The Province of Upper Canada (French: province du Haut-Canada) was a political division in British Canada established in 1791 by the British Empire to govern the central third of the lands in British North America and to accommodate Loyalist refugees from the United States of America after the American Revolution. The new province remained the government of the colonial territory for the next fifty years of growth and settlement.
Upper Canada existed from December 26, 1791 to February 10, 1841 and generally comprised present-day Southern Ontario. The prefix "upper" in its name reflects its geographic position higher up the river basin or closer to the headwaters of the St. Lawrence River than that of Lower Canada or present-day Quebec to the northeast.
Upper Canada included all of modern-day southern Ontario and all those areas of northern Ontario in the pays d'en haut which had formed part of New France, essentially the watersheds of the Ottawa River, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior. It did not include any lands within the watershed of Hudson Bay.
Control of all of Canada passed from France to Great Britain when the Treaty of Paris (1763) ended the Seven Years' War in America. The new possession was initially organized under a military governor, distinct from British Canadian provinces. The territories of modern southern Ontario and southern Quebec were initially maintained as the single Province of Quebec, as it had been under the French.
The part of the province west of Montreal and Quebec in the upper river basin soon began receiving many English-speaking settlers from Great Britain. A decade later, many English-speaking Protestant United Empire Loyalists arrived in the area as refugees from the American Revolution. This region quickly became culturally distinct, and troubles arose from an accelerating cultural clash. The province was maintained by the British colonial government as initially acquired: today's southern Ontario and southern Quebec were attached under one government. From 1763 to 1791, the Province of Quebec maintained its French language, French cultural behavioural expectations and practices, and Roman Catholic based laws.
This status was renewed and reinforced by the Quebec Act of 1774, which expanded Quebec's territory to include part of the Indian Reserve to the west (i.e., parts of southern Ontario), and other western territories south of the Great Lakes including much of what is now The United States' mid-west states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota. While the act addressed some religious issues, it did not appease those used to English culture.
"Upper Canada" became a political entity on December 26, 1791 with the Parliament of Great Britain's passage of the Constitutional Act of 1791. The act divided the Province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada, which resolved the matter for English speakers at the time, but made permanent the two-language split society of today's Canada. The division was effected so that Loyalist American settlers and British immigrants in Upper Canada could have English laws and institutions, and the French-speaking population of Lower Canada could maintain French civil law and the Catholic religion.
The colony was administered by a lieutenant-governor, legislative council, and legislative assembly. The first lieutenant-governor was John Graves Simcoe. On February 1, 1796, the capital of Upper Canada was moved from Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) to York (now Toronto), which was judged to be less vulnerable to attack by the Americans.
Local government in the Province of Upper Canada was based on districts. In 1788, four districts were created:
Additional districts were created from the existing districts as the population grew until 1849, when local government mainly based on counties came into effect. At that time, there were 20 districts; legislation to create a new Kent District never completed. Up until 1841, the district officials were appointed by the lieutenant-governor, although usually with local input. A Court of Quarter Sessions was held four times a year in each district to oversee the administration of the district and deal with legal cases.
War of 1812 (1812 1815)
During the War of 1812 with the United States, Upper Canada was the chief target of the Americans, since it was weakly defended and populated largely by American immigrants. However, division in the United States over the war, a lacklustre American militia, the incompetence of American military commanders, and swift and decisive action by the British commander, Sir Isaac Brock, kept Upper Canada part of British North America.
Detroit was captured by the British on August 6, 1812. The Michigan Territory was held under British control until it was abandoned in 1813. The Americans won the decisive Battle of Lake Erie (Sept. 10, 1813) and forced the British to retreat from the western areas. On the retreat they were intercepted at the Battle of the Thames (October 5, 1813) and destroyed in a major American victory that killed Tecumseh, broke the power of Britain's Indian allies, and gave the Americans control of the Great Lakes.
Major battles fought on territory in Upper Canada included;
Battle of Queenston Heights, October 13, 1812
- Burning and Battle of York, April 27, 1813
Battle of Fort George, May 27, 1813
Battle of Stoney Creek, June 5, 1813
Battle of Beaver Dams, 1813
Battle of Lake Erie, September 10, 1813
Battle of the Thames, October 5, 1813
Battle of Crysler's Farm, November 11, 1813
- Burning of Newark, December 10, 1813
Battle of Chippewa, July 5, 1814
Battle of Lundy's Lane, July 25, 1814
Many other battles were fought in American territory bordering Upper Canada, including the Northwest Territory (most in modern day Michigan), upstate New York and naval battles in the Great Lakes.
The Treaty of Ghent (ratified in 1815) ended the war and restored the status quo ante bellum between the combatants.
Dissidents and 1837 Rebellion
After 1800 there emerged a dissident faction that questioned the direction and handling of the colony by the Tories, including both colonial and imperial officials. The leaders were Robert Thorpe, Joseph Willcocks, Robert Gourlay, and especially, William Lyon Mackenzie. They challenged the establishment about taxes, land policy, the privileges of the Anglican Church and the Family Compact, appropriations, and freedom of the press. They claimed that all citizens and not just the enfranchised were entitled to a voice, but they did not form a political party; there were no parties. In 1831 the Tories expelled Mackenzie from the Assembly, and the conflict escalated. Their brief armed rebellion in 1837 failed. Officials blamed American influence, "In this country unfortunately the settlement of American citizens has been too much permitted and encouraged, and thus in the bosom of this community there exists a treacherous foe... in many parts of the Province the teachers are Americans.... These men are utterly ignorant of everything English and could not if they tried instruct their pupils in any of the duties which the connection of the Province with England casts upon them." The oligarchic Family Compact was defended by Tories who explained, "The Radicals, Revolutionists or Destructives was composed of all the American settlers and speculators in land, some of the more simple and ignorant of the older class of farmers, and the rabble of adventurers who poured in every year from the United States or from Britain, to evade the laws of their respective countries."
Lord Durham's support for "responsible government" undercut the Tories and gradually led the public to reject what it viewed as poor administration, unfair land and education policies, and inadequate attention to urgent transportation needs. Finally there emerged responsible government under Robert Baldwin and Louis LaFontaine by the late 1840s
An 1824 land deed for Upper Canada
Land had been settled since the French regime, notably along the Detroit River and the St. Lawrence River. Land speculators also contributed to this by buying land cheap and selling it for expensive prices. However, impetus to land settlement came with the influx of Loyalist refugees and military personnel in 1784 after the American Revolution. As a result, prior to the creation of Upper Canada in 1791 as a separate colony, much land had been ceded by the First Nations to the Crown in accordance with the Royal Proclamation of 1763. This land was surveyed by the government of the Province of Quebec, particularly in eastern Ontario along the St. Lawrence River, as the Western Townships, while the Eastern Townships were in Lower Canada.
Rudimentary municipal administration began with the creation of districts, notably Western (including present day Brantford), Eastern, Gore (including present day Hamilton) and Home (including present day Toronto).
The Act Against Slavery passed in Upper Canada on July 9, 1793.
Organized settlement tracts were laid out with portions set aside for the clergy reserves, one exception was the Talbot Settlement on the north shore of Lake Erie, which was set up in 1804.
These land tracts expanded in reach well beyond the St. Lawrence Lake Ontario Lake Erie shores after the War of 1812. In 1828, Britain appointed Upper Canada's first chief agent of emigration, A.C. Buchanan. His title reflected the centrality of Britain's perspective on migration in the colonies at the time, especially since most new arrivals in Upper Canada were from the United Kingdom.
British regiment soldiers who were veterans of the war were offered free land, and some remained despite the harsh winters. Unlike the period prior to the war, immigration was now directed at Europe and more specifically to the United Kingdom and Ireland, not from the United States, which was the largest source of immigration before the war. Very cheap or even free land was offered with advertisements to entice immigrants to settle there, even those in financially meagre circumstances. Passage could be obtained across the Atlantic on returning empty lumber ships for little fare. During the early 1830s, the population increased more than 10% of its total each year. In the 1820s many German-speaking Mennonite immigrants came to the Grand River region of Upper Canada from Pennsylvania, they were joined as well by many German speaking Amish immigrants. This region was sometimes called "Little Pennsylvania", however this term is no longer used today. Many of their descendants continue to speak a form of German called Pennsylvania German.
It is estimated that thousands of escaped slaves entered Upper Canada from the United States, using the Underground Railroad.
Upper Canada ceased to be a political entity with the Act of Union (1840), when, by an act of the British Parliament, it was merged with Lower Canada to form the united Province of Canada. This was principally in response to the Upper and Lower Canada rebellions of 1837 and 1837 38, respectively. At Confederation in 1867, the Province of Canada was re-divided along the former boundary as the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
The name 'Upper Canada' lives on in a few historical forms, most notably the Law Society of Upper Canada, Upper Canada Lumber, Upper Canada College, Upper Canada Mall (in Newmarket, Ontario), and the Upper Canada Brewing Company.
When the capital was first moved to Toronto from Newark (present-day Niagara-on-the-Lake) in 1796, the Parliament Buildings of Upper Canada were located at the corner of Parliament and Front Streets, in buildings that were burned by U.S. forces in the War of 1812, rebuilt, then burned again by accident. The site was eventually abandoned for another, to the west.
Population of Upper Canada, 1806 1840
(see United Province of Canada for population after 1840)
Source: Statistics Canada website Censuses of Canada 1665 to 1871.
See Coins of Upper Canada.
Canada West was the western portion of the United Province of Canada from February 10, 1841, to July 1, 1867. Its boundaries were identical to those of the former Province of Upper Canada. Lower Canada would also become Canada East
The area of Canada West covered all of modern-day Southern Ontario and all those areas of Northern Ontario in the pays d'en haut which had formed part of New France, essentially the watersheds of the Ottawa River, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior.
Canada West was a political entity and a geographic way of referring to the western and more English speaking part of the former Province of Upper Canada, following its merger into the United Province of Canada. Canada West was given 42 seats in the Legislative Assembly of Canada, exactly the same number as Canada East.
The area was named the Province of Ontario under the British North America Act of 1867.
The population of Canada West grew substantially during the period it existed, mostly due to unprecedented immigration and a high birth rate. In 1841 it was 455,000 but grew to approximately 1,500,000 people at the time of Confederation in 1867.
Censuses were conducted in 1851 and 1861 and the population in those years was 952,004 and 1,396,091 respectively.
- Armstrong, Frederick H. Handbook of Upper Canadian Chronology Dundurn Press, 1985. ISBN 0-919670-92-X
- Clarke, John. Land Power and Economics on the Frontier of Upper Canada McGill-Queen's University Press (2001) 747pp. (ISBN 0-7735-2062-7)
- Craig, Gerald M. Upper Canada: the formative years 1784-1841 McClelland and Stewart, 1963, the standard history online edition
- Dieterman, Frank. Government on fire: the history and archaeology of Upper Canada's first Parliament Buildings Eastendbooks, 2001.
- Dunham, Eileen. Political unrest in Upper Canada 1815-1836 McClelland and Stewart, 1963.
- Errington, Jane. The lion, the eagle, and Upper Canada: a developing colonial ideology McGill-Queen's University Press, 1987.
- Grabb, Edward, Jeff Duncan, and Douglas Baer. "Defining Moments and Recurring Myths: Comparing Canadians and Americans after the American Revolution" in The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, Vol. 37, 2000
- Johnston, James Keith. Historical essays on Upper Canada McClelland and Stewart, 1975.
- Kilbourn, William. The Firebrand: William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion in Upper Canada (1956) online edition
- Lewis, Frank, and M. C. Urquhart. Growth and standard of living in a pioneer economy: Upper Canada 1826-1851 Kingston, Ont. : Institute for Economic Research, Queen's University, 1997.
- McCalla, Douglas. Planting the province: the economic history of Upper Canada 1784-1870 University of Toronto Press, 1993.
- McNairn, Jeffrey L. The capacity to judge: public opinion and deliberative democracy in Upper Canada 1791-1854 University of Toronto Press, 2000.
Rea, J. Edgar. "Rebellion in Upper Canada, 1837" ''Manitoba Historical Society Transactions'' Series 3, Number 22, 1965-66 online, historiography
- Wilton, Carol. Popular Politics and Political Culture in Upper Canada, 1800-1850. McGill-Queen's University Press, (2000). 311pp
- Winearls, Joan. Mapping Upper Canada 1780-1867: an annotated bibliography of manuscript and printed maps. University of Toronto Press, 1991.erdvrv
Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigrant Experience at Library and Archives Canada
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