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Union of the Canadas
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LESSON 19: Union of the Canadas
(includes activity)

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

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Backgrounder and Activity

This activity focuses on the two chapters of Episode 7 entitled Union of the Canadas and Vindication.

These video chapters chronicle the aftermath of the rebellion period. Faced with legislative union, French Canadians, under the leadership of Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, responded to the enoightened overtures of a young Reform politician from Toronto named Robert Baldwin. The ensuing alliance and personal friendship set the foundations for a new Canada based on compromise and mutual respect.


In 1837, in the midst of the events leading up to the rebellion of Lower Canada, one prominent follower of Louis-Joseph Papineau opposed the call to arms. Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, a lawyer from Montreal, journeyed to London to appeal to Parliament for constitutional reforms, most notably, responsible government. In 1838, he was arrested, but eventually released. Lafontaine emerged as the leader of moderate French Canadian reformers.

In 1841, upon the forced union of Upper and Lower Canada (the result of Lord Durham's report), Lafontaine worked with Robert Baldwin, a reformist from Toronto, to establish a united party of reformers from the two provinces. They fought relentlessly for responsible government, and secured permission for the use of french in Parliament. In 1848, the two men formed the Union government. Exercising their new-found independence from interference of the privileged classes, their government passed the Rebellion Losses Bill in the face of hostile and sometimes violent public demonstrations. The Act effectively indemnified loyal French Canadians for property losses incurred during the campaign of the British army during the rebellions. In addition, and more controversially, the government passed the Amnesty Act pardoning the rebels of 1837 and 1838. The reaction to these Acts among English Montrealers led to the torching of the Parliament buildings, then in Montreal. Nevertheless, Baldwin and Lafontaine established an example of English-French cooperation and tolerance that has been a model for every successful Canadian government since.

Activity: Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

Have students choose one of the following situations, write the required document, and deliver a short speech based on the written text:

  • Assume the role of Lord Durham. You are preparing a speech to Queen Victoria and the British Parliament on what you believe should be done about the "Canadian problem".
  • Assume the role of Lord Elgin. Explain why you approved passage of the Rebellion Losses Bill, in spite of the opposition of the Montreal elite. Deliver your speech to the Legislative Assembly of Canada.

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