Political animosity was for some years exceptionally bitter. Soon after the union it was roused to unwonted fury by a proposal to compensate those persons in Lower Canada who had suffered destruction of their property during the rebellion. The British Conservative party offered a discreditable resistance to this proposal. It was not intended that any persons engaged in the rebellion should participate in the benefits of the measure. But the unreasonable British asserted that they, the loyal men, were being taxed for the advantage of rebels. 1849 A.D. When the Bill was passed, the rabble of Montreal pelted with stones Lord Elgin, who was then Governor-General; they threatened, in their unbridled rage, to annex themselves with the United States; they invaded and dispersed the Assembly; they burned to the ground the building in which their Parliament held its sittings. From that day Montreal ceased to be the seat of Government. For a few years Parliament alternated between Quebec and Toronto. That system having been found inconvenient, the Queen was requested to select a permanent home for the Government of the colony. 1858 A.D. Her Majesty’s choice fell upon Bytown, a thriving little city, occupying a situation of romantic beauty, on the river which divided the provinces. The capital of the Dominion received a name more fully in keeping with its metropolitan dignity, and was henceforth styled Ottawa.
The course of prosperous years soothed the bitterness of party hatred, and the Canadian Legislature applied itself to measures of internal amelioration and development. Thus far the inestimable advantage of municipal institutions had not been enjoyed in Canada. The Legislature regulated all local concerns; – took upon itself the charge of roads, bridges, and schools; of the poor; of such sanitary arrangements as existed; and the people contracted the enfeebling habit of leaving their local affairs to be administered by the Government. 1849 A.D. This grave evil was now corrected; the Legislature was relieved of unnecessary burdens; and the people learned to exercise an intelligent interest in the conduct of their own local business.
Canada had now to accept the perfect freedom of trade which the mother country had at length adopted for herself. 1846-50 A.D. All restraints were now withdrawn; all duties which bestowed upon the colonist advantages over his foreign rival ceased. The Canadians might now buy and sell where they chose. Foreign ships were now free to sail the long-forbidden waters of the St. Lawrence. The change was not, in the outset, a welcome one. The Canadians were not fully prepared for an open competition with their neighbours of the United States. For a time trade languished, and there was a loud and bitter cry that the mother country disregarded the interests of her dependency. But the wholesome discipline of necessity taught the Canadians self-reliance. The adoption of a policy of unaided and unrestricted commerce inaugurated for the Canadians a period of enterprise and development such as they had not previously known.
After some years of steadily growing commerce, the Canadians bethought them of the mutual benefits which would result from freedom of trade between themselves and their neighbours of the United States.
The progress of education had in the Upper Province kept pace with the increase of population. But the common school was yet very insufficiently established in Lower Canada. The polite, genial, industrious French habitant was almost wholly uninstructed, and suffered his children to grow up in the blind ignorance of which he himself had not even discovered the evils. 1850 A.D. There was now set up an educational system adapted to his special requirements, but of which he was not swift to avail himself.
The question of the Clergy Reserves had been for generations a perennial source of vexation. The Episcopalians persisted in asserting themselves as the only Protestant Church; the Presbyterians and Methodists rejected with indignation and scorn the audacious pretension. In all countries where religious divisions prevail, the exaltation of any one sect above the others is obviously unjust, and must in its results disturb the harmony of the nation. Especially is this true of a colony where the notion of equality is indigenous, and men do not so easily, as in an old country, reconcile themselves to the assumption of superiority by a favoured class. The existence of a State Church became intolerable to the Canadian people. 1854 A.D. An Act was passed which severed the connection of Church and State. All life-interests – Episcopalian and Presbyterian – having been provided for, the lands and funds which remained were divided among the several municipalities on the basis of the population which they possessed. No important question of an ecclesiastical nature has since that time disturbed the tranquillity of the colony, if we except the demand of the Roman Catholics for a system of education apart from that of the common school.
The feudal tenure of lands still prevailed among the Frenchmen of the Lower Province. The seigneurs to whose ancestors Louis XIV. had granted large tracts of land, in the hope of building up a Canadian aristocracy, still levied their dues; still enforced their right to grind, at oppressive rates of charge, all the corn grown upon their land; still imposed upon the Canadians those cruel exactions which Frenchmen of seventy years ago had been unable to endure. The system was long complained against as a grievance which held the French population in a position of inferiority to the British. 1859 A.D. The rights of the seigneurs were now purchased by the province for a payment of one million dollars, and this antiquated and barbarous method of holding ceased to press upon the interests of the colony.
For some years after the union of the provinces there had been a sudden influx of settlers attracted from the old country by the improving prospects of the colony. In the quarter century which followed the battle of Waterloo, half a million of emigrants left Britain for Canada. But in the two years of 1846-47, the number was a quarter of a million, and the average for ten years had been nearly sixty thousand. Means were now used to stimulate these enriching currents. Hitherto the emigrant had been unregarded. He was suffered to take his passage in ships which were not seaworthy, and which were fatally overcrowded. When he arrived, often poor and ignorant, sometimes plague-stricken, he was uncared for. Now he was welcomed as a stranger who came to contribute to the wealth and greatness of the Dominion. Officers were appointed to protect him from the plunderers who lay in wait for him. His urgent wants were supplied; information was given him by which his future course might safely be guided.
The passion for constructing railways, which raged in England in the year 1845, sent its influences into Canada. The colonists began to discuss arrangements for connecting the great cities of their extended Dominion. But the need in Canada was less urgent than elsewhere, and the difficulties were greater. The inhabited region lay for the most part on the shores of the Great Lakes, or of the St. Lawrence and its tributaries, where easy communication by steam-boat was enjoyed. On the other hand, distances were great, population was scanty; capital for the construction of railways and traffic for their support were alike awanting. For years Canada was unable to pass beyond the initial stage of surveys and reports and meetings to discuss, and vain attempts to obtain help from the imperial exchequer. 1852 A.D. After seven years thus passed, a railway mania burst out in Canada. In one session of Parliament fifteen railway Bills were passed, and the number rose to twenty-eight in the following session. The most notable of the projects thus authorized was the Grand Trunk Railway – a gigantic enterprise, which proposed to connect Montreal with Toronto, and Quebec with Rivi?re du Loup. So urgent was now the desire for railways, that the Legislature incurred liabilities on account of this undertaking to the enormous amount of nearly five million sterling; to which extent the colonial exchequer is and will probably always remain a loser.
The financial position of Canada had been hitherto satisfactory. Her entire debt was four million and a half; an expenditure of ?600,000 met all her requirements, and her revenue largely exceeded this sum; her securities bore a premium on the Stock Exchanges of England. 1852 A.D. But now Canada, in her eagerness for more rapid development, began with liberal hand to offer aid to industrial undertakings. She contributed freely to the making of railways. She encouraged the municipalities to borrow upon her security for the construction of roads and bridges, and for other necessary public works. The municipalities, with responsive alacrity, borrowed and expended; a genial activity pervaded all industries; and the development of Canada advanced with more rapid step than at any previous period. But the country was providing for wants which had not yet arisen, and the premature expenditure brought upon her unwelcome and oppressive burdens of debt and of taxation.1919
In three years the debt had nearly doubled – rising from twenty-one to thirty-eight million dollars. In 1859 it had further risen to fifty-four million.
The political system which existed in British America before the union of the two provinces was in a high degree inconvenient. There were, in all, six colonies – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and the two Canadas. They were the subjects of the same Monarch, but they possessed no other bond of union. Their interests were often in conflict; their laws and customs differed widely; each had its own currency; each maintained its own custom-house, to tax or to exclude the products of the others. They were without any bond of union, excepting that which the common sovereignty of England supplied; and they were habitually moved by jealousies and antipathies, which were more powerful to divide than this was to unite. Along their frontiers lay the territory of prosperous States, living under a political system which bound them together by community of interest, while it adequately preserved and guaranteed the free individual action of each. The success of confederation, as seen on the vast arena of the United States, silently educated the British settlements for the adoption of that political system which alone met the necessities of their position.
The union of Upper and Lower Canada was the largest progress then possible in the direction of removing the evils which prevailed. This union closed some of the most injurious of existing divisions, and allowed a more rapid development of the national resources than had been previously experienced. But the permanent form of Canadian government had not yet been reached. The difference of race and interest still operated to mar the harmonious action of the united Legislature. The childish jealousy of the imperfectly reconciled sections led, among other evils, to wasteful expenditure; for no grant of money could be voted for necessary public works to either section without an equal grant being made needlessly to the other. At the time of the union, an equality in number of representatives was accepted as just to both provinces. But Upper Canada increased more rapidly than the sister province, and in ten years contained a larger population. 1857 A.D. A demand arose for representation according to population, and without regard to the division of provinces. This proposal was keenly opposed in Lower Canada, as a violation of the terms of union. It was as keenly pressed in the western province; it became the theme of much fervid eloquence, and for a time the rallying cry at elections. The leader of this movement was George Brown – a Scotchman and Presbyterian, a man of great ability and energy, and an earnest reformer of abuses. It was the hope of Mr. Brown and his followers, that by gaining the parliamentary majority, to which Upper Canada was now by her numbers entitled, they would frustrate the demand for sectarian schools, and would equip completely a common-school system for the whole of both provinces. Still further, Upper Canada would control the revenue, and by useful public works would develop the resources of the great North-West.
The controversy was bitter and exasperating, and resulted in nothing more than a deepened feeling that some important modification of existing arrangements had become indispensable. 1860 A.D. Mr. Brown gave expression to the opinion now widely entertained in Upper Canada, in two resolutions, which he invited the Legislature to accept. These asserted that the union, from difference of origin, local interest, and other causes, had proved a failure; and suggested, as the only remedy, the formation of local governments for the care of sectional interests, and the erection of a joint authority for the regulation of concerns which were common to all. In this form the proposal of a confederated government, following as closely as possible the model of the United States, was placed before the country. The idea was not new. 1822 1839 A.D. Once it had been recommended by the Colonial Office; once by Lord Durham, during his rule as Governor-General. Often in seasons of political difficulty it had been the hope of embarrassed statesmen. But the time had not yet come, and Mr. Brown’s resolutions were rejected by large majorities.
The succeeding years were unquiet and even alarming. Political passion rose to an extreme degree of violence. The mutual hatred of parties was vehement and unreasoning. Every question with which the Legislature had to deal was the arena on which a furious battle must needs be waged. The opposing parties met in fiery conflict over the construction of railways, over the tariff, over the defence of the colony against a possible invasion by the Americans, over the proposed confederation, over every detail of the policy of Government. The public interests suffered; the natural progress of the colony was frustrated by these unseemly dissensions. At length the leaders of the contending factions became weary of strife. 1864 A.D. George Brown, on behalf of the reforming party, wisely offered terms of peace to his opponents. A coalition Government was formed, with the express design of carrying out a confederation of the two Canadas, with a provision for the reception of the other provinces and of the North-West Territory. The new Cabinet entered promptly upon the task which it had undertaken. October, 1864 A.D. Within a few weeks there met in Quebec for conference on this momentous question thirty-three men, representing the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. They met in private, and discussed for seventeen days the details of a union which should harmonize and promote the interests of all. The desired reconciliation was not easily attained; for each province estimated with natural exaggeration the advantages which it brought into the confederation, and sought a higher position than the others were willing to concede. But in the end a scheme of union was framed, and the various Governments pledged themselves that they would spare no effort to secure its adoption by the Legislatures. A party of resistance arose, and years of debate ensued. But time fought on the side of union. The evils of the existing political system became increasingly apparent in the light thrown by incessant discussion. The separated provinces were weak for purposes of defence; their commerce was strangled by the restrictive duties which they imposed on one another. United, they would form a great nation, possessing a magnificent territory, inhabited by an intelligent and industrious people; formidable to assailants; commanding a measure of respect to which they had hitherto been strangers; with boundless capabilities of increase opening to all their industrial interests.
1866 A.D. Under the growing influence of views such as these, the confederation of the provinces was at length resolved on by the Legislatures of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick; and in the following year a Royal Proclamation announced the union of these provinces into one Dominion, which was styled Canada. A little later, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island were received into the union. Newfoundland refused to join her sister States, and still maintains her independent existence.
Under the constitution which the Dominion now received, executive power is vested in the Queen, and administered by her representative, the Governor-General. This officer is aided and advised by a Privy Council, composed of the heads of the various great departments of State. The Senate is composed of seventy-eight members appointed by the Crown, and holding office for life. The House of Commons consists of two hundred and six members. These are chosen by the votes of citizens possessing a property qualification, the amount of which varies in the different provinces. Canada gives the franchise to those persons in towns who pay a yearly rent of ?6, and to those not in towns who pay ?4; New Brunswick demands the possession of real estate valued at ?20, or an annual income of ?80; and Nova Scotia is almost identical in her requirements. The duration of Parliament is limited to five years, and its members receive payment. The Parliament of the Dominion regulates the interests which are common to all the provinces; each province has a Lieutenant-Governor and a Legislature for the guidance of its own local affairs. Entire freedom of trade was henceforth to exist between the provinces which composed the Canadian nation.
On the outer margin of the great bay into which the waters of the St. Lawrence discharge themselves, there lie certain British provinces which had till now maintained their colonial existence apart from the sister States of the interior. The oldest and most famous of these was Nova Scotia – the Acadie of the French period – within whose limits the Province of New Brunswick had been included. Northwards, across the entrance to the bay, was the island of Newfoundland. The Gulf Stream, moving northwards its vast currents of heated water, meets here an ice-cold stream descending from the Arctic Sea, and is turned eastward towards the coasts of Europe. The St. Lawrence deposits here the accumulations of silt which its waters have disengaged in their lengthened course, and forms great banks which stretch for many hundreds of miles out into the ocean. These banks are the haunt of icebergs escaping from the frozen North; perpetual fogs clothe them in gloom. But they offer to man wealth such as he cannot elsewhere win from the sea. The fisheries of the Newfoundland Banks were the earliest inducement which led Europeans to frequent those seemingly inhospitable shores. The Maritime Provinces were more easily accessible than Canada, for they abounded in commodious inlets where ships could enter and lie secure. They were placed at the difficult entrance to the St. Lawrence valley, and their value was more immediately apparent. Their possession was keenly contended for, at a time when England had not made up her mind to seek, and France scarcely cared to retain, the interior of the northern continent.
The Cabots were the first Europeans who looked upon the rugged shores of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and England therefore claimed those regions as her own. But France actually took possession of the Acadian peninsula. Small settlements were founded here and there, and a profitable trade in furs was carried on with the Indians, who came from great distances on the mainland to acquire the attractive wares which the white men offered. During its first century Acadie had an unquiet life. England would allow the poor colonists no repose. During those periods – and they constantly recurred – when the two great European powers were at war, the roving ships of England were sure to visit the feeble Acadian settlements, bringing ruin, sudden and deep. The colonists of Massachusetts or of distant Virginia, now grown strong, did not wait for the pretext of war, but freely invaded Acadie even during the intervals of peace. The French incautiously provoked the resentment of their Indian neighbours, and the treacherous savages exacted bloody vengeance for their wrongs. And as if foreign hostility were not sufficient, civil wars raged among the Acadians. At one unhappy time there were rival governors in Acadie, with battles, sieges, massacres of Frenchmen by French hands. But even these miseries did not prevent some measure of growth. Before Acadie finally passed away from France, there were twenty thousand Frenchmen engaged in its fisheries and its fur trade.