Colonisation of Canada after the Conquest

There were 13 distinct colonies on the territory that would eventually become the United States of America. The Seven Years War was costly, and England needed to replenish its coffers and turned to the colonies for this purpose. The ever-increasing taxes on consumer goods exasperated the colonists. The Boston Tea Party marked the break between the colonials and the mother country. A prolonged war thus began in 1775.

The Continental Army led by George Washington challenged the British forces commanded by Lord Cornwallis. French troops also lent the rebels a hand. In October 1781, while Lord Cornwallis was camped at Yorktown awaiting fresh troops and supplies in order to conclude his long march to victory against the Continental Army, he saw in the distance, not British reinforcements, but the French fleet. Surrounded, Cornwallis surrendered.

The American Revolution and England's defeat were to have terrible consequences for the Loyalists. They were forced to abandon their lands and property and go into exile.

Nova Scotia took in most of the contingent. Indeed, over 32,000 Loyalist Americans fled New York for Nova Scotia and another 13,000 were known to have headed for Québec.  In all, Canada would take in nearly 50,000 refugees. At the time, Canada's population was just over 70,000. The British authorities had to find land for these newcomers.

A society of exiled Loyalists began to take shape. The sheer demographic weight of the new arrivals led to political conflict in Nova Scotia. Finally, its territory was divided in two and the Loyalists were allowed full control over the territory that became known as New Brunswick.

In Québec, the British authorities feared that confrontations would arise if large numbers of Loyalists settled in French Canadian communities. Governor Haldimand therefore directed the newcomers to settle in Upper Canada, which would later become Ontario.

At the time, the territory of what we know today as Ontario was considered part of Québec and was subject to French law as well as to the classic seignorial system. The new English speaking settlers were dissatisfied with this legal system, which did not allow the individual as much initiative. To avoid further friction with their rebellious neighbours, the British avoided populating the border areas with Loyalists.

In those days, exiled Loyalists could petition to occupy Crown land, but they had to demonstrate that they had suffered losses as a result of their loyalty to the Crown. They also had to put together a group of colonists to swear allegiance and promise to develop the land granted to them. In return, it was their responsibility to open roads, build mills and oversee the townships, at their own expenses. The system was not part of the traditional French seignorial system, but the structure was the same.

In a curious reversal of fortune, it was a European event that would trigger a lucrative market for the colonists: in 1806, Napoleon organized a blockade of England at the same time as the United States declared an embargo. The British were therefore forced to turn to Canada for the lumber and potash necessary to operate their industries. Prices climbed so much so that it was definitely worth the two-week trip from High Canada (Ontario) to Montreal to deliver the potash that was produced by burning the trees felled during land clearing operations, even when the roads were long and perilous, and crossing the rivers was very much subject to the whims of nature and passing boats. Napoleon was therefore an economic windfall for the Loyalists.

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