LOYALISTS IN CANADA
History, they say, is written by the winner. It’s also written differently depending on what side you happen to be on.
My newest book, More than Sorrow is set in Prince Edward County, Ontario, where I live. I moved here four years ago and one of the first things I noticed was the sign as you approach the main town, Picton (pop 4,000) proclaiming “A Proud Loyalist Town”. Highway 33 which runs through the County along the north shore of Lake Ontario to Kingston is named The Loyalist Highway, and signs depict a couple in period dress. What, thought I, is all this about? Then I began seeing flags – Union Jacks? Not quite. One of the stripes was missing.
In Canada we have a reputation of ignoring our history. I can’t really be counted among those, as I’ve always had a keen interest in history. I majored in Modern History at University. (Although my focus was Modern European History.) I knew something, vaguely, about the Loyalists who settled Ontario, but obviously not enough.
So I set about learning.
American history sometimes says that all but a few scoundrels and traitors were keen on independence in 1776. Not so fast. Apparently something like 30% of the residents of the colony thought it a bad idea. When all the smoke had cleared, there were in excess of 60,000 people who chose to leave the new United States.
They were refugees in every sense of the word. The British army and government remained loyal to those who’d been loyal to them, and provided transportation away from the States for anyone who wanted to leave. Many went back to England or Scotland, many to parts of North America that were not yet American, such as Florida, and many to the West Indies.
When I was in Turks and Caicos in the winter, we visited the remains of a loyalist plantation. Slaves who had supported the British side were given their freedom and a spot on a ship out. Many of them settled in Nova Scotia, where their descendants live today, and some went back to Africa. (If you are interested in the Black Loyalist story, try the superb Book Of Negros by Lawrence Hill. The Book of Negros was the list the British kept in New York of blacks wanting to flee.)A great many of these refugees came to Canada, over a thousand to what is now Prince Edward County.
What I hadn’t fully realized is that Ontario was almost totally unsettled at that time. Canada consisted of French Quebec and some settlements in Nova Scotia. A small township had been established in the Niagara area. And that was it. So when the new settlers came to this area there was nothing but wilderness. No roads, no towns. Nothing but dark, impenetrable forest.
Not even a lot of Native Canadians. There’s a big Mohawk Reserve near the County called Tyendenaga. It was settled by Loyalists also. The Indians fought on the side of the British in the Revolution (as they did in the War of 1812) and when their side lost, they lost their land and also became refugees.
Many of these refugees were not farmers: they might be townspeople, shopkeepers, newspapermen, tradesmen, maybe soldiers (a lot of German soldiers decided to stay in Canada rather than go back to Germany). As is the case with refugees down through time, most of them lost everything except the clothes they stood in when they fled their homes. The British government gave them transportation, and some supplies with which to begin. Imagine facing the true North American Wilderness, with a handful of seeds, a hand-made axe, maybe an ox to share with your neighbours, and no farming experience. The first order of business would have been to chop down a patch of ancient forest, to clear land and get wood to start building. They lived in tents or rough shacks the first years. In Ontario – in winter!
When I decided I wanted to write another standalone suspense novel,I knew I wanted it to be a modern gothic, a book with strands of the past and hidden secrets affecting people today. I am interested in how war affects lives, particularly the non-combatants, and quickly came up with the idea of a war correspondent injured in Afghanistan and a young female Afghan refugee. Refugee? Where had I heard that before?
Thus, in telling the story of Maggie Macgregor, a Loyalist refugee, I hoped to draw parallels between the refugee experience of Canada’s original settlers with those arriving today. And hopefully I have also had something to say about universal truths, particularly of women caught up in a fight that is not their own.
Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most varied and prolific crime writers. Her popular Constable Molly Smith series (including In the Shadow of the Glacier and Among the Departed) have been optioned for TV by Brightlight Pictures. She also writes standalone novels of psychological suspense, as well as a light-hearted historical series, (Gold Digger, Gold Mountain), set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Visit Vicki at www.vickidelany.com , www.facebook.com/vicki.delany, and twitter: @vickidelany. She blogs about the writing life at One Woman Crime Wave (http://klondikeandtrafalgar.blogspot.com)