[Cartier] was as bold as a lion. He was just the man I wanted. But for him, Confederation could not have been carried. - Sir John A. Macdonald
Born 6 September 1814, in Saint-Antoine, Lower Canada; Died 20 May 1873, in London, England. Sir George-Étienne Cartier was an integral part of the Confederation of Canada, easing French Canadian fears of assimilation and convincing both Manitoba and British Columbia to join the fledgling Dominion. His alliance with Sir John A. Macdonald began as a key political manoeuvre to force a political coalition, but their unlikely relationship turned into a steadfast and lifelong friendship, without which Confederation might not have happened.
Cartier was born in Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu on 6 September 1814 into a wealthy French-Canadian family of grain exporters. He was not related to Jacques Cartier, the famous explorer from Saint Malo, though George-Étienne’s family legends claimed otherwise. Cartier graduated from the Sulpician Collège de Montréal and was called to the bar in 1835. He practiced law for many prominent Lower Canada institutions, including the Sulpician Order, the original seigneurs of Montréal and the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway.
He quickly became involved in radical politics in Lower Canada, first as a member of the Fils de la Liberté (Sons of Liberty) which resisted the dominance of the Château Clique. He went on to fight with the rebels (known as the Patriotes) in the 1837 Rebellion. After the rebellion was suppressed, Cartier escaped and lived in exile in Vermont for a year before petitioning to return to Montréal to practice law.
Cartier did not stay out of politics for long. By 1841 he was Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine’s campaign manager and right-hand man. They reformed the Civil Code, and restored the Assembly of Lower Canada (which had been nullified by the Act of Union of 1840) with Responsible Government granted by Britain in 1848. In 1861, after the coalition with Canada West’s Conservative Party (led by Sir John A. Macdonald), Cartier and Macdonald served as joint premiers of the Province of Canada from 1857-62. It was during this time that they laid the foundations for Confederation. In 1857, it was Cartier who advocated for Ottawa as the Province of Canada’s (and later the Dominion of Canada) capital city. He argued it was more defensible then the other options (Toronto, Montréal and Kingston) and was located on the border between Canada West and Canada East. He also wrote the patriotic song “O Canada! Mon Pays, Mes Amours” which helped to create some common ground between English and French Canada. Cartier’s ability to satisfy both sides of an argument with a fair compromise proved to be a great strength later on in his political career, and helped create the Dominion from sea to sea.
Cartier’s goal was a federation of provinces rather than a British-style single legislative union, which would force assimilation. Rather, he saw the opportunity for a new political nationality that accounted for differences in language, religion and cultural practices by implementing a federal-provincial system of governance.
It was this provincial semi-autonomy that helped to convince New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to unite with the Province of Canada, alongside the promise to build the Intercontinental Railway. Cartier, like Macdonald, stressed the importance of a unified military in case of an attack by the much larger United States.
Cartier’s ability to find a compromise was integral in securing Rupert’s Land (1869) and in the signing of the Manitoba Act (1870) and the British Columbia Act (1871). He negotiated with the Hudson’s Bay Company in London for the transfer of Rupert’s Land to the Dominion, and was successful in part due to his close relationship with British railway builders, financiers and military officials. In Manitoba, he sympathized with the Métis cause, and worked closely with their emissary, Abbé Ritchot, to solidify the Province of Manitoba’s entry into Confederation. Delegates from British Columbia came to Ottawa in June 1870 to discuss joining Confederation, and Cartier’s promise of a transcontinental railway proved to be enough to seal the deal. A national railway, commonly thought of as Macdonald’s dream, was Cartier’s as well, and he worked diligently on the project for the rest of his career.
Macdonald was devastated by the loss of his ally and advocate when Cartier died in 1873. Each man had immense respect for the other, and their long political relationship had transformed into a loyal friendship. Shortly after Cartier’s death, Macdonald unveiled a statue on Parliament Hill to commemorate his greatest friend and collaborator and to honour Cartier’s commitment and dedication to the united Dominion of Canada.
Macdonald wasn’t just the founder of a nation that otherwise, almost certainly, would not have survived. He shaped a nation that has gone on to thrive to a degree exceeded or matched by very few among the near 200 nations around the planet. If Macdonald were told this today his likeliest response would be to shrug and then turn his attention to his plans for the next election campaign. — Richard J. Gwyn
Born 11 January 1815, in Glasgow, Scotland; Died 6 June 1891, in Ottawa, Canada. Sir John A. Macdonald was a dominant force behind the production of the British North America Act and the union of provinces which became Canada. As the first prime minister of Canada, he oversaw the expansion of the Dominion from sea to sea. His government dominated Canadian politics for a half-century, setting policy and leadership goals for future generations of politicians.
John Alexander Macdonald was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1815 on the 10 or 11 of January (his exact birthdate remains a mystery), and moved to Kingston, Ontario (then Upper Canada) with his parents when he was five. Macdonald showed incredible promise from a very young age, articling with a prominent Kingston lawyer when he was only fifteen. At the age of 29, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the then united Province of Canada to represent Kingston (The Province of Canada consisted of Canada West and Canada East, formerly known as Upper Canada and Lower Canada).
In 1856, Macdonald, leader of the Conservative Party, became joint premier of the Province of Canada with Étienne-Paschal Taché, the leader of the Parti bleu. Taché’s successor, Montréal lawyer George-Étienne Cartier, governed with Macdonald from 1857-62, starting a political relationship that had a profound influence on Canadian politics and would shape the country’s future.
Between 1856-64, there were growing concerns from the Clear Grit Party (the precursor to the Liberal Party) t(hat Canada West’s needs and aspirations were frustrated by the domination of Canada East’s French-Canadian influence in the government of Macdonald and Cartier. Consequently, the government found itself in a stalemate. The leader of the Clear Grits, George Brown, founder and editor of the country’s most powerful and influential newspaper, the Toronto Globe, put forth a proposal for a new coalition. In an effort to restore communication between the province’s political and sectional forces, Macdonald reluctantly accepted Brown’s proposal for a new coalition of Conservatives, Clear Grits, and Bleus, who would work together for constitutional change. The Great Coalition of 1864 proved to be a turning point in Canadian history, paving the way for the Charlottetown Conference, where Macdonald, Brown and Cartier were key figures at the proceedings that set Confederation in motion. The three party leaders sailed from Québec City aboard the Queen Victoria steamship, arriving in Charlottetown for the conference from 1-7 September, 1864.
The Charlottetown Conference was initially organized by the three Maritime colonies (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) to discuss a union of their three provinces. This was in reaction to failed attempts to persuade the Province of Canada to contribute to the construction of a railway from Halifax to Québec. Cabinet members from the Province of Canada —not originally on the guest list — saw in this conference an opportunity to discuss the union of all the British North American colonies. The Province of Canada’s insistence on partaking in the proceedings was prompted by a fear of annexation by the United States, which was still in the midst of a Civil War. The creation of a massive United States army, combined with Britain's desire to reduce its financial and military obligations to its colonies in North America, provided clear incentive to build a stronger nation through a new political structure. Confederation with the Province of Canada had already been widely debated for many years in the Maritimes, and the hosts welcomed the presence of eight of the twelve members of the Province of Canada's Great Coalition cabinet, including Macdonald, Brown and Cartier. Cartier was one of only two French speakers at the Conference; the other was Irish Catholic orator Thomas D'Arcy McGee from Canada East.
On arrival in Charlottetown, the delegates found no hotel vacancies, thanks to a visiting circus. They stayed aboard the Queen Victoria, and entertained delegates at sea following discussions in the legislative council chamber of Charlottetown’s Province House. In these talks, Macdonald stressed the need for a strong, highly centralized, unitary form of government, while conceding the necessity of a federal arrangement to accommodate strong racial, religious and regional differences. Cartier was determined that Confederation should guarantee French Canadian autonomy in Canada East, and Brown stressed that Canada West wished to run its own affairs.
On 3 September, the Canadians hosted a champagne luncheon on board the Queen Victoria during which someone quoted words from the Anglican marriage ceremony: “If anyone knew any reason why the provinces should not be united in matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.” General laughter confirmed for some that the marriage banns of a new Canada had been proclaimed, and that union would proceed. Even though the Maritime delegation had not yet agreed to Confederation, that playful moment was interpreted by George Brown as proof that they would come to accept the new, wider vision of nationhood.
After a private discussion on 7 September, the Maritime delegates gave the Canadians their answer: they were unanimous in supporting a federation of all the provinces, provided the terms were satisfactory. Because of his great constitutional expertise, Macdonald took a leading role in drafting a federal system in which the central government holds dominance over provincial governments. Four new provinces now formed the Dominion of Canada: Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
In the biography Brown of the Globe, historian J.M.S. Careless writes: “There, in the chief stateroom of the Queen Victoria, amid the wineglasses and cigar smoke, 23 men had warmly agreed to found a new nation. Other states might have a more dramatic start — but few, surely, a more enjoyable one.”
The Charlottetown Conference was convened to discuss a Maritime Union, but its participants unanimously agreed to work towards the grander scheme of Confederation. It was the first in a series of conferences and negotiations that culminated with the terms of Confederation on 1 July, 1867, the day on which the imperial government appointed Macdonald as the first prime minister of Canada.
13 October 1812 was a fateful day for the Six Nations of the Grand River. British forces, including about 160 Six Nations warriors, were assembled at Fort George at the mouth of the Niagara River in anticipation of an American invasion, which came upriver near the small Upper Canadian village of Queenston. John Norton and John Brant, along with several other leaders and warriors, hurried to the scene, only to learn that General Brock had been killed and that the Americans had taken the Heights overlooking the village.
As they approached the battlefield, the warriors heard from retreating soldiers that there were thousands of Americans. In response, about half the warriors left the group, returning to Fort George to protect their families (who had accompanied them from their homes on the Grand River). The Queenston Heights Heritage Minute shows Norton making a speech to inspire the 80 remaining warriors. The same speech is recorded in his journal.
Rather than advance up the northern edge of the Heights, where Brock had been killed and where American soldiers were waiting, Norton and Brant led their men to the west, scaled the Heights under cover, and approached from the side, taking the Americans by surprise.
Using the cover of gun smoke to move quickly through the woods, the 80 sharp-shooting warriors launched hit-and-run attacks, pinning down over a thousand Americans until British reinforcements, including Richard Pierpoint and the Coloured Corps, arrived for a final assault against the invaders, forcing the Americans to surrender. The efforts of the Six Nations warriors were essential in taking back the heights and preventing American invasion.
Richard Pierpoint was born in Bondu (now Senegal) in 1744. In 1760, he was captured and brought to America where he was sold to a British officer. After more than 20 years in America, he won his emancipation by fighting as a member of Butler’s Rangers in the American Revolution.
His support for the British in the conflict meant he was rewarded with a land grant in the Niagara region. After 1783, Pierpoint settled in Niagara, where he served as a griot (storyteller) for the local Black community. In the Senegalese tradition a griot listens to stories and associates them with a particular stone. The griot retells the stories by pulling a stone out of his bag and recounting the associated story. Before and after the War of 1812, Pierpoint travelled around Upper Canada listening to and retelling the stories of the Black community.
In 1794, Pierpoint and a number of formerly enslaved men petitioned the government of Upper Canada to grant them land adjacent to each other rather than dispersed among white settlers. The Petition of Free Negroes, as it was known, aimed to create a Black community where members would help and support each other. The petition was rejected for unknown reasons.
In the War of 1812, at age 68, Pierpoint petitioned the military for the creation of an all-black unit, by producing a list of black men in the region who had sworn to fight. The petition was initially rejected, but leadership of the unit was eventually given to Captain Robert Runchey, and the unit was named Captain Runchey’s Corps of Coloured Men. The Corps fought at Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812, (they were among the first reinforcements to arrive on the Heights in support of Mohawk Chief John Norton’s Grand River warriors) and were instrumental to the war effort throughout the Niagara region. In 1813, they were reassigned to the Provincial Corps of Artificers, and served throughout the war building and rebuilding important strategic posts.
After the war, Pierpoint stayed in Niagara, but found life difficult. In 1821, Pierpoint petitioned the government again, this time to be sent on a ship back to his homeland in Senegal. Pierpoint’s petition was again rejected, but he was given a land grant in Garafraxa, near modern-day Fergus. He took up his land and became a leader in the black community, helping formerly enslaved men and women move through the Underground Railroad. In addition, Scottish settlers, in particular James Webster, relied on Pierpoint for help when they first arrived in the Fergus area. Pierpoint died around 1837, aged about 93. Pierpoint was one of thousands of black Loyalists who came to Canada after the American Revolution, and while many faced significant hardships, they nonetheless formed an important part of early Canada. Pierpoint lived an incredible life, and his tireless work in promoting the health and livelihood of the Black community in Upper Canada is remembered in this Minute.
In the first years of the 17th century, the beaver pelt trade created a heated rivalry among the French, English and Dutch in North America. The European powers vied for alliances with the Indigenous peoples. While the English and Dutch tried to attract Indigenous people to their trading posts, the French chose a different approach - travelling to where the First Peoples lived, learning their languages and customs, and converting them to Christianity.
And so, in 1608, Samuel de Champlain moved up the Saint Lawrence to establish the first upriver trading post. If the French were to succeed in the fur trade and in their colonial aspirations, they had to form an alliance with the Algonquin tribes to counteract the Dutch influence with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) to the south.
It was into this climate that twenty-year-old Jean Nicollet, fresh from his studies in Paris, arrived in Québec in 1618. He had been hired to live among the Algonquins, Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat in order to encourage them to collect furs to trade with the French. The young Parisian had no idea just how much he was to learn in a lifetime of contact with Indigenous peoples.
Hardly a month after his arrival, Nicollet was sent off to Allumette Island, a strategic outpost on the Ottawa River. His assignment was to create friendly relations with the Algonquins, but for Nicollet it meant entering a strange and harsh new realm. Father Vimont, a Jesuit priest and friend of Nicollet, wrote about the young man's arduous hunting and trapping expeditions with the Algonquins, of the bitter cold, the glacial nights Nicollet spent wrapped in furs, his diet of raw game, the canoe trips with exhausting portages in bare feet, the carting of heavy pelts through deep snows, and above all, the solitude of the young European among the Algonquins.
Father Vimont describes the First Peoples’ distrust which Nicollet had to overcome, their penetrating gazes as they continually measured his physical endurance, his resourcefulness, and his patience. These are the qualities which the Algonquins prized and which the young Parisian struggled to adopt as his own. In the two years he spent among the Algonquins, Nicollet gained his hosts' respect, even helping them negotiate peace with the Haudenosaunee.
Nicollet returned to Québec, but soon set off again, travelling northwest to Allumette Island to meet the Nipissings, with whom he would live for the next nine years. Each year he would do business with the various tribes of the region and, in the spring, send pelts to Québec. He collected precious information about the geography of the interior and about the people who lived there. He journeyed into the Great Lakes region, surveying the area around Georgian Bay and the north shore of Lake Huron. In living among the Indigenous people, learning their ways, and becoming a part of their lives, Nicollet foreshadowed the legendary coureurs de bois who were to follow.
By 1633, Nicollet's accomplishments had made him such a respected citizen of New France that Champlain appointed him to the powerful Companie des Cent-Associés. But Champlain had one more peacemaking mission for Nicollet. The Winnebagoes, who lived on the western shore of Lake Michigan, had strained relations with the neighbouring Algonquins, and threatened to ally themselves with the Dutch. Nicollet was sent to secure the peace, but he also took the opportunity to verify Indigenous accounts of a great sea, which he presumed led to China and its immense stores of precious metals and rare spices.
Convinced that he was close to the China Sea, Nicollet carried a robe of Chinese damask to wear before the Winnebagoes. They were so taken by the sight of this strange visitor that Nicollet was able to conclude a peace treaty with them. Pursuing the elusive route to China, Nicollet became the first European to explore the region west of Lake Michigan.
The chronicles of New France and the accounts of explorers and missionaries whetted European curiosity about the Indigenous peoples of North America. But few Europeans learned about Canada's First Peoples by living among them and sharing their day-to-day life the way Jean Nicollet did. In exploring the new land, Nicollet discovered new cultural worlds as well.
After Columbus landed in the Western Hemisphere in 1492, European rulers sent explorers across the Atlantic to the Americas to claim territory and discover riches. The Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch and French all wanted a piece of the "New World" for themselves. Sometimes we forget that the "new world" was not new at all, but the ancient home of many people who were called "Indians" by the Europeans. Jacques Cartier came from the French court of King Francis I to explore North America. In 1534, on his first voyage, he explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In Chaleur Bay, he met Indigenous people for the first time. They were Mi’kmaq people, and their meeting was the first time that the French and the Indigenous people traded furs. For centuries to come, fur trading would be important in the development of the North American colonies.
When Cartier sailed farther up the gulf and into the Bay of Gaspé, he and his men were greeted warmly by a group from the Iroquoian nation of Stadaconé. They had come from their home, which is now the site of Québec City, on a fishing expedition.
The story goes that Cartier asked the chief, Donnacona, what the land was called. The chief, who was inviting Cartier into their camp, replied "kanata," their word for village, as well as their name for the area around their home, Stadaconé. Maybe Cartier understood Donnacona, or maybe he did not, but "Canada" has remained the name of the whole vast territory that comprises our country.
Cartier sailed back to France with two of Donnaconna's sons, then returned again to Canada. On his second voyage, he sailed up the St. Lawrence River and visited the site of Montréal. He opened the door to French settlement of the rich land, and later colonists followed.
At first the Indigenous people were friendly, but many became hostile when they understood that their old way of life could not survive with the arrival of so many strangers. The struggle to establish peace and understanding between the people of the First Nations and the European settlers has continued during the many centuries since Cartier's arrival.
Between 1840 and 1860, more than 30,000 American slaves came secretly to Canada and freedom
"When my feet first touched the Canadian shore, I threw myself on the ground, rolled in the sand, seized handfuls of it and kissed them." These were the words of Josiah Henson recalling his first moments as a free man. Henson had escaped to Canada along the "underground railroad," a network of secret paths, hiding places and safe houses that stretched from southern states to the borders of Canada. Like countless other immigrants, Henson came to Canada as a refugee escaping brutality and oppression.
The slaves fled the inhuman treatment they suffered in the southern United States, where they were - by law - the property of their owners. Beaten and whipped and forced to obey, many worked up to eighteen hours a day in the fields, returning at night to squalid shacks for meagre rations of corn meal and bacon scraps.
Among the many tragic stories of slavery were tales of husbands taken from wives and of children torn from their mothers to be sold like animals. Captured runaway slaves were often tortured. Professional slave catchers, notorious for their cruelty, tracked runaway slaves all the way from the deep South to the Canadian border. It took enormous courage to escape.
But thanks to the "agents" on the underground railroad [men and women, white and black, Canadian and American], many slaves found freedom in Canada. Some of these agents have become legends. The great Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave herself, returned south again and again to lead others north. A Canadian, Alexander Ross, travelled to southern plantations in the guise of a gentleman bird fancier. His real mission, however, was to direct slaves to the escape routes.
Dr. Martin Luther King said that in the history of black America, "Canada was the north star." The old spiritual, "Follow the Drinking Gourd," gave slaves the hidden advice to keep their eyes on the Gourd [the Big Dipper], which pointed the way north to "heaven," in this case Canada.
In the 1850s, many Québec families adopted Irish orphans, their parents dead from ship's fever on the Atlantic crossing
The Irish and the French Canadians share a part of history that goes back more than 150 years, at a time when waves of European immigrants were flooding into Canada, most of them arriving first in Québec. One tragic episode occurred in 1847.
That year, poverty, overpopulation and famine in Ireland had reached a crisis point, unleashing a mass exodus to British North America. In April, more than 28,000 families were crammed into timber transport ships bound for Québec City, the main port on the St. Lawrence.
During the long crossing, malnutrition and overcrowding hastened the spread of typhoid fever. Of the 240 immigrants on board one ship alone, 9 died at sea and another 40 died on arrival at the quarantine station of Grosse Isle near Montmagny.
The oppressive heat that summer only worsened an already disastrous situation, and still the overcrowded ships kept arriving – 12,000 more immigrants disembarked on June 1, another 14,000 a week later. The number of sick at the Grosse Isle station hospital totalled over one thousand. Medical staff and Anglican and Catholic clergy tended to the dying, often at the cost of their own lives. The dead were hastily buried in communal graves, while survivors continued their journey on to Québec City, Montréal and beyond.
The immediate victims of this tragedy were the children of those who perished. They numbered in the thousands, from Québec City, Montréal, and Gross Isle to Kingston and Toronto. One of the clergymen who helped was Father Cazeau, affectionately called "the curé of the Irish." He worked tirelessly to have the destitute children taken in by parish priests and placed in foster homes of the Québec Diocese. In Montréal, Monseigneur Ignace Bourget made an impassioned appeal to the rural French-speaking population, who answered the call from all the neighbouring villages.
Out of sympathy for the victims and their homeland, orphanages were careful to preserve the Irish identity of the children, keeping a record of their natural parents, their parish and county of origin, and the vessel that brought them over. The records also included the names and addresses of the foster families, most of them French-Canadian.
Despite this tragic beginning, French-speaking Québeckers of Irish descent have continued to enrich our cultural heritage.
Monsignor – Pierre Colin
Molly – Jennifer Jenei
Adoptive Father – Hugo Dube
Nun – Helene Gregorie
Adoptive Father - Husband of Mother who speaks – Jean L'Italien
Our governor general controlled by an elected assembly, instead of by us. It's a Canadian idea!
Individual women and men can achieve great things when they break with tradition. But history shows that nations, too, must forge new paths to realize their ideals.
The struggle toward self-government in Canada includes stirring tales of Louis Joseph Papineau, William Lyon Mckenzie, and the other patriots and martyrs of the 1837 rebellions. It is also the record of the less colourful yet equally important individuals, those whose vision of peaceful political change brought responsible government to Canada.
The story began in the early part of the 19th Century when the British colonies in North America were dominated by closely-knit groups of wealthy businessmen and landowners. Called the "Family Compact" in Upper Canada (now Ontario), the "Château Clique" in Lower Canada (now Québec) and "The Council of Twelve" in Nova Scotia, these influential groups had the ear of the colonial governors - the Crown's representatives. The governors appointed these powerful people to the governing cabinets of each colony, the Executive Councils.
Opposing these governing elites - and the system that kept them in power, was a growing number of discontented citizens who advocated effective elected representation in their governments. That discontent erupted in Lower and Upper Canada in the rebellions of 1837.
After the rebellions had been thoroughly suppressed, the British government sent Lord Durham to Canada to investigate the causes of the uprisings. Reformers presented him with the concept of "responsible government," which would give legislative power to elected assemblies. Fearing another popular uprising, as well as the expansionist republic to the south, Durham thought it prudent to meet some of the reformers' demands if the colonies were to remain British. He therefore recommended a form of responsible government in his report. This idea, however, was refused by the British government, which was not prepared for a move toward democracy in its colonies.
The Reformers did not give up. Joseph Howe and others campaigned for responsible government in Nova Scotia, and in the newly formed Province of Canada (the union of Upper and Lower Canada), Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin led the Reformers. In 1849, their reform-minded assembly passed a bill recommending compensation to those who had suffered damage in the rebellions of 1837. The Executive Council bitterly opposed the Act, and the Governor General, Lord Elgin, had to decide whether to favour the powerful old establishment or bow to the wishes of elected representatives.
When Lord Elgin signed the Rebellion Losses Bill, responsible government won the day. Finally, government legislation was to be controlled by the majority in an elected assembly. Although suffrage was still far from universal, this event marked an important milestone on the road to democracy in Canada.
PROVINCE OF CANADA 1841 - Canada's existence owes much to the partnership of two moderate reformers: Louis Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin.
Trained as a lawyer, LaFontaine began his political career with election to the Lower Canadian Assembly when he was twenty three years old. Tall and portly, LaFontaine was respected as a man of ideals whose love for French Canada was readily apparent.
Like LaFontaine, Robert Baldwin was a lawyer who took up politics at an early age. But Baldwin was shy and prone to depression. Political life held little appeal for him. However, motivated by high principles and a strong sense of duty, he devoted much of his life to changing the Canadian political system.
In the early 19th century, Canada's political system was in much need of reform. The British Colonies of Upper and Lower Canada were dominated by closely knit elites. Satisfied with their positions of privilege and supported by the British governors, these elites paid little attention to the elected assemblies in the colonies.
In 1837, resentment against the elites reached a boiling point, and rebellions broke out in Upper and Lower Canada. In Upper Canada the rebellion was quickly defeated, but in Lower Canada it was drawn out and bloody. When the fighting was over, the British government dispatched Lord Durham to investigate the colonial grievances.
Durham's report advocated greater power for the colonial assemblies - exactly what the leaders of the Lower Canadian rebels had demanded. However, he also recommended that Upper and Lower Canada be united - a proposal that many Lower Canadians vehemently opposed.
Nonetheless, in February 1841, the Union was proclaimed and the election was called. LaFontaine ran in the riding of Terrebonne. But on election day, 200 armed thugs surrounded the polling place, obstructing LaFontaine's supporters from voting. LaFontaine's intervention prevented a pitched battle, but he lost the election.
A few months later, LaFontaine received a letter from Robert Baldwin. Baldwin had been elected in two ridings. He had spoken to his constituents in the Fourth York and had persuaded them to elect LaFontaine in his place. Would LaFontaine agree to run in a by-election in Toronto?
He would. LaFontaine campaigned in Toronto on a platform of French-English cooperation and won the seat with a comfortable majority.
Baldwin's gesture won the reformers considerable good-will in Lower Canada. The respected journalist and academic Étienne Parent wrote: "If all the inhabitants of Upper Canada are like him (Baldwin), I predict the most brilliant results of the Union of the Canadas."
By the end of the 1840s, Baldwin and LaFontaine had succeeded in convincing the British government that legislative power should rest in the hands of the elected assembly of the colony. Moreover, their historical compromise showed that French and English Canadians could work together to solve their political problems.