“Not government merely, but society itself seems to be almost dissolved; the vessel of the State is not in great danger only, as I had been previously led to suppose, but looks like a complete wreck.”
– Lord Durham, 1838
It was on January 31, 1839, that the most celebrated study of Canada, the Durham Report, was issued in London. It came at the most troubled time in Canadian history, after the rebellion in Upper and Lower Canada in 1837-1838. Britain was involved in great reform movements at the time. More people were being given the right to vote, child labour in factories was being abolished, and slavery was ended in 1838. It was shocking that rebellion and bloodshed should take place in Canada in the name of reform. Lord Durham, who had helped devise the British Reform Bill of 1832, was sent to Canada as Governor-General in April 1838.
Although he was a reformer, Durham, a former ambassador to Russia, loved pomp. He crossed the Atlantic in a warship, with six secretaries, eight aides, plates for elaborate dinners, horses and grooms (to take are of the horses). Two days after arriving in Quebec, he paraded through the city mounted on a white horse!
Nevertheless, Durham did an amazing amount of work. He stayed in Canada only until November 1. During this time he conferred in Quebec with the leaders of all the colonies in British North America, and travelled through a great deal of country to Niagara. Although this seems a short distance now, you must remember that in those days there were no trains and only a few rough roads.
The great problem was that of “two nations warring in the bosom of a single state.” French- and English-speaking Canadians were not getting along together. Durham recommended uniting Upper and Lower Canada, and giving them one Parliament. He thought that French- and English-speaking children should go to the same schools, and that English should be the only official language because he hoped that gradually the French would be assimilated!
Durham pointed out that Britain was a democracy, and one democracy cannot rule another. Therefore Canada should have its own responsible government. These, and a number of other sound recommendations, led, according to historian G. M. Wrong in The Canadians, to a new and contended British Colonial Empire.
To read more on G. M. Wrong, historian, just go to University of Toronto‘s page. To learn more about the Lord Durham Report, you can go to Wikipedia, and the Canadian Encyclopedia. Good places to start!