The Settlement that passed us by: part 6 The importance of the Military Settlement project


The importance of the Military Settlement project between 1815 and 1820 cannot be exaggerated. Although the actual numbers of those who settled in Leeds & Grenville was not large, it had a profound effect on the development and history of the United Counties. As with the earlier arrival of Loyalists after the American Revolution, the post-War of 1812 settlement forced changes on the local Government it had resisted making for some time. The Crown Reserves in each township, which had been a real hindrance to development and settlement, were thrown open to the newcomers. This allowed better road and other infrastructure which in turn contributed to the economic and social betterment of the wider community.

The Settlement project was also responsible for starting a long-term process of immigration into Upper Canada. Part of the original plan in 1814 had been to settle immigrants who would then encourage family and friends in Britain and Ireland to follow them out to the Canadas, rather than going to the United States. This, it was believed, would add to the loyal and anti-republican character of the provinces, and weaken any American democratic ideology that might exist there.

In this, the plan was very successful, perhaps more than the Government might have wanted. It led, for example, to the introduction of the Orange Order into the Canadas, something which would lead in time to conflict between citizens. It would also, of course, give the Province an element in its make-up that would dominate for almost 150 years.  Although this element might have been expected to ally itself with the earlier Loyalists population, it failed to do so because of its lower social class identity. The Loyalists looked down on the newcomers after 1814 and refused to accept their right to be part of the governance of the province. Upper Canada was theirs, and the newly-arrived mob were a threat to their position and authority. The newcomers were predominantly Protestant in religion, but it was not the same kind of established church Anglicanism of the previous settlers. The 1815-1820 settlers were Methodist or Presbyterian by and large, and had very different attitudes to social and class issues. This in turn set the scene for the political and religious issues that would dominate Canadian politics until Confederation.

It needs to be emphasised that the immigrants of this period were not the poverty-stricken and diseased poor that would follow them in the 1840’s.  The Government had laid down such conditions for the migrants that it required quite an investment of funds to bring a family over from Europe. This was not a plan for the poor, but for a healthy and relatively affluent group that had planned their migration and could afford the price. It is clear from the statistics cited in the previous chapter that the emigrants were better at sticking to the job of cultivating their land than were the discharged soldiers. This was because, first of all, they had paid a hefty deposit and needed to remain on the land so as not to forfeit the money; and because they were people who intended to settle and start a new life if they could. The soldiers, on the other hand, had not paid any money for the land they received, and were not farming types, in general. They lost little by selling on their lots and moving away, possibly to towns and even back to Europe, rather than take on the unfamiliar life of the farmer.

The early experiences of these settlers only added to the effect they would have on their new country. The failure of the administration in Upper Canada to provide land as soon as the newcomers arrived caused great hardship and anger among the migrants. They were aware that the Loyalists did not consider them “worthy” to have the Crown Reserves, or perhaps any free land at all. The very slow process of surveying and granting land, which took many months longer than promised, provoked many to simply leave the temporary settlement areas in Kingston, Cornwall, and even Perth, rather than suffer through another winter without the land they had been promised. These were not subservient peasants willing to accept whatever their betters provided. They were independently-minded men and women who were not above making veiled threats when it came to getting what they wanted. In the 1815 petition from the Scottish settlers, they had referred to the negative reports they might be forced to send home if they didn’t get to settle where they wanted. The negative reports would have a similarly negative effect on their families and friends who were thinking of following them out to Canada. These were not people to be pushed around.

And their friends and family did indeed follow them out. This project may have officially ended by 1820, but it was only the first of many sponsored schemes which brought thousands of newcomers to Upper Canada in the decades that followed. Although these were private, rather than Government funded projects, it was the 1814-1820 scheme that started everything off. It led to treaties with First Nations that opened up the rest of southern Ontario to European settlement after 1818. This had the unfortunate effect of sharply limiting the freedom of movement of the First Nations and, ultimately, confining them to reserved areas of their territory.

The question of whether the Military Settlement plan was a success or not is impossible to resolve now. The fact is that many of the settlers brought over by the scheme left the land they were given for many reasons. The Rideau Canal was built, but not until 1832, long after the first settlers had arrived. Moreover, it was never needed for its original strategic purpose. There was no future war with the United States, and so the discharged soldiers and officers were never called upon to defend it. This was just as well, as most of them had moved away before the Canal was even completed.

What can be said with certainty is that the scheme brought to Canada men and women who changed the face of the province and altered forever its politics, social structures and history.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here