Canada: Peeps at History - Beatrice Home

The Growth of Canada

For the first time in her history, Canada, after the war of 1812, enjoyed a lengthy period of peace with her neighbours across the border. But within her boundaries she entered upon the long struggle for self-government.

With peace had come a steady flow of immigrants: at first chiefly Scotch and Irish, but later numbering many English. These new colonists were hardy and independent just the class required by the country. In 1831, as many as 34,000 people arrived in one year from the British Isles, most of whom settled in the Upper Province.

Bringing with them a keen love of English institutions, they soon joined in the political agitation that was spreading all over the colony. Both French and English were eager to obtain responsible government to make the executive (up till then appointed for life and answerable to no one) responsible to the people, and chosen from among their representatives. Gradually the British party began to take sides with the Government, and to part company with the French Canadians in Lower Canada, fearing that, as a minority, they would suffer.

Louis Papineau, the talented Speaker of the House of Assembly in Quebec, became the leader and hero of the French Canadians. Starting his career with comparatively mild dreams of reform, he became elated with success, and dreamt of a French-Canadian republic, till he ended in preaching open treason.

His prototype in Upper Canada was William Lyon Mackenzie, who first came into notice through the newspaper which he started to popularize reform. After being illegally expelled from the House of Assembly through disagreeing with the Tories, he joined with Papineau and became openly rebellious.

The smouldering rebellion burst into flame in 1837. After all the noisy talk and threats of its leaders, the rebellion turned out a military fiasco. Only a very small section of the people supported Papineau, the French militia remaining staunch for the Government. Papineau fled for safety, and after one or two slight engagements the trouble came to an end.

Almost exactly similar events occurred in Upper Canada. Mackenzie travelled about the colony trying to rouse the people into indignation against the Government. But after his party of extreme reformers had been defeated near Toronto, he retired to the United States.

Louis Papineau


England sent out as Governor-General, with special dictatorial powers to enable him to deal with the disturbed colony, a man of exceptional ability, Lord Durham. To him Canada owes the system of government, instituted in 1840, which has worked so admirably in the evolution of the Dominion. He was in Canada only six months, in which he was badly supported by the British Ministry. He therefore returned to England in great disgust, having sent in his resignation, just before he was recalled. His method of dealing with the rebel prisoners had been adversely criticized by his enemies at home, who accused him of illegal acts. But though Lord Durham's own career was ruined by his short term of office in Canada, his masterly report on the country brought about the Act of Union of 1840. By it Upper and Lower Canada were united, and the executive was made responsible to the people.

From the early years of the nineteenth century the idea of a federation of the provinces of British North America was discussed by far-sighted men, but it was not till 1864 that the great scheme began to reach any kind of fruition. In the month of September in that year a conference was held at Charlottetown, the chief town in Prince Edward Island, to consider the proposed union of the three maritime provinces, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Hearing of this conference, the Government of Canada asked leave to send delegates, who so eloquently showed the advantages of confederation that the idea of a mere maritime union was merged in the larger idea.

It was agreed to hold another conference in Quebec, which took place the following month. For eighteen days the delegates from all the provinces discussed the weighty question, finally adopting seventy-two resolutions, which were ultimately the foundation of the British North America Act. The leaders, or "Fathers of the Confederation," as they are called, were John Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of the Dominion, George Brown, George Etienne Cartier, and Alexander Galt.

Bugles at Chataeuguay


Upper and Lower Canada received the Quebec resolutions with great favour, and the Home Government also welcomed them. Newfoundland refused to consider them, and the other provinces hesitated. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick finally accepted them, and Prince Edward Island came in after confederation had become an accomplished fact.

Three years after the Charlottetown Conference the British North America Act was passed in London in 1867. By it the constitution of Canada was to be a federal one, leaving each province the management of its own affairs.

In the opening speech of the first Dominion Parliament at Ottawa, Lord Monck, the Governor-General, whose wise guidance furthered the new Confederation, spoke of a time when the Dominion should spread from ocean to ocean. His dream has since been amply fulfilled. Manitoba (once the Red River Colony, founded by Lord Selkirk in 1812) was admitted to the Confederation in 1869, and in 1871 British Columbia, up to then remote from Canada, entered the Dominion. She stipulated, however, that a railway should be built to connect her with the eastern provinces. It was a tremendous task for so poor and so young a country to undertake, but after much delay the Canadian Pacific Railway was finally started, and was completed in 1885. By means of this railway the vast wheat-fields of the west have been opened up, and have quickly become one of the granaries of the world.

The main wheat belt is to be found in the three western prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, but in all the provinces agriculture occupies a large proportion of the population. The rapid development of the land is astonishing, the wheat crop having almost doubled itself in ten years. In 1913 the total production of wheat was 231 million bushels, while now it is 400 million bushels. Although an enormous amount of land is already under cultivation, there are still hundreds of thousands of acres ready to become the absolute property of any man willing to reside upon his homestead and work the soil.

It has been said that Canada is a country of magnificent distances and that the Canadian Pacific Railway only gave it "length without breadth." The breadth has now been added by the network of railways known as the Canadian National Railways, which give access to nearly all parts of the vast area of the Dominion. The waterways of Canada are also helping tremendously in the development of the country, the great lakes, rivers and canals affording cheap and easy transport of goods.

Dairy farming and fruit growing have both proved most successful industries. Fruit growing requires much skill and hard work for the first four or five years before the orchards are ready to bear. The main fruit-growing districts are the Valley of St. Lawrence, the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, and what is known as the Dry Belt of British Columbia.

Canada is also rich in natural resources, such as her fisheries and her forests. The latter are now almost entirely under the Government. Land which is only suitable for timber is never sold, but is managed by the provinces with the idea of protecting the watersheds and supplying the necessary timber required for local purposes. There is now an elaborate system of patrols to prevent the dreadful destruction caused by forest fires. These patrol men traverse the forests on foot, in canoes, or on horseback, and telephone lines are carried through the forests. Fires are also detected by aeroplanes, which are used to carry men and supplies rapidly to the scene of conflagration.

The earliest traders in Canada dealt almost exclusively in furs, which still remain an important section of Canada's industrial effort, for the Dominion is one of the great fur-producing countries of the world. Many wild animals are now bred for the purposes of fur production.

The population, in which the British predominate, is growing steadily, and there are now nearly nine millions of people. Sixty thousand Canadians fell in the Great War, in which they took such a distinguished part, gaining imperishable glory in Flanders. When the war broke out in August, 1914, Canada had no regular army, but two months later 33,000 men left for England, the vanguard of that splendid Canadian Corps which became one of the best fighting forces of all the armies engaged in the great struggle. By January, 1916, the Government promised 500,000 men, besides putting out all the energies of the country in quadrupling the food supplies for Europe. From the very first days of the opening of war Canadians had rushed to the support of the Mother-country, and it is with pride that Canada can write in a recent history: "The last troops to leave Mons on August 23, 1914, had been the 42nd Highlanders, the famous Black Watch; the first troops to enter it on the morning of November 11, 1918, were the 42nd Royal Highlanders of Canada, who wore the Black Watch Tartan. Where the Lion of England had retired fighting at bay, the cubs of the Lion, in the fullness of time, stood victorious."

Those who know something of the story of Canada, of the great lives spent in her service, and of the brave men who traversed her trackless forests and ventured on her unknown waterways, believe that no country has a greater future, and that she stands at the threshold of an era of ever-increasing development.