On Canadians

by Terese Svoboda

Benedict Arnold

In my last post, I focused on the 100,000 Loyalists who fled to Canada after the Revolutionary War, and hypothesized that they were fleeing an American war of terror. Otherwise, why move? Now I’m living in Canada as a permanent resident, though for only half the year at a time, wallowing in socialism-lite and Canada’s very sane “peace, order and good government” rather than America’s individualistic “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I found living under Trump regime terrifying, and fled. A victim of terrorism? Or a traitor?

Depends on who’s asking.  If it’s Fox News, the instigators of the January 6th debacle were patriots. The case of Benedict Arnold, America’s best known traitor, is more clearcut. This “most enterprising and dangerous” of all the American generals,[1] led revolutionary forces against British-held Quebec in a blinding snowstorm on the last day of 1775,  just hours before the soldiers’ contracts were up. [2] It was the first defeat of the Revolution. Five years later, he surrendered the American fort at West Point to the British in return for money and a command in the British army. That was the same year he informed the British of a proposed American invasion of Canada. After his defection, he should’ve fled to Canada with other wealthy Loyalists because when he settled in England, he was spurned. [3]The bottom line is that a traitor can’t be trusted.

As victims of terrorism, as political refugees –  the losers! –  the Loyalists struggled to leave America. Many of them walked through land held by hostile Native Americans who had been badly treated by double-dealing Americans and British. Sometimes the trip took months, especially those from New York where the majority of the Loyalists lived. Much like asylum-seekers today, once they arrived in Canada, they were kept in camps and given the bare minimum and dreadful prospects: the least productive land, not enough shoes, terrible housing,  and, in some cases, some dreadful weather. Many starved.

The women and children who made coats and leggings for less than the going rate, were mustered out once a month to see if they deserved public assistance.[4] In one camp, six hundred Loyalists had only eight frying pans and twenty-six kettles. Huddled together in tight quarters, the Loyalists contracted waves of epidemics. “The sickness they complain of has been common throughout the province, and should have lessened rather than increased the consumption of provisions,” reported the less-than-sympathetic secretary of the Governor.[5] Despite the black Loyalist militia having been promised freedom by the British, some were returned into slavery, some were enslaved by the Canadians, and some went free to populate unpromising, rocky Nova Scotia[6]. So many white Loyalists settled in Ontario that their numbers forced the British to divide the territory into English and French, and animosity between the two groups is partially responsible for the Canadian mosaic approach to assimilation. (America’s melting pot was the creation of Henry Ford who required his workers to attend English classes. At graduation, they entered a giant depiction of a pot wearing their national costume, and emerged wearing a suit and tie).[7]

Even after fleeing the US, the Loyalists weren’t free of the Revolutionaries. A pamphlet distributed among Canadians in 1775 warned that they would be “conquered into liberty” by the invaders from the South.[8] American political figures even pre-approved Canada’s admission to the U.S. in the Articles of Confederation in 1777. Thomas Jefferson described  the potential conquest of Canada as “a matter of marching.” [9] He hadn’t reckoned with its vast geography, the antipathy of the Loyalists and the French toward Americans, and how the Napoleonic wars had strengthened the British forces. Only the disastrous War of 1812 years later made the US stop considering taking Canada by force. (Only in 2011 did an American historian admit that Canada won that war.[10])  Loyalists who endured the terrors of the Revolution and the War of 1812 doubled down on their allegiance to Britain, and even profited by it, by establishing Dalhousie University on the duties gained while holding a port town in Maine. [11] Hostilities continued between their descendants and Americans. Although Canadians hosted the underground railroad during the Civil War, a good number fought with the Confederates and their British allies.[12] In 1859, there was a standoff in the San Juans when a Canadian pig invaded an American garden and the Canadians were ordered to attack. The military in charge decided it was a joke, and refused. When Britain became powerful between 1919–1939, the US began to fear they might invade the US via Canada and developed “War Plan Red.” The US would cut off the Canadians from the British by capturing Halifax, seize the Canadian power plants near Niagara Falls, and invade on three fronts: Vermont, North Dakota and the Great Lakes. Charles Lindbergh, flying secret recon missions to Canada’s Hudson Bay, recommended the use of chemical weapons, while the US held its largest war games ever right over the border.[13]  Oddly enough, Canadians had similar plans in their “Defence Scheme 1” but their relied on holding on until Britain came to their aid[14]. Both plans were trashed.

Canada only became a nation as a result of four hundred years of such comparatively mild aggression. They were in no rush. In the beginning they profited from access to the tariff-protected British markets, and after the fur market began to thrive, the British navy guarded them on the Atlantic and in the interior. Only in 1982 did Canada adopt its own constitution and become a completely independent country –  except that Charles III is still King of Canada.

My fourth book of poetry is entitled Treason. Published in 2002, when we were still in shock from 9/11, the book combines betrayal in families with politics, ancient and recent. In 2002, the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, Daniel Pearl, the Wall St. Journal reporter and suspected CIA agent  was beheaded in Pakistan, an FBI agent was convicted of selling secrets to Moscow, John Walker, the American Taliban, went to prison for13 years. Convictions of terrorism for at least a few years were swift in comparison to today. Does anybody remember that Mayor Giuliani was knighted by the Queen that year? Treason was republished in 2020, when the political stakes were far too similar to 2002, and Giuliani lost his license.

Reassessing the Loyalists in light of today’s politics, I believe the majority were not traitors committing treason but peacemakers who objected to war the Revolutionaries provoked. This categorization would then include the Vietnam draft dodgers. Many of the 30,000 men avoiding the draft in the 1970s found Canada hospitable, and did not return to the states after amnesty was offered by President Jimmy Carter.  Neither the draft dodgers nor the Loyalists were the criminals and rejects sent by Britain to Australia and elsewhere, but people who chose Canada for their own reasons.

I am hardly a “real” political refugee. I applied for immigration status when Trump was elected and waited two years to become a permanent resident under the category of “ international artist.” My experience with the Canadian immigration system was very pleasant. They telephoned every so often to find out how I was doing, offering to assist in finding me a job or inquiring about my health. Many friends asked Why move? Canada is just like the US. But it is not. The front page newspaper when I arrived touted the discovery that a bird had two tones instead of just one. There were four  mass murders in the whole country last year, nine dead. In the US there were 40,000 dead. [15] Correcting for the population difference, that’s still dreadful.

My friend Marilyn says Canadians feel superior to Amerians: their socialism permits a higher standard of living, and they have far fewer guns in circulation, resulting in much less violence. But they also feel inferior: they didn’t put a man on the  moon. She also says that this inferiority complex is built on admiration for the US,  laced with a dollop of fear. As Pierre Trudeau said: “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast is, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Canadians have to be ever-vigilant. After all, the US may get thirsty for their water and green space, and swallow the economy in one gulp.  “These are old fears,” says Marilyn, “but understood more clearly in the age of the internet and its borde- piercing capacity.”

Oh, bother. Canadian buses say “Sorry” on their marquees when they can’t pick up passengers. They’ve just celebrated a national holiday called Family Day. Few take business calls on the weekend. Because educational standards are higher in Canada than the US, they have informed opinions. “And is there another word for nice. It’s so pallid. Boring. Nice girls never have fun. Is peaceful too hokey?” asks Marilyn.

Canadians are, in fact, nice.


[1] https://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-benedict-arnold

[2] https://lermuseum.org/colony-to-confederation-1764-1866/1764-1811/siege-of-quebec-1775-1776

[3] https://www.intel.gov/evolution-of-espionage/revolutionary-war/british-espionage/benedict-arnold

[4] https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/01/the-loyalist-refugee-experience-in-canada/

[5] Gugy to DeLancy, April 29, 1780, HP 21,723.



[8] https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/canada-won-the-war-of-1812-u-s-historian-admits

[9] Ronald J. Dale (2001). The Invasion of Canada: Battles of the War of 1812. James Lorimer & Company. 17.

[10] https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/canada-won-the-war-of-1812-u-s-historian-admits

[11] www.dalhousie.university.edu

[12] Johnson, Daniel F. The American Civil War : the service records of Atlantic Canadians with the State of Maine volunteers. (Saint John, New Brunswick : D.F. Johnson, c1995). 2 volumes. FS Library book 971.5 M2jd

[13] John Major, “War Plan Red: The American Plan for War with Britain,” Historian (1998) 58#1 pp 12–15.

[14] Peter Carlson (December 30, 2005). “Raiding the Icebox – Behind Its Warm Front, the United States Made Cold Calculations to Subdue Canada”. The Washington Post.