1867: Rebellion & Confederation

Riots, Destruction and the Roots of Democracy

Today, Canada is seen as a model of peace, democracy and good government. It wasn't always the case. The early days of Canadian democracy included violent conflict and destruction. In 1849, after rebellions in what is now the province of Quebec, the government passed a bill to compensate those who had suffered property losses in the violence. Many Conservative Anglophones opposed the bill. When Lord Elgin, the governor general, gave assent to the bill, protests in Montréal degenerated into riots. Rioters pelted the Parliament building in Montréal with rocks, shattering its windows. After entering the building and tearing things apart, they set Parliament on fire. 1867: Rebellion & Confederation includes artifacts that survived the riots, including a pair of eyeglasses, as well as cobblestones that were thrown at Lord and Lady Elgin.

1849 - the Roots of Canadian Democracy

Despite the riots, Lord Elgin upheld the principle of responsible government. In doing so, he became the first governor general to distance himself from the affairs of the Legislative Assembly, leaving real power in the hands of the people’s elected representatives. It was an important victory for democracy. The increasing pace of social, economic and political change in the mid-19th century posed challenges for a new generation of politicians. Faced with growing tensions, they had to find new ways to move forward together. Visit 1867: Rebellion & Confederation to see how these events paved the way to Confederation 150 years ago.