[an error occurred while processing this directive] FactsCanada.ca -- Friday Feature 2000-19Fr -- The Seven Years War
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The Seven Years War.

December 29, 2000.

Here's some pre-confederation Canadian history for you. At the time the Seven Years War was fought, France controlled most of what was to become eastern Canada. Just what was the Seven Years War, when was it fought, who was involved and what was Canada's role? I will attempt to answer all of these questions in this week's Friday Feature. (Terms that may require some explanation are numbered in the text and gathered together in a glossary at the end of the article.)


The Seven Years War
By John MacDonald (john@factscanada.ca)

The Seven Years war was indeed fought over a period of seven years, between 1756 and 1763. It has become known as our planet's first truly "global war". The principal countries or kingdoms involved were Britain, Prussia (1) and Hanover (2) fighting against France, Austria, Sweden, Saxony (3), Russia and eventually Spain.

Britain had declined to commit its main forces on the European continent, where it depended on the Prussians and German mercenaries to defend King George II's supporters in Hanover. Britain's war resolve was to destroy the French navy and fleet of merchant vessels, seize its colonies, and eliminate France as a potential monetary adversary in the commercial arena. France initially found itself committed to fighting in Europe to defend its Austrian ally. Later, Austria was powerless to help France overseas in what was to become Canada and the United States of America.

Hostilities began in 1754 in the Ohio Valley when a Virginian major (soon to be a colonel) by the name of George Washington ambushed a small French detachment. The British then ordered two regiments, commanded by Major General Edward Braddock, to go to "America" where other regiments were to be organized using men from the colonies. An attack on the French in North America was to begin at Fort Beausjour on the border of Nova Scotia, and at their forts at Lake Champlain, Niagara, and Fort Duquesne on the Ohio River.

Upon learning of these manoeuvres, the French ordered six battalions lead by Baron Armand Dieskau to reinforce Louisbourg (4) and Canada, fearing a British takeover. British Vice Admiral Edward Boscawen was then ordered to set sail with his squadron and intercept and capture this French convoy, although war had not been officially declared!

Boscawen captured only two ships from the French armada. The British land forces achieved even less success: their army's advance on Lake Champlain was halted by the French near Lake George, but Dieskau was wounded during this confrontation and taken prisoner by the British. The planned attack on Niagara never happened as Braddock's 1500-man army was decimated by a small group from the French, aided by local Indians. It was only in Acadia that the British achieved success -- Fort Beausjour with its relatively small force was captured. Many Acadian (5) settlers were rounded up and deported.

In April 1756 the French sent in more troops under a new commander -- the Marquis (6) de Montcalm. The next month Britain declared war. The strategy of the commander in chief and governor general, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, was to instruct Montcalm to keep the British on the defensive and as far from their Canadian settlements as possible. Montcalm captured the British forts at Oswego on Lake Ontario, thus gaining control of the Great Lakes region. At the same time Canadian and Indian war parties ravaged the American frontier settlements. Britain was forced to send 23 000 troops to the colonies and commit most of its navy to blockading all French ports. The aim of the French was to tie up these large British forces with a small group of men and, with the support of their Canadian and Indian allies, spare the more valuable settlements from attack.

In August 1757 the French captured Fort William Henry on Lake George. The next year British Major General James Abercromby, with more than 15 000 troops, suffered a crushing defeat at Fort Carillon (also known as Fort Ticonderoga) at the hands of Montcalm and his 3500 men.

However, this French victory was short-lived, as the tide of war now turned to British favour. At Lake Ontario, Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ontario) was destroyed one year later in August 1758. Lost were its huge stock of supplies for the French and their western ports. Louisbourg and Guadeloupe (7) then fell to the British. The Indian allies to the French (in the Ohio area) concluded their own peace treaty with the British, forcing the French to abandon Fort Duquesne. Supply ships from France continued to reach Quebec each year, but this comprised a small token of troop reinforcements. The French where placing their hopes on an invasion of Britain to force them to come to terms.

In 1759 two British armies advanced on Canada while a third captured Niagara. The Royal Navy brought Major General James Wolfe and 9000 men to the outskirts of Quebec City. That summer resulted in a stalemate with Wolfe finally inducing Montcalm to battle and, on September 13, 1759, just outside of Quebec City, Wolfe inflicted a devastating defeat on Montcalm in what is now known as the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (8). This rainy morning battle lasted less than thirty minutes, but altered the balance of power for good in the British favour. Both sides lost thousands of troops and both Wolfe and Montcalm perished. The City of Quebec surrendered a few days later. The Chevalier (9) de Levis took command of the French army and, the following April, defeated the British on the same battlefield in the Battle of Ste-Foy, regaining control of Quebec City. However, by this time the British were turning their attention elsewhere.

On May 16, 1760, Levis had to relinquish his hold on the city of Quebec. Retreating to Montreal, he surrendered to British General Jeffrey Amhurst as British frigates had arrived to destroy all hope of French reinforcement. This surrender freed up other British forces allowing them to use their services elsewhere. In 1762 Martinique (10) was taken from the French and, if not for the intervention of Spain, other French islands in the West Indies would have been lost also.

France and Spain had organised a major assault for the invasion of Britain, but huge naval victories by the British at Lagos, Portugal, in August, and at Quiberon Bay, France, in November of 1759 had ended all hope of that. However, the British were by now war weary and staggering under a colossal national debt. The war minister, William Pitt, was driven out of power by the new king, George the III, and peace negotiations began.

The French government was determined to regain Martinique and Guadeloupe, retaining a base for the Grand Banks (11) fisheries. They also wanted Cape Breton, but had to settle for St-Pierre and Miquelon (12). The French then left Canada to Britain, convinced that the American colonies would soon strike out for their independence and absorb this area as well. The French loss of Canada would prove to be nothing in comparison to the British loss of the colonies in America. Sure enough, twelve years later, the American colonies began their revolt against Britain. Ironically, it was only with the military aid of the French that the colonies finally gained their independence.


1. Prussia was a former kingdom of north central Europe, which included portions of the northern part of present-day Germany and Poland. The kingdom was declared in 1701, became a republic in 1918, and was formally abolished after World War II.

2. Hanover was a former kingdom and province of north-west Germany and a territory of the Holy Roman Empire between 1692 and 1805.

3. Saxony is another historic region of the northern part of Germany. It was actually a part of the German Empire from 1871 until 1918.

4. Louisbourg was a French fortress in Nova Scotia on eastern Cape Breton Island, built between 1712 and 1740.

5. Acadia was a region and former French colony of eastern Canada. Its present-day designation would include Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the coastal area from the St. Lawrence River south into Maine in the USA. Acadians were early French settlers.

6. A marquis is a nobleman ranking below a duke but above an earl or a count.

7. Guadeloupe is comprised of a few small islands in the Leeward Island chain in the West Indies. They were first colonized by the French in 1635.

8. The Plains of Abraham are also called the Heights of Abraham. These are the plains overlooking the St. Lawrence River at the western edge of the old walled city of Quebec.

9. A chevalier is the lowest ranking French nobleman.

10. Martinique is a West Indies island in the Windward Island chain.

11. The Grand Banks are an extensive area of shoals in the west Atlantic Ocean. (Shoals are shallow places in large bodies of water often home to large schools of fish and other marine life.)

12. St-Pierre and Miquelon are an island group off the south coast of Newfoundland.



On Sunday I keep the newsletter short so that you can get to your New Year's parties on time. I profile Elizabeth Arden, and give you an extensive run-down on how each province came to be named.


Now we all know why we spell the word "flavour" as we do -- the British way and not the American way (flavor) or in French. Actually it was Sir John A. Macdonald (no relation), our founding father and first Prime Minister, who signed into law the use of the British spelling of words to be used in all official documents. Everything that I have explained above helped pave the way towards Canada's confederation. It also explains why the vast majority of French-speaking people in Canada reside in Quebec and the Maritimes.



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