Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Tribune of Nova Scotia
Chapter V. Railways and Imperial Consolidation


In 1825 a train of cars, carrying coal, drawn by a steam locomotive, ran from Stockton to Darlington in Lancashire. In a week the price of coals in Darlington fell from eighteen shillings to eight shillings and sixpence. In 1830 the ‘Rocket,’ designed by George Stephenson, ran from Liverpool to Manchester at a rate of nearly forty miles an hour, and the possibilities of the new method of transportation became manifest. But the jealousy of the landed interest, eager to maintain the beauty and the privacy of the countryside, retarded till the forties the growth of English railways. Meanwhile, by the use of railways the United States altered her whole economic life and outlook. In 1830 she had twenty-three miles of railway, five years later over a thousand, and by 1840 twenty-eight hundred miles; and thereafter till i860 she almost doubled her mileage every five years.

In the meantime Canada lagged behind, though in no other country were the steel bands eventually to play so important a part in creating national unity. The vision of Lord Durham first saw what the railway might do for the unification of British North America. ‘ The formation of a railroad from Halifax to Quebec,’ he wrote in 1839, ‘would entirely alter some of the distinguishing characteristics of the Canadas.’ Even before this, young Joseph Howe had seen what the steam engine might do for his native province, and in 1835 he had advocated, in a series of articles in the Nova Scotian, a railway from Halifax to Windsor. Judge Haliburton was an early convert; and in 1837 he makes ‘Sam Slick’ harp again and again on the necessity of railways. ‘A railroad from Halifax to the Bay of Fundy’ is the burden of many of Sam’s conversations, and its advantages are urged in his most racy dialect. But the world laughed at Haliburton’s jokes and neglected his wisdom. Though in 1844 the British government directed the survey of a military road to unite Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec, and though in 1846 the three provinces joined to pay the expenses of such a survey, which was completed in 1848, British North America was for the ten years which followed Lord Durham’s Report too busy assimilating his remedy of Responsible Government to have much energy left for practical affairs. But in 1848, along with the triumph of the Reformers alike in the Canadas, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, railways succeeded Responsible Government as the burning political question, and to no man did their nation - building power appeal with greater force than to Howe.

Already he had witnessed one proof of the power of steam. In 1838, in company with Haliburton, he was on his way to England on the Tyrian, one of the old ten-gun brigs which carried the mails, slow and uncomfortable at the best, unseaworthy death-traps in a storm. As she lay rolling in a flat calm with flapping sails, a few hundred miles from England, a smear appeared on the western horizon. The smear grew to a smudge, the smudge to a shape, and soon there steamed up alongside the Sirius, a steamer which had successfully crossed the Atlantic, and was now on her return to England. The captain of the Tyrian determined to send his mails on board. Howe accompanied them, took a glass of champagne with the officers, and returned to the brig. Then the Sirius steamed off, leaving the Tyrian to whistle for a breeze. On their arrival in England, Howe and Haliburton succeeded in combining the chief British North American interests in a letter to the Colonial Office. That much-abused department showed sympathy and promptitude. Negotiations were entered into, contracts were let, and in 1840 the mails were carried from England to Halifax by the steamers of a company headed by Samuel Cunard, a prominent Halifax merchant, founder of the line which still bears his name. At once the distance from England to Nova Scotia was reduced from fifty days to twelve. Certainty replaced uncertainty; danger gave way to comparative security. It was the forging of a real link of Empire.

A decade later Howe saw that the railway could play the same part. At this time the question was being discussed in all the provinces. Nova Scotia wished to link her harbours with the trade of the Canadian and American West and of the Gulf of St Lawrence, so as to be at least the winter port of the northern half of North America. New Brunswick wished to give to the fertile valley of the St John and the shores of the Bay of Fundy an exit to the sea, and to unite them with the American railways by a line from St John to Portland. The need of Canada was still more pressing; between 1840 and 1850 she had completed her St Lawrence system of canals, only to find them side-tracked by American railways. A line from Montreal to Windsor, opposite Detroit, became a necessity.

It is characteristic of Howe that he was at first attracted by the thought of what might benefit Nova Scotia, and that he gradually passed from this to a great vision of Empire, in which his early idea was absorbed though not destroyed. His first speech on the subject was delivered on the 25th of March 1850, and is chiefly notable for his strong advocacy of government construction. In July a convention to discuss the matter was called at Portland, to which the Nova Scotian government sent a more or less official representative. This gathering passed resolutions in favour of a line from Portland to Halifax through St John. But Maine and Portland had no money wherewith to build, and the British provinces could not borrow at less than six per cent, if at that. Howe had not been present at Portland, but he was the leader at an enthusiastic Halifax meeting in August, which voted unanimously in favour of government construction of a line from Halifax to the New Brunswick boundary, to connect with whatever line that province should build. Later in the year he was sent by his government as a delegate to Great Britain, in the endeavour to secure an Imperial guarantee, which would reduce the interest on the money borrowed from six to three and a half per cent. It seemed a hopeless quest. Earl Grey, who at the time presided over the Colonial Office, was a strong believer in private enterprise, and was opposed to government interference. In July he had returned a curt refusal to Nova Scotia’s request. But Howe had a strong and, as the result proved, a well-founded belief in his own powers of persuasion.

His visit was a triumph, or rather a series of triumphs. Landing early in November, he had several interviews with Lord Grey, and with the under-secretary, Mr Hawes. On the 25th of November 1850 he addressed to Grey a long and forcible open letter, in which he urged the claims of Nova Scotia. A month later he was met with a refusal. But Howe knew that there were ways and means of bringing a government office to terms. He had friends in Southampton, and at once arranged with them that a spontaneous request to address the citizens of that town should come to him from the city authorities. Then he wrote to Lord Grey and requested an interview. The reply came that ‘His Lordship will be glad to see Mr Howe on Monday.’ Howe’s comment in his private diary is as follows:

‘Will he, though? He would be glad if I were with the devil, or on the sea with Hawes’s note [of refusal] sticking out of my pocket. We shall see. Head clears, as it always does when the tug of war approaches. To-morrow must decide my course, and we shall have peace and fair treatment, or a jolly row. Message from Hawes: “Don’t despair.” Never did: What does the under-secretary mean? If kindness and rational expectations, it is well; if more humbug, the hardest must fend off.’

His account of the interview is given in his diary: ‘Letters from home; thank God, all well, but evidently anxious. I am glad they do not know how this day’s work may affect their fortunes. Read letters and papers and try to divert myself till hour for interview comes.

‘It comes at last: a thousand thoughts go rushing through my brain as, with a scowling brow and infernal mental struggle to control my passions, I ride, smoking, down to Downing Street. To be calm and good-natured, even playful, down to the last, is my policy; to hint at my resources without bullying and menace will be good taste. The Ante-Room, the Abomination of Desolation. Enter Mr Howe at last, Earl Grey and Mr Hawes looking very grim and self-complacent. Two to one is long odds. But here goes at you: “Ye cogging Greeks, have at ye both.” The interview lasted two hours. What passed may be guessed by the result. When I entered the room, my all trembled in the balance. When I came out, Hawes had his letter of the 28th in his pocket, it being suppressed and struck off the files. I had permission to go my own way and finish my case before any decision was given. I had, besides, general assurances of sympathy and aid, and permission to feel the pulse of the public in any way I pleased. Vival “Boldness in civil business,” says old Bacon, but as I go down Downing Street my heart is too full of thankfulness to leave room for any throb of triumph.' Thus his threat to appeal from Downing Street to parliament and people had won; but could he win before the people? On the 14th of January he faced a crowded meeting at Southampton, which grew more and more enthusiastic as he went on. Two days later he addressed another open letter to Lord Grey, the result of six weeks’ hard labour, during which, he says, 'it seemed to me that I had read a cart-load and written a horse-load.’ Three times was it copied before he had it to his satisfaction. The draft was carefully gone over by Lord Grey, who suggested certain excisions and additions. Both of his open letters and his Southampton speech were widely circulated, and attracted great attention. Howe’s name was on every lip. His praises were sung by members of both parties in the House of Lords. After some delay, due to a reorganization of the government, on the 10th of March he received a formal letter from Mr Hawes, of which not only Lord Grey and himself but also the Cabinet had already seen and approved the draft, pledging the credit of the British government to the extent of seven million pounds to an intercolonial railway uniting Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Very few conditions were attached. As Howe said on his return to Nova Scotia: 'She virtually says to us by this offer, There are seven millions of sovereigns, at half the price that your neighbours pay in the markets of the world; construct your railways; people your waste lands; organize and improve the boundless territory beneath your feet; learn to rely upon and to defend yourselves, and God speed you in the formation of national character and national institutions.’

What were the arguments by which Howe brought about this great reversal of policy? Though knowing Grey to be opposed to the general principle of public ownership, he began by singing its praises. The best road is the queen’s highway. The toll-bar and the turnpike are disappearing. All our roads in Nova Scotia, made by the industry and resources of the people, are free to the people at this hour. The railway should be built with the same ideal. If our government had means sufficient to build railroads and carry the people free, we believe that would be sound policy. This being impossible, government ownership would at least keep down the rates, and save the people from the private greed which was at the time so manifest in the conduct of English lines.

He then went on to show with a wealth of statistics that Nova Scotia was thoroughly solvent, and that the Imperial guarantee was almost certain never to be called on. This done, he turned gladly to the constitutional side. That the road would pay, he believed; but he advocated it not as a ‘paying proposition,’ but as a great link of Empire. British North America must be united, and must be given a place in the Empire. At present the colonial is doomed to a colonial existence. ‘The North American provinces must,’ he wrote to Grey, ‘either:

Be incorporated into the Realm of England, Join the American Confederacy, Be formed into a nation.

If the first can be accomplished, the last may be postponed indefinitely, or until all parties are prepared for it. If it cannot, Annexation comes as a matter of course. To avert it is the duty of Englishmen, on both sides of the Atlantic. It rests with Great Britain to say which road British North America is to take. The higher paths of ambition, on every hand inviting the ardent spirits of the Union, are closed to us. From equal participation in common right, from fair competition with them in the more elevated duties of government and the distribution of its prizes, our British brethren on the other side as carefully exclude us. The president of the United States is the son of a schoolmaster. There are more than one thousand schoolmasters teaching the rising youth of Nova Scotia with the depressing conviction upon their minds that no very elevated walks of ambition are open either to their pupils or their own children. . . . Suppose that, having done my best to draw attention to the claims of those I have the honour to represent, I return to them without hope; how long will high-spirited men endure a position in which their loyalty subjects their mines to monopoly, their fisheries to unnatural competition, and in which cold indifference to public improvement or national security is the only response they meet when they make to the Imperial authorities a proposition calculated to keep alive their national enthusiasm, while developing their internal resources? There is a balance of power in Europe which British diplomacy labours incessantly to maintain. Each possible transfer of a few acres of ground by some petty German princeling is carefully studied by the Foreign Office. Is the creation of a power in North America to balance the United States to be forever considered of no importance? Nova Scotia especially, whose praises he sings with lusty eloquence, has been unfairly treated. As the result of a rebellion which cost the mother country millions, Canada had been granted a large loan. Nova Scotia had kept loyal; had put every man and every dollar in the province at the service of her sister province of New Brunswick, when trouble with the United States over the boundary seemed near. Yet she had received no loan; instead, she had been burdened by the grant to an English company of the monopoly of her coal areas.

Then he turns to the subject of emigration, at the time much in the public eye, and shows how superior is British North America to Australia, then highly spoken of. He paints vividly the heart-rending poverty of the British lower classes, and the fertility of the acres waiting to receive them.

Whence come Chartism, Socialism, O’Connor land-schemes, and all sorts of theoretic dangers to property, and prescriptions of new modes by which it may be acquired? From this condition of real estate. The great mass of the people in these three kingdoms own no part of the soil, have no bit of land, however small, no homestead for their families to cluster round, no certain provision for their children.

A new aspect would be given to all the questions which arise out of this condition of property at home, if a wise appropriation were made of the virgin soil of the Empire. Give the Scotchman who has no land a piece of North America, purchased by the blood which stained the tartan on the Plains of Abraham. Let the Irishman or the Englishman whose kindred clubbed their muskets at Bloody Creek, or charged the enemy at Queens-ton,1 have a bit of the land their fathers fought for. Let them have at least the option of ownership and occupation, and a bridge to convey them over. Such a policy would be conservative of the rights of property and permanently relieve the people. It would silence agrarian complaint and enlarge the number of proprietors.

To convey such emigrants, to give them work, to find them markets, the railway was a necessity. To bring them over he urged government supervised and subsidized steamers, ‘the Ocean omnibus.’

These ideas he developed on his return to Halifax in one of the noblest of his speeches. 'But, sir, daring as may appear the scope of this conception, high as the destiny may seem which it discloses for our children, and boundless as are the fields of honourable labour which it presents, another, grander in proportions, opens beyond; one which the imagination of a poet could not exaggerate, but which the statesman may grasp and realize, even in our own day. Sir, to bind these disjointed provinces together by iron roads; to give them the homogeneous character, fixedness of purpose, and elevation of sentiment, which they so much require, is our first duty. But, after all, they occupy but a limited portion of that boundless heritage which God and nature have given to us and to our children. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are but the frontage of a territory which includes four millions of square miles, stretching away behind and beyond them to the frozen regions on the one side and to the Pacific on the other. Of this great section of the globe, all the northern provinces, including Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, occupy but 486,000 square miles. The Hudson’s Bay territory includes 250,000 square miles. Throwing aside the more bleak and inhospitable regions, we have a magnificent country between Canada and the Pacific, out of which five or six noble provinces may be formed, larger than any we have, and presenting to the hand of industry and to the eye of speculation every variety of soil, climate, and resource. With such a territory as this to overrun, organize, and improve, think you that we shall stop even at the western bounds of Canada, or even at the shores of the Pacific? Vancouver’s Island, with its vast coal measures, lies beyond. The beautiful islands of the Pacific and the growing commerce of the ocean are beyond. Populous China and the rich East are beyond ; and the sails of our children’s children will reflect as familiarly the sunbeams of the South as they now brave the angry tempests of the North. The Maritime Provinces which I now address are but the Atlantic frontage of this boundless and prolific region—the wharves upon which its business will be transacted and beside which its rich argosies are to lie. Nova Scotia is one of these. Will you then put your hands unitedly, with order, intelligence, and energy, to this great work? Refuse, and you are recreants to every principle which lies at the base of your country’s prosperity and advancement; refuse, and the Deity’s handwriting upon land and sea is to you unintelligible language; refuse, and Nova Scotia, instead of occupying the foreground as she now does, should have been thrown back, at least behind the Rocky Mountains. God has planted your country in the front of this boundless region; see that you comprehend its destiny and resources—see that you discharge with energy and elevation of soul the duties which devolve upon you in virtue of your position. Hitherto, my countrymen, you have dealt with this subject in a becoming spirit, and, whatever others may think or apprehend, I know that you will persevere in that spirit until our objects are attained. I am neither a prophet nor a son of a prophet, yet I will venture to predict that in five years we shall make the journey hence to Quebec and Montreal and home through Portland and St John, by rail; and I believe that many in this room will live to hear the whistle of the steam-engine in the passes of the Rocky Mountains and to make the journey from Halifax to the Pacific in five or six days.’ The question of the future of British North America had long occupied his mind. His first recorded speech was a call to young Nova Scotians to raise their province to a place amid the nations of the earth. The easy patronage of Englishmen, whose intellectual equal he knew himself to be, roused him the more because he felt it to be in a sense justified. America by rebellion had risen to manhood; was Nova Scotia by loyalty to be doomed to inferiority? At first independence attracted him, but by the date of his letters to Grey he had come to believe in ‘annexation to our mother country’ as a better choice, though he reiterated that independence would be preferable to the indefinite endurance of the present position. The change might come gradually, but come it must. Colonial regiments; a colonial navy, if only of a few frigates; colonial representation in the Imperial parliament, the colonies sending to the House of Commons one, two, or three members of their cabinets, according to their size, population, and relative importance.

This idea of Imperial Federation goes back to the days before the American Revolution, and was brought in with them by the Loyalists. It was a much greater favourite with the ‘Family Compact’ than with the Reformers, and was urged alike by John Beverley Robinson in Upper Canada and by Haliburton in Nova Scotia, from whom Howe probably derived it. But though not its originator, Howe was at least its eloquent exponent, and he did much to rouse Nova Scotians to the conviction that some remedy for their inferiority must be found.

At the end of his second letter he boldly speaks in a way which must have endeared him to Lord Grey’s heart. The transportation of criminals had long been a recognized part of British policy, but at this time it was breaking down before the growth of the penitentiary system in England and the colonial dislike of the system. South Africa had just been brought to the verge of rebellion by the arrival of a shipload of gallows-birds; armed colonists had forbidden them to land, and very rough messages had been sent home to Lord Grey. It may be imagined with what joy the harassed colonial secretary welcomed a proposal of Howe that selected convicts, confined for light offences, should be lent to Nova Scotia for work under military supervision along the more unsettled portions of the line. Their continuance in the country was evidently expected, for Howe said: ‘If a portion of comparatively wilderness country were selected for the experiment, the men might have sixpence per day carried to their credit from colonial funds while they laboured, to accumulate till their earnings are sufficient to purchase a tract of land upon the line, with seed and implements to enable them to get a first crop when the period of service had expired.’

To this Grey replied that while no convicts would be sent unless definitely asked for by a colonial government, in that event a moderate number would be provided ‘without any charge for their custody and subsistence to the province which may have applied for them.’ After returning to Nova Scotia Howe defended his proposal, with the express proviso that the safeguards were sufficiently strict; but the experience of other countries tends to show that the idea was dangerous, and that Nova Scotia did well not to act on it.

On his return Howe was at the height of his fame. His mission had been successful beyond the dreams of the most sanguine. His quick dramatic temper thrilled to the core at his reception. ‘ The father, in classic story, whose three sons had gained three Olympic prizes in the same day, felt it was time to die. But, having gained the confidence of three noble provinces, I feel it is time to live.’

It is clear that, unless done by the government, these great railways cannot be done at all. Even if companies could make them, they would cost fourteen millions instead of seven. But, sir, what is a government for, if it is not to take the lead in noble enterprises; to stimulate industry; to elevate and guide the public mind? You seat eight or nine men on red cushions or gilded chairs, with nothing to do but pocket their salaries, and call that a government. To such a pageant I have no desire to belong. Those who aspire to govern others should neither be afraid of the saddle by day nor of the lamp by night. In advance of the general intelligence, they should lead the way to improvement and prosperity. I would rather assume the staff of Moses and struggle with the perils of the wilderness and the waywardness of the multitude than be a golden calf, elevated in gorgeous inactivity—the object of a worship which debased.’

There were still difficulties to overcome. New Brunswick, though willing to co-operate in his plan, was much more eager for the Portland line, which would run through her settled southern portion and link it with her natural market and base of supplies in the United States. During Howe’s absence she had partially committed herself to the construction of such a line by a private company, but Howe was soon able to convert her government to the view that it was better to build both lines with money costing only three and a half per cent than to build one at six per cent. In June her most influential man, Mr Chandler, accompanied Howe to Toronto, where an agreement was soon come to with the Canadian statesmen, of whom the chief was Mr (afterwards Sir) Francis Hincks. In November the Railway Bills were brought down in the Nova Scotian legislature. And then, just when the cup was at Howe’s lips, it was dashed from them. A brief dispatch from Lord Grey announced that there had been a misapprehension. The Portland line could not be guaranteed. ‘The only railway for which Her Majesty’s Government would think it right to call upon Parliament for assistance would be one calculated to promote the interests of the whole British Empire, by establishing a line of communication between the three provinces in North America.’ Howe’s attempt to have the verdict rescinded led only to its iteration.

The blow fell with crushing force. It was at once obvious that New Brunswick would withdraw from the bargain, and that she would have right on her side in doing so. With the dropping out of the middle section, the intercolonial railway and all that it meant must collapse.

Was success still possible? In January 1852 Hincks and Chandler came to Halifax with a new proposal. If the route could be changed from the Gulf shore to the valley of the St John, New Brunswick would still accept. The change would ensure the support of the southern part of that province, and would also shorten the route to Montreal. Mr Hawes’s letter had expressly said that the mother country would not insist on the northern route, if a shorter and better could be found.

The reception of the two representatives was cold. Halifax feared that the proposed route would turn to St John both the grain trade of the west and that of the Gulf of St Lawrence. Howe personally was depressed and sullen. Probably his latent egoism was beginning to show itself. He was asked to sacrifice his scheme, his darling, and to aid in a plan patched up by others. Long conferences were held. Eventually the financial terms were amended in favour of Nova Scotia, and her government, Howe included, gave a somewhat reluctant assent to the new proposal.

A wretched chapter of accidents followed. Early in March Hincks sailed for England; Chandler soon followed; on a series of pretexts Howe delayed his departure. In England, Hincks and Chandler quarrelled with Sir John Pakington, the Conservative mediocrity who had succeeded Grey, and Hincks, brusquely turning his back upon plans of government ownership and control, entered upon negotiations with a great private company which ended in the construction of the Grand Trunk Railway. Of the subsequent series of errors in the financing and building of that line, which left Canadian credit waterlogged for thirty years, it is not necessary to speak.

Of this fiasco Howe felt, spoke, and wrote very bitterly. He accused Hincks of 'having ended by throwing our common policy overboard, and rushing into the arms of the great contractors.’ Now, it is true that in Halifax in February Hincks had favoured government construction; but he had expressly warned his hearers that if the present plan did not go through, Canada might be compelled to look elsewhere. What Canada most of all desired was connection between Montreal and Portland on the one side and between Quebec and Detroit on the other. For the construction of a ‘grand trunk line’ running east and west she had already voted several millions. Howe’s absence and the quarrel with Pakington had destroyed all hope of success for the government line; instead of crying over spilt milk, Canada must seek a new dairy. Into the question of Hincks’s motives or of his financial integrity there is no need to go. The real culprit was Howe, in refusing to help in the final negotiation. He himself has given his defence; it is weak and egoistical. He says that he was worn down by the travel, excitement, and fatigue of the last fifteen months, and that in the depth of winter his opponents forced him to fight a contested election. This might indeed have delayed his departure, while he took a fortnight’s holiday; further than that the excuse has no weight. Had he gone, he must either have differed from his co-delegates, or have been compromised by their acts. By not going, he left himself free to strike out an independent policy for his own province, when that which had been forced upon Nova Scotia should, as he probably anticipated, have failed. It is the apology of an egoist. Once again, at Confederation, we shall see him ‘striking out an independent policy for his own province,’ and with results equally disastrous.

What of his conflict with Lord Grey? On the whole, his Lordship comes out badly. If there is any meaning in words, Mr Hawes had promised that the guarantee should include the Portland line. In the very middle of a paragraph of concessions and stipulations occur the words: ‘It is also to be understood that Her Majesty’s Government will by no means object to its forming part of the plan which may be determined upon, that it should include a provision for establishing a communication between the projected railway and the railways of the United States.’ Grey afterwards stated ‘that nothing further was contemplated in that passage than that Her Majesty’s Government would sanction such a provision for this purpose as the legislature of New Brunswick may deem expedient to make upon its own liabilities.’ A lamer excuse has rarely been penned. The whole letter deals with the guarantee of the British government for ‘the plan which may be determined upon,’ and neither by word nor by implication gives any countenance to the idea that here in the middle of the paragraph, for one sentence, the idea of an Imperial guarantee is dropped and that of unaided provincial construction substituted.

What was Howe’s explanation of his Lordship’s tergiversation? It was the same as that which he had for Hincks’s volte-face. A powerful combination of great contractors, having large influence in the Government and Parliament of England, were determined to seize upon the North American railroads and promote their own interests at the expense of the people. ‘If ever all the facts should be brought to light, I believe it will be shown that by some astute manipulation the British provinces on that occasion were sold for the benefit of English contractors and English members of Parliament.’

Put thus crudely the charge is absurd. The reputation of some of the contractors who built the British North American railways is indeed none too good. Howe scarcely exaggerated when he wrote about one of them to the lieutenant-governor that ‘in his private offices there is more jobbing, scheming, and corruption in a month than in all the public departments in seven years.’ But whatever Lord Grey’s mistakes in colonial policy, his long career shows him personally incorruptible, and in some ways almost pedantically high-minded. The charge must be put in another way. Grey was irritable, strong-willed, and inclined to self-righteousness. Nothing is easier than for a self-righteous man to confuse his wishes and his principles. It is probable that he came to feel that Mr Hawes’s letter went further than was desirable. To the hot fit induced by Howe’s eloquence succeeded cold shivers, which the great contractors naturally encouraged. Of the great firm of Jackson, Peto, Betts, and Brassey, which eventually built the Grand Trunk and the early railways of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, two at least were influential Whig members of the British House of Commons. Very possibly Lord Grey found that with the Portland guarantee annexed he would have difficulty in forcing the plan through parliament. He may have believed that with the guarantee struck out the provinces would still be able to finance the Portland line. Howe is on sounder lines when he makes the fiasco an argument in favour of his plan of colonial representation in the Imperial parliament. The interests of a few members of parliament and rich contractors were on one side, and the interests of the colonists on the other; and in such a case there was no great difficulty in giving two meanings to a dispatch, or in telling a Nova Scotian with no seat in parliament or connections or interest in England that he had made a mistake.

The Provinces were proceeding to fulfil the conditions, when, unfortunately, two or three members of the Imperial parliament took a fancy to add to the cost of the roads as much more as the guarantee would have saved. It was for their interest that the guarantee should not be given. It was withdrawn. The faith of England—till then regarded as something sacred—was violated; and the answer was a criticism on a phrase—a quibble upon the construction of a sentence, which all the world for six months had read one way. The secret history of this wretched transaction I do not seek to penetrate. Enough is written upon stock-books and in the records of courts in Canada to give us the proportions of that scheme of jobbery and corruption by which the interests of British America were overthrown. But, sir, who believes that if these provinces had ten members in the Imperial parliament, who believes—and I say it not boastingly—had Nova Scotia had but one who could have stated her case before six hundred English gentlemen, that the national faith would have been sullied or a national pledge withdrawn?’

It was the turning-point in Howe’s career. For the first time he had attempted Imperial work on a great scale; he had put forward his best powers; and he had failed. His failure wrecked his trust in British and Canadian statesmen, and in the great business interests of England. It did more; it hardened and coarsened his nature. Not that the deterioration was sudden or complete. Some of his most beautiful poetry, some of his finest speeches, were written subsequently. But the weakening had set in, and when in after years he was again called on to face a great crisis, it showed itself with fatal results.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus