1902 Encyclopedia > Canada > Canada - Introduction. History of Canada.

(Part 1)


Canada, geographically and politically, differs widely from the British colony known by that name prior to 1867. Before that date the country embraced under the name of Canada included a region about 1400 miles in length and from 200 to 400 miles in breadth, extending from the watershed west of Lake Superior eastward to Labrador. Alongside of it lay the independent British provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, and beyond it to the north and the west the vast regions abandoned to the Hudson’s Bay Company. But various causes combined to impress on Canadian statesmen the desirableness of uniting the colonies of British North America into one political confederation.

History of Canada

On the cession of Canada to Great Britain in 1763, its French colonists were guaranteed the free exercise of the Roman Catholic religion, and equal civil and commercial privileges with British subjects. Further privileges were secured by "the Quebec Act" of 1774, whereby the old French laws, including the custom of Paris, the royal edicts, and those of the colonial intendants under the French regimes, were declared binding in the relation to all property and civil rights; while the criminal law was superseded by that of England with its trial by jury. The seignories, with their feudal rights and immunities, were also perpetuated; and thus, under the fostering protection of England, the colonial life of the France of Louis XV, and the regency survived in the "New France" of Canada, unaffected by the Revolution of 1792. But the whole French population at the date of the conquest did not exceed 65,000. From Great Britain, and still more from the older colonies, emigrants hastened to occupy the new territory to the north of the ST. Lawrence. On the declaration of independence by the revolted colonies in 1776, the loyalist refugees were welcomed by the Provincial Government, settled on the land on Upper Canada, and aided with funds and farming implements; and these were followed by emigrants from Great Britain. But it was not till 1791 that the rule of the governor, aided solely by a council appointed by the Crown, was superseded by the grant of a constitution establishing the Government with an elective legislature. At the same time Upper Canada, with its purely British settlers, was made a separate province from the old French colony of Lower Canada. At this date the population of Lower Canada has increased to upwards of 130,000, and that of Upper Canada was about 50000. According to the first strictly reliable census of 1811 it amounted to 77000. But the increase of population of Lower Canada was in part due to the immigration of British settlers. In 1733 a Protestant bishop of Quebec was appointed by the home Government; and in 1804 a cathedral was erected for him at Quebec, on the site of the old recollect church. Dr Jacob Mountain, the Anglican bishop, exerted himself in the cause of education. Parliament enacted the establishment of free schools throughout the parishes of Lower Canada, but to this the Roman Catholic clergy gave resolute opposition; and in various other ways a spirit of antagonism began to manifest itself between the French inhabitants and the British population.

The war of 1812 followed; and during the protracted struggle on the Canadian frontier till the signing of the treaty of Ghent in 1814, the French and British colonist were united in loyalty to England; but with the restoration of peace internal political difficulties revived. The legislative and executive councils were at open variance with the popular representative assemblies; and a new element of strife created antagonism between Upper and Lower Canada. The position of Quebec and Montreal gave to Lower Canada a control over the exports and imports of the country; financial misunderstanding arose between the two provinces respecting their rightful share of import duties; and proposal, first made in 1822, for legislative union between Upper and Lower Canada, was at length carried out in 1841, accompanied by important concessions designed to confer on the majority of the respective of the people that influence over the executive Government which constituted the essential element of responsible government in England. But while the British colonist were divided by the old English party lines, the French Lower Canadians, united by local interest, race, and religion, were able to hold the balance of power whenever the two British parties divided on points of sufficient importance to preclude a compromise. Thus while the advantages of soil climate, the industry, and the consequent wealth of Upper Canada, enabled it to contribute an ever- increasing proportion of the revenue of the united provinces, it frequently received a very partial share in their distribution, and was liable to be outvoted on questions in which both local feeling and local interest were largely involved. This condition of hinges was turned to account in the party contest of the time with an ever- increasing irritation and sense of wrong on the part of the British colonist of Upper Canada, until a common feeling overrode party lines, and matters were brought practically to a deadlock.

This it was which led to the idea of legislative union among the various British American colonies, while reserving to each the control of its own local government; and the common dangers to which they were exposed by results springing out of the great American civil war furnished additional motives to such a union. The leaders of different parties representing the various interest of the provinces, after the mature deliberation, agreed to the principles of the proposed confederation, and the Imperial Government responded by giving it the requisites force of parliamentary authority. The Imperial Act, known as "the British North American Act, 1867," provided for the voluntary union of the whole of British North America into one legislative confederation, under the name of the Dominion of Canada. Thus the older provinces have preceded, even by centuries, the Dominion within which they are now embraced, and have a separate history of their own. The Dominion thus constituted consist at present of the old provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, now designated respectively Ontario and Quebec, along with Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, and British Columbia. To its also pertain the territories in the north- west still unsettled, with power to receive them into the confederacy when they acquired the requisite population and organization of provinces. Provision is also made in the Imperial Act for the admission of Newfoundland into the confederacy. It is further provided that the constitution of the Dominion shall ne "similar in the principle to that of United Kingdom;" that the executive authority shall be vested in the sovereign of Great Britain and Ireland, and carried on in his name by governor- general and privy council; and that the legislative power shall be exercised by a parliament consisting of an Upper House, or "Senate," the members of which are nominated for life, by summons under the great seal of Canada, and a "House of Commons," duly elected by the several constituencies of various provinces in the proportion to the relative population of each.

The Act of Confederation came into operation on the 1st of July 1867, at which date the provinces of Ontario and Quebec were united to the maritime provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In 1870 the newly created province of Monitoba, in 1871 that of British Columbia, and in 1872 that of Prince Edward Island, were successively admitted into the confederation. A lieutenant- governor and council are to be appointed to administer the affairs of the north-west territories, not yet settled or organize he tract of country known as Canada till 1867 extended from Labrador westward to the high land beyond Lake Superior, and from the St. Lawrence Valley and the great lakes northward to the watershed between them ant the Hudson Bay, and embraces an area of 331,220 square miles, lying between the parallels of 41*71’ and 50* N. lat., and meridians of 57* 50’ and 117* W. long. This extensive region, which constituted the most important colony of England, is now included in a Dominion which stretches across the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, and embraces an area of about 3,5000,000 square miles. The vast prairie lands of the great north-west, thus embraced within the Dominion, and out of which the province of Monitoba has been already formed, include the most fertile region of the whole continent. Already immigration is setting steadily in that direction; nor can it be doubted that what has remained till recently a desert, traversed annually by migratory herds of buffalo, and only available as a hunting ground for wild Indians and trappers of Hudson’s Bay Company, is destined to became the seat of populous provinces, and to constitute one of the chief guaranties of the world.

By the addition of the maritime British provinces, included originally within the Acadie of the old French regime, Canada has acquired an extensive line of sea- coast, intended with bays and harbours, offering the most admirable facilities for every branch of maritime enterprise and to these will, no doubt, be added ere long the island of Newfoundland, with the command of fisheries unequalled in value euther in the Old World or the New. The peninsula of Nova Scotia and island of Newfoundland form the eastern barriers of British North America, closing the Gulf of St Lawrence, and commanding the Atlantic coast, with its ocean trade and its inexhaustible fisheries; while Vancouver Island, and the shores of the neighbouring mainland, stretch along the Pacific coast, with estuaries, inlets, and well- sheltered harbours, awaiting the development of the growing trade of the Pacific. There the rivers abound in slamon; the whale’s fisheries of the neighboring ocean already yield valuable returns; and the codhaddock, and other deep-sea fish invite the enterprise of the young province, and guarantee an inexhaustible source of future wealth.

The people by whom the maritime advantages of the eastern provinces have thus far been enjoyed are peculiarly fitted by origin and training to turn them to the best account.. In the early years of the 16th century, when France was striving to outrival Spain in the occupation of the New World beyond the Atlantic, hardly adventurers of Basque, Breton, and Norman blood sailed from Dieppe, St. Malo, Rochelle, and other French seaports, and divided among them the traffic in fish and furs of the Newfoundland banks and the Gulf and the river St. Lawrence. The discovery of Canada, and, indeed, of the American continent is justly assigned to John and Sebastian Cabot, who setout from Bristol under the auspices of Henry VII. Of England in 1497 and landed on the coast of Labrador seventeen months before Columbus reached the American mainland. But England was slow to avail herself of the advantages of discovery. In 1524 Verazzo, a Florentine navigator, sailing under the French flag, coasted the new found continent from Florida to Cape Breton, and the whole vaguely defined region was appropriated in the name whole vaguely defined region was appropriated in the name of Francis I. as "La Nouvelle France." Ten years later Jacques Cartier sailed from St. Malo, explored the coast of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick; and for a time the Norman and Breton adventurers enjoyed a monopoly of fish, peltries, and whatever else could reward those pioneers of civilization for their adventurous daring and enterprise.

By such hardly adventures the maritime provinces were originally settled, before Britain awoke to the importance of the fisheries and other valuable resources of the New World. But she in her turn contributed an energetic body of colonist, including many of Scottish origin; and the war of colonist, including many of Scottish origin; and the war of independence led to a considerable influx of loyalist immigrant from the revolted colonies. War, both then and in 1812, had it usual affect in depressing native industry. But with the return of peace he British provinces entered on a prolonged course of prosperity, very partially affected by the political troubles of 1836-7, or even by the American civil war of 1862 and subsequent years. Half a century ago the population of the whole of British North America was less than 1,000,000 in 1872 that of the four provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, amounted to 3,485,761; and the population of the Dominion now exceeds 4,000,000 of souls.

So long as Canada was detached in government and all political relations from the maritime provinces, and embraced only Quebec and Ontario, with access to the ocean solely by the St. Lawrence, which is closed for fully five months in the year, it constituted an inland province, subject to many restrictions, and was to a considerable extent dependent on reciprocal relation with the United States for its foreign trade.

In a "Memorandum on the Commercial Relation, Past and Present, of the British North American Provinces with the United States," submitted to the Government at Washington in April 1874, by Sir Edward Thornton and the Hon. George Brown, as joint plenipotentiaries of Her Britain Majesty, it is shown that, in the interval from 1845, when a more liberal policy gave encouragement to intimate commercial relations between Canada and the United States, till 1853, the aggregate export and import trade between the two countries rose from $8,074,291 to $20,691,360, and at the same time a large amount of the provinces was carried in bound over the canal and railways of the United States. The reciprocity Treaty was negotiated by the late Earl of Elgin, as governor-general of Canada, and signed on the 5th of June 1854 and it was abrogated in 1866. In the later years of its continuance the civil war in the United States gave a great advantage to Canada, so that, in the last years of the treaty, New York, Portland, Boston, and other American seaports, were so largely used for the trade of the British provinces, that the transportation traffic sent to and brought from foreign countries, in bend, over the railways and canals, and in the ocean ships and steamers, of the United States, became an important element of revenue to their chief lines of transport.

The effect of all this, at a time when jealousies and heart burnings had arisen out of the America civil war, led American statesmen to over-estimate the value of such facilities to the British Provinces, and even to conceive that the abrogation of the Reciprocity Treaty, and the restriction of such facilities, would suffice to create a desire for annexation. Happily, experience has led to very different results. In the "Memorandum on Commercial Relations," already referred to, it is remarked: -

"The industry of Canada had been largely directed to the supply of the American market with commodities for home consumption, as well as for foreign exportation, and the repeal in 1866 of the Reciprocity Treaty, under which so vast a trade had grown up, rendered imperatively necessary prompt measures to open new markets for the sale of Canadian produce. These measures were at once taken. Under the influence of the formal notice given by the United States in 1865, of their intention to terminate the treaty, federation of the provinces, then under discussion, was hurried on, and became a fail accompli within fifteen months after its repeal. The Intercolonial Railway was at once undertaken at a cost over &20,000,000, at the national expense, to secure direct connection to and from the Atlantic ocean, at Halifax and St. John, on Canadian soil. Commissioners were dispatched to the British and other West India Islands, and to South American States, to promote the extension of direct trade between them and the Dominion. The enlargement of the canals, the improvement of the navigation of the lakes and river St. Lawrence, the construction of the Bay Verte canal, to connect the waters of the Bay of Fundy and the St Lawrence, the subsidizing of ocean and river steamship lines, and the promotion of the great shipbuilding and fishery interests, all received a new and vigorous impetus.

"These measures were attended with remarkable success. Only seven fiscal years have passed since the repeal of the treaty, but excellent outlets in new directions opened for Canadian commerce; with an increasing annual proportion of the vast carrying trade formerly done for the provinces by the railways canals, steamships of the Republic transferred to Canadian hands. The traffic between the United States and the Provinces at once fell, from an average during the three years before the repeal (according to American official statistics) of nearly $75,000,000 per annum, to an average of $57,000,000 per annum during the first three years following repeal;- the Act of Confederation, too, removed from the category of foreign commerce to that of home consumptions the large interchanges of commodities between the several sections of the Dominion; and the aggregate foreign commerce of the provinces consequently fell in the first year after the repeal of the treaty to $139,202,615 from $ 160,409,455 in the previous year. As will be seen from the following statesmen, however, the trade of the Dominion speedily recovered from the blow, and the volume of its foreign commerce gradually increased until, in the seventh year from the repeal of the treaty, it reached the great sum (for a people of four millions) of $235,301,203, - being seventy-five millions higher than it had ever reached in any year of the treaty’s existence: -

1867 Total exports and imports of Canada and Newfoundland$139,202,615
1868.....................ditto ..........................................................................$139,595,615
1869.....................ditto ..........................................................................$142,240,897
1870.....................ditto ..........................................................................$161,275,538
1871.....................ditto ..........................................................................$184,852,006
1872.....................ditto ..........................................................................$205,339,943
1873.....................ditto ..........................................................................$235,301,203
Total Foreign Commerce in seven years…………. $1,207,807,817

Thus the immediate effect of the repeal of the Reciprocity Treaty was to draw the British provinces into closer union; while, as appears from official returns, the interchange of traffic, which from 1820 to 1866 had been largely in favor of the States, underwent so great a change from 1866 to 1873 as to show a balance against the United States, and it favor of Canada, in value $51,875,008. wheat, flour, provisions, and other articles, which were formerly sold to New York and Boston houses, are now sent through Canadians channels, direct to the maritime provinces to Newfoundland, the West Indies, South America, and to Great Britain; and Canada thus enters into competition with the United States in its own foreign markets. Mr E.H. Derby, special commissioner of the Untied States, Treasury, makes this admission as to the effect of the treaty on a single port: - "The commerce of Boston affected by the Reciprocity Treaty exceeds $27,000,000 annually, namely,, - import from and exports to the maritime provinces, $6,000,000; outfits and returns in deep-sea fisheries, $11,000,000; imports of wool, grain, and animals across the frontier of Canada and entered there, with returns, at least $10,000,000." With the union of the maritime provinces to those on the St Lawrence, Canada has passed from the condition of an inland colony, dependent on the good will or the interested aims of a foreign rival, to the position of the fifth maritime nation of the world. The fisheries more than all else have laid the foundation of the industrial progress of the eastern provinces, and in the men who now sail their fishing fleets Canada has acquired the elements of a powerful marine, which, in any national exigency, will be found to add no less to the defensive strength of the Dominion, than it now does to its commercial enterprise.

By right of seniority the province of Quebec claims the first place among the sister provinces of the Dominion, though Nova Scotia may dispute with her the claim of earliest settlement. Among the cities of the Dominion it is probable also that Montreal will retain the pre-eminence by reason of the unparalleled advantages of her geographical position for commercial purposes. In numbers, wealth, and productive industry, however, the foremost rank is at present due to the province of Ontario. Referring to separate articles for a detailed description of each province, we confine ourselves here to what concerns the Dominion as a whole.

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