Monday, 29 November 2010

Development of Lower Canadian nationalism

Four issues contributed to the rise of nationalism in Lower Canada after 1791. [1] The first was the emergence of the French Canadian professional class, which forcefully embraced French revolutionary ideas and their role as leaders in their communities.[2] In 1791, there were 55 notaries, 17 lawyers and 50 doctors; by 1836, this had risen to 373, 208 and 260 respectively. They were opposed by the largely conservative seigneurs and Catholic clergy allied to colonial government though it is important not to polarise this situation. There is ample evidence of involvement by seigneurs and the Catholic Church in innovative economic activity. However, economic liberalism did not mean political liberalism and seigneurs and clergy viewed with increasing suspicion professionals elected to the Assembly where they noisily voiced the increasing discontent of their communities.

Secondly, adjustments in agriculture from the early nineteenth century contributed to growing social and political unrest.[3] In the 1790s, Lower Canada emerged as a significant exporter of grain but by the 1830s, Lower Canada was reliant on imported wheat. The failure to maintain earlier patterns of growth has led historians to link economic stagnation with rebellion. Ouellet argued that the agricultural crisis dated from 1802 as crop yields declined and Lower Canada moved from surplus to subsistence to deficiency in grains. He also suggested that although the agricultural crisis occurred after the appearance of nationalism, deteriorating economic conditions after 1815 fuelled its development. There was an increasing shortage of land in the seigneurial system while the colonial authorities distributed the remaining land to speculators or British immigrants. The poverty in the St. Lawrence Valley among habitants was in stark contrast to the relative prosperity of the British and American settlers in the Eastern Townships and this was exploited by the Parti Patriote. [4]

Ouellet is not without his critics. The reduction in wheat output was not unique to Lower Canada and from New York to Nova Scotia farmers reduced acreage sown in wheat because they could not compete with less expensive wheat from the Midwest. However, between 1800 and 1840, output on a seigneurial holding was about two-thirds of a similar sized farm in Ontario and slightly less on farms in Vermont. The generally lower agricultural productivity in francophone Canada can be explained by the division of farms (though not to the extent as originally believed), crop disease (for example, a series of blights hit the wheat crop in the 1830s), insect infestations (wheat midge, in particular devastated crops in several years) and soil exhaustion that reduced productivity in the older seigneurial settlements. Lower Canada mirrored the situation south of the border and the ‘crisis’ was associated with the adjustment to market forces across North America.

Observers were critical of habitant farming methods though this reflected a failure to understand the peculiarities of colonial agriculture.[5] French Canadian farmers concentrated on cereal crops because of restricted markets for meat and hides. However, there was some diversification in the rural economy and far from ignoring market opportunities, as Ouellet suggested, shifts in production enabled farmers to exploit expanding local markets especially in the richer agricultural regions on the Montreal plain and near Quebec City. Diversification was also present among the marginal farming population that became increasingly dependent on cash income from forest work, a feature of the agro-forest economy of the Ottawa, Saint-Maurice and Saguenay valleys. [6] Family survival depended on men supplementing farm production with winter work in the forests. Not all regions had an agro-forest economy and in the Eastern Townships, for example, farmers had few links to forest industries and produced essentially for home consumption. [7] The position of the growing landless peasantry in Lower Canada was not dissimilar to the rural wage-labourers of South Wales. They had little choice but to emigrate in search of work. From the 1820s, some moved south to take advantage of the industrial economy developing in New England. Landless labourers also contributed to the development of rural industries and to the expansion of villages in the Montreal area especially between 1815 and 1831. For example, Saint-Charles and Saint-Jean in the Richelieu Valley became respectively centres for hat-making and pottery and for earthenware production. The appearance of coopers, tailors and carriage makers in other small centres emphasised the growing diversification of the rural economy.[8]

The seigneurial character of francophone agriculture helped limit its sensitivity to market forces. Equally, rationalisation of Lower Canadian agriculture was not a priority for the colonial élite that was preoccupied with the concerns of Montreal and its frontier in the west and leaving little room for considering the needs of the francophone economy. Nonetheless, we should not isolate agriculture from the broader economy. An absence of growth in farming did not mean absence of growth overall. The French Canadian bourgeoisie adapted effectively to the changing situation especially in merchandising where limited capital was outweighed by their language and by family and kinship networks in the smaller rural villages. The penetration of consumer goods into the countryside provided a new outlet that French Canadian wholesalers and retailers could exploit. This suggests that Lower Canada was more dynamic and entrepreneurial than Ouellet would have us believe.

The British believed that they had lost the American colonies because they had given the colonial assemblies too much power and in 1791 created a constitution where power was squarely in the hands of appointed British officials and their social allies who could be relied upon to resist radical demands. The French Revolution reinforced their fears though initially these proved unfounded as membership of the British Empire paid economic dividends. Economic prosperity blunted demands among habitants and the Francophile bourgeoisie to sever links with Britain but prosperity did not prevent conflict. The Legislative Assembly soon became a forum for deepening political disagreement that peaked in the first decade of the nineteenth century. It would be wrong to see this simply as a clash between a progressive Anglophone bourgeoisie and a retrograde francophone professional class as some Whig historians would have us believe. Beyond the ethnic confrontation lay more fundamental constitutional issues.

The final element that contributed to the nationalist cause was the pervasive belief among the French Canadians that they were no longer in control of ‘their province’. They were under social and economic pressure and even though they dominated the Assembly, they were in a minority on the Legislative and Executive Councils and in the bureaucracy where decisions were made. Only demographically did they continue to dominate. [9] Yet, increasing British immigration into the province and calls to reunite the Canadas so that the assimilation of French Canadians could be achieved threatened their heritage and led French Canadians to entrench further their defensive position [10]

Discontent increased after 1815 and had a distinctive nationalist nature. It shared features with similar movements in contemporary Europe and although largely political in character, its socio-economic overtones were also strong. Led by members of liberal professions, it forged alliances with many in the Irish community who shared French Canadian concerns and with Upper Canadian reformers. It was opposed by the traditional élites of clergy and seigneurs, Anglophone merchants, British officials and British-American settlers who were unwilling to live under the government of the French. Rebellion, when it finally came, was as much an expression of exasperation as a reflection of principle.

The Patriote role in the development of a distinctive ideology that questioned the structures of colonial rule is important, but Bernier and Salée[11] stress that the movement was one of emancipation, as opposed to separation. They do not dismiss the presence of the national question in Patriote debates surrounding the rebellion, but argue that the national question was not uniquely what stirred the Patriotes into taking up arms, but merely formed part of a number of contributing issues related to the wider social context. Instead of being viewed in terms of a narrow exclusive nationalism with an emphasis on their role in the development of an independent Quebec based on the exclusion of difference, the inclusive nature of their thought is emphasised. In contrast to later models of national identity from later in the nineteenth and early twentieth century that were founded on exclusion of others, the Patriote vision was not limited uniquely to the descendants of 1760. It is in direct opposition therefore to the claims of many commentators and historians who have pigeonholed the Patriotes within a narrow nationalist framework. The Patriote message was addressed to all citizens of Lower Canada, whatever their ethnic or linguistic background, ready to participate in the construction of a new society.

There is not as far as we know a French people in this province, but a Canadian people, a moral and religious people, a loyal people, who value freedom and are able to benefit from it; this people is neither French, nor English, nor Scottish, nor Irish, nor Yankee, they are Canadian…The Canadian people will never be either French or English.[12]


[1] Reid, Philippe, ‘L’émergence du nationalisme French Canadian-français; l’idéologie du French Canadian (1806-1842)’, Recherches sociographiques, Vol. 21, (1980), pp. 11-53, provides a good summary of the major issues.

[2] On the role of notaries and doctors, see Mackay, Julien S., Notaires et patriotes 1837-1838, (Septentrion), 2006, and Aubin, Georges and Rheault, Marcel, Médecins et patriotes 1837-1838, (Septentrion), 2006.

[3] Ibid, Lower Canada, 1791-1840, pp. 117-135, contains his key arguments. These have been challenged in McCallum, John, Unequal Beginnings: Agriculture and Economic Development in Quebec and Ontario until 1870, (University of Toronto Press), 1980, especially pp. 25-44; Greer, Allan, Peasant, Lord, and Merchant: Rural Society in Three Quebec Parishes, 1740-1840, (University of Toronto Press), 1985, and in Paquet, Gilles and Wallot, Jean-Pierre, Lower Canada at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century: Restructuring and Modernization, (The Canadian Historical Association), 1988, Jones, R. L., ‘French Canadian Agriculture in the St. Lawrence Valley, 1815-1850’, Agricultural History, Vol. 16, (1942), pp. 137-148, and Le Goff, T. J. A., ‘The Agricultural Crisis in Lower Canada, 1802-1812: a Review of a Controversy’, CHR, Vol. 55, (1974), pp. 1-31, remain valuable on this issue and the historical problems associated with it.

[4] Dessureault, Christian and Hudon, Christine, ‘Conflits sociaux et élites locales au Bas-Canada: Le clergé, les notables, la paysannerie et le contrôle de la fabrique’, CHR, Vol. 80, (1999), pp. 413-439.

[5] Lambert, John, Travels Through Lower Canada and the United States of North America in the Years 1806, 1807 and 1808, 3 vols. London, 1810, Vol. 1, pp. 133-145 and Laterrière, Pierre de Sales, and Taunton, Henry Labouchere, A Political and Historical Account of Lower Canada, London, 1830, pp. 123-125, gave a negative view of farming.

[6] Hardy, R., and Séguin, N., Forêt et societé en Mauricie, Montreal, 1984.

[7] Little, J. J., Nationalism, Capitalism and Colonization in Nineteenth-Century Quebec: The Upper Saint-Francis District, (McGill-Queen’s University Press), 1989.

[8] Courville Serge, Robert Jean-Claude and Séguin Normand, ‘The Spread of Rural Industry in Lower Canada, 1831-1851, Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, Vol. 2, (1), (1991), pp. 43-70.

[9] Ibid, Lower Canada, 1791-1840, pp. 136-157, examines demographic pressures.

[10] Bellavance, Marcel, ‘La rébellion de 1837 et les modèles théoriques de l’émergence de la nation et du nationalisme’, Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française, Vol. 53, (2000), pp. 367-400, and Le Quebec au siècle des nationalités: essai d’histoire compareé, (VLB Editeur), 2004.

[11] Bernier, Gérald and Salée, Daniel, ‘Les patriotes, la question nationale et les rebellions de 1837-1838 au Bas-Canada’, in Sarra-Bournet, Michel & Saint-Pierre, Jocelyn, (eds.), Les Nationalismes au Quebec du xix au xxi siècle, (Presses de l’Université Laval), 2001, pp. 26-36.

[12] Le Canadien, 21 May 1835.

What economic crisis?

Historians have long debated whether poor peasant farming methods in Lower Canada led to an agricultural crisis by the early nineteenth century and whether such this may have led to social and political unrest in the 1830s.[1] In the 1790s, Lower Canada emerged as a significant exporter of grain and the new product seemed about to assume the role played by furs in colonial New France. By the 1830s, it was clear this was not going to happen and production declined rapidly between 1831 and 1844 and Lower Canada became a net importer of wheat. The movement for reform, locally[2] and in the centre took shape at a time of economic disenfranchisement of the French-speaking majority and the failure of Lower Canada to maintain earlier patterns of growth has led many historians to link economic stagnation with rebellion.

Fernand Ouellet argued, first, that there was an agricultural crisis in the early part of the nineteenth century dating from 1802 as crop yields declined and Lower Canada moved from surplus to subsistence to deficiency in grains. Secondly, a group of professionals exploited French nationalism to gain support in their bid for political power in the elected assembly. Although the agricultural crisis occurred after the appearance of nationalism and did not cause it, it is clear that deteriorating economic conditions fuelled the spread of nationalism after 1815. There was increasing competition for agricultural markets from other more productive parts of the British Empire. There was an increasing shortage of land in the seigneurial system while the colonial authorities distributed the remaining land to speculators or British immigrants. The poverty in the St. Lawrence Valley among the French habitants as well as the Irish settlers was in stark contrast to the relative prosperity of the British settlers. By the 1830s, economic conditions were so bad that a revolutionary nationalist context had been created. Finally, these two events merged when the combination of declining economic conditions and a patriotic appeal proved irresistible. The Parti Patriote of Louis-Joseph Papineau drew support from devastated farmers and, instead of responding constructively to the situation, headed down the road to rebellion.

Ouellet’s view is not without its critics. First, the reduction in wheat output was not unique to Lower Canada. Along the Atlantic coast from New York to Nova Scotia, in the first half of the nineteenth century, farmers reduced acreage sown in wheat because they could not compete with less expensive wheat from the Midwest. However, between 1800 and 1840, output on a seigneurial holding was about two-thirds of a similar sized farm in Ontario and slightly less than a comparable farm in northern Vermont or New York. The generally lower agricultural productivity in early nineteenth century francophone Canada can be explained by the division of farms (though not to as great an extent as originally believed), crop disease (for example, a series of blights hit the wheat crop in the 1830s), insect infestations (wheat midge, in particular devastated crops in several years) and soil exhaustion that reduced the productivity of the older seigneurial settlements. Conditions in Charlevoix, for example, deteriorated as its limited arable land became densely occupied by expanding population and seigneurial concessions occurred at Malbaie in the 1820s. So, when, in the 1830s, Lower Canada became an importer of wheat from the Upper Canada, it was simply mirroring the situation south of the border. From this point of view, the ‘crisis’ was associated with the general process of adjustment to market forces across North America, not something unique to Lower Canada, although there the process of adjustment to market forces proved more challenging.

Secondly, foreign observers were highly critical of peasant farming methods though this reflected a failure to understand the peculiarities of colonial agriculture or the strategies used by peasants. [3] There was a restricted market for meat and hides and French Canadian farmers concentrated on cereal crops. There was also criticism of the Canadian plough generally pulled by oxen though it was well suited to the heavy soils of the St Lawrence valley. However, the swing plough, widely used in both England and the United States was only gradually adopted in Lower Canada; for example, in St Hyacinthe, a minority of farmers owned a swing plough by the 1830s. The situation in Lower Canadian farming led to diversification in the rural economy. Far from failing to take advantage of market opportunities, as Ouellet suggested, shifts in production enabled farmers to exploit expanding local urban markets and later in the century export markets for dairy products. Peasants in the richer agricultural regions on the Montreal plain and near Quebec City prospered and accumulated significant capital, as a result livestock improved and greater quantities of fodder crops such as clover and hay were grown. The marginal farming population became increasingly dependent on cash income from forest work and this characterised the agro-forest economy of the Ottawa, Saint-Maurice and Saguenay valleys. In Saint-Maurice[4], for example, families farmed in the short growing season to produce both their own food and cash crops such as firewood for Montreal and Trois-Rivières and hay, oats, potatoes and peas for local lumber shanties. Family survival was achieved by men supplementing farm production with winter work in the forests. Not all regions had an agro-forest economy and in the Eastern Townships, for example, farmers had few links to forest industries and produced essentially for home consumption. [5]

The situation for the growing landless peasantry in Lower Canada was not dissimilar to the rural wage-labourers of South Wales. They had little choice but to emigrate in search of work. From the 1820s, population moved south to the United States to take advantage of the embryonic industrial economy developing in New England. On the Ile d’Orléans near Quebec City, four out of ten heads of families in 1831 did not own land though in general, Lower Canadian farmers traditionally kept their farms a viable size rather than subdividing them among their heirs. Landless labourers also contributed to the development of rural industries and to the expansion of villages in the Montreal area especially between 1815 and 1831. There had always been artisans in villages and towns but now commodities were produced in smaller centres; for example, in the village of Saint-Charles in the Richelieu Valley, hat-making and pottery became important occupations and Saint-Jean became a centre for earthenware production. The appearance of coopers, tailors and carriage makers in other small centres emphasised the growing diversification of the rural economy. Francophones migrated to forested regions in the Eastern Townships, often as young married couples and tried to compete with the large timber companies as independent producers. However, the Anglophone minority remained the dominant economic power. [6]

The seigneurial character of francophone agriculture helped explain the lack of sensitivity to market forces, but nothing was done through public policy to remedy the situation. The colonial elite was preoccupied with the concerns of Montreal and its frontier in the west and with maintaining its political and social ascendancy and this left little room for considering the needs of the francophone economy. Rationalisation of Lower Canadian agriculture was not a priority largely as a result of the dysfunctional political structure produced by the Conquest. Some historians doubt whether there was a general crisis affecting all Quebec’s agriculture in this period but rather that the problems reflected growing regional diversity. Even so, they recognise that farming may not have been the rapid-growth sector it had been before 1800. However, we should not isolate agriculture from the broader economy. An absence of growth in farming did not mean an absence of growth overall. New areas of the economy developed and the French Canadian bourgeoisie adapted effectively to the changing situation. This was particularly evident in merchandising where disadvantages of capital were outweighed by a common language and by a network of ties through the smaller rural villages and the penetration of consumer goods into the countryside provided a new outlet for the wholesaler and retailer and especially in retailing the chief businessmen were largely French Canadian. By the 1840s, when this process was completed, a new market economy had emerged from the structure of the ancient regime. This interpretation suggests that Lower Canada was more dynamic and entrepreneurial than Ouellet would have us believe.


[1] Fernand Ouellet argued this was in Le Bas-Canada, 1791-1840: Changements Structuraux et Crise, (Editions de l’Universite d’Ottawa), 1976, available in translation as Lower Canada, 1791-1840: Social Change and Nationalism, Patricia Claxton, trans., (McClelland and Stewart), 1983. The argument has been challenged in McCallum, John, Unequal Beginnings: Agriculture and Economic Development in Quebec and Ontario until 1870, (University of Toronto Press), 1980, especially pages 25-44, ibid, Greer, Allan, Peasant, Lord, and Merchant: Rural Society in Three Quebec Parishes, 1740-1840 and in ibid, Paquet, Gilles and Wallot, Jean-Pierre, Lower Canada at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century: Restructuring and Modernization. Jones, R. L., ‘Canadien Agriculture in the St. Lawrence Valley, 1815-1850’, Agricultural History, Vol. 16, (1942), pages 137-148 and Le Goff, T.J.A., ‘The Agricultural Crisis in Lower Canada, 1802-1812: a Review of a Controversy’, Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 55, (1974), pages 1-31 remain valuable on this issue and the historical problems associated with it.

[2] Ibid, Dessureault, Christian and Hudon, Christine, ‘Conflits sociaux et élites locales au Bas-Canada: Le clergé, les notables, la paysannerie et le contrôle de la fabrique’.

[3] Ibid, Lambert, John, Travels Through Lower Canada and the United States of North America in the Years 1806, 1807 and 1808, Vol. 1, pp. 133-145 and Laterrière, Pierre de Sales, and Taunton, Henry Labouchere, A Political and Historical Account of Lower Canada, London, 1830, pp. 123-125, gave a negative view of farming.

[4] Ibid, Hardy, R. and Séguin, N., Forêt et societé en Mauricie.

[5] On this see, ibid, Little, J.I., Nationalism, Capitalism and Colonization in Nineteenth-Century Quebec: The Upper Saint-Francis District.

[6] Courville Serge, Robert Jean-Claude and Séguin Normand, ‘The Spread of Rural Industry in Lower Canada, 1831-1851, Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, Vol. 2, (1), (1991), pp. 43-70.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Lower Canadian newspapers: partisanship in action

In the debate on the third reading of the Lower Canada Government Bill in 1839, Daniel O’Connell commenting on the role of Orange lodges, said

He found the number of these lodges gazetted, he supposed officially—at all events inserted (apparently as a matter of boast) in several of the Canadian newspapers; and the statements of his correspondents were thus most completely corroborated. It was quite unnecessary for him to enlarge upon the pernicious effects which such a state of things must produce, tending, as it necessarily did, to put a complete stop to the progress of emigration to these colonies from Ireland. How, he would ask, were they to tempt Irish Catholics to emigrate to a country where they might be subjected to insults, to which they were no longer liable at home?[1]

The culture of a ‘Presse de combat’ was an important feature of journalism in Lower Canada at the time. Newspapers of opposing ideologies were scathing in their criticism of rival publications. Libel laws were undeveloped and a culture of personal insults was evident on all sides of the linguistic and political divide, and a feature of most editorials.

The Quebec Gazette

The Quebec Gazette/La Gazette de Quebec began publication on June 21, 1764, a little less than five years after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham had delivered Quebec into the hands of the British on September 13, 1759.  Consisting primarily of government announcements and news items that appear in both English and French, the newspaper’s purposes and aims are defined in the Prospectus that appeared in its first issue:

The P R I N T E R S to the P U B L I C K.

As every kind of knowledge is not only entertaining and instructive to individuals, but a benefit to the community, there is great reason to hope, that a N E W S-P A P E R, properly conducted, and written with ACCURACY, FREEDOM, and IMPARTIALITY, cannot fail of meeting with universal encouragement; especially as it is allowed by all, that such a paper is at present much wanted in this colony.

Every one expects, and expects with reason, that when the attention of the publick is sollicited, the principles should be laid down, on which the claim to publick favour is founded.

Our design is therefore to publish in English and French, under the title of THE QUEBEC GAZETTE, a view of foreign affairs, and political transactions; from which a judgment may be formed of the interests and connections of the several powers of Europe: We shall also take particular care to collect the transactions, and occurrences of our mother-country, and to introduce every remarkable event, uncommon debate, extraordinary performance, and interesting turn of affairs, that shall be thought to merit the notice of the reader as matter of entertainment, or that can be of service to the publick as inhabitants of an English colony.

With regard to the MATERIAL OCCURRENCES of the American Colonies, and West-Indian Islands, we may venture to affirm, that from the extensive correspondence established for this purpose in each of them, many interesting TRUTHS will be laid before the publick, with all becoming impartiality and candour.

The rigour of winter preventing the arrival of ships from Europe, and in a great measure interrupting the ordinary intercourse with the southern provinces, during that season, it will be necessary, in a paper designed for general perusal, and publick utility, to provide some things of general entertainment, independent of foreign intelligence; we shall, therefore, on such occasions present our readers with such Originals, both in Prose and Verse, as will please the FANCY, and instruct the JUDGMENT.   And here we beg leave to observe, that we shall have nothing so much at heart, as the support of VIRTUE and MORALITY, and be considered as necessary to this collection; interspersed with other chosen pieces, and curious essays, extracted from the most celebrated authors: So that blending PHILOSOPHY, with POLITICKS, HISTORY, &c. the youth of both sexes will be improved, and persons of all ranks agreeably and usefully entertained.——Upon the whole, we will labour to attain to all the exactness that so much variety will permit; and give as much variety as will consist with a reasonable exactness.  And as this part of our project cannot be carried into execution without the correspondence of the INGENIOUS, we shall take all opportunities of acknowledging our obligations, to those who shall take the trouble of furnishing any matter which shall tend to entertainment, or instruction

As many disappointments may accrue to such subscribers as reside in the remote parts of the country, by want of care in those to be employed in distributing our papers; we pray such gentlemen as may hereafter subscribe, as also those who have already subscribed to this undertaking, to point out to us (in writing) their proper address, and the particular conveyances by which they would chuse to have their papers sent

Advertisements, the use of which is so well known to every body, by their effects on the sale of lands, and goods, will be inserted with particular care, and at reasonable prices.  And as our papers will not only circulate through the several capitals, and other cities and towns of the British colonies in America, and through the Islands in the West-Indies, but also through the trading ports of Great-Britain, and Ireland, by which means, those who advertise therein, cannot fail of a very extensive correspondence.

This is a sketch of the plan on which we propose to establish this paper, and as such an undertaking must in its infancy be attended with a heavy expence, we flatter ourselves that it will meet such father encouragement as the execution thereof may deserve.

We take this earliest opportunity of acknowledging the favours we have received from the GENTLEMEN of this city, who have generously subscribed to our paper, and whose example will, we hope, influence a number sufficient to enable us to carry on our undertaking with a prospect of success.

Our intentions to please the Whole, without offence to any Individual, will be better evinced by our practice, then by writing volumes on this subject.  This one thing we beg may be believed, That PARTY PREJUDICE, or PRIVATE SCANDAL, will never find a place in this PAPER.

The Quebec Gazette looked to official British culture for its values, its perspective on current events, and, not infrequently, its literary materials.  Both in content and in format, its parallel columns in English and French reflected the division and the ‘interface’ that have continued to characterise society and culture in Quebec long after The Quebec Gazette merged with The Chronicle to become The Chronicle and Quebec Gazette on 1 May 1924.

Le Canadien de Quebec

In 1805, a group of merchants proposed a union of the Canadas. To combat this idea, Pierre Bédard[2], François Blanchet,[3] Jean-Thomas Taschereau[4], Joseph LeVasseur Borgia[5], Joseph Planté[6] and several others founded Le Canadien a French language weekly newspaper on 22 November 1806. [7] Its mission was to counter the English newspaper, The Quebec Mercury, to educate French Canadians on their constitutional rights and to raise their levels of their collective identity. Underneath the title, the newspaper outlined its motto or slogan: ‘Notre foi, notre langue, nos institutions.’ These three elements constituted essentially the three pillars of survival of French Canadians. In its prospectus published on 13 November 1806, its objectives were defined:

Venger la loyauté de leur caractère (aux Canadiens)...défier l’envie du parti qui leur est opposé...dissiper les préjugés qu’entretient ce parti envieux dans l’esprit d’un nombre des anciens sujets de Sa Majesté.

Le Canadien was based on a clear political and nationalist agenda and the existence of the ‘French Canadian nation’ and was the mouthpiece of the majority in the Legislative Assembly. To weaken the Parti Canadien, Governor Craig imprisoned the leading writers of Le Canadien on 18 March 1810, ransacked its offices and seized its printing presses.[8] On 14 June 1817, Papineau and John Neilson[9] re-launched Le Canadien but it only lasted until 15 December 1819. After a short interruption, it reappeared on 19 January 1820 including articles by Morin, editor in 1821 and by Etienne Parent. However, Morin left to study law in Montreal and Le Canadien found itself without an editor.[10]

In the autumn of 1822, François Blanchet, proprietor of Le Canadien and Flavien Vallerand[11], his editor approached Parent to take over the running of the paper and at twenty, Parent became its editor.[12] Under him, Le Canadien continued to oppose the ruling oligarchy but did not gain the support of all members of Parti Canadien. Parent’s political position was based on his conviction that the rights and power of the Assembly represented the power of the people and it was through freedom of the press that its voice was expressed. He opposed legislation introduced by the Executive Council to dominate the Assembly and his articles contribution to the defeat of the union project of 1822-1823. Parent sought respect for guarantees enshrined in the 1791 Constitution and the recognition of political freedoms. La Gazette de Québec became the favoured political mouthpiece of the Parti Canadien in 1823 and this led to financial difficulties and in March 1825 Le Canadien ceased publication.[13]

The 1830s proved to be one of the most important and politically difficult in French Canadian history. [14] In 1826, Morin founded La Minerve to support the Parti Patriote.[15] La Gazette de Québec no longer met the needs of the Parti and the Patriotes sought to establish another newspaper. Parent re-launched Le Canadien with support from Fréchette, Bédard and Huot. It appeared as a twice-weekly newspaper with its offices in Quebec.[16] The first issue of the revived paper appeared on 7 May 1831 with the revised motto devised by Parent of ‘Notre langue, nos institutions, nos lois’.[17] Parent sought to express the conscience of French Canadians hoping to pass on his own commitment. He took an independent position treating contemporary issues as matters of justice that he believed could be resolved legally. At this time, Papineau still maintained a constitutional stance and his and Parent’s views were in agreement. Papineau was the political leader of the Parti Patriote while Parent acted as its chief intellectual voice.[18]

As the political situation deteriorated, Parent’s position became more difficult because, while he supported changes to the constitution, he believed in achieving them through constitutional and legal means. In 1835, he broke away from Papineau unable to support growing demands for direct action. Parent was undoubtedly a Patriote but he condemned the more confrontational agitation. He wrote on 24 April 24, 1837, ‘we are not ready for independence; let us be patient and legislation will take its course.’[19] Consequently, Parent was vehemently attacked by the Patriotes but he continued to denounce their excesses as well as those from the government. He was dismayed by subsequent events and after the battles of Saint-Charles and Saint-Eustace, he briefly stopped writing.

He took up his pen again in early 1838 to plead for those proscribed after the unsuccessful rebellion. He argued that responsible government was the means of ending the crisis. Britain’s response was to send Lord Durham to investigate the situation in the Canadas and he arrived on 27 May 1838.[20] Parent viewed his arrival with hope and confidence since Durham was regarded as the leading British liberal. Durham, however, remained in the Canadas only a short time and announced his resignation on 9 October 1838.[21] In his report, Durham concluded that the French Canadians should be assimilated but Parent believed that it is possible to alter Durham’s mind on this as a means of restoring order. It is already too late; Britain had decided to crush the Patriotes. Two days after Durham left on 1 November, the disastrous second rebellion began and was soon defeated by Colborne.[22] On 6 December 1838, Parent was arrested at the same time as his printer Fréchette and remained in prison until 12 April the following year. [23] While imprisoned, he continued to publish and write articles for Le Canadien. The Durham Report was published in Britain on 8 February 1839 and Parent translated and published it. [24] The report proposed the union of Canadas as an important element in the assimilation of French Canadians. Parent was initially deeply shocked by this possibility. However, in his articles in Le Canadien, between May and November 1838, he exposed the report’s arguments of critical analysis that led to him passing from anger to resignation and finally to conditional acceptance of its conclusions. [25]

The Act of Union was passed on 23 July 1840. [26] On 28 August, Lafontaine published a political manifesto in L’Aurore des Canadas accepting union and proposed collaborating with Upper Canadian reformers with the object of establishing a responsible ministry. Parent reprinted the Address in Le Canadien on 31 August 1840 and the Union was proclaimed in Canada on 10 February 1841. [27] In the first elections, Parent was a candidate in the comté de Saguenay and was elected on 8 May 1841.[28] In Le Canadien, he continued to argue that French Canadians could benefit from union and he pleaded for equality with the British and in the Assembly he proposed that French should be recognised as an official language. In 1842, Lafontaine invited Parent to become a member of his cabinet and on 14 October 1842, he was named Clerk of the Executive Council.[29] He resigned from Le Canadien that he had edited for fifteen years publishing his final article on 21 October.[30]

L’Écho du Pays: Patriote newspaper of Saint-Charles

Founded in 1833 by Pierre-Dominique Debartzch, seigneur of St-Charles, L’Écho du Pays was a newspaper sympathetic to the Patriote cause.[31] Initially planned in 1832, when Debartzch and the printer Antoine-Charles Fortin announced the preparation of a new newspaper to an assembly held on 12 October at Saint-Charles. It was to be published each week for four years but Fortin was unable to carry out his promises and gave up his rights to the paper. At the same time, Debartzch gave up the enterprise to Jean-Philippe Boucher-Belleville for 200 livres. Nevertheless, Debartzch remains the principal creditor and the newspaper was printed in his house for first two years.[32] L’Écho du Pays was initially edited by the lawyer Alfred-Xavier Rambau until he moved to the loyalist L’Ami du Peuple.[33] Following the departure of Rambau, Doctor Jean-Baptiste Meilleur[34] edited the paper from December 1833 to March 1834 when he resigned on health grounds. Jean-Philippe de Boucher-Belleville then ran the paper until it closed in July 1836.[35]

The first issue consisting of one sheet folded in two to make four pages appeared on Thursday 28 February 1833.[36]L’Écho du Pays’ was printed in the shape of an arch to which a motto was attached: ‘Industrie, prospérité et union’. Under the title was the place of publication: ‘St. Charles, Village Debartzch’. The cost of a yearly subscription was 10 shillings for 52 issues. L’Écho du Pays allocated 20% of its space to advertising and was also financed by the production of literary, educational and religious works and by various calendars and almanacs.[37]  In their prospectus of 1 January 1833, the editors explained that the goals of L’Écho were:

...le plus nécessaire est l’éducation; aussi nous occuperons nous spécialement de cet important objet; nous nous efforcerons d’offrir au public les principes d’éducation les plus sûrs, et de lui suggérer les moyens les plus prompts.[38]

There was also an emphasis on the rural economy with discussion on the nature of ploughs, tilling, weeds, the rotation of crops and manure.[39] In 1834, death notices occupied a temporary place in the columns of L’Écho following a cholera epidemic that seriously affected the village of Saint-Charles.

The primary focus of L’Écho du Pays was political especially the defence of the rights of French Canadians. It contained the parliamentary debates of both the Assembly and Legislative Council and Debartzch’s discussions with the Legislative Council in addition to foreign news.[40] Each week L’Écho reprinted articles from other reformist newspapers such as La Minerve and Le Canadien. It also responded to the coverage of its most important rival, L’Ami du Peuple and other loyalist papers.[41] L’Écho du Pays produced a supplement on 27 March 1834, a month after the publication of the 92 Resolutions.[42]

After three and a half years, L’Écho du Pays stopped publication on 21 July 1836. Among the reasons for this was the limited size of the market in Saint-Charles for subscribers and advertisers, the fall in subscriptions following the crisis in farming and the changing political allegiance of Pierre-Dominique Debartzch.[43] During the parliamentary session of 1835-1836, Debartzch increasing opposed Papineau and other reformers. L’Écho du Pays had always been a Patriote newspaper but its close links to the increasingly volatile political attitudes of Debartzch proved its undoing when he rejoined the loyalists in 1836. He demanded that Boucher-Belleville abandon his political coverage but unwilling to give up his principles and change the focus of L’Écho, Boucher-Belleville suggested that it would be better to close the paper. [44]

La Minerve

La Minerve was established on 9 November 1826 by Augustin-Norbert Morin, a twenty-three year old law student.[45] Le Canadien had suspended publication and there was only Le Canadian Spectator to defend French Canadian interests. On 14 October 1826, Morin, struck by the extremism of the Spectator, proposed a bi-weekly newspaper devoted to defending the Parti Canadien, the largest party in the Assembly.

Ardents à soutenir les intérêts des Canadiens, nous leur enseignons à résister à toute usurpation de leurs droits en même temps que nous tâchions de leur faire apprécier et chérir les bienfaits et le gouvernement de la mère-patrie.[46]

Morin acted as political editor and writer while John Jones was responsible for printing the paper. From the outset, La Minerve was a modest newspaper containing news from Europe, poetry and Morin’s editorials.[47] The newspaper recruited only 210 subscribers, fixed at 30 shillings a year and Morin envisaged an annual deficit of £130. [48] He suspended publication on 27 November 1826 and went into the countryside in order to recruit new subscribers. This suspension coincided with the sudden disappearance of the printer John Jones and he was replaced by Ludger Duvernay. La Minerve reappeared on 12 February 1827 with Ludger Duvernay as its new proprietor while Morin remained political editor.[49] In fact, although Duvernay played an important role in managing the paper, he made little contribution to its content. On 18 January 1827, he had bought the title and the property of the newspaper for £25. He rented the workshops of Bernard, the printer of La Canadian Spectator; J.J.T. Phelan assisted Morin with editing the paper and François Lemaître with its printing.

La Minerve’s reappearance was fortuitous. The crisis between Dalhousie and Papineau in the Assembly was coming to a head and the Parti Canadien was becoming bolder in its attacks on the corruption of the colonial regime. In particular, it denounced the pluralism in official positions in government that made it possible for supporters of the regime to obtain excessive incomes while those of the people were reduced by the economic crisis. [50] This argument is included in La Minerve on 26 March 1827:

Pour nous, c’est avec joie, la plus vive que nous voyons la patrie trouver encore des défenseurs et des défenseurs qui, par leur conduite et leur modération, déjoueront toujours les plans de la cabale sans donner la moindre prise à ses fauteurs insidieux.

On 23 July, in La Minerve Duvernay called for an increase in the salaries paid to deputies and presented a definition of national identity based on nationalist ideology:

Qu’est-ce qu’un Canadien? Généalogiquement ce sont ceux dont les ancêtres habitaient le pays avant 1759, et dont les lois, les usages, le langage leur sont politiquement conservés par des traités et des actes constitutionnels; politiquement les Canadiens sont tous ceux qui font cause commune avec les habitants du pays, ceux en qui le nom de ce pays éveille le sentiment de la patrie... Les Canadiens français ne tendent pas à un pouvoir exclusif, ils n’ont pas de haines nationales contre les anglais et dès qu’un habitant du pays montre qu’il est vraiment citoyen, on ne fait plus de différence.

This political crisis made it possible fot Duvernay to become the figurehead of Canadian nationalism and resulted in La Minerve becoming the mouthpiece of the Parti Canadien. On 5 July 1827, La Minerve launched an appeal in favour of the re-election of the French Canadian deputies who defended the interests of the people so well as resisting the arbitrary power of the governor:

De ce qu’un gouverneur casse une Chambre, il ne s’ensuit pas que les Représentants ne soient pas bons, c’est seulement signe qu’ils refusent de lui accorder quelque chose qu’il demande; et comme quelquefois un gouverneur peut demander des choses injustes, les Représentants font bien alors de ne pas lui accorder. Voilà pourquoi on a coutume, lors d’une cassation de réélire les mêmes Membres, c’est-à-dire ceux qui ont pris les intérêts de leurs Constituants.

With the support of Denis-Benjamin Viger and the publisher Edouard-Raymond Fabre, Ludger Duvernay reorganised La Minerve. He bought all the material of the Spectator Canadien in 1829 and established his newspaper at 5 de la rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste, near the new market. Augustin Norbert recognised the importance of La Minerve when he wrote to Duvernay: ‘La Minerve est très appréciée. On la regarde parmi la nouvelle génération comme étant par excellence, le papier du Pays.’[51] Jean-Louis Roy explained the role played by La Minerve:

La Minerve joua sans doute dans la montée du sentiment révolutionnaire un rôle prépondérant. Propagandiste du Parti patriote, les rédacteurs y rapportent les divers conflits qui opposèrent la Chambre et l’Exécutif dans la décennie qui précède la rébellion.[52]

Duvernay was imprisoned for libel on three occasions: in 1827, 1832 and 1838. On the first occasion, he had denounced the administration of justice in several articles that criticised the tardiness of justice and the bias of judges. In La Minerve on 17 August 1827, Duvernay attacked the justices of the peace

Il est triste de voir les lois foulées aux pieds par des magistrats qui devraient être les premiers à s’y soumettre. Voilà donc un sujet britannique, accusé d’une simple offense contre la paix, privé dans un pays sous l’empire britannique, du droit exercé dans tout pays civilisé d’être admis à caution pour répondre ensuite devant le tribunal de la loi aux accusations dirigées contre lui.

On 16 November, the tribunal issued an arrest warrant for Duvernay for libellous defamation. However, it was not until 18 December when he was about to leave for a meeting of the Friends of the Constitution that he was arrested. On the second occasion, he wrote an article on 9 January 1832 in which he examined the arguments for having an elected Legislative Council:

Qu’avons-nous à craindre en demandant un conseil électif? Ne serait-ce pas un moyen d’augmenter la force du peuple; d’ouvrir la carrière parlementaire à une foule d’hommes de talents et pleins de patriotisme qui brigueront l’honneur d’être les organes de leurs concitoyens et auront le soin de bien se conduire afin d’éviter la disgrâce de perdre leur titre d’honorables? Je crois que la chambre doit saisir cette occasion de rendre nos institutions plus démocratiques... Le conseil législatif actuel étant peut-être la plus grande nuisance que nous ayons, nous devons prendre les moyens de nous en débarrasser et en demander l’abolition....

On 17 January 1832, Duvernay was summoned to appear before the Legislative Council for libellous defamation. This attack on the freedom of the press led to a widespread campaign of protest. On 19 January, La Minerve denounced the censorship of the press and angered the Council still further published another incriminating article. After forty days’ imprisonment, Duvernay was received triumphantly in Montreal. On 10 September 1836, for the third time, he was sentenced to thirty days in prison for libel. Several days before his trial, he published in La Minerve a vocal defence of the freedom of the press:

Or, tout en reconnaissant que l’imprimerie n’est pas une industrie ordinaire, Qu’elle est la révélation puissante et quelquefois redoutable de la pensée, nous ne voyons aucune raison de la livrer garrottée au bon plaisir de l’administration. La société n’a pas le droit de lui demander d’autre garantie Que celle de la franchise.

On 16 November 1837, Duvernay published the penultimate number of La Minerve and left Montreal. La Minerve was banned and ceased publication on 20 November 1837. On his return from exile, Duvernay revived La Minerve on 9 September 1842. In La Minerve on September 9, he made clear the policies he intended to follow:

Certes, l’indépendance n’est plus à l’ordre du jour du salut national, mais l’objectif du journal reste toujours l’obtention de la justice et des institutions libres. Le journal entend de plus promouvoir le développement de l’industrie et de l’éducation qui sont les deux sources de la prospérité et du progrès.

He abandoned the politics of Papineau and defended those of Lafontaine and Morin. After the political realignment of 1856, La Minerve became the organ of the Liberal-Conservative alliance of Cartier and Macdonald.

The Vindicator: an English Patriote newspaper

Founded in 1828 by Daniel Tracey[53] as an English-language newspaper, Le Vindicator was ‘one of the most forceful anti-governmental newspapers’.[54] Tracey, John Thomas and Edmund O’Callaghan were successively its editors and major contributors. The newspaper appeared under several names: The Irish Vindicator and Canada General Advertiser from its foundation under February 1829, the Irish Vindicator and Canada Advertiser the same year, the Vindicator until November 1832 and finally, the Vindicator and Canadian Advertiser.

No copy of the Prospectus that was issued prior to the publication of The Irish Vindicator appears to have survived, but an editorial in the first issue of the newspaper provides a clear indication of its political disposition and social concerns:

IN the Prospectus, already laid before the Public, we have stated clearly and distinctly, the cause to which we devote ourselves, and the reasons that induce us to become the advocates of a suffering and long oppressed people.  The sympathy we entertain for our fellow Countrymen in Ireland, and the hope we have of being beneficial not only to them, but to our countrymen, in both the Canadas, are powerful inducements to us, to make use of every exertion, in sending forth to the world, a Journal on the integrity of which the people shall place a just and honorable reliance.  Sensible, how difficult it is to please all classes and denominations of men, we have made our selection from amongst those to whom, we are ourselves most warmly attached and to whom, we will, with the favour of Heaven, continue to cling through every species of fortune.  If they shall be prosperous and happy, we will rejoice in their felicity.  If they shall at any time become the unwilling and oppressed victims of tyranny and injustice, of intolerant and mischievous domination, it will be our duty to share in their misfortunes and with them to bear a part in the burthen.  We have always, considered it an axiom, that whatever makes the great mass of people in any Country contented and happy, is that, which an honest and upright man should follow—nor can we ever concede to the opinion that a few individuals, however high in rank or independent in fortune are those to whom most attention should be paid in the exercise of a wise and unbiased Government.  There might have been a time when barbarism and ignorance adopted doctrines, incompatible with the nature of man, and when the ruling authorities of their inferiors, according to the caprice or the insolence of conscious power.  But these sentiments are falling fast into oblivion, the public expression is changed with the manners, the character, and more enlightened system of education bestowed upon the community from the natural progress and encrease of civilized life—The most arbitrary of mankind pay at the present day a just deference to popular opinions, and perhaps it is the only most certain means of restraining the extravagant notions to which men in elevated situations are too much in the habit of indulging.  It is however the genius, the guardian God of the British Constitution, and when it ceases to exist in the British empire—in vain may the Englishman boast of his liberties—in vain will he talk of the glory of his ancestors, they are vanished on the day his voice is muffled, he sinks down at once a mean and contemptible slave.  We are not however, so far gone, in blind affection and zeal for those things in which the people delight, as to be insensible of the labors which the authorities lawfully placed over us undergo on our behalf—no man knows better the value of a just government than an Irishman.  No man on earth is more ready to pay deferential homage to the chosen and exalted ruler of the people than he.  But from a long series of oppression, so it is, that he is ever on the watch lest he should again fall into the miserable condition from which he escaped only by the abandonment of the land of his fathers.  It was from this impulse as well as from a sense of justice that the Irish inhabitants of Canada almost to a man became the avowed opponents of the late administration.  It was too from this same impulse, that the period of Sir Francis Burton’s Government was as popular with them as it was with their Canadian brethren, and it is from the same languishment for a good and faithful exercise of the vice-regal power that the administration of Sir James Kempt as far as may be seen at present, is likely not only to set at naught the opposition his predecessor received to the many attempts made on the rights of the people but to draw from the public voice, the most warm and affectionate marks of their grateful esteem.

We would fall far short of the independent principles we wish to maintain, to indulge in the caprices of popular wantonness and tumult, were we to consider the people of Canada likely to fall into such: but sensible that the desires of the whole Canadian Community are to enjoy the blessings which they have received from Great Britain, the Constitution granted them heretofore.  Sensible too from the patient and judicious investigation of their late complaints, that it is the wish of the Imperial Government, to do justice to the wrongs of the province, were we to make it a matter of right and consistency on our part, because we avow ourselves the favourers of the people, that we must by a kind of natural consequence be in direct opposition to the ruling authorities we would look upon ourselves as acting a wrong part and not possessed of the power of proper discrimination.  This we are aware is the opinion of many, but they who think so, confound the just ruler with the unjust one, the good magistrate with the wicked, the disturber of the peace of the people with that man whose object is the real tranquillity and happiness of the Country.  The folly of thinking so lies with them, we seek to base our opinions on justice and the natural rights of mankind, conscious of the necessity of a Government to see into and administer to the wants of the people, we will praise that which deserves praise, and if in our opinions censure is due, we will as freely bestow it under the guardianship of those just restrictions which, when properly attended to, make the opinions of a free and independent press obtain their true and proper value in the minds of the public.

Tracey, an Irish doctor who had been in Canada since 1825, founded the Vindicator to give the Society of the Friends of Ireland a voice. The Society raised funds to support the campaign by Daniel O’Connell for the ending of Catholic disabilities in the British Parliament. With the achievement of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the raison d’être of the Society and its newspaper was called into question and the former disappeared, leaving The Vindicator without a political cause. However, the collapse of the Canadian Spectator of Jocelyn Waller[55] in 1829 allowed Tracey to expand the focus of the newspaper to address the Irish community as a whole.[56] The disappearance of the Canadian Spectator deprived the Parti Patriote of a voice in the British community. For this reason, in May 1829, the title ‘Irish’,

...fut abandonné et que Tracey vendit une partie de ses titres de propriété du Vindicator à un groupe formé de Ludger Duvernay, Denis-Benjamin Viger, Édouard-Raymond Fabre, Jacob de Witt et quelques membres de la famille Perrault. [57]

This also explains why Tracey devoted himself to French Canadian issues, ‘pour défendre la cause irlandaise et appuyer les revendications des Canadiens français.’[58]

Tracey was elected deputy for Montreal-West on 21 May 1832 in an election marred by the intervention of British troops and the death of three Patriotes.[59] Papineau had represented Montreal’s west ward since 1814 and the second seat traditionally went to a British Montrealer. Papineau, however, backed Daniel Tracey partly to secure Irish Catholic support in a by-election in the ward in 1832, a decision strongly criticised by some of his supporters. The result was the most disorderly election in Montreal’s history and led, on the final day of voting, to the garrison intervening when magistrates asked for assistance in suppressing violence at the poll. The following day, the Vindicator published an editorial entitled ‘West Ward Election: Horrible Massacre!!’ that condemned the ‘military murders’ and ‘dénonce la façon dont le pouvoir public fut utilisé par des intérêts partisans.’ [60] It was not the first time that Tracey had been highly critical of the government. A leading article in January 1832 had resulted in him spending thirty-five days in prison. [61]

Two months after the election, on 18 July, Tracey died of cholera contracted from his patients. É.-R. Fabre acquired The Vindicator and John Thomas was chief writer until replaced the following year by Doctor Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan, an important Patriote and confident of Papineau. [62] His first editorial highlighted the need for obtaining control of the civil list and the principle of election for the higher levels of the colonial administration.[63] The Vindicator played a leading role in mobilising the Irish during the Montreal elections in 1834. It defended the Ninety-Two Resolutions and presented itself to the Irish community as the only voice capable of representing their interests. It was thanks to its articulate and partisan support that Papineau and Nelson were elected in Montreal-West by a majority of 32 votes.[64] Until 1837, The Vindicator was the official English-language, Patriote newspaper acting in the same spirit as the French-language La Minerve of Duvernay. Attacked by the Montreal Gazette and the Quebec Gazette of John Neilson, they were devoted to the debates surrounding the Ninety-Two Resolutions and the abuses of bureaucratic power by the colonial state.[65] Official collaboration also existed between The Vindicator of O’Callaghan and The Constitution of Mackenzie in Upper Canada and the two editors were in regular correspondence exchanging and publishing their editorials. [66]

In the spring of 1837, The Vindicator condemned the Russell Resolutions and took an active role in the events during the summer of 1837. It published reports of the Patriote assemblies and the meetings of Comité central et permanent.[67] In his editorial of 1 September, O’Callaghan launched an appeal for mobilisation stating that ‘Lord Gosford has not yet see the end of the storm he has aroused’, referring to the proclamation of 15 June banning further meetings. The Vindicator covered the Assemblée des Six-Comtés in October and defended the Confédération that resulted from this. Finally O’Callaghan supported the Fils de la Liberté announcing their meeting on 6 November. In the resulting ‘battles’ between the Fils de la Liberté and the Doric Club, members of the latter, having laid siege to Papineau’s house, turned their attention to The Vindicator. Its offices were attacked and ransacked and its presses destroyed.[68] Its last number appeared on 9 November printed on the presses of La Minerve.

L’Ami du Peuple: a French-language, Loyalist newspaper

Founded in 1832 by Pierre-Édouard Leclère[69] and John Jones, L’Ami du peuple de l’ordre et des lois was one of the most important French language loyalist newspaper during the years leading up to the rebellions. Its mission was to ‘maintenir le peuple dans l’ordre et le guider dans le dédale des questions à résoudre’.[70] Its first lead writer Michel Bibaud[71], was replaced in 1833 by Alfred-Xavier Rambau[72], a journalist who had served his apprenticeship in New York and whose writing did not rely on aggressive rhetoric but used compromising anecdotes to discredit his adversaries or make them appear ridiculous. The editors presented their newspaper as both moderate and neutral: ‘ami des droits et des libertés constitutionnelles [sic] du Peuple, tout en respectant les justes prérogatives de l’autorité, il ne veut être l’instrument d’aucun parti’.[73] However, it appeared that ‘les justes prérogatives de l’autorité’ were the major concerns of L’Ami du Peuple since it sympathised with the British party. The key ideas defended by Rambau were that the people were not discontented, the independence of Lower Canada was absurd and union with the United States represented collective suicide.[74]

Although Leclère and Jones were the public face of L’Ami du Peuple, an important role was played by abbé Joseph-Vincent Quiblier, supérieur du Séminaire de St-Sulpice.[75] At this time, the order of Sulpiciens negotiated with the British authorities to have their Canadian property rights recognised. Quiblier recognised that it was in their interests openly to demonstrate their loyalty and their opposition to the actions of Papineau and the Patriotes. [76] It was Quiblier who persuaded Leclère and Jones to establish a moderate, loyalist newspaper and its mission statement published in its first issue affirmed among other things that

L’Ami du Peuple sera aussi celui de la religion; il sera l’organe de la vérité sur laquelle cette Religion est basée, convaincu que, comme elle, cette vérité prévaudra.[77]

When the newspaper announced that ‘qu’il se fera un devoir impérieux d’avancer, en tout, les vrais intérêts du pays ‘, he was clear that this included the best interests of the Sulpiciens.[78] This helps to explain the depth of antagonism between the Sulpiciens and the Patriotes. Amédée Papineau stated in his Journal d’un fils de la liberté that L’Ami du Peuple acted ‘au royaume des morts, s’il n’était l’enfant gâté des bons Sulpiciens ‘. The animosity of the leaders of L’Ami du Peuple towards the Patriots was reciprocal. Pierre-Édouard Leclère abandoned his position with the paper in May 1836 to become superintendent of the secret police in Montreal, an agent in the pay of the government and a symbol of the repression of the Patriote movement.[79]

Le Populaire: a Loyalist newspaper

The revolutionary period of 1837-1838 gave rise to a newspaper that wanted not only to reach the people, but to direct it. Le Populaire began publication on 10 April 1837.[80] The team that created it consisted of the founder and owner Léon Gosselin[81], of another owner, Clément-Charles Sabrevois de Bleury[82], printers John Lovell[83], Ranald Macdonald and Joseph Guibord and the editor Hyacinthe (Poirier) Leblanc de Marconnay.[84] This bi-weekly newspaper had no distinctive character. Its four pages contained material commonly published in the newspapers of the period. Nevertheless provincial matters had the largest share of space and reflected the many controversies of the day. The editor claimed that Le Populaire had reached a run of 1,400 in its second month, despite instructions from Papineau in the late spring to boycott it. The combined effects of the boycott, delivery problems connected with the uprising of November–December 1837 and the hostility of some postmasters, may, however, explain the financial difficulties that Le Populaire experienced in March 1838. Printers John Lovell and Ranald Macdonald had not been paid for some time, and on 16 March they refused to print the paper. Le Populaire ceased publication for nearly a month, and then came out again on 12 April, declaring that it had been the victim of a political plot. Gosselin’s name was no longer on the paper, although it is not known if he had given up his ownership. On 3 November 1838 the newspaper disappeared suddenly, with no explanation. [85]

Le Populaire had suffered the repercussions of a difficult situation. Its first issue came out on the day that news of Lord John Russell’s resolutions reached Lower Canada and its disappearance coincided with the departure for England of Lord Durham. The intervening period saw the events that culminated in the first rebellion, in November 1837. Le Populaire endeavoured to hold to a middle course. It favoured respect for the established authorities, but considered it had a duty to criticise and enlighten them. Consequently it supported Governor Lord Gosford, and then, with greater reservations, Sir John Colborne. Lord Durham enjoyed its backing and trust. According to Le Populaire, all the troubles were the fault of extremists; its sympathies, therefore, did not follow ethnic lines. Having once stood up for Papineau’s activity, the paper then opposed it and condemned the rebellion; under Colborne it moved closer to the Patriotes. In fact Le Populaire sought to defend a moderate position, but as it reacted to situations, its stance vacillated between left and right. However, in opposing the rebellion, it was a loyalist newspaper. It attacked the Fils de la Liberté, denouncing the illegality of the association[86] and published an article critical of the conduct of Papineau for fleeing rather than being imprisoned.[87] It published lists of Patriotes calling for them to be punished.[88] Lastly, the loyalty of the newspaper during the insurrection was expressed in an article denouncing the spirit of revenge of the Patriotes.[89]

In the context of the period such a position was not easy to maintain. Public opinion sometimes seemed unsettled by Le Populaire’s position. An editorial of 12 April 1838 recognised this confusion

Distressing circumstances and the desire to avoid calamities may for a while have misled some people about the true course of a newspaper whose title indicates its purpose clearly enough.

A reiteration of principles was therefore necessary. ‘Le Populaire is liberal in its essence but loyal in its actions; it offers good government all the support it is entitled to expect from subjects who are thinking solely of the country’s prosperity.’ When accused of harbouring anti-Canadian sentiments, the paper proclaimed that ‘patriotism is not the property of a handful of individuals who could be mistaken, but resides with the mass of the people.’ Its uneasy position made the paper vulnerable to hostile attack. For the Montreal Herald and the Montreal Gazette, the publishers of Le Populaire were ‘rabid enemies of all Britons’. Le Libéral (Québec) called the paper ‘obscene’ and La Quotidienne saw it as hostile to Canadian interests. With the Vindicator and Canadian Advertiser (Montreal) there was open warfare. Even with L’Ami du peuple, de l’ordre et des lois, which held similar views as Le Populaire, the arguments were heated. The paper found favour only with Le Canadien.

The hostility of the die-hard Patriotes may explain these generally unfavourable assessments. Le Populaire was also one of the few French-language newspapers never bothered by the authorities, a fact that opened it to deep suspicion. But, above all, it seems clear that the personalities of its prime movers played a critical role in the way the paper was regarded. Gosselin and Leblanc de Marconnay had been labelled traitors and turncoats for a long time. Behind them stood the figures of Clément-Charles Sabrevois de Bleury and Pierre-Dominique Debartzch, former Patriotes who had compromised themselves deeply by supporting the government. Debartzch was often mentioned as one of the founders of Le Populaire, indeed as one of the secret proprietors. Yet, in many respects, the newspaper caught the ambiguity of the period in terms of the spirit of the people and their political positions.[90]

The Quebec Mercury: A Tory newspaper

On 19 November 1804, Thomas Cary[91] (1751-1823) later editor of The Quebec Mercury published a proposal for a new weekly English language newspaper. There he explained that the Quebec Mercury would be published each Saturday evening from the first Saturday in January 1805. It had eight pages printed in three columns, more than half of them devoted to advertising, and it drew items from American and English papers. Although it relied heavily on foreign news, it did not neglect the local scene. It was printed in Desbarats’s shop and cost a guinea a year. The paper became a bi-weekly on 14 May 1816, but its circulation remained geographically limited, since there were only seven agencies looking after its distribution in Upper and Lower Canada. However, Cary contacted some printers and journalists outside the country who served as agents for the sale of the paper in the United States, probably on a reciprocal basis.

Supported by the conservative, English-speaking Quebec bourgeoisie, who sought to ensure the political and economic domination of the British, the Mercury featured business matters and kept readers informed of economic developments, discussed current social issues and regularly attacked the House of Assembly with its Canadian majority. The general principles that guided the newspaper were: veneration of the British Constitution, respect for local laws and the government of the colony and for the social order and rights of the individual. Cary, who was the editor, displayed a relentlessly anti-French attitude towards Canadians and thereby provoked the founding of Le Canadien, around which debate would polarise.

Thomas Cary Jr[92] (1787-1869) became editor of the paper in 1823 on his father’s retirement. The Mercury became a tri-weekly in 1832 and in 1863 a daily. Its page make-up was seldom uniform. Thus, the front page might have commercial advertisements, parliamentary news or an agricultural column. Foreign news drawn from American papers had fairly good coverage, but it was to local news, particularly advertisements, that the Mercury gave most space. As long as the Carys owned a library, the paper announced sales of their volumes and the public auctions held by Joseph Cary, Thomas’s brother, were similarly featured. But the real interest of the Mercury lies in its stand on the political issues of the day. Cary Jr, following his father’s example, identified himself closely with the English establishment and Conservative policies. He never missed an opportunity to justify the attitude of the British government and of English authorities in Lower Canada. He claimed that in this way he was respecting public opinion, the portion which, as he made clear, deserved consideration. The ill-tempered Francophobia of the early Mercury was, however, moderated with the years. From 1828 to 1848 the Mercury was owned jointly by Thomas Cary and George-Paschal Desbarats. In 1855 Cary, in his turn, handed over the editorship of the newspaper to his son George Thomas.

For many years after it began publication on January 5, 1805, The Quebec Mercury provided an important medium for the publication of poems written in English by residents of the Canadas.  The reason for this, of course, is that the newspaper’s owner and editor, Thomas Cary was himself a poet, the author of Abram’s Plains: A Poem (Quebec, 1789) and the Occasional Prologue that appeared in the inaugural issue of the paper.[93]  Not only were poems a regular feature in The Quebec Mercury, but they were usually assigned a relatively prominent position in the top left-hand corner of its back page.


[1] Hansard, HC Deb, 18 July 1839, Vol. 49 c499.

[2] On Bédard see, Dionne, N.-E., Pierre Bédard et ses fils, Quebec, 1909, ‘Pierre Bédard’, DCB, Vol. 6, 1821-1835, pp. 41-49.

[3] ‘François Blanchet’, DCB, Vol. 6, pp. 68-70.

[4] Roy, P. G., La famille Taschereau, (Lévis), 1901, ‘Jean-Thomas Taschereau’, DCB, Vol. 6, pp. 750-751.

[5] ‘Joseph Levasseur dit Borgia’, DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 502-505.

[6] ‘Joseph-Bernard Planté’, DCB, Vol. 5, pp. 585-586.

[7] Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, (Échanges, Éditions LaPresse), Montréal, 1975, p. 15

[8] Smith, L. A. H., ‘Le Canadien and the British constitution, 1806-1810’, Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 38, (1957), pp. 93-108

[9] ‘John Neilson’, DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 644-649.

[10] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 15.

[11] ‘Flavien Vallerand’, DCB, Vol. 6, p. 392.

[12] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 16.

[13] ‘Étienne Parent’, DCB, Vol. 10, p. 635.

[14] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 17.

[15] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 18.

[16] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 18.

[17] Ibid, ‘Étienne Parent’, DCB, p. 635.

[18] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 19.

[19] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 20.

[20] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 21.

[21] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 22.

[22] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 22.

[23] Ibid, ‘Étienne Parent’, DCB, p. 637.

[24] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 22.

[25] Ibid, ‘Étienne Parent ‘, DCB, p. 637.

[26] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 23.

[27] Ibid, ‘Étienne Parent’, DCB, p. 638.

[28] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 24.

[29] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 638.

[30] Ibid, Falardeau, Jean-Charles, Étienne Parent 1802-1874, p. 24.

[31] Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, (Presses Universite Laval), 1973, p. 94.

[32] Bouchard, Céline, Un journal en milieu rural: l’Écho du pays (St-Charles, Village Debartzch), 1833-1836, MA, Université du Québec à Montréal, 1994, p. 25.

[33] Meunier, Pierre, L’insurrection à Saint-Charles et le seigneur Debartzch, (Éditions Fides), 1986, p. 39.

[34] ‘Jean-Baptiste Meilleur’, DCB, Vol. 10, pp. 504-509.

[35] Bouchard, Céline, Un journal en milieu rural: l’Écho du pays (St-Charles, Village Debartzch), 1833-1836, MA, Université du Québec à Montréal, 1994, p. 34. ‘Jean-Philippe de Boucher-Belleville’, DCB, Vol. 10, pp. 75-76, is a short biography.

[36] Ibid, Bouchard, Céline, Un journal en milieu rural: l’Écho du pays (St-Charles, Village Debartzch), 1833-1836, p. 39.

[37] Ibid, Bouchard, Céline, Un journal en milieu rural: l’Écho du pays (St-Charles, Village Debartzch), 1833-1836, p. 42.

[38] Prospectus de L’Écho du Pays, 1 January 1833

[39] Ibid, Meunier, Pierre, L’insurrection à Saint-Charles et le seigneur Debartzch, p. 43.

[40] Ibid, Meunier, Pierre, L’insurrection à Saint-Charles et le seigneur Debartzch, pp. 44, 49.

[41] Ibid, Meunier, Pierre, L’insurrection à Saint-Charles et le seigneur Debartzch, p. 49.

[42] Ibid, Bouchard, Céline, Un journal en milieu rural: l’Écho du pays (St-Charles, Village Debartzch), 1833-1836, p. 40.

[43] Ibid, Bouchard, Céline, Un journal en milieu rural: l’Écho du pays (St-Charles, Village Debartzch), 1833-1836, pp. 112-113.

[44] Ibid, Bouchard, Céline, Un journal en milieu rural: l’Écho du pays (St-Charles, Village Debartzch), 1833-1836, p. 113.

[45] ‘Augustin-Norbert Morin’, DCB, Vol. 9, pp. 568-572, is succinct while Paradis, Jean-Marie, Augustin-Norbert Morin 1803-1865, (Septentrion), 2005, is a detailed biography.

[46] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, p. 56.

[47] Ibid, p. 56.

[48] Le Journal de Québec, 21 September 1877, p. 2.

[49] ‘Ludger Duvernay’, DCB, Vol. 8, pp. 258-263

[50] Monière, Denis, Ludger Duvernay et la révolution intellectuelle au Bas-Canada, (Quebec/Amerique), 1987, p. 63.

[51] Papiers Duvernay, 4 February 1831, no. 83

[52] Roy, Jean-Louis, Edouard-Raymond Fabre, Libraire et patriote canadien (1799-1854), (Hurtubise), 1974, p. 131.

[53] ‘Daniel Tracey’, DCB, Vol. 6, pp. 783-784

[54] Chapais, Thomas, Cours d’histoire du Canada, tome IV 1833-1841, 1923, p.151.

[55] ‘Jocelyn Waller’, DCB, Vol. 6, pp. 801-802.

[56] Verney, Jack, O’Callaghan: the Making and Unmaking of a Rebel, (Carleton University Press), 1994, p. 38.

[57] Ibid, Verney, Jack, O’Callaghan: the Making and Unmaking of a Rebel, p. 49.

[58] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, p. 165.

[59] Senior, Elinor Kyte, British Regulars in Montreal: An Imperial Garrison, 1832-1854, (McGill-Queens, University Press), 1981, pp. 11-23, provides the best account of the riots and their aftermath. See also, Jackson, James, The Riot That Never Was: The military shooting of three Montrealers in 1832 and the official cover-up, (Baraka Books), 2010.

[60] The Vindicator, 22 May 1832.

[61] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, p. 65.

[62] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, p. 65.

[63] Ibid, Verney, Jack, O’Callaghan: the Making and Unmaking of a Rebel, pp. 64-65.

[64] Ibid, Verney, Jack, O’Callaghan: the Making and Unmaking of a Rebel, p. 87.

[65] The Vindicator, 17 October 1834.

[66] Ibid, Verney, Jack, O’Callaghan: the Making and Unmaking of a Rebel, p. 135.

[67] The Vindicator, 16 May 1837.

[68] Ibid, Verney, Jack, O’Callaghan: the Making and Unmaking of a Rebel, p. 134.

[69] ‘Pierre-Édouard Leclère’, CDB, Vol. 9, pp. 459-460.

[70] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, p. 89.

[71] ‘Michel Bibaud’, DCB, Vol. 8, pp. 87-89.

[72] ‘Alfred-Xavier Rambau’, DCB, Vol. 8, pp. 735-736.

[73] L’Ami du Peuple, 22 July 1832

[74] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, p. 74.

[75] ‘Joseph-Vincent Quiblier’, DCB, Vol. 8, pp. 727-731.

[76] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, p. 74.

[77] L’Ami du Peuple, 22 July 1832

[78] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, p. 74.

[79] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, p. 57.

[80] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, p. 98.

[81] ‘Léon Gosselin’, DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 353-355.

[82] ‘Clément-Charles Sabrevois de Bleury’, DCB, Vol. 9, pp. 696-697.

[83] ‘John Lovell’, DCB, Vol. 12, pp. 569-574.

[84] ‘Leblanc de Marconnay’, DCB, Vol. 9, pp. 458-459.

[85] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, pp. 93-94.

[86] Le Populaire, no. 91

[87] Le Populaire, no. 95

[88] Le Populaire, no. 103

[89] Le Populaire, no. 98

[90] Ibid, Beaulieu, André and Hamelin, Jean, La Presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, Vol. 1, 1764-1859, p. 103.

[91] Thomas Cary’, DCB, Vol. 6, pp. 123-124.

[92] ‘Thomas Cary’, DCB, Vol. 9, pp. 115-116.

[93] ‘Thomas Cary’s ‘Occasional Prologue’ and its Contexts’, ed. and intro. by D.M.R. Bentley, Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews, Vol. 41, (1997), pp. 102-111