1793-96: The End of Guy Carleton & Other Quebec Curios

Part of “The Canadas in Britain”, 1792-1827

Sir Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester, returned to the now plural Canadas in August of 1973 in order to be physically present and assume his role as the Governor of the Canadas as well as the surrounding British colonies, which consisted at the time of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. However, within the next three years, Carleton would leave Britain for good, embittered and cynical.

Carleton saw the signing of an American treaty named Jay’s Treaty in 1794. Jay’s Treaty is a document signed between Britain and the United States that granted Indigenous people the right to not pay duties when they crossed the Canadian border. More specifically, communities of Mohawks had historically travelled up towards the Saint Lawrence to trade, so this Treaty was beneficial to them but also helped solidify US-Britain relations. Present-day Canada refuses to recognise the treaty, however, and 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Mitchell v. M.N.R. that the right to not pay duty while crossing the Canadian-US border was not enough of an established practice or custom dating back to before the European occupation of their land.

Circumstances surrounding Jay’s Treaty were dubious, however, and Carleton was afraid of war. 1794 was in the middle of the French Revolution, and France had recently declared war on Britain at the time. Carleton had hoped that he would be able to make an alliance with the Indigenous people in the area in order for the Americans to stop expanding into the territory around the Ohio area, and Jay’s Treaty, while it aligned with a lot of his economic policies and was beneficial to the Canadas, was still an “American” paper. The figurative nail in Carleton’s Governor General coffin came in a very modern way: believing he was speaking in private, Carleton admitted that he believed he would go to war with America very soon, and he wanted Britain to come help reinforce the Canadas. This issue, reinforcing the Canadas, in particular, his want for a proper garrison in Quebec, was an ongoing issue for Carleton. His words were leaked to the American press, who were outraged and told on him to Britain. Fed up with the Canadas, a colony that seemed to have more issues than Fleury Mesplet’s Gazette de Montréal, he asked to resign from his governorship in September of 1794.

One of the last major situations that Carleton faced that still makes the history books is in 1795. Carleton was the first person in the Canadas to publish an annual report about how the government spent their money, setting an important precedent for transparency. Carleton sailed back to Britain in 1796, never to return to the New World. He spent some time in villages located in Berkshire and Hampshire, dying suddenly in November of 1808. The Canadas that he hoped to leave long behind in his memory, however, would continue without one of the most important men that helped shape the new colony. Ironically, the fear of war between Britain and the United States that brought him down would materialise itself not even five years after his death.

Read the Supreme Court’s unanimous (though for slightly different reasons) decision on Jay’s Treaty, Mitchell v. M.N.R. here.

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