This Week in History
Uniting Upper and Lower Canada
|For the week of February 8, 2016.
On February 10, 1841, British Parliament brought the Act of Union into effect. The Act was prompted by uprisings in the name of political justice and was eventually followed, after more efforts, by responsible government in Canada. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the union between Upper and Lower Canada.
In response, Britain sent Lord Durham to Canada to report on the reasons behind the rebellions. Durham submitted three major recommendations, which had the ultimate goal of assimilating the French Canadians. These included uniting Upper and Lower Canada, instituting representation by population and the establishment of responsible government. The latter two recommendations were not accepted by the Crown.
The end result was the Act of Union, which was passed by British Parliament in 1840. A newly elected union assembly was created with 42 seats for each province, even though Lower Canada had 200,000 more people. Not surprisingly, among Canada’s French-speaking populace there was strong opposition to the idea of being assimilated.
The first parliament was held in Kingston, but between 1841 and 1867 the site of the capital changed six times between Kingston, Montréal, Toronto, Québec City, and finally to Ottawa. This new parliament gave French and English reformers a chance to join forces. The reformers, led by Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin, succeeded in forming a coalition government from 1841-43, and again from 1848-51. Baldwin and LaFontaine fought for responsible government until it was established by Lord Elgin in 1848. French was officially recognized and parliamentarians won the right to speak in either French or English.
William Lyon Mackenzie, Louis-Joseph Papineau, Robert Baldwin, Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, John George Lambton (1st Earl of Durham), and Bruce James (8th Earl of Elgin) are all National Historic Persons. The Meetings of Parliament, 1841-1866 is a National Historic Event.
To learn more about the events that followed the Act of Union and built the foundation for Confederation, read A Responsible Government and The Great Ministry of Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine in the This Week in History archives.
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