An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XVIII.—The Founding of Upper Canada—To 1809


Lord Dorchester (Sir Guy Carleton), Governor-General of British North America-1787. The Constitutional Act divides Canada and reconstructs its Constitution -1791. Early Legislation in Upper Canada—Choice of a Capital--York (Toronto) Founded-1795. Major-General Hunter, Lieut.-Governor-1799. Internal Development—Growth of Political Parties—Francis Gore, Lieut.-Governor —1806. Social Organization - Education, Religion, etc.

In 1787, Sir Guy Carleton, now Lord Dorchester, became Governor-General of British North America. The Canadian colonists demanded the same constitutional privileges as were enjoyed by the Maritime Provinces. The Habeas Corpus and trial by jury in civil cases were secured to them by statute law. But they wished also an elective Legislative Assembly, instead of a crown-appointed Legislative Council, and a larger measure of constitutional liberty.

In 1791, Lord Grenville introduced into the House of Lords a bill, known as the Constitutional Act, for the adjustment of Canadian affairs. It divided Canada into two provinces by a line coinciding chiefly with the Ottawa River. In Western or Upper Canada, British law, both civil and criminal, and freehold land tenure were introduced. In Eastern or Lower Canada, the seigniorial tenure and French law in civil cases were retained. In each province a government was constituted, consisting of an elective Legislative Assembly, and a Legislative Council and Governor appointed by the crown. One-seventh of the land was also reserved for the use of the crown, and one-seventh for the maintenance of the Protestant clergy—a provision which gave rise to much subsequent trouble and agitation.

John Graves Simcoe was appointed first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, and entrusted with the inauguration of the new constitution. He was a landed gentleman, a member of the English House of Commons, and held the rank of Brigadier in the army. He had assisted in passing the Constitutional Act, and was anxious to. see it successfully carried out. His administration was honest, prudent, energetic, and public-spirited He established his seat of government at Newark, a village of about a hundred houses, at the mouth of the Niagara River. The first Parliament of Upper Canada assembled on the 17th of September, 1792. The Assembly consisted of sixteen, and the Legislative Council of seven members—plain, homespun-clad farmers or merchants, from the plough or store.

Deeming Newark too near the American frontier for the capital of the province, Governor Simcoe looked for a more eligible site. He wished to found a new London in the heart of the Western District, on the banks of the winding Thames. Lord Dorchester favoured the claims of Kingston, which he made the principal naval and military station of the province As a compromise, York was selected, chiefly on account of its excellent harbour, although the land was low and swampy. The growth and prosperity of the noble city of Toronto vindicate the wisdom of the choice.

Parliament continued to sit at Newark till 1797. The principal Acts provided for civil and municipal administration, for the construction of roads, fixing of duties, millers' tolls, and the like. Rewards of twenty and ten shillings, respectively, were offered for wolves' and bears' heads, which is suggestive of the forest perils of the times. The payment of members of parliament was fixed at ten shillings per day. The introduction of slaves was forbidden, and their term of servitude limited, ten years before similar legislation in Lower Canada.

Governor Simcoe removed to York in 1795, before a house was built, lodging temporarily in a canvas tent or pavilion,1 pitched on the plateau overlooking the western end of the bay. In 1797, the Provincial Legislature was opened in a wooden building near the River Don, whose site is commemorated by the name of Parliament Street; but the founder of Toronto had previously been transferred to the government of San Domingo. He had projected a vigorous policy for the encouragement of agriculture, fisheries, and internal development. On his removal most of these wise schemes fell through. Land designed for settlement was seized by speculators, and the general development of the country was greatly retarded.

Mr. Russell, the senior member of the Executive Council, 1799, ministered the government till the arrival of Major-General Hunter, who held office , for the ensuing six years. The progress of the country in trade, population, and the development of its resources, was rapid. The tide of immigration steadily increased. The Irish troubles of "'98 " especially led many hardy settlers to seek new homes in the virgin wilds of Canada. In 1803, Colonel Talbot, an eccentric British officer, received a grant of five thousand acres of land on Lake Erie, on condition of placing a settler on every two hundred acres. For many years he kept a sort of feudal state in his forest community. The obstructions of the St. Lawrence made communication with Montreal and Quebec more difficult than with Albany and New York. A brisk lake trade therefore sprang up, and additional ports of entry were established, which fostered the prosperity of the growing settlements of Cornwall, Brock-ville, Kingston, York, Niagara, Amherstburg, and other frontier towns.

As the province increased in wealth and population, the evils of a practically irresponsible government began to be felt. The Executive Council, composed of the Governor and five of his nominees, removable at his pleasure, gradually absorbed the whole administrative influence of the colony. The official Gazette, the only representative of the public press, was in the hands of the Government, as was also the whole of the revenue of the province. The Legislative Assembly, therefore, could exercise no check by annual votes of supply. Many poor gentlemen, half-pay officers, and others of similar character from the mother country, sought to better their fortunes in the new colony. By birth and training they were unfitted to cope with the hardships of backwoods life. They soon engrossed, almost entirely, the departmental offices, for which, by education and previous position, they were especially adapted, or became hangers on and zealous supporters of the Government, while they looked down with a sort of aristocratic exclusiveness on the uncultivated, and perhaps sometimes uncouth, hard-working yeomanry of the country.

Others, with a wiser policy, adapted themselves to their altered circumstances and to the condition of the province. While learning to swing the axe and hold the plough, they preserved, amid the rudest surroundings, the tastes and instincts of gentlemen. They became, from their education and cultivated manners, centres of influence and leaders of opinion in the rural communities in which they lived, which tacitly conceded a superiority which they would never have yielded had it been directly asserted.

The sturdy yeomanry not unnaturally regarded with jealousy and aversion the former of these classes, and allied themselves with the latter as their legitimate leaders and friends. Thus early in the century the origin of parties may be traced in Upper Canada—on the one hand, the zealous supporters of an irresponsible executive; on the other, the advocates of a larger measure of constitutional liberty.

Mr. Hunter was succeeded as Governor by Francis Gore, Esq. His personal character was estimable and his purposes honest. In his ignorance of the country he depended on his Council for information and advice. These gentlemen, not unnaturally, endeavoured to maintain the privileges of their order and of their friends. In 1811, Mr. Gore returned to England, leaving the temporary administration of government in the hands of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's forces in the province.

Meanwhile the country had steadily prospered, undisturbed in its forest isolation by the great European war, which was deluging with blood a hundred battle-fields and desolating thousands of homes. By the year 1809 the population had increased to about seventy thousand. The chief commercial want was a paper currency and banking facilities. * Popular education was at a low ebb, although a grammar school had been established in each of the eight districts into which the province was now divided. The people lived in rude abundance, the virgin soil brought forth plentifully, deer roamed in the forest, wild fowl swarmed in marsh and mere, and the lakes and rivers teemed with the finest fish. Homespun and often hoine-woven frieze or flannel furnished warm and serviceable clothing.

The houses, chiefly of logs, rough or squared with the axe, though rude, were not devoid of homely comfort. The furniture, except in towns and villages, was mostly homemade. Oxen were largely employed in tilling the soil, and dragging the rude waggons over rough roads. The fields were studded with blackened stumps, and the girdling forest ever bounded the horizon or swept around the scanty clearing. The grain was reaped with the sickle or scythe, threshed with the flail, and winnowed by the wind. Grist mills being almost unknown, it was generally ground in the steel hand-mills furnished by the Government, or pounded in a large mortar, hollowed out of a hardwood stump, by means of a wooden pestle attached to a spring beam.

The roads were often only blazed paths through the forest,'supported on transverse corduroy logs where they passed through a swamp or marsh. The "Governor's Road," as it was called, traversed the length of the province, along the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario, and westward to Amherstburg. Yonge Street extended from York to Holland River. Much of the early legislation had reference to the construction of roads and bridges, chiefly by statute labour. The judges and crown lawyers made their circuits, when possible, in Government schooners, and the assize furnished an opportunity of reviving for a time in the country towns the half-forgotten gaieties of fashionable society. In the aristocratic circles of York a mimic representation of Old World court life was observed, with only partial success.

Before the war there were only four clergymen of the Church of England in Upper Canada. A few Methodist and Presbyterian ministers toiled through the wilderness to visit the scattered flocks committed to their care. Amid the not altogether propitious circumstances were nourished that patriotic and sturdy yeomanry that did doughty battle for Britain in the approaching war, and many of those noble characters that illustrated the future annals of their country; and then were laid the foundations of that goodly civilization amid which we live to-day.


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