Gateway to the Classics: Growth of the British Empire by M. B. Synge
Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge

The Story of Canada

"I listen long,

. . . . . . . and think I hear

The sound of that advancing multitude

Which soon shall fill these deserts."

— William Cullen Bryant

W HILE England was planting new colonies in South Africa, let us see how her older colonies in Canada were progressing.

In the year 1759, when Wolfe had conquered on the heights of Abraham, and France had reluctantly ceded her North American territories to England, Canada was, after all, a very small possession, populated by some 60,000 French Roman Catholics.

To-day, right across the map of North America, from ocean to ocean, from the boundary of the United States to the silent regions of the icy Arctic Sea, stretches the Dominion of Canada, Kipling's "Lady of the Snows," England's loyal colony, Britain's granary. Let us trace her rapid growth, learn how she attained her present greatness, and successfully realised the ideal of federation.

A feat of arms had captured Canada, but not the French population in the country. Every man had borne arms against the English; every man regarded the invaders as enemies of God and king. Montcalm himself had said, they would be deprived of their laws and customs, their religion and language.

"If you are conquered by Englishmen," he had told them, "you will have to become English yourselves."

But he was mistaken. England at once passed a famous Act, known as the Quebec Act, which allowed the French Canadians to do very much as they had done before, and with this, they were content. So content indeed, that when the thirteen American Colonies, which afterwards became the United States, declared war with the mother country, the Canadians remained loyal to the British flag. The war over, and the Declaration of Independence made known, a long melancholy procession of loyalist refugees, made their way from the United States to Canada. These, having remained faithful to the mother country, were now denounced as traitors. They were known in Canada as the United Empire Loyalists, and were practically the founders of Ontario or Upper Canada. They settled in Nova Scotia, in Newfoundland, in Prince Edward Island, 10,000 toiled up the St Lawrence; they passed Quebec, they passed Montreal, they reached the shores of Lake Ontario. Captivated by the beauty and fertility of the region, they settled in the wilderness, and Kingston sprang up to commemorate their loyalty. To each United Empire Loyalist was given 200 acres, an axe, hoe and spade, a plough and a cow, and rations for three years. By 1784, some 10,000 loyalists had made their homes in Upper Canada. Such a sudden increase of population made it necessary to readjust the Government, in order to prevent difficulties between the English and French settlers. Accordingly the colony was divided into two provinces, Upper Canada or Ontario, consisting, for the most part, of English, Scottish, and Irish colonists, Lower Canada or Quebec, of French.

It was Christmas Day, 1791. Quebec was brilliantly illuminated, for the new Act was to come into force this day. There was much friction between French and English. Feeling ran high, and a riot seemed inevitable. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, son of George III., father of Queen Victoria, was in the city. Seeing the danger, he made himself known, and standing in a prominent place he called for silence. Then in pure French he shouted—

"Can there be any man among you that does not take the king to be the father of his people?"

"God save the King!" was the enthusiastic cry.

"Is there any man among you that does not look on the new Constitution as the best possible?"

The loyal shouts were repeated.

"Part, then, in peace," cried the king's son, "and let me hear no more of the odious distinction English and French. You are all his Britannic Majesty's Canadian subjects."

His words acted as magic, and happily for Canada his wise advice has always been followed. To-day English, French, and many another nationality live contentedly side by side, sharing all things alike under a free government. Land having been granted to emigrants in Upper Canada on liberal terms, they flocked thither from the United States, until the population had risen to 30,000. This created a movement westward along the shores of the lakes, and a settlement was made at Toronto, on Lake Ontario, which is now the second city in the Dominion. On these northern shores, the settlers lived in rude abundance. The virgin soil brought forth plentifully, deer roamed in the forest, wild-fowl swarmed in the marshes, while rivers and lakes teemed with fish.

So the years passed on, till 1812, when the United States declared war on England and invaded Canada. The Canadians rose as one man to defend their 1500 miles of frontier, and the Americans gained nothing. With the peace of Europe and the exile of Napoleon to St Helena, a great immigration took place from England, Scotland, and Ireland to Canada. Crowded ships brought thousands of peasants, to make fresh homes in the vast wilderness, until Manitoba was ringing with the settler's axe and the air was black with the smoke of many fires.

So matters continued till 1837—the year of Queen Victoria's accession—when the country broke from a state of simmering discontent, into open rebellion. Beginning among the English and Scottish settlers in Upper Canada, it was no small wonder it should spread to the French of Lower Canada—the "Sons of Liberty," as they now called themselves. While the unhappy colonists were shedding their blood in this armed rebellion, a British statesman, representing Queen Victoria, was sailing westward from England, to suggest a remedy for this unfortunate state of affairs.

Lord Durham arrived at Quebec on May 29, 1838, with much splendour and the brightest prospects. The story of his short administration in Canada is one of the most pathetic in history. He saved Canada, but he died in deep disgrace, before his ability had been realised. He at once began his colossal task in the style of a Dictator. "A very Caesar laying down the lines for the future of a province could hardly have been more boldly arbitrary." He had the leaders of the rebellion transported to Bermuda. Having thus cleared the decks for action, he began to remodel the colony. His task was scarcely begun, when his recall was loudly demanded. He had acted with too high a hand, cried men in England. He must come home at once. Then Lord Durham quietly made his great Report on Canada—one of the greatest state documents in existence to-day. It showed a masterly grasp of the situation, and suggested, that the only solution of the problem was the union of Upper and Lower Canada into one province. He proposed to make the Canadas self-governing, and he prepared the way for that federal union, which took place in 1867. Then he returned to England, to be bitterly attacked by those less far-seeing than himself. His proud and sensitive nature could ill bear the humiliations forced upon it.

The provinces of Upper and Lower Canada were united by law on July 23, 1840. Five days later, Lord Durham, the man who had saved the country's liberties, died, broken-hearted, at the early age of forty-eight.

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