We all know of the architectural and artistic contributions of the Children of Peace to Canadian society. These were considered enough to designate the Temple a national historic site.
However, a new book by York University professor Albert Schrauwers documents their hitherto unknown contribution to the creation of a democratic Canadian state, revealing a whole new saga of our national history. “Union is Strength” traces the economic and political innovations introduced by this small group as they fought for social justice against an oppressive colonial government. This fascinating tale offers telling insights to an era usually dismissed as the bland period of pioneer settlement or of a failed rebellion.
The book traces the contribution of two members, David Willson and Samuel Hughes, to the reform movement led by William Lyon Mackenzie. Willson is well known as the religious leader of the group, although he was just as effective as a political organizer. Hughes, shockingly, is virtually unknown. Hughes was the president of Canada’s first farmer’s co-operative, and an active reform organizer for the original “Canadian Alliance.” He might have been better remembered had this pacifist not refused to join his cousin, Samuel Lount, in martyrdom during the Rebellion of 1837. The men initiated the province’s first political convention in Mackenzie’s absence. The courage of these pacifists in the face of Orange Order electoral violence, and the murder of their members, is inspirational.
The book traces these political efforts against the “Family Compact” from the completion of the Temple, through the Rebellion of 1837, until the final accomplishment of “Responsible Government.” The Children of Peace ensured the elections of BOTH fathers of “responsible government”, Louis LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin, making the Canadian government answerable to the Canadian people, not a foreign government, for the first time.
The activity of the Children of Peace is clearly documented – almost weekly – in the newspapers of the period. Most historians, however, did not have the membership lists of the Children of Peace in mind as they read, so these appear to be reports of the actions of random individuals, rather than a coherent social movement. When these reports are pulled together, however, they reveal a tale of a small number of rugged individuals who doggedly stood up against injustice. They succeeded where others – like Mackenzie – failed.