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Le Patriote par Henri Julien, 1904

British North America as a Colony of Britain

Let me open this post by saying that the Constitution of 1867, or BNA Act, Confederation, was an act of Britain’s parliament. Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec), as well as the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) were colonies of Britain. The Rebellions of 1837-1838 opposed Canadians and the Crown, not English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians.

L’A.A.N.B. est une loi du Parlement britannique, il ne résulte pas de la volonté des peuples du Canada, mais de la volonté d’appropriation d’un appareil d’État par la bourgeoisie canadienne.”
[The BNA Act is a law of the British Parliament, it does not represent the will of the people(s) of Canada, but the will, on the part of the Canadian bourgeoisie, to take over the Government.]

Denis Monière[1]

So, I repeat, the Rebellions of 1837-1838 did not oppose English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians. Canadians rebelled against the Crown and the Canadian bourgeoisie: the Family Compact and the Château Clique.

Lord Durham’s Investigation & Recommendations

After the Rebellions of 1837-1838 (Lord Durham), which occurred in both Upper Canada (Toronto) and Lower Canada (Montreal), John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham (Lord Durham) was asked to investigate matters. He spent about five months in Canada devoting two weeks to an investigation of Upper Canada. He nevertheless produced a Report on the Rebellions and made recommendations. There were many, but they can be summed up as follows:

  • the Union of Upper Canada and Lower Canada,
  • a responsible government for Canada, and, a matter often omitted,
  • the use of English in the Assembly.

The Act of Union was passed in 1840, and implemented, in 1841. Upper Canada and Lower Canada became the Province of Canada and remained a colony of Britain.

The British intended that this policy would facilitate the assimilation of the French. Still, the French, led by such astute reform leaders as Louis Hippolyte LaFontaine, took advantage of divisions among the English-speaking legislators by allying themselves with the reformers from Canada West to push for responsible government and to make themselves indispensable for governmental stability.

See The Union of Canada, the Encyclopædia Britannica.[2]

However, Robert Balwin and Louis-Hippolyte faced opposition.

Realizing he [Sydenham] had almost no support in Lower Canada (at this time Canada East), he reorganised electoral ridings to give the Anglo-Canadian population more votes, and in areas where that was infeasible, he allowed English mobs to beat up French candidates. Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine was one such candidate who suffered from Sydenham’s influence; Lafontaine eventually left Canada East to work with Robert Baldwin in creating a fairer union for both sides. The new constitution, after being carried through the colonial parliaments and ratified by the House of Commons, came into force on 10 February 1841. It led ultimately to the great confederation of 1867.

See Baron Sydenham, Wikipedia.

Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine were friends. In fact, Robert Baldwin arrange for Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine to run for office in in York (Toronto) and La Fontaine won his seat.

Matters changed when three or four provinces of British North America confederated. The Province of Canada had been Upper and Lower Canada, which explains the conflicting totals of three and four. Moreover, when Confederation was passed, the Province of Canada became Ontario and Quebec, which delighted George-Étienne Cartier. French Canadians were fond of their Lower Canada whose inhabitants were not exclusively French-Canadians. Wolfred Nelson would be a mayor of Montreal.

In short, what I wish to stress is that English-speaking Canadians and French-speaking Canadians have seldom, if ever, attacked one another. Yes, as noted above, Lord Sydenham “allowed English mobs to beat up French candidates.” (See Lord Sydenham, Wikipedia). Louis Riel pushed back the armed surveyors ready to divide the Red River Settlement, bought by the Earl of Selkirk. But, truth be told, Canadians were not enclined to attack one another. There have been tensions between linguistic groups and a few bad moments, but in 1837-1838 patriots and patriotes were Canadians fighting Britain. They were led by William Lyon Mackenzie, in Upper Canada, and by Louis-Joseph Papineau, a Seigneur in Lower Canada. Papineau was also the leader of the Parti canadien. The party was the first political party in Canada and was first led by Pierre-Stanislas Bédard.

However, the Rebellion was more severe in Lower Canada. It appears the British were forwarned and Louis-Joseph Papineau, the leader of the Parti canadien, led ended up leading the patriotes. Papineau was very articulate


  • hangings and exile
  • Un Canadien errant

However, the rebels were defeated. At the conclusion of the Rebellions, many were saddened. Several patriots or patriotes were hanged or exiled. Both William Lyon Mackenzie and Louis-Joseph Papineau fled Canada. In 1842, Antoine Gérin-Lajoie composed Un Canadien errant. Few songs express in so poignant a manner the profound grief of the exiled. Editor and author Eugène Achard suggested that the song could be the National Anthem of Acadians.[3] Acadians agreed. As well, for French-speaking Canadians, the Act of Union was a loss. French Canadians, called Canadiens, were quite comfortable in their Lower Canada, a land where they were a majority, but shared with people of different origins. The Act of Union took it away. It created a large Province of Canada were French-speaking Canadians were expected to become a minority and be assimilated.

Minorisation and Precedents

I have been asking why Protestants could be educated in English in Quebec, while French Canadians could not be educated in French outside Quebec, thereby becoming a minority. First, there was a precedent. By joining Upper Canada and Lower Canada, it was hoped that the English would be a majority.

Minorisation didn’t happen in the Earl of Durham’s Province of Canada, but it would happen in a federated Canada. English-speaking Canadians did not choose to be a majority, but in 9 of 10 provinces, waves of immigrants were educated in English. The Earl of Durham’s Province of Canada, where French Canadians were expected to constitute a minority presaged a federation that excludes the French and the Catholics. Ironically, in 1849, Papineau championed “rep. by pop.”[4]

The Act of Union had set precedents to the Constitution of 1867. There would be no separate schools for French-speaking Canadians outside Quebec, (article 93 of the Constitution of 1867), but Parliament was bilingual (article 133). Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine had spoken French, a precedent. But Ottawa was located immediately next of Quebec. One crossed a bridge. Quebec would have a role to play in Ottawa, which is the path Sir Wilfrid Laurier used.

G.-É. Cartier’s “here and now”

George-Étienne Cartier liked Britain’s Constitutional Monarchy. Canadians would be included in a government he favoured. He had belonged to the parti bleu (the Liberals), but had switched to the parti rouge (the Conservatives). Confederation would protect Canadians from expansionnist Americans. As well, the clergy was on the side of Confederation. The Province of Canada had 48 French-speaking representatives, députés. When the matter of Confederation was put to a vote, 26 approved and 22 didn’t. Then came railways…

An Exchange

Conversely, French Canadians provided Canada with a mythic past. It had legends Sir Ernest MacMillan set to music. Louis Riel is a major Canadian figure, and the Canadian martyrs have become American martyrs. As well, in his Report, Lord Durham was very unsympathetic to French Canadians. They didn’t have a history nor did they have literature. French Canadians responded by creating literature in French, their patrie littéraire,[5] or literary homeland. That is all well, but immigrants to Canada settled in provinces west of Quebec and were educated in English. One “does the math.”


A will to assimilate French Canadians underlies the Earl of Durham’s report and the Act of Union, his main recommendation. The Province of Canada is a prelude to Confederation. Statues of John A. Macdonald are in storage and, having researched this post, I suspect Lord Durham’s demeaning view of French-speaking informs both the Act of Union and the Constitution of 1867, Confederation.

But I love my Canada, from coast to coast.

Love to everyone 💕


Sources and Resources

Acadia (Wikipedia)
Canada (the Encyclopædia Britannica)
Uvic.ca.courses (J. M. Bliss ed., Canadian History in Documents, 1763-1996 [Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1996], pp. 49-62.)
CBC Canada: History
Lord Durham’s Report (Wikisource)

Lord Durham
John George Lambton, the 1st Earl of Durham (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

[1] Denis Monière, Le Développement des Idéologies au Québec (Montréal, Québec/Amérique, 1977), p. 199.

[2] Canada, Ralph R. KruegerRoger D. Hall and Others (See All Contributors) Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. September 29, accessed on 6th October 2020)

[3] Micheline Bourbeau-Walker, « Le Récit d’Acadie : présence d’une absence », in Édouard Langille et Glenn Moulaison, Les Abeilles pilottent,* mélanges offerts à René LeBlanc (Pointe de l’Église, Revue de l’Université Sainte-Anne, 1998), pp. 255-275.
*The title refers to Montaigne‘s opinion on education (See L’Encyclopédie de l’Agora).

[4] Denis Monière, Op. Cit. p. 200.

[5] Bourbeau-Walker, M. (2002). La patrie littéraire : errance et résistance.
Francophonies d’Amérique, (13), 47–65. https://doi.org/10.7202/1005247ar

Alan Mills sings Un Canadien errant

© Micheline Walker
6 Octobre 2020