The Conquest

The Military Regime

Sir Jeffery Amherst, General in Chief of the British forces in North America in 1759

Caption: Sir Jeffery Amherst, General in Chief of the British forces in North America in 1759

In September 1760, after the fall of Montreal, Amherst and his officers were faced with a new challenge, that of governing Canada. This was a major undertaking, because the country was in ruins, there was a threat of famine and many families were without shelter. It was also essential that public order be kept. But the British troops were unable to express themselves in the language of the country.

Amherst therefore called on the Canadian militia. On September 22, 1760, he decreed that the militia officers were to maintain order and act as the police 23 in the parishes and cities, as they had under the French regime, and that they were to serve as intermediaries between the government and the people. Under the terms of surrender, all Canadians were to be disarmed. But two weeks later the British authorities reversed their decision, authorizing militia officers to keep their weapons and extending this permission to all militiamen who asked to keep them. In addition, militia officers were to serve as justices of the peace for minor cases, because the magistrates had returned to France, taking with them their knowledge of the laws and customs. This was what lay behind the creation of the "militia courts." Although the new judges were unfamiliar with jurisprudence, the militia court system was far preferable to the people to the British court-martial system. Having the Canadian militia take over some civilian government functions was a key event. The militia were a credible intermediary between a confused populace and a foreign army that could well have fallen into certain excesses during this troubled period.

The regular troops of the occupying army were instructed in proper behaviour. They showed moderation and there were few incidents between the Canadians and the British soldiers, who moreover kept their distance from one another. No one knew whether Canada would become a British colony or be returned to France at the end of the war.