The Loyalist Diaspora in Quebec

By Nadia Fetisova 

England's defeat in the American War of Independence was to have terrible consequences for the Loyalists. Dozens of thousands were forced to abandon their lands and property and go into exile.

These families exiled for their continued allegiance to the British Crown, for their refusal to take oath of allegeance to the US, or just for their lukewarm acceptance of the institutions of the new American republic. Born in 1792, the humble village of Shefford grew up in the space of just 50 years. Canada would thus take in nearly 50,000 refugees. Of this number, over 32,000 Loyalist Americans fled New York for Nova Scotia and another 13,000 headed for Quebec. At the time, Canada's population was just over 70,000. Most of them were French Canadians.

The British authorities had to find land for these newcomers. As Nova Scotia took in most of the contingent, the sheer demographic weight of the new arrivals led to political conflict in the colony. The territory was divided in two and the Loyalists were allowed full control over the territory that became known as New Brunswick. In Quebec (which also was known as Canada since the second half of the 18th Century), the authorities feared that confrontations would arise if Loyalists settled in French Canadian communities. Governor Haldimand therefore directed many newcomers to settle in the region of the Great Lakes. At the time, the territory was considered part of Quebec and was subject to French law.

The new settlers were dissatisfied with the existing legal system. Thus the Canada was divided in Lower and Upper Canada, that's Quebec and Ontario (the name of Ontario was adapted much later). The British Parliament approved the new division in 1791, and in 1792 it came into effect. In Quebec in those days, exiled Loyalists could petition to occupy Crown land. 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 to the Crown and promise to develop the land granted to them. In return of the lands, it was their responsibility to open roads, build mills, suvey the settlements and oversee the territory, at their own expense.

The worst enemies of the early settlers were minuscule the mosquitoes and black flies, as many areas were infested with them. Less constant, but dangerous, wolves were a major problem for farmers. First harvests were small and barely enough to meet local needs. The farm markets had very little to sell. The tiny villages were surviving and sometimes died.

The border between the the Canadas and the United States was not definitively set until 1842 (or even later in same places). The border conflits were constant, and somtimes, invasions from the South took place, f. i. in 1838 and during the Fenians Uprisals. Finally, let's say than in the middle of the XIXe century, some Loyalist families began a reverse migration, seeing opportunities in the colonization of the American Midwest.

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