French Ontario in the 17th and 18th Centuries: Transitions - Page Banner

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Letter The Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes were strategically important areas during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). After initial French success, the British destroyed Fort Frontenac in 1758 and captured Fort Niagara in 1759; other French posts in the interior were then either destroyed by French troops or surrendered with little resistance. By the First Treaty of Paris (1763), France ceded all its possessions east of the Mississippi (except the island of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon) to Great Britain, while the area west of the Mississippi became Spanish.

For the Canadiens (as the descendants of the first French settlers were then called), the Conquest meant foreign rule, new criminal (and at first) civil law, and loss of access to part of the interior. The Great Lakes area was first (1763) designated as “Indian Territory”. It was then (1774) joined to the Province of Quebec and French civil law was re-introduced.

The American Revolution brought other changes. The Second Treaty of Paris (1783) acknowledged the independence of the United States and placed the new frontier along the centre of the Great Lakes. Loyalists migrated to the British colonies, resulting in the creation of Upper Canada (1791), which had an English-speaking majority and British Common Law.

Print: Quebec from the [Bason] [ca. 1780]
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A View of Quebec from the [Bason], [ca. 1780]
Engraver Unknown
Ontario Legislative Library print collection
Print
Reference Code: RG 49-33-0-0-33
Archives of Ontario, I0009136

Through those changes, some Canadiens continued to play a role in the economic and political life of what became Upper Canada. Here are some of their stories.

The Baby Family - Title Graphic

Letter AMontreal-born merchant by the name of Jacques Duperon Baby (1731-1789) settled in Detroit at the time of the Conquest. In partnership with his brothers in Montreal, he maintained a Canadien presence in the fur trade. Jacques’ role in Detroit was not limited to business. He also became a landowner and local official. He was appointed to the position of officer and interpreter in the Indian Department in 1777, and then militia captain and judge (1788).

Certificate appointing Jacques Duperon Baby to the rank of Militia Captain, 1788
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Certificate appointing Jacques Duperon
Baby to the rank of Militia Captain, 1788
Jacques Duperon Baby family fonds
Reference Code: F 2128, MU 18
Archives of Ontario

The Babys consolidated their economic position with alliances, both commercial and matrimonial, with Canadien and British families in Detroit and Montreal. Their descendants would continue to play a role in the political and economic life of both Upper and Lower Canada throughout the late 18th and 19th century; one of them was Jacques’ son, Jacques (James) (1763-1833).

The painting below depicts the opening of the first session of Upper Canada's Legislative Assembly. James Baby is the man identified by the yellow circle.

Painting: The First Legislature of Upper Canada, 1955
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The First Legislature of Upper Canada, 1955
F. S. Challener (1869-1959)
oil on canvas, 188.0 cm x 274.3 cm
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 619857

The first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, appointed James Baby to the first Executive and Legislative Councils in 1792. Between 1792 and 1830, he held more than 115 positions within the colonial administration, including those of militia captain, Justice of the Peace and Inspector General. Baby was also part of the Family Compact, the conservative-minded group that controlled Upper Canada’s political life during the first half of the 19th century .

Appointment of Jacques (James) Duperon Baby to the Legislative Council for Upper Canada, 1792
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Appointment of Jacques (James) Duperon Baby to the
Legislative Council for Upper Canada, 1792
Jacques Duperon Baby family fonds
Reference Code: F 2128, MU 18
Archives of Ontario

James’ success was not limited to politics. Despite losses when the British left Detroit in 1796 and again during the War of 1812, as well as the decline of the fur trade in the Great Lakes area, he maintained a solid financial position. At the time of his death, he owned lands in various parts of Upper Canada, mostly in the south-east and in York (Toronto).

Jean Baptiste Rousseau - Title Graphic

Letter Jean Baptiste Rousseau (1758-1812) was the son of a Montreal-born merchant, Jean-Bonaventure, who had built a trading post on the site of one of the old French forts of Toronto, in 1770 and served as an interpreter for the Indian Department.

Jean Baptiste too served as an interpreter, and then a merchant. He soon traded with the Mississaugas and the Six-Nations (Iroquois), in an area stretching from the Bay of Quinte to the Grand River. His marriage to Margaret Clyne, the white adopted daughter of Mohawk leader Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant), benefited Rousseau in his dealings with both the First Nations and the colonial authorities. Also to facilitate his dealings with authorities, Rousseau sometimes used an anglicized version of his name, John Baptist.

Marriage certificate, John Baptist Rousseau and Margaret Clyne, 1795
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Marriage certificate, John Baptist Rousseau and
Margaret Clyne, 1795
Jean Baptiste Rousseau family fonds
Reference Code: F 493, MS 7294
Archives of Ontario

Print: Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), Chief of the Six Nations, [1780] (detail)
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Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea),
Chief of the Six Nations, [1780] (détail)
Print
Reference Code: S2076 Archives of Ontario, I0013621


Rousseau settled with his family on the site of his father’s store at Toronto, in 1792.

Drawing: York Harbour, [ca. 1796], Toronto, Ontario
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York Harbour, [ca. 1796], Toronto, Ontario
Elizabeth Simcoe
Drawing
Simcoe Family fonds
Reference Code: F 47-11-1-0-235
Archives of Ontario, I0007087

“When I found myself in the harbour of Toronto, we had gone under sail all night for as no person on board had never been at Toronto, Mr. Bouchette was afraid to enter the harbour till day height when St. John Rousseau, an Indian trader who lives near, came in a Boat to Pilot us.”

Entry for July 30 and 31, 1793, in
Elizabeth Simcoe diaries.
Simcoe family Fonds.
Reference Code: F 47-8-0-13, p. 19, MS 1810.

Two years later, Rousseau moved to Ancaster, where he built a general store and a mill. As well as owning properties in Ancaster, Rousseau owned properties on the Thames River. He continued to serve as an interpreter and became a tax collector and, as a militia officer, rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Rousseau served in that capacity at the start of the War of 1812, but fell ill and died in November, 1812.

Laurent Quetton St. George - Title Graphic

Letter Laurent Quetton (1771-1821) was born in southern France. Opposed to the French Revolution, he fled France in 1791 and fought in émigrés regiments in Germany, the Netherlands and Brittany, rising to the rank of major. In 1795, he came to Great Britain, where he added St-George to his name.

In 1798, he joined a group of French royalists, led by the Comte de Puisaye, who had been authorized by the British government to settle in York County, Upper Canada. The choice of that site by the British served two purposes: locating the new settlers, who had military experience, near York (Toronto), and keeping them away from French-speaking populations in Lower Canada and Sandwich (Windsor). The settlement, named Windham after the British minister responsible for colonies, was a failure, as the French aristocrats who formed the core of the group of settlers could not adjust to their new life. By 1802, most had returned to Britain or turned their attention to other activities.

Certificate of service in the French Royalist Army, Laurent Quetton St. George, 1798
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Certificate of service in the French Royalist Army,
Laurent Quetton St. George, 1798
William Baldwin family fonds
Reference Code: F 17, MS 88
Archives of Ontario

The map below shows the site proposed for the French Royalist settlement of York County (circled). The inscription immediately below appears on the back of the map.

Map of Yonge Street Inscription

Map: [Yonge Street L. Ontario shewing the communications from York to Lake Simcoe with a project for settling the French Royalists] [Sgd]
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[Yonge Street L. Ontario shewing the communications from York to Lake Simcoe
with a project for settling the French Royalists] [Sgd]
D. W. Smith, Act. Sur. Gen.
Reference Code: A-15. AO 1406
Archives of Ontario

Quetton St. George moved to York and became a merchant. His business, specializing in imported goods, was soon one of the most important of Upper Canada, with branches in Amhertsburg, Dundas, Kingston and Niagara. He also acquired land in various parts of the colony. Although he was never integrated in York’s elite, he was well considered.

Certificate of good character for Laurent Quetton St. George, 1815 (seal)
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and a text version (226K)

Certificate of good character for Laurent Quetton St. George, 1815
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and a text version (258K)

Certificate of good character for Laurent Quetton St. George, 1815
William Baldwin family fonds
Reference Code: F 17, MS 88
Archives of Ontario

Quetton St. George traveled to France when the Monarchy was restored in 1815, entrusting his financial interests in Upper Canada to his associates William and John Baldwin and Jules-Maurice Quesnel. He had intended to return to York but finally settled in France. In 1820, he sold his shares in his business to his partners. His lands in Upper Canada, which he had willed to his son Henry, were confiscated by the government in 1831 as foreign-owned property.


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