Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XXIII. - After the War - Upper Canada - To 1836


Francis Gore, Esq., Lieut.-Governor—1815. The Clergy Reserve grievance —The "Family Compact" —Its status and influence — Robert Gourlay agitates against Crown Land administration - Sir Peregrine Maitland, Lieut.-Governor-1818. The Rev. Dr. Strachan, a member of the Legislative Council—William Lyon Mackenzie —His printing office wrecked—1826. Sir John Colborne, Lieutenant-Governor—1829. Robert Baldwin becomes a Reform leader— Toronto Incorporated —1834. Mackenzie first Mayor- Sir Francis Bond Head, Lieutenant-Governor—1836.

In Upper Canada, at the close of the war, General Drummond was succeeded in the administration of the government by Generals Murray and Robinson, for a couple of months each, till the return of its former civilian Governor, Francis Gore, Esq., September 25th, 1815. A good deal of dissatisfaction was felt at the delay in giving the promised grants of land to the volunteers and militia, and at the exclusive claim of the Church of England to one-seventh of the public lands of the province, set apart for the "support of a Protestant clergy." It was felt that these "reserves" constituted too large a proportion of the territory of the country; that their reservation retarded its settlement; and that their appropriation for the exclusive advantage of any denomination was a practical injustice to all others, and introduced into the mixed population of Canada the social and religious inequalities and jealousies inseparable from the existence of an endowed and established State Church.

We have seen how, before the war, the principal offices of trust, honour and emolument were largely engrossed by an aristocratic party. This party, which from the intimate social relations of its leading spirits became known as the "Family Compact," was greatly strengthened during and after the war, and almost entirely controlled the executive administration of the province. Its adherents formed the majority of the Legislative Assembly, and were often placemen whose votes maintained the monopoly of power in the hands of their patrons. This "Compact" was extremely unpopular with a large proportion of the population, especially with many of the British and American immigrants, and a prolonged struggle resulted in the overthrow of its authority, and the establishment of the principles of responsible government.

One of the earliest and most vigorous opponents of the Family Compact was Robert Gourlay, a Scottish immigrant of an energetic and ambitious, yet eccentric character. For the purpose of establishing himself as a land agent, and in order to promote immigration on an extensive scale, he addressed a series of statistical questions to the principal inhabitants of each municipality. The answers received disclosed serious abuses in the management of the crown lands and clergy reserves. Mr. Gourlay called a convention, at York, of delegates from the townships, for the purpose of # 1818 a petition to the Imperial Parliament for the redress of these grievances. For expressions in his petition and addresses deemed libellous, Gourlay was twice put on his trial and as often acquitted. He afterwards suffered a long imprisonment on charge of sedition, and was expelled from the country through the strained interpretation of the Alien Act of 1804, which was designed to check the political influence of immigrants from the United States.

In the meanwhile Mr. Gore had been succeeded as Governor by Sir Peregrine Maitland, the son-in-law of the Duke of Richmond, the Governor-General.

The union of the Canadas, proposed in the Imperial Parliament as an adjustment of their conflicting claims, was generally favoured in the upper province ; but as we have seen, in consequence of the intense opposition of the French population of Lower Canada, the proposition for the time was withdrawn. A standing grievance of the western province was the collection at Montreal and Quebec of the revenue duties imposed by Lower Canada on all imports— of which at first only one-eighth, and afterwards one-fifth, were refunded to Upper Canada. As the latter grew in wealth and population, and its imports increased in value, this was felt to be a growing injustice. The Canada Trade Act of 1822 more equitably distributed these duties and removed this grievance. It restored to the upper province £30,000 of arrears due by Lower Canada.

Several steamboats now sailed on the lakes and on the St. Lawrence, but the passage of the rapids was made in large flat "Durham boats," which were generally sold at Montreal or Quebec to save the expense of time and toil in returning against the strong current. The Lachine and Rideau Canals were now approaching completion, and the Welland Canal was projected. Agricultural societies greatly improved the mode of tillage, which was still very imperfect. Farm produce brought scarcely remunerative prices, and the growth of hemp and tobacco received a good deal of attention. Agricultural implements were still of very rude construction, and labour-saving machines, such as reapers and mowers, Were unknown. Our public school system had already been established, 1816, and was aided in its infancy by legislative grants.

In 1821, five new members were added to the Legislative Council—one of whom was a man who was destined to exert a powerful influence on the history of Canada. The Rev. Dr. Strachan, who became in 1839 the first Anglican Bishop of Upper Canada, was the son of humble Scottish parents, members of the Presbyterian Kirk. He received some classical training and became a tutor, first in Scotland, and afterwards at Kingston, in Canada. He subsequently taught the grammar school at Cornwall, joined the Church of England, and became, in rapid succession, rector of York, chaplain to the Legislative Assembly and member of the Legislative Council. When raised to the episcopal dignity, his missionary zeal and energy largely contributed to the extension and prosperity of the Church of England in this country, on whose behalf he also exerted his political influence.

Indications were not wanting that popular reaction was taking place against the party in power. The general election of 1824 resulted in favour of the Reform party, as it now began to be called. Among the members elected were Dr. Rolph, Peter Perry and Marshal Bidwell, prominent champions of popular rights, to prevent whose return the Family Compact had made every effort.

The chief thorn in the side of the hitherto dominant party, however, was a new "grievance monger" of the Gourlay stamp. William Lyon Mackenzie, born 1795, was the son of humble Perthshire parents. After a somewhat restless and erratic career in the old country, he emigrated in his twenty-fifth year to Canada. After a varied experience at storekeeping in Toronto, Dundas and Niagara, he found at last his true vocation as a journalist. His intense hatred of injustice, and his natural impetuosity of disposition hurried him into intemperance of expression and action. His remarkable industry in ferreting out abuses—which were only too easily found;—and his pungent style of editorial criticism, made the Colonial Advocate particularly obnoxious to the party*in power. During a temporary absence from home his printing office at York was sacked, his press wrecked, and his type scattered by some young men connected with the dominant party, which had taken offence at the biting criticism of his paper upon some of their public acts. He sued the aggressors for damages, and received the award of <£625. He also won popularity as a champion of popular rights, and was shortly after returned a Reform member of the Assembly for the county of York.

Sir John Colborne, a gentleman of somewhat stern military character, who had succeeded as Governor Sir Pere-18^9 Srine ^laitland, transferred to Lower Canada, met a new Parliament more outspoken in its opposition to the Executive Council than any that had preceded it. The "Compact" sustained a defeat in its stronghold in the election of Robert Baldwin over its candidate, Mr. Charles Small, for the representation, of the town of York. Mr. Baldwin, who was a native of the town which he now represented, during the entire course of his public life commanded the esteem of both political parties. His personal integrity, his legal ability, his singular moderation, enabled him, as has been admirably said, "to lead his country through a great constitutional crisis into an era of larger and more matured liberty."

The struggle for "Responsible Government" had now begun. Mackenzie's perpetual grievance motions were continually unearthing abuses that needed correction. Pension lists, official salaries, the corrupt constitution of the House, were all attacked with stinging sarcasm. The inequalities of representation were glaring. One member had only thirty constituents. The members for York and Lanark represented more persons than the members for fifteen other constituencies. The House was filled with placemen—postmasters, sheriffs, registrars, revenue officers and collectors.

Outside of the House Mackenzie was equally active. He traversed the country, held public meetings, and circulated petitions to the throne, which were signed by nearly twenty-five thousand persons, praying for the secularization of the clergy reserves, for law reform, for the exclusion of judges and the clergy from parliament, for the abolition of primogeniture, for the legislative control of public moneys, and for other reforms which have long since become the law of the land. A caustic article in the Colonial Advocate was deemed a breach of parliamentary privilege, and Mackenzie was expelled from the House. He was triumphantly returned again, and presented with a gold medal. Within a week he was again expelled, and within another he was re-elected by an immense majority, and was sent to England to support the petition to the .King for the redress of grievances. On his return he was again three times expelled from the Assembly, and as often returned by large majorities. He was also made mayor of Toronto, now incorporated as a city. The Family Compact lost influence with each defeat of their candidate, and Sir John Colborne, unable to control the rising tide of political agitation, requested his recall, and was succeeded by Sir Francis Bond Head.


Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus