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Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine

In his Report on the Affairs of British North America, or Rebellions of 1837-1838, John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham‘s main recommendation was the Union of the two Canadas. In a large Province of Canada, it was hoped that English-speaking Canadians would become a majority. However, no sooner was the Act of Union passed (1840) and implemented (1841) than two gentlemen, Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine, started to create a bilingual and bicultural Canada. As well, when Louis-Hyppolyte La Fontaine first addressed the Assembly, he spoke French and then switched to English. One of Lord Durham‘s recommendations was that the language of the Assembly be English. Louis Hippolyte La Fontaine’s use of French was not opposed and it created a precedent. When Confederation was signed, the languages of Parliament would be English and French. He would be Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine.

A Responsible Government

Moreover, in 1848, Lord Elgin asked Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine to form a ministry that would be a responsible government. In the meantime, Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine had been mapping a bilingual and bicultural Province of Canada. Both retired in 1851.

In other words, Canada had a responsible government 16 years before Confederation was signed. Confederation was the crowning event in a quest that began when the large Province of Quebec was divided into Upper Canada and Lower Canada. However, in 1867, French-speaking Canadians signed a document, the Constitution of Canada, Confederation, that precluded their living outside Quebec, if they wanted to be educated in French.

Confederation: Rupert’s Land

Another precedent rooted in the Act of Union, and the most unfortunate for French-speaking Canadians, was Lord Durham’s hope that French-speaking Canadians would become a minority in the large Province of Canada. The Province of Canada was a short-lived administration. It lasted a mere sixteen (16) years, which did not allow English-speaking Canadians to become more numerous than French-speaking Canadians.

However, matters would differ after the B.N.A (British North America) Act (1867) was passed. The B.N.A. Act federated Ontario (Canada West), Quebec (Canada East), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. After they entered Confederation joined the four provinces, the Dominion of Canada purchased Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company, Canada could stretch from sea to sea, which it did. British Columbia was promised an intercontinental railroad, a promise that brought it into Confederation, on 10 July 1871. By the turn of the century, the province of Quebec had become one of nine (9) provinces, and, with the addition of Newfoundland (1949), it could become one of ten (10) provinces. where French-speaking Canadians could not be educated in French. The above is somewhat repetitive, but beginning in 1837-1838, English Canadians and French Canadians sought responsible government, not division.

After Confederation, Quebec was one of a handful of provinces and soon the only province where French-speaking Canadians could be educated in French. Until 1998, Montreal had its Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal. It was founded in 1951 as a replacement for the Montreal Protestant Central Board. (See Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, Wikipedia.) Quebec has been officially unilingual since 1974, under Robert Bourassa (Bill-22), but, despite the status of the province, English-speaking Canadians residing in Quebec do not have to learn French unless they enter a career demanding a knowledge of French.

The War of 1812

The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us experience for the attack of Halifax the next, and the final expulsion of England from the American continent.

Thomas Jefferson in War of 1812, the Encyclopedia Britannica

Yet, English-speaking and French speaking-Canadians had acquired a sense of identity sooner than Lord Durham had expected. To a significant extent, the Act of Quebec (1774) had put French Canadians on the same footing as English-speaking citizens of the colony. My best example would be the War of 1812. Amerindians fought for their waning freedom. Tecumseh joined the group. Richard Pierpoint assembled a Coloured Corps. He was born a free man and would die a free man. As for French Canadians, they had been conquered some 50 years before the War of 1812, yet, the Voltigeurs, under the command of Major Charles de Salaberry, proved a fine regiment.

Bataille de Châteauguay, 1813 by Henri Julien (1852 – 1908). During the Battle of Châteauguay, de Salaberry (centre) led local fenciblesmilitia, and Mohawk warriors against American forces. From a lithograph published in Le Journal de Dimanche on June 241884. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


It saddens me that an effort was made to impede French-speaking Canada’s growth, but New France had been a colony, and Britain was a colonist. The inhabitants of planet Earth share affinities that override ethnicity, which is the story Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine told us and which is one of the finest Canadian stories.


Sources and Resources

Rebellions of 1837-1838 (Wikipedia)
Rébellions de 1837-1838 (Wikipedia)
various entries


1 Monière, Denis. Le Développement des idéologies au Québec, Montréal, Québec/Amérique, 1977.
2 Proteet, Maurice, directeur. Textes de l’exode, Guérin littérature, collection francophonie, 1987.

Love to everyone 💕

Les Voltigeurs “play” Calixa Lavallée‘s Ô Canada (1880), Canada’s National Anthem. Basile Routhier wrote the French lyrics.

© Micheline Walker
14 October 2020