The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812

The French Revolution

John Graves Simcoe, Governor of Upper Canada, circa 1795

Caption: John Graves Simcoe, Governor of Upper Canada, circa 1795

Whereas calm had returned to North America, major upheavals were on the horizon in Europe. On July 14, 1789, the people of Paris took the Bastille, the despised symbol of monarchical corruption. Revolution then spread throughout France. The Canadian press closely followed these events as they unfolded.

Because of the new ideas propagated by the French Revolution, and by the colonists arriving from the United States, there was increasing pressure across the country for elected assemblies. The British Parliament was so informed and, after heated debate, passed the Constitutional Act at the end of 1791. The Act divided Canada into two provinces: Upper Canada, with an English-speaking majority (present-day Ontario), and Lower Canada, with a French-speaking majority (present-day Quebec). This new regime, with its elected parliaments, was introduced in 1792 and was welcomed as representing "true liberty. .. all the way to Hudson Bay."

From a military standpoint, the division of Canada into two provinces did not lead to many changes, but a regular colonial corps was created to augment the Upper Canada garrison. Commanded by the first lieutenant-governor of the new province, Colonel John Graves Simcoe, it took the name of the Queen's Rangers. It was a small regiment with an authorized 432 officers and soldiers. In fact, however, it consisted of only two companies, and these would never be complete, the corps never attaining a strength of more than approximately 350 men. Even though, apart from its guard duty, it was used mainly to build roads and fortifications, it was decided that the men should wear the green light infantry uniform. Some of the Queen's Rangers, including several officers, were recruited from among Loyalist veterans, and others still were recruited from England. In 1792 the regiment moved to Newark (present-day Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario) and it stayed there until the seat of government for the new province moved to York (Toronto) three years later. Detachments of the Queen's Rangers had already been there since 1793 and they built the artery that would become the most famous in the Queen City: Yonge Street.