The Empire and the century/The French-Canadians and the Empire
THE FRENCH-CANADIANS AND THE EMPIRE
By BENJAMIN SULTE
Remembering that the French-Canadians are the oldest white inhabitants of the country, one naturally asks himself what advantages have they derived from British rule, which they have lived under since the year 1760. History answers this question.
In the first place, the arrival of the British flag among the French relieved them from the burden of continual wars against the native tribes and the English Colonies—wars that had lasted for more than a hundred years, without profit to anyone, and at the cost of many lives.
Then the French of Canada escaped from the autocratic government of the Bourbons. Liberty of trade, hitherto unknown in Canada, opened a new and wide field to their native enterprise. The substitution of a silver coinage for the depreciated colonial paper-money of the French régime was another important consideration. The people were also enabled to cultivate much larger crops of grain, and to export the surplus to other countries, which they had not been permitted to do in the past. The title to their lands remained intact, as well as the laws by which they had been governed. Finally, they became British subjects by the terms of the treaty of cession, with all that that implied. Their language and their religion were respected. None of the humiliations and annoyances which usually accompany a conquest were imposed upon them. They passed from a reign of absolute subjection under the Bourbons to the free and untrammelled life of a constitutional government.
In return for these unexpected advantages, which they thoroughly appreciated, the French showed themselves true to their new oath of allegiance, and perfect tranquillity reigned in the country. Within three years the British troops had returned to Europe. Then broke out Pontiac's war. The Canadian Militia enrolled themselves eagerly, and fought under the British flag against their ancient allies, the Western tribes.
A little later the English Colonies attempted to draw the Canadians into the celebrated protest against the Imperial taxes, but they refused to listen to the tempters.
In 1775, when the English troops no longer occupied Lower Canada, the American Army invaded the province, and trapped the Governor-General in Montreal. He was saved by three Canadians—Bouchette, Lanaudière, and Nivervelle—who guided him through the enemy's lines and down the river to Quebec, a distance of 180 miles.
On his arrival there he at once organized the militia, raised with their aid the siege of Montreal, and finally drove the Americans back across the frontier.
The Catholic clergy from the beginning openly pronounced themselves in favour of the British Crown. The seigneurs, or landed gentry, of the province took similar ground, so that there was but one opinion among all classes in this matter.
It must also be remembered that Quebec, or Lower Canada, received no immigration from the British Isles, and that the mass of the population was necessarily composed of Canadians, former subjects of France.
The victories of Nelson were celebrated here with enthusiasm. It was clearly recognised by the French-Canadians that this great sailor protected the mouths of the St. Lawrence, and guarded our commerce on the high seas. When his death was announced in 1805 there was universal sorrow in Canada. I have heard a hymn sung in the churches to the air, 'Nelson est mort au sein de la victoire' (Nelson is dead in the hour of victory), proving the popularity of his name. The Bishops recommended the King's armies to the prayers of the faithful. The citizens of Montreal erected on Jacques Cartier Square the Nelson Column, in memory of the famous Admiral, which may still be seen. In the list of subscribers to the monument one finds the names of all the prominent French-Canadians of that day. We commemorated the centenary of the event this October. The first steps to this end being appropriately taken by the French-Canadians, who have so faithfully been attached to the British Empire.
The war of 1812-1815 was precipitated unexpectedly at a moment when the Imperial Government was too seriously engaged in Europe to send troops to Canada. The legislature of Quebec promptly and unanimously voted the funds necessary for the defence of the country, and passed at the same time an Act calling to arms every able-bodied man in the province. The clergy stimulated the enthusiasm of the militiamen, who accomplished prodigies of valour during the three years of the war. Without the French-Canadian Militia the conquest of Canada would have been an easy task to the Americans.
The extraordinary rejoicings which marked among us the alliance between England and France in 1854-1855 reminds one of the happy understanding which fortunately exists to-day between the two countries. To our eyes nothing is more consoling, because, though on the one hand none of us dream of restoring the French regime in Canada, it is nevertheless certain that while these two Powers are united and working in harmony, peace and prosperity must reign.
We have the freest Government in the world; we are proud to form part of an Empire that protects us everywhere throughout the globe; and our people who are sailing Canadian ships on every ocean find protection under the British flag such as we could not ourselves afford. As in the days of Nelson, our eyes are constantly turned to the flag that shields our destinies, and so long as Great Britain and her Colonies are united French-Canada will be of the number. Should the day ever unhappily come that there remains but one faithful Colony, Quebec will be that Colony.