Upper Canada: The Formative Years, 1784-1841

By Gerald M. Craig | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Loyalists Make a New Province

After more than a century and a half of European colonizing activity in eastern North America, one of its fairest and most accessible regions still lay almost untouched by civilization at the end of the 1770's. There were many reasons why this land, which was to become Upper Canada, then Ontario, was nearly empty of settlers, and not the least of these was its island-like situation. Along its northern side flowed the Ottawa River, which was easily ascended by fur-traders on their way from Montreal via the Mattawa, Lake Nipissing, and the French River into Lake Huron and to the western country. Or, if the explorer and trader from Montreal decided not to use the waters of the St Lawrence's mightiest tributary, he could journey up the great river itself, reaching at Lake St Francis the bounds of the last Canadian seigniory, the western limits of effective settlement in the days of the French régime. Another hundred miles, many of them through the white water of treacherous rapids, brought the traveller into the maze of islands that heralded the entrance into Lake Ontario. Once in the lake he could reach Lake Simcoe, and so Lake Huron, either through the Trent River system or along the Toronto portage. But if his curiosity, his business, or his duty led him to follow the sequence of the world's most stupendous chain of lakes, he must get round the mammoth cataract in the Niagara River, and traverse the often dangerous waters of Lake Erie, before entering the Detroit River, which would bring him to Lake Huron by way of the Lake and River St Clair.

Frenchmen and Canadians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had come to know well this country enclosed by the Ottawa, the St Law- rence, and the lower Lakes. It was penetrated by Champlain and his young men within a few years of the founding of Quebec. Missionaries followed on the heels of the explorers, or were themselves explorers. In the 1630's and 1640's the Jesuits lived out their epic among the Hurons south of Georgian Bay. Within half a century the French dreamers and organizers

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