[Critique] “The colonies of Upper and Lower Canada before and at the time of the rebellions”: strangers, but brothers


It has never been so well analyzed: Lower Canada, future Quebec, and Upper Canada, future Ontario, were similar in the mind of the patriot leader Louis-Joseph Papineau (1786-1871), tribune of the former, and of the reformist leader William Lyon Mackenzie (1795-1861), tribune of the second. This emerges from the groundbreaking book by historian Yvan Lamonde, The Upper and Lower Colonies Lower Canada before and at the time of the rebellionsin which the wise Papineau completes the fiery Mackenzie.

Unlike Papineau, who was born in Lower Canada and whose family has been Canadian for generations, Mackenzie was born in Scotland and came to Canada at the age of 25. This did not prevent him, from a progressive perspective, from embracing the cause of Upper Canada, a new British colony where he quickly settled and fought with those who were called the “reformists”.

Although of Scottish and Presbyterian origin, Mackenzie, insists on explaining Lamonde, is convinced that “for Lower Canadians” from New France, “the fact of being French and Catholic does not devalue them” and that ‘”we should rather judge them on their fights”. Aware of their militant spirit, the historian stresses, however, that “not all Canadians are patriots or reformists”. He specifies that both in Lower and Upper Canada “the majorities are loyal or indifferent”.

Loyalty to the British Crown and political indifference did not prevent resistance. But the 92 resolutions of 1834 that Lower Canada submitted to London to obtain from the colonial authority more autonomy and the Seventh Report of Grievances (Seventh Report on Grievances) of 1835 that Upper Canada presented, in its turn, for similar reasons, did not find the welcome expected from the imperial power. The situation provoked the measured anger of Papineau and the more untimely disappointment of Mackenzie.

The two political leaders were indignant at the politico-religious submission to colonial authority shown by the moderate claimants by expressing the passive sentiment of the majority. While Mackenzie attacked Anglicanism, the official religion of England and too often a reflection of the British loyalty of the Conservatives, Papineau in Lower Canada came up against Étienne Parent, a journalist from Quebec, an influential voice of moderate protesters close to the British loyalty of the Catholic clergy.

Of French and Catholic heritage, Lower Canada remained culturally foreign to the Anglo-Protestants of Upper Canada, even to those who fraternized politically with its progressive minority. Lamonde lets slip this very disturbing observation: “Forgetting their usual antagonism, monarchist Catholics and imperialist Orangemen [c’est-à-dire anticatholiques] form an alliance against patriots or reformists. On its own, would political conservatism be the best of everything?

The colonies of Upper and Lower Canada before and at the time of the rebellions

★★★ 1/2

Yvan Lamonde, PUL, Quebec, 2022, 236 pages

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