I keep being drawn back to the end of World War II – even though much of what I rail about has as a base even earlier than that. Keeping in mind that I’m Canadian, I’m going to be looking at the American response much of the time – not because I’m anti-Canadian but simply because the actions of the Americans tended to spill over on to us – as a people, as a culture and as a nation. Canadians, for the most part, have little understanding of that bleed effect and don’t pay nearly enough attention to how it has affected Canadian history. Prior to 1867, we tend to think of ourselves as being bound to the Empire rather than our neighbour. The reality is that the American Revolution affected Canada just as severely as it affected the American colonies.
Let’s start then, with the surrender of Cornwallis and the end of the American Revolution. Suddenly, there’s a single entity south of the British colony of the Canada’s and it is no longer a part of the British Empire. What’s more – this new country, the United States of America is divided against itself…the people who fought for the Revolution and the people who fought for the Empire. As with any civil war, it left deep divisions which weren’t going to be healed overnight, despite what any peace treaty might say. A great many who fought for the Crown decided that their best interest was served by migrating North. Thus was born the Canadian myth of the United Empire Loyalists. Not that the Loyalists didn’t exist – that isn’t the myth. The myth is one of heroics and a principled stand for the Crown. In the cold light of day – the myth fails. The Loyalists were no more heroes than I – they were simply the losers of a major civil war in which atrocity after atrocity was permitted on both sides. Further, these people, as the losers, had no expectation of being able to recoup their lives and livelihoods without Crown intervention and that wasn’t going to be possible in the newly minted USA. That left them only two options – go to Canada or return to Britain. There are those who maintain they had a third option – going to Hell – but from the tone and tenor of most Loyalists writings, opting for Canada was about the same.
Right – so precisely what did the arrival of the Loyalists mean? More importantly, why would this be of any importance to us some 229 years later? The short answer is that the arrival of the Loyalists set the tone for the type of country Canada would become. Professor jack Granastein, Canadian Historian Emeritus, in his book, Yankee Go Home?, characterized the Loyalists as “whining, puling, losers.” Regrettably, there’s little in the written record to nay say this. The Loyalists regarded Canada as nothing more than a howling wilderness and that they were unceremoniously deposited there by the whim of the Crown…the very Crown they’d fought for in the US. Of course, there, they had power, wealth and privilege, whereas in Canada, they had precious little, save what they could carve out for themselves. Oh, and for any descendants of the Loyalists (as I am) they also thought to bring their slaves…yes, that’s right, their slaves. Canada may have been the terminus of the Underground Railway during the 1850’s – but never forget, at the beginning, the Canadian colonies were also slave owning colonies. I stress this point because later on – some 200 years later on, this will be important. In short though, the Loyalists arrived; bag, baggage and slaves, demanding their entitlements from the Crown. Is it any wonder then, some two centuries later another politician would infamously declaim “I’m entitled to my entitlements.”