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Canadian Confederation and its Leaders
Rounding Out Confederation


HAPPILY the West joined its fortunes with the union during the foundation period, and the members of the Canadian family have thus grown up together. The early affiliations of the Red River Colony, which in its birth goes back to Lord Selkirk’s romantic enterprise of 1812, were with the American west. More than one thousand miles of wilderness separated the settlement from populated Ontario, and in the ’sixties hundreds of Red River carts plowed the mud, that was afterwards to become the granary of an Empire, to keep open the communications between Fort Garry (afterwards Winnipeg) and St. Paul, Minnesota. When the Hudson’s Bay Company surrendered its right to Rupert’s Land and the Northwest Territory in 1869, it bequeathed a discontented element of French Canadians to the new Government. Though the population of the Red River Settlement was not more than 12,000, Louis Riel, reflecting the fear of the Catholics as to the sacrifice of their race and religion, as well as giving rein to his own ambition and vanity, led in the obstruction to the entrance of William McDougall, the new Governor. Donald A. Smith (afterwards Lord Strathcona) took part in the conciliation that followed, and was a member of the first Executive Council for the Northwest. An anxious winter was marked by the shooting of Thomas Scott, an Ontario Orangeman, after a mock court-martial, by Riel’s men. The settlement then calmed down, delegates went to Ottawa to arrange terms, and the Manitoba Act, admitting the Province to Confederation, was passed on May 12, 1871. Adams G. Archibald of Nova Scotia, who had been a Father of Confederation and a member of the Dominion Cabinet, was appointed Governor, and entered upon a rule marked by conciliation.

On the arrival in August of Col. Garnett Wolseley, with a detachment of troops, Riel and his leaders solved by flight a situation rendered delicate by the opposition of the French element to immigration which threatened their preponderance.

British Columbia quickly followed Manitoba’s lead in entering the union, but the territories lying between, though forming part of the Dominion, were without Provincial autonomy until 1905. On the Pacific coast two colonies, British Columbia and Vancouver Island, were none too congenial neighbors. Here, too, the long sway of the Hudson’s Bay Company was the only rule the few whites and Indians had known, the last of its great Governors being Sir James Douglas. Politically, this rule closed in 1859, and under Imperial pressure the two colonies united in 1866. The gold rush of the early ’sixties had ended, and the crumbling of the road-houses on the trails symbolized depression and deficits. The colony was pitifully isolated. Locked behind its screen of mountains, San Francisco was its nearest mart, and the rest of the world was reached by Panama or Cape Horn. As the public debt passed the million dollar mark, the obvious thought was to join Canada. A Confederation League was formed at a meeting in Victoria in May, 1868, and a convention at Yale in September showed that the mainland was almost a unit for union. The choice of Anthony Musgrave as the new Governor, an adroit suggestion from Sir John A. Macdonald, added the needed weight to the union cause. On his arrival early in 1870 the Legislature adopted resolutions framed by the Governor, and delegates were sent to Ottawa asking for Confederation. To reach an agreement when both sides were eager was easy, and under its terms the Dominion promised to complete a railway to the Pacific coast within ten years, besides assuming the debt of the colony, and granting the usual subsidies. On July 20, 1871, British Columbia entered Confederation, and Anthony Musgrave went back to England and was knighted for his services.    .

Five years later Lord Dufferin visited the Province and found much unrest from the delay in constructing the Pacific Railway, which had been hindered by change of government and policy at Ottawa. “United without Union” and “Confederated without Confederation” were some of the outspoken sentiments expressed on street arches, while one arch bearing the motto, “Carnarvon Terms or Separation,” was so offensive that the Governor-General refused to pass under it. The Canadian Pacific finally crossed the Dominion in 1885, two other transcontinentals now touch the Pacific coast, and British Columbia’s problems are provincial rather than federal.

Saskatchewan and Alberta emerged by degrees to the status of Provinces as their population warranted. They had been part of the vast Northwest Territory acquired from the Hudson’s Bay Company, were governed autocratically by it, and inhabited chiefly by red men and buffaloes. No one dreamed of their possible wealth nor foresaw the rush of home-makers before the century closed. Nor did they see the part they would play in the Dominion’s economic development, nor anticipate that here would be sown seeds of radicalism which should profoundly influence the whole Dominion. This unfettered western sentiment has been aptly interpreted by Arthur Stringer in his poem, “Morning in the Northwest,” in which he sings:

“Here are no huddled cities old in sin
What care I for all Earth’s creeds outworn,
The dreams outlived, the hopes to ashes turned
In that old East so dark with rain and doubt?
Here life swings glad and free and rude, and 
Shall drink it to the full and go content.”

At first, from 1870 to 1876, the Territory was under the wing of the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba. A Governor, assisted by a council, then administered affairs until 1887, when responsible government was established. The long-awaited railway had now arrived, and the foundations were being laid for an opulent future. The vigorous immigration policy of Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior in the Laurier Cabinet, spurred the rush to the prairies from Europe and the United States, and the sorrows of previous booms and their collapse were forgotten in the new prosperity. By 1905 autonomy could no longer be withheld, the Dominion Government yielded to the pressure of Premier F. W. G. Haultain and his associates, and the new Provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were set up. Earl Grey, then Governor-General, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Premier of Canada, journeyed to Edmonton and Regina for the imposing inauguration ceremonies in the new capitals, and completed Confederation in nine Provinces, from sea to sea.

“When I look about me on this sea of upturned faces,” said Sir Wilfrid Laurier to the historic gathering at Edmonton on September 1, 1905, “I see the determination of the new Province. I see everywhere hope, I see calm resolution, courage, enthusiasm to face all difficulties, to settle all problems. If it be true everywhere, it must be more true here in this new Province, in this bracing atmosphere of the prairie, that ‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast.’ ”

When David Laird, then an old man, addressed the inauguration gathering at Regina three days later, he said that on taking office in 1876 as first Governor of the Territories, he crossed five hundred miles of prairie and saw a few settlers at Battleford, but nothing elsewhere but Indians and the last of the buffalo. “The rich loam,” as an early western paper had said, was “already impatient for the plowman’s steel,” and Mr. Laird lived to see the land gridironed with steel highways and millions of acres cultivated by eager homesteaders.

[Sir Frederick William Gordon Haultain (1857-    ) has been identified with the development of the West since 1887, when he became a member of the Northwest Council. He occupied various offices before becoming Premier in 1897, a post he held until the establishment of the new Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, under the autonomy bills of 1905. Shortly afterwards he became Chief Justice of Saskatchewan, which position he still holds.]

It is difficult, in view of the buoyancy and prosperity which have followed Confederation, to imagine the hesitation and doubt which marked the early history of the new Dominion. True, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were far from happy partners for years after the union became effective, while Quebec had many misgivings, despite the confidence of the Church in preferring a British union, with the privileges the French-Canadians inherited under it, to the dangers of a republican and secular alliance. But the union, begun as a bond on paper, has developed into a great Dominion, with vast visible wealth and with public works far beyond its present needs. For almost a generation progress was slow and disappointing, while the neighboring Republic leaped ahead and looked over its shoulder contemptuously at the lagging Dominion. Hundreds of thousands of Canada’s best manhood sought home and opportunity across the border, while those who remained bore as best they could the failure of the young nation’s hopes. All this time preparations were being made for the better days to come.

“We went to work,” Sir George E. Foster has said of this period, “building railways without having anything in traffic for them to carry; building canals and peopling them with argosies evolved from the imagination. The Intercolonial Railway, involving millions, was built before there was anything for it to carry; the Canadian Pacific Railway was launched upon its three thousand miles extension before there was a pound of freight or a passenger to be taken, practically speaking. So, too, we were laying out the bounds of provinces which encompassed no population; we were surveying millions of acres of land without a settler upon them, or even a settler in sight. We were, in fact, doing underground work—exploration, blasting, tunnelling, laying concrete pipes without anything at that time to pass through them, and that kind of work consumed the power and made its long draft upon the hopes of one generation of Canadians before results began to show.”    .

Almost in an instant Canada’s day dawned. Immigration which had passed her doors now entered each year by hundreds of thousands. Timorous capital sought here a fruitful outlet; optimism and ambition seized the people. The Maritime Provinces, the last to be touched by the magic of the expansion, felt the new life industrially, if not agriculturally; Quebec developed her raw materials, Ontario became more industrialized, while the western Provinces could barely assimilate their new population and capital. The Dominion closed its first half century with wealth and hopes that justified the most sanguine views of its far-seeing Fathers.


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