Fifty-nine Years of Nation Building

Canada's material progress during the three decades since Confederation has more than justified the courage and foresight of the men who, in 1867, brought us into being as a nation. Will the next generation see full materialization of their spiritual vision?

JOHN NELSON July 1 1926

Fifty-nine Years of Nation Building

Canada's material progress during the three decades since Confederation has more than justified the courage and foresight of the men who, in 1867, brought us into being as a nation. Will the next generation see full materialization of their spiritual vision?

JOHN NELSON July 1 1926

Fifty-nine Years of Nation Building

Canada's material progress during the three decades since Confederation has more than justified the courage and foresight of the men who, in 1867, brought us into being as a nation. Will the next generation see full materialization of their spiritual vision?


THIS is the fifty ninth anniversary of Canada s birth. She has entered her diamond jubilee year. As the ages of nations are reckoned, hers has been a short life—so short that it i completely spanned by the memories of her elderly citizens. Yet so marked has been her progress that she already ranks among world powers.

It is instructive, therefore, to examine the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Dominion, and the sentiments held and expressed by its sponsors. What did the Fathers of Confederation essay to do? what dangers did they seek to avoid?

what was their vision and design? how far has the hard travail of the years justified their hopes, and rendered vain their fears?

The anniversary finds Canadians discussing their relations to two great nations—their status within the Empire, and the influence on their national character and future of proximity to the United States. It is useful to recall that both relationships were not only anticipated by the Fathers, but were major factors in deciding their

action. In the light of present developments it is reassuring to remember that they foresaw events with a prescience that the trend of affairs has vindicated. Even in those early days men like Macdonald pictured Canada, not as a dependency of Great Britain, but as her powerful ally.

It was but a fringe of people along an international line that set up this first national housekeeping. At the cession, in 1763, there were only 89,000 people in the whole country. There was slight growth till toward the

end of that century, when the United Empire Loyalist influx greatly increased the population. The two Canadas began the 19th century with a population about equal to that of Vancouver to-day. Little more than three million Canadians saw the first Dominion Day.

Upper and Lower Canada had passed through the adolescent stage in responsible government; had vainly tried keeping house both separately and jointly with equally unsatisfactory results; and by the early sixties they had reached an impasse which was the despair of their statesmen. Upper Canada, growing rap-

idly, would no longer tolerate its station in the union and clamored for representation by population. Lower Canada, fearful of the effect on her future position, uncompromisingly opposed it. Popular government had broken down. The union was irksome, and its partners irreconcilable. Five different governments attempted to administer affairs in two years. For a period of three years the only laws passed were enacted by permission of the Opposition. The strain extended to the social relationships of the leaders, some of whom would not speak to one another. Macdonald declared that a choice must be made of one of three courses—a dissolution of the union between Upper and Lower Canada; the granting of representation by population; or a junction of all the provinces.

Meantime the maritime provinces were preparing for union among themselves. They were assembled at Charlottetown in September, 1864, when a delegation from the Canadas arrived and suggested a larger federation. The next month they met at Quebec, and there the charter of the national life was framed. It was confirmed in the Canadian parliament the following year, and, after many vicissitudes, rejections and amendments, was finally accepted by the maritimes, incorporated in an Imperial Statute, and became the charter of a young nation.

Declaration of Independence

WHAT was the influence which brought together men of all parties in the central provinces in favor of the third proposal of Sir John Macdonald?

Cartier described Confederation as both a compromise and a revolution. Cartwright, in his “Reminiscences,” says it was in reality a war measure. It was more than all these. It was a second Declaration of Independence— a notice to the occupants of the other half of the continent that the northern colonies would work out their destiny within the Empire. Those who find in the proximity of the United States to-day a cause for an inferiority complex in Canadians might be heartened if they would read the robust speeches of the men who laid the foundations of this country. These contain no evidences of doubt or symptoms of misgiving.

Canada was in a curious position. British statesmen were clearly tired of her. Bright suggested annexation with the United States; Gladstone favored ceding Canada to the Republic as a sop. The United States, on the other hand, was truculent in its attitude to its small neighbor. The story of the attempts to seduce and then coerce Canada as a fourteenth colony after the Revolution is too little known. That invasion failed. But in 1812 the Republic again “pulled a gun” on her neighbor.

Then came the Civil War. There was no official misunderstanding between the governments. But people in the north believed that Canada—and Britain—sympathized with the south. Canada was threatened with the abolition of the transit system. The reciprocity treaty was about to be revoked. A passport system was instituted which was almost equivalent to a prohibition of intercourse. Many Irish enlisted in the northern armies on the assurance—according to the late Sir Richard Cartwright—that after the war they would be permitted to invade Canada. In fact, Sumner was outspoken in his desire to use the armies of the Republic, and its navy, at the close of the war to invade and conquer Canada as an indemnity for the Alabama. He doubtless felt that war on another nation would help to unify his own. This country had to keep 30,000 men under arms to repel the Fenian raid, while the United States authorities were,

to say the least, supine, and disarmed the Fenians only after they had been expelled from Canadian soil. Congress at one time actually passed a bill providing for the admission of the provinces to the Union on very favorable terms, as four new states. Poaching fishermen from the States helped to further embitter Canadians.

This persistent policy of irritating and provoking this country was a strong factor in shaping her decisions.

There is the best evidence of that, and not from British or Canadian sources.

W. H. Seward, whose purchase of Alaska helped to turn the eyes of the Fathers of Confederation to the west, and to a danger there, said in 1857:

“The policy of the United States is to propitiate and secure the alliance of Canada while it is yet young and incurious of its future. But on the other hand, the policy which the United States actually pursues is the infatuated one of spurning and rejecting vigorous perennial and evergrowing Canada. I shall not live to see it, but the man is already born who will see the United States mourn over its stupendous folly.”

The action of the States was more potent than that of England in setting Canada’s course.

The Way to the Sea

IN SPITE of her great agricultural, mineral and fisheries wealth, Canada labored under a fatal handicap. It was stressed by the premier, Sir E. P. Tache, in his speech in introducing the British North America Act in 1865. She had no access to the seaboard save through United States territory and by the grace of that neighbor. Tache held this fatal to the future nationhood of the Canadas unless it could be removed. He hinted that this goodwill was not a dependable quantity. The eloquent D’Arcy McGee gave the aspiration loftier ex pression. “By Confederation,” he declared, “we shall recover one of our lost senses—the sense that comprehends the sea.”

Tache felt that if the opportunity were not seized, Canada, being on an inclined plane, would be forced into the American Union. Confederation he held to be necessary to maintain connection with the British Empire and “to preserve the interests, institutions, laws, and even the remembrances of the past.”

Canada refused either to be abandoned by her mother or coerced by her aggressive cousin. Her statesmen decided to tackle their own task.

The fierce animosities of the day were both the obstacle to and, to a degree, the occasion of the union. The credit for the initiative belongs to George Brown, who was in despair over chaotic political conditions and the high feeling between the provinces. Brown and Macdonald were implacable foes, with nothing in common in temperament, or habit of life or mind. But they shared a deep love and concern for their country. It was Brown, the stern, uncompromising Covenanter, who made the first overtures. In June, 1864, he told Alex. Morris and J. H. Pope, Conservatives with whom he was friendly, that “the present crisis should be utilized in settling forever the constitutional difficulties between Upper and Lower Canada,” and assured them that he was prepared to co-operate with the existing or any other administration that would deal with the question promptly and freely.

Morris and Pope hurried with the message to Sir John. Canada still awaits the most dramatic picture of that epoch. It is not the historic group at Quebec, settling details after the great die had been cast. But it is the figures of the two hereditary foes, Macdonald and Brown, standing together in the centre of the Chamber before the

Speaker took the chair on that June afternoon in 1864, in guarded and distrustful conference, while the whole House hung upon the result of the interview. It was there that Confederation was sealed. Later, Macdonald, who had a fine sense of the dramatic, announced the result, standing on the floor equidistant from the two rows of benches, which marked the old front lines of the parties, thus emphasizing the abolition of party lines in the carrying out of the great undertaking.

“I do not care who gets credit for this scheme,” said Brown. “I believe ic contains the best features of all the suggestions . . . The whole feeling in my mind is one of joy and thankfulness that there were found men of influence and position in Canada who at a moment of serious crisis, had nerve and patriotism enough to cast aside political partizanship, banish personal considerations, and unite for the accomplishment of a measure fraught with such advantage to our common country.”

In that spirit Canada was born.

The Men Who Made Us

WHEN the delegates met at Quebec they proceeded to their task with celerity of action and clarity of vision. In eighteen days the ninety-two resolutions which formed the basis of the Act were passed. This is in favorable contrast with the time taken to evolve a no better constitutional instrument—the Declaration on Independence. Perfect equality was established by giving the provinces equal representation at the conference, regardless of population. Professor Wrong, in his monograph, points out that in its personnel the conference had men quite the equal of those better known statesmen who framed the United States constitución. Sir E. P. Tache, who presided, had the fine spirit, sincere motives and single-mindedness of Washington; Macdonald, the sagacity and tact of Franklin; Galt, the financial genius of Hamilton; and Brown the journalistic skill and craft of Madison.

If the hostility of Americans was a compelling influence, so was the zeal of ex-Americans, the United Empire Loyalists, active in framing the new constitution. They had left the States in protest against revolution. The civil war of 1866 was only an evidence to them of the error of 1776. They themselves had no fear of monarchs or of the monarchical system. Years afterward, Cartier declared that Confederation was not founded on the democratic principle, though the representative principle was part of it, but on the monarchical basis. The Fathers wanted to call the Dominion the Kingdom of Canada. Britain, with a finer regard for American susceptibilities, suggested the change. The Fathers had no fears of ancient forms because under them had developed some modern abuses. The Throne held for them not a menace but an appeal. They preferred the freedom that slowly broadens down, from precedent to precedent, to the more tumultuous kind. They had seen America advertised as an asylum for the oppressed; they preferred their land to be an opportunity for the race. And by personal experience they had learned that a democracy can be as ruthless

and cruel as any other despotism if its will be thwarted.

The Great Decade

THE speed with which the constitution was framed was only equalled in the expedition with which the Confederation was rounded out. When Brown foretold a union as wide as the continent, he was challenged by Wallbridge as to when this could be consummated. Even Brown was careful to hedge and to admit that the ultimate completion was a matter of time. But in less than a decade the work was done, and in two decades a band of steel connected Atlantic and Pacific. The “Indian lands” of the Northwest were purchased, and one by one the other provinces came in.

Many difficulties were foreseen; some arbitrary things done. Excepting in New Brunswick, the people were not directly consulted. Howe protested that this was not according to English practice. But when Dorion made an issue in parliament he had only nineteen supporters. The critical situation excused, if it did not justify, this arbitrary step. Federal union, owing to the wide divisions between provinces, has perhaps proved the wise as well as the expedient course. At any rate there have been no serious constitutional difficulties.

Possibly there were too many provinces. Financial powers as between the Dominion and the provinces might have been more clearly delimited. Dorion foresaw difficulties, not altogether unrealized, between a popular and a nominated chamber. Even the son of Sir John Macdonald has pointed out that as railways were the corollary of Confederation better provision should have been made to prevent their overlapping. There were doubts and resentments to be overcome; somé Nova Scotia newspapers announced Confederation with type borders of black.

But in the main, the crowds who on July first, 1867, gathered in trains drawn by wood-burning engines; who came in lumber waggon, democrat and oxcart, without the facilities of telephones, telegraphs or electric lights—the women in wide hoop skirts and small shawls, and the men in mutton chop whiskers and high hats—these celebrated a great national accomplishment.

A Century’s Dream

FOR Confederation was the realization of a dream almost a century old. Its implications went back even to the discovery of the colony, for Jacques Cartier included the maritimes in his designation of the land of Canada which he found. “We have reverted to the frontiers of Cartier,” cried his statesman namesake after Confederation was consummated.

The United Empire Loyalists early had the vision. Sir Alexander Mackenzie, after discovering the great river that bears his name and breaking the first white man’s trail to the Pacific, had urged the Home Government as early as 1803 to consolidate the Hudson’s Bay Company, the East India Company and the South Sea Company into one great organization. He wanted vessels on Atlantic and Pacific; a chain of forts across Canada; naval and civil depots at Nootka and the mouth of the Columbia; and great fur markets in the Orient.

And Mackenzie, though his biographers do not disclose it, was the son of a United Empire Loyalist. Chief Justice Sewell, another United Empire Loyalist, had urged confederation; so had Durham in his report in the thirties. A British North America club existed in Montreal before half the century had passed. But it was Galt who lent the idea concrete expression in 1857, and Macdonald who gave it political form a year or two later. United States statesmen knew its significance and perhaps recalled Seward’s warning when the United States secretary of state said to Tupper in Washington: “The confederation of Canada and the building of the C.P.R. have brought us face to face with a nation, and we may as well discuss questions from that point of view.”

Fancies Becoming Facts

MUCH that sounded like hyperbole time has made a fact. Macdonald foresaw “an immense confederation of free men, the greatest confederacy of intelligent and civilized men that has ever had an existence on the face of the globe.” Brown’s scheme was to “establish a government that will seek to turn the tide of European immigration into the northern half of the American continent; that will strive to develop our great natural resources, and that will endeavor to maintain liberty and justice and Christianity throughout the land.”

The goal he specified may well stand as the objective of true statesmanship lor the Dominion.

Howe’s flights were bolder, and the faded Hansard of those days records the laughter of the House when Tache cited Howe’s statement that he knew of a small granite rock in Nova Scotia upon which, at a single haul of the net, the fishermen had taken 500» barrels of mackerel. The legislators renewed their laughter when the premier slyly added that Howe did not give the size of the barrels. Doubtless there was incredulity, too, when Howe heard in anticipation the whistle of the locomotive in the Rockies, and predicted a journey from ocean to ocean in his lifetime in five days. Yet his great antagonist, Tupper, actually survived to make the journey many times within the period indicated and to live in his son’s delightful garden-bowered home in a city by the Pacific which was primeval bush when the prophecy was uttered

Howe’s vision had pictured our vessels in the western sea. “The beautiful islands of the Pacific and the growing commerce of that ocean are beyond,” he declared, “and the sails of our children’s children will reflect as familiarly the sunbeams of | the south as they now brave the angry j tempests of the north.” Even his vivid imagination could not foresee the railway development that has come to pass.

Material Growth

\/fATERIAL growth, too, has vindicated the venture. In the first de[ cade following Confederation, Canada’s population increased by 635,553, or 17.23 per cent. It started the twentieth | century with five and a quarter million, or twenty times that of 1800. In its big immigration days, now likely to be resumed, it had an influx of 400,000 in a single year. And this was a harvest of | youth and of potential heads of families. I In her immigration period, the United States doubled in population every thirty J years. Europe is now nearer the satura( tion point than it was then, and other j things will greatly accelerate Canadian growth in the coming days. The Dominion should on the same basis end this century j with 75,000,000 people. This would seem | to justify Tache’s prediction that in fifty years it would eclipse in numbers many European empires of his day. Even these men would scarcely have foreseen that in three score years Canada would be fifth in trade among the world nations; the third in her per capita national wealth among thirty-five nations listed by the League of Nations; would possess paper mills of 5,700 tons daily capacity; would be the greatest wheat exporter in the world, with the highest ratio of increase in agricultural production of any nation in the past twenty-five years; and boasting a livestock, garden and field crop wealth of a billion and a half dollars in value.

And this development is but beginning. With increased age, Canada, like most individuals, enlarges her girth. She is no longer an attenuated and scattered string of communities, across four thousand miles of boundary line. Her frontiers are being pushed back, her area being deepened. The newly-discovered Garnet wheat can be raised sixty miles further north than the old Marquis variety. About 50,000 square miles (or 32,000,000 additional acres) will as a result be made available to the plough. That is four times the amount of land that was under cultivation in Manitoba in 1925, and sixty per cent, of the total tilled area of eastern Canada. The Dominion, by scientific accomplishment, thus continues steadily to add to Confederation great provinces of production without enlarging her physical boundaries by a mile. And costly railways into seeming wilderness, like that to Northern Ontario continue to reveal mineral wealth, which in a few years of development produce enough to pay the entire cost of the road.

What ol the People?

WHAT of its people? In the face of great physical, racial and religious divisions, there has emerged a distinct unity of purpose. Ontario and Quebec do not yet understand, but they respect, one another. A constant stream of professional men from the same alma maters furnishes a bond across the whole Dominion. The miracle-working discoveries of electricity are abolishing the obstinate distances which were so long an almost insuperable barrier to a common national life. Patriotism and national consciousness have been developed by what Sir George Foster calls the nurture of achievement. A literature redolent of the land has come into being. Nature has preserved to the people a frontier, which though it constantly recedes, still furnishes the youthful and enterprising an outlet for the spirit of adventure and by ever beckoning beyond the purple ridges, retains to the country its old flavor of romance.

A national type has developed — resourceful, virile, obedient to law, quick in its reactions to injustice and in response to the aspirations of freedom. It is distinct from the American, as it is from the British form. It has doubtless been quickened by contact and contest with shrewd and enterprising neighbors. But old traditions and affiliations have persisted in spite of the tug of neighboring and pervasive influences to the contrary. Individually the Canadian esteems the American, but in his collective action he still prefers “the old ’un” in the North Sea. There is constant talk of a changing status—but always within the Empire. Seeking new forms or symbols of freedom, the Canadian finds he has them all, or if there are any exceptions they are of his own choice and not his by obligation. Occasionally some one thinks it time to change the Imperial relation but he is always swept off the map by the unknown person who wrote “Rule Britannia.” Political leaders, if they hold such views, are careful to camouflage them. The Fathers of Confederation, could they know these things, would doubtless be well content.

Macdonald to Bourassa

TIME has not only softened religious and racial asperities; it has disarmed international distrust. People who have confidence in one another are perhaps better qualified thereby to trust their neighbors. The old resentments against the United States have faded before the more genial neighborliness of the Republic. Internal intolerance has largely disappeared. The world has witnessed the curious spectacle of two nations of different origins, language and (largely) of religion, co-operating to produce a common nationality. It has been shown that uniformity is not vital to unity and that variety gives a certain piquancy to national character.

This is the crowning and distinctive contribution of Canada to the history of nation-building. It was marked by George Brown when the terms of Confederation were being drawn; it has been stressed by Henry Bourassa in recent years. This was Brown’s comment:

“Here sit to-day the descendants of the victors and the vanquished in the fight of 1759 with all the differences of language, civil law and social habits nearly as distinctly marked as they were a century ago. Here we sit to-day seeking amicably to find a remedy for constitutional evils and injustices complained of—by the vanquished? No, sir, but complained of by the conquerors. Here sit the representatives of the British population claiming justice, only justice, and here sit the representatives of the French population discussing in the French language whether we shall have it.”

And Bourassa, ardent French-Canadian nationalist, gives expression to a similar thought, in words that fittingly conclude these lines:

“Confederation was not only an agreement of three or four scattered provinces. It meant something much more. It meant something of far greater consequence not only to Canada but throughout the world. It meant that at last on the northern continent of America the descendants of two great nations and races which had disputed the power of trade and war all over the world had found a policy of agreement of mutual respect and equality before the law and under the prestige of the British crown.

“No confederation could have endured unless the basic principle was acknowledged for all time to come that in the Dominion of Canada_there was not only an English speaking country, but primarily and before all, a community of AngloFrench, preserving the traditions, the visible traditions, and illustrating the thoughts and experience of those great nations who have done so much to make the modern world what it is.”