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The American Migration

From the first the problem of governing the settlements above Montreal perplexed the authorities. It was very early proposed to erect them into a separate province, as New Brunswick had been erected into a separate province. But Lord Dorchester was opposed to any such arrangement. 'It appears to me,' he wrote to Lord Sydney, 'that the western settlements are as yet unprepared for any organization superior to that of a county.' In 1787, therefore, the country west of Montreal was divided into four districts, for a time named Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nassau, and Hesse. Lunenburg stretched from the western boundary of the province of Quebec to the Gananoqui; Mecklenburg, from the Gananoqui to the Trent, flowing into the Bay of Quinte; Nassau, from the Trent to a line drawn due north from Long Point on Lake Erie; and Hesse, from this line to Detroit. We do not know who was responsible for inflicting these names on a new and unoffending country. Perhaps they were thought a compliment to the Hanoverian ruler of England. Fortunately they were soon dropped, and the names Eastern, Midland, Home, and Western were substituted.

This division of the settlements proved only temporary. It left the Loyalists under the arbitrary system of government set up in Quebec by the Quebec Act of 1774, under which they enjoyed no representative institutions whatever. It was not long before petitions began to pour in from them asking that they should be granted a representative assembly. Undoubtedly Lord Dorchester had underestimated the desire among them for representative institutions. In 1791, therefore, the country west of the Ottawa river, with the exception of a triangle of land at the junction of the Ottawa and the St Lawrence, was erected by the Constitutional Act into a separate province, with the name of Upper Canada; and this province was granted a representative assembly of fifteen members.

The lieutenant-governor appointed for the new province was Colonel John Graves Simcoe. During the war Colonel Simcoe had been the commanding officer of the Queen's Rangers, which had been largely composed of Loyalists, and he was therefore not unfitted to govern the new province. He was theoretically under the control of Lord Dorchester at Quebec; but his relations with Dorchester were somewhat strained, and he succeeded in making himself virtually independent in his western jurisdiction. Though he seemed phlegmatic, he possessed a vigorous and enterprising disposition, and he planned great things for Upper Canada. He explored the country in search of the best site for a capital; and it is interesting to know that he had such faith in the future of Upper Canada that he actually contemplated placing the capital in what was then the virgin wilderness about the river Thames. He inaugurated a policy of building roads and improving communications which showed great foresight; and he entered upon an immigration propaganda, by means of proclamations advertising free land grants, which brought a great increase of population to the province.

Simcoe believed that there were still in the United States after 1791 many people who had remained loyal at heart to Great Britain, and who were profoundly dissatisfied with their lot under the new American government. It was his object to attract these people to Upper Canada by means of his proclamations; and there is no doubt that he was partly successful. But he also attracted many who had no other motive in coming to Canada than their desire to obtain free land grants, and whose attachment to the British crown was of the most recent origin. These people were freely branded by the original settlers as 'Americans'; and there is no doubt that in many cases the name expressed their real sympathies.

The War of the Revolution had hardly been brought to a conclusion when some of the Americans showed a tendency to migrate into Canada. In 1783, when the American Colonel Willet was attempting an attack on the British garrison at Oswego, American traders, with an impudence which was superb, were arriving at Niagara. In 1784 some rebels who had attempted to pose as Loyalists were ejected from the settlements at Cataraqui. And after Simcoe began to advertise free land grants to all who would take the oath of allegiance to King George, hundreds of Americans flocked across the border. The Duc de la Rochefoucauld, a French emigre who travelled through Upper Canada in 1795, and who has given us the best account of the province at that time, asserted that there were in Upper Canada many who falsely profess an attachment to the British monarch and curse the Government of the Union for the mere purpose of getting possession of the lands.' 'We met in this excursion,' says La Rochefoucauld in another place, 'an American family who, with some oxen, cows, and sheep, were emigrating to Canada. "We come," said they, "to the governor," whom they did not know, "to see whether he will give us land." "Aye, aye," the governor replied, "you are tired of the federal government; you like not any longer to have so many kings; you wish again for your old father" (it is thus the governor calls the British monarch when he speaks with Americans); "you are perfectly right; come along, we love such good Royalists as you are; we will give you land."'

Other testimony is not lacking. Writing in 1799 Richard Cartwright said, 'It has so happened that a great portion of the population of that part of the province which extends from the head of the Bay of Kenty upwards is composed of persons who have evidently no claim to the appellation of Loyalists.' In some districts it was a cause of grievance that persons from the States entered the province, petitioned for lands, took the necessary oaths, and, having obtained possession of the land, resold it, pocketed the money, and returned to build up the American Union. As late as 1816 a letter appeared in the Kingston _Gazette_ in which the complaint is made that 'people who have come into the country from the States, marry into a family, and obtain a lot of wild land, get John Ryder to move the landmarks, and instead of a wild lot, take by force a fine house and barn and orchard, and a well-cultivated farm, and turn the old Tory (as he is called) out of his house, and all his labor for thirty years.'

Never at any other time perhaps have conditions been so favorable in Canada for land-grabbing and land-speculation as they were then. Owing to the large amount of land granted to absentee owners, and to the policy of free land grants announced by Simcoe, land was sold at a very low price. In some cases two hundred acre lots were sold for a gallon of rum. In 1791 Sir William Pullency, an English speculator, bought 1,500,000 acres of land in Upper Canada at one shilling an acre, and sold 700,000 acres later for an average of eight shillings an acre. Under these circumstances it was not surprising that many Americans, with their shrewd business instincts, flocked into the country.

It is clear, then, that a large part of the immigration which took place under Simcoe was not Loyalist in its character. From this, it must not be understood that the new-comers were not good settlers. Even Richard Cartwright confessed that they had 'resources in themselves which other people are usually strangers to.' They compared very favorably with the Loyalists who came from England and the Maritime Provinces, who were described by Cartwright as 'idle and profligate.' The great majority of the American settlers became loyal subjects of the British crown; and it was only when the American army invaded Canada in 1812, and when William Lyon Mackenzie made a push for independence in 1837, that the non-Loyalist character of some of the early immigration became apparent.

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, The United Empire Loyalists, A Chronicle of the Great Migration, 1915


Chronicles of Canada

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