of hanged republican patriots in 1838
Randall White, PhD, Political Science author,
policy analyst and observer to the Executive Committee of
Citizens for a Canadian Republic. -
Old Court House,
Toronto, May 20, 2002
Although this is
in some ways a sad occasion, I am very happy to be here, to
commemorate the hanging of the Canadian republican patriots
Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, some 164 years ago.
In this city and
this country, I think, our memories of the Rebellion of 1837 are
not as strong nowadays as they might be. I’d like to offer
some special thanks to Charles Roach and his colleagues for
arranging this event, and helping us to remember the struggles
of the past, which laid the groundwork for so much that we enjoy
certainly be wrong to say that the 1837 Rebellion has been
altogether forgotten. An apt image of its English-speaking
leader, William Lyon Mackenzie, is on the walls of the Queen
Street subway station, not too far from where we are now. In
present-day Toronto there is even a drink for sale, under the
brand name Upper Canada Rebellion.
In something of
an accidental preparation for today’s event as well, this past
Saturday evening I found myself going to see Michael
Hollingsworth’s play, The Mackenzie — Papineau Rebellion. It
is currently being performed at the Cameron House, not too far
west of here on Queen Street.
A friend remarked
after the play on how we were quite concerned nowadays to cut
our local heroes down to something like their true size.
Rebellion in the old Canadian provinces was not a world-class
event, on the scale of the American or French Revolutions.
Mackenzie and Papineau and Lount and Matthews and all the others
who participated in it are not great icons in the international
history of modern democracy. They were just ordinary people, who
had come to this country in search of a free and independent
life, for themselves and their many children. ("Matthews
left a widow and 15 children, and Lount left a family of
At the same time,
the heroes of our local struggle for freedom are all the more
impressive because they were and aspired to be no more than
ordinary citizens of a new democracy in Canada. A few days ago,
looking through William Kilbourn’s history of the 1837
Rebellion, The Firebrand, I particularly stumbled across two
incidents from the last days of Samuel Lount which seemed to
bring this point home to me.
Though no giant
in any respect, Lount was a generous and public-spirited man,
who had many friends with cause to remember his ordinary good
works. They included some aboriginal people of Canada from the
wider Toronto region, who came to visit him in jail, just before
his execution for the crime of treason against the British
Crown. These "Indians came down to" the city of
Toronto, a source of the day tells us, "to see if they
could not save him, but of course it was no use, poor
urged all his friends during his last days to keep their spirits
high. Though it had failed for the moment, the rebellion had
been a just cause with destiny behind it. In the end, as Lount
said, "Canada would yet be free."
No more than a
decade after the deaths of Lount and Matthews, this prophecy
would in fact begin to become true, with the first triumph of
"responsible government" in the popularly elected
legislature of the old United Province of Canada. And I think it’s
fair enough to say that without Lount and Matthews and all their
rebellious companions we who live in Canada today would not
enjoy the undoubted freedom we do have.
the sad deaths of Lount and Matthews might also remind us that
in Canada today we are still not quite as free as we ought to
be. Real democratic societies are always under construction.
There are still a few more steps to be taken on the journey that
Lount and Matthews began. As we struggle ourselves in the years
ahead, we can be happy that, because of them, we will not have
to show as much courage as they did then. Or at least here’s
hoping too that none of us will have to be publicly hanged, to
fulfill the remaining republican destiny which the unfinished
Rebellion of 1837 still lays at our door.