This Week in History


The Battle of Saint-Eustache

For the week of Monday December 10, 2001

The Battle of Saint-Eustache was fought on December 14, 1837, at the height of the Lower Canada Rebellion. This was a decisive defeat for the Patriotes.

Louis-Joseph Papineau

Louis-Joseph Papineau
© LAC / C-5414

The years leading up to the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837-38 were marked by significant changes and developments. The agricultural crisis, social and demographic tensions and particularly severe dissatisfaction among the better-educated francophones set the stage for the conflict that was to come. However, constitutional affairs provided one of the most contentious issues behind the Lower Canada rebellion: must the Governor follow British government directions, or should he obey the commands of the local elected legislative Assembly? London was not yet ready to extend these powers to any of its colonies. At this time, revolutionary fervour mobilized certain members of the elite and rallied large contingents of the population, one of which was led by Louis-Joseph Papineau, leader of the Parti Patriote. The Patriotes, a mostly French-Canadian group, was made up of members of the liberal professions and small-scale merchants. Eventually, positions hardened. The protest movement led to riots and threats of armed rebellion, and the government moved to prevent disturbances.

On November 21, 1837, the British troops in Lower Canada made their way towards Saint-Denis and Saint-Charles, south of Montreal, crossing the frozen Richelieu River. The Patriotes won at Saint-Denis, but did not meet with the same success at Saint-Charles. After their victory, the government troops headed for Saint-Eustache.

Battle of Saint-Eustache

Battle of Saint-Eustache
© LAC / C. Beauclerk / C-396

The rebel leaders of Saint-Eustache, including Amury Girod and Jean-Olivier Chénier, were better prepared to resist. At noon on December 14, 1837, the British army attacked the village. The fighting raged for five hours. The withdrawal of the Patriotes sealed their fate. In the wake of this defeat, the Patriotes lost more than 70 men, another 118 were imprisoned, the village was torched and Chénier was killed. The Patriotes left Saint-Eustache on the following day for Saint-Benoît, where they also expected to meet with resistance. The Patriotes were defeated several battles later, and the rebellion came to an end in 1838. On July 23, 1840, the British parliament imposed the Union Act, which united Upper and Lower Canada, and United Canada was born.

The life and career of Louis-Joseph Papineau, as well as the Manoir Papineau, are recognized to be of national historic significance. A plaque from the Commission historique du Québec commemorates the battle of Saint-Eustache.

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