From the time that the land we now know as Canada was first discovered and settled, there have been many major wars and minor conflicts that have occurred throughout the centuries on North American soil. Almost all of these were related in some way to the British and French interests in the New World as they vied for supremacy for over 150 years. Even though these wars were fought more than 250 years ago, the effect that these conflicts had on the shaping of the country of Canada are still visible today.
There were three periods of conflict that successively followed each other from circa 1610 to 1762. The first period of conflict was the French and Iroquois War, also known as the “Beaver War”, which lasted from the early 1600’s until the beginning of the 18th Century. French interests in the New World created factions and alliances among the native tribes. The French sided with the Huron-Algonquin alliance and defeated the Iroquois Confederacy in the beginning. However, the Iroquois soon began to use guerilla style warfare tactics, and with their skill in the use of rifles they soon gained the upper hand. A treaty signed by the French and Iroquois in 1701 put an end to the conflict.
King William’s War, which was fought from 1688 to 1697, followed next, with two expeditions sent by British and the American colonies against Montreal and Quebec in 1690 following the successful capture of Port Royal in Acadia from the Acadians. Both offensives were forced to withdraw, and did not succeed in their objectives; the Montreal venture had to return because of disease and lack of supplies, while the Quebec mission was forced back by French defenders. The French hold upon a large part of North America was strongest at this time. But with the turn of the century, the major French and British hostilities were just beginning.
The French built the Fortress of Louisburg in 1720, and began to build up their military strength in Canada. The British were somewhat concerned with the French army being built up in Canada fearing that it might possibly lead to a controlling French presence in North America. But the French were stretching themselves thin around the world, leaving many small garrisons spread far apart which were vulnerable to attack. Soon the British had captured many positions from the French forcing them to regroup and defend themselves in Quebec. But the French still had control of much of the eastern seaboard. This began what was known as the War of the Austrian Succession.
In 1744 part of the French forces based at Louisburg launched an attack on the more southerly town of Canso, which was controlled by the British. The French captured the town and took prisoner about 100 British soldiers after a short but fierce fight. The objective in attacking Canso was supposed to guard the supply lines from nearby settlements, and stop the British from using the town as a staging point for an attack on French Canada. The British reacted quickly to this military move and gathered together an army of Colonial militia commanded by British regulars. In the spring of 1745 the combined British and American colonial armies sailed for Louisburg.
Despite setbacks caused by foul weather and partially trained soldiers, the fleet of ships arrived off Louisburg Harbour and landed their troops with few problems. The French defenders of the beach were beaten back with few casualties on the landing forces, and the attacking forces made camp. For a few weeks a stalemate ensued; then, without warning or negotiations, the French marched out of the citadel – and surrendered. Louisburg was now in British hands and the French hold on the New World was greatly relaxed. But through the strange twisting of political intrigue, only a few years later, in 1748, it was returned to the French in exchange for towns in Belgium, ending the War of the Austrian Succession(1).
However, once again, the British saw reason to attack Louisburg in 1758 and stop the French from forever having a major portion of the North American continent under her control. Under the leadership of Sir Jeffery Amhurst and General James Wolfe, Louisburg was wrested from French hands forever. The final capture of Louisburg, and subsequent retreat of the French to Quebec, was a major point in the beginning of the Seven Year’s War, sometimes known as the French and Indian War – with the British siding with the Indians, leaving the French with little support in Canada. Slowly the British took control of much of the French holdings in Canada, leaving the French with just Quebec. The final showdown between the British and the French occurred in 1759 in Quebec, just outside Montreal.
This is the end of Part One. Please click HERE for Part Two.
Written by William Moore
(1) ‘Guns of Thunder’, Douglas Bond, P&R Publishing, 2007