From the archives Gazette was enraged by Montreal”s Munchausen

0

This story was first published on Sept. 30, 2001, in the Montreal Gazette.


Lord Elgin is determined to continue here, it seems, until the fire of civil war shall throw its lurid light across the Atlantic. No person, now, of any side in politics, expects to see peace or good feeling restored as long as he remains. … The cheapest thing for the country would be to buy him up, and get him to leave it at any money price. Money is nothing to life and public peace.

The Gazette, Monday, Sept. 24, 1849


It was a time of astonishing passion in Montreal, and those writing in The Gazette were as overheated as any. It was not the newspaper’s finest hour.

Montreal was then the capital of the united province of Canada. Five months previously, on April 25, an English-speaking mob, encouraged in part by intemperate articles in The Gazette, had rioted outside Parliament, which sat in the Youville Square market building. The rioters were enraged that Lord Elgin, a Scot who was named governor-general in 1847, had just given royal assent to the Rebellion Losses Bill. As Elgin emerged into the street, he was attacked and barely escaped in his carriage to his residence of Monklands (on the western flank of Mount Royal, where Villa Maria school is today). That evening, the mob returned to the Parliament; fire broke out, and the building was destroyed.

The legislation that had sparked so much anger and bitterness offered compensation to Lower Canadians for property damaged or destroyed by government forces during the rebellions of 1837 and 1838. It excluded the losses of those who had been convicted or exiled for their part in the rebellions but otherwise made no distinction between supporters of the rebel cause and those who had remained loyal.

For The Gazette and many of its readers, often as not from Montreal’s conservative merchant class, it made no difference that Elgin was upholding the wholly admirable and – in Canada, at least – novel principle of responsible government: the duly elected representatives of the people had passed the bill (and by a comfortable majority), and the Crown was thus obliged to give its consent.

All that summer and on into the fall, The Gazette kept up its attacks on Lord Elgin. A century and a half has done nothing to dilute the vituperation that dripped from our pages. Our coverage in just one week in late September was typical.

For example, a brawl between Conservatives and Reformers in Bytown (today’s Ottawa), resulting in deaths on both sides, prompted The Gazette’s snide suggestion, on Monday the 24th, that in effect Elgin be bribed to leave Canada. The next day, we reported that Elgin, hitherto only an earl of the Scottish peerage, was to be elevated to the British House of Lords. This was “intended as a final insult to the loyal community of Canada” and was “preparatory to his removal from this country.” If he were to stay much longer at his “dirty work” in this country, it would “entitle him to all the steps up to a Dukedom.”

On Wednesday, we deplored the Bytown deaths (“So Lord Elgin earns a peerage!! and Canada mourns”). Then we put Elgin into the same league as Baron Karl Munchausen, notorious as a teller of tall tales, and along the way offered a fantasy of our own: “We have not seen the Official Gazette intimating the elevation of Lord Elgin to the British Peerage, nor his exact title; but we are told that it is Baron Munchausen of Monklands in Canada.”

On Thursday, The Gazette reprinted long commentaries having the effrontery to support Elgin that had appeared in two London newspapers, the Times and the Daily News. The Times blamed the troubles on the move of Canada’s capital from Kingston, Ont., to Montreal in 1843: “Montreal was recommended by its geographical position, but by nothing else. Its populace has long been notorious as the roughest and most turbulent in the New World.” The Daily News warned against the breakdown of government and “the triumph of lawless violence and anarchy.”

The Gazette was outraged, this time by “the bullying insolence of the Imperialists towards the ignorant, degraded colonists.” The Times was hand in glove with the British government in its vilification of Canadian Tories and was oblivious to “the intense feeling of contempt for Lord Elgin.” We were all for those whom we called loyalists, but if London had betrayed these pro-British Canadians, well, who could blame them if they now were reconsidering where their real loyalties should lie?

Sounding like nothing so much as a spurned lover seeking affection somewhere new, we said that London had implanted “a desire for change (among Canadians) which will never be satisfied short of Annexation to a power which knows better their wants and will promote more their interests” – that is, annexation to the United States. Elgin’s continued presence in Canada and his new peerage “do but indicate that it is time the colony kept pace with the Imperial wishes to see the connexion ended.”

Despite The Gazette’s huffing and puffing, Elgin duly ascended to the House of Lords – styled as he had been before, the earl of Elgin and of Kincardine. He continued to serve as governor-general until 1854, eventually being named viceroy of India, where he died in 1863. And Canada has still not joined the United States.

Read more about Montreal’s history here.

Source Link

Share.