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The Rebellions of 1837
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LESSON 18: The Rebellions of 1837

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This lesson corresponds to material found in:
Episode 7 Rebellion and Reform

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Backgrounder

By the early 19th century, echoes of the American and French Revolutions were reaching Canada. In Upper and Lower Canada, in 1837 and 1838, rebellion struck at the heart of British colonial government.

Lower Canada saw the emergence of the Parti Patriote, led by Louis-Joseph Papineau. Even though it held the majority of seats in the Assembly, the party exercised little real power in Lower Canada. A governor and a legislative council appointed by the governor, approved or vetoed the laws of the Assembly. The system was seen as an affront to democracy. Papineau and increasing numbers of Patriots wondered whether it wouldn't be preferable to adopt a republican democratic system, as in the United States

1832 was a fateful year in Lower Canada. A cholera epidemic decimated the population, and during a by-election riot, British troops killed three French Canadians. Governors opposed the Assembly's demands, creating a political crisis in the colony. In 1834, in an effort to get over the impasse, the Assembly of Lower Canada asked London to accept an agenda of 92 resolutions intended to modify the political situation and accord greater responsibility to the elected Assembly.

London's answer to the 92 resolutions arrived in Lower Canada in March, 1837. It was a definitive "No". The Patriots immediately led a campaign to denounce this response. They called for boycotts of British goods and held mass protest rallies. Britain reinforced its military presence in Lower Canada. Militant member of the Patriots, Les Fils de la Liberté, clashed with members of the British Doric Club. In October, 1837, a bounty was put on the Patriot leaders by the governor, Lord Gosford. Papineau took refuge in St-Denis, in the Richelieu valley, south of Montreal.

Colonial officials sent troops to stop the fleeing Patriot leaders. The British forces attacked at St-Denis. The Patriots were dispersed and Papineau fled to the United States. A few days later, the British attacked the neighbouring village of St-Charles, where the rebels were crushed. In November, British troops sacked the area north of Montreal, from St-Eustache to St-Ours. The rebellion in Lower Canada was over.

Upper Canada was also the scene of a rebellion. Many people, especially American-born settlers, resented the Family Compact, the small number of influential families that dominated the provincial government. In November, 1837, led by journalist William Lyon Mackenzie, 700 rebels armed with pikes, pitchforks, and rifles met up with 20 loyalists. The loyalists fired a musket volley and the rebel front line fell to the ground to begin shooting. Unable to see clearly, the rearguard assumed the worst and fled. Two rebels and one loyalist lay dead. Three days later, Canadian militia men and rebels exchanged fire at Montgomery's Tavern. Mackenzie's men dispersed and the rebel leader fled and took refuge in the United States.

In the fall of 1838, renewed attempts at rebellion in Upper and Lower Canada were crushed. Seventeen of the Upper Canada rebels were hanged; twelve rebels in Lower Canada met the same fate. Other men who took part in the rebellions were exiled or imprisoned.

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    Lesson Plans
    Episode 1
    When the World Began...
    Lesson 1 Canada's First Peoples
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 2 Stories of Creation
    Lesson 3 Cartier and Donnacona

    Episode 2
    Adventures and Mystics
    Lesson 4 The Beginning of the Fur Trade
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 5 The Jesuits and the Huron
    Lesson 6 Immigration to New France

    Episode 3
    Claiming the Wilderness
    Lesson 7 Expansion to the Gulf of Mexico
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 8 The Expulsion of the Acadians

    Episode 4
    Battle for a Continent
    Lesson 9 Before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham
    Lesson 10 The Battle of the Plains of Abraham
    Lesson 11 The Quebec Act
    (includes activity)

    Episode 5
    A Question of Loyalties
    Lesson 12 Conflict in Quebec, 1775
    Lesson 13 United Empire Loyalists
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 14 Sir Isaac Brock and Tecumseh

    Episode 6
    The Pathfinders
    Lesson 15 The Fur Trade in Canada
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 16 The Selkirk Settlers
    Lesson 17 The Gold Rush

    Episode 7
    Rebellion and Reform
    Lesson 18 The Rebellions of 1837
    Lesson 19 Union of the Canadas
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 20 A Land of Hope

    Episode 8
    The Great Enterprise
    Lesson 21 Newcomers to Canada
    Lesson 22 The Making of Confederation
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 23 Confederation in the Maritimes

    Episode 9
    From Sea to Sea
    Lesson 24 The Red River Resistance
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 25 The Pacific Scandal

    Episode 10
    Taking the West
    Lesson 26 The North-West Rebellion
    Lesson 27 The Trial of Louis Riel
    Lesson 28 Macdonald's National Dream

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