No less a luminary than England’s Prince Charles attended the 1983 bicentennial celebration of the Penobscot Loyalists’ mass migration to Canada. “I was wearing my United Empire Loyalist pin when I met Charles,” sighs retired teacher Jeannie Stinson. “I told him that everybody in my family is a Loyalist. He smiled and told me that I didn’t look 200 years old.”
America’s Tories were among the British subjects who transformed Canada, which was largely French territory until 1763, into an English-speaking country. Today some 3.5 million Canadians—more than 10 percent of the country’s population—are direct descendants of Americans on the losing side of the Revolutionary War. But the world moves on. Memories fade, values morph, new people arrive. For more than two centuries, Saint John, New Brunswick, proclaimed itself the LoyalistCity, and schools were dismissed and merchants donned colonial garb when Saint John annually memorialized the arrival of Sarah Frost and her fellow Tories. Today, however, Saint John styles itself as “The Fundy City” and celebrates the ebb and flow of the Bay of Fundy’s tides, to the dismay of some.
“What exactly is a ‘FundyCity?’ ” grumps Eric Teed, an Anglophile barrister who is the former president of the New Brunswick chapter of United Empire Loyalists (UEL). “Saint John is the LoyalistCity, but now there’s all this cultural competition for heritage marketing.”
To keep their ancestors’ accomplishments from being forgotten, in 2001 the UEL published a curriculum aid for history teachers entitled The Loyalists: Pioneers and Settlers of the Maritimes. “We distributed it free of charge to all of the schools, but I don’t think it is being used,” says Frances Morrisey, a UEL descendant of one of New Brunswick’s founding fathers. “Loyalists gave Canada peace, order and good government, but now they’re being forgotten.”
Saint John’s mayor, Shirley McAlary, sees no cause for concern. “There are a lot of new people living here who have no connection to the UEL,” she says. “The Loyalist people are growing older and their children are leaving. Now it’s the Irish who are stronger and more united. It’s hard to keep history alive if it doesn’t change.”
In the nearby town of Liverpool, on Nova Scotia’s rocky Atlantic shore, history needs no re-creation. On the anniversary of George III’s birthday, John Leefe, whose Huguenot ancestors were forced to flee Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania, 220 years ago, bivouacs with the Kings Orange Rangers, a re-created regiment of 50 historical reenactors formally recognized by the British government. And each summer Leefe, who is mayor of the surrounding municipal region, presides over Privateer Days, a community gala celebrating Loyalist pirates who raided U.S. shipping following the Revolutionary War.
“My own family was living in America 100 years before the Revolution even began. Perhaps that is why I use every occasion to toast King George,” Leefe says with a smile. “Canada is a mosaic, not a melting pot, and that allows people to remember their family history,” he adds. “Loyalists still view the United States as a dysfunctional family we just had to leave.”