On Peel, A Call for Annexation

Green Line. Opened 1966.

Last week I looked at Louis-Joseph Papineau, the leader of the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion who was exiled in France, largely at the behest of his fellow rebels, when the Rebellion failed. On his return to the newly re-named Province of Canada in 1845, he found a changed system of responsible government, which his former brothers in arms were to his disgust actively embracing, and that the issue which concerned the inhabitants of Montreal and Toronto was no longer the colonial government but the opening of the colonies to free trade from outside the British Empire. Walking along the streets of Montreal, the new capital of the Province, he would have found a city expanding westwards with the construction of new, elegant streets, including  one named after the then British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel. *

Peel’s ministries ran from 1834 to 1835 and again from 1841 to 1846, the gap roughly corresponding with period of the Rebellions and Papineau’s exile so that they are like the metro station that bear their names, on the same line, their paths never crossing. Still, Papineau would certainly have recognized the name of the British Prime Minister; it was strongly associated with the violence of the Rebellions when, nine years earlier, a British steam ship named after Peel was sunk in the US waters by exiles from the Upper Canada Rebellion. That event had more to do with hostility towards British rule than any personal animosity and, beyond the sinking of S.S. Sir Robert Peel, Peel is largely absent in the history of the Rebellions, but by the time Papineau returned Peel was exerting his influence and creating hostility on his own account.

In his second administration, Peel, a convert to the economic teachings of Adam Smith, pushed through reforms which repealed Britain’s Corn Laws and opened up the empire to free trade. In both Britain and Canada these reforms were controversial. They were hardly in the interest of Peel’s farm-owning supporters in Britain, who were protected from the supply of wheat from outside the British Isles, nor were they popular with the traders in Canada, who enjoyed preferential tariffs in the empire’s protected market.

Such was the discontent about the removal of these preferential rates that some leading Canadians were, as Papineau had done in 1839, flirting with the idea of a closer union with the United States. But while Papineau made his overtures in isolation and from Paris, these new supporters of annexation were in the thick of Montreal business life and, even more dangerously, were the editors and owners of two main Montreal newspapers.

For David Kinnear of the Herald, the reforms were just another step in Britain’s “[preparation] to bid adieu to the colonies”. For him, the obvious step was annexation of Canada by the United States. Over at the Gazette, Ferres, a fellow Scotsman, took a less strident view, preferring to campaign for independence from both Britain and the United States. For all that though, he saw annexation to be a probability.

In the end, perhaps to his surprise, Ferres’ view won out and Canada moved towards Confederation in 1867 and ultimate repatriation of the constitution in 1982. For this though, free trade was essential, for the obvious reason that Canada could hardly gain autonomy within a protectionist Empire. Besides, Peel’s reforms were not so disastrous as the editors had imagined; Canadian timber competed with timber from the United States, but the established relationships continued, and the 1850s were a period of prosperity, not least as result of the Reciprocity Agreement of 1854 and a closer relationship with United States which lasted until the start of its Civil War in 1861.

Consulted for this post

Elizabeth Waterston, “David Kinnear.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. University of Toronto and Université Laval. Web. 10 November 2012.

Lorne Ste. Croix. “James Moir Ferres.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. University of Toronto and Université Laval. Web. 10 November 2012.

Unanswered Questions

What is unclear to me is, who, if anyone, supported Peel’s reforms and who selected his name for the street? Was it just thrust upon the city by the Governor-General? What was the reaction to the outspoken hostility of the wealthy English-speaking community?

Papineau had argued for free trade in the context of a closer union with the United States, which is not quite the same, so what was his reaction? What was the reaction of in the French-speaking press?

Like so many new Canadians at the time, Kinnear and Ferres, were both from Scotland. How did they view each other?

To answer at least some these questions, I’ll be looking at the archive copies of the Herald and Gazette as well as L’Avenir and La Minerve. Papineau’s correspondence also looks like it’s going to be useful.

Montreal Metro on the Internet

Doing this, I see all sorts of really great things about the Montreal Metro on the internet, often thanks to people I follow on Twitter. Here are a couple I saw this week.

Radio-Canada has an interactive feature with among other things interviews with STM workers, its former chief architect, and a look at the new trains. You can see the feature here and thanks to Montreal City Weblog for the link.
There’s a certain amount of accuracy in this metro map’s anagramatical play with station names. Guy-Concordia is spot on with Accordion Guy and it is, indeed possible to Range On at Angrignon. With a success rate like this, maybe we’ll all find our own Cute Voter at Côte Vertu! Thanks to @andyriga for the link and Matthew Hollet for the fun.

 * Update – 18 November 2012

Topographical and Pictorial Map of the City of Montreal by James Crane, 1846. McCord Museum, Montreal. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

In 1845 rue Peel was only two blocks long, running from Sherbrooke to Ste Catherine. Dorchester Square, south of St Catherine, was still  to be built and the land west of the McGill College campus remained to be developed. Nevertheless, as the map below shows, in 1846  the westward development of the city and its advance up the mountainside was underway at this time, particularly with the development of the Redpath estate which saw the construction of Drummond and Mountain Streets.

Thanks to Marian Scott for drawing this to my attention and for sharing Roderick Macleod’s article on the development of the Redpath estate.

Macleod, Roderick. “The Road from Terrace Bank: Land Capitalization, Public Space, and the Redpath Family Home. Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 14.1 (2003): 165-192.



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