Two Political Songs: “I'll Be A Tory” / “Up and Waur Them A'Willie”
On this episode of the World Express, our train takes us back in time to the 19th century streets of York, Canada, today known as Toronto. The town was called Muddy York by its inhabitants because its unpaved streets to turned into mud during rainstorms.
We hear two songs from the period of the Upper Canada (now known as Ontario) Rebellion in 1837. The rebellion was primarily led by William Lyon McKenzie (1798-1861), a Canadian political reformer and writer, printer, revolutionary and politician.
The first song, “I'll Be a Tory,” satirizes the Tories of Upper Canada. This political party was controlled by a conservative elite known as the Family Compact. The Family Compact controlled the government and used it to profit the industries they owned despite their blatant conflicts of interest.
The Family Compact was allied with the Orange Order of Canada, and used it as a stick to silence dissent in Upper Canada, threatening and committing acts of physical violence against outspoken political enemies seeking to reform the political system.
This version of the “I'll Be A Tory” is sung to a tune based on Miss Lyall's Strathspey. Originally, the song was sung to the music of “I'd Be A Butterfly,” a popular song of the 1800s whose lyrics were written by the English poet Thomas Haynes Bailey (1797-1839).
This rendition of the song is sung with strong emotional energy, and loses the original satirical meaning of the song and changes it from a political satire into a sincere expression of Tory political fervor and conviction.
The Tory Party would eventually ally with the Parti Bleu of Lower Canada (Quebec) after the Act of Union of 1841 which formed the Province of Canada, and both these political parties eventually merged into the Conservative Party in 1867.
“Up and Waur them A'Willie” expresses political and military support for Willie, i.e., the political reformer William Lyon McKenzie. Many of McKenzie's supporters in Upper Canada were settlers from England, Scotland and Ireland.
This song was written a year before the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 by an anonymous songwriter from Hawkesbury on the Lower Ottawa River in what is today the far eastern corner of Ontario along the border with Quebec. It is very loosely based on a Scottish Jacobite Rebellion (1689-1746) song of the same name from the 18th century.
Thomas Neil, an Edinburgh carpenter, gave a copy of the original Jacobite song to renowned Scottish poet Robert Burns; Burns said that the expression "Up and warn a', Willie" was an allusion to the crantara, the fiery cross, used in the Scottish Highlands to call a clan to arms.
The Upper Canada Rebellion lasted three days from December 4 to December 7, 1837, and ended with the Battle of Montgomery Tavern which was a tavern located in farmland outside the City of York. The Rebellion was easily crushed by the authorities with a few casualties were sustained on both sides.
The Canadian Legislature eventually pardoned William Lyon Mackenzie for his treason and he returned to Toronto in 1849, though not without controversy. He became a property owner, ran for the legislature, was elected and served as an Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada from 1851-1858.
Mackenzie tried to pass reforms and fought against corrupt practices and criticized others who had been in his political circle whom he felt had sold out their reform principles. Mackenzie had strongly opposed the Union of Upper and Lower Canada which occurred in 1841. Mackenzie died after having an apoplectic seizure on August 28, 1861. His grandson, William Lyon Mackenzie King, became Prime Minister during the decade of the 1920s and during a second term from 1935-1948, and is recognized by historians as one of Canada's greatest Prime Ministers.
“I'll Be A Tory”; “Up and Waur Them A'Willie”
Please see Music of Old Ontario:
Join us again next time on the World Express!
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