United Em­pire Loy­al­ists: Canada’s first refugees

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JEFF MA­HONEY jma­honey@thes­pec.com 905-526-3306

Are the United Em­pire Loy­al­ists still rel­e­vant to­day?

Let’s an­swer with an­other ques­tion. Or two. Is there a refugee cri­sis in the world right now? Is the ab­sorp­tion of diver­sity into ex­ist­ing pop­u­la­tions an on­go­ing rel­e­vant theme of public pol­icy?

In other words, yes. Rel­e­vant; very much so. Huh? What have United Em­pire Loy­al­ists got to do with refugees?

When I sit down with Pat Black­burn, UE, and Fred Hay­ward, UE, to talk about how Loy­al­ists are marking Canada 150, their ap­pear­ance con­forms to my stereo­types but their words don’t.

“The Loy­al­ists were Canada’s first refugees,” Pat tells me. She’s pres­i­dent, Hamilton branch, United Em­pire Loy­al­ists’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada. I’d never thought of it that way but of course they were, driven from their home by war and its after­math.

Pat and Fred go on to po­litely ex­plode sev­eral other myths about these early set­tlers, for in­stance, that they were ho­mo­ge­neous and tra­di­tion­al­ist. There were black Loy­al­ists, na­tive Loy­al­ists, even Dutch UE Loy­al­ists (it’s true)! And there was diver­sity in the ranks of what are thought of as the more “con­ven­tional” Loy­al­ists.

Yes, the ex­am­ples of diver­sity were sliv­ers in the larger ex­o­dus across the bor­der, of peo­ple who wished to re­main sub­jects of the Bri­tish Crown even as their tri­umphant erst­while com­pa­tri­ots didn’t. Still, they re­flect our na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Canada (what would be­come Canada) al­ways wel­comed the per­se­cuted,” says Fred Hay­ward, mem­ber of the Hamilton Branch, UELAC, and au­thor of “Loy­ally Yours,” pub­lished on the 100th an­niver­sary (2014) of the UELAC.

And, in­deed, Loy­al­ists were be­ing per­se­cuted. “It was a very hard strug­gle,” says Pat. “That’s where the val­ues come in. Some were wealthy” but they had to leave ev­ery­thing.

Some peo­ple of diver­sity, too, like Joseph Brant, were com­mit­ted enough to the life they had with the Bri­tish, and com­mit­ted enough “against” an un­cer­tain repub­li­can fu­ture, to make sac­ri­fices for the sake of loy­alty and were re­warded with land grants here — and so did the ground­work get laid, in Brant’s case, for Six Na­tions ter­ri­tory.

“Free blacks, es­cap­ing slaves,” says Fred. “The main theme of our Canada 150 (at Hamilton branch) is that the Loy­al­ists were and are not just ‘Bri­tish’ peo­ple. There’s a mul­ti­cul­tural as­pect. There were Dutch and Ger­man loy­al­ists.”

Of course, now the Loy­al­ists and their de­scen­dants are far-flung and more di­verse than ever.

While the fo­cus of the Canada 150 here in Hamilton is partly on par­al­lels with the present, UEs can’t help but share their own per­sonal branch work into the past, re­gard­less of eth­nic­ity.

Pat traces her roots back to Swiss Palatines who im­mi­grated to Eng­land and then the Hud­son Val­ley. Af­ter the Revolutionary War, they set­tled in the Bay of Quinte area — it and Kingston be­ing hubs of UEL settlement, along with Ni­a­gara, Es­sex, parts of Que­bec and the At­lantic prov­inces, but not so much Hamilton aside from Six Na­tions ter­ri­tory, though we did get drift from the orig­i­nal push (plus, we’ve got the great UEL sculp­ture).

While Fred’s peo­ple set­tled in the East­ern Town­ships, his wife’s fam­ily has roots in the But­ler’s Rangers, Fred­er­ick Sch­midt and Sgt. Robert Camp­bell (Camp­bell’s Cross), who had a land grant near present-day Brock Univer­sity.

Their an­ces­tors con­tinue to make the past real, for all of us. They helped form, as Fred and Pat put it, the “spine of the na­tion.” If not for them, who knows, our pres­i­dent now might be try­ing to jockey us into a nu­clear war with North Korea. Just say­ing. To learn more, check out uelac.org and uel-hamilton.com, or bet­ter yet, sign up for the branch’s gala Canada 150 Loy­al­ist Day (June 19 is On­tario’s Loy­al­ist Day) Din­ner.


Fred Hay­ward and Pat Black­burn dressed as United Em­pire Loy­al­ists.

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