From 1846 to 1848, the Reform Association had to take a pause; an external threat seemed to dampen the cause of reform. Robert Baldwin and Louis La Fontaine continued to work hard in the Assembly, taking every chance they could to speak on the purpose of reform. With Metcalfe still in England with his illness worsening, the Reformers had a free hand to continue the work, and it seemed even Draper’s Conservatives were willing to work with them. In Metcalfe’s place, a military governor came in much as Sir Isaac Brock had during the War of 1812 primarily to handle military means and act as President of the Executive Council. Sir Charles Murray Cathcart, a contemporary military officer to Sir John Colborne, was on the tail end of his career making a name for himself during the Napoleonic Wars including the battles of Walcheren, Flushing, Barrosa, Salamanca, Vitoria, and Waterloo. In the Pacific Northwest, a new war seemed to be brewing between England the United States in America. The proximity of Canada to the United States would again make it a prime target for the increasingly expansionist United States should fighting break out in the west. After the London Treaty of 1818 both England and the United States agreed to joint administration of the area around the Columbia River Valley for ten years, but in 1827 they had extended the agreement indefinitely. The territory became home to many Americans who found their way on the Oregon Trail, the first wagons leaving Independence Missouri in 1836. British settlements many fur trading posts from the Hudson Bay Company had expanded into towns and cities in their own right. But for many Americans, they began to see the British as a hindrance to their idea of Manifest Destiny, and the Oregon Question became central to the 1844 presidential election, and Democratic Presidental candidate answered the question with complete annexation. On that fact alone, Polk took the election. But his first act was not to march in American troops and take the territory; he instead decided to negotiate an acceptable agreement. Polk presented the idea of splitting the territory along the 49th Parallel; however, the offer did not receive broad support in either Congress or Parliament. Many in Congress felt that the Americans had a better claim on the territory and would better use the territory than the British. Some in Congress desired everything up to the 54th Parallel, where Russian Alaska began, leading to their battle cry, 54 or Fight. England, however, desired to use the Columbia River as the international border with the United States on the eastern side, and British to the west and south to the 42nd Parallel where Mexico started.
The problem with each claim is that if either went forward, there would need to be a mass evacuation of the other settlers, many of whom had been in place for nearly a decade. Fearing that the Americans would move troops into the region, the British preemptively moved several warships into the region to defend their citizens and economic interests in the region. Sir Charles Cathcart would in his role as Commander-In-Chief arranged for several military improvements across British North America. At the Red River Colony, he deployed several regular units and arranged for Métis Militia units to prepare to march across the prairie to reinforce the British territories and garrisons on the west coast. In the Province of Canada, the Parliament would work towards passing a new militia act. The 1846 act was welcomed by Robert Baldwin, who took the opportunity to speak in favour stating that Canadians should have a greater hand in our defence. The act created an active militia. The new militia stood separate from the sedentary militia which had served Canada since it’s founding and fought in the War of 1812 and the Rebellions. The 3,000 man force would be a complete volunteer unit, separately trained and paid. Government funds would supply arms and ammunition to the units, and the Provincial Parliament would control when the Active Militia would be called out. Secondly, Cathcart ordered the construction of several new Martello Towers to bolster the defences at Kingston. The Martello Tower was nothing new in British North America; they had been previously built to defend Quebec City after the French-Indian War as well as part of the massive defences around Halifax in the late 18th-Century. The Martello Tower was essentially a scaled up blockhouse or a small fort. Quarters provided rooms for the officers and men, storage, magazine, and a cistern turned the tower into a self-contained unit. Central to the tower was a single smooth-bore canon on the roof. Smaller carronades were mounted in the tower and rifle galleries to defend the tower from ground assaults. The Kingston towers sported a 32-pound main gun and a retractable roof to protect against the snow when not in use. The four towers at Kingston were named Cathcart, Fredrick, Shoal, and Murney. Murney tower was initially named Murrey; however, the tower’s neighbours defaced the name to Murney as the land was locally known as Murney Point. Together with Fort Henry and Fort Fredrick, Kingston could easily defend and defeat any water or land assault on the town or the Rideau Canal.
Thankfully the preparations were for nought, and John Russel and Edward Everett would provide a diplomatic solution. The original plan to use the 49th Parallel to bisect the region with a slight deviation south to allow England full control of Vancouver Island in return several settlements founded by the Hudon Bay Company placed under American control. The situation became formalised in the Oregon Treaty signed in 1846 and complete the modern border between what would become Canada and the United States. For the Americans, the driving force for a peaceful settlement with England were tensions on the southern border as sabres again were rattling between the United States and Mexico. Not a single shot would be fired between the British and American forces in the region. Cathcart would leave British North America in 1847, and in 1848 Sir James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin saw appointment to the Governor General of British North America and Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Canada. The American Government would use the territory gained by the treaty to create the Washington Territory and begin to increase the flow of settlers west along the Oregon Trail. Oregon would gain full statehood in 1859 The Kingston Towers were maintained and manned by a mixed group of the Royal Artillery and Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment until 1870, and for several years afterwards by members of the Permanent Force until 1885 when the towers were abandoned. In 1889, Washington Territory would gain full statehood in the Union. The Oregon Crisis is a weird blip in the history of Canada, and while it took place far from the province, it’s effects would propel Canada into the modern age. Between the meddling of Metcalfe and the disinterest of Cathcart it seemed that Canadians were ready for change, the Reform Association stood prepared to deliver.
Today all four towers in Kingston still stand, with various levels of public access. Murney Tower has been operating as a museum for the Kingston Historical Society since 1925 and in 2018 went through extensive restoration efforts and reopened in May 2019. Shoal Tower is open to the public, but only during Doors Open Kingston. Cathcart Tower is located on Ceder Island and is only available by boat, but the interior is closed off. Fredrick Tower is located in Fort Fredrick and on the campus of the Royal Military Tower and until recently operated as a museum of the RMC Campus and Royal Navy Dockyards. However, the site is no longer accessible to the public due to security concerns. In total fourteen Martello towers were built in British North America, nine still stand. In addition to the four in Kingston, the Prince of Wales Tower, built in 1796, still stands as a museum in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Three of the four towers built in Quebec City still stand, Tower One on the Plains of Abraham stands as a museum, Tower Two is an event space and hosts War of 1812 themed murder mysteries. Tower Four still stands, but I’m unsure of what its use is today, Tower Three was demolished in 1904. Besides the Cathcart Tower, no other memorial to Sir Charles Cathcart remains in Canada. The idea of a volunteer army, the active militia remains enshrined in the Canadian Armed Forces to this day, all soldiers, airmen, and sailors whether part of the regular or reserve force each are a volunteer no matter if they serve inside or outside of Canada. And our volunteer army has earned a fearsome reputation in the wars of the 20th and 21st centuries.