I am delighted to host Elaine Cougler today, talking about Canada’s troubled road to democracy.
In our modern world, Canada is known far and wide as a democracy and, dare I say it (I’m Canadian), a dream of a country to live in. Modeled after the British parliamentary system with a figurehead monarch providing much pomp and not a little stability, the Canadian democratic form of government functions well. In Upper Canada, after the end of the War of 1812, however, democracy was unheard of.
Our neighbors to the south had broken away from the mother country to form their own democracy. Indeed, many of the people who settled Upper Canada (Ontario) came here precisely to keep their ties with Britain. But as the decades progressed and the settlers built farms and communities the mother country’s firm hand combined with the ever-strengthening “Family Compact” here led to talk of change. The word “rebellion” began to be whispered.
Citizens of Upper Canada could vote for their Assembly representatives but the Assembly had no power. Their decisions were consistently overruled, making their position virtually useless. Faced again and again with the inability of their Assembly to effect changes that would help them, the settlers became disenchanted.
One of those best known as part of the Family Compact, a pejorative name to be certain, was John Strachan. Strachan was the epitome of a self-made man who became an Anglican preacher and eventually the first Bishop of the diocese of Toronto. He started King’s College which became the University of Toronto, much to Strachan’s chagrin, and Trinity College.
The man did a lot for which he can be and is revered. Anti-republican, he believed strongly in the supremacy of the Anglican Church and caused the clergy reserves laid out as Upper Canada was settled to be reserved only for Anglican congregations. Many of the settlers were not of that faith. This meant that their own preachers could not marry them and baptize their children. Many waited up to two years to have these sacraments performed for them. This led to much fear and uncertainty and contributed to the talk of rebellion.
The uncertain political climate here in Ontario at that time got worse as time went on and those who had come here as Loyalists (loyal to the King) eventually took one of two routes: they disagreed with a lot of the hardships caused by the Family Compact and those in power but stopped short of rebellion, or they were so affected by their lack of a voice to effect change that rebellion became their only recourse.
Perhaps the reason that Lord Durham came from Britain in 1838 after the rebellion can be attributed to Britain wishing to avoid losing Canada as they had lost the Thirteen Colonies. Only here a few months, Lord Durham wrote his famous report in which he advocated changes to the way Canada was ruled. That and the rebellion itself moved our country ahead on the road to democracy and the constitutional monarchy which we enjoy today.
The Loyalist Legacy is based on this tumultuous time period.
When the War of 1812 is finally over William and Catherine Garner flee the desolation of Niagara and find in the wild heart of Upper Canada their two hundred acres straddling the Thames River. On this valuable land, dense forests, wild beasts, disgruntled Natives, and pesky neighbors daily challenge them. The political atmosphere laced with greed and corruption threatens to undermine all of the new settlers’ hopes and plans. William cannot take his family back to Niagara, but he longs to check on his parents from whom he has heard nothing for two years. Leaving Catherine and the children, he hurries along the Governor’s Road toward the turn-off to Fort Erie, hoping to return in time for spring planting.
With realistic insights into the challenging lives of Ontario’s early settlers, Elaine Cougler once again draws readers into the Loyalists’ struggles to build homes, roads, and relationships, and their growing dissension as they move ever closer to another war. The Loyalist Legacy shows us the trials faced by ordinary people who conquer unbelievable hardships and become extraordinary in the process.