William Weller and the Governor General's Race of 1840

by Dan Buchanan

Governor General Charles Poulett Thomson is in a hurry. In response to the Rebellion of 1837-38, he has been urgently tasked by his masters in England to modernize and improve the governments in the Canadian colonies. In just three months in Toronto, the governor general has managed to pass all the legislation he wants, but with politics heating up in Quebec and his bosses in England dangling a peerage over his head, now he must get to Montreal as fast as he can to do the same thing there. Enter “The Stagecoach King,” William Weller, who is famous for operating the Royal Mail Line of stages between Toronto and Montreal. Weller utilizes a complex system of stage stops staffed with experienced workers and is confident he can take the governor general to Montreal in under thirty-eight hours. Driving a very unique sleigh, specially modified for this trip, Weller pilots the governor general and his aid-de-camp Captain Thomas Le Marchant over 376 miles of snowy and muddy roads, avoiding dangerous obstacles and constantly moving forward. In a meticulously researched account of this epic trek, author Dan Buchanan brings the reader along on a breathlessly exciting journey that intricately explores Canadian history through the people, places, and buildings that existed along those treacherous roads in 1840.


Mr. Weller had given instructions in this regard because he was concerned about the two-dozen stage stops they would experience – changing the horses every fifteen miles. He had requested that, at every stop, a fresh team be ready and standing on the right side of the road, positioned for a quick change. In order to assist the stable boys in performing these quick changes, he knew that a torch on the sleigh would be helpful. Of course, the torch would also light the way along the road for the driver and team. The coachman took a few minutes to address each of the horses in the team, and then spoke to them as a group. When possible, he liked to establish a good rapport with the animals before asking them to run for him. This done, he stood up, took out his pocket watch and announced that it was almost seven o’clock, time to be on their way. He took a small piece of paper out of a shirt pocket and with a short stub of pencil, recorded the departure time.


This number would be critical when they arrived in Montreal, as it would allow him to calculate total travel time and determined if the terms of the contract had been met. He stowed the pocket watch, the paper and the pencil back in the safety of his pocket and turned to the job at hand.

Reviews:Foreword Clarion Review - Benjamin Welton (June 8, 2018) wrote:

"38 Hours to Montreal, with its many photos and its amazing ambiance of bleak Canadian winters, reminds us of what great history books used to be like.
Speed, technology, and transition are the central themes of this fun, lively history book. Dan Buchanan brings 1840s Canada to life in 38 Hours to Montreal, a fast-paced story of industrialization and state formation.
38 Hours to Montreal presents two main characters: Governor General Charles Poulett Thomson and Vermont-born Canadian entrepreneur William Weller. These two men represent the different strands of Canadian history and identity. On the one hand, Thomson is a proud bureaucrat for the British Empire and is looking at a future peerage back home in England. He is essentially a conservative in temperament, but his Whig politics make him enthusiastic about industrial capitalism and progress. Weller, on the other hand, is a dynamic captain of industry who foreshadows Canada’s growing closeness with the United States, its rapidly expanding and republican neighbor to the south.
This book tells in exquisite detail and plain language how Weller, “the Stagecoach King,” promised to get Thomson and his aide-de-camp Captain Thomas Le Marchant to Montreal in just thirty-eight hours. The trip is 376 miles long, and it was taken over snow- and mud-choked roads.
This is an adventure story under the guise of a history book. 38 Hours to Montreal is not weighed down with academic jargon or clogged to the gills with pet philosophical theories or historiography. Rather, Buchanan’s writing is sparse and consumable, and better yet, his larger-than-life characters are hard to stop reading about.
For Americans or for those not overly familiar with Canadian history, 38 Hours to Montreal provides ample detail about the rough transition years for the Canadian state. After all, Thomson’s journey to Quebec came in response to the 1837–38 Lower Canada Rebellion of the Patriotes, a group of French Canadian nationalists who wanted a more democratic, less Anglo state in Quebec. London responded by sending Governor General Thomson to implement the controversial Act of Union in 1840, which replaced the old Lower Canada and Upper Canada parliaments with the more centralized Province of Canada.
Unlike in the United States or France, where nationals could call themselves “citizens” in 1840, Canadians were subjects of the British crown, an altogether different type of loyalty and legal expression. This too plays into the story of 38 Hours to Montreal, which shows that so much of Canada’s modernization was driven by its Anglo settlers and politicians. This of course came at the cost of Quebec nationalism and French Canadian culture, and this story is also a part of Buchanan’s book.
38 Hours to Montreal, with its many photos and its amazing ambiance of bleak Canadian winters, reminds us of what great history books used to be like. This is top-of-the-line storytelling with engaging characters, fascinating anecdotes, and a worthwhile purpose. Buchanan deserves high praise for bringing one of the most important moments in Canadian history to such vivid life."

About the Author

Dan Buchanan is a historian and author living in Brighton, Ontario. He is known as “The History Guy” due to his role as a local history consultant in support of heritage projects and community organizations. He is also recognized for his extensive work in genealogy which is published on the web site www.treesbydan.com. The History Guy is an excellent public speaker, called on to speak at meetings and events where a compelling history story fits the bill. Mr. Buchanan has written and published three history books, including the story of HMS Speedy, published in the midst of the pandemic in August 2020. History stories are presented in narrative non-fiction format, characterized by deep-dive research into contemporary documents.

See more about Dan and his work at www.danbuchananhistoryguy.com.