The Legacy of the Rebellions

French Canadians Traumatized

Quebec as seen from the Citadel, 1838

Caption: Quebec as seen from the Citadel, 1838

In Lower Canada the situation was different. The 1837 insurrection had been bloody, resulting in the death of almost 300 Patriotes and 10 volunteers, 10 times more casualties than the number of Voltigeurs and militiamen from Lower Canada killed in the War of 1812. In addition, the widespread burning of villages and farms, which plunged families into poverty, traumatized the French-Canadian population.

The repression continued, moreover, in areas that favoured the Patriote movement. At the end of 1838 a corps of Rural Police was raised; it was a kind of paramilitary force, partly mounted and armed with sticks, rifles, pistols and sabres. In addition to seeking out common criminals, this police force intended to " the government with intelligence in those localities where discontent and disaffection appeared to have taken deepest root." 104 Many stations, each with a deputy chief and a few constables, were established in localities around Montreal, all the way to Hull to the northwest, Nicolet to the northeast and Saint-Jean to the south. Police corps with similar objectives had already been set up in Montreal and Quebec City in the summer of 1838.

On another front, there were many trials everywhere: 12 Patriotes were hanged and 58 were deported to Australia. Unlike those convicted in Upper Canada, those found guilty here were nearly all of French descent, and their convictions were felt with pain and consternation by French Canadians, the vast majority of whom had not answered the call to arms. Those convicted, who had stood up to defend their rights, were not considered by the people to be traitors.

From a military standpoint, the professionalism of the British troops, and the action that they took, was never in doubt, all the more so since it was they who did the most fighting. The volunteers, although they were not always models of discipline and moderation, repeatedly showed bravery and fearlessness. They did of course have the advantage of being well armed.

Such was not the case for their compatriots, who raised the flag of revolt. The politicians who encouraged their fellow citizens to armed insurrection totally failed in their responsibilities when the battles began, having no more pressing matters to attend to than to take refuge in the United States. Left to their own devices, without weapons, without a strategy and without tactics, and placed under the command of untrained leaders, thousands of people had no choice but to barricade themselves against the approaching troops. Many of these civilians behaved as honourably as the best soldiers. In combat, it is only valour that really counts, and from this standpoint they showed exemplary bravery under desperate circumstances.