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Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Chapter XXII. Canada from 1838 to 1914


It requires an effort to imagine what Canada was like when Donald A. Smith landed in 1838. In fact, the very name "Canada," as applied to the country then, is a misnomer. At that time, there was no Canada as we understand it. The larger part of it was an unknown country. There was a fringe of population following the course of the River St. Lawrence and lining the shores of the Atlantic and Lakes Ontario and Erie. There were in this fringe knots, here and there, that might be called towns - Halifax, Quebec, Montreal, Toronto. The time was nearly thirty years before the Dominion was born, before Confederation became an established fact. The people in the extreme east were gathered in different sections—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. These were more intimately associated, geographically, with the people to the south than with the other parts of British North America. They were British and were loyal to the old country, but, naturally, their intercourse, socially and commercially, was largely with the people of New England. Farther west was a French population with Quebec as their centre, speaking a different language and holding a. different form of religion. Still farther west on the Upper St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and even as far as Lake Huron, was to be found, perhaps, the most prosperous and enterprising community off all, largely of Scotch extraction, rigidly Protestant and intensely loyal. That was the limit of the country then. It was covered with great forests and for hundreds of miles north of the southern boundary these stretched silent, unbroken, uninhabited save here and there by some enterprising settler who was hewing for himself a home out of the ''forest primeval."

Winnipeg in 1871

Between those different sections there was little in common. Each lived its own life in its own way and there was but slight communication between them. Ontario and Quebec, or as they were then called, "Upper" and "Lower Canada," by reason of their contiguity were more closely associated. They really constituted the body of the Canada that was to be and it was among these people so widely different in language and religion and ideals of life that the struggles took place, in their battle for responsible government, which make the first half of the nineteenth century so interesting and memorable. But that was the situation: a country of vast extent, stretching from the Atlantic, west to the Pacific, and from the lakes, north to the Arctic, with a few people scattered along its frontier, with no bond of unity, no railways, no canals, little money, little education, few conveniences and a government altogether unsuited to the needs of the people and incapable of grappling with the practical problems of the time, while away beyond this sparsely inhabited frontier line there stretched, north and west, for hundreds and thousands of miles, an immense country, millions of acres of fertile land, of which those in the east knew little or nothing, and in which they had no interest. It was given over to the hunter and fur trader, to the Indian and the buffalo.

When Donald A. Smith reached the country, affairs had reached a crisis and the discontent and dissatisfaction had actually broken out into armed rebellion. That outbreak was not successful, but it served to call the attention of the home authorities to the critical state of affairs. The famous report of Lord Durham threw further light on the situation and led to steps being taken to give some measure of self-government to the Canadian people. But the privilege in its fullness was granted slowly. The British Government was reluctant to give up its direct control and it was only the deep-rooted loyal sentiment of the people that prevented a recurrence of what had taken place in the American Revolution. But wiser councils in time prevailed and slowly but surely the principle of representative government was recognized, and the direct rule from Downing Street was done away. The difficulties of government, however, were far from being settled. Upper and Lower Canada had formed a kind of union. The leadership of the Parliament was a double-barreled arrangement, as for example, the Macdonald-Cartier Government, one of the leaders representing the French of Lower Canada and the other the English speaking people of Upper Canada. It was a makeshift arrangement and was not satisfactory. The two races did not pull together very well.

By the terms of the agreement, each Province was to have the same number of representatives. This was all right at first but, as the Upper Province began to forge ahead and outstrip the Lower in population and wealth and general progress, friction was inevitable. The Province of Ontario found that it was paying the bulk of the taxes and had only an equal say in their distribution, and this was regarded as a grievance. But the whole system of government by detachments was far from satisfactory. There was a lack of unity which made common action impossible. The Maritime Provinces raised their revenues by customs duties. The goods of one crossing the border in another were compelled to pay a tariff. They were in fact a group of little communities with only one thing to hold them together, namely, the sentimental tie that held them to the Old Land. Jealousies and rivalries and local interests were as keen as if they were separate nationalities. And the statesmanship of the, time was largely taken up with petty questions of Provincial rights and Provincial advantage. The outlook was far from bright. However, in spite of these difficulties, the country was growing. The population by 1851 was 2,377,182—not including those west of Ontario. By 1871, it. had increased to 3,626,096, including 10,000 in Manitoba and 46,314 in British Columbia. At the same time, the trade with outside countries was enlarging and by 1867 had reached the respectable total of over $140,000,000, exports and imports. Immigration was coming in spite of the allurements of the United States. The newcomers were chiefly from the British Isles—the Irish, owing to unhappy conditions at home, coming in large numbers—and these new arrivals, being British, chose, from sentimental reasons, to take up their residence in a country which was under the British flag. They were a splendid class of settlers and did noble pioneer work, putting up with all kinds of hardships, pushing their way through all kinds of difficulties and with industry and courage clearing away the great forests.

In Lord Durham's report, the idea of one central government for all Canada with local governments to look after local affairs had been suggested. During these difficult years the idea had been slowly taking root and was beginning to take practical shape in the minds of the leaders of the people. There is no need to repeat the story of difficulties and prejudices that had to be overcome. Suffice it to say they were overcome, mainly through the efforts of Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir George Cartier, Alexander Galt, and, not by any means least, George Brown. The scheme of Federation was evolved and in 1867 the Dominion of Canada became an accomplished fact. When Donald Smith entered the Hudson Bay Company's service, a youth of eighteen years, Canada was a group of disjecta membra. When thirty years later he emerged from the northern wilds, the head of the company, a man forty-eight years of age, he found these scattered parts joined together in a Federal Union, under one government, and for the first time prepared to take united action. But even then, only four Provinces, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, were included under the new Government. Prince Edward Island, British Columbia and all the North-west were still outside. It was some time before the circle was complete and the Dominion extended from ocean to ocean. It was then. and then only, that Canada was in a position politically to go forward on the road of national progress. The advances, previously made, were sporadic and sectional. They are not to be lightly spoken of but were really preparatory to larger movements and more concerted performance.

How wonderfully the country has grown during the period covered by the life of Lord Strathcoria is shown by a study of some of the outstanding features in industries, transportation, education, population and finance. It will not be possible to more than glance at these but even the most superficial survey cannot fail to impress us with the fact of unprecedented progress. In the matter of transportation alone the results are almost incredible. In 1850 there were less than sixty miles of railway in Canada. By 1861 the mileage had not reached 3,000, while in 1913 it was over 29,000. The country is covered with railroads and the continent is spanned by two through lines while a third is nearing completion. When one thinks of what that means, the physical difficulties overcome, the immense sums of money involved, the enormous amount of business required to justify such colossal expenditure ($1,548,256,796, estimated), one begins to realize what changes have taken place. And transportation by water has not been neglected. Millions have been spent in canals, the chief of these being the "Soo," the Welland and the St. Lawrence canals, but there are many others. The way has been opened to the sea from Fort William at the head of Lake Superior for vessels drawing fourteen feet of water. It is planned ultimately to deepen these to thirty-one feet, making it possible for ocean-going steamers to carry their cargoes to the head of the Great Lakes. Instead of the sailing vessels which carried on trade with the Old Country, magnificent steamers have regular sailings from both the east and west coasts of Canada. The Allan line put on the first steamer in 1852. To-day there are many lines of splendid steamers which, starting from Montreal, connect Canada with Europe. In 1860 the Prince of Wales (afterwards King Edward VII) opened the Victoria Bridge, crossing the River St. Lawrence at Montreal. For that time it was a marvellous structure costing $7,000,000. Before that the famous Suspension Bridge had been flung across Niagara River at the ''Falls." All this work on land and water indicates how the country was going ahead.

The intellectual progress is shown by the attention which has been given to education. Now the different Provinces vie with one another in the effort to perfect their educational systems. A premium is put upon intelligence-common schools, grammar schools, high schools, colleges and universities are within reach of all. Canada has 1,200,000 children going to school. Nearly 10,000 students attend the universities—chief of which are Toronto, Queen's and McGill. Nearly ninety per cent. of those who are five years and over can read and write.

The expansion of trade and the increase of revenue are proofs of the growth of the Dominion during this period. The two Canadas, Upper and Lower, at the time of Confederation, had a revenue of somewhere about $10,000,000, while the trade of the four Provinces that first united was between 140 and 150 millions of dollars, export and import. Then followed the inclusion of Prince Edward Island, the North-west and British Columbia and though, for some years, the growth was slow and disappointing, owing to several causes, such as the lack of transportation, several bad crops, the universal depression, the difficulty of securing and keeping immigrants and the draining of our people by the United States, still there was progress and in the latter part of the 90's that progress became phenomenal. Settlers began to pour into the country, trade increased by leaps and bounds so that while in 1896 the total immigration was 21,716, in 1912-13 it was 402,432. The population which in 1851 was less than two and a half millions is now up to, if not over, the eight-million mark. The Government which in 1867 had about $10,000,000 to administer has now a revenue approaching $200,000,000. The volume of trade which in 1867 was between 140 and 150 millions of dollars has swollen to the enormous bulk of over a billion. The prairies of the North-west have been divided into three prosperous Provinces and are filling up with an industrious and thriving population which last year raised over 200,000,000 bushels of wheat, besides oats, barley, flax, etc. On all sides are to be seen the signs of an unexampled material prosperity. Whether for good or bad, Canada can now boast of her millionaire citizens and the simple life of the early days has given place to the luxury and display which mark the possession of wealth.

Main Street, Winnipeg, 1914

The growth of great cities has been phenomenal. When Lord Strathcona came to Canada, the only cities of importance were Montreal with perhaps 35,000 population and Toronto with 13,000 or 15,000. But what a change did he see take place! Montreal is now over 600,000, Toronto 500,000. In Canada there are thirty cities as large as Toronto was in 1838 and in every respect modern and up-to-date. In the West where was nothing but the trader's post and the Indian wigwam, great cities have fairly sprung into existence—Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Vancouver, Fort William and a dozen important towns and cities of less population but all growing rapidly and each the centre of a thriving agricultural district.

But perhaps more significant than anything else is the growth of the national consciousness. It is a curious spirit that is developing on this side of the sea—a spirit of sturdy independence, a determination to make our own laws and control our own fiscal policy, and yet, at the same time, a deepening of the sentiment which holds us to the Motherland. There is no question about it. The day of dependence has gone. It was inevitable that it should go. The term "Colony" has lost its significance. The idea of partnership has taken its place. The conception of the destiny of the British Empire has immensely broadened. Not domination by the Old Country but co-operation with her in everything that makes for national value and stability—that is the new spirit of the age which is possessing all the Dominions over the sea. The people of Canada, having passed through the primitive and pioneering stage, having settled the pressing local problems, incident to the shaping of a new country, are prepared to assume the responsibilities and duties that belong to maturity. They wish to join the younger nations that fly the British flag in helping the great Empire to become greater still, to make the story of the future even more glorious than that of the past, and, true to the traditions and ideals that have come down from former generations, to join with the land from which they sprang in creating a world-power which will be a mighty factor in promoting the best interests of humanity. The Canadian statesmen of to-day are confronting a different situation from that which faced their predecessors. To them has fallen the task of fitting this young and vigorous nation to take its part on the broad stage of Imperial interests.

Many great men have contributed to this result. For a long time John A. Macdonald controlled the destinies of the Dominion. From 1867 till his death in 1891 (with the exception of five years, 1873-8, during which Alexander Mackenzie was in office), he was Prime Minister of Canada. Before Confederation, Cartier, Brown, Howe, Galt and others had done much to shape the course of events, but for a quarter of a century before his death he was the most conspicuous figure in Canadian polities. He had a hand in all the great movements of that critical time. Soon after his death, another man, still living, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, was Premier for fifteen years, and occupied that position in a manner worthy of his great predecessor. Both these men, Macdonald and Laurier, gathered about them distinguished and able workers. In Laurier's time the efforts of the past came to fruition and the development of Canada proceeded at a tremendous rate. Canada came to the front and became a household word in every part of the British Dominion. And of all the men who contributed to that magnificent result, none was more worthy than the subject of this biography. He had not only seen it develop but had been one of its most active agents. In all the great events he had been a participator. He had devoted his life to the welfare of his country and, in his old age, no interest was dearer to the heart of Lord Strathcona than the interest of Canada, and nothing gave him greater satisfaction than the reflection that he had had no small part in elevating her to her present position. Few men have been so fortunate as to live long enough to see their efforts crowned with such success. He found Canada an insignificant colony, restless under misgovernment, with all the forces—race, religion and isolation—that make for discord and division, with little knowledge, even of its own territory and rich resources, occupied with matters of purely local interest, with no common objective and but the faintest conception of its splendid destiny. He lived long enough to see it become an organized unity, its vast territories explored and brought under proper government, its sources of wealth amazingly developed, the institutions of learning and religion firmly established, a population rapidly increasing and marked by the qualities that make a nation solid, a broadening of the vision and a birth of that larger spirit which concerns itself with matters of world-wide importance. He was a witness of this marvellous transformation but he had not been an idle spectator. From the earliest years of his life, when his influence and opportunity were limited, to the latest years, when he was recognized as one of the "great Canadians" and was the possessor of unlimited means and wielded unquestioned influence, he had thrown himself with energy and courage into every struggle, had encouraged every enterprise, had put himself behind every movement that made for progress, had been to the front in settling the great political, financial and transportation problems which were staggering in their difficulty—in short, had devoted himself to his country's good. It is pleasant to think that he was spared long enough to outlive the criticism and hostility inseparable from an active public career, to enjoy the friendship and esteem of all classes and last, but not least, to see the country, in whose progress he had been so deeply interested, take such a proud and commanding position among the younger nations of the Empire.


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