Pioneer Settlement


Our Multicultural Province

Ontario has a long tradition of welcoming peoples of many nationalities dating right back to our first settlers – the United Empire Loyalists. Even two hundred plus years ago, in the 1780’s and 1790’s, we had a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan province. The ethnic origins of our first settlers included German, French, English, Swiss, Portuguese, Irish, Scottish, Prussian, Dutch and African. Some descended from families who lived in the American Colonies for generations; others had been there for just a few years. A number came directly to Canada from the old country, making a diverse mixture of customs and languages.

Even many of the Indians had been non-native to this province, having lived in New York, then serving with the Loyalist forces. The government officials of the day had to search carefully to find a few scattered tribes of the Mississauga and other nations from whom they purchased the land here.

The primary occupation ran decidedly to agrarian, followed by merchants, tanners, tailors, innkeepers, blacksmiths, barristers, millers, physicians, shoemakers and numerous others. Many combined their trades with farming.


Post-War Settlement

As is often the case of immigrants today, those of the late 1700’s fled their earlier homes as refugees of war. At that time, they faced the War of the American Revolution and its aftermath. Then as now, Ontario’s lure came as a haven for the war weary and the peaceful. Although these me

n and women derived from many different backgrounds, all had one thing in common during those formative years of the late 1700’s. They felt a deep rooted desire to live with the orderly laws and security they had known under the British Crown in pre-Revolutionary times, now promised in Canada.

Many immigrants could be described as peaceful farming and business folk alarmed by the mob scenes that occurred in the larger American cities prior to and during the Revolution. They had been alienated by the wanton destruction of the urban and rural property of those suspected supporting the British cause both during and after the war. Anyone who did not espouse either side militarily became accused of Loyalist leanings by the republicans and fell under ostracism in their community. Also, after the Revolution, further uncertainty developed as the federal Congress of

the United States struggled to establish its identity in the face of demands for individual states’ rights. Further, the unsavoury threat existed of yet another war with Britain espoused by elements of the American population. The United States proved not to be a place congenial to the peaceful immigrant from the “Old Country” to set down roots. The peaceful immigrant required a land devoid of the political and religious wars that rent the Europe of their forebears.

The earliest of the immigrants to Canada came as discharged soldier

s who served in the Loyalist corps during the Revolution, with their families. Having fought against neighbours and even near relatives in the British cause for many years, they afterwards found themselves unwelcome in their home communities. Many had already moved their families to the military encampments during the war and their property had been confiscated.

Canada, as vast as it is known to be today, at that early post-war period of the early- to mid- 1780’s, offered but few settlement destinations. On the Atlantic seaboard, the Loyalists found the land in many parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick rocky and difficult to cultivate – a crucial problem in a largely agrarian society. Many a prospective settler cleared a part of his government grant only to discover the soil unsuited to crops. Some either returned to the United States or went elsewhere.

Quebec, which at that time comprised all of the territory west of the Maritimes, still had the old seigniorial system of land ownership and French civil laws guaranteed to the inhabitants by the Government of England under the Quebec Act of 1763. In this system, an individual settler could not own his land outright, a prospect alien to the ways that had developed in the colonies to the south.

In present Ontario, relatively small pockets of surveyed lands developed along the Niagara and St. Lawrence Rivers and along the north-eastern shore of Lake Ontario during the 1780’s. These all went to the men of a few Loyalist regiments, among them Butler’s Rangers, the Indian Department, the King’s Royal Regiment of New York and others.

As a result, many Loyalists adopted a wait and see attitude and remained in the United States, enduring the fines, confiscations and taunts that came their way despite a clause of the Treaty of Paris which specifically forbade such treatment.

Gorvernor Dorchester's Proclamation

The following resolution was passed by Lord Dorchester and the Executive Council of Quebec (which at that time included Ontario) then forwarded to London for presentation to the Government and King of Great Britain.

At the Council Chamber at Quebec,

Monday 9th November 1789.


His Excellency the Right Honble Lord Dorchester.

The Honble William Smith, Esquire, Chief Justice.

Hugh Finlay,        )     George Pownall,          )

Thos. Dunn,           )     Henry Caldwell,             )

Edwd. Harrison,   )      William Grant,              )

John Collins,         )      Francois Baby,              )      Esquires

Adam Mabane,    )      Charles De Lanaudiere)

J. G. C. Delery,      )      Le Cte. Dupre                )

His Lordship intimated to the Council, that it remained a Question, upon the late Regulation for the Disposition of the Waste Lands of the Crown, whether the Boards, constituted for that Purpose, were authorized to make Locations to the Sons of Loyalists, on their coming of full Age and that it was the wish to put a Mark of Honour upon families who had adhered to the Unity of Empire, and joined the Royal Standard in America before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783.

The Council concurring with His Lordship, it is accordingly ORDERED,

That the several Land Boards take Course for preserving a Registry of the Names of all Persons, falling under the aforementioned, to the End of their Posterity may be discriminated, from future Settlers, in the Parish Registers and Rolls of the Militia, of their respective Districts, and other Public Remembrancers [sic] of the Province, as proper Objects, by their preserving in the Fidelity and Conduct, so honourable to their Ancestors, for distinguished Benefits and Privileges.

And it is also Ordered, that the said Land Boards may, in every such Case, provide not only for the Sons of those Loyalists, as they arrive to Full Age, but for their Daughters also, of that Age, or on their marriage, assigning to each a Lot of Two Hundred Acres, more or less, provided nevertheless that they respectively comply with the general Regulations and that it shall satisfactorily appear, there has been no Default in the due Cultivation and Improvements of the Lands already assigned to the Head of the Family, of which they are Members.

Williams C.C.

Attached to this was a “Form of militia roll for the western districts to discriminate the families before mentioned” This included:

“N. B. Those Loyalists who have adhered to the unity of the Empire, and joined the Royal Standard before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783, and all their children and their descendants by either sex are to be distinguished by the following capitals affixed to their names: U. E. alluding to their great principle the unity of the Empire.”

Under those circumstances, a trickle of immigration to Ontario gradually developed into a stream, as more and more in the new republic could no longer deal with the persecution. Some compensation in land went to those who arrived by 1789 providing a welcome relief. With most of their American possessions confiscated or fined away, they had little to lose in making the move.

By 1791, when the province of Upper Canada severed out of Quebec, it has been estimated that the population reached as many as 30,000 people where none had been a decade earlier. These pioneers cried out for more familiar and closer government than Quebec City. The sheer size of the immigrant population lent undeniable weight to their claims.


Lieutenant Governor Simcoe

And the Creation of Upper Canada

Many Loyalists waited in the United States through the 1780’s into the 1790’s for some clarity in settlement prospects in Canada. The decade of the 1790’s marked the turnaround for the “wait and see” Loyalists’ fortunes.

On May 14, 1791, the Parliament of Great Britain drew a partition along the Ottawa River and created the Province of Upper Canada to the west with it’s own Lieutenant Governor, Executive Council and a popularly elected sixteen-member assembly. The Province’s name, Upper Canada came from its location “up” the St. Lawrence River, its capital tentatively placed at the mouth of the Niagara River on Lake Ontario, in a fledgling community then called Newark, now known as Niagara-on-the-Lake.      

A major boost to the early settlers of Upper Canada occurred with the arrival of the Province’s first Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe. He landed at Quebec on November 11, 1791, wintered there, then set foot in Upper Canada in June 1792 with a well thought out plan for the development of his new province. Simcoe felt highly sensitive towards the plight of the Loyalists. He fought in the trenches with them as the Colonel of the Queen’s Rangers, an incorporated company of colonial men loyal to the British cause. He had an awareness that many Loyalists still remained in the United States awaiting the opportunity to come to Canada.

Simcoe had a firm grasp on the geography of Upper Canada from maps and reports of the officials. He developed a plan for a new capital situated well inland at present London flanked by supporting forts and settlements at York (present Toronto), Long Point (in present Norfolk County), and Gloucester (present Collingwood), key locations on Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron. After a two-month sojourn at Kingston, Simcoe finally sailed across Lake Ontario to his first capital in Newark at the mouth of the Niagara River, arriving on July 26.

This proved not an easy time for the new Governor of the Upper Canadian frontier. He immediately faced a flurry of requests from prospective settlers who arrived daily and petitioned for lands not yet surveyed. As surveys completed, he adjudicated conflicting land claims from those who settled before the mapping. Simcoe was also dogged by poor health hampering his administration and travels. Despite all of this our Province’s

Lieutenant Governor Simcoe's Proclamation

Upper Canada.

By His Excellency John G. Simcoe, Esq.

Lieutenant Governor and Major General of

His Majesty’s Forces, &c. &c. &c.


Whereas it appears by the minutes of the Council of the late Province of Quebec dated Monday the ninth day of November 1789, to have been the desire of his Excellency Lord Dorchester the Governor-General to put a mark of honour upon the families who had adhered to the Unity of Empire, and joined the Royal Standard in America before the treaty of separation in the year 1783, and for that purpose it was then “Ordered, by his Excellency in Council, that the several Land Boards take course for preferring a registry of the names of all persons falling under the description aforementioned, to the end that their posterity might be discriminated from future settlers in the parish registers and rolls of the militia of their respective districts and other public remembrances of the Province, as proper objects, by their preserving… and conduct so honourable to their ancestors, for distinguished benefits and privileges… but as such registry has not generally been made; and as it is still necessary to ascertain the persons and families, who may have distinguished themselves as abovementioned; as well for the causes set forth, as for the purposes of fulfilling his Majesty’s gracious intention of settling such persons and families upon the lands now about to be confirmed to them, without the incidental expenses attending such grants; — Now Know Ye, that I have thought proper, by and with the advice and consent of the executive council, to direct, and do hereby direct all persons, claiming to be confirmed by deed and under the seal of the province in their federal possessions, who adhered to the unity of the empire and joined the royal standard in America, before the treaty of separation in the year 1783, to ascertain the same upon oath before the magistrates in the michaelmas quarter-sessions assembled, now next ensuing the date of this proclamation, in such manner and form, as the magistrates are directed to receive the same; — and all persons will take notice that if they neglect to ascertain, according to the mode set forth, their claims to receive deeds without fee, they will not be considered as entitled in this respect, to the benefit of having adhered to the unity of the empire and joined the royal standard in America before the treaty of separation in the year 1783. Given under my hand and seal at arms, at the government house at York, this sixth day of April, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-six and in the thirty-sixth year of his Majesty’s reign,

John Graves Simcoe

God Save the King!

By his Excellency’s Command

E. B. Littlehales

first Lieutenant Governor personally covered his jurisdiction.
Always in his heart and mind, continued his master plan for military establishments on the Great Lakes and the capital on the Thames River.

A sprinkling of requests for lands in these areas trickled in to whet the Lieutenant Governor’s appetite for getting on with the business of developing Upper Canada. Simcoe enlarged the surveying department and sent them out on an orderly mapping of townships. In the next four years, the rest of the Niagara Peninsula came under surveys and all of the land granted, followed by the area at the head of Lake Ontario and the townships along its north shore. The surveyors mapped lands west of the Grand River on Lake Erie as far as Long Point.

Simcoe advertised widely that any who would become a bona fide settler in Upper Canada and who swore an oath of allegiance to the Crown and showed themselves ready and willing to develop a farm, could obtain a two hundred acre lot of land, a very substantial estate for the times. Those who served in or supported the Loyalist regiments would receive an additional one hundred acre allotment. Field officers enjoyed the promise of even more according to their rank. A Regimental Colonel could receive five thousand acres. Simcoe ordered his policy advertised in the major newspapers in the United States and personally met with respondents in his Newark home at Navy Hall and elsewhere on his extensive travels through the Province. This intimate meeting with the Province’s ultimate authority likely resolved many an uncertain settler.

Simcoe’s all-important proclamation of free land grants to those who developed them proved to be the impetus needed by many to uproot their families and return to the British laws. They could now feel economically secure in bringing wives and children to Canada to begin afresh within the institutions they had known. The promise of a familiar system of government peacefully administered was viewed with relief. In the 1790’s, the population of Upper Canada jumped to more than 100,000 with additions not just from the United States but also from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Europe.

What occurred next is a matter of public record, the story told in a remarkable collection designated the Upper Canada Land Petitions. All who arrived applied for land by way of a petition to the Executive Council of Upper Canada justified their request. These petitions are held by the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa and placed online in their website for general viewing.


Loyalists and United Empire Loyalists

It is important to make a differentiation between Loyalists and those designated officially by the Government as United Empire Loyalists as recorded on the “U. E. List” compiled by the Province. All who came to Upper Canada had to swear loyalty to the Crown in order to receive a land grant, but not all had visibly served or supported the cause during the American Revolution, either by reason of religion or young age, and so did not have inclusion in the official list. The “U. E. List” does not include those who fought on the British side in the war but then died afterwards in the United States, and whose widows and children came to Upper Canada. It also does not include the many military Loyalists who arrived in Upper Canada after the cut off year of 1797. One unfortunate man who served in the Loyalist forces with his father thought it sufficient that his father’s name be placed on the list and then discovered too late that his name should also have been there for the benefit of his own children.

The government relied on reports of the local Justices of the Peace. In some instances a qualified United Empire Loyalist developing his land well away from the Justices and out of touch with those authorities found himself left out. Some names fell to omission in the copying and others became struck off without consultation. In after years, petitions flooded into the Executive Council for their inclusion, but Simcoe’s strict terms remained in effect.

The Government’s official U.E. List should be viewed with caution and reference should be made to the Upper Canada Land Petitions which include thousands more of the loyal people who arrived during these years.