Immigration and Settlement in Canada 1812 - 1820
By A. R. M. Lower


THE emigration that for a century and a half had been building up the old colonies of England was only slightly interfered with by the change in the political status of those colonies after the American Revolution. After 1783 as before, every year saw the new republic enriched by thousands of settlers from the old country, while Canada remained neglected and unknown1. The war of 1812-14 to a certain extent changed this: in the first place, it made a great deal of very bad blood between Britain and her former colonies: in the second, it called attention to the existence of a British portion of the New World. That Canada got much advertisement out of the war among the emigrating masses is doubtful; that she got: a good deal amongst officialdom appears fairly evident. At any rate, for several years afterwards, the war, and considerations arising out of it, governed official opinion on emigration to, and settlement in, Canada.

The necessity for defending the colonies called attention to their weakness. The most obvious thing to be done, towards strengthening them, as also the most desirable, was to increase their population and thus in time render British North America capable of defending itself. But if British North America was to remain British, great care must be taken to see that only a loyal and trustworthy population should be introduced. Whatever consistent policy the Colonial Office thereafter had was based on these two considerations. Problems of immigration and settlement were, without doubt, the major problems of the day. Owing to the small number of inhabitants and the desire of the great majority of the newcomers to go on the land, the government had to concern itself very closely with the immigrant and his affairs. It becomes of importance, then, to study the attitude assumed towards these problems by those responsible for their solution.

The first step towards providing a population adequate to self-defence was taken as early as 1813 by Lord Bathurst, then hut newly appointed secretary of state for the colonies. He proposed to send out a number of Scottish emigrants, to give them free passages, free land, and other assistance, and in return to secure a fairly large deposit from each head of family as a bond against removal to the United Slates within two years of arrival. The proposal, having been submitted to the Canadian authorities, was enthusiastically approved of by Sir Gordon Drummond2. The prospective settlers would form very valuable additions to the loyal population of Upper Canada—a province which already contained too many aliens. Moreover, the Scots would make good militia-men-—a fact that would outweigh any objections to the increase ;n the number of mouths to be fed. Naturally enough, at such a time Drummond’s interest was primarily military; he looked on immigrants as means for ensuring the retention of the colony by Britain. This view is representative in that most of the colonial officials, at that time and for some years later, held it. It was a self-evident principle to them, crowding into a very subordinate background the question of building a strong colonial state by means of whatever immigration would best secure such a purpose. It led to a careful selection of immigrants on the bases of approved loyalty and military usefulness, to attempts at the arbitrary location of settlers for strategical purposes, to experiments in settlement (such as the Rideau and Drummondville colonies, which were settlements of military men run on strictly military lines), to a vigorous and narrow anti-American policy and, generally, to an overemphasis of considerations of defence.

This strategic motive was so dominant in everybody’s mind that it will be in order, at this point, to examine it more closely.

Writing while yet the war raged, Prevost states to Bathurst (May 9, 1814) that he has desired to settle the Glengarry Fencibles in the township of Sherrington because, it being near the lines, they could defend the frontier in case of future attack. In a , similar way the islands in the St. Lawrence near lyngston were held to be particularly important sites for the location of settlers who could be relied upon not to go over to the enemy, either during or after the war. The adjutant-general, Baynes, was of the opinion that these and other key-!ocalities should be settled by ex-soldiers; other settlers would not voluntarily go near so dangerous a frontier, and if left vacant, they would soon fill up with an American population that would willingly sit on whichever side of the fence best suited for the time being. Even the soldiers would not be too reliable, for, without exception, desertion had proved a drain on every corps employed in frontier duties; “the ideal blandishments of the United States is so powerful an incitement that the corps of the highest established reputation have not escaped frequent desertions.”

After the war was over, the formation of a second line of communication between Montreal and Upper Canada was proposed. This line was to run vid the Rideau and Trent Rivers and Lake Simcoe to Lake Huron. It was pointed out that such a line could be made in war only at great expense, but that if the country along it could be settled, when the need arose, there would be roads over the portages and plenty of transport available along the route.4 This was perfectly correct, of course, and undoubtedly the St. Lawrence was a very precarious line in time of war; from Kingston to Montreal, for example, the only settlers whose loyalty could be depended on had been the Scots of Stormont and Glengarry.3 If people would only go where they were told and cast their lots according to the doubtlessly sound plans of the military chiefs, the desired settlements might have been made. But pioneers, like other people, have a way of looking out for themselves first and the state afterwards, so that the second li le was slow in forming, and emigrants passed by the beautiful lakes (and barren rocks) of the Rideau to the more fertile lands of the west. Not for over twelve years more was the line formed, and then not by settlement, but by the engineers of the mother country in the building of the Rideau canal.

Opinions in the matter of strategic settlement were indeed much more common than accomplishments; the Scottish settlers sent out by Bathurst (to whom we shall refer again) were, it is true, placed in the Eastern district of Upper Canada along the frontier, but the deciding motive in their case was the fact that in that locality they would be in touch with other Scottish settlers who had preceded them. The most formal attempts made to colonize on the strategical plan were the Rideau and Drummondville military settlements. Plans for semi-socialistic communities in British North America were, of course, legion. It was easy enough to sit in a London club and draw a picture of a beautiful little Utopia somewhere out in America where the citizens were the best of soldiers and the most industrious of pioneer farmers at one and the same time, but it was quite another matter to translate these schemes into accomplished facts. To the credit of the Colonial Office, be it said, most of these schemes to kill two birds with one stone died a quiet death within the confines of the United Kingdom. The government’s own scheme, however, was proceeded with. All disbanded soldiers were to be given land on condition of actual settlement, and the chosen band who elected to join their fellows on the banks of the Rideau or the St. Francis, were to be given much more—implements, log-cabins and food. The initial expression of opinion was voiced by Prevost in his despatch of March 18, 1815. He takes it for granted that the settlements should be made at strategic points. Debating the question as to the policy that should be pursued with regard to the frontier townships of Lower Canada, he states that the settler there would find a wilderness between himself and the St. Lawrence. He would also find easy communications leading to the United States: the inevitable consequence would be that the easy and evil communications would corrupt his good manners, no matter how loyal he had been to begin with. Moreover, the experience

[Col. David Stewart’s “Observations on the Means of Obtaining from the Highlands of Scotland an Efficient and Permanent Force for the Defence of Canada in the event of Future Wars and for Promoting Cultivation and Augmenting the Population of the Colony," April 24, 1815: “One or more effective regiments may be raised from the Emigrants, for the double purpose of defence, of increased population and cultivation. The Male progeny of these emigrants would become both Cultivators and Soldiers as they arrived at the age of Puberty, thereby not only increasing the Military Defence of the Colony but Augmenting the Cultivation of the Soil.” “The boon offered might be fifty acres of land to every private, seventy acres to every Noncommissioned Officer,” etc. “Still more to attach the people to the soil it might be politic to stipulate that the eldest son of each Family who entered into the Army should be entitled to a freehold grant of fifty Acres.” “These lands to be laid out as near as possible to the different Military Depots where Log Houses should be built by the troops for each family, the one. assisting the. other in clearing rhe Land for u Garden and Orchard, and in cultivating when they could be spared from Military duty. A Village would be thus formed in the Vicinity of every Military Depot which would rapidly rise and become of some consequence; while the Military were occupied in, the duties of their profession, their children who were growing up would assist in the cultivation of their little farms. Under such circumstances a Military Force almost to any extent might be raised and ultimately supported at very moderate expense.” (Canadian Archives, Series Q, Vol. 135, pt. 2.) of the war had shown that a broad belt: of wilderness was the country’s best defence. Therefore the best plan was to leave the frontier alone and put the men on the St. Francis where the soil was generally good and where communication with the rest of the country was easy. A compact population would spell security. Prevost was also careful to point out that under no conceivable circumstances would regular soldiers make good farmers.

*The Upper Canadian settlement met with less intelligent criticism. Lieutenant-governor Gore merely remarking that as it was apparently the government’s policy to put “a consolidated loyal population” between the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence on the Rideau, he was setting aside three hundred thousand acres for that purpose.

At first only the corps specially raised for service in the colony were designated as recipients of government aid, but finally almost any discharged soldier could join the settlements and live untier semi-military discipline. Inevitable blunders were soon made, leading to delays in getting the men located and consequent loss of enthusiasm. “I must apprize you that the spirit of enterprise which appeared to actuate the de Wattevilles on their first arrival has evaporated in consequence of their not being placed on their lands and that some have already quitted the settlement and others have notified their intention of following their example,” writes Supt. McDonald to Deputy Quartermaster-General Fowler. Every despatch from England inculcated economy and the abolition of aid as soon as possible; less than one year after the settlements had been begun Bathurst was expecting that soldier, settlers would be able to sustain themselves, but instead of that most of the people at Drummondville, inexperienced even in agriculture, let alone pioneer agriculture, were plunged in abject misery. To make matters worse a number of Chelsea pensioners were allowed to come to Canada: these people were destitute on their arrival and many of them old and infirm. The governor protested, but further consignments continued to arrive. No arrangements were made to have their pensions forwarded to them and the spectacle was not uncommon of a soldier, who had served his country faithfully, begging in the streets. Bathurst stated that he had thought that these men would have made most successful settlers as they would have ' in their pensions the means of comfortable subsistence until their lands were cultivated and they would not easily be led to remove into the United States”. So much for his knowledge of the realities of colonial life.

By the end of 1819 a total of 235 people—men, women and „ children—had been received at Drummondville; a considerable administrative establishment continued to be kept up. The sites of the military settlements were chosen on grounds of military expediency, but the settlements themselves appear to have been undertaken chiefly with a view to assisting the demobilized soldier ' —and incidentally to increasing the loyal population of the country.

Within a year or two after the end of the war the strategic note was perceptibly softened; officers who had fought were recalled; general peace had come and an active policy of defence gave way to a state of mind which, while recognizing that the Americans were no longer an imminent danger, retained all of the ill-feeling engendered during the war. Americans to the official class, whether in their own country or out of it, were taboo. Hence we have a period during which anti-Americanism bulked large. Here at least there was a clear-cut policy on immigration. It may be put in three words: “ Keep them out!” That American immigrants were in general more intelligent, more prosperous, and better suited to the new country than any possible arrivals from Europe (including Great Britain), had nothing to do with the question; the Americans were factious democrats who brought with them their republican principles and their presence could only be, at the best, dangerous to the British connection, at the worst, fatal to it. Democracy was not yet popular in Canada.

But under the circumstances the attitude was an entirely natural one. During the war disloyalty had been found to be widespread; Americans who had come in previously had in numerous cases gone over to the enemy. American peaceful penetration had gone so far that “a few years would have rendered Upper Canada a complete American colony.” “The population, with the exception of the Eastern District, are chiefly of American extraction; these settlers have been suffered to introduce themselves in such numbers that in most parts they form the majority, and in many, almost the sole, population. In some of the most populous parts of the Settlements, two-thirds of the inhabitants have absconded, abandoning valuable farms; even Members of the Provincial Legislature have gone over to the enemy.” Thus the doughty patriot, Baynes.10 His views were the views of officialdom. They were put into official form in Bathurst’s despatch to Drumnond of January 10, 1815, iri which orders were given that no land was to be granted to Americans, and that they were to be prohibited as far as possible from coming into Canada. Nevertheless, Americans kept coming and, to keep them out of Upper Canada, a rather ingenious use of a current provincial statute was resorted to. All persons who had not been resident six month's in the province, or who had not taken the oath of allegiance, could be “dismissed” upon very slight grounds. Lieutenant-governor Gore ordered the magistrates not to administer the oath to any person “without a special authority”; no “special authority” being likely to be extended for the administration of the oath to Americans, they thus became automatically subject to “dismissal”. In addition, all children of Loyalists when applying for their land-grants were required to furnish a certificate proving their loyalty during the war. The refusal of the oath of allegiance was continued durng the following years, and residence In the United States during the war became prirra-facie evidence of enemy nationality.:s On the other hand, we have a glimpse of slowly changing public opinion in some “Resolutions proposed to the Commons House of Assembly on the 3rd April, 1817” and published in the Kingston Gazette of April 12. These seek to establish by existing statutes (13 Geo. II and 30 Geo. Ill) that Americans, despive the Revolution, still have the rights of natural-born citizens, and claim that, as the country needs, above all else, population to fill lipits vacarit lands, Americans should be allowed to take the oath of allegiance. In the same year, James Buchanan, British consul at New York, submitted a proposal for the admission of American immigrants and argued that there was no danger of their disloyalty as self interest would bind them to their new home. But the weight of public opinion seems to have been against American immigration.

An interesting phase of the immigration from the south was the movement initiated by Buchanan, having for its aim the sending of British subjects already in America to Canada. He got permission to issue passports to these people (strictly excluding those who had been there during the war) and, painting in glowing terms the prospects awaiting them in Canada, he managed to induce several hundred to go there; he judged the hatred they had conceived of everything American—presumably owing to their lack of success among the Americans—would be most useful in Canada. Buchanan’s zeal outstripped his prudence and some of his immigrants were refused admittance by Gore on the grounds that they were seditious Baltimore Irish and a very bad lot indeed. But the consul, elated with his success, got permission to advance the fare of such others as were willing to go. Finally the stream of work-hungry men began to dismay leisurely Canadian officialdom, and Buchanan, vid London, was ordered to restrain his enthusiasm. It is stated for he forwarded “about 3,000 poor Irish who are chiefly located in the township of Cavan and have prospered”.

Turning now to the attitude, more particularly, of the Imperial government on emigration to British North America, we find that, during the war it had appeared as if a well-considered and comprehensive scheme were about to be embarked upon. The Scottish settlers, to whom we have referred above, were quickly got together, brought to Glasgow, looked after until embarked, and on arrival had land allotted to them. Everything was carefully supervised, and apparently a fair measure of success was / obtained. The authorities were very careful to explain that their motive was the diversion from the United States of inevitable emigration—a motive which was as much stressed then as now. Bathurst terms it “too obvious to require observation’’, “one of the great objects of His Majesty’s Government” and so on. It is very explicitly stated in the official notice of the discontinuance of free passages that it cannot be too much impressed on the minds of applicants that the wishes and instructions of Government are directed not to the increase of emigration from this part of the united kingdom [i.e., Scotland] but to direct to the British Provinces in North America, the surplus population that would otherwise proceed to the United States”. Letters having “diversion” for their theme rained upon the government. Typical examples are those of a Mr. Bell (June 22, 1814) from Scotland, who claims that the system of farming in vogue is drawing men overseas daily and that free passages will take them to Canada in preference to the United States; and of the lieutenant-governor of Guernsey (April 21, 1816), who forwards a long list of Channel Islanders who will go to the United States if some inducement to go to Canada be not given them.

The Hundred Days put a stop to government aid to emigrants; under the altered circumstances, writes Bathurst five days before Waterloo, no government encouragement to go to Canada is for the present to he given to anybody, and the administrator need not expect nearly as many families as it had previously been intended to send.18 This cessation of an active colonizing policy, it was thougnt, was only temporary; but, as it turned out, direct aid, insofar as free passages and other direct assumption of expense by the Home government went, was not resumed. The need for economy at home, and perhaps the influence of those land-holders hostile to a policy which threatened to rob them ol their tenants, brought the movement to a close; on March 23, 1810, official notice was given that no more free passages would be provided. A despatch of the following summer curtailed aid , to the land grant alone,f0 and a recommendation of Sherbrooke’s that settlers be given subsistence for one year after arrival met with a discouraging negative. The following spring a few were given agricultural implements (at the province’s expense), and free land was given to approved settlers, who, by the way, had to leave England before June I2 but thereafter, with every outward despatch, the need for economy is inculcated. The era of paternal colonization ends.

What followed it? If we look for any broad and well-defined policy of emigration and settlement, we shall be disappointed. Whatever policy there was, was a hand-to-mouth policy, based on parsimony; of organized effort to colonize and settle the new country, there was none. In fact, English public opinion seemed to be quite hostile to the colonization of Canada, even when privately undertaken. A prevailing view was that British North America must, sooner or later, be absorbed by the United States, and that money and men sent there would thus be wasted. Hence we find The Times (April 5, 1817) contending that North America is no proper place for British emigration. In another war, Canada could not be defended and would be lost outright, together with its British population. If it could be defended the emigration of disbanded soldiers and the unemployed might be in order, but in any case emigrants passed over to the United States and became a net loss to the Empire. “The Western Hemisphere from Hudson’s- Bay to the Straits of Magellan seems destined by Providence for other nations.” Such extreme opinions were probably not representative, but they help to explain why the authorities were unwilling to adopt an aggressive policy.

Towards the end of 1817, the Colonial Office began to discriminate against the poor emigrant. Persons to be favoured were now to be those “who shall be possessed of some means to carry out and maintain a certain number of Cultivators ”.M As securities would be required from these people, it was hoped that the evils occasioned by the influx of needy emigrants during the last year would be obviated. In 1817 there had been 6,800 immigrants, neatly all desperately poor; great numbers were maintained at the colonial government’s expense and by charity.24 Insomuch as this policy determined that the Canadas were not to be a happy hunting ground for the Motherland’s poor, it was sound. Unfortunately, it did not last, and in succeeding years British America again became the objective for hordes of hungry paupers, while the well-to-do tended to go to the United States. In 1818 the policy was reaffirmed.25 One of the first settlers to proceed under it was a Mr. Milburn, who was recommended to Sherbrooke by Bathurst (as all settlers of this type were supposed to he) and noted as leaving for Canada with a number of “followers” and as a suitable person for a grant. No further change in the official attitude arose during 1819, the end of the period under review.

We have now reviewed the characteristic policies and opinions of the authorities, both home and colonial, in respect to immigration into Canada during the five years’ post-war period. We have found little of a constructive nature, but despite the absence of lead or encouragement, immigration steadily grew. In 1816, there came by sea to Canada 1,250 immigrants; in 1817, 6,800; in 1818, 8,400; in 1819,12,800; and thereafter increasing numbers. Canada had emerged somewhat from the total obscurity of prewar days, and had begun a period of sound growth.

A. R. M. Lower


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