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General Brock
Chapter V - Upper and Lower Canada - 1802


THE year 1802 was a critical time in Canada, and so it was felt to be by the few who were there to guard it. If Bonaparte had succeeded in his plans on the American continent, and had occupied Louisiana with an army of twenty thousand men, Canada would probably have been immediately the scene of war between Great Britain and France. Another enemy, however, was nearer her borders, although ten years passed before hostilities broke out.

When Brock arrived, Sir Robert Shore Milnes, formerly governor of the island of Martinique, was the lieutenant-governor residing at Quebec. He was not of military rank, so in the absence of Sir Robert Prescott, then in England, General Hunter, the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, was commander-in-chief of the forces in Canada. The latter was stationed at York (Toronto) which was, therefore, at that time headquarters. The population of Lower Canada in 1801 is given as 160,000. In Haldimand's census of 1784 it was 110,837, of which 108,000 were French Canadians. The towns of Quebec and Montreal were given as containing each about six thousand inhabitants, of which the proportion of French to English was two to one. In country parishes the proportion was forty to one. These were almost exclusively French; for the families of the English soldiers, who after the conquest remained in Canada and married French Canadian wives, had taken the religion and language of the mothers, and were French in all but in name.

Quebec in the early days of the century remained, as formerly, the centre of society and civilization in Canada. It had then about twelve thousand inhabitants, of whom half were English, including the garrison. The government officials were exclusively English, and, if report be true, formed a rather arrogant and supercilious set. The French residents of the upper class, whose very names smacked of the old regime, were still as gay and brilliant as when Frontenac and de Vaudreuil reigned in the Chateau St. Louis. A glance at a subscription list of 1799 for a patriotic fund to send to England in aid of the expenses of her great war with France, shows, however, that the two races, French and English, dwelt together in amity. Mingled with the names of Sewell, Forsyth, Molson, Osgoode, Pownell and Coffin are those of Taschereau, de Boucherville, de Lotbiniére, de Ldvis and de Salaberry. The sum of eight thousand pounds was raised and the contributions came, not only from Quebec and Montreal, but from the parishes of Trois Rivi&res and Sorel. Another proof of the good feeling towards England that existed at the time on the part of the French inhabitants was that Nelson's victory of the Nile was celebrated by a solemn mass, and by a Te Deum which was chanted in the parish churches by order of the bishop. His mandement was:— "Messieurs les curds ne manqueront pas de prendre occasion de cette fete pour faire sentir vivement a leurs paroissiens les obligations qu'ils ont au ciel de les avoir mis sous l'empire et la protection de sa majestd brittannique, et les exhorter tout de nouv-eau a s'y maintenir avec fidelite et reconnaissance."

'Translation.—"The curds will not fail to take the opportunity afforded by this festival to make their parishioners realize the obligations they owe to heaven for having placed them under the empire and protection of His Brittanic Majesty, and to exhort them anew to maintain themselves in it with fidelity and gratitude." most pronounced aversion to French Canadians and Roman Catholics.

Throughout the most trying days of the administration of Carleton and Haldimand, the priests and the seigneurs had remained faithful to British rule. It is probable that the former recognized that under it their church was more likely to hold its ancient privileges than under the sway of the new republic.

The administration of Sir Robert Milnes was not favourable to the continuance of this friendly feeling. He always distrusted the French Canadians and advised that the militia should be disbanded because, he said, it was not proper to arm and train the people of a conquered province. He possibly saw through the eyes of his private secretary, Ryland, an able but prejudiced man.

Colonel Brock was not long allowed to enjoy the society and comparative comfort of Quebec. His regiment was ordered to the Upper Province where the greater part of it was stationed at Fort George under Lieutenant-Colonel Sheaffe, while he himself remained at headquarters in York.

The long journey from Quebec was accomplished by water, for although a road had been cut in 1799 from the Bay of Quintd, near Kingston, to York, and although in 1808 there was a passable highway from Quebec to Sandwich, a distance of eight hundred miles, yet transport by water was much easier. No steamboat had as yet been launched on the St. Lawrence and even the large Durham boat was unknown, but the bateau, about eighteen or twenty feet long and six feet wide, was in general use. It was capable of carrying about three tons. In ascending the St. Lawrence there were many rapids to pass and portages were long and difficult. To avoid these, Governor Haldimand, in 1784, had designed and built small canals, the first on the American continent, and the forerunners of those magnificent canals which have done so much for the development of Canada. When the river was passed, schooners from Kingston conveyed freight and passengers by Lake Ontario to York and Niagara.

In Upper Canada there were at this time, 1803, about forty thousand new settlers, for, in addition to the United Empire Loyalists, reckoned in 1791 at ten thousand, there had been an emigration from the north of Scotland and Ireland and also from the United States, the latter being chiefly of Dutch farmers and Quakers from Pennsylvania. The number of regular troops in Lower Canada was a little over two thousand, in Upper Canada about six hundred, scattered at various posts along the frontier. The settlements in the Lower Province were on the banks of the St. Lawrence and its tributary streams. In Upper Canada there were small hamlets on the shores of Lake Ontario, of which Kingston, York and Niagara were the principal, and military training-posts at great distances apart on Lakes Erie and Huron. Trappers, hunters and wandering tribes of Indians roamed through the vast forests that lay beyond.

So scanty was the population of Upper Canada, and so unknown its capabilities, that there had been many protests against the division of the country into Upper and Lower Provinces. The English residents of Lower Canada wished rather for the total repeal of the Quebec Act of 1774 and the retention of the old boundaries, and sent Adam Lymburner, a merchant of Quebec, to represent them in 1791, before a committee of the House of Commons. In his argument he said there was no reason for the division of the province, as Niagara must be the limit of Upper Canada. The country beyond, he represented, could not be of importance for settlement, as the falls of Niagara would be an insurmountable barrier to the transportation of the produce of the land. Burke, in parliament, speaking against the passage of the act, had declaimed against settlement in "the bleak and barren regions of Canada."

In the ten years that followed this protest, despite Lymburner's prophecy, trade had much increased on the lakes, and had even found its way west of Lake Erie. Merchandise was brought from Albany by the Mohawk River, Oneida Lake and the Onondaga River to Oswego, and then shipped on schooners for Prescott, York and Niagara. There were ports of entry at Cornwall, Johnstone (Brock-ville), Amherstburg and Sandwich. York, the infant capital of the province, was, in 1803, much smaller than Newark, or Niagara, the former seat of government. In 1793 there was on its site one solitary Indian wigwam, and although in ten years the solitary wigwam had multiplied into many frame and log dwellings of the rudest description, there were as yet no public buildings of any kind. Lieutenant-Governor Hunter represented to the government in England that the executive had to meet in a room in the clerk of the council's house, and the only place for the meetings of the assembly was a room in a building originally designed as a residence for the governor. The courts of law also held their sittings there. The governor asked for eighty thousand pounds for the purpose of erecting suitable quarters for the legislature, for various public offices and for courts of law. He represented also that contributions from England had been given to erect a Protestant cathedral at Quebec, while the inhabitants of York had subscribed amongst themselves for a church.

Lieutenant-Governor Hunter, who was in command when Brock arrived at York, was a Scotsman of whom but little is known except that he had been governor of Barbadoes. There are few records of his administration, and he is but a shadowy figure in the annals of the time. He seems to have lived, as government house was occupied for offices, in the barracks, which were about two miles west of the town. These barracks consisted of a wooden blockhouse, and some cottages of the same material, little better than temporary huts. Another blockhouse was at the eastern end of the town, and between were jutting points of land clothed with spreading oak trees. The harbour was considered the safest on Lake Ontario. The long peninsula that enclosed the beautiful bay was fringed with trees, whose reflection in the placid waters was said to have been the origin of the Indian name Toronto. The wild grape vine threw its tendrils around them, and in their shade were refreshing springs of water. Wild fowl made its sandy beaches and reedy marshes their home, so that it was a very paradise for sportsmen. There were salmon in the lake and in the rivers that flowed into it, and game of all kinds abounded in the neighbourhood. A road that had been cut through the wilderness north of the town by the orders of Governor Simcoe, led to Cook's Bay, Lake Simcoe, which was thirty-seven miles distant, and by that lake there was water communication of seventy miles north to Matchedash Bay on Lake Huron. Another military highway west of the town led to Coote's Paradise (Hamilton) and thence to New London on the Thames, thus opening up an inland way to Lake Erie. Settlers were slowly hewing out homes for themselves in these remote districts.


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