We lived through eight weeks of hell crossing the dark Atlantic Ocean……

Another very intelligent question I have been asked recently by interested readers of this History of the McCutcheons is “What does Upper Canada and Lower Canada” mean?

Following is an attempt, albiet brief, to focus on the descriptive words “Upper and Lower” as they pertain to the naming of the two virgin British colonies.

Our Ulster ancestors set off on a journey to a strange and peculiar land called Canada first landing in Lower Canada.  Canada was an old Indian word that must have sounded strange to their Celtic Ear.

Upper Canada?  Lower Canada?  These two terms describing early Canada may sound unfamiliar to the un-experienced mind, terms that Canadians take for granted, but may have never questioned or forgotten what they meant as time progressed.  Throughout the History of the McCutcheons From Donaghadee, these terms are used when speaking of a particular epoch.

Prior to 1791, Canada was under French rule.  Canada passed from French control to Great Britain through the “Treaty of Paris” dated 1763. Canada became divided into two distinct ethnic, geographic, and political groups.  The French retained their autonomy in the lower portion of the river basin (watershed), closer to the headwaters of the St. Lawrence River east of the city of Montreal.

The newer immigrants from Britain and the loyalist refugees fleeing the American Revolution of the late 18th century settled west of Montreal or the upper portion of the river basin (watershed).

The prefix’s “Upper” and “Lower” were attached to the word “Canada” to define each distinct geographic group which in turn became associated with the two distinct ethnic groups. These two terms were basic terms that described the watershed involving the Ottawa River, the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence Seaway.  The Ottawa River headwaters over 1,100 kilometers North West of its drainage point into the St Lawrence River with the ultimate destination of these waters finding their way into the Atlantic Ocean.

Another perspective of the aforementioned watershed; when travelling on the St. Lawrence River, one travels up to the Great Lakes or down to the Atlantic Ocean.  Henceforth, upper and lower.

Upper Canada and Lower Canada were thusly called from the 26th December 1791 until the 10th February 1841, when they came to be known as “Canada West” and “Canada East”.  In 1840, The Act of Union united Lower Canada and Upper Canada under one umbrella.  Lower Canada was renamed to “Canada East”; Upper Canada to “Canada West”. 

Canada West entered confederation on the 1st July 1867 as the province of Ontario; Canada East as the province of Quebec.



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