During the American Revolution, Canada consisted of the maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) and New France (parts of the Provinces of Quebec and Ontario). The eastern part of Quebec was mostly French speaking. Loyalists, fleeing the United States around the time of the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1783), settled in the western part of Quebec.
Having been a French colony, Quebec used the French civil law model. Loyalists settling into Quebec were used to the British common law model. Thus a conflict arose. Quebec was guaranteed the survival of civil law in the Quebec Act of 1774. To resolve the conflict between the larger French-speaking population and the newly arrived, smaller population of English-speaking refugees, Quebec was split into Upper and Lower Canada in 1791. Lower Canada used civil law and Upper Canada used common law.
The Act of Union in 1840 created the Province of Canada from Upper and Lower Canada.The two areas were called Canada East (Lower) and Canada West (Upper). The separate Upper and Lower Canada legislatures were abolished and a new unified legislature was established. The Act of Union was passed in July 1840 and was as a result of the Rebellions of 1837.
The two rebellions occurred in the same time period but in different parts of Canada. The rebellion in Upper Canada was a reaction of the populace to the control wielded by the wealthy, conservative, Anglican elite that afforded preferential treatment to the Anglican Church to the deteriment of Catholics, Scottish Presbyterians and Methodists. The rebellion in Lower Canada was a reaction of the French-speaking majority and the English-speaking working class to the economic powers held by a few predominately English-speaking persons. Lord Durham was sent from England to assess the situation who recommended the consolidation of the two legislatures.
The first time I heard of Canada West I assumed that it must refer to British Columbia and Alberta. But, I came across a letter written in 1862 to my great, great, great grandmother from her sister in Cornwall in Canada West. However, I knew from what my mother told me that Cornwall is in the eastern part of Ontario on the Saint Lawrence River east of Lake Ontario. I wanted to know what comprised Canada West.
When Quebec was split into Upper and Lower Canada in 1791, Upper Canada contained most of what is the Province of Ontario, but not all. The northernmost portion of Ontario was not controlled by the British government but by the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1670, King Charles II of England granted a huge tract of land in Canada to the Hudson's Bay Company.
In 1867, the Dominion of Canada was established and Canada East was called the Province of Quebec and Canada West was called the Province of Ontario. A few years later, the British government added territory to these two provinces and formed the boundaries as we know them.
In 1869, Canada purchased Rupert's Land North-Western Territory from the Hudson's Bay Company. Rupert's Land encompassed all of Manitoba, most of Saskatchewan, the southern part of Alberta and the northern parts of Ontario and Quebec. The North-Western Territory covered a small portion of Saskatchewan, most of Alberta, all of the Yukon, Northwest and Nunavut Territories. British Columbia, the westernmost province, was not included. Although controlled by the British, it did not become a part of the Dominion of Canada until 1871.
In context of the provinces and territories that comprise Canada of today, Ontario as Canada West makes no sense. However, when you look at the history of the formation of the Canadian provinces and territories, Canada West makes sense. In 1840, Ontario was the westernmost part of Canada. The lands to the north and west of Ontario were controlled by the British government and the Hudson's Bay Company.
Click here to see an interactive Territorial and Provincial Formation Map of Canada.