Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter XXII. Canada on the Eve of Rebellion

SIR JOHN COLBORNE succeeded the unpopular Maitland in Upper Canada. When Parliament met, i( was found that the I Assembly consisted almost entirely of Reformers. Mackenzie was perpetually harassing the Family Compact Executive by asking all kinds of awkward questions, no less than by his eloquent advocacy of the Assembly's right to control all the revenues of the Province. For, with the growth of prosperity in the colony, the territorial revenues which were still retained by Government had increased so much that the executive had now a civil list of their own, and were independent of the popular branch of the Legislature.

It will be observed that the grievances objected to by the Reform party in Upper and Lower Canada were the same, but it would be untrue to conclude that the political aims of Reformers in the two Provinces were identical. Both complained of the tyranny of the irresponsible executive; and both wished the Legislature to have full control of the public revenue. But while the Upper Canada Reformers desired, as the result of a radical change in these respects, the equality of all citizens irrespective of creed or race, those of Lower Canada wished to get power into their own hands in order to tighten the bonds of race and creed exclusiveness, to isolate themselves more completely in their Provincial-French nationality, to exclude from equal share of power and place those English-speaking settlers in Quebec, and Montreal who had waked the slow -going old colony into active industrial life, but whom the Canadian sneered at as aliens and intruders. It would be an abuse of language to call Papineau and his followers "Liberal." A new member of the Assembly who had been elected to represent Toronto now began to exert considerable influence. His father, Dr. Baldwin, had left his native Cork in the heat of the troubles of 1798, and sometime after his arrival in Canada had come to Toronto, near which he built a house called by the. name Spadina, a name still preserved by the stately avenue which stretches its broad highway from Knox College to the lake. Dr. Baldwin practised law as well as medicine, a union of several professions, not uncommon in those primitive times of Toronto's history. Dr. William Baldwin did not seem to be of aristocratic family or to be received as such by the exclusive coterie of the Family Compact. His first venture in Toronto was that of a private schoolmaster. It is probable that his exclusion from what were then regarded as the aristocratic circles of the capital of English Canada determined Dr. Baldwin's mind in the direction of that Liberalism afterwards so ably advocated by his celebrated son. But by the death of the Hon. Peter Russell, a large estate, in what is now western Toronto, fell into the hands of his sister, a maiden lady, who thought lit to bequeath it to Dr. Baldwin, who then became a rich man and a person of consequence. Like most parvenus, he seemed to be bent on "founding a family," and resolved that "there should be forever a Baldwin of Spadina." The original house thus grandiloquently described stood on the corner of Spadina Avenue and Oxford Street. Having been built before the property was laid out, it stood with the gable end to the street. The son of this gentleman, Robert Baldwin, commanded general respect by his unimpeachable integrity and honesty of purpose, no less than by his political good sense, which, while it made him side with the Reform party on all the main issues, preserved him from "the falsehood of extremes," and the Reformers of Upper Canada were now beginning to form into two distinct camps. On the one side, were the moderate men w ho were determined, come what would, to seek their constitutional aims by constitutional means. Of these Robert Baldwin was now the recognized leader. The other section of the Reform party was led by Mackenzie, whose influence was great, especially all through the county of York, and through most part of the counties of Brant and Oxford. Indeed, the farmer population generally, with the exception of the Orangemen, now a factor of some influence in the community, and the Anglican Church people, were assiduous readers of the Colonial Advocate, and sympathizers with Mackenzie.

Meanwhile, the stream of immigrants continued to pour into Canada. Large numbers of Catholic Irish settled in Peterborough and the central part of Upper Canada. These, as a rule, favoured the Reform party. Many Ulster Protestants also took up land, sturdy and thrifty colonists, whose love of constitutional freedom inclined them to join the moderate Reformers, while the hatred they had learned to feel for the Irish "rebels," kept them thoroughly in the groove of loyalty. The population of Upper Canada in 1831 had reached a quarter of a million. At the election of 1830 the Family Compact exerted every influence that a large corruption fund placed at their disposal to secure a majority of their own supporters in the Assembly. Their tactics were successful. Mackenzie moved a resolution that the House ought to nominate its own chaplain, instead of having the choice of the Executive forced upon them. But the Assembly by a three-fourths vote, refused to allow the motion, and the Family Compact Attorney-General, Boulton, compared the claim that the House should appoint its own chaplain to the conduct of a street assassin, to which rabid insult the Assembly tamely submitted. Mackenzie then moved for a committee of inquiry into the state of legislative representation in the Province of Upper Canada. It was bad indeed, a House packed with Family Compact officials, the mere creatures and mouthpieces of the Executive Council. Mackenzie's unanswerable exposure of the corruption of the existing system so alarmed the House that they consented to his motion for inquiry amid applause from the public in the gallery of the House. But Mackenzie would not stop there ; pension lists, fees, sinecurists, salaries, money abuses of all kinds so rife in that Augean stable of corruption, the Family Compact Government, were attacked and exposed in speeches whose scathing common sense struck home and were carried broadcast over the Province in the columns of the Colonial Advocate. At last, driven to despair, the Family Compact resolved to crush the man whom they could not answer. A committee headed by Allan MacNab, the Attorney General, endeavoured to impeach Mackenzie for breach of privilege, but their case broke down. Mackenzie now continued to spread the agitation for Reform all through the Province. He spoke to excited multitudes in Gait, in Cornwall, and Brockville. His success in rousing the people's mind was great, even in the heart of such Family Compact centres as Brockville and the Talbot settlement. He now prepared a petition in Toronto, asking that the Assembly might have full control of the public revenues and of the sale of public lands ; that the clergy reserves might be secularized ; that municipal councils might be established ; that the right to impeach public officials might be conceded; that judges and clergymen might be excluded from Parliament; and the law of primogeniture repealed. To this petition 25,000 signatures were appended. All that Mackenzie asked has long been part of the law of Canada. We scarcely realize the benefits of our free institutions, because we take them, like light and air, as a matter of course. It is well to remind ourselves of what we owe to those who struggled in the bitterness of patient battle, not fifty years ago, against corruption entrenched in power. But the Family Compact, having now secured a majority of its own creatures in the Assembly, resolved to make use of it to crush their enemy. Some pungent and not very indicious strictures on the Assembly's reception of petitions from the people were, by a vote of the House, construed as a libel. By another vote Mackenzie was expelled from the Assembly. In the debate on this question Attorney-General Boulton called Mackenzie "a reptile," and Solicitor General Hagerman compared him to a spaniel dog. Mackenzie rose to the height of his popularity; petition after petition poured in to the Governor entreating him to dissolve the corrupt Assembly. 'On the day of Mackenzie's dismissal one hundred and thirty of those who had signed the petition waited on the Governor to receive his reply. It was given hi two or three curt, contemptuous words. The troops were ready armed, artillery men stood beside the loaded cannon, prepared, at a moment's notice, to sweep the streets with grapeshot. It was well that the crowd of Canadian Reformers was perfectly orderly, as the chivalrous English Governor was fully prepared for the massacre of men, women and children within range of his guns. But the Assembly now attempted to bid for popularity; they voted an address to the Crown, praying that the clergy reserves might be secularized for the purpose of education. They then issued the writs for York County, but Mackenzie was returned by acclamation. Again they expelled him from the Assembly; again he was triumphantly returned. In 1832 Mackenzie went to England with his petition.

In 1834 the Tower Canadians embodied their grievances m the famous "ninety-two resolutions," chiefly drawn up by Papineau. The effect of i hese on the Imperial Parliament was to appoint a committee who reported that the successive Governors had done their duty ; that the troubles in Lower Canada were due to the quarrels between the two Houses of the Legislature. This was to shelve the difficulty, and it was now evident that the Lower Canadian Reformers would, sooner or later, revolt. In 1835 Lord Aylmer was succeeded by the Earl of Gosford, but he did not produce more effect than his predecessors on the heated passions of the French. Papineau, who aspired to be the Mirabeau of Lower Canada, was, for the moment, all powerful. In 1837 it became evident that the revolt was inevitable. Gosford learned that Papineau was organizing societies for the pur pose of insurrectionary drill, and applied to Sir Colin Campbell, Governor of Nova Scotia, for a regiment, which was accordingly sent. Meanwhile, throughout the country parishes, drilling and arming went on openly. But the priesthood, whom the abolition of the Catholic Church by the French revolutionists had taught to hate the name of Republic, were frightened at Papineau's republican projects. He had provoked the opposition of a power whose hold on the French Canadian peasant was mightier than his own.

The first collision with the authorities took place in Montreal, where a republican society, called the "Sons of Liberty," were attacked while walking in procession. They were easily put to flight, and warrants were issued for the arrest of Papineau and twenty-six other leaders. Papineau sought shelter at the house of one of his Parliamentary colleagues, Dr. Wolfred Nelson, in the heart of the disaffected district. General Colborne, determining to check .the insurrection at the outset, sent Colonel Gore, a Waterloo veteran, to attack St. Denis with a force of two hundred infantry, a troop of militia cavalry, and three field pieces.

Return to 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