In the first year of the young Queen's reign serious disturbances, which soon grew into actual rebellion, broke out in Canada. This colony had been the possession of the British Crown since the days of the victories of General Wolfe. The vast colony of Canada was then divided into two provinces, known as Upper and Lower Canada. Lower Canada was inhabited almost altogether by men of French descent who still kept up the ways and the usages of provincial France before the Revolution. Even in the two great cities of Montreal and Quebec, although each had a considerable sprinkling of Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Americans, the character and tone were distinctly those of an almost medieval French society. Upper Canada, on the other hand, was peopled almost entirely by settlers from England and from Scotland, and from the Northern Province of Ireland, who were in origin, in ways, and in accent almost altogether Scotch. At that time the wave of emigration from the other provinces of Ireland had not much affected either of the Canadian divisions. The inhabitants of Upper Canada were a go-ahead population, full of energy and activity, eager to set trade and commerce moving, ambitious of a rivalry with the populations of the great American Republic, and devoted to the English connection and the English flag.
Lower Canada only asked to be let alone, and to be happy in its picturesque, old-fashioned way. Upper Canada was, roughly speaking, almost altogether Protestant; Lower Canada almost altogether Catholic. It would have been difficult enough, even for the wisest system of government from Westminster, to deal satisfactorily with two provinces thus different in traditions, in habits, and in feelings. But it must be owned that the system of government which was worked out rom Westminster was calculated to increase rather than diminish the difficulties. The population of Lower Canada regarded with constant alarm and jealousy any measure of legislation which seemed likely to overbear their French traditions, and to hamper their religious freedom, or to give any undue advantage to what we may call the Protestant province. The inhabitants of Upper Canada, on the other hand, were impatient of any policy which seemed to discourage their efforts, and to show too much indulgence to the antiquated ways of the other province. At the time when the colony was divided into these two provinces, the Upper and the Lower, by an Act called the Constitution of 1791, the intention of the Home Government doubtless was that the two colonies should remain absolutely distinct in arrangements as well as in name.
The idea Was that Lower Canada should continue to be French and that Upper Canada should continue to be English. Then, of course, there would have been no more difficulty in dealing with either province than there is in dealing with any two far-divided colonies, the populations of which are different from each other in traditions, usages, and language. But the trouble was that the Canadian provinces were not far apart from each other; and could not be kept absolutely separate. Upper Canada had no means of regular communication with Europe and the outer world in general, except through Lower Canada or through the American Republic. Each of the two provinces had a separate system of government; each had a Governor and Executive Council appointed by the Crown; each had a Legislative Council, or Upper Chamber, the members of which were appointed by the Crown and appointed for life; and each had a Representative Assembly, the members of which were elected for four years. One-seventh of the waste lands of each colony was set aside for the maintenance of the Protestant clergy; and while we have already said that the population of Lower Canada were almost exclusively Catholic, it may be added that a good many of the Scotch Dissenters in Upper Canada were even already beginning to grumble at the idea of having to support a State Church out of public revenues. The Legislative Council of each province was, of course, absolutely obedient to every direction sent out from the Government at Westminster. The Legislative Council, over and over again, thwarted in Lower Canada the decisions of the Representative Chamber. The Representative Chamber had again and again passed votes of censure on some of the officials, and the Government, nevertheless, retained those officials in their service, and enforced the right of the Crown to have them paid out of the public funds of the province.
Lower Canada again and again demanded that the Legislative Council should be made representative, and not nominee; and that the Government at home should not be allowed to dispose of the Provinces' public funds according to the good-will and pleasure of the statesmen at Westminster. The Government at home, and not only the Government, but the House of Commons as well, refused to listen to any such demands, or any such complaints; and made it clear to the Lower Canadians that they were to be ruled absolutely by the decrees of the Crown officials at home. When the Representative Assembly in Lower Canada carried their opposition too far, the Governor of the province, acting, of course, upon instructions from home, simply dissolved the provincial Parliament and called for a new General Election. The result of all this was just what might be expected; great popular meetings were held all over the province, and the conduct of the Home Government was undoubtedly denounced in very strong language which, according to the fashion of the time, was met by the Crown authorities with arrests and prosecutions. Resistance to some of these arrests developed at last into open rebellion. Upper Canada, meanwhile, loyal and devoted though it was to the British Crown, had its own complaints, and its own protests. One of the many complaints was, that the offices all through the province were filled up in accordance with a sort of family compact which left no chance to the inhabitants at large. The rebellion in Lower Canada could, no doubt, have been easily suppressed, although in the first instance the military authorities were taken by surprise, and the rebels obtained some slight advantages.