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Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter VIII

Services as Executive Councillor.—Sir Peregrine Maitland and his Administration.—The Church in York.—Appointment to the Legislative Council.

THE subject of Emigration engaged, at this period, a good deal of the public attention in Upper Canada; and the question which just now most perplexed the Government was the granting of lands to in-coming settlers. Amongst the latter was a considerable number of half-pay officers, both of the Army and Navy; many of whom,—especially of the latter,—became excellent settlers, and turned their lands to profitable account. The wiser portion of these purchased cleared farms in the front townships, which they were able to obtain at a moderate cost; and there they lived comfortably amidst a respectable population, and without any serious loss of their old social advantages. The transition from the comforts and refinements of their mother-land was thus less sensibly felt: they became better contented with their new lot; and generally a church and school were accessible. They drew, of course, the lands to which they were entitled, and performed what was called the “settlement duties.” This meant, the clearing, in a very slovenly way, of a certain proportion of the lands granted, and the opening of their share of the roads contiguous to their farms. Great complaints were made that this was money thrown away; for this partial clearing,—little more than the slashing down of trees,—-was attended with no present benefit either to the public or to the proprietor. Still, it was necessary to enforce actual settlement, as far as possible; and it was difficult for the Executive to devise means by which this could he effected with advantage to the country, and justice at the same time to those who received these grants of lands.

It seems, too, that the question of admitting settlers from the United States was just now very earnestly discussed; and here the clear judgment and practical knowledge of Dr. Strachan proved to be of great value. What his views upon this subject were, are best expressed in his own language, in a letter to Colonel, afterwards Sir John Harvey, bearing date June 22nd, 1818:—

“Allow me to give you a brief notice of the true state of the controversy concerning the admission of settlers from the United States; which 1 do in confidence, depending upon your discretion to bear it in mind, should you think it necessary hereafter to write upon the subject.

“General Simcoe, being very extensively acquainted in the States, and knowing that great numbers of the inhabitants were still loyalists, and desirous of coming into the countiy, encouraged them to remove into the Province, and procured for all that appeared in Upper Canada before June, 1798, and who could prove their adherence to Great Britain, valuable privileges. Many of these persons had formed connexions iu the United States, and were anxious to bring them in likewise. General Simcoe, though very hostile to the Americans in general, admitted this,—at first sparingly, afterwards more generally. This relaxation was gradually extended; and during the time of his successor, President Russell, people were received promiscuously from the States, without let or hindrance. This became a subject of great complaint throughout the Province.

“General Hunter endeavoured to check this indiscriminate introduction of Americans, and to bring matters back to the rule on which General Simcoe acted. The same policy was continued, by Governor Gore previous to the late war, notwithstanding the reception of several memorials from different Districts, exhibiting its impolicy.

“During the war, the danger of the promiscuous introduction of settlers from the States, was most severely felt: In several Districts, where they were the majority, or supposed themselves to be so, rebellion was organized. This was particularly the case in the London District, and would have been still more so in the Home District, but for the prompt energy of a few. Tn the Newcastle District, the disposition to rebel was great; but finding themselves too near Kingston and York, they were afraid to attempt an open outbreak, but deserted in great numbers. In the County of Leeds, nearly three hundred militiamen deserted to the enemy.

“These defections, and the danger to which they exposed the loyal inhabitants, were fresh in our minds when peace was restored; and so it was deemed wise to check emigration from the United States for a time, until the passions on both sides were a little cooled, and until a sort of foundation, or nucleus, could be formed of emigrants from the mother country in the new settlements; by which they might acquire a British tone and character. After this, to slide gradually, and quietly, into the system pursued before the late war.

“This judicious plan did not correspond with the sel6sh views of some great land speculators, who wished the immediate and promiscuous admission of Americans, that they might have a market for their land These foolish persons conjured up the 13th of George II. to their aid,—a law which respects foreign protestants only, and has no reference to Americans; and if it had, no American would comply with the conditions it requires. The modification of this law by the 30th George III. may be construed to extend its provisions to the Americans; but not one of them has ever complied with these provisions. The truth is, they have been permitted to hold lands by an indulgence which cannot be defended by law; and as they have never conformed themselves to the conditions required, nothing could be more foolish, impolitic, and dangerous than calling the matter up. It would bring up several delicate questions about the Oath of Allegiance, and who are, or are not, subjects; questions which had better sleep. At the same time, no person from the States would consider his title secure, or be able to bring a writ of ejectment against another who had got possession of his property. In short, the avoiding of a great number of legal difficulties appears to have been the object of Government, and I am well assured they had no other feeling, nor could have had any other oh the subject.”

Consequent upon the war, several changes had taken place in the administration of the Provincial Government. When the war broke out in 1812, Mr. Francis Gore, who had been for some years the Lieutenant Governor, felt it his duty to surrender the administration of the Government into the hands of one who could combine with it the command of the military forces; and consequently both the civil and military government of the Province were assigned to Major General Sir Isaac Brock. Soon after the close of the war, Mr. Gore returned to Upper Canada, and resumed the administration of the Government. This gentleman was held in high estimation at the capital, for his social as well as official qualities; and with Dr. Strachan he was always on the most friendly and intimate terms. Upon his departure from the Province, about two years after, the administration of public affairs devolved upon the senior member of the Executive Council, the Hon. Samuel Smith; and perhaps no one was more ready than Mr. Smith himself to acknowledge that the delegation of such a responsibility by the rule of seniority, is not the happiest arrangement that could have been devised. It was regarded as a cause of general congratulation, when it was announced that the appointment of Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada was conferred upon Major General Sir Peregrine Maitland. In a letter to Mr. Gore, dated December 8th, 1818, Dr. Strachan writes of him as follows:—

“Sir Peregime is a most amiable and pious man, and comes out most anxious to do all the good he can. He arrived here with some ideas respecting the Executive Government not founded on sufficient evidence; but he now sees things more clearly. He is a man of great talent, and much simplicity of manner and habit; at the same time he is firm and resolute. Those who presumed upon his favour because they had taken umbrage at you, found themselves totally mistaken. On that ground he was very high indeed. He is thoroughly the gentleman, and speaks of you, when occasion introduces your name, with great respect. We are at no pains to conceal our attachments, and he has too much good sense to be offended: on the contrary, he prizes us the more. This gentlemanly trait of character endears him to us all.

“Accustomed to the promptness of military command, he has been sometimes a little too hasty in taking steps which had been usually the result of consultation; but this has been entirely from inadvertence, and not from any desire to assume extraordinary power. He is yet new in civil matters, but his diligence is incessant, and in a short time he will be completely master of them.

“His great anxiety to look into every thing, injures his health, which is extremely delicate. He keeps much to himself; has no particular adviser; and inquires, and thinks, and decides for himself.

“He has been so very short a period here, that it is as yet impossible to draw exact conclusions; but as far as I can judge from many conversations with him, he will grow upon acquaintance, and beget stronger and stronger attachment In all this I may be mistaken, more especially as 1 cannot pretend to any particular intimacy; but hope that 1 judge correctly.

“The truth is, that his remark upon are presentation, in which your name was coupled with something improper, won my heart. On hearing this, I had said, ‘The thing is utterly false. Governor Gore had been too good to the writer and to the friend whom he recommended.' He turned mildly, and said, ‘that remark is the very thing which would have induced me to refuse the prayer.’ ”

The following letter, addressed to Colonel Nichol, will be read with interest. Many in the Province will recollect the Colonel as an active and talented man, but who uniformly took up the opposition side in politics, and was rather fond of antagonism to the ruling powers. He was a well-read man, and a pleasant companion; and although he was a warm politician and very outspoken in his opinions, he seemed to have had no personal enemies. His tragical death, from being precipitated on a dark night, with horse and light waggon, over the heights above Queenston, awoke universal sympathy and regret. The letter that follows, is dated February 23rd, 1819 :—

“I have an opportunity of franking your brother’s manuscript. The subject is handled with ability, and does him great credit. I hope that he will iind it his interest to remain in this country; it is a great benefit to have a man of talent among us. Owing, I believe, to the writing, it was not read by the Governor; but it was most favourably reported to him, as indeed it richly deserved.

“It has been whispered, since your departure, that you are to commence your parliamentary career, 1. with moving a vote of censure on Governor Gore; 2. that the right of granting lands belongs to the Assembly, or Parliament, and not to the King or his Representative in Council.

“I suspect that these are fabrications of your enemies, and I have said so but as they were repeated, I beg to know whether 1 am right. At present you stand well in this quarter, and your abilities enable you to do much good to the Province, as well as to yourself. I should, therefore, be sorry to see them wasted upon matters that are sure to raise contention, and that cannot fail of being most injurious, without producing any good.

“As to the first, it would come very ill from you on many accounts. If it be for proroguing the House, even supposing him wrong (which I for one am not prepared to do), it was only an error of judgment : his right to do it, when he thought proper, is undeniable.

“I could say much on the inexpediency, as well as injustice of such a resolution, independently of the unpleasant feelings it must excite; but I am afraid of missing the post, aud therefore pass to the second.—the absurdity of which excites my astonishment.

“Thirty years ago this Province was a wilderness. The King gives small portions of it to the refugees, to disbanded soldiers, to a few immigrants, and some aliens; and now these persons, still living on his Majesty’s bounty, turn round and tell him that he had no power to give them what they now possess, for the land is entirely their own,

“My conclusion is, that the whole is a fabrication to lessen your weight with your friends, and to induce a belief that your influence in Parliament will be exerted in raising disturbances, and not in bringing forward and digesting excellent measures, so necessary for our peace and prosperity.

“Being one gf those who have always been anxious for your success in life, and ready at all times to do justice to your talents, I should regret extremely to be obliged to differ from you on political grounds; more especially as we commonly agreed till the resolutions were brought forward. 1 shall only add, that, in ‘every thing else, I have been more zealously your supporter than most of those whom you supposed warmer friends.

"When I differ in opinion from any of my friends, I tell them so candidly, that we may perfectly understand each other; and this must be my apology for this letter, unless you are pleased to add my anxiety to appear more effectually in your defence.”

Mention has already been made of the “Loyal and Patriotic Society,” designed for the relief of sufferers by the war. The funds contributed for this object were very considerable; large subscriptions were obtained in the Province; and some aid was sent by generous individuals in the mother country. A vast amount of good was effected by means of this Society; and now, in 1819, it was found that there was a surplus at its disposal of £4,000. Colonel Nichol, disappointed in certain views of his own regarding the appropriation of this fimd, contended for its distribution amongst such individuals as should shew that they had been sufferers by the war. Dr. Strachan very wisely opposed this proposition; and as his remarks have a useful, practical bearing, and may be serviceable at all times, we quote the following from a letter to a friend in England:—

“To guard against misconception and evince our adherence to the principle upon which the Society was originally constituted, we have made some little alteration in the resolutions first adopted, in regard to the application of our surplus. They now stand as follows:

“Resolved 1. That of the remaining funds of the Loyal and Patriotic Society, £2000 be appropriated to the erection of an Hospital at York, in the Home District; and two several sums of £100 each, to such other two or more Districts of this Province as shall, within a year, raise the largest sum in aid of such appropriation for the erection of two other Hospitals.

“Resolved 2. That the Directors of the Hospitals thus erected, shall at all times be prepared to answer the orders of the Treasurer of the Loyal and Patriotic Society to the amount of the interest, annually, of the sums thus given them.

“You will perceive that these resolutions, in fact, fund the money and insure the interest of it,—to be expended in relieving actual distress of sufferers by the late war, or finding them an asylum within the Hospitals. And, in order to make the benefit general as well as permanent, other two Hospitals are contemplated; one, we presume, at Niagara, and the other at Kingston. We did not designate the places in our resolutions to avoid giving offence to the other Districts.

At those two places, as well as here, the Lieutenant Governor intends giving great assistance; but, without this money, the buildings could not be erected for many years. I am persuaded that the subscribers, if the matter were explained to them, would highly approve the plan adopted by the. Directors, as it gives a permanency to their benevolence, infinitely more useful than to expend it upon promiscuous claimants, by whom we should in many cases be deceived. During the War it was easy to ascertain proper objects; but after five years of peace, this is impossible, except in the case of those who have been severely wounded. For such the Hospitals afford an asylum; or if they have families, a small pension could be given them out of the interest.

Few in Toronto are probably aware of the manner in which the General Hospital in this City was started; an institution which, notwithstanding some mishaps, is destined, we trust, to extend to future generations, the blessings it has conferred upon the past.

Political and other secular matters necessarily engaged some portion of the time and energies of Dr. Strachan, but the interests of the Church occupied the largest share of both; and to the forwarding of these, whether local or general, his characteristic vigour and activity were faithfully applied. In a letter to. the Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, dated January 5th, 1820, we have an evidence of this; and the contents will be interesting, as eliciting pleasant comparisons between the one humble wooden Church of those days, and the numerous, substantial and capacious ones that exist now:—

“I mentioned, in my last, that our Church had become much too small for our increasing congregation, and that it was being enlarged. The repairs and additions cost £1700, a sum which, large as it is, was subscribed for with great alacrity by the parishioners, on condition of their being repaid from the sale of the pews. This sale took place last January; and such was the competition that they sold for more than covers the debt. The Church is sixty-six feet by sixty, with a neat altar and a steeple.

“The Hon. George Crookshank, the Receiver-General, presented rich silk damask coverings for the pulpit, reading, and clerk’s desks, and the altar table.

“The communicants have increased from thirty-five to sixty-four. There is a flourishing Sunday School consisting of upwards of thirty girls and fifty boys. The girls are taught by three young ladies,—grand-daughters of the Hon. The Chief Justice. There is likewise a Sunday School attached to the Chapel in the country, where I preach once a month. Once every quarter these Schools are brought together and examined, presents of books given them by His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor and Lady Sarah Maitland, who interest themselves exceedingly in promoting the advancement of true religion.”

Towards the end of the year 1820, his appointment as Legislative Councillor took place. The manner in which it was made, is probably not much known; so we subjoin his account of it in a letter to the Bishop of Quebec:—

“The great addition made to the Representation of this Province in the House of Assembly, by the law passed last winter, has induced His Excellency Sir Peregrine Maitland to recommend some new members for seats in the Legislative Council. His Excellency placed me among the number, without any previous consultation; as it was necessary for him to have a confidential person in the Council through whom to make communications,—a service which the Chief Justice is frequently prevented rendering on account of his position as Speaker."

The acceptance of this honour was attended with some pecuniary sacrifice, as it rendered necessary his resignation of the office of Chaplain to the Legislative Council. To this situation a salary of £50 per annum was originally attached; but for the past four years it had been raised to £100 per annum. The Chaplaincy thus relinquished, was conferred upon the Rev. William Macaulay, then Incumbent of Cobourg, and was held by him for several years.

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