150 years later and not much different

Lloydtown Rebellion Volumes I and II
Lloydtown Rebellion Volumes I and II

Church Street ends at Rebellion Way, connecting Brownsville, now known as Schomberg, to Lloydtown, a sleepy village of great importance to our national heritage. As you proceed, you might notice a Heritage King plaque on a home announcing that it once belonged to Doctor Robert Ramsay and some forty years later to the butcher, George T. Skinner. History is full of violent ironies.

If we are to consider its impact on the removal of the Family Compact and the subsequent rise of responsible government in Canada, Lloydtown remains second in importance only to Toronto. But outside of the area, few even know it exists.

Further along, churches of various denominations constructed a long time ago, betray the diversity that spanned the community from its earliest days. Today, they are merely churches, actively attended by many of the same families who can relay stories from around the dinner table of great-great-grandfathers that took part in the same Canadian Rebellion of Upper Canada that the rest of the country glosses over in eighth grade.

Its founder, Jesse Lloyd, the son of Welsh Quakers, was a man of jovial character and high principles. It is a matter of some importance that his family migrated from Pennsylvania, where they had resided since 1639 after fleeing religious persecution during the Bishop Wars of their homeland. Their immigration from America also arose out of the need to avoid persecution for their beliefs and refusal to pick a side in the War of 1812. Instead, they subjected themselves to starvation and great peril, crossing the Niagara Gorge, on foot and in the depth of winter, before arriving in Upper Canada, what we now refer to as Ontario, and settling in King Township.

It says a great deal about the state of affairs in Upper Canada that by 1837 Jesse Lloyd was willing to sacrifice everything to help William Lyon Mackenzie. He recognized the risks, deeding all of his property to his wife Phoebe, in case victory proved to be more elusive than Mackenzie professed.

That was a wise move since by year’s end he was on the run, hiding amongst his Pennsylvanian relatives, with five hundred pounds on his head.

No doubt for Jesse, it was a matter of moral obligation to play the part that he did. He had a large family and was responsible for the well-being of the families belonging to the workers engaged on his farms and in his mills. As Overseer of Roads, serving two terms while refusing remuneration, Jesse would have been intimately familiar and affected by the issue of clergy reserves. According to the Constitutional Act of 1791, one-seventh of all lands granted was reserved to support the Church of England.

The majority of the population of Upper Canada was not Protestant, and the clergy reserves were mostly unused, unmanaged portions of land that served no purpose other than interrupting the continuity of settlement and making it difficult to expand roads. The clergy reserves were little more than a form of political and religious oppression.

As stated in W. Stewart Wallace’s, The Encyclopedia of Canada, “The province became a sort of chequer-board in which the black squares represented unimproved lands. This economic grievance, added to the religious, no doubt explains the feeling which the Clergy Reserves roused.” Whether an intentional means to control the general population or a slaphappy approach with little regard for consequence, the Government’s want of care in the countryside did nothing to ingratiate itself to the peace-loving people who comprised the radical segment of the reform movement.

Distribution of property rights and the intermingling of church and state were, according to Mackenzie, “the most important single cause of the rebellion of 1837.” The men who stood alongside Lloyd and Mackenzie were not soldiers. They were farmers, shopkeepers and tradesmen who got angry enough to be used by Mackenzie for his designs on avenging his pride, under the guise of doing what was right for the common people.

They trained to use arms late at night, in remote corners of farmers’ fields and marched on Montgomery’s Tavern three days early without proper provisions, leadership or a firm plan. When the jig was up, Mackenzie gave them up for slaughter, conveniently leaving a detailed register of names to be found by the loyalist soldiers as he departed. To this day, few suspect any act of willful betrayal on Mackenzie’s part. But, it is not outside of reason to guess that even as he ran for the safety of the American border, he secretly blamed the rebels, including Jesse Lloyd, for acting out of turn.

The rebels arrived at Montgomery’s Tavern foot-sore and hungry, to the hospitality of an innkeeper who was neither friendly to their cause nor prepared for their arrival. Mackenzie had invested a lot of effort into planning a rebellion which was supposed to take place on December 7th. His arrogance, lack of discretion and hunger for notoriety had as much to do with the panic that led to the early arrival of the Lloydtown rebels as anything else. But, Mackenzie likely laid all the blame at the feet of others.

All the while, Jesse was an invaluable and dependable resource to the man who was returned to his riding of York numerous times, yet denied access to his seat at the assembly. Jesse readily offered a key stronghold for the radical reform movement in Upper Canada. He also frequently served as an emissary, travelling to Lower Canada and so forth, in Mackenzie’s plot to overthrow a system of government that felt ill obliged to accept the voice of the people, and perpetuated abuses on the public purse to pad those of the Family Compact.

During its heyday, the village that Jesse Lloyd established had, as the cairn erected opposite his statue declares, a grist-mill, sawmill, woolen mill, two tanneries, stores and numerous pioneer industries. The community had a post-office, two churches, and a two-room schoolhouse that, according to the History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario: Containing an Outline of the History of the Dominion of Canada; a History of the City of Toronto and the County of York, with the Townships, Towns, General and Local Statistics; Biographical Sketches, Volume 1, published in 1885 by C.B. Robinson et al., was the best school outside of Toronto, with a student average of forty-eight per cent. The impressive brick building still stands, though it is now a private residence.

These days, all of the buildings in Lloydtown are private homes. Public meeting places and businesses either closed entirely or relocated to Schomberg. The only hints of its historical relevance to our modern democratic advantages are thanks to the efforts of The Lloydtown Rebellion Association and the plaques put up by the King Township Historical Society. The number continues to dwindle of people who would serve to remind us that our democratic system of government is fragile and hard fought for.

According to Bill Foran, the retired school principal and King Township Councilor, only three meetings remain for the Rebellion Association due to a lack of interest among the younger generations. That, too, is a bitter irony. The violence of the rebellion was the result of a toxic cocktail between a small, tightly knit set of petty and corrupt men; a little man from a poor background with a giant grudge and ego to match; and the reluctance to stand up for themselves on the part of moderate reformers. The Family Compact did little so well as establishing that seeking responsible government was akin to disloyalty and therefore treason against the King. At that time, loyalty to the Crown trumped all else, and though many moderate reformers sympathized with the radical element, they refused to support it.

By the time the wheels of the rebellion set into motion Mackenzie was gunning for revenge and willing to sacrifice absolutely everybody to achieve his cause. The injustices that drove hundreds of men headlong to the gallows, prison and exile were nothing compared to the rage that Mackenzie felt at being snubbed by the Executive of Upper Canada and subsequently by the King of England.

But regardless of his true motives, that violence was necessary. England was in a very delicate position. It’s not that the monarchy cared if people were suffering or that there was blatant, widespread corruption. It’s just that they couldn’t risk people getting upset enough to declare independence, as the Americans had done in The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).

The vapid arrogance of Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head made him oblivious to the extent of the rancour felt amongst the general population, particularly amongst the poor, uneducated farmers who comprised Mackenzie’s former constituency. Sir Bond Head and the Family Compact were of the firm opinion that the vast majority, though possibly unhappy, would never succumb to action at the impetus and ravings of the radical reformer who was so badly beaten out of power during the election of 1836. Any modern voting citizen who marvels at the strict rules around secret ballots at the polls should read about the way Sir Bond Head returned the Family Compact to majority rule.

After the election, the community of Lloydtown, as was the case with the rest of Upper Canada, was firmly split in three: loyalists, moderate reformers and radicals. Moderate reformers hesitated to support the future rebels for fear of being seen as disloyal to the Crown. It was a non-linear as connection, impregnated in the minds of all but the radicals by the Family Compact.

This combination of willful ignorance and reluctance to take action attributed to the Home Government’s lack of insight into the discontent in the provinces. The information received by Great Britain was that the majority of people were perfectly happy. When Mackenzie arrived with a petition in hand, he was barely heard and only as a private citizen rather than an elected representative of the legislative assembly.

It’s hard to say if the debacle of December 4th, 1837, truly changed anything. By the time of the Rebellion, the British Colonies consisted of an increasingly literate populace and were moving away from the antiquated mentality which permitted the Family Compact to exist, let alone prosper. Upper Canada was just one example where people were learning to organize and think for themselves. Moderate reformers were bound to eventually, through more diplomatic measures, accomplish much of what came about as a result of the Durham Report.

In the short term, due to Mackenzie’s many character flaws and the possible blind contempt he held for anybody who had the misfortune of standing either with or against him, people who would never have been suspected of treason otherwise were identified as rebels and rounded up.

The wrath of the loyalist army did not stop there. Rebels’ family homes were raided routinely, robbed of the last crumb of food. Phoebe Lloyd suffered many such attacks, on at least one occasion the soldiers even fled with the baby’s milk. As Russell Oldfield relates, the repercussions lasted for a very long time. He grew up in the area and is a direct descendant, six generations forward, of Jesse Lloyd.

Following the Rebellion, Jesse narrowly escaped capture by returning to his relatives in Pennsylvania. It was too dangerous to send letters to the Lloydtown post office. Instead, he had them carried to Newmarket, addressing them to Phoebe by her maiden name of Crossley. She would travel to get them and stoically tuck the letters into her skirts for the return journey, dangerous adventures in their right. That’s how she learned of his passing, though the story goes that she had some premonition of that letter’s contents before reading it.

Eventually, even the loyalists and moderate reformers could no longer tolerate the ill-treatment of their neighbours. Traitors though their husbands and fathers might be, they were still Christian. For his part, Sir Bond Head realized that the proverbial writing was on the wall but, he was committed to standing by the Family Compact and fighting democratic reform as long as he had the power to do so, in defiance of direct orders to the contrary. Ironically, unbeknown to the reformers, Sir Bond Head was already supposed to be on his way back across the ocean by the time of the Rebellion.

More than one person advised Mackenzie to wait until spring, and by that time, perhaps it would no longer have been required. He acted in December on the urging of rebel organizers in Lower Canada but had he heeded the advice things would have turned out much better in both situations. The rebellion of Lower Canada would have held off, as well and a new Lieutenant Governor, a product of a more sympathetic Home Government, would have taken up residence in place of Sir Bond Head.

While both Great Britain and France continued to grow in acceptance of rights for all citizens, the pompous who controlled both Upper and Lower Canada remained ignorant of such progress. By 1832, the Representation of the People Act was passed in Great Britain, signifying electoral reform there even as it was so bitterly contested in the Canadas. In 1838, the People’s Charter formed the foundation of a widespread movement for political reform in favour of the working class. Even as early as the middle of 1837 Sir Bond Head was given express orders to support prominent moderate reformers, encouraging representative self-government but, he stood his ground and offered to resign rather than comply.

By 1837, at the time of the rebellion, the United Kingdom was a constitutional monarchy where the king held relatively little direct power. What’s more, the king died in June and Queen Victoria’s whose subsequent reign was a period of terrific industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military change as Europe continued to evolve beyond the Industrial Revolution, ascended to the throne.

Immediately after the rebellion, British Whig John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham, was sent over to investigate its cause. In true British fashion, he made many astute observations but, as per his infamous Report on the Affairs of British North America, commonly referred to as the Durham Report, Lord Durham concluded that what Canada lacked was more British people. The document became a charter that some liken to the Magna Carta as it related to the establishment of representative self-government in colonies such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada. But for French Canadians, it introduced a new set of challenges, some of which continue to plague Anglo-French relations in this country to the present day.

Russell Oldfield standing not far from the final resting place of Phoebe Lloyd, his direct ancestor, at the pioneer’s cemetery.

As a direct consequence of the conniving and extreme actions taken by Mackenzie, provincial lines were redrawn, a system for responsible government was implemented, the role of governor general became ceremonial, and the legislative assembly gained much more power than it had previously enjoyed.

The elevation of British loyalists above all other citizens within Canada continues to affect our country, even 150 years after receiving its Constitution. Perhaps it is little wonder that what was designed to be a year of trans-Canadian celebration blew by with an almost pathetic lack of regard by the vast majority of the population. The media and the Federal Government did their parts but, most people nodded politely without any appreciation of what they were supposed to be commemorating.

Perhaps the reason is that the British loyalists who established the Canadian Constitution have never represented the voice of the people who now comprise its majority and while we espouse the virtues of multiculturalism we are no better organized than the radicals of Mackenzie’s rebellion.

In many ways, we, as a country, are still paying for the complacency and hesitation of the moderate reformers of Jesse Lloyd’s day. To this day there are two factions in Lloydtown and its surrounding areas: those descended from families that have lived here since the early 1800’s and those who are attracted to the charm and quiet of the place but harbour little appreciation for the part it played in establishing everything we take for granted.

How is that different from the rest of Canada? We cannot define Canadian identity by its multiculturalism or extreme tolerance and excessive concessions to political correctness. In truth, as citizens, our country deserves our loyalty and we deserve an understanding of what we are loyal to.

In Canada, moderate reformers are still the passive ruling class but, modern apathy is not driven by the fear of being branded as disloyal. It is rooted in general feelings of disaffection and mixed with an influx of people who flatly do not identify with anything that this country was built on because that was never their Canada in the first place.

The universal ideals of the Enlightenment, where equality for all, including equal justice under the law by disinterested courts, are natural consequences of any literate society. They are not unique to Canada and cannot be used to define any one culture, even if it is Canadian and only 150 years-old. Humans have been on Canadian soil since 30,000 BCE, and they got here by crossing the Siberian land bridge at the end of the last Ice Age. There’s no excuse for appropriating the culture of others as an avoidance of acknowledging our own. Yet in Canada, we routinely, as the winds of fashion blow, raise and compare the identities of our various segments based on who won the most recent self-vindication battle against the federal government. Educational institutions are mandated to teach history in isolated bubbles, placing preferential treatment on fad sympathies, with entire generations growing up ignorant of global cause and effect.

Quite possibly, without Mackenzie’s need to be recognized as important, Jesse Lloyd might have lived for another forty years alongside his wife, children and grandchildren. But, we will never know.

On the other hand, perhaps such rebellions were interdependent and without them things would have gotten worse, not better. Maybe we owe a debt to those who are willing to be branded as radicals, fighting for democracy, rather than fearing the repercussions of speaking up against administrations and institutions that do not reflect the will of the people they are supposed to represent.

Rebellion Way follows a bend in the road. As you get to it, you could park and chance upon the Lloydtown Pioneer Cemetery where Jesse and Phoebe donated land to inter their beloved indentured servant girl upon her unexpected demise. There, many of the rebel families buried loved ones, including Phoebe, who married Jesse when she was only fourteen-years-old, gave birth to seven children, survived the persecution that followed the failed rebellion and died at the ripe-old-age of eighty-nine.

The gates to the cemetery path are flanked on one side by an opulent mansion on sprawling grounds and the other by Mitch and Katie Kaiser’s house. The latter, a private residence that was once the Wesleyan Methodist Church, where wanting to remember is not taken lightly. You’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it.

You probably wouldn’t pay much attention to the quiet intersection of Rebellion Way and Centre St, once the bustling hub of Lloydtown. Instead, you’d wonder at the impressive statue of an armed man dressed nothing like a soldier, pointing off into the distance. You might park, walk up to take a closer look, then notice a cairn on the opposite side, and remember that we shouldn’t take what we have for granted because it wasn’t easy to come by.

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