Monday, December 30, 2013

The Mystique of the Burning of the Parliament Buildings in Montreal, Part 2

The Mystique of the Burning of the Parliament Buildings in Montreal, Part 2

By Natsumi Koshigaya
The Daily Magi
October 25, 2060


On the night of April 26, a group of men vandalized the residences of reformist MPPs Hinks, Wilson and Benjamin Holmes at Beaver Hall. The men then proceeded to the house of Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, on rue de l'Aqueduc in the faubourg Saint-Antoine, vandalizing it and setting his stable on fire. The fire propagated to his house, however no one was inside at the time. The fire was extinguished by a detachment of soldiers, but not before it had caused significant damage to Lafontaine's private library. Returning toward downtown Montreal, the men broke windows on the boarding house where Baldwin and Price resided as well as those of McNamee's Inn, two buildings forming the corner of the Catholic Cemetery street. They also attacked the residences of Solicitor General Mr. Drummond on Craig street and that of Dr. Wolfred Nelson, at the corner of Saint-Laurent and Petite Saint-Jacques.

A group of Tory leaders including George Moffatt and Gugy convened a new public meeting of the "Friends of Peace" on Champ-de-Mars on Friday April 27 at 12:00 pm. There they tried to calm their followers down and proposed the resumption of peaceable means to resolve the crisis. It was resolved to submit a petition praying the Queen to relieve Elgin from office and disavow the Rebellion Losses Act. Confronted with riots threatening the lives of citizens and damaging their properties, the government took the decision to raise a special police force. On the morning of April 27, the authorities informed the population that men who would show up at 6:00 pm in front of the dépôt de l'ordonnance on rue du Bord-de-l'Eau would receive arms. Some 800 men, principally Canadians from Montreal and its suburbs and some Irish immigrants of Griffintown, presented themselves and between 500 to 600 constables were armed and barracked near the Bonsecours Market. During the arms distribution, a group of men showed up and attacked the new constables by firing on them and throwing rocks at them. The newly armed men fought back and wounded three of their assailants.

During a public meeting on Place du Castor on that night, general Charles Stephen Gore stepped on the hustings and dispersed the crowd by swearing on his honour that the new constables would be disarmed by morning. This is indeed what occurred, as the new force supposed to act under the orders of Montreal's justices of the peace was demobilized less than 24 hours after being armed. A part of the 71st regiment equipped with two cannons was mobilized to repel a group of armed men marching toward the Bonsecours Market. The soldiers blocked rue Notre-Dame near the Jacques Cartier Market. Colonel Gugy intervened and dissuaded the rioters from attacking the Bonsecours Market.

On Saturday April 28, the representatives present at the Bonsecours Market appointed a special committee to prepare an address to the governor by which the Legislative Assembly deplored the acts of violence of the past three days, especially the burning of the Parliament Buildings, and gave its full support to the governor to enforce the law and restore public peace. The representatives voted for the address 36 to 16. While not necessarily supportive of the acts of violence shaking the town of Montreal, the conservative circles of British Canada publicly expressed their contempt for the representative of the Crown. The members of the Thistle Society met and voted to strike Governor Elgin's name from the list of benefactors. On April 28, the Saint Andrew's Society also struck him from its list of members.

On Sunday April 29, the day of the Christian Sabbath, the town of Montreal was at rest and no incidents were reported. On Monday April 30, the governor and his dragoon escort left his suburban residence of Monklands for the Government House, then lodging in the Château Ramezay on rue Notre-Dame in downtown Montreal, to publicly receive, at 3:00 pm, the address of the House of Assembly voted on the 28th. When the governor entered rue Notre-Dame toward 14:30 pm, a crowd of protesters threw rocks and eggs and other projectiles against his carriage and the armed escort protecting him. He was hooted at by some, applauded by others along the way. The representatives, also protected by an armed escort, arrived at the meeting with the governor in the Bonsecours Market by way of the ruelle Saint-Claude.

After the ceremony for the presentation of the address, the governor and his escort returned to Monklands by taking rue St-Denis in order to avoid conflict with the crowd still demonstrating against his presence. The stratagem did not work and the governor and his guards were intercepted at the corner of Saint-Laurent and Sherbrooke by rioters who again pelted them with rocks. The brother of the governor, colonel Bruce, was seriously injured by a rock that hit his head. Ermatinger and captain Jones were also injured.

On that day, Elgin wrote to Colonial Secretary Earl Grey to suggest that if he [Elgin] failed "to recover that position of dignified neutrality between contending parties" that he had strived to maintain, that it might be in the interest of the metropolitan government to replace him with someone who would not be personally obnoxious to an important part of Canada's population. Earl Grey, to the contrary, believed that his replacement would be harmful and would have the effect of encouraging those who violently and illegally opposed the authority of his government, which continued to receive the full support of the Westminster cabinet. On May 10, a delegation of citizens from Toronto, who had come to Montreal to deliver an address in support of the Earl of Elgin, were attacked while in the Hôtel Têtu.

The Tories sent Allan MacNab and Cayley to London in early May to bring their petitions to the Imperial Parliament and lobby their case with the Colonial Office. The government party delegated Francis Hinks, who left Montreal on May 14, to represent the point of view of the governor, his Executive Council, and the majority of the members in both Houses of Parliament. The former colonial secretary, William Ewart Gladstone, of the Tory Party, sided with the Canadian opposition and exercised all his influence in its favour. On June 14, John Charles Herries, a Tory member of the House of Commons for Stamford, presented a motion to disavow the Rebellion Losses Act assented by the Earl of Elgin on April 25. But the governor of British North America received the support of both John Russell, the Whig Prime Minister as well as the Tory leader of the opposition Robert Peel. On June 16, the House of Commons rejected Herries' motion by a majority of 141 votes. On June 19, Lord Brougham introduced a motion in the House of Lords to suspend the Rebellion Losses Act until it is amended to insure that no person who participated to the rebellion against the established government be compensated. The motion was defeated 99 to 96.

On the morning of August 15, John Orr, Robert Cooke, John Nier, Jr., John Ewing and Alexander Courtney were charged with arson and arrested by justices McCord, Wetherall and Ermatinger. All were released on bail except for Courtney. The transfer of the accused from the Court House to the prison was a repeat of Perry's transfer on April 26. A crowd, determined to deliver up Courtney, attacked the military escort protecting his car, but were pushed back at the points of bayonets. A gathering formed at dusk (after 8:00 pm), in front of the Orr Hotel, on rue Notre-Dame. Men endeavoured to raise barricades of three to four feet in height using the paving stones of the Saint-Gabriel and Notre-Dame streets. The authorities were informed of what was going on and a detachment of the 23rd regiment was sent to undo the work before the barricades could be armed. Some of the men who ran off when the army showed up regrouped and decided to attack the houses of Lafontaine and the boarding house where Baldwin was residing.

At around 10:00 pm, some 200 men attacked the residence of Lafontaine, who was at home and without a guard. It was around 5:00 pm when he learned of a rumour circulating in town saying that his house was going to be attacked. At around 6 or 7:00 pm, he sent a note to captain Wetherall to tell him about the rumour. Around the same time, some friends who had heard the rumour arrived on their own to help him defend his life and his property. Among them were Étienne-Paschal Taché, C.-J. Coursol, Joseph Beaudry, Moïse Brossard, and Harkin. Guns were fired on both sides. The attackers retreated with seven wounded, including William Mason, the son of a blacksmith living on Craig street, who died of his wounds the following morning. The cavalry commanded by captain Sweeney which Wetherall had sent to protect Lafontaine arrived later and missed the entire action. The Tory press gave great coverage of the death of Mason, and, on the August 18, a grand funeral procession marched on Craig, Bonsecours and Saint-Paul street, as well as on Place Jacques-Cartier, before going toward the English cemetery. An enquiry of the circumstances of Mason's death was opened by coroners Jones and Coursol. Lafontaine was called in to testify before the jury in the Cyrus Hotel, on Place Jacques Cartier, on August 20 at 10:00 am. While the co-premier was inside the hotel, some men spread oil in the front staircase and set it on fire. The building was evacuated and Lafontaine exited under the protection of the military guards.

On May 9, Sherwood, MPPs for Toronto, proposed to move the capital alternatively to Toronto or Quebec City. After a debate in which other cities were thrown in, Sherwood's proposal to relocate to Toronto was approved 34 to 29. On May 30, the provincial parliament was prorogued until August 9 by general William Rowan in place of governor Elgin who no longer wanted to leave Monklands. A proclamation by the governor announced the move on November 14. The Parliament stayed prorogued until it reconvened in Toronto on May 14, 1850. Unlike Montreal, Toronto was a homogeneous town at the linguistic level; English was the common language of all main ethnic and religious groups inhabiting it. By comparison, the Montreal of the time of governor Metcalfe (1843–45) counted 27,908 Canadians, the majority French-speaking, and 15,668 immigrants from the British Isles. The statistics were similar when looking at the whole county of Montreal. In 1857 Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the new capital.

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