Canada - Historical Retrospect
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THOUGH we have disclaimed intention of writing in any sense a history of Canada, yet a brief resume of the past is essential to an intelligent knowledge of the present and a judicious forecast of the future. Canada is generally regarded as being one of the youngest countries of the world. This is true only when regarded from the standpoint of her united political history or life. There is a sense in which Canada is one of the oldest of countries. Geologically Canada represents the oldest formation known to man. Similarly we are told from well authenticated data that not Columbus but the early Norsemen were the European discoverers of America, and that Canada, rather than tropical America, has the distinction of first greeting members of the European race.
Whatever of mystery or uncertainty there may be in connection with these prehistoric events, it is well known that Acadia became a prominent European settlement nearly a quarter of a century before the Pilgrim Fathers landed on the shores of New England. The little settlement planted by De Monts at Port Royal, 1604, marks the beginning of Canadian history, and no country could wish a more romantic and historical setting than has ours.
The heroism of the pioneers, in the early struggles for empire by two great nations, furnishes a tale of national romance of wondrous fascination. When, at last, on the Plains of Abraham, the die was cast which decided that Briton rather than Gaul should dominate the western world, Canada's history had reached its first stage, and, was one of considerable import. Montreal and Quebec were each places of importance, while the adventurer, explorer and missionary had found their way as far west as the valley of the Mississippi.
The conquest of Quebec, which was chiefly important then as a measure of safety for the New England colonies, was, however, destined to assume a greater importance to the Empire than was at first surmised. England was building better than she knew. If she blundered, in ignorance, toward her own colonies, she seemed, also in ignorance, to be inspired by a far-seeing wisdom for the protection of her dominion in America. The possession of Quebec was the rock of refuge in the dark hours of revolution by which she lost her thirteen original colonies. It is hard to conceive of the course the history of British America would have taken apart from this tragic event.
The loss of the New England colonies, however, made Canada all the more important to England. Towards her, all efforts in America must now be confined and concentrated. The influx of the United Empire Loyalists to the remaining provinces of Britain gave new life and new promise to them, adding new provinces and fusing, in part, two different races in a common citizenship. Canadian history, under the British regime, was now fairly launched, but though it had entered upon a larger life it was beset with new dangers. Its stability was menaced from within by the commingling of two races, so entirely different in language, religion, l history and political ideas as were the French and English at that time. There was danger that this " new wine " of empire would break the old bottles of the established order, and that all would once more be lost. Another, and perhaps at that time greater menace, was the existence on the southern border of a young and ambitious republic, flushed by victory, cherishing animosities, and with an ambition for a larger dominion in the western world. The War of 1812-14 indicated the grave and real character of the dangers to which the early Canadian provinces were exposed.
If, however, the War of 1812 intensified one danger, it modified the other, for in that unequal struggle, in which Canada so heroically and successfully defended herself, Canadians, both French and English, stood shoulder to shoulder in the defence of their common country. The French, all honor to them, proved entirely true to their new allegiance. Indeed, it is doubtful if England could have retained Canada if it had not been for the loyal and heroic support of the French-Canadians. This strengthened Canada in many ways. It gave to her a consciousness of her own ability to defend herself, while at the same time it soothed, for the time being, the political and race animosities which had risen.
Moreover, the Americans found that Canadians were not, as they formerly supposed, anxious for an opportunity to revolt, but that they were loyal, united and able to hold their own against almost overpowering odds. Furthermore, renewed invasion received a decided check by the unexpected success of Canadian arms. Perhaps the most important outcome of the war to Canada was the influence it had in helping to weld the two races in the bonds of mutual respect and confidence. They could now, at least, more easily live together as brethren and as equals, each struggling for the development of the country in which they lived. Thus another epoch in our history was reached and passed.
There were during all these years other influences also working their part in the mysterious events from which a new nation was to come. Canada, bounded by Ontario on the west and the Mari-time Provinces on the east, vast as this territory is, could hardly be regarded as possessing a promising future under existing conditions ; the various provinces were separate colonies, with little in common, except the bond which bound them to the Mother Land. Moreover, the new nation to the south bids :air to become a continental power, for her hands were already reaching across the Rocky Mountains, towards the Pacific. The West was essential to Britain's true security in America and to Canada's true prosperity in the future. The vast plains of the West and the far-away Pacific coast were waiting for occupancy. The fact that the trading posts of the great Hudson's Bay Company were being established all over these western lands under a British charter was the one factor above all others which determined their future place in the Canadian commonwealth. Thus, in a mysterious way and without any apparent design, were laid the foundations of a colonial empire, embracing vast areas of untold wealth and full of promise for the years to come.
" At the commencement of the nineteenth century the total population of the five provinces did not reach one hundred and seventy thousand souls, of whom at least one hundred and fifty thousand were French-Canadians. Their total trade did not exceed ten million dollars, the public revenues were inadequate for the public requirements and the British Government was obliged to give considerable aid to the provincial treasuries This continued to characterize the state of affairs for some time afterwards.
The different provinces, as well as being disunited politically, failed to receive the benefits of united action in trade policies, and suffered from tariff walls between themselves, which militated greatly against intercolonial trade and the cultivation of Canadian sentiment. A colonial administration, slow to learn from the lessons of the past and without precedent or, perhaps, desire to adapt itself to the new needs of the present, caused the young colonies to pass through a political crisis most trying to their loyalty. The struggle for responsible government and representative institutions, culminating in the rebellion of 1837, brought the young country near to a repetition of the history of 1776. Serious trouble was averted because a truly loyal people were willing to bear long with grievous disabilities, and, for the most part, to wait their removal by constitutional agencies. This political struggle, however, was not without its advantages. As from the troublous times of 1812 there came broader views of citizenship and a stronger basis for union, so from these troubles there sprang a bond of common sympathy which paved the way for the real birth of the Dominion in the federation of its various parts.
The importance of and true place which Con-federation holds in relation to Imperial sentiment and Canada's present prosperity will, perhaps, never be fully known ; in early times—in some quarters, for many years—Confederation was looked upon as a questionable advantage and- had many bitter opponents. It is true that many of the predictions made concerning its advantages failed of materialization. Some localities, once prosperous, afterwards declined ; some industries, once of great importance, practically ceased to exist. The population as a whole has not increased so rapidly as was expected, and the development and prosperity of the Maritime Provinces especially, seemed to decline for a time as a result of the union. There were reasons, however, for all these quite apart from Confederation ; difference in transportation routes and methods, the decline of wooden ship building, and the opening of the West, were all events contributing to the prevailing conditions and furnished causes which would have prevailed under, any circumstances ; indeed, it is a question if the British provinces of North America could long have been retained without Confederation. It was the saving salt to the Empire in North America, and, perhaps, in the world.
Apart from the consolidating of British interests in Canada and the making possible the systematic and extensive development of the great resources of the country, the status gained by the union gave Canada an influence with the Mother Country not heretofore shared by any colony of any country, ancient or modern. Moreover, that prestige was no less important as a factor in the conserving of Imperial rights on the American continent. This influence, both within and without the Empire, has been steadily growing until the present time. The moral influence of United Canada may also be regarded as the chief factor in the bringing about of United Australia, while other disunited parts of Britain's colonial possessions have been led to look in the same direction.
The Fathers of Confederation, through many difficulties and much opposition, proved themselves to be men of far-seeing judgment, possessed with a genius for empire. If the United Empire Loyalists be compared with the Pilgrim Fathers, the Fathers of Confederation lose nothing in comparison with the signers of the Declaration of Independence. They were statesmen in the truest sense of the word and well worthy of a wider sphere, but the work they accomplished in obscurity was destined to grow in splendor and cover their names with glory in the thoughts of generations yet to be. The birth of a nation, though unaccompanied by the sound of war or the romance of discovery, was none the less glorious, nor were the sacrifices that led thereto less patriotic. But, like the actors in many another important event, these men builded better than they knew. July 1st, 1867, marks the accomplishing of the most important event yet passed in Canadian history let the memory of the men who made it possible be revered, and the anniversary of the day have its full significance as we celebrate it from year to year.
" One of the most encouraging results of this political system has been not merely the material development of the Dominion, but the creation of a powerful national sentiment, which best enables the whole political structure to resist successfully any storms of racial antagonisms or passionate partyism which may from time to time beat against its walls. French Canada, with its population of more than a million and a half of people still maintaining their language and special institutions, is no longer restive and uncertain of its future, as in the years preceding and following the rebellion. It is true that at times, when the French-Canadians press their national prejudices to extremes, a spirit of antagonism is at once evoked between them and the English classes, but the unfortunate state of things that existed before 1837 is no longer likely to return, and whatever jealousies or rivalries break out now and then above the surface are, sooner or later, carried away by a current of some public opinion, anxious for the harmony of all classes and creeds, and only solicitous for the safe working of the Union."