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Following the American Revolution, and to achieve a more appropriate governing climate, the British Parliament issued the Constitutional Act of 1791 which created, out of a single province, “two separate Canadas, each having a representative government with an elected assembly of its own.” The French-speaking sector became known as Lower Canada while the English-speaking sector was called Upper Canada. [1] What became immediately apparent with this division of the province was the highly disproportionate population in the two distinct sectors, and the potential danger this posed for the security of the province as a whole. In Lower Canada, today known as Quebec, the population had reached nearly 150,000 whereas in Upper Canada (Ontario) the population was only around 10,000. [2]

In anticipation of a possible American invasion of the sparsely populated region of Upper Canada it was clear that this situation needed to be rectified as quickly as possible. To address this matter, John Graves Simcoe, “a veteran leader of provincial troops during the 1775-83 war, was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada [and] was given command of a new corps of infantry to assist in its protection and undertake public works.” [3] On February 7, 1792, Simcoe

caused a proclamation to be published in English and French announcing that free grants of land would be made to all persons desirous of settling in the Upper Province, one-seventh of the land being reserved for the support of a Protestant clergy, and one-seventh for the use of the Crown. The settlers would be merely required to subscribe to a declaration that they would defend the authority of the king in Parliament. [4]

The proclamation, which found “its way into the States in sufficient numbers,” [5] had two major goals. First, it was Simcoe’s belief that with his offer of free land he would be able to lure a number of loyalists from the states to Upper Canada and thereby increase the British population in order to prevent any thoughts of a future invasion from the United States. Second, it was also his view that the offer would entice tradesmen, craftsmen, and farmers currently living in the states, to relocate and subsequently turn Upper Canada into a financially viable and “great agricultural province.” [6] While Simcoe was determined to keep hostile Americans away from Upper Canada, “he felt very differently about that vast population in the States which was, he felt certain, still actively or at least passively loyal to King and Empire.” [7] How did Simcoe arrive at this view?


A slightly modified version of this material will appear in the Journal of the American Revolution