the rebels who had been exiled, which was unexpected. Louis-Joseph Papineau remained in France for two more years, until 1845, but in 1843 the fifty-eight rebels who had been sent to Australia returned to Canada, now the United Province of Canada.

As for William Lyon Mackenzie, he remained in the United States until the Amnesty Act was passed in 1849. He was the one rebel who had not been pardoned by Lord Metcalfe. But, most importantly, in 1848, Lord Elgin, the Governor General of the Province of Canada, asked Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine to resume his duties as Prime Minister of the Province of Canada, leading a responsible government.

A Responsible Government

An Habitant’s Farm, by Cornelius Krieghoff

It is difficult to understand why, having crushed the 1837 Rebellions, colonial officials would agree to responsible government. Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine were moderate reformers, and it could be that colonial officials knew their resolve and took them seriously. Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, a member of Papineau’s assembly, had travelled to Britain in an effort to avert a call to arms.

Lord Durham: questions left unanswered

As for Lord Durham, there can be little doubt that he had harmed French-speaking Canadians. The Rebellions happened in both Canadas, which meant they could not be dismissed as yet another episode in the very long history of enmity, in Europe,  between the English and the French. Such thinking was an oversimplification on the part of Lord Durham and too many questions remained unanswered. In all likelihood, there was patriotism on both the part of the French-speaking inhabitants of Lower Canada. However, among the rebels, several were English-speaking Canadians and Britain had helped itself to money levied in the two Canadas. As well, William Lyon Mackenzie was the last rebel to be pardoned.

In other words, it would be my view that Lord Durham oversimplified the causes of the rebellions. Besides, his trivializing French-speaking Canadians was injudicious. However, he cannot be brought back from the dead to put his finger on the more complex and true causes of the rebellions, i. e. a struggle for responsible government. Nor can he take back his statement to the effect that French-speaking Canadians were an inferior people who did not have a history, and lacked a literature. So may he rest in peace.

Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, joint premier of the Province of Canada, 1848-51
(Oil on canvas, by June Forbes McCormack (courtesy the Government of Ontario Art Collection and the Canadian Encyclopedia)

Let us now return to Robert Baldwin and his political partner, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine who “led the first responsible ministry in Canada, regarded by some as the first truly Canadian government.” [i] Baldwin and Lafontaine were not elected, but appointed to their office on the recommendation, in the early 1840s, of Charles Poulett Thomson, 1st Baron Lord Sydenham PC (Privy Council), the first governor of the Province of Canada. Although Lord Sydenham was anti-French, it would appear he was a good judge of character.

Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine: Accomplishments

Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, 1st Baronet, KCMG [Order of St Michael and St George] (October 4, 1807 – February 26, 1864), was the second Primer Minister of the United Province of Canada, but the first Canadian to become Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada.

The Amnesty Act

Lafontaine’s achievements are too numerous for me to list in a post. But I will note that he worked at granting amnesty to the persons who had been exiled as a result of the Rebellions of 1837Louis-Joseph Papineau waited two more years before returning to Canada, but most rebels had come home in 1843, when Governor General Metcalfe issued a special pardon to the Rebels of 1837. In fact, when the Amnesty Act was proclaimed, on February 1, 1849, the only rebel still at large was William Lyon Mackenzie. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia “[o]nly William Lyon MACKENZIE, the one rebel who had not been given a special pardon in 1843, returned to Canada under the Act.” [ii] 

Rebellion Losses Bill

I will also note that Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine introduced the Rebellion Losses Bill in November 1849. It was passed, but Loyalists protested and burned down Parliament in Montreal. They were now nationalists, which may suggest that they had embraced Lord Durham’s assessment of the Rebellions: an ethnic conflict, and saw the Canadiens as the hereditary enemy of the British. But it may also be in everyone’s best interest to remember that, in 1848, there were nationalistic uprisings in a large number of European nations.

The French Language

Finally, I will also note that “[t]he Lafontaine-Baldwin government, formed on March 11, battled for the restoration of the official status of the French language, which was abolished with the Union Act, and the principles of responsible government and the double-majority in the voting of bills.” [iii] In other words, Lord Durham’s recommendation that French-speaking Canadians be assimilated was not implemented.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine “insisted on speaking French in the Assembly, and because of his action the imperial government later repealed the ACT OF UNION clause prohibiting official use of French.” [iv]

As for the idea of a possible annexation with the United States, it died down. In fact, what colonial authorities now feared, as did Loyalists, was an invasion from the south.  United Empire Loyalists had fled north in 1776, when the Thirteen Colonies declared independence from Britain: 4 July 1776.

So what followed the Act of Union was a return to order and a growing motivation to expand and secure Canada. The goal was to extend its provinces from sea to sea:  A Mari Usque Ad Mare. It would therefore be necessary to build a railroad, but that story will be told later. [V]

Portrait of Jerry, by Cornelius Krieghoff

24 Mendelssohn Lieder ohne Worte, Op.53 – No. 6. Molto allegro vivace in A ‘La fuite’, Daniel Barenboim (piano)
(please click on the title to hear the music)
Photo credit:  Wikipedia and la Galerie Klinckhoff
Cornelius Krieghoff (link)


[i]Robert Baldwin,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Baldwin

[ii] Curtis Fahey, “Amnesty Act,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/amnesty-act

[iii] Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis-Hippolyte_Lafontaine

[iv] Jacques Monet, S. J., “Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/sir-louishippolyte-Lafontaine

[v] Ibid.