The American Revolution wasn’t the beginning of only one nation. It was the catalyst to the birth of a second, too.
Think about it. Without the American Revolution, how different would Canada be?
Before the war, Canada was nothing more than an annexed territory, won from the French after the Seven Years’ War. In the province formerly known as New France, French Colonial law and culture still ruled. Feudal Seigneurs owned vast land tracts along the St. Lawrence which they meted out to subsistence farmers. The wealth imbalance tipped even further when the Catholic Church got involved.
The rest of Canada was largely untouched by European influence, aside from military forts around the Great Lakes and intrepid trappers canoeing by river into the wilderness, First Nations still held sway.
But then the American Revolution struck, and a figurative line in the sand became a literal border between two newborn nations. Thousands of Loyalists, displaced from their homes and fleeing for their safety, fled across the border into refugee camps in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
Frederick Haldimand, governor of the province of Canada, had an interesting problem. On the one hand he had a deeply entrenched French culture, who no doubt harboured resentment for their defeat and subsequent British rule. Then he had an influx of colonial American refugees, some of whom might bring along secret republican sympathies. Mixing these two groups could have been explosive.
But Haldimand had other ideas. Rather than allow the new refugees to mix with the established French order, he encouraged them to stay in the refugee camps until the end of the war, when he offered land grants in previously unsettled areas. Many settled in the maritimes, but others formed communities in the Gaspé, near modern-day Kingston, and—like my ancestor Josiah Cass, whose story figures in my upcoming novel Hold Fast—in L’Orignal in Eastern Ontario.
This practice of land grants reached an all-time high following the War of 1812, when the government of Upper Canada scrambled to populate the vulnerable American border and create a larger population from which to draw militia in any future war. It was during this mass settlement that my ancestor William McKillican followed his congregation from Scotland to the woods of Glengarry County and settled on his own land grant, as told in my historical novel, Across the Deep.
For good or ill, the American Revolution changed the landscape of a whole continent, and shaped the future of not just one nation, but two.
Three true stories…
One family…One faith