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Canada in the 19th Century; Canada day, when Canada was born, and a few rebellions!!

In the previous century, the 18th century, Canada was torn into two pieces, Upper and Lower Canada. In the 19th century, we will learn about the problems this caused and how the governors back then tried to solve them. We will learn about the wars in Canada in the 19th century, the treaties signed with the First Nations, etc. 

But the most important part of Canada’s history happens in this century: The day Canada was born!! Keep reading this article, and you will learn all you need about it and much more.

Starting the 19th century on the wrong foot; War of 1812

After a few relatively peaceful years, in 1812, while Britain was occupied with fighting Napoleon in Europe, the American forces invaded Canada and tried to add it to American soil. After so many back and forth conflicts, in 1814, the war officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent. The Treaty stated that all lands occupied by either side must be returned to the original owner. It made all efforts and triumphs that had happened in Canada in the 19th century up to this point fruitless.

During this war, one incident stands out, although it was not known to the public for decades. Laura Secord was a Queenston resident. On their march towards Beaver Dams outpost, American soldiers spent a night in Queenston village, where Secord was informed of their intention. She left the village early in the morning, walked for 19 miles (30 km) to notify the British forces. Her efforts were not fruitless, for the British readied and defeated the American army at the Battle of Beaver Dams in 1813.

In the war of 1812, the Canadians showed their patriotic spirit; while most of the British forces were engaged with Napoleon’s war in Europe, they stood up to invading Americans and defended their soil.

The Treaty of 1818, also called the London Convention, defined the boundary between the United States and Canada, putting an end to the controversies. 

Laura Secord informs the British forces in Canada in the 19th century

Laura Secord informs the British forcesl

Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1814

Upper and Lower Canada reunite, Province of Canada is established

The war of 1812 finished in 1814; in its aftermath, the biggest portion of Lower Canada’s elected assembly were French Canadians, leading to a sense of nationalism among the francophones. They were discontent with how the profits were spent along with other problems. These matters altogether led to two rebellions in 1837 and 1838, which British soldiers and Canadian volunteers suppressed. But suppressing rebellions was not a solution for the issue Canada in the 19th century was facing.

At the same time, the high debts of Upper Canada and the demand for reforming the domination also led to a rebellion in 1838.

The British Crown sent Lord Dunham to address the issue and find a solution to these public discontent. In his reports, he recommended merging Upper and Lower Canada and instating a responsible government, meaning that ministers of the Crown had to have support from the majority of elected officials to govern.

In 1840, through the Act of Union 1840, Upper and Lower Canada were reunited, with different regions called West and East Canada, founding Province of Canada. Assimilation through this act was hoped, making French-Canadian culture disappear. In order to achieve this, using the French language in the official government was prohibited. The first colony to acquire a fully responsible government was Nova Scotia.

A single parliament was formed, with equal seats for each region, and debts of both regions were unified. The imbalance between regions’ populations brought about problems; Canada West had 450,000 inhabitants while Canada East had 650,000. French-Canadians called it an injustice. 

These problems resulted in two parts of Canada, East, and West Canada, acting separately again. Although the Government of Lafontaine-Baldwin revoked the initiative against the French language, dissatisfaction resulting from the political dead-ends were stepping stones towards the 1867 Confederation. Fate was about to turn over a new leaf for Canada in the 19th century.

Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, Father of Responsible Government

Robert Baldwin, Father of Responsible Government

Canada Day, Confederation of Canada is born

The aforementioned issues, along with the increasing population of Canada, the contrast between English Protestants and French Catholics, and the political deadlock of the situation, demanded a new mechanism to govern Canada in the 19th century.

In 1864, the representatives of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island were to have a meeting regarding unification. Much to their surprise, the government of the Province of Canada requested to join in this unification. After the Colonial Office in London accepted their request, they took part in the “Charlottetown Conference”.

The process of uniting took years, “Charlottetown Conference” in 1864, “Quebec Conference” in 1864, and then “London Conference” in 1866. These prompted the “Constitution Act, 1867”, Confederation of Canada in the 19th century, which was accomplished when Queen Victoria gave royal assent. By this act, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada were united. This went into effect on 1st July 1867, hence Canada Day. Under this act Province of Canada was made of 2 parts: Quebec and Ontario.

And so, by the hard work of the “Fathers of Canada”, people who took part in a meeting to unify Canada, Canada was born.

Charlottetown Conference participants

Provinces of Canada, after Canada Day

Red River Rebellion

The new federal government of Canada in the 19th century faced its first challenge not long after it was created; in 1869, Hudson’s Bay Company sold Rupert’s Land territory to the government of Canada to expand its lands. It was done without the consent of Metis people, the inhabitants of Rupert’s Land; thus, it caused a rebellion in the same year, when “Louis Riel” and his Metis followers seized Fort Garry and set up a provisional government consisting of an equal number of Anglophone representatives and Metis people. 

Riel entered negotiations with the government, which resulted in the birth of a new province: Manitoba. Before the army reached Fort Garry to capture Riel, he had fled to the United States.

Later in Canada in the 19th century, 1885, Riel was in charge of another rebellion, this time rights of native people of nowadays Saskatchewan were in danger. He was arrested this time and executed on the allegation of treason. His execution had a strong polarizing effect on the country; some saw him as a hero who stood up to natives’ and French-Canadians’ rights, while some depicted him as a ruthless traitor of the country.

As he was the force behind Manitoba becoming the 5th state of Canada, nowadays Manitoban people have a holiday named after him in February every year. Other parts of Canada hold 16th November as “Louis Riel day”, the day he was executed.

Louis Riel and Metis provisional government

The subject land of each Treaty

Last words about Canada in the 19th century

And so, Canada in the 19th century started crawling towards the west, looking more like Canada we know today. But if you think from this point the history of Canada is an uneventful one, you are gravely mistaken. Here I assure you, the 20th and 21st centuries are so full of events you might not even have heard of!!

Also if you are curious about other aspects of Canada, don’t forget to check our other articles regarding the Geography, Politics, Socio-cultural, and Economics of Canada.

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