The Growth Of A Nation: Canada Essay, Research Paper
Canada evolved into a nation during the 18th and 19th centuries. Many factors were accountable to this change which includes the Loyalists migration north and of course the Constitutional Acts of 1791and 1867. There were key people and sanctions during this evolution, the Crown, the American Revolution, the Loyalists of Upper Canada, the francophones of Lower Canada and the Radicals responsible for the 1837 rebellions were the most influential. The Crown made many territorial and political changes during the 18th and 19th centuries because of the ever changing and growing population in Canada, everyone from Loyalists to the First Nations were affected.
Loyalists and the changes that were made because of their influx to British North America:
Loyalists are defined as American colonists of varied ethnic backgrounds that supported the British cause during the American Revolution1. Because of the Revolution, many British Loyalists from the former 13 Colonies in the United States moved up to present day Canada to maintain their British way of life. The main waves of Loyalists moved north immediately following the American Revolution in 1783 and 1784. Over 30 000 of these people settled the Maritime Provinces. The Loyalists swamped the previous population of 20 000 Americans and French, and in 1784 New Brunswick and Cape Breton were created to deal with the influx. About 2000 moved into present day Quebec and 7500 settled Ontario. The flock of Loyalists gave the region its first substantial population and led to the creation of a separate province, Upper Canada, in 1791. Loyalists were instrumental in establishing educational, religious, social and governmental institutions.
The impact made by the Loyalists has made a lasting impression on modern Canada. Inheriting certain conservatism, we Canadians seem to prefer “evolution” to “revolution” when it comes to government changes and in today’s society in general. The rebellions held in Canada in 1837 never had nearly as big of an impact as the Revolution did in the United States. An example of a specific Loyalist who made an important impact in Canadian history is Egerton Ryerson.
Ryerson was a leading figure in 19th century Ontario education and politics. He was born into a well-respected Anglican, Loyalist family, but was converted and ordained in 1827 in the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Ryerson first became known in Upper Canadian politics in 1826 when he led an attack on the assumptions and freedoms of the Church of England. The Church of England claimed to be the official church of the colony, and exclusive beneficiary of the clergy reserves. Ryerson emerged as the leading Methodist spokesman and a major figure in the Reform cause.2
During the Rebellions of 1837, Ryerson was in England but used his influence to oppose Mackenzie’s radical philosophy and violent methods. During the 1840s he continued his active role in politics but turned in a different direction. He began to support Govoner Charles Metcalf against Robert Baldwin and Lafontaine in 1844. He appeared to have joined the Tories, the people he had opposed for nearly 20 years. Also in 1844 he was appointed superintendent of education for Canada West, continuing in this office until retiring in 1876. Ryerson reached a new level of importance in the School Act of 1871, Ontario gained a first-rate primary and secondary school system based on this act. Throughout the course of his career, he wrote many pamphlets and texts, as well as several works on the history of the province an important autobiography.
This is only one example of an impact that a Loyalist had on modern and pre-Constitutional Canada.
The Constitutional Act of 1791 was the single largest event that took place because of the Loyalists movement. The Bill was prepared by William Wyndham Grenville to ensure the development of British parliamentary institutions in the territory governed by the Quebec Act of 1774. According to Grenville, the Bill’s general purpose was to assimilate each colony’s constitution to that of Britain. The Constitutional Act had four main purposes: “to guarantee the same rights and privileges as were enjoyed by loyal subjects elsewhere in North America; to ease the burden on the imperial treasury by granting colonial assemblies the right to levy taxes with which to pay for local civil and legal administrations; to justify the territorial division of the province of Quebec and the creation of separate provincial legislature; and to maintain and strengthen the bonds of political dependency by remedying acknowledged constitutional weaknesses of previous colonial governments.”3 Although this act temporarily improved life in the colonies, and made a lot of Loyalists happy, many Historians have considered the Act’s failure to create responsible government and its distribution of financial powers in favour of the appointed councils as the roots of the political problems in the early 19th century.
Executive, Legislative Council and appointed Governors of the Canadas:
The Constitutional Act of 1791 was a clear response by London to the American Revolution. The Act replaced Quebec by two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. The western province of Upper Canada was English-speaking and received English law and institutions. It would become the modern province of Ontario. The eastern and mainly French-speaking province of Lower Canada, the present Quebec, kept seigneurial tenure, French law, and the privileges of the Catholic Church granted by the Quebec Act. A lieutenant governor was established in each of the provinces, with an executive council to act as an upper house, and a representative assembly. The nominated executive council was appointed by the governor, whose responsibility was to the British Colonial Office rather than to the people or their elected representatives. Therefore, there was representative government, but without the executive council being responsible to the assembly. The Church of England was to tie the colonies more firmly to Britain. As well the Seigneurial System was permanently eradicated in Canada East.4 In all these political changes, (i.e. the Legislative Council), that were brought on by the Constitutional Act were not directly accountable to the citizens of the Canadas or to the elected assembly, but to the Crown. This was all done by the Crown, in the Crown’s best interest.
It took over a hundred years of documents, policies and acts to make Canada an independent nation. There was no revolution breaking our ties to Britain, in fact we are still part of the Commonwealth. Our diverse nation all began to come together over 200 years ago with Reformers, Radicals and Loyalists each wanting Canada shaped in a different way. Because of what the Crown wanted and because of what the independent minds in Canada desired is how we got where we are today. We are a country of evolution, we are the strongest nation in the world because of the people and events that began painting our countries colors so long ago.
1. Canadian Encyclopedia, The, McClelland and Stewart Inc., Toronto, 2000.
2. Careless, J.M.S., Canada, A Story of Challenge, T.H. Best, Toronto, 1970.
3. Reid, J.H. Stewart, A Source-book of Canadian History, Longmans Canada Ltd., Toronto, 1967.