, , , , , , , , ,

William Lyon Mackenzie’s house on Bond Street in downtown Toronto.

Canada’s National Holiday

On Wednesday, July 1st, Canadians celebrated their National Holiday. As for the citizens of Quebec, they celebrated their National Holiday on 24 June which is Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, the former Saint-Jean. The date on which Saint-Jean-Baptiste is celebrated is on or near the summer solstice or Midsummer Day, the longest day of the year. This year, the summer solstice occurred on the 22 June.

Midsummer Dance by Anders Zorn, 1897 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Midsummer Dance by Anders Zorn, 1897 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for Canada Day, it is celebrated on the anniversary of Confederation, the day Canada became a Dominion of Great Britain: 1st July 1867. I have written posts telling the story of Confederation and have listed them at the foot of this post.

Although the people of Quebec do not celebrate Canada day, the province of Quebec was one of the four initial signatories of the British North America Act. Quebec’s Premier was George-Étienne Cartier, named after George III, hence the English spelling of George, i.e. no final ‘s’. The other three provinces to join Confederation on 1st July 1867 were Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

The Discrepancy: Quebec and Ottawa

As you know, a large number of Québécois are nationalists and many advocate the separation, to a lesser or greater extent, of the Province of Quebec from the remainder of Canada. This explains why Quebec, one of the first four signatories of the British North America Act, does not observe Canada Day.

It could be argued that the province of Quebec was Lower Canada risen from its ashes, land apportioned by Britain itself, under the terms of the Constitutional Act of 1791, to the descendants of the citizens of New France defeated by British forces on 13 September 1759 at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.* The battle had claimed the life of both its commanding officers: Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, aged 47, and  General James Wolfe, aged 32, but it had lasted a mere fifteen minutes. 

*The Battle of the Plains of Abraham is thus called, i.e. Abraham, because it was fought on land belonging to Abraham Martin.  

The Greater Loss to Quebecers 

  • 1759, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham
  • 1840, the union of Upper and Lower Canada

Of the two, first, the loss of Lower Canada’s motherland, ceded to Britain in 1763, and, second, the Act of Union of 1841 which followed the Rebellions of 1837-1838, the greater loss may well be the loss of Lower Canada. One cannot know the fate awaiting Nouvelle-France had France won the Seven Years’ War (1856-1763), called the French and Indian War in North America. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, France chose to keep its sugar-rich Caribbean colonies, as well as the islands of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, off the coast of Newfoundland. 

However, Quebec had been granted a period of grace after the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763. The citizens of the former New France knew they had become a colony of Britain, but they had yet to feel the full impact of their condition as British but ‘conquered’ subjects.

A Reprieve

  • the Treaty of Paris
  • the Quebec Act of 1774
  • the Constitutional Act of 1791
  • betrayal

There had been a reprieve. First, France negotiated the cession of Nouvelle-France. Britain would not deprive its new subjects of their language, their religion, their property and their seigneuries. It didn’t. Second, by virtue of the Quebec Act of 1774, the citizens of the former New France had become full-fledged citizens of a British Canada. Third, less than two decades after the Quebec Act of 1774, 17 years to be precise, the Constitutional Act of 1791 had divided the vast province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada.

Whatever its purpose, the Constitutional Act of 1791 created Lower Canada and, in the eyes of Canadiens, Lower Canada was their country, or terroir, which they were now losing. Therefore, if one takes into account the loss of Lower Canada and the determination to assimilate Canadiens, the Act of Union of 1841 was betrayal on the part of Britain, not Upper Canada.

(Courtesy The Canadian Encyclopedia)
(Charles William Jefferys)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia [2])

Twin Rebellions

  • similar motivation
  • Mackenzie and Papineau as allies
  • patriots and  patriotes

The Rebellions of 1837 and 1838 occurred in both Canadas: Upper and Lower Canada. These could be perceived as twin rebellions orchestrated by Louis-Joseph Papineau (7 Oct 1786 – 25 Sept 1871), in Lower Canada, and William Lyon Mackenzie (12 March 1795 [Scotland]-28 August 1864 [Toronto]), in Upper Canada.

However, Papineau and William Lyon Mackenzie were not fighting against one another. Both Papineau and Mackenzie were “patriots” and allies. Their common  motivation was to be granted a responsible government and, consequently, greater democracy.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the citizens of Upper Canada were English-speaking Canadians living on British soil. As for the citizens of Lower Canada, they were a conquered people, former French subjects, living on British soil and realizing that they had been conquered. Not all of Lower Canada’s rebels were Canadiens. One was Dr Wolfred Nelson (10 July 1791 – 17 June 1863), a patriote and a future Mayor of Montreal.[1]

The majority however were descendants of the citizens of a defeated Nouvelle-France. In short, the rebels of Upper Canada differed from the rebels of Lower Canada. The patriots and the patriotes were not on an equal footing, so it is somewhat difficult to speak of the rebellions as twin rebellions. They weren’t, at least not entirely and not according to a reality of the mind.

The Rebellions in Lower Canada

  • different intensity
  • repressive measures, harsher

There were two rebellions in Lower Canada. The first took place in 1837 and the second, in 1838. The rebellions in Lower Canada were more intensive than their equivalent in Upper Canada.[2] Six battles had been waged in Lower Canada. Repressive measures were therefore much harsher:

“[b]etween the two uprisings [in Lower Canada], 99 captured militants were condemned to death but only 12 went to the gallows, while 58 were transported to the penal colony of Australia. In total the six battles of both campaigns left 325 dead, 27 of them soldiers and the rest rebels. Thirteen men were executed (one by the rebels), one was murdered, one committed suicide, and two prisoners were shot.” (Peter Buckner, “Rebellion in Lower Canada,” The Canadian Encyclopedia.)

Most importantly, as we will see below, Lord Durham had recommended the assimilation of Canadiens, which was devastating to the people of Lower Canada. In Upper Canada, three men were hanged and William Lyon Mackenzie fled to the United States. He lived in New York until he was pardoned in 1849. Louis-Joseph Papineau also fled to the United States and then sailed to France. As for Dr Wolfred Nelson, he was unable to flee and was exiled to Bermuda. It was a brief period of exile.


  • Act of Union of 1840-1841
  • Lower Canada, the homeland of French-speaking subjects

Clearly, for the former citizens of Lower Canada, the Act of Union of 1840-1841 was dispossession. During the years that preceded the Rebellions, it had occurred to Louis-Joseph Papineau, the leader of the Parti canadien, that Lower Canada should seek independence from Britain. Although Nouvelle-France had been ceded to Britain, by virtue of the Constitutional Act of 1791, Lower Canada belonged to Britain’s French-speaking subjects. Britain could not help itself to the vaults of both Upper and Lower Canada, its North American colony.

Lord Durham

Lord Durham (Courtesy The Canadian Encyclopedia)

Lord Durham’s Report

  • an ethnic conflict
  • a United Province of Canada
  • the assimilation of French-speaking Canadians
  • a responsible government
  • Tocqueville: a nation

It should be pointed out that  in the Report John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham  submitted after he investigated the rebellions in the two Canadas, he concluded that the Rebellions were an ethnic conflict, which is not altogether true nor altogether false. The rebellions were a quest for responsible government which Lord Durham himself proposed in his Report. The motivation was the same in  both Canadas: responsible government.

However, in his Report, Lord Durham proposed not only the Union of both Canadas, but also recommended the assimilation of French-speaking Canadians whom he viewed as a people possessing “neither a  history nor a literature.” Never were French-speaking Canadians so offended! The Act of Union of 1841 created a United Province of Canada.

Moreover, when  the United Province of Canada was created, the land apportioned English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians made French-speaking Canadians a minority. It should also be noted that the United Province of Canada  was not granted a responsible government, which had been the reason why the two Canadas rebelled and one of Lord Durham’s recommendations.

The time had come for both Canadas, now united, to be mostly self-governed. During a trip to Lower Canada, Alexis de Tocqueville noticed and noted that the French in Lower Canada had become what I would call a nation, but a conquered nation that had yet to enter the Industrial Age and whose people had not acquired the skills they required to leave their farms, or thirty acres, trente arpents, the acreage provided to the settlers of Nouvelle-France.

Alexis de Tocqueville in Lower Canada

  • a nation, but a nation conquered

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville (29 July 1805 – 16 April 1859) and Gustave de Beaumont (16 February 1802 – 30 March 1866) took a little time off from their duties in the United States, to visit the inhabitants of France’s former colony, believing they had become British, or  assimilated, which was not the case. Their language, religion, land and seigneuries had not been taken away from French-speaking Canadians. They were  a nation, albeit a conquered nation.

Canadiens wanted news of “la vieille France,” old France, but there was no “vieille France,” not after the French Revolution. What was left of vieille France, Tocqueville and Beaumont found in Lower Canada. According to Tocqueville, the villain in the loss of New France was Louis XV of France. Louis XV had abandoned France’s colony in North America.

It is astonishing that, in 1831, a few years before the Rebellions and during a brief visit to Lower Canada, Tocqueville should express the opinion that the “greatest and most irreversible misfortune that can befall a people is to be conquered:”

Je n’ai jamais été plus convaincu qu’en sortant [de ce tribunal] que le plus grand et le plus irrémédiable malheur pour un peuple c’est d’être conquis.


The above is significant. In the wake of the Acte d’Union, Antoine Gérin-Lajoie wrote his plaintive “Un Canadien errant,” dated 1842. Moreover, as mentioned above, French-speaking Canadians had begun creating a “literary homeland,” (la Patrie littéraire) the name given to the  period of French-Canadian literature during which French-speaking Canadians set about proving Lord Durham wrong, which they did successfully.


Baldwin and Lafontaine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Robert Baldwyn and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine

  • Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine
  • ‘Assimilation’ cancelled (1842)
  • the responsible government achieved (1846)

Matters would also be redressed ‘politically,’ so to speak. In 1842, shortly after the Act of Union was passed (1840-1841) Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine (4 October 1807 – 26 February 1864) was elected Joint Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada, a position he shared with Robert Baldwin whose jurisdiction was the western portion of the United Province of Canada. Lord Durham’s proposed assimilation of Britain’s French-speaking subjects was never implemented.  Finally, although it would not happen immediately, the Baldwin-LaFontaine team would achieve the objective pursued by the rebels of 1837 and 1838, responsible government, which meant greater democracy.

LaFontaine resigned one year after his appointment as Prime Minister because Britain was not delivering on responsible government. However, in 1848, James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin, who had been named governor general of the United Province of Canada in 1846, asked Lafontaine (also spelled LaFontaine) to form a responsible government.

“LaFontaine thus became the first prime minister of Canada in the modern sense of the term. During this second administration, he demonstrated the achievement of responsible government by the passage of the Rebellion Losses Bill, despite fierce opposition and violent demonstrations. His ministry also passed an Amnesty Act to forgive the 1837-38 rebels, secularized King’s College into the University of Toronto, incorporated many French Canadian colleges, established Université Laval, adopted important railway legislation and reformed municipal and judicial institutions.” (Jacques Monet, S. J., “Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine,” The Canadian Encyclopedia.)


So a mere twenty-six (26) years after passage of the Act of Union, Quebec, under the leadership of George-Étienne Cartier, entered Confederation. Sir George-Étienne Cartier asked that Quebec retain its recently-acquired Code civil and that primary education remain compulsory. These requests were granted.

Confederation had the immense benefit of returning to Canadiens their former Lower Canada. They regained a territory or patrimoine (a homeland), however mythical. And they have bestowed on their patrimoine its National Day, la Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

At the last meeting of the Liberal Party of Quebec, Premier Dr Philippe Couillard, stated that Quebec was a patrimoine to Québécois and Canada, their country.

My kindest regards to all of you and apologies for being away from my computer and late in every way. Yesterday was Independence Day. Belated wishes to my American readers. Next, I will write about an award.



[1] See Lower Canada Rebellion, Wikipedia.
[2] Ibid.

Canada’s National Anthems


© Micheline Walker
5 July 2015
(revised 6 July 2015)