The Durham Report and Its Solutions

The year 1840 marked a milestone in Canadian history, the union of Upper and Lower Canada, an event of crucial importance that shaped the culture of Canada's early inhabitants and the relations between francophones and non-francophones. At the time, the total population of British North America—the future Canada—was approximately 1 1/2 million, distributed among seven colonies:

Lower Canada 650,000
Upper Canada 450,000
Nova Scotia 130,000
New Brunswick 100,000
Prince Edward Island 45,000
Newfoundland 60,000
New Caledonia/Oregon (present-day B.C.) (??? non official)

Under the Royal Charter granted by Charles II in 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company ran Rupert's Land as a private colony. The company also detained a monopoly on the fur trade in the area on the other side of the Rocky Mountains known as New Caledonia to the British and Oregon Country to the Americans. This zone was jointly occupied by the United States and Great Britain and extended north from the 42nd parallel all the way to the 54th parallel marking the border with Alaska, which still belonged to Russia. The native population of the areas under Hudson's Bay Company control was approximately 300,000, but this non-white population was not included in official statistics. A few years later in 1846, the Oregon Treaty established the 49th parallel as the western border between British North America and the United States. Two distinct colonies were created on the West Coast: Vancouver Island and British Columbia.

12 cent postage stamp of Canada In 1840, the seven British North American colonies—Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Lower Canada, Upper Canada, and New Caledonia—had no geographical or political links. They existed as independent entities, each with its own governor (or rather lieutenant-governor), assembly, executive, civil service, customs offices, police, militia, stamps, etc. Only the " Province of Canada" (divided into Lower and Upper Canada) shared a certain number of institutions. None of the colonies had yet obtained responsible government.

Governor General Durham

Portrait of Lord Durham John George Lambton, Earl of Durham (1792–1840) was appointed governor general of British North America in January 1838 (after the rebellions of 1837), a position he held until November 1838. He was also appointed high commissioner to Canada to examine the situation created by the strife of 1837. Lord Durham arrived in early summer in 1838 and promptly launched his investigation. He travelled throughout Lower and Upper Canada to familiarize himself with relations between the British and the Canadiens and draw his own conclusions, later set down in the 1839 Durham Report, which served as the basis for the Act of Union of 1840.

Durham noted that in all of the colonies, the elected assemblies were no longer willing to accept the domination of the oligarchic councils. However, he believed that the roots of the problem were more ethnic than political. In Lower Canada, the British emissary found "two nations warring in the bosom of a single state." After a six-month stay, Durham presented his report to the British government.

In his 1839 report, Lord Durham analyzed the crisis raging in Lower Canada. In his view, the crisis had two causes:

  1. The conflict generated by the presence of an elected assembly and an unelected executive council and the governor's opposition to the assembly
  2. The coexistence of the French and English populations, causing a "conflict of races"

Lord Durham made three recommendations:

  1. The union of Upper Canada ( Ontario) and Lower Canada ( Québec) into a single colony (1840)
  2. The assimilation of the French Canadians (1840)
  3. The granting of ministerial responsibility, or responsible government (1848)

In fragile health, Lord Durham died not long after his return to London in 1840.

The Union of Upper and Lower Canada

In 1840, the British government decided to unite the two colonies into the Province of Canada by introducing the Act of Union, creating a single assembly for Upper and Lower Canada. The act was passed by the British Parliament on July 23, 1840, under the title An Act to re-unite the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and for the government of Canada (3 & 4 Victoria, c. 35). The new constitutional act, which had 62 sections, came into effect on February 1, 1841. The first section of the act proclaimed the Union: "The said Provinces [...] shall form and be One Province, under the Name of the Province of Canada."

Map of United Canada from 1840 to 1867 The two Canadas (officially the "Province of Canada") officially became United Canada under the Act of Union. Upper and Lower Canada would henceforth be known as Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Québec), although the terms Upper Canada and Lower Canada continued to be widely used until 1867, and even after Confederation. The city of Kingston was capital of the Province of United Canada until 1843. An act passed in 1847 officially made Montréal the new capital due its location, which was deemed more appropriate for the seat of government of Canada West (primarily anglophone), and Canada East (primarily francophone). The introduction of the new constitution was warmly welcomed by the English merchant class, whose future was said to depend on the development of the St. Lawrence River Valley. However, it drew the ire of the French Canadians, who were angry with a number of provisions of the act. They feared a centralized colony run primarily by anglophones.

At the time, United Canada was still very small, for it only included a part of present-day Ontario and Québec. The rest of the territory (Rupert's Land, New Caledonia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island , and Nova Scotia) remained separate British colonies.

With a population of 650,000, Canada East (Québec) had 42 members in the Legislative Assembly, the same number as Canada West (Ontario) with 450,000 habitants. The goal was to impose parliamentary equality while waiting for immigration to close the demographic gap. In addition, French Canada was forced to assume the debts English Canada had contracted to build canals and roads. Francophones in Lower Canada viewed this measure as unjust, since Upper Canada's debt was 1.2 million louis compared to 95,000 for Lower Canada. Given that Lord Durham had urged that each province be made responsible for its internal affairs through the introduction of ministerial responsibility within the governments of the British North American colonies, London agreed to his recommendation, especially since it was a way to preempt the reformers. However, Lord John Russel, Secretary for War and Colonies from 1846 to 1852, had already expressed his opposition to responsible government. He felt it was tantamount to giving in to "rebel" demands and that the colonial Council should not be in a position to advise Her Majesty.

The impact of the Durham Report proved positive for Upper Canada. Durham believed that the political union of Upper and Lower Canada would reestablish peace. It was crucial to establish a loyal, English majority, anglicize French Canadians, and grant ministerial responsibility. By declaring English as the sole official language of the Parliament of United Canada, the Act of Union protected the population of Upper Canada. By according the same number of parliamentary representatives to Upper Canada and its more populous neighbour, British authorities gave Upper Canada the political advantage. In short, the Durham Report posed no threat to Upper Canada. This is why it was so well received. For the anglophones of Montréal, who found themselves still dependent on a French-speaking majority, it was another story.

English as the Official Language of Parliament

United Canada was created to give the English-speaking community an advantage over the French-speaking community. In the mid-19th century, political decision makers took little interest in language issues, except when they had to. The notion of institutional bilingualism was still foreign to them. In 1848, Switzerland (probably overlooked) was the only country in the world practising institutional bilingualism (French/German). In such circumstances, it went without saying that English would be the only official language of the new Parliament, as set out in Section 41 of the Act of Union:  

Section 41

And be it enacted, That from and after the said Reunion of the said Two Provinces all Writs, Proclamations, Instruments for summoning and calling together the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, and for proroguing and dissolving the same, and all Writs of Summons and Election, and all Writs and public Instruments whatsoever relating to the said Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, or either of them, and all Returns to such Writs and Instruments, and all Journals, Entries, and written or printed Proceedings, of what Nature soever, of the said Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, and of each of them respectively, and all written or printed Proceedings and Reports of Committees of the said Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly respectively, shall be in the English Language only: Provided always, that this Enactment shall not be construed to prevent translated Copies of any such Documents being made, but no such Copy shall be kept among the Records of the Legislative Council or Legislative Assembly, or be deemed in any Case to have the Force of an original Record.

It was the first time since the Conquest that Great Britain (officially now the United Kingdom) had proscribed the use of French in a constitutional text, testifying to the British government's newfound assimilationist intentions. French was to become but a language of translation, with no legal value. Section 31 did not, however, formally prohibit the use of French in parliamentary debate: in fact, of this it made no mention.

Not unexpectedly, the Act of Union sparked a wave of protest in Canada East ( Québec). From the outset, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine (1807–1864), lawyer and joint head of the Executive Council, tried to convince Parliament to accept the use of French. After having demanded the Chamber meet as a general committee in 1842, he addressed the members from United Canada in these terms:

To begin, I must make allusion to the attack by the honourable member for Toronto, who has so often been presented to us as a friend of the French Canadian people. Has he already forgotten that I belong to that nationality which has been so horribly illtreated by the Act of Union? If so, I would find it most regrettable. He asks me to deliver in a language other than my maternal tongue the first speech I have to deliver in this house! I distrust my ability to speak the English language. But I must inform the honourable members that even if I knew English as well as French, I would still make my first speech in the language of my French Canadian countrymen, if only to protest solemnly the cruel injustice of that part of the Act of Union which aims to proscribe the mother tongue of half the population of Canada. I owe it to my countrymen, I owe it to myself.

The purpose of the Union, in the mind of its author, was to crush the French population: but a mistake has been made, for the means employed will not achieve this result. Without our active cooperation, without our participation in power, the government cannot function in such a way as to reestablish the peace and confidence essential to the success of any administration. Placed by the Act of Union in an exceptional situation, as a minority with respect to the distribution of political power, should we succumb, we shall at least succumb by commanding respect...

The Parliament of United Canada sought to temper the impact of Section 41 by adopting various measures to facilitate translation of laws and other parliamentary documents. During the session of 1844, francophone members presented a motion requiring that the speaker of the assembly be able to speak English and French. As a result, Allan McNab, an eminent but unilingual member of the William Henry Draper government (1843–1846), was not eligible for reelection and was replaced by Augustin-Norbert Morin. The following year (February 17, 1845), francophone members presented another resolution demanding that official versions of parliamentary texts also be produced in French. Allan McNab rejected the resolution, sparking a vote in the assembly which his side won by single vote. Subsequently, francophone members decided to ask the British government to simply abrogate Section 41 of the Act of Union. They had to endure endless parliamentary procedural manoeuvring and the bad faith of Governor Metcalfe (1843-1845) but in the end, the Parliament of United Canada unanimously approved the request and forwarded it to the British government.

A new governor of United Canada, Lord Elgin (Lord Durham's son-in-law), replaced the Earl of Cathcart (1846–1847) after a change in government in Britain brought a more reform-minded government to power. The following year, George Baldwin, an anglophone from Canada West, and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, a francophone from Canada East, concluded a political alliance in order secure a majority in Parliament. They were elected in 1848. Baldwin and Lafontaine had been fighting for a number of years against the London-appointed governors and the English-speaking merchants of Montréal, who tried to pull strings in their favour. Lord Elgin (1847–1854) himself came to view the economic oligarchy and the Tory Party as "pocketbook loyalists," even though they presented themselves as ardent defenders of British values. In Canadian history, the Baldwin-Lafontaine alliance remains one of the country's greatest political achievements. It also proved to be, against all expectations, the first time francophones and anglophones proved able to surmount traditional cleavages to rally around shared political principles. Thanks to the Baldwin-Lafontaine alliance, United Canada obtained responsible government and legislative bilingualism.

Spurred on by Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine, Lord Elgin pestered the British government to agree to the demands of the Canadian Parliament regarding bilingualism. Writing to Lafontaine on June 15, 1848, Elgin affirmed, "I am certain that the next post from Downing Street will inform me of what you intend to do to secure the repeal of the restrictions imposed by the Act of Union with respect to the use of French." Francophone opposition had been so intense since 1841 that London finally decided to accept use of the French language. It repealed Section 41 to restore the de facto bilingualism that had existed prior to the Act of Union by passing An Act to repeal so much of an Act of the Third and Fourth Years of Her present Majesty, to re-unite the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and for the Government of Canada, as relates to the Use of the English Language in Instruments relating to the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. Here are paragraphs 11 and 12 Victoria, ch. LVI, of the 1848 amendment rescinding Section 41 of the Act of Union of 1840, which made English the sole language of parliamentary record.:

WHEREAS by an Act [1841] [...] it is amongst other things enacted, that all Writs, Proclamations, Instruments for summoning and calling together […], and all Writs of Summons and Elections, and all Writs and Public Instruments whatsoever relating to the said Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, or either of them, and all Returns to such Writs and Instruments, and all Journals, Entries and written or printed Proceedings of what Nature soever, of the said Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, and of each of them respectively, and all written or printed Proceedings and Reports of Committees of the said Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly respectively, shall be in the English Language only: Provided always, that the said Enactment should not be construed to prevent translated Copies of any such Documents being made, but no such Copy should be kept among the Records of the Force of an original Record: And whereas it is expedient to alter the Law in this respect, in order that the Legislature of the Province of Canada, or the said Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly respectively, may have Power to make such Regulations herein as to them may seem advisable:' Be it therefore enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the same, That from and after the passing of this Act so much of the said recited Act as is herein-before recited shall be repealed [...].

In reality, the 1848 amendment did not formally allow for the use of French, but rather repealed the provisions imposing English as the only language. In any case, as of 1849, the official texts of all laws were passed in both French and English. It could be said that the act revoking Section 41 of the Act of Union was a remedial law that restored a legitimacy to the French language that a poorly inspired piece of legislation had taken away for a number of years. Since no simultaneous interpretation was available during parliamentary debates, members expressing themselves in French were "condemned" to being understood solely by their French-speaking colleagues. The inverse was also true. The repeal bill did not change the de facto institutional unilingualism prevailing in Upper Canada (Canada West), but did establish the de jure bilingual character of the joint Legislative Assembly of Upper and Lower Canada. Lord Elgin, the governor general, opened the session of the United Canada Parliament in Montreal by giving part of his throne speech in French. It was the first time since the end of the French regime that a representative of the Crown had formally conducted this parliamentary ritual in both languages.

It may be worth mentioning another element related to the absence of language provisions in the Act of Union of 1840. Certain legal specialists argue even though the act did not deal with language, it gave French quasi-official status by recognizing French civil law. Since this law was originally written in French, this amounted to implicit recognition of French alongside English. The same thing happened in Louisiana after the colony was sold to the United States by the emperor Napoleon on April 30, 1803. When Louisiana became an American state on April 30, 1812, English was named the only official language, but French civil law was also recognized. The courts even ruled in 1825 that in the event of a conflict of interpretation, the French version took precedence over the translated English version. However, after the U.S. Civil War ( Louisiana was a slave state), the new 1868 constitution prohibited the use of any other language than English.

The laws, publics records, and judicial and legislative proceedings of the State shall be promulgated and preserved in the English language; and no law shall require judicial process to be issued in any other than the English language.

This marked the end of institutional bilingualism in Louisiana. In 1870, the Civil Code was overhauled and adopted in English only. The Code of Civil Procedure was also revised, and any obligation regarding the use of French removed. Then, out of patriotic duty (see the famed slogan "One flag, one nation, one language"), the Irish-descended high clergy eliminated French from the schools. In other words, the law is nothing without the force of law!

The Destruction of the Montréal Parliament

Starting in 1847, the Parliament of United Canada met in Montréal (Canada East) instead of Kingston (Canada West). In 1849, the Parliament building was to become the site of one of the saddest chapters in Canadian parliamentary history. The first piece of legislation introduced under the responsible government of Lafontaine and Baldwin was the Lower Canada Rebellion Losses Act. Its purpose was to compensate inhabitants of Lower Canada who had suffered reprisals by British soldiers and anglophone militias during the rebellions of 1837–38. A similar measure had been adopted under the Tory government in 1845 to compensate victims of destruction in Upper Canada. This time, the law sparked virulent debate because the victims were not anglophones, but rather francophones.

Certain anglophones felt it was indecent and immoral to use funds from English-speaking protestants to compensate French-speaking Catholics. Despite an initial claim of £250,000, an inquiry commission concluded that £100,000 would be enough to pay for the damages suffered in Lower Canada (Canada East). In the end, the government authorized a £10,000 payout, sparking an outcry in both Canada East, where the amount was viewed as utterly ridiculous, and Canada West, which opposed the very idea of compensating the "papist rebels." The Tory opposition did everything it could to block the bill, but in vain. In its view, only loyalists to the Crown had been compensated in Upper Canada, whereas those who had shown disloyalty were to get a share in Lower Canada. The leader of the Tory Party and member for Hamilton, Allan McNab, proclaimed his indignation:

The Union has completely failed its purpose. It was created with the sole design of submitting the French Canadians to English domination. The opposite has occurred. Those who were to be crushed dominate! Those in whose favour the Union was concluded are the serfs of the others.

Sir McNab warned the ministry that the compensation plan would plunge the people of Upper Canada into despair and that it would be better to be governed "by a people of the same race, rather than by those with whom they have nothing in common, neither blood, nor language, nor interests." Despite the warnings from anglophones in English-dominated Montreal (only 19,000 of its 43,0000 inhabitants were francophone at the time) angered by what they felt was French Domination, Lord Elgin nonetheless gave the bill royal assent on April 25, 1849. The Montreal Gazette immediately called on people to riot.

The end is nigh, Anglo-Saxons, you must live for the future; your blood and your race shall hereafter be your supreme law, if you are true to yourselves. You shall be English, if you may no longer be British. In the words of William IV, Canada is lost and delivered. The crowd must assemble at Armoury Square tonight at eight o'oclock. To arms, the time has come.

As Lord Elgin left Parliament after delivering the Throne Speech, throngs of Orangemen pelted his carriage with eggs, stones, and other projectiles. The angry crowd then made its way to the Parliament building to cries of "To Parliament," "To Monkland (the governor general's residence), and "Down with Lord Elgin!"

Using torches, the crowd set fire to the building—the so-called French Parliament—which was rapidly destroyed. Not only were 25,000 English and French documents destroyed in the library (one of the best parliamentary libraries of its day), but also the colony's largest collection of archives. The value of the buildings destroyed in the riot exceeded the total cost of compensation awarded under the law. The pro-Tory British army, with its garrison of 10,000 soldiers, had been ordered the night before to turn a blind eye to these "unpredictable" events. In any case, it would have been unthinkable for Lord Elgin to deploy soldiers and police against British subjects. The rioters roamed the streets brandishing pig's heads coiffed with a bishop's mitre and chanting "Catholic pigs." French Canadian Montrealers were terrified. The next day, a crowd gathered before the home of Premier Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and burned it to the ground. Only the army's intervention saved him from death.

James Moir Ferres, the publisher and principal owner of the Gazette, was arrested on April 26, the day after the Parliament burned, but was released under pressure from the crowd:

The Rebellion Losses Act. And the eternal shame of Great Britain. Rebellion is the law of the land. [...] The end is nigh, Anglo-Saxons, you must live for the future; your blood and your race shall hereafter be your supreme law, if you are true to yourselves. You shall be English, if you may no longer be British. In the words of William IV, Canada is lost and delivered. The crowd must assemble at Armoury Square tonight at eight o'clock. To arms, the time has come.

Two days later, the "friends of peace" attacked Governor General Elgin, who decided it would be wise to leave town for a few days. On September 5, 1849 inhabitants of Brockville, a town between Kingston and Cornwall on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, raised black flags and made death threats to Elgin on his way through town. Elgin offered to resign, but the colonial secretary assured him that British authorities approved his action. Agitation continued and chapters of the "Anglo-American League" of Montréal were established in Toronto, Kingston, and other towns in Upper Canada. Feeling abandoned by London, and angry with Great Britain's decision to abolish the protectionist regime, Anglo-Montréal merchants called for Canada's annexation to the United States, giving Lord Elgin ample reason to consider them "pocketbook loyalists." As one Canadian historian ironically commented, "Montréal was like the Wild West back in those days." The fire marked the end of Montréal's stint as home of Parliament. No seat of government was ever permanently established there. Parliament subsequently alternated between Toronto and Québec City every four years before moving definitively to Ottawa in 1866.

The Policy of Assimilation and Minority

Lord Durham believed that Canada's problems could be traced to the coexistence of loyal British subjects (including the Scots and the Irish) and the untrustworthy "French Canadians [who] are but the residue of a former colony." It was simple—it was all the French Canadians' fault! In Lord Durham's view, the solution was to subordinate French Canadians politically and demographically in order to anglicize them and establish an English-speaking majority fully loyal to the British Crown. Doing so meant rapidly flooding Lower Canada with "Her Majesty's loyal subjects" and combining the two Canada's, perhaps even creating a federation of all the British North American colonies in which the French Canadians would be definitively relegated to minority status.

Shortly after his arrival in Québec City on May 29, 1838, Lord Durham, who undoubtedly sympathized with the French Canadians at the start, hired English-language journalist Adam Thom (1802-1854) as his advisor. If his writings are any indication, Thom, who was well known for his anti-francophone and anti-papist views, did not think very highly of the French Canadians. In November 1835, he wrote in the Montréal Herald:

For too long the English of this province have slumbered, there is a time for action and a time for sleep. One thing is sure: the first drop of English blood spilled in the colony for the aggrandizement of the French faction will raise the indigation of any Englishman that avarice or ambition has not yet made a traitor.

The well-known Montréal Herald polemicist also declared that French Canadians were a pampered lot who had received more than their share of attention since the Conquest, whereas "English subjects" had been neglected. He believed that the policy of conciliation promoted by Governor Gosford (1835–1838) had allowed the vanquished French Canadians to dictate colonial policy to the victorious British. Loyalists denounced this policy, fearing that London would look favourably on the French Canadians and end up giving in to their grievances by granting them more powers.

Loyalist organizations banded together in an umbrella committee—the Montréal Constitutional Association (MCA)—in January 1835. A similar organization—the Québec Constitutional Association (QCA)—had been founded in Québec City in December 1834. These bodies were set up to defend the Constitution of 1791 and preserve the Legislative Assembly in its existing form. But the loyalists were not content to form constitutional associations and hold public meetings, they also began setting up armed organizations. Adam Thom, leader of the "British" of Montréal, defended these militias in the December 12, 1835 edition of his paper:

The organization, to combine moral determination and physical force, must be both military and political. We as much need an Army as a Congress. We need pikes and rifles as much as wisdom (...) Therefore let us call a provincial congress immediately and increase the British Rifle Corp. of Montréal to 800, which is its full complement, let us send deputies to win the sympathies of the neighbouring provinces.

It was increasingly clear that the English minority had no intention of letting itself be governed by French Canadians, and was even prepared to put up armed resistance. Adam Thom freely called for the ransacking of francophone villages.

Past history proves that nothing short of their disappearance from the land and the reduction of their homes to dust will prevent new rebellions south of the St. Lawrence, or new invasions by the Americans.

After the British Rifle Corp was disbanded in January 1836, another paramilitary organization—the Doric Club—was founded by a group of young armed loyalists. In their manifesto of March 16, 1836, club members declared that they would rather give their lives than submit to a French Canadian republic.

If we are deserted by the British government and the British people, rather than submit to the degradation of being subject of a French-Canadian republic, we are determined by our own right arms to work out our deliverance..., we are ready... to pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

In the English-language papers, certain journalists publicly shared their views with the Queen's representative, Lord Durham, as evidenced by this June 1838 excerpt from the Missiskoui Standard, published in Frelighsburg in the Eastern Townships:

It is foolishness for the French Canadians to fight their destiny. It is impossible that a handful of Frenchmen in the extreme north-east can rise to the state of a nation, against the entrepreneurial genius of a race that has already covered most of this continent. It's more than foolishness. Since 1791 and until last year, the French sought to defy their fate; and despite having all manner of legislative facilities, they did not succeed. They oppressed the Anglo-Saxon race residing in this province, and sought to keep away those who wanted to come. And what was the result of all this? They failed. The legal power they possessed was not proportionate to their end; and when in desparation they had recourse to force to accomplish their favourite desire, the Anglo-Saxon race, like a boa constrictor, wrapped itself around them, pressed them on all sides, and crushed them.

The October 18, 1838 edition of the Montréal Gazette also featured an interpretation of the source of problems with the French Canadian community:

What is, we ask, the real cause of the state of division in which this province finds itself, and of the maladministration and anarchy to which it has long been submitted? What is it, other than that the majority of its inhabitants are of foreign origin, custom, law, language, and institutions to that of the nation at large, and that no attempt has yet been made to assimilate them into the ways of the Mother Country.

For various reasons, Lord Durham had little contact with French Canadians during his six-month stay in Canada. Instead, he surrounded himself with anglophone advisers who viewed the French Canadians as a backward and illiterate people constantly manipulated by irresponsible leaders. In contrast, these same advisers were convinced that the English-speaking minority was well governed and had the province's best interests at heart. It was not without irony that French immigrant and journalist Napoléon Aubin, founder of the newspaper Le Fantasque, warned Lord Durham against using words such as British in 1838:

It would seem, My Lord, that you have taken it upon yourself to make French Canadians understand that their hour has come, hope has run out, and they now must endure slavery and contempt to atone for the grave sin of not being English. All the trappings man covets are denied them: titles, honours, and consideration are taken from them and offered to those who insult them at will […] You plan to defend British interests! Ay, My Lord, do change this word, for it is a vile one. Say you shall defend colonial interests, provincial interests or whatever you may choose, but not British interests; for you see, you will not be understood here. All that is abuse and cruelty, all that is tyranny, ignorance, oppression, and intolerance, has been shrouded by your compatriots in the word British.

In these conditions, it is no surprise that Lord Durham developed such a poor opinion of the French Canadians. Here are several excerpts from his report on the topic:

They (the Canadiens) are an old and stationary society, in a new and progressive world. In all things and places they have remained French, but Frenchmen who in no way resemble those of France. Rather, they resemble the French of the Ancien Régime. [...]

The French Canadians, on the other hand, are but the remains of an ancient colonization, and are and ever must be isolated in the midst of an Anglo-Saxon world. [...]

There can hardly be conceived a nationality more destitute of all that can invigorate and elevate a people, than that which is exhibited by the descendants of the French in Lower Canada, owing to their retaining their peculiar language and manners. They are a people with no history, and no literature. The literature of England is written in a language which is not theirs; and the only literature which their language renders familiar to them, is that of a nation from which they have been separated by eighty years of a foreign rule, and still more by those changes which the Revolution and its consequences have wrought in the whole political, moral and social state of France. [...]

In Durham's eyes, the English, on the other hand, were a superior race, and English the dominant language:

The language, the laws, the character of the North American Continent are English; and every race but the English (I apply this to all who speak the English language) appears there in a condition of inferiority. It is to elevate them from that inferiority that I desire to give to the Canadians our English character. I desire it for the sake of the educated classes, whom the distinction of language and manners keeps apart from the great Empire to which they belong. At the best, the fate of the educated and aspiring colonist is, at present, one of little hope, and little activity; but the French Canadian is cast still further into the shade, by a language and habits foreign to those of the Imperial Government. [...]

The English have already in their hands the majority of the larger masses of property in the country; they have the decided superiority of intelligence on their side; they have the certainty that colonization must swell their numbers to a majority; and they belong to the race which wields the Imperial Government, and predominates on the American Continent.

Anglicization of the French Canadians and their transformation into a minority went hand-in-hand, and were to be the main objective of colonial authorities. To this end, Lord Durham encouraged London to promote massive English immigration:

Without effecting the change so rapidly or so roughly as to shock the feelings and trample on the welfare of the existing generation, it must henceforth be the first and steady purpose of the British Government to establish an English population, with English laws and language, in this Province, and to trust its government to none but a decidedly English legislature. [...]

I believe that tranquility can only be restored by subjecting the province to the vigorous rule of an English majority; and that the only efficacious government would be that formed by a legislative union.

But, I repeat that the alteration of the character of the Province ought to be immediately entered on, and firmly, though cautiously, followed up; that in any plan, which may be adopted for the future management of Lower Canada, the first object ought to be that of making it an English Province; and that, with this end in view, the ascendancy should never again be placed in any hands but those of an English population. Indeed, at the present moment this is obviously necessary: in the state of mind in which I have described the French Canadian population, as not only now being, but as likely for a long while to remain, the trusting them with an entire control over this Province would be, in fact, only facilitating a rebellion. Lower Canada must be governed now, as it must be hereafter, by an English population; and thus the policy, which the necessities of the moment force on us, is in accordance with that suggested by a comprehensive view of the future and permanent improvement of the Province [...]

For Lord Durham, perpetual negligence by the British government was the explanation for the lack of freedom and civilization among French Canadians. "It has left them without instruction and without the organizations of local responsible government, which would have enabled it to assimilate their race and customs easily and expeditiously, for the greater benefit of the Empire to which they belong." Durham saw "no hope for their nationality," in part because they could never break away from the British Empire unless they decided to go it alone (in "a wretched semblance of feeble independence"), joined some sort of potential "English confederacy," or eventually opted for "merging in the American Union."

In short, the British Empire needed to act quickly to definitively resolve the problem of "two nations warring in the bosom of a single state" and "squelch the mortal hatred that now divides the inhabitants of Lower Canada into two hostile groups: the French and the English." Obviously, many French Canadians were outraged by the report's recommendations with respect to assimilation as well as by the insinuation that they possessed neither culture nor history.

After the Act of Union, francophones stood helplessly by in the face of anti-French determinism. Encouraged into submission by the clergy, they believed in their "grand" spiritual destiny while the anglophone community took control of the economy and secured the capital required for industrialization and urbanization.

The French Canadian Exodus to the United States

Excluded from the commercial empire that had passed almost entirely into anglophone hands, French Canadians had little choice but to turn back to the farmlands of the St. Lawrence River Valley, the only place where francophones could hope to find work. The problem was that the potential for agricultural expansion started to decline in the 1830s due to population growth and the industrial revolution. On the one hand, farmland overpopulation essentially made further expansion of agriculture impossible, while on the other hand, the new industries of New England provided a convenient outlet for a growing population. Already a minority in Canada, francophones began emigrating to the manufacturing towns of the United States, defying the admonitions of Catholic clergy, which saw the towns as "places of perdition" where assimilation awaited. In total, nearly 900,000 French Canadians left Québec to try their luck in the United States during a period of nearly 100 years. In the eyes of the British authorities, the francophones had found an ideal way to ensure their own disappearance.

The ravages of francophone immigration were particularly significant in the second half of the 19th century and all the way until 1930, when the American government decided to close the Canada-U.S. border to immigration. Québec, a province with a relatively small population, had undergone a veritable hemorrhage. Over the course of almost a century—from 1840 to 1930—nearly 1.2 million of its people had crossed the border, i.e., 5% to 10% of its population every year. The repercussions of this demographic outflow are still being weighed. But it deprived Canada East (later the province of Québec) of a large portion of its active population. According to demographic estimates, Québec would now have a population of between 12 and 14 million francophones (as opposed to the current seven). Obviously, such a strong presence would have significantly altered the balance of power between anglophones and francophones within the Canadian federation and projected a very different image of Canada.

French Canadians who emigrated to New England maintained their language for a certain time, but most were eventually assimilated as the pace of industrialization and urbanization increased. In essence, these francophones paid the price of putting their economic interests first by losing their language.

That said, the English-speaking provinces experienced a similar outflow during this period. Canada attracted nearly 1.5 million new immigrants that it subsequently lost to its southern neighbour, which explains why population growth remained relatively modest over this period: it. Most English-speaking Canadian emigrants opted for work on U.S. farms, whereas the French Canadians preferred the manufacturing jobs of New England. Despite steady immigration to Canada during this period, the number of immigrants was largely exceeded by the number of Canadian-born emigrants to the United States. An estimated 30 to 50,000 Canadians (all languages considered)—i.e., 9% to 12% of the population—went south every decade, a veritable hemorrhage for Canada.

The Difficult Challenge of Canadian Dualism

It must be remembered that widely sought-after provisions for responsible government were not included in the Act of Union of 1840. Responsible government was obtained by a coalition of francophone reformers from Canada East and anglophone reformers from Canada West, with the backing of Lord Elgin. In order to make things work as best they could, reformers in both camps had to accept major compromises. While the anglophones of the west had to abandon the idea of assimilating the francophones of the east, the latter had to accept their minority status. In the years that followed, the Canadian parliamentary system grew inefficient, costly, and unstable, because it had to meet the needs of both groups. French Canadian politicians gave up on the ideology of a French state in North America and played by the rules of the British political system to ensure the survival of the French Canadians in British North America. However, since no provisions for proportional representation had been made, equality of representation in the Legislative Assembly eventually proved disadvantageous to Canada West, whose population had outgrown that of Canada East. This situation sparked increasing acrimony in the parliament of United Canada.

French Domination

In 1853, the Clear Grits ( meaning tenacious or dedicated), the radical party of Canada West led by George Brown (1818–1880), began denouncing the French Domination of a government it felt to be imposing its will on Canada West. The Clear Grits were francophobes with a virulent anti-Catholic streak. On November 22, 1850, Lord Elgin wrote to Albert Henry George (Earl Grey), qui sera gouverneur général du Canada de 1904 à 1911:

Every day, the hatred of the Clear Grit Party for francophones is more and more apparent. Mr. Boulton, the former chief justice of Newfoundland and a leader of sorts of the Clear Grits is said to have declared at a public dinner the other day that "negroes are the great difficulty of the United States, and French Canadians that of Canada," a sentiment likely to catch in the craw of a somewhat sensitive and distrustful people.

But the Clear Grits also defended liberal ideas, demanding non-denominational schools, annexation of the West, proportional representation in Parliament, universal and secret suffrage, an elected legislative council, etc. They also denounced a system that forced the Legislative Assembly to pass separate bills for Canada West or Canada East, and sometimes for the two Canadas. The double majority principle applied for all legislation with implications for both Canadas, which is why Parliament was becoming so inefficient and costly. But the Liberals did not have sufficient parliamentary representation to push George Brown's reforms through.

The anglophones of Canada West were frustrated with equal anglophone and francophone representation in the Assembly given that Canada West's population had outgrown that of Canada East by 60,000 people. With English immigration broadening the gap, the political situation could only get worse. The Clear Grits were categorically opposed to what they considered the French Domination of Canada. In 1856, George Brown described the situation reigning in the United Canada Legislative Assembly as one of two countries, two languages, two religions, and two ways of thinking and acting. He wondered whether it would be possible for the two nations to share a single Legislature and a single Executive.

Anglophones demanded constitutional reform that would ensure them proportional representation in Parliament. In light of the continual parliamentary instability, they began to toy with the idea of a federation of all the British colonies. Anglophone reformers had no particular interest in the maritime colonies, but they were fed up with the so-called French Domination. However, they needed Québec, because they wanted to hang on to its numerous canals and railways, as well as the port of Montréal. For them, the ideal solution was two provinces with separate cultural and political institutions, but joined by a common market.

The Confederation Initiative

Eventually, the Clear Grits earned the support of the electoral majority in Canada West, where their opposition to the business capitalists earned them the support of peasants and workers. In 1857, John Alexander Macdonald, a Conservative from Canada West, joined forces with Catholic Conservative George-Étienne Cartier (often written Georges in French) of Canada East. As Lord Elgin had predicted, the francophobic attitude of the Clear Grits in Canada West had pushed numerous liberal-leaning citizens in Canada East into the Conservative camp, transforming the party into a national organization. In 1864, George Brown proposed that the Conservative leaders of the two Canadas join him and the Liberals of Canada West in establishing a coalition government favourable to a federal union of the two provinces. To avoid political isolation, George-étienne Cartier, the leader of the Canada East reformers, joined the coalition, where he played an active role in establishing a federal union. This "Grand Coalition," as it would come to be known, included three of the four main political groups in United Canada: Macdonald's anglophone Conservatives, Cartier's francophone Conservatives, and Brown's reformers.

Painting entitled 'The Fathers of Confederation'
The Fathers of Confederation , Québec Conference, 1864
(Copy of an oil painting by Robert Harris, destroyed in 1916)

At the same time, the colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island were exploring the possibility of a Maritime federation and a possible economic union with the other provinces. Brown's proposal proved of central importance in negotiations for the confederation of the British North American colonies. The idea was to establish a confederation with a central government that would handle the federation's general and national affairs, along with a government in each province responsible for local affairs. In September 1864, the coalition government of United Canada was invited to Charlottetown, in the colony of Prince Edward Island, for a conference attended by Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. The coalition piqued the interest of the Maritime provinces with its proposal, and a second conference was held one month later in Québec City. It was here that the negotiators, later known as the "Fathers of Confederation," drafted the "72 resolutions" that were to form the basis of the future Canadian constitution.

During this same period, Great Britain was beginning to find that Canada was a heavy financial burden on the British Treasury. The cost of maintaining a contingent of 50,000 troops was at least two million pounds a year, a sum deemed enormous. British authorities grew convinced that by grouping the British North American colonies together, they could solve their spending problems. Edward Cardwell, Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1864 to 1866, made his intentions clear in this letter:

Her Majesty's government firmly believes that it is most desirable that all the British colonies of North America agree to come together in a single government. [...] The provinces of British North America are incapable, separated and divided as they are, of making the necessary preparations for their national defence, a task that could easily be assumed by a single province coutning all the population and all the resources of the land at its disposal.

The Language Question

When negotiations on establishing a federation of the British North American colonies got underway in 1864, the legal status of English and French was as follows: in the province of United Canada, made up of Canada West and Canada East, French and English were recognized as official languages in the joint House of Assembly and joint courts, whereas in the other colonies (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland), English was the only language in use. Under the projected federal framework, where two or more provinces would have their own government, two linguistic groups would find themselves in a situation of heightened minority status: the French Canadians, already a minority in the province of Canada (Canada West and Canada East), would become even more of a minority when the other colonies joined the federation; and the anglophones of Canada East, who would in some respects be "cut off" from their Canada West compatriots because they lived in a province with a French majority.

Among the resolutions adopted at the Québec Conference in 1864, only one concerned language. It was Resolution No. 46, and it read as follows:

Both the English and French languages may be employed in the General Parliament and in its proceedings, and in the Local Legislature of Lower Canada, and also in the Federal Courts and in the Courts of Lower Canada.

This version was somewhat different from the original proposal by Alexander Tilloch Galt, one of the negotiators and defenders of the provision respecting the protection of protestant minority education rights in Québec. Galt's text only made allusion to the federal courts in Canada East, which did not go over very well with the French Canadians. Once the debate on the resolutions got underway in Canada East, francophones pointed out that the clause provided no guarantees and called for replacing the word "may" by the word "shall" with respect to the language of parliament and the legislature. Their demands were not to go unheeded!

The Influence of the American Civil War

Another element affecting the Confederation debate was the thorny matter of the Civil War that had been raging in the United States since 1861, and did not end until 1865. The main cause of the conflict was slavery in the Southern states. This issue interested the negotiators of Confederation because it touched upon the rights and powers of the states (and by extension the potential powers of the provinces) with respect to those of the Union (and by extension, the federal government). Macdonald wanted to avoid the breakup of the central government by granting it as many powers as possible, and leaving the provinces with the strict minimum necessary for a federal system. He seems to have envisaged the central government as the "master" and the provinces as being at its beck and call. In the long term, he hoped to reduce the provincial governments to the rank of glorified municipalities (as in New Zealand).

Since the United Kingdom and its North American colonies supported the South in the war, tension between the United States and the British North American colonies soon escalated into political crisis. As a result, the Civil War convinced many Canadians that Confederation was undoubtedly the best way to keep British North America independent from the United States. Certain politicians believed that a union of the British colonies would protect them against eventual annexation by the Americans.

From the United Kingdom's point of view, a federation of British North American colonies seemed very appealing, since the new federation would assume its own defence spending. The British government made its position known in December 1864 and brought pressure to bear on the governors posted in Halifax, N.S., Fredericton, N.B., Charlottetown, P.E.I., and St. John's, Newfoundland. Colonial authorities eventually replaced a recalcitrant governor in Nova Scotia, threatened two others in Newfoundland and P.E.I., and sparked a coup d'état in New Brunswick. The strategy was partially successful.

Four Provinces Sign On

In 1865, provincial representatives gathered at the Parliament of United Canada to review the constitutional resolutions. Speaking on February 7, 1865, George-étienne Cartier declared his belief that the various national groups would preserve their respective identities under Confederation:

In our own Federation we should have Catholic and Protestant, English, French, Irish and Scotch, and each by his efforts and his success would increase the prosperity and glory of the new Confederacy [...]. It was a benefit rather than otherwise that we had a diversity of races. [...]

When the vote was held, the project won massive approval among delegates from Canada West, the colony most in favour of Confederation; Canada East approved by a bare two-vote majority (due to strong divisions among francophones), thanks to the appeal of getting a new provincial government; but strong resistance remained in the Maritimes. Despite pressure from the British government, only New Brunswick and Nova Scotia voted for Confederation.

All of these negotiations were held without consulting the populations concerned, even though the new federal framework would affect them for centuries to come. Nova Scotia reformers led by Joseph Howe (1804–1873) reproached the "federalists" for not having received a mandate from the population to negotiate a deal. John A. Macdonald wrote most of the new constitution himself. As he confided to Justice Gowan of Barrie, "All that is good or bad in the Constitution is of me." Macdonald took his inspiration from both the British model (constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary regime) and the American model (a federation with a central government that shares jurisdictions with regional governments).

Finally, on May 8, 1867, the British Parliament passed the British North America Act (which was officially renamed the Constitution Act, 1867). The new constitution received Queen Victoria's royal assent on March 29, 1867 and was proclaimed at noon on July 1 of the same year. Confederation therefore came into effect on July 1 under the official name of the Dominion of Canada. The inhabitants of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were very disappointed and objected strongly, but had no legal grounds for action. Macdonald and his Conservatives emerged victorious from the first federal election and went on to form Canada's first government and dominate the federal scene for the next three decades.

The Status of Languages in the Other British North American Colonies

The other colonies that made up British North America—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland—were not subject to any form of official bilingualism. The constitutional laws that had been imposed upon Canada West and Canada East were of no effect in the Atlantic colonies.

The Maritimes

Despite the relatively large Acadian population in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, French had no official status there. Nova Scotia's colonial constitution was included with the directives the British authorities sent to Governor Edward Cornwallis in 1749. His instructions were to introduce English laws to the colony and ensure that court proceedings were conducted according to those same laws. Over the course of previous centuries, French had remained the language of the English courts, despite the Statute of Pleading of 1362, which had recognized English as the sole language of use. However, since 1731, the use of any other language than English in the courts of England and Great Britain had been strictly forbidden.

At the time of Nova Scotia's entry into Confederation, English was the colony's official language. There were no texts giving any kind of status to French, not even as a "language of translation." The situation was the same in New Brunswick. Detached from Nova Scotia in 1784, the province also based its constitution on directives issued on August 16 of that year to Governor Thomas Carlton. The instructions were similar to those given to Edward Cornwallis for Nova Scotia.

Vancouver Island and British Columbia

It was not until 1849 that the United Kingdom formally established the colony of Vancouver Island to protect its sovereignty in the West. At the time, apart from a few hundred British settlers in Fort Victoria, the Pacific region was peopled by some 40,000 to 50,000 natives. On the mainland, the white population was no more than 1,000 (employees of the Hudson's Bay Company), whereas the native population was around 26,000. But the character of the region changed markedly with the Fraser River gold rush of 1858, when as many as 30,000 people flooded in one year alone. The influx was such that Great Britain created the mainland colony of British Columbia to run things more efficiently. The two Western colonies were governed by a single British representative. English became the de facto official language of the two colonies.

In November 1866, London unilaterally merged Vancouver Island and British Columbia, judging that there were was nothing to be gained from maintaining two separate colonies. And it must be said that with the recession that followed on the heels of the gold rush, separate colonial administrations were an unjustifiable financial burden. The newly merged colony adopted the name British Columbia, and its capital was that of the former Vancouver Island colony, Victoria.

In March 1867, B.C. reformers managed to convince Governor Seymour (who opposed union with Canada) to send a telegram to the Colonial Office asking that a provision allowing for British Columbia's possible entrance into Confederation be included in the British North America Act. The Colonial Office saw merit in the suggestion, but drew attention to a major obstacle—the thousands of kilometres of Hudson's Bay Company land (known as Rupert's Land and the North-West Territory) separating B.C. from the rest of Canada. To extend its territory from coast to coast, Canada had to acquire this land.

Other Westerners saw annexation to the United States as a logical solution. But pro-Canada forces received a major boost in 1869 when Canada acquired Rupert's Land from the HBC. As in the other British colonies, English remained the official language in B.C. by virtue of British law.