A HISTORY OF CANADIAN WEALTHCHAPTER VI
THE LANDED PROPRIETORS
During this period Canada was dominated by what was popularly called the Family Compact, a term that might be supposed to describe a clique joined and interjoined by ties of family relationships. Lord Durham, however, did not find the term a very appropriate one, considering that there was very little of family connection among the officials, functionaries and other individuals thus united.
Composition of The Family Compact
For a long time, Lord Durham reported, this body of men, receiving at times accessions to its numbers, possessed almost all the highest public offices, by means of which, and of its influence in the Executive Council, it wielded all the powers of Government. . . . Successive Governors, as they came in their turn, are said to have submitted quietly to its influence, or, after a short and unavailing struggle, to have yielded to this well-organized party the real conduct of affairs.
The bench, the magistracy, the high offices of the Episcopal Church, and a great part of the legal profession, are filled by the adherents of this party : by grant or purchase, they have acquired nearly the whole of the waste lands of the Province ; they are all-powerful in the chartered banks, and till lately, shared among themselves almost exclusively all offices of trust and profit. The bulk of this party consists, for the most part, of native-born inhabitants of the colony, or of emigrants who settled in it before the last war with the United States ; the principal members of it belong to the Church of England, and the maintenance of the claims of that Church has always been one of its most distinguishing characteristics.1
The Family Compact in Nova Scotia, however, seems to have been, as it were, much in the family. Two family connections comprehended five of the members of the Executive Council of that Province ; and until almost 1837, when two of them retired from the firm, five were co-partners in one banking house.2
Lavish Distribution of Land in Ontario
The granting of vast acres of land to ecclesiastics was only one of sundry effective ways of giving away territory. Another of the methods was granting lands for so-called public services a form that in both Quebec and Ontario, Lord Durham reported, had been carried on with reckless prodigality, in violation of instructions from the Secretary of State.3
In Upper Canada 3,200,000 acres had been given to what were called United Empire Loyalists or to their children ; these loyalists were refugees from the United States who had settled in Ontario before 1787. Many of their descendants, it may be here commented, are today living in affluence upon the increment of the land then given, especially in Toronto. To militiamen, 730,000 acres were given. Discharged soldiers and sailors received 450,000 acres. Grants totaling 255,000 acres were distributed among magistrates and barristers. To executive councillors and their families 136,000 acres were donated.
Five legislative councillors and their families received 50,000 acres. To a handful of powerful clergymen, 36,900 acres were given as their personal private property. Titles to a lump of 264,000 acres were handed over to persons contracting to make surveys. Certain officers of the army and navy received 92,526 acres. For the endowment of schools, 50,000 acres were set aside.4
To one individual, Col. Talbot, 48,520 acres were given ; to the heirs of General Brock, 12,000 acres, and another 12,000 acres were presented to Dr. Mountain, formerly Anglican Bishop of Quebec.5
Added to the clergy reserves, these land grants, Lord Durham reported, comprised nearly half of all of the surveyed land in the Province.6
The Same Prodigality in the Province of Quebec.
In Lower Canada, otherwise the Province of Quebec, the land grants (exclusive of those to refugee loyalists, as to the amount of which the Crown Lands Department could not give any information to Lord Durham) were : 450,000 acres granted to militiamen ; 72,000 acres to executive councillors ; 48,000 acres to Governor Milnes ; 100,000 acres to Mr. Cushing and to another as a reward for giving information in a case of high treason ; to officers and soldiers 200,000 acres ; and to leaders of townships 1,457,209 acres.
These totals, added to the clergy reserves, made altogether somewhat more than half of the surveyed lands originally at the disposal of the Crown.7 Less than a tenth of the land granted in the province of Ontario had been, up to 1837, occupied by settlers, much less reclaimed and cultivated ; and in the Province of Quebec nineteen-twentieths of the grants (excepting a few townships on the American border) were still unsettled and in a primitive, wild, state.8 The lands were simply held pending the time that they could be sold at a large profit.
Governing Officials as Land Speculators
Most of the lands granted to the loyalists and their children were sold by them for trifles to speculating officials. The price for 200 acres was variously from a gallon of rum to six pounds, seldom the latter.
Among the extensive purchasers of these lands were Mr. Hamilton, a member of the Legislative Council, who bought about 100,000 acres ; Chief Justices Emslie and Powell, and Solicitor-General Grey, who bought from 20,000 to 50,000 acres (each?); and many other members of the Executive and Legislative Councils, as well as of the House of Assembly, were very large purchasers.9 As to the militiamens land grants, Lord Durham reported that they were often disposed of for a mere trifle to land speculators who never settled.10 The fraudulent means by which the Leaders and Associates in Lower Canada obtained 1,457,209 acres were described by Lord Durham at length.11
Of the large landed proprietors in Lower Canada, many were absentees ; in fact, 219,700 acres were owned by absentee proprietors. The remaining proprietors lived generally in the cities of Montreal, Quebec and Three Rivers, and were men of affluence and of the most influential class.12
Almost All of P.E.I. Given Away on One Day
The 1,400,000 acres of remarkably potential rich agricultural soil on Prince Edward Island given away to a handful of individuals was a striking instance of the land jobbing carried on with such flagrant and arbitrary high-handedness.
Nearly the whole of this island was alienated in a single day ; and the grantees were mostly absentees living in Great Britain.13 Sir James Montgomery and Sons owned several townships. Lord Selkirk, Lord Westmorland, the heirs of John Cambridge, Rev. J. Macdonnell, Sir J.F. Seymour and others all owned large landed properties.14 While in the office of Provincial Treasurer, Thomas Haviland (as he testified himself) acted as the resident agent for the properties of Seymour and another large absentee landlord.15
These grants were made upon certain conditions, one of which was settlement duties. Lord Durham reported that these conditions were totally disregarded. The Government neglected to enforce them in spite of the constant efforts of the people and the legislature to force upon its attention the evils under which they labored.
Lord Durhams report continued : The great bulk of the island is still possessed by absentees, who hold it as a sort of reversionary interest, which requires no present attention, but may become valuable some day or other through the growing wants of the inhabitants. But, in the meantime, the inhabitants are subjected to the greatest inconvenience, nay, to the most serious injury, from the state of property in land. The absent proprietors will neither improve the land, nor will let others improve it. They retain the land, and keep it in a state of wilderness.16
On the entire Island only 100,000 acres were under cultivation. Such settlers as came over were mostly English and Lowland Scotch, and these had to pay prices ranging from six shillings, three pence (Halifax Currency)17 to 20 shillings per acre, or take out long leases.
Two Land Companies Get Millions of Acres
Besides the extraordinarily large land grants given to individuals, enormous areas were obtained by land companies. The Canada Company, headed by John Galt, was one of these. In 1826 it secured 3,500,000 acres in Ontario, for which land it paid the nominal price of from 50 cents to $1 an acre. This Company, it was charged in the Provincial Parliament, then fraudulently evaded taxation by not taking out a patent until it sold the land to individuals, and then the buyers had to pay the tax.18 The wealth taken by this Company from Ontario during the nearly l00 years of its existence has been extremely large, running into many millions of dollars. The Company still owns about 100,000 acres of land in Essex, Kent, Lambdon, Middlesex, Huron and other counties in Ontario, and is directed from London, England.
The British American Land Company was another land corporation. Its operations were mainly in Lower Canada, where it bought from the Government 847,661 acres and subsequently the remainder of 1,044,272 acres for £170,32I, 9 shillings, 5 pence, of which sum, £60,000, it was provided, could be used for improvements. One of its first directors was Russell Ellice, and its Commissioners in Canada were Hon. Peter McGill and Hon. George Moffett. Although the Company surrendered part of its purchase in 1841, the holdings it retained were enormous, and a source of large and increasing revenues. From 1844 to 1854 Sir A.T. Galt, son of John Galt, was its Commissioner in Canada, and he was succeeded by Richard William Heneker.
These latter details, seemingly merely a record of forgotten names, are of importance since both the British American Land Company and many of its officials, as well as other land speculators, subsequently used part of the capital (thus acquired in selling lands at exorbitant prices to settlers) in promoting or getting control of banks, railroads, cotton and woolen factories, mines and other concerns. John Galt became the president of the Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich Railroad Company. The British American Land Company was instrumental (as we shall see) in founding the textile mills at Sherbrooke, and likewise were A.T. Galt and Heneker. To A.T. Galts multifold later railroad and other activities we shall have frequent occasion to advert ;19 as for Heneker he became president of the Eastern Townships Bank, was one of the promoters and a director of the International Railway Company, and he became a promoter and director of numerous manufacturing concerns, one of which was the Paton Manufacturing Company a large textile establishment at Sherbrooke.20
Canada a Dumping Ground for Paupers
Owning such huge areas of land in Canada, it was now to the interest of the titled and other absentee proprietors in England and Scotland to stimulate emigration. Every new settler meant an increase in the increment certain to flow from their land holdings. At the same time, the parishes of England found Canada a convenient dumping ground for their overflow of paupers.
From 1815 to 1830 a total of 168,615 immigrants arrived at the port of Quebec, according to the records of the immigration agent.21 In his report of 1839 Lord Durham stated that in the previous nine years 263,089 immigrants had landed at the port of Quebec, and that if certain facts had been known, the immigration of the poorer classes would have ceased. Reduced to pauperism by the results of centuries of plundering, extortion and exploitation of the ruling class at home, these emigrants were herded in foul ships and packed off to Canada under the most inhuman and horrible conditions.
Condition of the Immigrants
Dr. John Skey, Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals, and president of the Quebec Emigrants Society, testified that the emigrants with families from the South of Ireland in particular, as well as the pauper emigrants sent by parishes from England, arrived in large proportions, in a state of great poverty, although the voluntary emigrants from England had a little money.22
Dr. Charles Poole testified that the poorer classes of Irish and the English paupers sent by parishes, were, on arrival of vessels, in many instances, entirely without provisions, so much so that it was necessary immediately to supply them with food from shore ; and some of these ships had already received food and water from other vessels with which they had fallen in. . . . This destitution, or shortness of provisions, combined with dirt and bad ventilation, had invariably produced fevers of a contagious character, and occasioned some deaths on the passage, and from such vessels numbers varying from twenty to ninety each vessel, had been admitted to hospital with contagious fevers immediately upon arrival. For lack of proper food, the immigrants fall into a state of debility and low spirits by which they are incapacitated from the exertions required for cleanliness and exercise, and also indisposed to solid food, more particularly the women and children ; and on their arrival here I find many cases of typhus fever among them.23
The testimony given by Dr. Joseph Morrin, Inspecting Physician of the Port of Quebec and a Commissioner of the Marine and Emigrant Hospital, was to the same effect. With few exceptions, he said, the condition of the ships was abominable, so much so that the pestiferous odors could be easily distinguished (in a favorable wind or in a dead calm) when an emigrant ship arrived. I have known as many as from thirty to forty deaths to have taken place, in the course of a voyage, from typhus fever on board of a ship containing from 500 to 600 passengers ; and within six weeks after the arrival of some vessels and the landing of the passengers at Quebec, the hospital has received upwards of 100 patients at different times from among them. Children of sick or dead parents were left without protection and wholly dependent on the casual charity of the inhabitants.
Landed Destitute and Turned Adrift
But what was the fate of those immigrants who had escaped sickness ?
Even those who had sailed with a little money were often destitute ; the extortions of the ship captains on the passage had robbed them of their last shilling. Of these particular emigrants Dr. Morrin reported that they were generally forcibly landed by the masters of vessels, and without a shilling in their pockets to get a nights lodging. They commonly established themselves along the wharves and at the different landing places, crowding into any place of shelter they could obtain, where they subsisted principally upon the charity of the inhabitants.
For six weeks at a time, from the commencement of the emigrant ship season, I have known the shores of the river along Quebec, for about a mile and a half, crowded with these unfortunate people, the places of those who might have moved off being constantly supplied by fresh arrivals, and there being daily drafts of from 10 to 30 taken to the hospital with infectious disease. The consequence was its spread among the inhabitants of the city, especially in the districts in which these unfortunate creatures had established themselves. Those who were not absolutely without money got into low taverns and boarding houses and cellars where they congregated in immense numbers, and where their state was not any better than it had been on board ship. This state of things existed within my knowledge from 1826 to 1832, and probably for some years previously.25
According to Sir James Kempt, who reported on one particular shipload of immigrants arriving at Quebec, in 1830, those immigrants were described in a letter from the magistrates of a parish in England as industrious people who had been trained to some branch of woolen manufacture, but who would cheerfully accept any employment that might be offered.26 It appears that Kempt remonstrated in the strongest terms on the cruelty of attempting to relieve the English and Irish parishes by sending such hordes of paupers to a distant colony when they arrived destitute among strangers.27
A Swarm of Impoverished Workers
Few of these people had agricultural knowledge ; numbers who took to the bush found that they could not make a living, and thronged to the cities. Many resort to the large towns in the Provinces, with their starving families to eke out by day-labor and begging together a wretched existence, while such others as could go, tempted by a more genial climate and higher wages, went to the United States.28 The many, forced by stern necessity, remained in Canada. The Toronto Mirror, in an editorial of May 20, 1842, and in numerous other editorials, complained that Toronto was crowded with laborers and mechanics who had completed the railroads and canals in Great Britain, and that large numbers of these impoverished workers were seeking employment.
Famine in Europe soon drove greater numbers of emigrants, many of whom were agriculturalists, to Canada and the United States ; and of these, great numbers perished during the passage. The report of the Commissioners of Immigration for the year 1847 showed that in that year of famine and disease, 17,445 British subjects died on the passage to Canada and New Brunswick, or in quarantine or in the hospitals. This mortality did not include those perishing from contagion disseminated in the principal Canadian cities and settlements.29 In 1858 is was reckoned that of the European emigration, three-fourths were agricultural and common laborers whose wages (provided that they obtained work) ranged in Canada from $10 to $20 a month with board and lodging.30
Here, then, was an enormous and continuing influx of workers which, added to the proletariat already in Canada, formed a dependent body of surplus labor. It constituted to a considerable extent the very kind of labor needed at that time in lumbering, building roads, canals and railroads and in agricultural pursuits. The era of native manufacturing on any important scale had not come, but the era of land clearing, building of roads, canals and railroads was creating fortunes for contractors or owners. From the swelling volume of cheap labor the capitalist could have his pick, employing them at the lowest possible wages.
Cruelty of the Laws
The laws were pitilessly barbaric and cruel. Theoretically, these laws applied to all offenders, but the prosecuting attorneys, magistrates and judges enforcing them were all of the upper class. These officials visited the severest punishment upon poor offenders.
In Ontario the laws were cruel enough. But in the Province of Quebec they were more so. In Montreal 54 persons some mere boys were hanged between the years of 1812 and 1840 for various offenses, mostly of minor character. Seven were hanged for murder ; twelve for burglary ; one for robbing ; two for shoplifting ; two for larceny ; thirteen for stealing horses, cattle or sheep ; one for forgery ; two for sacrilege ; twelve for high treason and two for rape.31 In addition, 239 more offenders during this period were sentenced to be hanged but were graciously reprieved ; of these cases, 39 were for burglary, 15 for robbery, 23 for larceny, 46 for horse, cattle and sheep stealing, 93 for high treason, etc.32
For petty larceny, a womans punishment was often 25 lashes on the bare back ; and men, for the same offense, often received 50 lashes on the naked back. If a soldier committed any breach of discipline, his sentence varied from 100 to 500 lashes, and sometimes it was 1,000 lashes. Even during the first decades of the nineteenth century grand larceny was punished by branding the palm of the hand with a red hot iron. Negro slavery was abolished in Ontario in 1793, but remained in force in the Province of Quebec until 1833 ; if a slave, man or woman, pilfered the least article, 50 lashes on the naked back were publicly given. The pillory was long also a common method of punishment for offenders of all ages and races.33
In Nova Scotia, any servant quitting a master or mistress without leave, was subject to arrest, and upon capture was required to serve double the period of his or her bonded term ; the term servant comprised not only domestic menials but many varieties of laborers. No one could leave the Province without a pass, and any ship captain taking away any such fugitive, was subject to a fine of £50. Poor children were torn from their parents, and bound out as apprentices by the overseers of the poor. Beggars and wanderers were summarily arrested, and by force hired out for a term not exceeding seven years. Idle persons or tramps were treated as rogues and vagabonds, and imprisoned. For even the most trivial felonies the letter T was burned on the offenders left thumb, and the commission of the pettiest larceny entailed a prison term of not more than seven years at hard labor. Stocks and lashing were applied for misdemeanors.
Atrocious Jail Conditions
Such were some of the punishments inflicted, early in the nineteenth century, upon the propertyless, no matter what the extenuating circumstances, however young or old, feeble or sick. Driven by poverty into some violation of the minute and drastic laws enacted for the protection of property, they were ruthlessly punished according to the rigors of the prevailing code.
Even after this code had been somewhat altered, the penal laws and the prisons continued to be instruments of cruelty and terror.
In their report for 1846, the Inspector for the Provincial Penitentiary in Canada related how youths of so tender an age as eight years old are sent to the Penitentiary, the rules of which impose constant hard labor and silence, and who are subject to the same punishment as mature convicts. At the same time Prison Chaplain R.J. Rogers reported upon the extraordinary fact of a convict, only eight years old, having lately been introduced into the Penitentiary ; and further that at the present moment, three convicts are under 12, and twelve under 16, years of age.34
The varieties and species of abominable tortures and other cruelties inflicted by the keepers of the Provincial Penitentiary at Kingston upon the convicts were graphically described in a legislative report.
For the most trivial offense they were flogged mercilessly with a rawhide or put to the torture of the Box or the Water Cure. Frequently the keepers amused themselves firing arrows at the convicts while those unfortunates were at meals. The bread-and-water and dungeon punishment was extremely common, and if a convict complained of the starvation diet, he was starved still more as a punishment for his presumption. For speaking and laughing, convicts were rigorously punished.35
It was at about this time that what was styled a highly moral sentiment developed into an agitation against general solitary imprisonment. The reason was by no means exclusively humanitarian. The solitary system was supplanted by the contract system under which convict labor was hired out to manufacturers who, profiting greatly, were strong in their praise of the humanitarian spirit which had done away with solitary confinement.36
The Jails and Prisons
Not only were the jails and prisons physically loathsome, but offenders of all ages and degrees were indiscriminately herded together in the most demoralizing proximity. We shall here simply give one instance, as related in the annual report, in 1849, of Walter C. Crofton, secretary of the Prison Registration Board :
I take the liberty of stating to the Board an instance which came under my own observation, as one of a case too numerous, I fear :
E.D., a girl of about 15 years of age, the daughter of a very respectable farmer, hired as a servant in a gentlemans family. She was accused of having stolen some trifling article to the value of 3s., 6d., as laid in the indictment, and the evidence being very strong against her, she was found guilty, and sentenced to six months imprisonment. Many exertions were used to obtain a mitigation of the sentence, but owing to the obstinacy of the prosecutor they proved in vain ; she remained the period of her sentence in the ward with two depraved characters, and came out one of the worst persons I ever met, addicted to every species of vice and infamy. She had lost all her self-respect, and her parents had cast her off. She met every attempt to reason with her by the expression that she had been sent innocent to jail and that the law had forced her to become a vagabond ; and true enough innocent she was, for the very articles she had been convicted of stealing were found. I can have no hesitation in asserting my belief that such cases are too common, and yet with a knowledge of such facts, no effort has been made to introduce a system of classification in our District Jails.37
The horrors of the penal code were supplemented by those of the civil ; under the imprisonment for debt laws, the jails were crowded with the poor whose only crime was that they owed a little money to some landlord, shopkeeper or merchant.
1 Imperial Blue Books on Affairs Relating to Canada, Vol. X, p. 53.
2 Address of Nova Scotia Assembly to the Crown, April 13, 1837, Imperial Blue Books on Affairs Relating to Canada, Vol. A., Confidential, 1828-1837, Appendix, p. 30.
3 Ibid., p. 78.
4 Ibid., pp. 78-79.
6 In his Reminiscences, Charles Durand, barrister of Toronto, wrote that the leading people in Ontario were land grabbers and were scions, or principals of the Family Compact, and the worst of them was Dr. James Strachan, Bishop of the Episcopal Church and one of the three members of the Executive Council of Ontario. They wanted to get as much land as they could, keep it for a rise, let others settle around it, and increase the value of the vacant land monopolized ; and then, of course, make their fortunes. When, in 1827, Francis Collins, publisher of The Freeman at York, criticised the official aristocracy of York, and referred to John Beverley Robinson, then Attorney-General of Upper Canada, as His native malignity, Robinson (Durand says) caused Collins to be indicted and tried for criminal libel, and Collins was fined heavily and sentenced to imprisonment. This severity caused great sensation and clamor.
7 Imperial Blue Books on Affairs Relating to Canada, Vol. X, pp. 78-79.
8 Ibid., p. 79.
10 Ibid., p. 81.
11 Ibid., pp. 79-80. An investigation conducted by Commissioner Buller, in 1838, under instructions from Lord Durham, revealed that 105 individuals or families owned 1,404,500 acres outside the seignories that is, not included in the seignories.
12 Imperial Blue Books on Affairs Relating to Canada, Vol. X, p. 63.
13 Testimony of Robert Hodgson, Attorney-General for Prince Edward Island, Appendix B. to Lord Durhams Report, p. 169.
14 Testimony of Thomas Haviland, Provincial Treasurer of P.E.I., Ibid., p. 174.
16 Imperial Blue Books on Affairs Relating to Canada, Vol. X, p. 86.
17 Halifax currency : The English pound sterling was $4.85 ; the pound Halifax currency was $4.
18 The Toronto Mirror, February 3, 1838.
19 For the present, it may be here stated that A.T. Galt was an active promoter of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada and of the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway (which soon became a part of the Grand Trunk system). As Commissioner of the British American Land Company he subscribed for $100,000 of St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway stock, and later loaned it a similar sum.
20 The Sherbrooke Cotton Factory was chartered March 29, 1845, by A.T. Galt and others. The Sherbrooke (Cotton) Manufacturing Company was incorporated with a capital of £50,000, May 27, 1857, by Galt, Heneker and associates. See, Statutes of Canada, 1857, p. 815.
21 Report on Canadian Archives, Report of the Archivist, 1899 Vol., p. xiv.
22 Imperial Blue Books on Affairs Relating to Canada, Vol. X, Appendix B., p. 83.
23 Ibid., p. 89.
24 The captain usually told the emigrants that they need not lay in provisions for more than three weeks or a month, well knowing that the average passage was six weeks, and often eight or nine weeks. Laying by his own stock of provisions, the captain, after the emigrants supplies had run out, obliged them to pay as much as 400 per cent. on the cost price for food, and of nauseating quality at that.Ibid., p. 90.
25 Imperial Blue Books on Affairs Relating to Canada, Durhams Report, Vol. X, Appendix B., pp. 86-87.
26 Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. xiii.
28 Lord Durhams Report, Imperial Blue Books, etc., Vol. X, p. 92.
29 Ibid., Vol. 27, p. 56, Joseph Howe to Earl Grey, Jan. 16, 1851. Howe stated that perhaps an equal number died on the passage to the United States.
30 Canada Directory, 1857-1858, p. 628.
31 Borthwicks History of Montreal, p. 94. Until its abolition in the reign of George IV, the ancient privilege of benefit of clergy remained, by which influential criminals claimed the right of trial by clergy instead of by the civil authorities. Even boys were hanged for the most trivial offenses ; in 1813, B. Clement, a boy not quite 14 years old, was executed for stealing a cow.
33 Ibid., pp. 87-94.
34 Legislative Council Sessional Papers, 1846, No. 2, Vol. 5, Appendix G.
35 Legislative Assembly Sess. Papers, 1849, Vol. VIII, Appendix B.B.B.B. and Ibid., 1850, Vol. IX, Appendix R.R.
36 Ibid., 1850, Vol. IX, Appendix R.R.
37 Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Canada, 1849, Appendix No. 1 to Vol. VIII. (The pages in these records were not numbered.) Our gaols, Crofton said further, are little better than nurseries of crime ; old offenders are kept, as it were, to instruct the younger ones how they may best succeed in their profession.