Linguistic History of Canada

American Revolution and its Consequences in Canada

American Revolution (1775–1783)
American Revolution

The American Revolutionary War was an armed conflict that lasted eight long years, from 1775 to 1783. It was also a civil war between British subjects and Americans, a rebellion against colonial authorities, and an insurrection against the king of England (George III) and the monarchical regime. It was ultimately a war of "national liberation," the first in modern history. It caused some 25,700 deaths on the American side alone, which ranks it the second bloodiest war ever waged by the United States (after the Civil War).

In British North America, the American Revolution and Independence had serious consequences. The American Revolution and the sentiments leading up to it gave rise to the Québec Act of 1774 and the Constitutional Act of 1791. American Independence not only brought about a change in the Canadian-American border that considerably reduced British holdings, but also radically changed the demographic makeup of Canada with the arrival of tens of thousands of British loyalists from the American colonies. Moreover, these changes led to the creation of another "province" or British colony —New Brunswick— and the division of Québec into two separate colonies: Upper Canada (Ontario) to the west and Lower Canada to the east (Québec). British North America thus went from three colonies (Québec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland) to five (with New Brunswick and Upper Canada).

At the time the Québec Act was passed in 1774, Québec's population was 70,000, whereas Nova Scotia had some 12,000 inhabitants. New England was home to about 2.5 million people. In addition to boasting the world's most powerful navy, Great Britain was able to muster an impressive military force far superior to that of the New England colonies. The British drew on an army of 30,000 professional soldiers (disciplined, experienced, well armed, and well paid) and the best European generals, as well as 700 warships, 2,000 merchant ships for the transport of troops and ammunition, and 150,000 seamen. A formidable force to say the least! In 1775, in response to initiatives by the Continental Congress and insurgents, George III ordered 25,000 additional soldiers to set sail for America.

For the American insurgents, success was far from guaranteed as they had only 18,000 to 20,000 inexperienced men, no navy, and only a small number of well-trained generals. Nevertheless, it was the revolutionists who won the war, by slowly wearing the British into the ground. In 1787, the Federal Union of the United States was born. The American colonies agreed to renounce a large degree of their local autonomy to merge the thirteen independent colonies into one powerful central state—the United States of America—able to stand up to Great Britain.

American Invasion of the "Province of Québec"

From the outset of the Revolutionary War, George Washington believed he could deal Great Britain a fatal blow by seizing Montréal and Québec City—the most formidable British strongholds in North America. The American general dispatched two armies (commanded by General Richard Montgomery and Colonel Benedict Arnold) to the north to lay siege to the City of Québec and thereby conquer Canada, or more precisely, the "Province of Québec." It was also a way for the American revolutionists to forcefully rally Canadians to join their fight for independence. George Washington expected the Canadians to support the American cause and transform the invasion into a "war of liberation."

Guy Carleton and Georges Washington

On the Canadian side, the governor of the province of Québec, Guy Carleton, who had only some 1,600 men—357 soldiers in the regular army, 450 seamen, 543 francophone militiamen, and 300  Anglophone militiamen—stationed at the garrison to defend the colony, knew that the only way to prevail against the superior number of American revolutionists (some 8,000 men at the start, divided into two armies) was with the help of the Canadian public. He hoped that his policy of conciliation would bear fruit, but only the Canadian clergy (led by Catholic bishop of Québec, Mgr. Jean-Olivier Briand) and the nobility (lords) responded with any enthusiasm to the call by British authorities. The general public remained relatively indifferent, viewing the war as a "battle between the English." Even so, some Canadians helped the American troops (the "Sons of Liberty"), while others supported the British ("Red Tunics").

The American troops seized Montréal in 1775, but failed to take Québec City and were forced to rapidly withdraw before being chased and defeated at Lake Champlain (on Valcour Island). Nevertheless, American rebels remained in the province of Québec until the arrival of the British fleet on May 6, 1776. The Americans were extremely surprised to learn that their armies had been defeated. Rumours circulated in the United States that the American army had resorted to repressive measures, which led Canadians to actively support the British rather than remain neutral. The Americans were simply victims of their own inexperience; they were ill equipped and had already lost nearly half of their men even before arriving in Québec City.

In April 1776, the Americans sent Benjamin Franklin as part of a delegation to Montréal to try to convince the Canadians to join them. It was soon clear to the delegation that Canada was a lost cause. The Americans concluded it would be easier to buy Canada than to take it by force. Aside from a few skirmishes around Montréal, the American revolution had all but expired in Canada, though it continued in the United States until 1783, six years after Thomas Jefferson submitted the Declaration of Independence to Congress on July 4, 1776. Between September 1774 and January 1775, some 700 Canadian militiamen helped defend Québec City. French-speaking Canadians demonstrated that it was possible to be both French Catholic and loyal to the English Crown—something that seemed unthinkable in Great Britain at that time. If the Americans had succeeded in their conquest of the province of Québec, Canada would likely be a part of the United States today.

In June 1776, Great Britain sent an additional force of 10,000 men, including 4,800 German mercenaries to restore and maintain order in its colony. Of these German mercenaries, some 1,400 ultimately settled in the province de Québec once hostilities waned and most were assimilated through marriage with French speakers.

France's Revenge
La Fayette

In 1777, the Marquis de La Fayette (1757–1834) — known more elaborately as Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Motier, Marquis de La Fayette —played an active role in support of the Americans in the war, and was even a key player in the decisive victory at Yorktown (October 6–19, 1781). The Battle of Yorktown marked the end of hostilities and was a decisive step towards the independence of the Thirteen Colonies. Beforehand, La Fayette had used his own funds to equip a warship and sail to Philadelphia to volunteer his services. He was very close to Benjamin Franklin and also served with George Washington. Convinced that it was possible to rally the Canadians to their cause, La Fayette advised George Washington to invade the province of Québec on behalf of France (which had amassed some 8,000 troops in the United States under the command of Count de Rochambeau in order to support the Americans against the British); but Washington, wary of creating an unfriendly neighbour to the north of the young American republic, declined. Interestingly enough, France made more of a military effort to help the United States gain its independence than it had to keep Canada in French hands. Frederick of Prussia, also known as Frederick the Great (Berlin, January 24, 1712–Postdam, August 17, 1786) saw through France's designs, as illustrated by this excerpt from a letter by him to his ambassador in Paris:

It would be a grave error to give credence to France's policy not to intervene in the colonial war. Its primary interest remains to weaken British power anywhere it can, and nothing would suit its designs better than to play a part in the loss of Britain's colonies in America. This may even be the best time to win back Canada. The time is riper now than it may be in the next three hundred years.

For a certain time, France's intervention raised high hopes among the French-speaking population in Canada. Many Canadians believed they were on the brink of "getting rid of the English," but France had definitively renounced Canada.

In truth, France saw the social turmoil and Revolutionary War in America as an opportunity to take its revenge and strike a serious blow to weaken Great Britain for a long time to come. In 1803, Napoleon pursued the same objectives by selling the Louisiana Territory to the Americans. On the diplomatic front, Louis XVI recognized American Independence on December 17, 1777. France even signed a treaty with the young American republic in 1778: the Treaty of Alliance, Eventual and Defensive, which was signed on February 6, 1778, and ratified by Congress on May 4. Although the treaty was originally written in French, the plenipotentiaries signed the 16 articles "in both the French and English languages." In this treaty, France pledged not to undertake any conquests for itself in America. In a secret letter to his ambassador to Philadelphia (then the capital of the United States), Minister Vergennes elaborated on France's motives:

Members of the American Congress have suggested that the king pledge to support the American conquest of Canada, Nova Scotia, and Florida, and there is reason to believe this plan is of the utmost importance to Congress, but the king feels that the possession of these three lands—or at least of Canada—by England could serve as a useful point of concern and caution for the Americans, which would increase their dependence on the friendship and alliance of the king, and it is not in his interest to destroy it. As such, His Majesty feels that he must not make any commitments regarding the conquest in question.

The objective was clear: Canada had to remain a British colony to serve as a permanent threat close to the United States, which would force it to honour its alliance and enable France to fully benefit from its political and military assistance, notably by grabbing its share of all the trade that Great Britain stood to lose with American independence. This also meant that, with its secret policy of playing both sides, France could prevent the Americans from seizing Canada. In short, France acted like any other country and favoured the needs of its own state over all other considerations.

The pivotal assistance offered by France included weapons, soldiers, warships, and considerable sums of money, in addition to naval reinforcements (123 ships of the Royal Navy) of 35,000 men, which tipped the balance in favour of the Americans. In the aftermath, Versailles declared war on London and dragged Spain into the conflict. On the day after the Battle of Yorktown,  Francophile Thomas Jefferson, who would become the 3rd President of the United States from 1801 to 1809 paid tribute to the French by declaring that "every man has two countries, his own and France." It is important to remember that in 1785, Jefferson had been ambassador to Paris. This French/American victory earned France the nickname "Hercules' wet nurse."

Obviously, the British were greatly concerned by France's return to the scene in North America. Even the Amerindians of Canada demonstrated a certain satisfaction with the return of the French. In January 1780, General Frederick Haldimand, then governor general of Canada, wrote that the friendly relations between natives and Great Britain were "declining every day, particularly after the Americans allied themselves with the French with whom they had a fervent, steadfast attachment." In fact, the French worked hard to rally the Amerindians to the American cause by reassuming their former role of "protector" and "purveyor" from the era of New France. However, the Americans were far from interested in forging alliances with Indians, instead of planning on exterminating them and appropriating their land.

However, the high cost of the war plunged France into a precarious financial situation and accelerated the crisis of the monarchy, which paid very dearly for its revenge on the "Perfidious Albion:" Louis XIV had to call the Estates-General to reform taxes, which sparked the French Revolution (1789) and led to his decapitation in 1793. America's debt to France, which totaled some 35 millions francs, cast a shadow on relations between the two countries.


Thomas Jefferson unilaterally declared America an independent nation (see Declaration of Independence). However, for their independence to be truly recognized, the Americans had to go to war against their former ruler. The conflict between Great Britain and its rebel colonies continued until 1781. The decisive turning point in the war did not occur until France entered the war alongside the American revolutionaries. And it was not until the Treaty of Versailles in 1783 that the new state was officially recognized.

Despite their persistent urging of both English and French-speaking Canadians, the American revolutionists remained very disappointed by the paucity of support they offered. The inhabitants of Québec and Nova Scotia stayed true to the British Crown. For one, French speakers had just been granted valuable concessions from the British government, and the English speakers in Nova Scotia had only just recently arrived from Great Britain and still considered themselves English citizens. As for those living more or less legally in Newfoundland—at the time people were officially prohibited from settling on the island—they were too far removed from the American Revolution and patriotism to consider offering any kind of support.

Civil War between Loyalists and Republicans
Civil Law between Loyalists and Republicains

It is important to remember that the war for American independence was also a civil war between Loyalists and Patriots (or Republicans). When Congress proclaimed the Republic in July 1776, nearly one-third of the population of the Thirteen Colonies protested, maintaining that Congress had gone too far. They too wanted autonomy, but not to the point of demanding independence! Thousands denounced Congress's stance to such an extent that it had to adopt severe laws against these loyalists who could have jeopardized the success of their war against Great Britain.

Inhabitants of New England were divided between those who supported independence — Patriots or Republicans — and those who wished to remain British — Loyalists (or Royalists). The sense of belonging to America had not yet developed to the point of rallying one and all. A number of terms were used to refer to the antagonists in the American colonies: Roundheads or Puritans (for their strict religious beliefs) who were associated with the Whigs in their fight against the Monarchists, who were associated with the Tories. Today monarchists are referred to as Loyalists in the United States, but in Canada, the expression United Empire Loyalists has long been used.

The revolution began to look like a veritable civil war between the two opposing camps. Republicans saw Loyalists as traitors to the American cause. This explains why Loyalists were victims of physical violence, political discrimination, confiscation, and banishment. However, the Loyalists were not without reproach, as they too committed atrocities against the Republicans. All those opposed to the new order of government lost their civil rights and were driven from their homes and land. The States (then colonies) adopted a policy encouraging the confiscation of Loyalist goods — land, homes, livestock, merchandise, etc. — which was passed by Congress in November 1777. This policy fattened public coffers by several million dollars and helped to partially defray the costs of war. Certain Loyalists were lynched. Incidentally, the verb to lynch comes from the Lynch Law of 1837, a process of summary justice attributed to Charles Lynch, a Virginia plantation owner and patriot during the Revolutionary War who led a court and condemned opponents of independence to death by hanging.

Driven by persecution and their allegiance to the Crown, great numbers of Loyalists fled to safety behind British lines. Many Loyalists joined the ranks of various militias such as Butler's Rangers, Roger's Rangers, Jessup' Corps, King's Royal Regiment of New York, etc. In all, some 50 Loyalist regiments fought during the war. From a rather simplistic perspective, Loyalists may be described as belonging to specific categories of citizens: administrators, pastors of the Anglican Church, Legalists with ties to the British Parliament, rich plantation owners, merchants, toadies to the royal family, etc., whereas the Patriots or Republicans were mostly common folk, farmers, workers, craftspeople, etc. In truth, the breakdown was not so simple, as some rich plantation owners also took up the Republican cause, while some rural folk rallied to the Loyalists. Then, the British ultimately lost the war and were no longer able to protect the Loyalists. The policy of discrimination against Loyalists resulted in a redistribution of land and, later, a mass exodus to Canada (i.e., Nova Scotia and the province of Québec).

American Society

To understand the importance of Loyalists when they arrived in Canada, it is important to know what kinds of people had settled in the colonies New England. In the 17th century, the vast majority of inhabitants were English, but the presence of the Swedish, Dutch, and Africans already made for a real diversity of ethnicities. In this era, the people immigrating to America were essentially those who had been expelled or rejected from their countries such as Puritans, Anglicans, Catholics, French Huguenots, etc. In the 17th century, the colonies underwent two major migratory waves with influxes of Germans (peasants and craftspeople) and people from Scotland and Ireland, known as the "Scotch-Irish." The latter group contained more Scots than Irish, because they were the descendants of Presbyterians who had immigrated to Ulster during England's colonization of Ireland. All these people had made a home for themselves in North American society and already spoke a form of English that differed from that of England.

Before the American Revolution, the number of Germans in America was estimated at some 200,000, while the number of Scotch-Irish totalled around 250,000. Due to religious persecution in France, thousands of Huguenots had emigrated to the English colonies of America because in theory they were barred from New France; one of the first censuses held after the American Revolution revealed the presence of over 100,000 Americans of Huguenot (i.e., French) origin. Certain historians believe that the exclusion of the Huguenots from Canada is one reason for the weak demographic expansion of the French, because the number of Huguenots in the Thirteen Colonies was much higher than the number of colonists sent to Canada during the entire French Regime (10,000 to 13,000 maximum). As for the Africans, they represented one-fifth of the American population: in the 1770s, more than one in five Americans was black. Although the population was heterogeneous at the dawn of Independence, the language and institutions had already been standardized, but American society was far from the egalitarian environment of Canada.

Map of eastern North America in 1763

© Jacques Leclerc

The Thirteen Colonies were divided into four colonies in the north, four in the centre, and five in the south.

The northern colonies included New Hampshire (1663), Massachusetts (1620), Rhode Island (1663), and Connecticut (1662). These were mainly populated by Puritans and dissidents with rigorous, often intolerant religious beliefs. Farming here was less developed than maritime trade (molasses, rum, slaves), handcrafts (pottery, goldsmithing), and urban activities (Boston). These colonies gave rise to relatively theocratic local governments.

The central colonies included New York (1663), New Jersey (1663), Pennsylvania (1681), and Delaware (1663). These regions favoured agriculture, livestock production, fishing, and trade and boasted the greatest ethnic and religious diversity, and as a result, the highest overall tolerance. Here, political and economic life was mainly organized around two urban centres: New York and Philadelphia.

The southern colonies included Maryland (1663), Virginia (1620), the two Carolinas (1663), and Georgia (1662). Political and economic life in this region was dominated by an aristocracy that ran plantations (tobacco, corn, and cotton) using slaves imported as early as 1618

Treaty of Versailles (1783) and Redrawing of the Canada-U.S. Border

After two years of vacillation and delay, Great Britain and the future United States of America signed, on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Versailles, which also involved France, Spain, and the Netherlands and officially marked the end of the War of American Independence. Great Britain recognized the sovereignty of the United States, which was made up of its 13 former colonies. However, since the Canada-U.S. border was not clearly defined, it was subsequently contested. The union of the Thirteen Colonies remained fragile, and it was not until four years later that a constitution was drafted and a veritable federation created. As for the first president of the new republic, George Washington, he did not take up his duties until 1789 (the year of the French Revolution).

According to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the United States were granted:

  • Independence under the name "United States of America"
  • Expansion of their territory westward to Mississippi, as well as ownership of "Indian territory"
  • A clearly defined border with Canada and the equal partition of the Great Lakes, except for Lake Michigan, which was granted to the Americans in full
  • Fishing rights off the banks of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia

Great Britain obtained:

  • The recognition of debts it contracted before, during, and after the conflict (to be repaid in pounds sterling)
  • Amnesty for the Loyalists and permission for them to resettle in other British colonies (Québec, Nova Scotia, Bermuda, the British West Indies, etc.)


From a geographical viewpoint, the Treaty of Versailles redrew the borders between Great Britain's colonies to the north and the United States to the south. As a result, the United States' territory doubled, while that of the Province of Québec was reduced by a third.

Traité de Versailles (1783) et le retraçage des frontières canado-américaines

©Jacques Leclerc 2018

Treaty of Versailles (1783) and Redrawing of the Canada-U.S. Border

©Jacques Leclerc 2018















Under the Treaty, the southwest border of the colony of Québec was redrawn so as to bisect the Great Lakes, except for Lake Michigan, which was ceded to the Americans in its entirety. Further south, Great Britain lost Florida, which was handed over to Spain. Several border disputes remained to be resolved, in particular in Nova Scotia (on the territory of present-day New Brunswick). These new Québec borders meant that the Canadians who lived in the area south of the Great Lakes instantly became American citizens. Most of the inhabitants were Amerindians, French Métis, and French-speaking Whites. All of them became English speakers over the next few decades.

Arrival of the Loyalists in Canada

With America declaring its independence, Great Britain lost 2.5 million subjects in one fell swoop. However, over 100,000 settlers who remained loyal to the Crown — hence the name "Loyalists" — left the Thirteen Colonies that had become the United States, since they were no longer welcome there, to return to England or settle in other British colonies. In 1783, some 8,000 of these Loyalists sought refuge in the "Province of Québec", while another 35,600 fled to Nova Scotia. Since at the time the combined population of Québec and Nova Scotia totalled 166,000, with Québec accounting for 113,000, one can imagine the extent to which the Loyalists transformed the demographic makeup of British North America, especially in the colony of Nova Scotia, and, as a result, the languages commonly spoken there. Apart from a few rare exceptions (for example, the French Huguenots), all the Loyalists who migrated to Canada were English speakers.

Loyalists in Canada

The authorities in both the Province of Québec and the colony of Nova Scotia granted the new refugees between 200 and 1,200 acres of land for each family, as well as farm implements and sufficient food and clothing for two years. In addition to this assistance, an Order in Council by the government of the Province of Québec dated November 9, 1789, provided for the settlement of the children of Loyalists as follows:

The Council concurring with His Lordship, it is accordingly ordered that the Land Boards take means for preserving a register of the names of all persons falling under the description above mentioned (Loyalists), to the end that their posterity may be discriminated from future settlers in the parish registers and rolls of the militia of their respective districts and other public remembrances of the Province, as proper objects by their perseverance in the fidelity and conduct so honourable to their ancestors for distinguished benefits and privileges. And it is also ordered that the Land Boards may, in any such case, provide not only for the sons of those Loyalists as they arrive at full age, but for their daughters also of that age, or on their marriage, assigning to each a lot of 200 acres more or less.

Most Loyalists, that is, 80.4% of all refugees, settled in Nova Scotia (which, prior to 1784, included the territory of what is now New Brunswick and the island of Cape Breton), lured by the economic potential of the colony, its British common-law system, and the fact that it was English-speaking. Only 18% of them took up residence in the Province of Québec. The Crown resettled some Loyalists in Newfoundland, but most were given land in Nova Scotia and present-day Ontario.


Number of Loyalists


Nova Scotia



New Brunswick



Cape Breton (Cape Breton Island)



St. John Island (now Prince Edward Island)



Québec (St. Lawrence Lowlands)



Québec ("upper country" or Ontario)



Total Loyalists



The population of Nova Scotia consequently doubled, while the Province of Québec became, for the first time, home to a large contingent of English speakers. These new refugees would forever change the political face of what was to become modern-day Canada.

Loyalists of Nova Scotia

As mentioned earlier, 80.4% of the American Loyalists who came to Canada chose to settle in Nova Scotia, drawn by the English language and common-law system. At the time, Nova Scotia also comprised the territory of present-day New Brunswick (mainland Nova Scotia) and Cape Breton, but not St. John Island (the former name of Prince Edward Island), which had been a separate colony since 1769. Before the arrival of these 35,000 Loyalists, there were some 12,000 inhabitants of British origin in the colony. However, as of 1783, according to the letters of Irish-born John Parr (1725–1791), Governor of Nova Scotia, the population promptly swelled to 20,000.

Among the new arrivals were some 3,500 Black Loyalists, former slaves who had been freed or who belonged to well-heeled White Loyalists or disbanded soldiers. Black Loyalist settlements in Nova Scotia were established in Annapolis Royal and in the areas of Cornwallis/Horton, as well as in Weymouth, Digby, Windsor, Preston, Sydney, Parrsboro, Halifax, Shelburne, and Birchtown. Some settled in New Brunswick, particularly in Saint John and along the Saint John River. It is estimated that some 5,000 Blacks left New York for Nova Scotia, Québec, the West Indies, Germany, and Belgium. In January 1792, roughly 1,300 Black Loyalists departed Halifax for Sierra Leone aboard a fleet of 15 vessels. This number accounted for just under one-third of the Black Loyalists who had arrived in Nova Scotia in 1783.

In general, the Loyalist refugees had little contact with the Nova Scotians, among whom Celtic influences were still strong, as witnessed by their language, traditions, music and culture. The Loyalists preferred not to mingle with the original inhabitants, yet complained about the latter's monopoly on the colony's administrative jobs. Most Loyalists (approximately 12,000) settled north of the Bay of Fundy, at the mouth of the Saint John River, while another 1,500 chose Chaleur Bay. The new settlers were not convinced of the Nova Scotians' allegiance to the Crown, given that they had remained neutral during the war. They thus demanded that the British government separate Loyalist establishments in the area of the Saint John River (mainland Nova Scotia) from those located on the island, which were under the jurisdiction of the Government of Halifax. In 1784, Nova Scotia and the island of Cape Breton counted 32,000 inhabitants who were considered English-speaking (Englishmen, Scotsmen, Germans, and Americans), as well as 10,000 French-speaking Acadians.

Loyalists in Nova Scotia

Unhappy with Halifax's colonial rule, the Loyalists managed to convince the British government in 1784 to divide Nova Scotia into three separate colonies: Nova Scotia (capital: Halifax), New Brunswick (capital: Saint John), and Cape Breton Island (capital: Sydney).

As for the colony of St. John Island, it had already seceded from Nova Scotia in 1769. Obviously, this initiative on the part of the British government did little to improve the lot of the Acadian people, who were subsequently dispersed among four independent colonies. 

New Brunswick
Loyalists in New Brunswick

The new colony of New Brunswick was established by a royal charter granted by King George III on June 18, 1784. The entire area to the north of the Bay of Fundy, from the Missaguash River to Chignecto, i.e., all of continental Nova Scotia, was henceforth to be called New Brunswick, in honour of the reigning king, George III, a descendant of the Hanover line of the royal House of Brunswick. The English sovereigns (George I, George II, and George III) also bore the title of Duke of Brunswick and Luneberg. New Brunswick was given its own elected government, situated in Saint John, although Fredericton (formerly known as St. Anne's Point) later became the capital city.

The first Governor of New Brunswick, Irish-born Thomas Carleton (1735–1817), played an active role in organizing the new province. He insisted on making St. Anne's Point the future seat of government (renaming it "Frederick's Town" in honour of Frederick, Duke of York , the second son of King George III), claiming that the location was less vulnerable in the event of attack by the United States. New Brunswick was immediately dubbed the "Loyalist province," even though its demographic makeup was actually quite diverse. In 1784, the fledgling colony's population was largely English-speaking (some 14,000 inhabitants), but there were also 4,000 Acadians, as well as people of non-British origin who had fled America (Germans, Danes, Dutchmen, and Blacks). Governor Carleton ensured that new land grants were issued not only to Loyalists, but to Acadians as well.

Cape Breton Island
Loyalists in Cap Breton Island

Only about one hundred Loyalists settled on the island of Cape Breton, at the time a separate colony. Most of them hailed from the State of New York, from where they had been evacuated by the British government. The first governor of the colony, Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres (1721–1824), born to a French Huguenot family, had made generous promises to encourage them to  immigrate to Cape Breton and work the land. Upon their arrival, they settled mainly in Louisbourg and St. Peter's. It was thought that Louisbourg would become the capital of the colony, but in 1785, DesBarres chose to establish it near Spanish Bay, now Sydney Harbour, so named in honour of Thomas Townshend (1733-1800), first Viscount Sydney and home secretary in the British cabinet from 1783 to 1789.

However, due to its sparse population, the colony did not thrive. In a letter dated 1785, the government of St. John Island recommended that the Cape Breton authorities grant land to the 100-odd Acadians who had remained on the island after the fall of Louisbourg. This was done, but the Acadians were forced to move northwest and resettle in the relatively isolated coastal area of Cheticamp. It was not until many years later that the arrival of immigrants from Scotland boosted the island's population. During subsequent decades, the languages spoken on the island were English, Scottish Gaelic, and Acadian French.

Loyalists of the Province of Québec

The 8,000 Loyalists who migrated to Québec did not want to settle in the St. Lawrence Lowlands, because the population was largely French-speaking and occupied almost all the available land. Moreover, these Loyalists refused to be governed by the Napoleonic code of law and the province's seigneurial system, and demanded access to freehold "Crown lands" subject to English common law. The colonial government thus granted new lands further west (in the region beyond the Ottawa Valley, known as the "pays d'en haut" or upper country), so that the Loyalists could move to an area not ruled by French civil law.

Loyalists in Province of Quebec

Only 1,500 Loyalists settled in what was then called the Eastern Townships, southeast of Montréal, a sort of buffer zone between the seigneurial lands of the St. Lawrence and the fledgling United States, formerly the Thirteen Colonies. This vast territory, divided arbitrarily into townships, was created in 1792 further to a royal proclamation by Major-General Alured Clarke, Lieutenant-Governor of Lower Canada from 1790 to 1796, in the absence of Lord Dorchester (Sir Guy Carleton), Governor of British North America, who had been detained in London.

The name Eastern Townships appears misleading, given that they are located in the western portion of the province of Québec, but it should be noted that at the time they were situated to the east of the "upper country" (Ontario), and were so called to distinguish them from Upper Canada's Western Townships.

It was also Alured Clarke who named most of the counties of Lower Canada (a total of 21, plus four districts) after those in the motherland (Buckingham, Bedford, Dorchester, Devon, Effingham, Huntingdon, Kent, Leinster, Northumberland, Surrey, Warwick, York, etc.), leaving a few French names such as Gaspé (an Amerindian place name), Montréal, Saint-Maurice, Orléans and Québec. If he could not successfully assimilate his French-Canadian subjects, the Lieutenant-Governor was bound and determined to anglicize, at the very least, the topographic map of the colony.

Three decades later, as of 1820, some 5,000 British, 3,000 Irish, and several hundred Scottish immigrants (who settled in Scotstown and Stornoway) swelled the ranks of the original Loyalist settlers in the Eastern Townships. The French term Estrie, suggested by Sherbrooke historian Maurice O'Bready in 1940, was officially adopted in 1981 by the Québec government when the province's administrative regions were created. Since then, the two denominations (Eastern Townships and Estrie) coexist, but the first denotes the tourist region; meanwhile the other is the administrative region.

Overall, approximately 6,000 United Empire Loyalists settled along the banks of the St. Lawrence River, from Lake Saint-François to Lake Ontario; on the shores of Lake Ontario itself, including the Bay of Quinte; in the vicinity of the town of Niagara, then called Newark; and along a portion of the Detroit River. The English-language settlement of western Québec—first known as the "upper country", then Upper Canada, and finally Ontario—had begun. In their quest for a compromise, the authorities ultimately set aside a separate district for these English speakers so that they could put in place a British common-law system, while allowing the French population to retain its own civil law code.

However, some of the Loyalists who had settled in the St. Lawrence Lowlands resented not only having to obey French law, but also being forced to answer to French-speaking seigneurs (even though one-quarter of all seigneuries belonged to English speakers). The situation was not always simple, and tensions flared further when the Loyalists added the establishment of Protestant schools and churches to their list of demands. In addition, the Loyalists had become accustomed to self-government in the Thirteen Colonies, and there was no elected assembly in the Province of Québec. The Loyalists decried the colony's lack of a House of Assembly and the fact that the decision makers were not elected officials. Although the authorities yielded to the demands of the new settlers, they nonetheless submitted them to the will of the French Catholic majority. But the Loyalists and other English speakers exerted increasing pressure on the government of London to reform the administration of the colony in their favour, and finally, in 1791, Québec was divided into Lower Canada in the east and Upper Canada in the west.

Loyalists of St. John Island
Loyalists of St John Island

Since St. John Island belonged to a few dozen English landowners who had little use for the Government of Halifax (Nova Scotia), the island seceded from Nova Scotia in 1769, and was established as a separate colony under the direct authority of the British government. According to a census conducted by surveyor Alexander Morris in 1768, there were still 203 Acadians on St. John Island, but only eleven Englishmen! This is because most of the landlords did not live on the island, but had remained in England.

Little by little, small groups of English-speaking settlers arrived, followed by Scottish immigrants, most of whom came from Uist and settled in the former parish of Saint-Louis-du-Nord-Est, which they renamed Scotchfort. In 1773, the colony of St. John Island was granted the right to elect its own Legislative Assembly, but the Acadians and Irish were excluded on account of their Catholic faith, and were likewise forbidden to vote or own land until 1789. Frequent debates raged at the Legislative Assembly between the Scottish reformists, who were massively "anti-landlord," and the English conservatives, who generally supported the landowners' rights. Most of the Acadian settlers were driven off their property, which was subsequently divided among the landlords.

As of 1784, another 500 Loyalists, many of them soldiers discharged from the King's Rangers, settled on St. John Island. The following year, Loyalists founded Summerside, which to this day is the island's second largest city. Along with Irish and Scottish settlers, they witnessed the growth of the colony's modest population and its increasing prosperity, thanks to the timber trade, naval construction, fishing, and farming. The most commonly spoken languages were English, Scottish, Irish, and French.

In 1798, the name St. John Island was replaced with Prince Edward Island in honour of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (1767–1820), son of King George III and father of Queen Victoria. At the time, the Prince was commander of the British troops in Halifax.

Creation of Upper and Lower Canada (1791)
Creation of Upper and Lower Canada (1791)

©Jacques Leclerc 2018

In addition to two new colonies, New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island, the massive migration of Loyalists to British North America led to the creation of a third colony in 1791—Upper Canada—which ensued from the division of the Province of Québec into two separate colonies. This division was made official by the Constitutional Act of 1791, which recognized the creation of Upper Canada, in the western portion of the province, and Lower Canada, in the eastern portion.

By this time, relations between English speakers in the west and French speakers in the east were strained to the breaking point, and this partition was the British government's only hope of retaining the allegiance of its Loyalist subjects in Québec.

In a bid to end the French-English conflict, Lord William Grenville, Secretary of State with the Colonial Office, presented the British Parliament with a bill dividing the "Province of Québec" along ethnic lines into two separate entities: Upper Canada in the west and Lower Canada in the east. The British government thus managed to appease everyone, on the one hand by rallying French Canadians to its cause, since the threat of war with the United States still loomed (and would materialize 21 years later, in 1812), and on the other hand by creating a Loyalist enclave so that His Majesty's faithful subjects, virtually all of whom were English-speaking and of Anglican faith, would no longer be plagued by the demands of the French Catholic majority. Finally, the establishment of the new colony in the western portion of Québec ensured that any attempt by the French inhabitants to expand their boundaries toward the "upper country" (now Upper Canada) would be nipped in the bud.

The English settlements in Upper Canada and the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada would be ruled by British common law and an elected assembly, while the French province would retain the form of government decreed in the Québec Act (a governor and appointed counselors). It was the British government that decided, against the wishes of Governor Carleton, Lord Dorchester, to partition Québec, deeming that this was the best way of satisfying the interests of both the Loyalists and the French Canadians. Thus the "Province of Québec" ceased to exist, and Lower Canada was born.

At the end of the 18th century, the population of the seven colonies of British North America (Lower Canada, Upper Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, St. John Island, and Cape Breton Island) totaled approximately 390,000 inhabitants, not including the aboriginal peoples. In addition to the 200,000 inhabitants of French origin who had settled in the St. Lawrence Lowlands (now Lower Canada), there were 140,000 British settlers: 70,000 in the Maritimes, 25,000 in each Canada, and some 20,000 in Newfoundland. In the West, still a largely uncharted region, there were probably about 40,000 inhabitants. The residents of Upper and Lower Canada would now have to cope with the difficult beginnings of linguistic duality.

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