Canadian history is not as stable and peaceful as most people assume. A long history of conflict between English and French forces has helped to shape our country into what you see today.

A prime example of this conflict was the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion.

A brief historical geography lesson: Canada evolved around the St. Lawrence River, the main oceanic access for sea faring vessels in our part of North America. So, starting at the Atlantic and heading up-river, the populated areas where named Lower Canada (e.g. lower end of the river - present day Quebec) and Upper Canada (present day Ontario and parts of Quebec).

During the 1800's, Canada was not a stable place. Britain and France battled for control of the colony for two main reasons: food and fur. The fur trade was the backbone of the colonies economy. Second to that was the cod fisheries of the east coast and the grain farms of Lower Canada.

Largely under the thumb of the British, French Canadian farmers were hurt badly in the 1835 agriculture crisis, which saw the English market for Canadian grains dry up. Impoverished Lower Canada farmers, a largely french speaking population rose up against the English.

Chronology of events:


June 18, Battle of Waterloo, decisive defeat of Napoleon--Western Europe experiences first extended peace in almost 35 years. Trade between continental Europe and Britain resumes on a large scale. Revised "Corn Laws" are introduced to protect wealthy British landowners growing wheat against cheap grain imports from Europe.


Peterloo Massacre--a crowd of up to 50,000 people who had gathered to listen to public speeches on democratic reforms to both the political and economic system in Great Britain is attacked by government troops.


Revolution of 1830 leads to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in France. Revolutionary disturbances affect much of Europe. Greece and Belgium declare their independence.


British Reform Act is passed making elections more democratic, but most poor people are still not allowed to vote. Cholera epidemic sweeps through Canada.


The second cholera epidemic hits Canada.


Crisis in agriculture: during the 1820s and early 1830s, British trade policies protecting imperial grain growers (the Corn Laws) tended to favour wheat producers in Upper and Lower Canada. However, increased domestic production in Great Britain (especially imports from Ireland), led to less demand for Canadian wheat leading to the impoverishment of many small farmers in both Canadian colonies, but especially in Lower Canada.

1837: the Year of the Rebellions

March 1

The 92 Resolutions, a list of political and economic reforms drawn up by Papineau and his supporters, called the patriotes, are rejected by the British government. March through August

Assemblies held throughout Québec in protest against the British decision. Early September

Race riots in Niagara. Two African residents of Niagara are killed by the police, and 30-40 are jailed. September 5

500 young patriotes in Montréal organize a radical political organization called Fils de la Liberté, (Sons of Liberty). They meet at the Nelson Hotel. October 4

The Fils de la Liberté publish a manifesto calling for the election of a republican government in Lower Canada. October 23-24

The radicals hold the Grande Assemblée des Six-Comtés, a mass meeting of patriotes, at Saint-Charles-sur-le-Richelieu. November 6

The Bishop of Montréal speaks against the patriotes. The patriotes raise a liberty pole carrying the inscription "A Papineau, ses compatriotes reconnaissants, 1837. " Brawls in Montréal between the Fils de la Liberté and the anti-patriotes Doric Club occur. The loyalists ransack the workshops of the English-language patriote newspaper, The Vindicator, and the house of André Ouimet, president of the Fils de la Liberté. November 18

Brown, named general of the Fils, seizes the manor of Seigneur Debartzch in Saint-Charles and establishes a camp. A detachment of British troops under the command of Wetherall leaves Montréal and goes to Chambly. November 23

Battle of Saint-Denis: The British commander, Gore, at the head of six companies of infantry and a detachment of artillery attacks the patriotes forces under Wolfred Nelson entrenched at Saint-Denis. After seven hours of fighting, Gore retreats in defeat, losing six men killed and 11 wounded, a rare defeat of British regulars. The rebels lost 12 killed and eight wounded. November 25

Battle of Saint-Charles: Two days later Wetherall's loyalist force attacks the patriote army at Saint-Charles. Barricaded around the manor of Saint-Charles, the rebels are routed after just two hours of fighting, losing 28 killed and more than 30 wounded. The British lost seven dead and 23 wounded, but the spirit of the patriote forces, elated after the victory of Saint-Denis, is crushed. November 30

Wetherall and his troops make a triumphal return to Montréal with 30 prisoners and the Liberty Pole that had been erected at Saint-Charles. The patriote leaders, Girod and Chénier, with 200 men seek to secure weapons at Oka. Papineau leaves the colony. December 2

Gore torches Saint-Denis. December 5

Martial law is declared in Montréal. December 6

A group of 80 patriotes attempting to reach the United States are intercepted and scattered at Moore's Corner (Philipsburgh) by 300 militia. In Upper Canada, Dr. Duncombe with a rousing speech launched open rebellion in the western half of the colony. Hearing news of the beginning of the Mackenzie Rebellion at Toronto, he began to assemble a force of Rebels which reached 500 to 600 in number by December 13. Duncombe's men were gathering in Scotland Township and Oakland (Malcolm's Mills) on the road to Dundas (Hamilton). December 7

The skirmish at Montgomery's Tavern. The main rebel forces under Mackenzie and Van Egmond gathered north of Toronto are dispersed by the local militia. Colonel Allan Napier MacNab is ordered to exit Toronto, assemble a force and confront the Duncombe rebels. December 10

British troops threaten Saint-Eustache and Saint-Benoît in Lower Canada. December 12

Colonel MacNab approaches Duncombe's rebel force at the village of Sodom. That and the news of Mackenzie's defeat results in the break up of rebel force. December 13

Governor Colborne leaves Montréal with his main army of 1300 men for Saint-Eustache. December 14

Battle of Saint-Eustache: the last main rebel army is easily scattered by Colborne's regulars. MacNab makes a surprise attack on Duncombe's camp, but most of the rebels have already fled. He takes 500 prisoners from the surrounding area over the next few days. MacNab freed the prisoners pending the approval of the lieutenant-governor. Only the most active rebels were later again arrested and tried. December 15

Last patriote resistance is crushed at Saint-Benoît. December 29

In Upper Canada, at Navy Island, east of present day Niagara Falls, Ontario, Mackenzie's ship Caroline was burned while moored at Fort Schlosser, New York. 1838: a Second year of Troubles

January / February

Around Amherstburg, Upper Canada, sporadic fighting on the Detroit River frontier between British regulars and Canadian militia on the one hand and rebels and American sympathizers on the other. January 5

The United States government affirms its neutrality, although no real measures are taken to stop rebels based in the United States from raiding Canada. In Lower Canada the exiled rebels and their American supporters called themselves the Frères Chasseurs, and in Upper Canada they were called the Hunters' Lodges. The 60-year-old AnthonyVan Egmond dies as a result of disease, likely pneumonia, contracted in unsanitary jail conditions while held in Toronto awaiting trial. February 26-27

Patriotes raid Potton in the Eastern Townships. 600 patriotes assemble at Plattsburg in the United States and cross Lake Champlain to Alburg, Vermont. February 28

Robert Nelson and Dr.Côté, commanding the patriote army, invade Lower Canada at Week's House and declare the independence of the colony. March 1

Nelson and the patriotes are forced to retreat back into the United States in the face of loyalist opposition. The American authorities this time arrest Nelson and Côté. March 3, 1838

At Pelee Island, Upper Canada, a sharp struggle occurred as British regulars accompanied by cavalry (including the St. Thomas troops under Captain James Ermatinger) repelled a rebel raid. April 12

Rebel leaders Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, captured after Montgomery's Tavern, are hanged for treason in Toronto. April 27

Martial law is repealed in Montréal. 501 people in the city are jailed for "treasonous" activities. May 27

Lord Durham arrives in Québec as the new governor. June 11

In Upper Canada, 26 rebels under James Morrow invade the Niagara Peninsula from their base on Grand Island, joining up with 22 supporters at Short Hills (now the town of Fonthill). After defeating a group of 13 British soldiers, the raiders were defeated by a second force of loyalist troops. Morrow was hanged while other rebels were sent to the penal colony on Tasmania. June 28

Lower Canada proclaims a partial amnesty for those involved in the rebellion. November 3

The Frères Chasseurs reassemble at various points outside of Montréal marking the start of the second rebellion in Lower Canada. November 4

At Napierville, Robert Nelson for a second time proclaims the independence of Lower Canada. 700 patriotes gather. November 5

A patriote army of 300 is defeated after 30 minutes of fighting by British regulars under Colborne at Lacolle. Eight rebels are killed. November 9

Main patriote army of 600 men is defeated at Odelltown. Attempt to capture Robert Nelson fails. November 10

Colborne arrives at Napierville at the head of 8000 soldiers. November 11-16

Battle of the Windmill: in Upper Canada, a serious invasion by the New York Hunters' Lodge is made at Prescott near Kingston. About 200 men, most of them Americans, under the Swedish soldier of fortune, Nils von Schoultz attack Fort Wellington. On November 11, the rebels, carried across the river in two schooners and steamer, land and unopposed capture the windmill here (the main structure of the mill still exists, later rebuilt into a light house). The Hunters are counter-attacked the next day by 470 loyalists but beat off the assault leading to a four day siege. On the 16th, a new attack is made with reinforcements from two regulars regiments, the 83rd and 93rd and 300 more loyalist militia. Von Schoultz finally surrenders and 159 prisoners are taken. November 13

Patriotes at Boucherville disperse without a fight, marking the definitive end of the second rebellion in Lower Canada. November 27

In Lower Canada 855 people are arrested under a new martial law (that would be the equivalent of 10,000 people in 1970) December 4

The Battle of Windsor results when a force of rebels and Americans crossed the Detroit River, attacking Windsor, killing four militiamen and burning the steamer Thames, before retreating. The Loyalist defenders numbered about 300 men. Reports of the number of rebels and Americans vary wildly from 100 to 400 men. Twenty Five rebels are killed in the fight and many prisoners are captured including Joshua Doan of Sparta (a village near London), who was later hanged for treason. Colonel John Prince ordered that four rebel prisoners be shot. December 8

Nils von Schoultz and 11 other rebels captured at the battle of Windmill are executed. December 12

12 rebels in Lower Canada are executed. 58 are deported to penal colonies in Australia. December 21

Two more rebel leaders, Joseph Cardinal and Joseph Duquet, are executed.

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