Political Confrontation and Secret Societies

Political Polarization

Matthew Whitworth-Aylmer, 5th Baron Aylmer;  Governor General of Canada, 1830-1835

Caption: Matthew Whitworth-Aylmer, 5th Baron Aylmer; Governor General of Canada, 1830-1835

During the 1820s and 1830s the political situation in Upper and Lower Canada deteriorated. In each colony, groups of reformers began to stridently demand powers for the Legislative Assemblies. But although they formed the Parliamentary majority all their bills were rejected by the Legislative Councils, which were controlled by the existing cliques.

The British garrison was tied to this explosive political situation in spite of itself, because it was responsible for maintaining the public order. When a serious incident occurred in 1832 in Montreal during elections, a detachment of the 15th Regiment called to the aid of the civil power opened fire on a mob that had refused to disperse, killing three Francophones, including the editor of an opposition newspaper. This discredited the army in the eyes of many French Canadians.

The situation worsened as the reform partisans, led by Louis-Joseph Papineau, began demanding political autonomy ever more stridently. They assumed the name Patriotes. Most were of French descent, but among them could also be found Irish nationalists and a few Americans. Most Canadians of English origin identified with the conservative elements in place, even though some of them also favoured reforms. In 1834-35 a number of political clubs were created with a view to taking up arms. At the end of 1835 the British Party, taking an openly paramilitary stance, established the 393-member British Rifle Corps and demanded that the government provide them with weapons. 95 The new governor-in-chief, Lord Gosford, was aware of the danger this represented and ordered the corps disbanded on January 15, 1836.

Additional Images

Louis-Joseph Papineau, 1840