The Settlement that passed us by: part 2

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In the early 1800’s, the British Government had always been determined not to encourage emigration from the British Isles. The post-war scheme they were now proposing was meant instead to redirect those already planning to emigrate. Instead of going to the United States, these migrants would be supported by the Crown in moving to the Canadas. The level of support was quite significant, as advertised in local newspapers in the British Isles in February, 1814. The Government would pay for passage to Canada, and provide 100 acres free to each family. Every child of immigrants would also be given 100 acres once they reached the age of 21. Tools and supplies would also be provided free of charge for the first eight months, until the newcomers reaped the first harvest.

The plan originally envisioned a compact community settled near the route of the proposed Rideau Canal, and potential migrants were to be encouraged by promises of support for schools and churches. It must, however, be emphasised that these migrants were not poverty-stricken, disease-ridden peasants, as was to be the case so often later in the nineteenth century. These were men and women who had the drive and ambition, not to mention the money, to make this bold move across the Atlantic. In fact, in spite of the generous terms offered by the Government, migrants were required to put up significant deposits of money in order to qualify for the scheme:

In order to prevent persons from making an unwarranted and improper use of the liberality of government, it will be required that every person embarking for Quebec, should at the time of embarkation deposit in the hands of the government agent the following sum:-

Every male person above sixteen years of age, £16 sterling; every woman, being the wife of any person so embarking, £2.2s; children under sixteen years of age will be conveyed free of expense; and whatever sums may be so paid by them will be repaid to them or their representatives in Canada, at the end of two years from the date of their embarkation, upon its being ascertained that they are settled on the grant of land allotted to them…

The sum of £16 per adult male was about the cost of a passage for a family at the time. The original plan was to find the required number of settlers in Scotland, and have them arrive in Canada by the end of 1815. In fact, almost 700 people did arrive from Scotland that year, but no location for their settlement had been found and they ended up living in quarters and subsisting on government rations for many months after their arrival.

The War of 1812 had greatly expanded trade between the Canadas and Great Britain. The war with Napoleon had cut Britain off from her traditional sources of lumber in the Baltic region, and her North American colonies had supplied the urgent need for wood for ship building in the Royal Navy. After the war, these ships were returning empty from Europe and could easily accommodate emigrating settlers.

Military personnel were not required to put up any deposit: it was felt that their contribution, as potential defenders of the lines of communications, was sufficient. Discharged privates were to receive 100 acres each, non-commissioned officers got 200 acres, and officers received an area commensurate with their rank. However, the British Government had learned from their experience with the Loyalists, whose large land grants had closed many townships to settlement and development. Under the new scheme, officers were not allowed to have large blocks of land, but were to receive their allotment in smaller parcels (usually 200 acres) in order to keep them close to other settlers. But neither officers nor regular ranks could in any way dispose of their land grants for three years. Initially, only discharged soldiers from the regular army regiments who had served in Upper Canada during the war were offered free land under the scheme. But the offer was gradually extended to other units of the British Forces, whether they had served in the Canadas or not, and to the Fencible Militia Regiments. These were militia who were recruited to serve outside their county boundaries.

The lands that would become Merrickville-Wolford and North Grenville were about to get a large increase in their populations, as this major Military Settlement was about to be established on the banks of the Rideau.

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