Street Name Stories: Building a Nation Part V: Durham and his Report

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

With the plethora of 150 commemorations taking place this year, I thought I could use my usual Street Name Stories blog series to throw another hat in the ring.  Looking at a map of Oshawa, there are a number of streets whose names are commonplace in the history of Canada.  Over the next five Street Name Stories Posts, I will look at street(s) whose namesakes helped contribute to the growth of Canada.  Missed the first four posts?

Part I looked at Oshawa’s Indigenous People
Part II looked at the early European Explorers
Part III looked at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham
And, finally, Part IV looked at the War of 1812 and figures of that conflict
As we know, the results of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 was a completely altered political landscape.  New France was ceded to Great Britain; Britain found itself in debt over the Seven Years War and thought taxing its colonists in America would be a great way to solve this problem. Yeah, about that… Flash forward to the American Revolution.  The population of Canada grew steadily during the Revolution and afterwards as many who remained loyal to Britain moved to her closest colony. In 1791, the Provinces of Upper Canada and Lower Canada were created with the Constitutional Act.

The next forty or so years passed without major internal incidents.  There was, of course, the two-to-three years where we found ourselves at war against the Americans who were once again displeased with Great Britain. The War of 1812 had Canadians, First Nations, and British regulars joined against the Americans, and by December 1814, the Treaty of Versailles brought it to an end.

Repercussions from the Constitution Act of 1791 played themselves out in 1837.

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Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern, drawing by Charles William Jefferys. Accessed from the Canadian Encyclopedia

The people of Upper Canada at the time were displeased with the current form of government in place: an aristocracy, ruled by a powerful few.  They were nicknamed ‘the Family Compact’ and they wielded a lot of influence in politics at the time.

This feeling of discontentment from the farmers, labourers and tradesmen came to a head when on December 4, 1837, a premature call to rebel was given.  Between December 5 and 8, a group of about 1,000 rebels gathered at Montgomery’s Tavern in Toronto, and although this Loyalist militia quickly won initial small skirmishes in the city, the British forces were ultimately successful.  As a result, hundreds of men were arrested, some were sent to Tazmania, or Van Diemen’s Land, as punishment, and two men, Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, were executed as a result of their involvement in the Rebellion.

At the same time, the people of Lower Canada were also discontent with the government, adding additional grievances of economic depression for French Canadian farmers in the 1830s, and rising tensions with the largely urban anglophone minority, all of which led to an armed insurrection between 1837-1838.  The two Lower Canada uprisings left 325 people dead, all of them rebels except for 27 British soldiers. Nearly 100 rebels were also captured.

The aftermath of the Upper Canada Rebellion, as well as a rebellion in Lower Canada, also in 1837, resulted in Lord Durham investigating the situations. Who was Lord Durham?

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Lord Durham, image from Library and Archives Canada (C-121846). Accessed from the Canadian Encyclopedia

John George Lambton, the 1st Earl of Durham was a politician, diplomat and colonial administrator.  He was born in London, England on April 12, 1792 to a wealthy Northumberland family.  Wealth opening up the doors that it does meant that Lambton was educated at Eton.  He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1813 and was raised to the House of Lords in 1828.  Upon the recommendation of Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, he was appointed Governor General and high commissioner to British North America.  He was tasked with reporting on the 1837 Rebellions.  Having spent less than six months in Lower Canada, he wrote the majority of his (now) famous Report on the Affairs of British North America, also known as the Durham Report, completed in January of 1839.

The Durham Report recommended the establishment of responsible government for the colonies, the merging of Upper and Lower Canada into a single political unit, which became the nucleus for modern-day Canada.  In 1841, the Province of Canada was created, Upper Canada and Lower Canada now known as Canada West and Canada East respectively.  Interestingly, Durham is not such a popular fellow in Quebec, as his report recommended the government-sponsored assimilation of French Canadians to the English language and culture. His particular assertion, that the French speaking population are people without history or culture, did not (and still does not) garner him respect within Quebec. Louis-Joseph Papineau, one of the top Lower Canada rebels, wrote his own response to the report, La Revue canadienne as Histoire de l’insurrection du Canada en réfutation du Rapport de Lord Durham (History of the insurrection of Canada in refutation of the Report of Lord Durham).

For a number of years, the government of the Province of Canada (Canada West and Canada East) met and was quite effective, however, by the mid-1860, it was clear that the system that was established by the Act of Union was no longer working.  Besides the political deadlock, other factors, including the desire to strengthen the colonies, the Fenian Raids, and the ongoing Civil War in the US, were factors for creating a new political union.

A series of conferences were held with the British North American colonies to discuss the creation of a country.  The Charlottetown Conference took place in September of 1864, followed by the Quebec Conference in October of that year.

At the Québec Conference, the delegates passed 72 Resolutions, which laid out a constitutional framework for a new country. The Canadian Resolutions outlined the concept of federalism — with powers and responsibilities strictly divided between the provinces and the federal government and they also outlined the shape of a national Parliament, with an elected House of Commons based on representation by population, and an appointed Senate, a framework still in place today.

The final conference was held in London in 1866, and on July 1, 1867, the British North America Act came into effect, creating the Dominion of Canada.

As for Lord Durham, he had been in ill health for much of his life, and he passed away in Cowes, England on July 28, 1840.

The Regional Municipality of Durham, the upper-tier municipality where Oshawa is located, is named for Lord Durham, as is Durham Street, located one street west and running parallel to Stevenson Road.

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