Having won most of a continent in one war, Britain nearly lost it all in the next. The American Revolution (or War of Independence) quickly unraveled Britain’s first empire and left it, ironically, defending much of what had been New France against its own people.
The 55 years following the Conquest witnessed imperial uncertainty as to how to best manage the northern colonies and what sort of relationship to build with the former colonies to the south. It was also a time of a new configuration of British colonies whose institutions were similar but not identical to those in the old Thirteen Colonies. As well, there was the principal problem of Quebec’s place within the new geopolitical reality. For Britain, it was a question of control softened by appeasement on key issues; for the Canadiens, it was a balancing act between avoiding the fate that befell the Acadians and aggressively promoting claims to a future in North America as French people with a Catholic faith.
Barely a generation passed before war was renewed between Britain and the United States. In the meantime, Aboriginal challenges to American settlement continued, with implications for British North America and the Council of Three Fires. Colonial life in Nova Scotia was overtaken by the largest of the Loyalist waves, and the region’s demographic, economic, and social order changed dramatically once again. These years witnessed the beginnings of truly urban trends in what was to become Canada, specifically at Halifax, Saint John, and Montreal. The last of these — the seat of the fur trade in the Province of Quebec — shifted rather abruptly from being the western gate of a shrunken province to the hub of an agriculturally focused settlement colony stretching into the Great Lakes. Newfoundland — the oldest site of continuous European activity in North America — only begin to grow as a colony in these years.
This chapter studies the fluidity of constitutional reforms in Quebec, the creation of two new Loyalist colonies, and the concurrent commercial and political developments.
- Distinguish between the different colonial economies and societies in British North America in this era.
- Understand the ambivalent relationship between the British North Americans and the ideology of anti-imperial revolution.
- Position the Aboriginal nations in their struggle for control of the interior of North America.
- Explain the emergence and survival of both Upper Canada and New Brunswick.
- Describe and account for the constitutional changes that took place between 1763 and 1818.
- Illustrate the different colonial systems emerging in each of the British Atlantic colonies.