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History of the York Rangers
Chapter I


Concerning a Deception Practised by the People of Upper Canada Prior to July, 1812

ROB ABLY no nation ever showed fewer external signs of either the desire or the capacity for martial activity than did the people .qf Upper Canada prior to the war-storms of 1812. It is true that the first Lieutenant-Governor, General Simcoe, never ceased to brood over the difficulties and dangers that threatened (and still threaten) the defence of this Province in case war should actual break out. Indeed amidst his colonizing activities as ruler .of Western Canada he was still what he was in the war of the American Revolution, the ardent but sagaciously observant leader of the Queen"s, Rangers; thinking rather of where his magazines might be safe than of where the great&st commerce could be developed; and tracing his great roads, Dundas and Yonge Streets, with an eye less to the laborious procession of market wagons than of a rapid concentration of troops on interior lines. From mere military necessity the first provincial capital, Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), had to be abandoned as the political and commercial metropolis. The selection of Toronto (then York) was not by design of Simcoe, who meant London to be his fortifiable camp or by design of Simcoe’s superior, the Governor of Canada, who for especially good military reasons favoured Kingston as his arsenal. But this deadlock of strategic intelligence between these worthy soldiers secured by a sort of compromise the selection of the then by no means salubrious, easily defensible or commercially promising harbour on the north shore of Ontario, where in our time is reared a city which like Babylon of old says, “I sit a queen and am no widow and shall see no sorrow.” The wisdom of both the Lieutenant-Governor and the. Governor was justified of its children, when in 1818, York, indefensible. once the command of the Lake, is lost, fell after enveloping defenders and assailants in the ruins of its fortifications. Then as now Toronto was a good nurse of men and an improvident custodian of material. But the temper of the English speaking race, especially on this continent is rather to endure than to avert disasters that elementary military sagacity can readily foresee.

Nor were Provincial Parliaments negligent in their provision,- by word of statute,—for making the able-bodied colonist contribute for at least one day in the year his person equipped as the words ran, “with a good and sufficient musket, fusil, rifle or gun.” These Militia Acts of the Legislature beginning with the session of 1798 were sufficiently numerous and contradictors to require to be consolidated in 1808 according to a process of annual emendation and periodical codification, which has gone on continuous until our own day. For the outcome of attempts to create a national army on paper, when the bulk of our citizens mean to sacrifice neither their own time nor their own money in organizing a force reality, is that we adopt the eternal subterfuge of varying the phraseology of militia acts and regulations, making new subdivisions of w hat, does not exist an by multiplying officers of high rank persuade ourselves that we have soldiers t command.

However, the Parliaments of Upper Canada and in their turn those of the Province and the Dominion of Canada have fortunately never surrendered the| original power of enrolling the entire able bodied population in the defence of the country. But tin' original system of mustering the enrolled on one day in the year has now for many years perished under the assaults of that enemy before whom the most mail-clad chivalry is powerless,—namely, the ridicule that grow out of absurdity.

In the early years of the last century, however, and for that matter down t the time of men now living the captain still solemnly mustered his enrolled neigh hours and they as regularly failed to turn up for that period of one absurd day which had no instructional value to the forces and no pay value to the recruits year by year the Legislature with verbal relentlessness amended the statutes make more effective the tines of the absentees. But Capt. Armstrong, the village butcher, forebore to press the ease of non-attendance against the son o! Parmer Brown of (he side lint;. And if he did press it nevertheless for some unaccountable reason the harness-maker and the flour-and-feed merchant, who a Justices of the Peace had been forced to inflict the fine took no steps to collect it.

Nor could the House of Assembly in 1812 composed as it was of men extremely sensitive to those popular feelings of self-government which had been unpleasantly ruffled by that intermittent Governor, Sir Francis Gore, be considered symptomatic of any great desire to lift the drawbridges of peace and stengthen the hands of military authority. While making a reluctant war grant of £5,000 they refused to suspend Habeas Corpus or pass an alien law; and until the end o their session when they passed a sufficiently high and patriotic resolution they acted with a meticulous caution that could not have offended the least belligerent of most pro-American voter in Upper Canada.

Seeking reasons for this delicacy of the politicians we find that the original loyalist settlers of the province were now apparently outnumbered by American and other foreign accretions to the population. It is, therefore, not surprising that even astute thinkers should believe the people of Upper Canada a race of men possessed equally by a rage for making money' and a contempt for old-fashioned loyalty and the use of arms. It did not occur to observers in Old Upper Canada in 1812, as perhaps it does not occur to observers in Saskatchewan in 191#, that the placid sentiment of the settler, who has left his own country to improve his lot, is as potmetal to steel to that intense but undemonstrative loyalty which with some men has all the force of a religion.

Nor had the professional soldiers done or been allowed to do anything to make defensible this great territory. Fort George at Niagara and Fort Malden at Ambersburg were dismantled and in a state of ruin. Despite- the continuous threat of war a mere peace establishment of troops less than sixteen hundred in all —barely sufficient for parade purposes and to act as caretakers of stores- were grudgingly maintained throughout the province. To supplement this pigmy force the more enthusiastic of the militia in each of the paper regiments were encouraged to drill six times a month, forming what were then known as “Flank Companies.” These Flank Companies, with their captain, two subalterns, two sergeants, one drummer and thirty-five rank and file bear a fine ancestral resemblance to the average militia company that in our own time can be seen on a June day training at Niagara-on-tke-Lake,. They were provided with arms and accoutrements and promised clothes and rations. Prior to the war some seven hundred of them were embodied.

With such an estensible force to make good a territory' difficult in its internal communications and so large that its southerly' frontier alone from Ambersburg to the Lower Province presents a line double the length of the frontier between France and Germany with Belgium thrown in, it is not surprising that military' experts should have considered a successful defence impossible. Accordingly historians may wrell deal with all leniency with that somewhat inadequate hero, Sir George Prevost, the Governor-General, whose most sanguine hope of any' good to ®me out of Upper Canada was that by making a flank movement in his favour the forces in the Upper Province might enable him to save Quebec.

The American Government apparently was as much convinced as the Governor of Canada of the ease with which this province could be added to the domains of the United State-s. The Secretary of War declared, “We can take the Canadas without soldiers, we have only to send officers into the province and the people disaffected towards their own government will rally round our own standard.”

Henry Clay, then a rising orator and fast becoming a. political pet. of the American nation said. “We have the Canada* as much under our command as Great Britain has the ocean.”

Such then in the beginning of 1812 was the apparently' hopeless position of this as a British province: large in territory, any part of which could easily be invaded and small in population and that population seemingly’ lukewarm and undecided.

In the event, the people of Upper Canada sprang to their weapons with a furious alacrity that staggered the calculations of both politicians and generals, and extorted the admiration of the most hardened professional soldiers. The Iron Duke himself speaking of their achievements as late as 1840 said that it had been “demonstrated that these provinces (with but little assistance from the mother country in regular troops) are capable of defending themselves against all the efforts of their powerful neighbours.”

What martial force was latent in the militia of Upper Canada can best be estimated by their having in conjunction with the sturdy little bands of regulars, either destroyed or defeated during the first campaign four well appointed and supremely confident American armies,—Hull's at Detroit, Van Rensselaer’s at Queenston, Smyth’s at Fort Erie and Winchester’s at Frenchtown. Whence we may infer that while strategists may with some show of certainty weigh the chances of a clash between the trained forces of two countries, it is another matter when a whole people stand up and number themselves and commit the issue to the God of Rattles.


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