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Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Chapter XVIII. New Interests and Further Responsibilities


Speaking at Oxford in 1899, Mr. Smith (then Lord Strathcona), gave a vivid picture of the conditions as they were when he first reached Canadian shores, after a stormy voyage of forty days in a little sailing ship. "No one," he said, "travelling through Ontario and the other Provinces to-day could imagine the state of things that existed in 1837. It seems almost incredible. Everything is made so easy for emigrants now—the travelling is comfortable, the voyage is short, the food is better than many of them get at home. In 1837 the only incorporated city in Ontario was Toronto, which, at that time, had a population of from 13,000 to 15,000. In Lower Canada, Quebec at that time was a more important town in many ways than Montreal. It was at the head of navigation, as the shallows in Lake St. Peter, on the St. Lawrence, had not then been dredged, and it was the entrepôt of a greater share of the St. Lawrence trade than it has now. A few ocean vessels of light draught went up to Montreal, but much of the merchandise was transhipped at Quebec into other vessels. The social condition of the people was naturally not of a high standard. Their work was hard, their mode of living simple, their houses large log huts, and they had to go long distances to sell their produce and to buy new supplies. This, of course, refers largely to the country districts, or backwoods, as they were called in those days. In the towns and villages there was plenty of intercourse, and judging from my early experiences, life in the centres of population was pleasant and attractive, and the Canadians were as generous in their hospitality as they are known to be to-day."

Such was the Canada of his early days. The picture is not overdrawn. There can still be found old inhabitants who will describe their early life in almost exactly the same terms, but fifty years of this wonder-working age have completely changed the situation. Canada now has one central Federal Government. The huge territories lying west of Lake Superior have been brought into the Confederation. Millions of prosperous people live in the region which up to 1870 was given over to the Indian and fur-trader. Already three great lines of railway span the Canadian territories, giving rapid and comfortable transit from Halifax to Victoria. Large cities with every modern improvement and conveniences are to be found growing rapidly in those distant parts. The older Provinces have also changed. Toronto has a population of half a million. Montreal is even larger, while in Ontario there are a score of towns and cities exceeding in size and importance the Toronto of 1837. Montreal has become the head of ocean navigation, while the St. Lawrence has become the highway for lines of splendid steamships, which carry on our trade with all the countries of the world. But more important than the physical development has been the political advance. Canada has passed the stage of merely parochial politics. With the growth of population, the improvement in education and the increase in wealth, there has been proceeding the development of national consciousness. The feeling of dependency indicated by the term "colonial" has given place to the sense of partnership. The whole outlook has changed. The horizon has widened. The people of Canada are feeling the impulse and inspiration of a larger destiny. They are getting into line with movements of world-wide significance. They feel that they are to have a vital share in settling the problems which confront the Empire.

This is the explanation of "Imperialism" and the imperialistic spirit. In some quarters, it is true, these terms are made to stand for a cheap, boastful, jingo spirit. But that is not its real import. The spread of the British Empire during the last hundred years has been marvellous. And with that expansion have gone the ideals, political, social and religious, of the Anglo-Saxon race. And it is marvellous to think that in every quarter of the globe there are to be found those communities, rapidly rising to the stature of nations, asserting their independence, jealous of their autonomy, and yet holding as sacred the bond that links them to the Motherland. They speak her language, they glory in her literature, they cherish her traditions, they rejoice in her history and follow her ideals. So vast an Empire with a government so elastic the world has never seen. Will it maintain itself? Will it not fall to pieces of its own weight? Is it possible to produce among these scattered peoples a unit in diversity which will make the British Empire act as one undivided power in the movements of the world It is this which constitutes the problem of "Imperialism" in our day and it is this which draws our statesmen out of the narrow round of local affairs to consider questions, of world-wide importance. London is the centre of this enormous development. In London the relationship of the scattered parts—the policy which shall represent the mind of all—and the methods by which the ends shall be achieved, are discussed and decided. To facilitate this Imperial purpose it was necessary that representatives from the various Dominions should reside in England to serve as a connecting link between the Central Government and those of the distant parts, and this explains why Canada has an official representative in London. In a way this had been recognized many years before, when Sir A. Galt was appointed Canadian Commissioner, though really he was nothing more than the business agent of the Dominion.


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