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Loyalist Trails UELAC Newsletter, 2016 Archive

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“Loyalist Trails” 2016-42: October 16, 2016

Articles

The Tug of Our Heritage: Pierre Berton and the Loyalists

© Stephen Davidson, UE

For a particular generation of Canadians, Pierre Berton is remembered as both a media personality and as an author who got his readers excited about our country's history. In addition to being the winner of three Governor General's awards in creative nonfiction, Berton was also a companion of the Order of Canada. Not as widely known is the fact that he was the great-great-great grandson of a loyalist refugee named Peter Berton who settled in New Brunswick in 1783.

Pierre Berton grew up in a family that was very proud of its loyalist history. When he was a boy in the Yukon, some of his earliest memories were of listening to the words that had been written by his loyalist ancestor in the family Bible. Said Berton, "My father used to read those passages aloud to us, showing us the cramped, brown handwriting... Thus, in far-off Dawson City, we felt the tug of our heritage."

It is remarkable that the Bible survived for 200 years -- and that it was treasured by descendants who lived almost seven thousand kilometers away from New Brunswick. Pierre Berton was not only aware of the facts of his loyalist ancestor's life, he also spent time considering what that heritage meant. It is an exercise that every loyalist descendant would do well to imitate.

In 1987, Berton authored Why We Act Like Canadians, a book that shared his ruminations on our national character with an imaginary American reader. In the third chapter, which was titled "Once a Loyalist", Berton explained the impact that the loyalists had on the development of the Canadian identity. It is a stimulating exploration of "the tug of our heritage".

Berton began the third chapter with a discussion of the "L" word. For Americans, the most significant "L" word is "liberty". However, for Canadians their "L" word -- said Berton-- was "loyalty". The refugees who flooded into British North America in 1783 tipped the balance of that territory's most used language from French to English. The loyalists were Americans, said Berton "who had refused to take the law into their own hands, who opted neither for liberty nor death and who, for a variety of reasons...preferred the status quo."

Having been persecuted by neighbours and relatives, the loyalists were not ready to espouse American patriots' views on government. "Democracy" left the same taste in their mouths as "communism" would have for Americans of the 1950s. These American colonists had become refugees out of principles of loyalty rather than liberty. Their influence, claimed Berton, was "out of all proportion to their numbers".

Frank Berton, Pierre's father, grew up in New Brunswick, the first colony to be created by the refugees of the American Revolution. His son described him as a man who was loyal to the Church of England, loyal to the British connection, and loyal to the Conservative Party. Although these were traits of some of the loyalist founders, Berton was astounded that they were still held by many of their descendants a century later.

Upper Canada (Ontario), the second colony formed by loyalists, was also a "true blue province". Here refugees and British veterans received free land and low taxes as compensation for their loyalty. And Americans continued to populate the colony over the next three decades until by 1812, the ruling elite began to worry about "new settlers...of doubtful loyalty."

Berton hypothesized that, over time, Upper Canada would have eventually become another state in the American union simply through continued immigration. However, impatient Americans who were greedy for the northern territory launched armed attacks on Upper Canada, beginning in 1812. A people under "the British yoke {that} was so light that most did not feel it" suddenly rose up in defense of their colony. The War of 1812, said Berton, turned both American and loyalist settlers into Canadians.

These American loyalists-who-were-becoming-Canadians were also strongly influenced by the Rev. John Strachan, an Anglican clergyman who emigrated from Scotland in 1799 to teach in Upper Canada. Berton points out that Strachan had little use for Americans, their culture or their system of government. The clergyman saw them as irreligious and materialistic: "they are hurried to any action provided they gain money by it".

Strachan and his followers made their imprint on the values and attitudes of Upper Canada in the wake of the War of 1812. Even though Natives and British soldiers had won most of the war's battles, the Anglican minister repeatedly told his listeners that they had won the war. It was, claimed Berton, the beginning of a national myth. Thanks to Strachan's influence, whenever the loyalist descendants of British North America thought of freedom, they thought of it as freedom from the Americans.

Berton believed that this myth grew in time to include the idea that Canadians were significantly different in character from Americans, the latter being a people considered vulgar and "vaguely comic". For example, blowing one's own horn was considered vulgar. Since Americans were perceived as being good at this, Canadians reacted by going in the opposite direction. As a result, claimed Berton, Canadians were not good as salesmen or showmen. They shunned commercialism in their culture, relying instead on public subsidies.

Reaction to Americans also resulted in Canadians taking on government-sponsored mega-projects throughout their history. The Canadian Pacific Railway was built in part to curb American imperialism. The Rideau Canal was constructed as a second lifeline between the provinces should Americans invade. And so our history unfolded, right up to the current (1987) creation of Petro-Canada. Canadians have fought for "freedom from Americans" throughout their history through a host of crown corporations that oversaw a variety of projects to protect them from Americans. To this day, our nationalization of various services, claimed Berton, is "socialism" in disguise -- a term that prompts the same knee jerk reaction among our American cousins as does the word "communism". Canadians, on the other hand, see it as guarding our national interests.

Thus Berton concluded his analysis of the loyalist heritage, part of what makes us "act like Canadians". Is it a fair analysis? Is this truly the heritage bequeathed to us by refugees who owed their survival in the years after 1783 to Britain's provision of food, tools and land grants? Or does this analysis over-emphasize the impact of a founding people who were eventually outnumbered by immigrants from Britain and other European nations? Did the tug of our loyalist heritage, in fact, guide the course of our values and national development? These are all good questions to consider!


To secure permission to reprint this article, email Stephen Davidson.

Branch Program Opportunity: "The Governor and his Lady" (Jean Rae Baxter)

Hamilton Branch member Jean Rae Baxter has written The Way Lies North (2007) in response to the need for responsible historical fiction to tell the story of the Loyalists from a Canadian point of view. The first novel focuses on the plight of ordinary white Loyalists driven from their homes by the violence of the American Revolution. This book was followed by Broken Trail (2011), which tells of the native people's struggle. The third novel, Freedom Bound (2012), deals with the so-called Black Loyalists. However, three novels proved not enough to tell the entire story. In The White Oneida (2014) Baxter examines the issues facing the native people following the American War of Independence as they strove to form a confederacy of their own. The most recent -- Hope's Journey -- is set in 1791 (see the description above).

All five of Jean Rae Baxter's historical novels have been written in response to the need to tell the story of the Loyalists from the Canadian point of view. It was during her research for the fifth novel, Hope's Journey, set in 1791, that she reread Elizabeth Simcoe's Mrs. Simcoe's Diary. Fascinated by this vivid account of the observations and experiences of Upper Canada's first Lieutenant Governor's wife, Baxter delved more deeply into the remarkable partnership between John Graves Simcoe and Mrs. SImcoe. She was a true child of the Enlightenment, and he a visionary whose reach sometimes exceeded his grasp.

Jean has just moved to Kingston ON. She would be more than willing to make a presentation about the background to this latest book - or perhaps about one of her earlier ones - to branches in that area.

Jean spoke about this latest book to the Gov. Simcoe Branch in Toronto on Wed Oct 4. It was a very good presentation, much enjoyed by the audience. Many voiced their appreciation.

If you would like to reach Jean, send a note to Doug Grant at loyalist.trails@uelac.org.

BC Heritage Fair Project: Zen Baily's Presentation to Vancouver Branch

The UELAC Vancouver Branch (audience) were feted to a BC Heritage Fair presentation by Zen Bailey, a Grade 5 student from Capt. James Cook Elementary School in Vancouver.

Zen Baily presented (presenting) her winning BC Heritage Fair Project to the branch membership. Zen's family were in in attendance at the meeting on 20 September 2016 at Bonsor Community & Recreation Centre.

Zen's Heritage Project focuses on her grandmother, Marjorie Turner Bailey, a three-time medal winner during the 1976 Montreal Olympics. We also learned that Marjorie Turner Bailey is one of three women who spearheaded the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown, Nova Scotia.

Zen and her father, Tony are both direct descendants of a Black Loyalists who settled in Birchtown, Nova Scotia after the Revolutionary War in America. It was such a pleasure to have Zen and her family join us for the evening (Zen, Carl and Diane Faris).

...Carl Stymiest, UE

JAR: Recently Discovered Letters Shed New Light on the Battle of Valcour Island

(By C. E. Pippenger, October 11, 2016) The Battle of Valcour Island, fought between American and British fleets for the control of Lake Champlain on October 11-13, 1776, was the only contest between American and British fleets in all the Revolutionary War, and it was an odd affair. The American fleet, a mishmash of various types of ships and gunboats, was commanded by Gen. Benedict Arnold,[1] then one of the most active and respected officers in the Continental Army. The British fleet, an equally odd assortment of ships and boats, was commanded by Master and Commander Thomas Pringle[2] under the eye of Guy Carlton, Governor of Quebec Province and commander-in-chief of British forces in Canada.

The naval fight for the lake was the culmination of a military campaign begun when the Continental Congress ordered the invasion of Canada in 1775. Failing to take the fortified city of Quebec, the Americans laid siege to the provincial capital. The siege lasted until the spring of 1776, when a British fleet under the command of Capt. Charles Douglas bashed its way through the icy St. Lawrence to relieve the city. Fresh British and German troops drove the sick and dispirited American army away from Quebec, up the St. Lawrence, out of Montreal and south up Lake Champlain to their strongholds at Crown Point, Ticonderoga and Mount Independence.

Read more.

Where in the World?

Where is Joni Fraser of Little Forks Branch, with Magda and Anas Saied?

To participate, submit a photo of yourself in UELAC promotional gear at a place of some note and tell us where it is (if you are a member of a branch, please indicate that as well). Send your submission to the editor at loyalist.trails@uelac.org.

Region and Branch Bits

From the UELAC branches, news and events of interest to others.

From the Twittersphere and Beyond

  • Case bottle (photo & description). This glass decanter is likely part of a thirteen-bottle set George Washington used to store his personal supply of liquors during the Revolutionary War.
  • Loyalist Cairn at Port Mouton (Photo), Nova Scotia commemorating arrival of Loyalists in November 1783. CBC: Overgrown Loyalist cemetery honours most 'dashing' force of American Revolution. Port Mouton, N.S., woman wants to clean up cemetery that dates back to about 1783
  • Six Military Routes Used During the American Revolution. You could do worse than look at fall foliage along old military routes in New England. Some of them, originally Indian trails, pass through landscapes that aren't all that different than they were in the 18th century. Some were partially drowned by reservoirs, some paved over by interstate highways. Today they still pass by historic taverns and cemeteries, and stone markers describe the long-ago events that transpired among colonial militiamen, French cavalry, British redcoats, Continental regulars and all their camp followers. New England Historical Society. Read more...
  • Nothing says fall like pumpkins! In this video, Jen & Emily from the Colonial Garden at Colonial Williamsburg give pointers on harvesting pumpkins, and then Tyler from Historic Foodways turns their pumpkin into a pumpkin pudding--or what we'd call pumpkin pie today. (4 minutes)
  • Paw Paw Pudding. Ivy and Jon head to the kitchen with a basket of ripe paw paws! This exotic North American fruit is native to nearly every state east of the Mississippi, but we have yet to find them in any recipes from the 18th century. So what do they do with no recipe to follow? They improvise!
  • 14 yr old Canadian, Annie Rogers knit this Queen Victoria portrait in 1872.
  • The rich history of the Bay of Quinte Ontario was celebrated on Friday, October 14th. The event showcased the premiere of twelve, two-minute stories of the region as part of the History Moments television series now in its sixth season. The series tells untold or forgotten stories from the past from Eastern Ontario communities -- stories of early settlement, founding industries, prominent people, and events, which have shaped the history of the area and Canada. Read more...

Additions to the Loyalist Directory

As time permits, we add information to the Loyalist Directory. The latest additions and updates are as follows:

  • Jones, Jonathan - from Dana Jones
  • Lyon, (Capt.) John - from Stephen McDonald

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