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Posted on May 13, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

The Republic of Canada – Canada’s 1st Civil War (1837-1838)

By Danny Bouchard

Battle of St-Eustache 14 December 1837 (NAC/ANC C-392)
On the morning of December 15th 1837, the alarm sounded in Saint-Eustache. The rebels, lead by Jean Olivier Chénier prepared for the inevitable attack. A good number of rebels fled even before the battle started. Chénier had about 250 men under arms and he placed them inside the convent, presbytery, church and manor house(10). The British forces had completely surrounded the village and launched their attack. The rebels resisted valiantly. Sharp exchanges of muskets were exchanged and the rebels were being squeezed from their positions. The church held firm and the British employed their artillery in direct fire support and blasted away at the church. The church was set ablaze and many insurgents were killed while attempting to escape from the inferno. Chénier, who had managed to escape the church was shot and killed in the cemetery yard. After four hours, the battle was over. Saint-Eustache was looted and torched. The Patriots had suffered another staggering defeat with 70 killed opposite the British’s three. On December 16th Colborne’s columns marched to Saint-Benoit and torched that village as well although no Patriot forces were present. The 1837 insurrection was effectively over.


The 1837 insurrection had been defeated by British and Canadian Volunteer forces. General Colborne would later call for reinforcements from Britain in order to garrison the colony. The venerable Grenadier Guards and Coldstream Guards were sent to Canada, along with other units, as reinforcements to the British garrison. Although the insurrection had been defeated, sentiments were still running high amidst the population to have an independent Lower Canada. More skirmishes occurred in 1838, namely at Chateauguay and Odelltown and again the revolt failed. It failed because the rebels did not have the support of the population of the colony. Combined with the lack of training and discipline that the British regulars had, the insurgents were no match for the British regulars. Numerous patriots were captured during the uprising. Some were sentenced to jail terms, some were exiled and twelve were hanged at the Montreal jail for High Treason. Most of the imprisoned rebels were pardoned and released in June 1838(11). At the same time as the Lower Canada revolt of 1837, a small rebellion occurred as well in Upper Canada and a force of about 800 rebels were defeated by Militias in Toronto. As for Papineau, after St-Denis and St-Charles, he escaped across the US border and later left for Paris, returning to Lower Canada in 1845. He died in Montebello, Québec in 1871(12) .

The Rebellions of 1837-1838 did pave the way for further political reforms up to the Confederation on July 1st 1867.

Recommended Reading

Redcoats and Patriots, Elenor Kyte Senior 1985
Histoire des Patriotes, Gérard Filteau 2003 (French)



1) The Encyclopedia of 19th Century Land Warfare, An Illustrated World View, Byron Farwell 2001, page 204
2) Histoire des Patriotes, Gérard Filteau 2003, page 389
3) Recoats and Patriots, Elenor Kyte Senior 1985, page 78
4) Ibid, page 82
5) Ibid, page 87
6) Histoire des Patriotes, Gérard Filteau 2003, page 414
7) Redcoats and Patriots, Elenor Kyte Senior 1985, page 213, Appendix A
8) Ibid, page 125
9) Histoire des Patriotes, Gérard Filteau 2003, page 450
10) Redcoats and Patriots, Elenor Kyte Senior 1985, page 129
11) Ibid, page 145
12) Histoire des Patriotes, Gérard Filteau 2003, page 131

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1 Comment

  1. Pleased to have found this account.
    Fills in details of which I was unaware.
    I would like to have had more on where the British soldiers were buried.