New Colonies

The Canadas


Although the focus was in the Maritime east, Sir Alexander Mackenzie showed the way to the Arctic in 1789 and then went onto the Pacific: Alex Mackenzie from Canada by land 22d July 1793.  Canadian fortunes improved by the arrival of 100,000 loyal British colonists. The loyalists fled the Americans' Revolution and were given generous land grants in Canada. They continue to be a significant voice in New Brunswick if, today somewhat muted in Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Québec) by later immigrants. Those former 7,000 American colonials, however, were the first white people to settle in Upper Canada, underscoring our earlier Canadian debt to France. It was those early British settlers who built Toronto and both the Boultons and the Elmsleys were early residents. Amongst the Loyalists who migrated to Montréal was Major General Sir John Johnson, 2 Baronet of New York, the Johnsons were finished in the Mohawk Valley.

European immigration continued and greatly increased the populations of both America and Canada. When the war was over and idealism was declared, the immigrants vastly favoured America, which increased in population from three million in 1760 to 7 1/4 million in 1810 and to 11 1/2 in 1820. By this point one million Canadians were opening up British North America. The Hudson Bay Company and its land became a prime target for a power struggle.[1] The British felt that they were providing America economic support by fighting against Napoleon. Many Britons further felt that the American Revolutionary success had been much less certain than was generally felt in America. Thus, aggravating patronisation and high-handed treatment increased the willingness for another fight. A series of British governments assented to blockade France and search all ships. This was backed by acts to protect British trade and economy and created a need to man the fleet. As Britain saw it, impressing American sailors was vital considering that many British sailors were known to jump ship in American ports and claim citizenship. Not surprisingly, Americans saw British attitudes as protectionist and President Jefferson wrote "...We must save the Union, but we wish to sacrifice as little as possible of the honour of the Nation."[2] That probably summarised the entire cause for America: honour. Free trade and sailors rights was the populist phrase of the times, which meant a land war in Canada since America could not attack Britain.

If the Revolution decided citizenship for French Canadians, the War of 1812 did so for the Loyalists. They had considerable sympathy for their former neighbours and little loyalty for the Family Compact, which ran Upper Canada at York, future Toronto. (The name was taken from the Huron Indian language for 'fishing weir'.) Québec was divided into the separate colonies of Upper and Lower Canada in 1791 and Sir John Johnson, active in the American War, was proposed as the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. But it was Colonel John Graves Simcoe who became the architect of future Ontario. He forced the establishment of a corps of men for military service who would help build roads, bridges and barracks, and navigate military craft.[3] The corps was formed into a regiment called The Queen's Rangers and grants of land inducements were made to ensure manpower and colonisation. The beginning of Fort York, the Glengarry Fencibles and militia were established by August 1812. These preparations seemed necessary because of the American threats against Canada and the Western Indians refusal to make peace with the Americans, after the War of Independence.

The War of 1812: 1812-1814

Napoleon dominated European affairs from 1800 and the Americans exploited the opportunity for carrying trade between Europe and the French and Spanish islands in the West Indies. In 1805, a British court ruled that US ships did not circumvent prohibitions the seizure of American ships by Great Britain increased, and Britain blockaded Europe. Napoleon implemented the Continental System and the American merchant fleet was threatened with confiscation by both sides, but the British impressed sailors from American ships. Despite the infringement of American rights, President Jefferson still hoped for a peaceful settlement. In fact the real issue was not neutral rights but the lust for free Western land, which could only be had from the Indians and the British. Finally, in 1811, a radical American group dreamed of expelling the British from Canada, and by American Southerners who wanted to take West Florida from the Spanish.

In Canada in 1802, Major General Sir Isaac Brock was appointed commander-in-chief and Lieutenant Governor in 1810, replacing John Simcoe. The Governor was Sir George Prevost. In respect of defensive capability, in a letter to Lord Liverpool, Prevost stated that " might not be prudent to arm more than 4,000."[4] American noises about Canada being 'ripe for the picking' and Monroe's Manifest Destiny doctrine of continental control were not far wrong. Brock improved the militia with special training and selected men. President Madison declared war against Britain on 18 June, 1812.[5] Three separate land and an additional three naval theatres resulted.[6]

The Niagara Region: c1814





The American Commander in Chief was Major General Henry Dearborn, a Revolutionary Bunker Hill veteran. His plan was for separate invasion routes across the Detroit River, the Niagara River and against Montréal, the source of Canadian strength. It was not considered a good plan because it concentrated British resources while extending American supply lines.[7] The Niagara frontier had only recently been settled by 'Loyalist' British colonials during the American Revolution, and there was reason for the Americans to think that popular Canadian opinion might view the invasion as a liberation. They did not.

In the event General Dearborn was met by the British commander, Major General Sir Isaac Brock. Although Brock was killed at Niagara, he coordinated a series of unit moves that stopped the larger American force. Brock was quickly replaced during the fighting by Sir Roger Shaeffe and the Americans ran into trouble with their soldiers contractual attitudes to limit their length of service and range of deployment. In effect the Americans could not deploy all their larger force, while some of their militia units insisted on remaining in the United States, thus pre-empting many troops from engagement in actual battle. The victory was timely, in that many Canadians were waiting to see 'which way the wind blew'.

The real maritime battles were conducted by naval carpenters in a Great Lakes shipbuilding war and by the British Admiralty on the East Coast. However the Americans had two strategic aims: to conquer Canada (pamphlets told the Canadians they were being 'liberated'); and to 'remove' the Indian Menace. The last meant killing the Indians and seizing their land.[8] It is perhaps important to recall that while British North America had shrunk, the American population had grown and would strain any frontier.

General Brock wrote to Robert Dickson, a British Indian Superintendent, to gain the Indians' support for the western flank and to secure the strategic island of Michilimackinac at the entrance to Lake Superior.[9] The resounding successes rallied Indian support for the coming battle. The slow-moving American General Hull had to fall back to Detroit, where Brock and Tecumseh forced his surrender using psychological tactics based on American Indians fears. Hull surrendered 35 guns, his army and their stores on 15 August 1812, thus equipping the Canadian militia. D'Arcy Boulton was Attorney General, but he had been captured by Napoleon's navy and held prisoner.

Meanwhile General Dearborn had planned operations on the Niagara front under the New York militia commander, Major General Stephen van Rensselaer. He too moved slowly, but was given a gift of time by Prevost who had negotiated a suspension of hostilities against the hope of an armistice. After Detroit, the US press howled for British blood and Van Rensselaer was forced to act on 12 October, 1812. He used 6,300 men against an initial British outpost of 350 at Queenston Heights, and both forces were a mix of regulars and militia. The initial night river crossing was unsuccessful and was dismissed as a feint by Brock; a second successful crossing was made on 13 October. The Americans forced the British and Canadians back but their gunfire alerted Brock and the remaining 1,500 men near Fort George. Brock moved to reinforce the Queenston Heights garrison with artillery fire, took personal command and was soon killed. The Americans pushed into Queenston Heights and the British withdrew to wait for help. Major General Roger Shaeffe then pushed in British units and John Brant's Indians as they arrived. However, the day was decided by the large contingent of New York militia who refused to cross the river. General van Rensselaer surrendered 958 men and resigned. Brigadier General Alexander Smyth, who had refused to obey van Rensselaer's earlier orders, was now appointed Central front commander, and he inspired his men with the following exhortation:

At reveille to-morrow [28 November] every soldier will put on his knapsack, shoulder his musket, and prepare for battle with flints and cartridges, will march to the navy yard on his way to Canada...Friends of your Country! Ye who have "the will to do, the heart to dare", the moment you have wished for has arrived. Think of your country's honor lost, her rights trampled on, her sons enslaved, her infants perishing by the hatchet. Be strong! Be brave! And let the ruffian power of the British king cease on this continent.[10]

Smyth launched another invasion with two hundred casualties, but was no more successful than Van Rensselaer whom he had criticised. On 3 December, 1812, he wrote:

The affair at Queenston is a caution against relying on crowds who go to the bank of the Niagara to look on a battle as on a theatrical exhibition, who, if they are disappointed of the sight, break their muskets, or if they are without rations for a day, desert.[11]

The War moved into 1813 with considerable American skepticism considering that their army had neither liberated the Canadians, nor beaten the British. For the British, Napoleon continued his threat to British trade and European stability and thus Canada remained a sideshow. However, six hundred men of the 104th Regiment marched from Fredericton, New Brunswick, to Kingston, Ontario, during the dead of winter. The Canadians had survived despite uncertain Loyalists and a vastly superior opponent but they needed to control the Great Lakes to maintain some food supplies. For the Indians, despite British promises, time was running out.

Mixed Results

In 1813, the nature of the war changed as Colonel Henry Procter led the Indians from success at Raisin River in January to final defeat at Moraviantown near London, Ontario on 5 October. Procter had abandoned Detroit and pushed the British navy into a premature August naval battle with Oliver Perry (later admiral). A navy was seen as necessary to transport invading American troops. This led to competitive shipbuilding by both sides to control the lakes. Procter escaped, but Tecumseh - who accused him of cowardice - was killed and with him the dream of an Indian homeland. Dearborn himself captured muddy York on 26 April. It had been founded in 1793 and was capital of Upper Canada. A 1,700 man American army landed just as Shaeffe burned the Sir Isaac Brock flagship and blew up Fort York's magazine. The Americans burned the Legislature, looted houses and stayed for eleven days. York, home of the Boultons, changed its name to Toronto in 1833 in defiance of the American sacking.

In June, 1813, Dearborn's troops seized Fort George at Niagara, commanded by Colonel William Claus, and the captured prisoners included William Dickson.[12] Their prisoners were taken to Albany NY and later returned to Upper Canada. In December they burned Newark, including the home of William Dickson, as the city was then the capital of Upper Canada and it's burning was rationalised by the Americans as a political act against Britain. The burning of Newark led directly to the British army burning of Washington in 1814 and the selection of the more easily defended York as capital of first Upper Canada and then Ontario. Dickson's wife Charlotte was dragged out of their house on her sickbed in retaliation for an earlier duel William had won with an American.

It was a pity that Dickson's home was burned, since as a lawyer he then had the largest library in Upper Canada. His descendants would follow him as lawyers and lead debates in the Upper Canadian and then Canadian Legislatures. General Dearborn did not exploit his strategic success in cutting the lines of supply to Niagara and he abandoned Toronto with twice the casualties of the Canadians. These 1813 successful American results were balanced by twin defeats of 12,000 American troops near Montréal by Lieutenant Colonel de Salaberry and mixed French and English colonial militia; and by Lieutenant Colonel Morrison's 89th and 49th Regiments near Cornwall at John Crysler's farm. The unfortunate American commander was Brigadier General James Wilkinson and with 439 casualties he abandoned the attack on Montréal.[13] Chrysler's farm was a Canadian victory.

The Treaty of Ghent was actually signed on 24 December 1814 and it gave back to America the Canadian gains at Niagara, Michilimackinac, and part of Maine (there had even been rumours of some of the States leaving the Union). After two and a half years Britain had had enough of war. The Americans regained the 49th parallel as the international boundary with Canada. Sadly, the Indians were a spent force and abandoned in London, and the British and Canadians had lost 8,600 dead. No word was recorded in the Treaty about the original causes for the war. British North America was then limited to the future Canada and some Caribbean islands; and after finishing Napoleon in June 1815 the Britons and Canadians began to relax.


European pioneers arrived in increasing numbers and the population built up to seven million over the next one hundred years. During the remaining fifty years before the peaceful transition to Canadian statehood by the 1867 passing of the British North America Act, considerable growth was required. The 1812 War helped to create a sense of community and bridged the French and English divide. Both communities and even the newly joined Loyalists from America had managed together to hold on to their separate existence. Commercial interests like the Hudson Bay Company and the small population would develop a need for community rather than American individuality. The Wilsons, Moores, Mackenzies, Willisons and Armstrongs all arrived during this period. The Boultons, Johnsons and Dicksons continued in central roles in Canada. Americans were quiet until their Civil War inspired the Irish 1866 and 1870 the American, Irish Fenian Raids.

The Upper Red River


In June 1816, in what would later become Winnipeg, Manitoba, the newly arriving settlers clashed with the free ranging Métis who supported the fur companies by supplying dried buffalo meat (called pemmican) to the fur trappers. The Hudson Bay Company and the Northwest Company were the only sources of money for the hardy half-breed Métis. Men ate the meat, drank from buffalo horns and wore the fur. The Métis were rugged survivors who knew the land, coped with Indians, produced the supplies and worked endless days without rest. The settlers were mostly from Scotland, having migrated after Culloden and the import of sheep. As farmers they needed fences to enclose their land and keep out the ranging buffalo, Métis and Indians. At Seven Oaks the clashing interests resulted in the death of Governor Robert Semple and twenty settlers attempting to stake their claims and change the Métis way of life.

Winnipeg sits at the junction of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers and the region was known as the Red River area. The initial colony was called the Red River Settlement which had been founded by an exceptional Scot Thomas Douglas, V Earl of Selkirk. Lord Selkirk had bought shares in the Hudson Bay Company and gained title to prairie land in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Selkirk needed someone reliable who knew the Indians and that became Robert Dickson, who had also helped General Brock in the War of 1812. Winter is a long, cold enemy and particularly for the first whites who tried to build their lives thousands of miles from civilisation. The pemmican supply for the fur traders became critical to the survival of the farmers. The Seven Oaks massacre killed the colony and began a war. Selkirk arrived in 1817 with a small Swiss army, disbanded after 1812, and seized North West Company forts, clerks and Métis, and started a series of court claims and the take-over of the Nor'Westers.

Boulton's Grange


After the War of 1812 retired British army officers swelled the local aristocracy and sought privilege and power. The Upper Canada elections in 1836 resulted in overwhelming power for the Family Compact, the group of aristocrats who wanted to replicate British class traditions. This caused stress because the concept ignored the powerful democratic forces from the neighbouring United States of America, and the French and Loyalists. Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe had arrived in Canada in 1791 to head a British colonial government and he initiated the Family Compact.

D'Arcy Boulton arrived in 1797 and was a charter Family Compact member, successively holding the posts of Solicitor General, attorney general and judge. The Family Compact ensured that his son Henry John Boulton also held the post of attorney-general, was elected to the Legislative Council and was appointed Chief Justice in Newfoundland. D'Arcy's son D'Arcy Edward Boulton was also a lawyer, mayor of Toronto and a member of the Canadian House of Commons. The Boultons produced several Members of the Legislative Assemblies and Senators. In Ottawa, there is a street named after them, near the Ottawa parliament buildings.

Reverend John Strachen was the moral leader (after stopping the American looting in 1813) of the Family Compact, had a wealthy McGill widow for a wife and became Toronto's first Bishop in 1839. Allan MacNab created a fortune in land in Hamilton, went to school with Henry John Boulton and married a Boulton. D'Arcy's American wife Elizabeth was the social-marriage maker, presiding at her York home called 'The Grange'. Family Compact members were given 5,000 acre grants of land and were often absentee landlords.

Government Squabbles

In 1817, the resulting abuse of privilege was brought to Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland at the same time that Strachan noted the parallels to the American and French Revolutions. Maitland checked reform until 1837 when William Lyon Mackenzie led a Rebellion in Toronto. Maitland was a soldier and felt simple discipline was the answer to Mackenzie, whom he hated. Mackenzie had started the Colonial Advocate newspaper in Queenston in 1824 but he soon moved to Toronto to be close to his enemy - the Family Compact. Mackenzie took on the Church of England, the Bank of Upper Canada, bureaucratic graft, judges, politicians - in short, the establishment. Like most dreamers of perfection Mackenzie fell short of his goals but an attempt to stifle him by force won him redress in a court and prominence. Mackenzie was elected to the Upper Canada Assembly in 1828 and spent the next six years in and out of office as the privileged kept trying to get rid of him. Finally, in 1834, he won the first seat of the City of Toronto but lost credibility by exposing his own patronage. Mackenzie wrote a 533 page report for the British Colonial Office in which he criticised all aspects of the colonial system. Since Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne had neglected to forward a copy of the report he was fired and was replaced by another believer in the patronage system. The idealistic Mackenzie began courting the Americans for support.

Battle of St Eustache: 1837


Domestic relationships deteriorated in the 1830s, when Baron Aylmer was Governor General of British North America. In 1837 French Canadian Patriotes asked Mackenzie for help and he organised a revolt in December. Moderate leaders like Dr John Rolph and Thomas Morrison were swept along and a promise was made of 5,000 men at Montgomery's Tavern, in the vicinity of the intersection of today's Yonge and Eglington Streets but then about four miles north of the city. On 5 December 1837 Colonel Robert Moodie, a government man, was killed and eight hundred of Mackenzie's men marched down Yonge Street to meet the Compact members at the city market. Finally, at one hundred yards distance, Sheriff Jarvis ordered his men to fire. Fire was returned and then both sides ran away! Mackenzie and Jarvis both tried desperately to stop their fleeing men but the farce continued. On 6 December sufficient militia had arrived from nearby Hamilton and with a cannon ball fired at Montgomery's Tavern it was over and Mackenzie fled to America. He returned in 1849 to find responsible government and he won a Canadian Assembly seat, which he held from 1851-1858.

Louis-Joseph Papineau played the same role as Mackenzie in Lower Canada, now Québec, and Papineau's plans also culminated in 1837. The issues were larger in Lower Canada, which had the same patronage concerns but language and culture were obvious sources of friction. Although he had loyally fought for the British in 1812 Papineau was leader of Les Patriots, a radical reform party, and he had been a member of the Lower Canada Legislative Assembly since 1812. The elected Assembly was impotent because the appointed Executive and Legislative Councils held the power to overrule Assembly motions, bureaucrats were appointed and spoke English and the top professional jobs were also English appointees. Papineau managed to squelch an 1832 to unite the two Canadas and thus make the French a minority. Violence began in 1832 when the troops were called into a fight and three French Canadians were shot dead. Les Patriots wrote a long report calling for reform, but London rejected it in 1837.

Warrants were issued for 26 Patriot leaders and two military forces left Montréal.  In November 1837 Colonel Charles Gore ordered his artillery to fire at St Denis and 250 Patriots; despite 12 killed, they resisted and Gore eventually left. At St Charles 30 Patriots were killed, including Patriot leader Dr Jean-Olivier Chénier, and in December under Colborne's command, 2,000 troops killed another 100 French Canadians and pillaged and burned St Eustache.[14] On 9 November 1838, Thomas Brown led about 1,000 Patriots into a battle just north of the American border, where another 50 were killed. Today Les Québecois have not forgotten the English.

Despite the Family Compact, considerable pioneering activity was noticeable and a local railway was opened in 1836. Reverend Egerton Ryerson advised in 1846 that free compulsory education should be available to all and Ryerson University has since been established in his name. Bishop Strachan was the first president of King's College, now the University of Toronto, and he persuaded James McGill to bequeath money for what would be McGill University. Bishop Strachan's School was established for girls. Major General the Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne founded Upper Canada College and a Grier helped found Bishop's University. The Mackenzies, Wilsons and Armstrongs built roads and towns and the Willisons built farms and exported food for the Empire.

Evolution of Canada

Before 1841, the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada corresponded to the southern parts of anglophone Ontario and francophone Québec respectively: Québec additionally included Labrador, now part of Newfoundland. By the 1840 British Act of Union the two Canadas were merged into the Province of Canada, sometimes called the United Province of Canada. The new Province of Canada had a single legislative assembly governed the new colonies of Canada West and Canada East until 1867, when Canada was brought into being.

The new Legislature was responsible to the British colonial office. William Henry Draper, CB, Chief Justice was the first Premier of Canada West and in 1844-1847 he was the virtual head of the new colonial government, although without the title of prime minister. The capital of the new Province of Canada was moved as shown here below.

  • Kingston 1841 - 1843

  • Montreal 1843 - 1849

  • Toronto 1849 - 1852

  • Quebec City 1852 - 1856

  • Toronto 1856 - 1858

  • Quebec City 1859 - 1866

  • Ottawa 1866 - 1867

First Steps To Sovereignty

Parliament at Ottawa


John George Lambton, 1 Earl of Durham was Governor in Chief of the Province of Canada and he wrote a report, which called for union of the two Canadas and Responsible Government but the 1840 Union Act passed without local government. The United Province of Canada was proclaimed in 1841 and Kingston was designated the capital until the honour was shifted to Montréal in 1844. The two political reformers Louis-Hippolyte la Fontaine and Robert Baldwin began to work together and they forced the introduction of Responsible government against the rump of the Family Compact, which then included William Boulton. Boulton had no children and gave the Boulton home, the Grange, to his wife, who later husband gave it to be the Toronto Art Gallery. A reform majority was elected in 1848 and Boulton's argument was defeated. However, on 25 April 1849, an English mob burned down the parliament house in Montréal because James Bruce, Earl of Elgin and Governor General, had just approved compensation for Les Patriots' damages from their revolt of 1837. Lord Elgin tried hard to manage the damage but rioting continued for months. Newspapers began to support an American annexation of Canada and Elgin moved the government from Québec to Toronto until Ottawa was finally selected as the capital in 1857. The government moved to Ottawa in 1866.

On the east coast a considerable lumber industry had developed to supply the need for ship carpenters to feed Europe and transport immigrants. In the period 1850-1870, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick ship builders made the Marco Polo and the Blue Nose the fastest ships in the world at the time. Captain George McKenzie established the standard for professional ship construction and master and mate navigational expertise. There was considerable support for a new federation of British colonies and trade and fishing ensured a constant contact with Europe. New Brunswick (previously claimed by both the French and Dutch) and Nova Scotia met with the two Canadas in the Prince Edward Island city of Charlottetown at a gathering of lawyers and the elected speakers of neighbouring British colonies. They agreed to form a confederation in 1867.

On the west coast, the Hudson Bay Company had traded furs down the Columbia River until 1824 when George Simpson the Company governor, tried to shift the focus to the Fraser River. The furs continued down the Columbia but Fort Langley on the Fraser would be the beginning of a new trade with the Pacific, Europe and America. Johannes Jacob Astor increased his fur fortune by challenging the the Hudson Bay Company trade monopoly. Indians were hired for work in exchange for Hudson Bay point blankets; (the number of points indicated the length). British Columbia was a name chosen by Queen Victoria and it too became a British colony in 1858 with a capital at the Company's shipping port at Fort Victoria. The northern gold rush began in 1858 after the California fields were exhausted. The colonial population was swollen in British Columbia in 1862 when Billy Barker found gold on Williams Creek in the interior Cariboo Mountains. The prairie population increased from 150,000 in 1885 to 1.5 million in 1914 including many British remittance men. In 1885 the Métis rebellion was crushed, Riel hanged and the Canadian Pacific Railway's last spike completed.

Men were swayed by confederation debate and Sir John Alexander Macdonald presented a draft proposal to the British government and Queen Victoria. In 1867 he became the first Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada and he and Sir George-Étienne Cartier replaced LaFontaine and Baldwin as a partnership. Rupert's Land was bought in 1869 and first Manitoba and then British Columbia joined. British North America was ending, but aspects of law and tradition continued through the Canadian Constitution. Of course the legacy impacted on political debates in Québec.

The new Dominion had begun to develop a growing economy. The total exports from Québec and Montréal in 1849 were £1,812,199 and an additional £856,045 was exported from inland ports.[15] The value of goods imported and exported at St John Lower Canada (New Brunswick) for six years are shown below.[16] The same source noted that the principal goods exported included: 159,286 pieces of wood boards and 84,425 planks, 180,873 of pine lumber and 2,394 of spruce lumber; 127,236 pds of butter, 24,677 pds of cheese and 1,241 barrels of pork; 27,457 barrels of flour; 23,481 barrels of wheat and 505 bushels of potatoes. This represented the same breadth of growth the American colonists had tried to protect in the previous century.

St John Lower Canada (£ port trade value)


American Fenian Challenges

Fenianism was the name given to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), formed in 1858 in Ireland, to create an independent Ireland free from Britain. In America the IRB was led by John O'Mahony, and American membership included thousands of veteran Civil War Irishmen. In 1865 several Irishmen filled key Fenian positions: William Randall Roberts was Chief Executive of the Senate; Major General Tom Sweeny was Secretary of War; and Michael Murphy of Toronto claimed 125,000 followers. The Fenians decided to strike the British by siezing Canada as an ‘Irish Republic in exile’ and then trading that hostage land for Ireland. The logic paralleled the siezure of Texas from Mexico by a relatively few Americans.

Sweeny devised a complex plan for 8,000 Americans to create a diversion in Upper Canada (Ontario) southwest of Toronto, additional Canadians were to isolate the British forces by destroying a key railway bridge, and then c17,000 Americans would attack Montréal and Québec City. To gain political support Roberts met with the US President Andrew Johnson. President Johnson was appeared sympathetic as he released an IRB prisoner whose French connections were to raise money in France. Sweeny's plans were approved in February 1866, but a bitter O'Mahony had made his own attack plan to try to regain IRB control. In April 1866 1,000 Fenians entered New Brunswick from Maine, to seize the island of Campobello. In a short battle the British utterly defeated the Fenians. Irish security was poor and the forewarned British had 10,000 men (largely militia) already deployed along the American Niagara border for St Patrick's Day.

Battle of Ridgeway: 2 June 1866


On 1 June 1866, Colonel O'Neill led 500 Americans across the Niagara River into Canada, captured Fort Erie from the six-man garrison, and raised an Irish flag.[17] Feeling pleased with themselves, the Irishmen took a day off to rest - and of course lost surprise. At the north end of the Welland Canal, near St. Catharines, Colonel George Peacocke assembled a force of 1,700 troops, which included the British 16th and 47th regiments of foot and a six-gun field battery. Within hours the British had 400 regular troops, 6 field guns, and 1,115 militia men en route to Fort Erie. On 2 June the British were joined by an additional 1,100 mililtiamen and a Naval Brigade cut off a Fenian retreat across the Niagara River. The Battle of Ridgeway was fought on 2 June after O'Neill moved towards Port Colborne and north of the town of Ridgeway delberately to catch the untrained militia before it could reach the British regulars. A collection of 850 militia were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Booker, a local businessman. Firing started at 0800 by 10 companies of the Queen's Own Rifles, who soon ran out of ammunition, having neglected to bring reserves. The Canadian traded fire for an hour and then saw the mounted commanders, heard a bugle call, anticipated cavalry, and formed vulnerable squares. O'Neill's men fixed bayonets, charged, and chased the British back to Port Colborne.[18] Again O'Neill rested while the British raised an additional 2,000 militiamen.

Meanwhile the British had pressed the United States to take action to curb the aggression. The hero of the Civil War, Lieutenant General US Grant, was sent to Buffalo, closed the border, and prevented an additional 4,000 Fenian troops from crossing and supporting O'Neill. In a comedy of bad planning, a minor militia force recaptured Fort Erie and was itself soon evicted by a retreating Irish regiment. By the evening of June 2nd, O'Neill was surrounded by c5,000 British troops. O'Neill began his retreat by barge across the Niagara River early on 3 June 1866, but was intercepted and arrested by the Captain of the American warship USS Harrison. Many prisoners were tried in Toronto and 22 were sentenced to death. John O'Neill and his officers were charged at the Erie County Courthouse in New York, found guilty, sentenced, and released when the "smoke cleared".

On 6 June 1866, 2,000 more Fenians crossed into Lower Canada (Québec). On 8 June the Fenians defeated a smaller British force at Pigeon Hill. The promised Irish rising in Montréal did not happen because the of the strong British forces, who were deployed with an additional 10,000 militia, and 3 warships in the harbour with their guns aimed at the Fenians. On 9 June the Fenians retreated back into Vermont, but the British were given permission to cross the border and capture the retreating Fenians. US citizens were outraged and all battles ceased while 5,166 Fenian troops were paroled in Buffalo by 15 June 1866. O'Neill later attempted another Fenian crossing at Prescott in 1870 but failed.

Not all the Fenian IRA were Irish. Records show that there were 500 Mohawk Indians, and 100 African American former Union soldiers. On the 6 June, US President Johnson made a deal with the British, having received a $15,000,000 payment for Civil War losses he blamed on British partiality to the South. In return the US passed neutrality laws and would enforce them against the Fenians. He had successfully used the Fenians as a political tool. The Fenians had been used as an American pawn and had underestimated British strength.[19]

Canadian Mètis Challenges

Prior to Canada's confederation as a nation in west central North America, the Métis people emerged from the marriages of Indian women and European (primarily the adventurous French) men. While the initial offspring of these Indian and European unions were individuals who possessed mixed ancestry, the gradual establishment of distinct Métis communities, outside of Indian and European cultures and settlements, as well as, the subsequent intermarriages between Métis women and Métis men, resulted in the genesis of a new Aboriginal people - the Métis. The Métis lived in the Prairies and adjacent areas.

Distinct Métis communities emerged, as an outgrowth of the fur trade, along some parts of the freighting waterways and Great Lakes of Ontario, throughout the Northwest and as far north as the Mackenzie river. The Métis people and their communities were connected through the highly mobile fur trade network, seasonal rounds, extensive kinship connections and a collective identity (i.e. common culture, language, way of life, etc.). The Métis, as a distinct Aboriginal people, fundamentally shaped Canada's expansion westward through their on-going assertion of their collective identity and rights. From the 1869-1870 Red River Rebellion to the 1885 Battle of Batoche and other notable actions undertaken by the Métis, the history and identity of the Métis people is a part of Canada's history. One of their primary leaders was Gabriel Dumont, who played a key role in persuading Louis Riel to return to Canada to lead a drive to sovereign independence. Dumont also turned out to be a highly skilled guerrilla leader and beat both the Mounted Police and the army on most occasions: he was, of course greatly out-numbered and eventually failed.

Railways began to have a profound effect on the empty West and the Métis way of life. Riel led the 1849 Company challenge and in 1869 he became the leader of the growing Métis rebellion against the inevitable changes. In 1869 the Hudson Bay Company accepted a Canadian offer to buy Rupert's land (containing the Canadian prairies) and thus help establish a nation. That land change created a need for new surveys and Charles Arckoll Boulton was one the survey party which upset the Métis. On 2 November 1869 Riel captured Fort Garry. In December Riel announced that he had formed a government and in February 1870 Riel was elected the head of the new Metis nation. In March the Métis executed an Irishman for assaulting Riel.

Background talks with the Canadian governement in Ottawa agreed in June 1870 that the Riel's Red River settlement would become part of Canada. The region would be added as the new province of Manitoba with an area of land reserved for the Métis and amnesty for the participants of the rebellion. Manitoba was established by an act of Parliament on 15 July 1870, although the size was much smaller (see map sketch below: Manitoba reached its present boundaries in 1912 .) In August 1870, 12,000 Canadian troops arrived in Manitoba and Louis Riel fled to the United States in Dakota. In June 1873 Riel was elected to the House of Commons, but hid in New York.

In 1872, the Riel Rebellion led to the creation of the North West Mounted Police, the deployment of 2,000 soldiers, and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) (with 25,000 Chinese workers). Boulton helped organise the settlers, he raised and commanded Boulton's Scouts, and helped Major General Frederick Middleton crush the later North West Rebellion at Batoche in 1885.

Areas of the Mètis Red River and Riel (North-West) Rebellions

Métis and Riel Rebellions

Red River Expedition Route: 1870

Rebellion & Battle Area: 1885

Battle of Fish Creek: 24 April 1885

The Métis Red River Rebellion

Garnett Wolesly


The Red River Settlement was a triumph of Lord Selkirk's leadership and Robert Dickson had helped him and had established a treaty with the local Saulteaux Indians. Louis Riel was a Métis and fighter for the Métis doomed free-roaming way of life; but Selkirk had brought in Scots settlers who were not intimidated by the Métis. This was the underlying motive: a clash of cultures, which led to the Métis rebellions and the new Canadian government's determination to control events. In November 1869 Riel and 400-500 Métis siezed Fort Garry. The Métis then established their own government and denied Selkirk's Scots legitimacy. The new Canadian governemnt tried to act decisively and an embryo new railway was pushed forward rapidly, a military expedition formed, and army troops were transported west by train and canoe in February to rescue the situation. They did.

In 1870, Major Boulton led a party from Portage la Prairie for the express purpose of overthrowing the provisional government. (Presumably this was without the Canadian Governemnt's knowledge.) However, Boulton's men were detected by Riel's forces, and 48 men including Boulton were apprehended by Riel near Fort Garry. Riel demanded that an example be made of Boulton. Boulton was tried and sentenced to death for his interference with the provisional government. Intercessions on his behalf resulted in his pardon.[20]

Colonel (later Field Marshall) Garnett Wolesly commanded the troops rushed out in the winter of 1870 and in September, when the Expedition was concluded, wrote the following in an order to his troops:

"I congratulate you upon the success of our expedition, which has secured to this country a peaceable solution of its late troubles. The credit of this success is due to the gallant soldiers I had at my back ; upon you fell the labour of carrying boats and heavy loads, a labour in which officers and men vied with each other as to who should do the most. Nothing but that 'pluck' for which British soldiers, whether born in the colonies or in the mother country, are celebrated, could have carried you so successfully through the arduous advance upon this place.

"From Prince Arthur's Landing to Fort Garry is over 600 miles through a wilderness of forest and water, where no supplies of any description are obtainable. You had to carry on your backs a vast amount of supplies over no less than forty-seven portages, making a total distance of seven miles, a feat unparalleled in our military annals. You have descended a great river esteemed so dangerous from its rapids, falls and whirlpools that none but experienced voyageurs attempt its navigation. Your cheerful obedience to orders has enabled you, under the blessing of Divine Providence, to accomplish your task without any accident.[21]

The North-West Rebellion of 1885

In June 1884, a list of Métis grievances was made and Gabriel Dumont approached Riel to lead another rebellion. By then Riel had left Canada to become an American citizen and a teacher in Montana. Riel decided to join and went to Batoche in Saskatchewan (see map sketch). Riel negotiated for money from Ottawa, but this was refused and another provisional government was formed.[22]

On 26 March 1885 Gabriel Dumont commanded the Métis forces and the actual fighting began when 12 Mounties were killed at Duck Lake. However, since by then the Canadian Pacific Railway had been completed, the Métis had no chance. After suffering 23 casualties the Mounted Police withdrew and waited for Major General Frederick Dobson Middleton to arrive in April. Middleton arrived at Fort Qua'Appelle in modern Saskatchewan with 8,000 troops including Major Charles Boulton and his mounted Boulton Scouts. The Métis successfully ambushed the army at Fish Creek and six soldiers and four Métis were killed. A major battle was then fought at Batoche 9- 12 May 1885, which the army won easily. Riel surrendered on 15 May and it was over.

Robert Dickson had joined Selkirk in establishing the Red River settlement and in 1817 he helped to negotiate a peace treaty with Chief Peguis, the Saulteaux Indian Chief. Given the commercial victory by the Hudson Bay Company, fur trade through Montréal ceased and fortunes were made in The Company. The plains people spoke French, English, Gaelic, German or Cree and peace reigned while more settlers and pioneers arrived from Europe. Flood and drought were the prime enemies for the next thirty settlers in the Red River area but in 1849, the Métis successfully challenged the Hudson Bay Company's monopoly and ten years later the first American railway was built to St. Paul, Minnesota. Railways made Canada and changed the West forever.

National Evolution



The Chilcoot Pass


Raised in 1873 as the Northwest Mounted Police (changed already from a proposed Rifles to Police) the force was to provide the new country a Sovereign instrument. This would greatly help Sir John and his new Dominion government to cope with the American illegal whiskey sales, Indians, the Métis and general lawlessness in the largely uninhabited West. In 1874, Assistant Commissioner James Macleod led the first red-coated Mounties into Alberta to close down the well-named American Fort Whoop-up.

The Mounties wore British army red jackets as a universal symbol of the British Empire. With three hundred well-trained men and two nine-pounder field guns they succeeded. On 25 June, 1876, at the Battle of the Little Big Horn River in America, Chief Sitting Bull and the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians destroyed Brigadier General George Custer and the 7th US Cavalry Regiment. Needing urgent refuge the Sioux fled to Canada where, in May 1877, Inspector James Walsh and five other men confronted four thousand Sioux Indians. In a battle of nerves, Walsh told Sitting Bull that the Indians must obey the laws of the Great White Mother and live in peace. The Sioux, of course, had no choice but to obey, since they would not soon be welcome back in the United States. Apart from stealing a few horses ('boys will be boys) the Sioux were relatively well behaved in Canada. The Mounties had begun a career with a triumph of diplomacy in vivid contrast to their American cousins in Montana.

Yukon Gold

In 1896 George Carmack struck gold in the Canadian Yukon and another gold rush began. Mountie sergeant Sam Steel settled the international border location between Canada and the United States with a Gatling gun at the summit of the four mile, steep Chilcoot Pass from Alaska in 1897. The next winter 22,000 miners crossed that pass to Dawson and Steel's boss, Inspector Constantine, insisted they bring a year's supply or return down the same steep mountain pass.[23]

You can see why returning down that steep hill in the picture was not a popular option! It was a half mile straight up carrying a total of at least 1,000 pounds for the year's supply on men's backs. There was no place to rest and men who stopped were pushed out of the way and forced to return to start again at the bottom. It was a tough, frontier world! Although the mass of men came from America, the Yukon gold was actually in Canada and gave an impetus to immigration into Canada.

European immigrants flooded into Canada, as they did to America, in huge numbers as war loomed in Europe. Between 1896 and 1911 the flood of immigrants Canada had been expecting finally arrived. In 1871, the Census reported 43,000 people living in the Prairie West. In 1901, the number was 414,000 and by 1911 it had risen to 1,328,000 people. Moreover, the majority of these pioneers were experienced framers able to generate both food and profit. A number of factors led to this dramatic increase. World-wide free farmland was disappearing and Canadian farming technology and propaganda were improving.

More than a third of the new farmers gave up their free homesteads within three years. One of the major difficulties many of these people faced was arriving in a country where nothing was familiar. The landscape, climate and culture were all new to them. Most had left countries where they were surrounded by trees and rolling hills. The hard cold winters and vast, flat, sparsely wooded Canadian plains were a shock to most of them: only the Ukrainians appeared to stay. Many arrived unable to speak either English or French, and with different religious, cultural and political backgrounds than the majority Anglo-Saxons. Rapidly, the new country evolved to become quite different than the former colonies.


1             Peter Newman, Company of Adventurers, explains the history of the Hudson Bay Company (known as the HBC - also called the Hungry Belly Company and Horny Boys' Club) in an exciting account of one of the world's largest empires (three million square miles). The trading capital on the west shore of Hudson Bay was first visited in 1612 and established by Pierre Radisson in 1684; it was named after the Company's Governor, the Duke of York. Newman explains that the name York Factory was related to the title of the local boss, who called the factor. Newman notes p.8 that English merchants trading in 1680 pushed English policy and delivered furs to Europe faster than the Montréal French.

2             Cited by Kate Caffrey, The Lion & The Union, p 92.

3             George Stanley, Canada's Soldiers, pp 145-147. cited from a letter by Henry Dundas to George Young, in September 1791. Queen's Rangers built both today's Yonge and Dundas Avenues in Toronto, before disbanding in 1802. The Militia Act provided compulsory militia service for all males 16-60.

4              Ibid., p 148.

5              George Stanley, The War of 1812, pp. 40-41, gives the divided Congressional votes as 79 yes and 49 against in the House and 19 for and 13 against in the Senate.

6              Of many books, for balance see particularly George Stanley, Canada's Soldiers, also Stanley's The War of 1812, Land Operations, Pierre Berton, Flames Across the Border, The Invasion of Canada, and Kate Caffrey, The Lion & The Union; the Anglo-American War 1812-1815,

7              George Stanley, Canada's Soldiers, p. 153.

8              Thom, James Alexander, Panther in the Sky.

9              Eugene Petersen, Mackinac Island, p. 11.

10           George Stanley, The War of 1812, p. 135, cited from General Smyth's Invasion Order.

11           Ibid, p. 135, cited from General Smyth's letters.

12           Pierre Berton, Flames Across the Border, p. 67, and Major General Dearborn's 'List of Prisoners', dated 14 August, 1813, Albany, New York.

13           George Stanley, The War of 1812, p. 265.

14           For details see Battle of Saint-Eustache, at

15           Thomas Corwin, US Senate Report on Trade and Commerce, table 51, p 224.

16           Ibid, table 52, p 226.

17           Colonel John O'Neill led the 7th, 13th, 17th and 18th Irish Republican Army (IRA) regiments.

18           Despite Canadian pride this was a clear Irish victory as seen by the results. 3 June 1866 casualties: British 850 men (Canadian Militia the Queens Own Rifles, 2nd Battalion, 13th Battalion, and the York and Caledonia rifle companies): 16 killed, 2 died later of wounds; 2 died of heat stroke; and 74 wounded; 6 prisoners captured . IRA 500 men (7th, 13th, 17th and 18th regiments): 5 killed; 2 died later of wounds; and 17 wounded. The Fenian Raiders were the first to introduce the term Irish Republican Army or IRA

19           Adapted from The Fenian Raid(s) of Upper and Lower Canada, at; and PG Smith, Fenian Raids: Invasions of British-ruled Canada, at

20           Boulton, Charles A, Reminiscences of the North-West Rebellions, Heath, Toronto, 1886. Online text at See also Wolseley Expedition, at The official Imperial forces included: 60th Regiment of Foot (Kings Royal Rifle Corps); 1st Ontario Rifles; 2nd Quebec Rifles; The Queen's York Rangers; Provisional Battalion of Rifles; Provisional Battalion of Artillery.

21           Ibid.

22           The Trial of Louis Riel: A Chronology, at

23          Delbert Young, The Mounties, p. 66.

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