Lachine Riots

July 4, 1812 in Lachine, Lower Canada

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In the summer of 1812, Governor General George Prevost was aware of his precarious position in Lower Canada. He was reluctantly preparing for a war he still hoped would be avoided. He knew that if war broke out, Montreal was likely to be an early American objective. The Americans would attack Montreal in an attempt to cut the St. Lawrence River lifeline between Quebec City and the rest of Canada. If Montreal fell, Upper Canada would be swallowed up by the United States.

There were very few British troops stationed around Montreal. Prevost understoods that the fate of Lower Canada laid in the hands of the French-Canadians who made up the majority of its population. The Americans were counting on the Canadiens to turn against the British administration once the shooting started. In fact, the political and religious elites of French Quebec have warned that American-style democracy and ideas presented a serious social and economic threatened to French-Canadian culture. Against this backdrop, Prevost arrived in Montreal. He prepared to conscript 2,000 local bachelors into the militia.

On July 4, a number of men from the parish of Pointe Claire protested. When the army tried to forcibly round up the demonstrators, the mob resisted and moved toward the village of Lachine, where they hoped to seize boats and escape. The army followed and a riot broks out. Shots were fired from both sides; 2 civilians were killed. Hundreds of soldiers from the British 49th Regiment descended on the community and began arresting suspects. Soon, they had more prisoners than they could lock up.

Luckily for the local authorities, Prevost was on hand to exercise his renowned diplomatic skills. The Governor General was part Swiss and fluent in French. He was fully aware of the importance of gaining the support of the overwhelming Catholic French-Canadians. With the exception of the ringleaders, he pardoned the demonstrators. He also introduced new measures to guarantee linguistic and religious freedoms to French-Canadians. In doing so, Prevost managed to secure an increased measure of trust and respect from Quebecois society.

French-Canadians would play an important role in the defense of British North America. The Voltigeurs Canadiens, under the command of Charles-Michel de Salaberry, became one of the most famous Canadian regiments.

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