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Table of Contents
The Constitutional Act of 1791, also known as the Canada Act, was an act of the British Parliament. This Act divided the Province of Quebec into Upper Canada (the future Ontario) and Lower Canada (the future Quebec).
See the fact file below for more information on The Constitutional Act, 1791 or alternatively, you can download our 22-page The Constitutional Act, 1791 worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- The Constitutional Act, 1791 was an initial step on the long path to Confederation, however its rigid colonial structures also set the stage for rebellion in the Upper and Lower Canada (Rebellions of 1837–38).
- The Act was also famous for granting women who owned property in Lower Canada the right to vote — a high level of inclusion by the standards of the time.
HISTORY: RESPONSE TO LOYALIST IMMIGRATION
- The Constitutional Act transformed the government of the Province of Quebec (1763-1791) to aid, amongst other Loyalists, the 10,000 United Empire Loyalists.
- These Loyalists had arrived from the United States following the American Revolution. Loyalists were persecuted during this war and received repressive ordered measures from the congress, such as severe taxation and strict laws.
- 100,000 loyalists had already fled into exile by 1776. Many traveled to Canada since the British administration had provided them with refuge and was offering financial compensation.
- In June 1791, the Constitutional Act received royal assent and took effect on December 26 of the same year.
- It dedicated constitutional reforms that were part of the reorganization of British North America.
- In 1784, The Loyalists formed the new colonies of New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island surmounting the locals.
- An inrush of English-speaking Loyalists increased tensions among the Anglophones and Francophone Canadians.
- This tension and the pressure the Loyalists put on the government due to their sheer number were immediate causes of the Act.
- The French worried that the Anglophones would overpower them and take away the privileges they’d obtained in the Quebec Act, while the Loyalists wanted government reform to be ruled as British citizens.
- The Act was created in 1791, to accommodate the thousands of loyalists as well as separate to Francophone Canadians from the Anglophones.
PROVINCE OF QUEBEC DIVIDED
- With a population of 145,000 French-speaking Canadians, the Province of Quebec was split into two when the Act took effect on December 26, 1791.
- The mostly unpopulated western half became Upper Canada (known today as southern Ontario) and the eastern half became Lower Canada (known today as southern Quebec).
- The names Upper and Lower Canada were given depending on their location along the St. Lawrence River.
- Upper Canada accepted English law and institutions, while Lower Canada held French civil law and institutions, including feudal land tenure and the privileges accorded to the Roman Catholic Church.
FOUNDATION FOR CONFLICT
- The Act guaranteed the continuation of ownership of land held under the seigneurial system in Lower Canada. This system was an institutional form of land distribution given to noblemen – who were called seigneurs – in return for loyalty to the King and a commitment to perform military service when necessary in New France in 1627. The seigneurial system was officially abolished in 1854.
- Likewise, the Act created the Clergy Reserves in Upper Canada. These Clergy Reserves were land saved for the Protestant Clergy, yet it was observed to be land for the Church of England. The land earned no money since people used it for its resources and left once they were gone.
- By granting Upper Canada a constitution and a separate administration, as well as by favoring British settlement there, Britain took the first steps on the path that eventually led to Confederation. However, the Act failed to secure a responsible government.
- The Act also granted more extra financial powers to the appointed councils than to the elected assemblies.
- These circumstances created political conflict and contributed to the rebellions of 1837–38.
A WIDER FRANCHISE
- Under the Act, voters were commonly called “persons” who were at least 21 years old and “natural” citizens or subjects of the monarch who never been convicted of a serious criminal offense or treason. Voters were also obliged to own land or property of a certain value. (In urban regions, tenants can be granted to vote if they paid a minimum amount in rent.)
- Property value was very low in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, resulting in a relatively broad franchise. Because women were not exactly excluded by the act, women who owned property were allowed to vote in Lower Canada.
- Most of the different British colonies prevailed by the English Common Law, including Upper Canada which denied women the right to vote.
- In Lower Canada, on the contrary, the property and inheritance rights of women were determined by the Custom of Paris. Under French civil law, property was shared between husbands and wives, although it was controlled by the husband. If the husband died, his widow inherited half of their shared property. Thus, women in Lower Canada had greater access to property than elsewhere in the British colonies.
- Women with their own property in Lower Canada could vote under the act as the Custom of Paris proceeded to apply to civil matters after 1791. This was not always applied in custom, but in 1791 and in 1849, women voted in around 15 districts in Lower Canada. In 1849, the legislature legislated a bill that removed women’s right to vote. (See Women’s Suffrage.)
The Constitutional Act, 1791 Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about The Constitutional Act, 1791 across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use The Constitutional Act, 1791 worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Constitutional Act of 1791, also known as the Canada Act, which was an act of the British Parliament. This Act divided the Province of Quebec into Upper Canada (the future Ontario) and Lower Canada (the future Quebec).
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- The Constitutional Act, 1791 Facts
- Quick Facts
- Quebec Headlines
- Words to Remember
- Significant Event
- Cause and Effect
- The Canadas
- Women Suffrage
- Educational Cartoon
- Historical Significance
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