A Chronicle of Lower Canada
The trilogy, A Chronicle of Lower Canada, brings to life the little-known story of the Rebellion in Lower Canada—now the province of Quebec. Like most rebellions, it had long roots.
The story begins in 1828, when 14-year-old orphan Niall O’Donell leaves Ireland for the new world. By good fortune, he meets John Neilson, editor of the Québec Gazette, and a member of the Quebec Legislative Assembly. This chance encounter changes the entire direction of young Niall’s life. Niall goes with his patron, Mr. Neilson, to Lower Canada, learns French, becomes a reporter, and has a front row view as the relationship between the British Colonial government of the colony and the French, English and Indian inhabitants deteriorates.
But life in Lower Canada is not all politics. Niall meets charming young women, makes friends, encounters jealous sons, employees and rivals, and uncovers unscrupulous mountebanks as he grows to manhood. His love of dogs, horses, and the outdoors stands him in good stead as his work as a journalist takes him into the countryside to learn about life of in the rough, sparsely inhabited interior.
Large-scale immigration, welcomed at first to occupy the uninhabited lands and to achieve economic growth, also brings tensions. Many immigrants arrive penniless, without the knowledge or means to support themselves until their free lands can become productive. The Irish, Scottish and English bring their ancient hostilities to one another with them, to add to the hostility of the Canadien population from the influx of Protestant English speakers. Then the Cholera pandemic, which has been spreading across Europe to Britain, travels across the Atlantic with the immigrants. As they bring sickness and death, they become another spark in the powder keg.
When elections are called, Niall travels to Montréal, the largest city and the banking and mercantile centre of Lower Canada, to report on them. Here he discovers the great chasm that separates the atmosphere of the official, ceremonial tone of Québec, and the entrepreneurial atmosphere that bustles through Montréal’s busy streets. It is here that he comes to recognize that the dominant issue that divides the ‘Patriotes’ from the ‘Constitutionals’ as the parties call each other, is not language but economics. As time goes on and unresolved issues with the colonial government fester, tempers rise, violent incidents multiply, and positions harden. Friends become politically estranged and then personal enemies.
Plots swirl, and unrest simmers until the spark of another election stirs the violence into outright rebellion. Niall, by now a married man and freelance reporter, once again has a front-line view when he travels with the Patriote forces. As the battles rage, he lives the tragedy of a colony torn apart and betrayed.
Although the British crushed the violent uprising of November and December 1837 within weeks, its aftermath still haunts English-French relations in Quebec and Canada. Sprinkled with French, the trilogy is unique in its attention to accuracy of historical detail. Through her character of Niall O’Donell, Jan Morgan brings the period from 1828 to 1837 alive, providing her readers with vivid detail, lively characters, remarkable events and intense emotions.
The three volumes in the Trilogy are:
Welcome Niall O’Donell, Emigrant!
A Dangerous Direction
A Damned Rebellion!
Those who enjoy recent books like Susan McNelley’s Hélène’s World: Hélène Desportes of Seventeenth-Century Quebec, or older classics like Suzannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush or Catherine Parr Traill’s The Backwoods of Canada will probably enjoy this realistic yet fictional account of life in Lower Canada in the early 1830’s.
Examples with a more political focus set in the United States include the works by the popular authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, such as America’s First Daughter about Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph, and My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton.
Welcome Niall O’Donell, Emigrant!
Volume I, A Chronicle of Lower Canada
In 1828, 14-year-old orphan Niall O’Donell leaves Ireland for the new world. By good fortune, on the crossing he meets John Neilson, editor of the Québec Gazette, and a member of the Quebec Legislative Assembly. This chance encounter changes the entire direction of young Niall’s life. With his patron, Mr. Neilson, Niall heads to Lower Canada, learns French, and becomes a reporter.
In his job, he has a front row view as the relationship deteriorates between the British colonial government and the inhabitants of the colony — French, English and Indian.
Niall’s life in Lower Canada is not all politics. He meets charming young women, makes friends, encounters jealous sons, employees and rivals, and uncovers unscrupulous mountebanks as he grows to manhood. His love of dogs, horses, and the outdoors stands him in good stead as his work as a journalist takes him into the countryside to learn about life of in the rough, sparsely inhabited interior.
When he travels to the principal city, Montréal, to report on elections, the simmering violence erupts. Then Cholera arrives on ships bringing immigrants from overseas, and an epidemic of disease and death sweeps the colony. As tragedies shatter the lives of his friends and adopted family, Niall suffers the blow of star-crossed love.
Jan Morgan’s novel reads like the most exciting fiction, yet it is solidly based on fact. She says, “I have been as conscientious as any doctoral student in digging up the past, in reading the primary documents, the newspapers, the letters, and in being as accurate as possible about the known historical facts. Where I have diverged from university practice is to reconstruct what went on when no facts are known.”
A Dangerous Direction
Volume II, A Chronicle of Lower Canada
Niall returns from Montreal to Quebec, to personal and political troubles. The turmoil that results from the shootings of three bystanders by British soldiers leads to an acrimonious 1833 parliamentary session. Partisan passions run high, and friendships across political lines become fraught.
Meanwhile, within the Neilson family that has become as close to Niall as his own, troubles mount. The eldest son, now Editor of the Quebec Gazette where Niall works, has a falling out with his father and leaves for the old country. Mr. Neilson finds himself more at more at odds with his former political ally and close friend, Louis-Joseph Papineau and the Quebec liberals. The Neilson’s younger children, John and Agnes, find themselves in serious scrapes and turn to Niall to rescue them. And as Niall’s romantic relationship with Julie falls apart, he is heartbroken, especially when she leaves the city for Montreal and a career. But his involvement with the Nielson family becomes more intimate as his relationships with Margaret and Samuel develop.
As the months pass, and the British colonial government makes one ham-handed decision after another, it stokes the wrath of the Patriote party. As its leaders become more radical in their demands for change, the English and Scotch merchant communities formalize their opposition into a party of their own. Violence on both sides marks the 1834 elections.
This second volume of Jan Morgan’s story of the road to rebellion covers the period from 1832 to ‘34. Told through Niall’s fictional journal, memoirs and letters, the novel sticks close to the facts, while dramatizing those events where no record exists. It is an exciting tale, filled with conflict and passion, quite different from most people’s view of British Canada as a ‘peaceable Kingdom.
A Damned Rebellion!
Volume III, A Chronicle of Lower Canada
The 1834 election, with its platform of ‘the elective principle’ sent Papineau and his Patriote party to a landslide victory. The result struck terror in the hearts of the English minority and the feeble British governor. Then the Legislative Assembly refuses to vote the supply bills. Buoyed by their power in the Assembly, the Patriotes refuse to make any concessions, pass revolutionary resolutions that infuriate both the moderates and the British colonial government. With famine on the rise and law and order breaking down, crime rises, gangs of political thugs parade in the city streets, and inflammatory rhetoric creates an explosive atmosphere in the colony.
Niall’s personal life is as fraught. To save the Neilson’s favourite daughter, the beautiful Agnes from shame, he behaved as a gentleman, to have his friends misjudge his motives and see him as a fortune-seeker. Julie, the love of his life repents her choice of the conventual life, but it is too late for him. Niall suffers another loss as Julie and Ovide turn to each other, and Niall must watch his former closest friend court the woman he has never stopped loving.
As the situation deteriorates politically, so, too, does Niall’s emotional and work life. When the governor prorogues the Assembly, sending the infuriated its members out to their constituencies, Neilson family relationships decays to the point that where Niall resigned from the Quebec Gazette. As a freelance reporter, he joins the front lines, reporting from the battle grounds as heated words gave way to bursting bullets.
Once again, Jan Morgan sticks closely to the facts by weaving the reports from the governors, the private letters of leaders of the rebellion, newspaper accounts from the period and many more original sources into a spellbinding account of Lower Canada’s rebellion. She gives us a street-level view through the voices of the people on the scene of the heart-wrenching tragedy that tore the country apart and still leaves scars.
Many wonder how much of what they read in a historical novel is true.
Since most of my story is true, I shall rather explain what is fictional. You may consider the rest factual, for I drew most of my content from materials from the time. The only fictional characters are Niall O’Donell and his family, the Paradis family, and the Martineaus, although each represents a very real facet of life at the time.
The historical characters express their own views as I uncovered them in my research, although I did fictionalize their characters based on my interpretation of them from the record. The women, although they all existed, were more problematic since they left few writings. I derived the views they expressed from those of other women of the period.
The chronology is rigorously correct. Even the weather is correct when it is mentioned. Events, such as the Chalmers affair, the visits of William Lyon Mackenzie and so on, are documented occurrences.
In this the third novel of the series, I have used the many sources that I mention in the novel to write the novel. As examples, Charles-Ovide Perreault’s letters, Sydney Bellingham’s Journal, Julie Bruneau Papineau’s letters all exist and can be consulted if the reader so wishes.
About the Author Jan Henry Morgan
Jan Henry Morgan grew up in the Bellingham/Filion house in Arundel. Her family has long roots in Quebec, having come from Ireland originally during the potato famine in Ireland.
She had a long career in education, which included high school teaching and administration, work in the Ministry of Education in Quebec, senior administration at both McGill and Carleton universities, and finally five years as Director of Education at Katavik School Board for Arctic Quebec.
As a teacher of Canadian history, she had trouble explaining to her students the reasons for the rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada. Particularly difficult to explain was the conundrum that, after their failure, England gave the new united colony of Canada almost everything they had fought for in their new Constitution.
After she retired, Jan Morgan decided to investigate this puzzle. She spent several years in the National Archives and libraries of the various Quebec university libraries that housed the original documents of the period. The result is her trilogy.
She chose fiction over pure history because she wanted real people to read the story she found so fascinating.