Canada - National Consciousness
( Originally Published 1915 )
AN empire the size of Europe setting out on her career of world history is a phenomenon of vast and deep enough import to stir to national consciousness the slumbering spirit of any people. Yet when you come to trace when and where national consciousness awakened, it is like following a river back from the ocean to its mountain springs. From the silt borne down on the flood tide you can guess the fertile plains watered and far above the fertile plains, regions of eternal snow and glacial torrent warring turbulently through the adamantine rocks. You can guess the eternal striving, the forward rush and the throwback that have carved a way through the solid rocks ; but until you have followed the river to its source and tried to stem its current you can not know.
So of peoples and nations.
Fifty years ago, as far as world affairs were concerned, Japan did not exist. Came national consciousness, and Japan rose like a star dominating the Orient. A hundred years ago Germany did not exist. Came national consciousness welding chaotic principalities into unity, and the mailed fist of the empire became a menace before which Europe quailed. So of China with the ferment of freedom leavening the whole. So of the United States with the Civil War blending into a union the diversities of a continent. When you come to consider the birth of national consciousness in Canada, you do not find the germ of an ambition to dominate, as in Japan and Germany. Nor do you find a fight for freedom. Canada has always been free free as the birds of passage that winged above the canoe of the first voyageur who pointed his craft up the St. Lawrence for the Pacific; but what you do find from the very first is a fight for national existence; and when the fight was won, Canada arose like a wrestler with consciousness of strength for new destiny.
Go back to the beginning of Canada!
She was not settled by land seekers. Neither was she peopled by adventurers seeking gold. The first settlers on the banks of the St. Lawrence came to plant the Cross and propagate the Faith. True, they found they could support their missions and extend the Faith by the fur trade; and their gay adventurers of the fur trade threaded every river and lake from the St. Lawrence to the Columbia; but, primarily, the lure that led the French to the St. Lawrence was the lure of a religious ideal. So of Ontario and the English provinces. Ontario was first peopled by United Empire Loyalists, who refused to give up their loyalty to the Crown and left New England and the South, abandoning all earthly possessions to begin life anew in the backwoods of the Great Lakes country. The French came pursuing an ideal of religion. The English came pursuing an ideal of government. We may smile at the excesses of both devotees French nuns, who swooned in religious ecstasy ; old English aristocrats, who referred to democracy as "the black rot plague of the age" ; but the fact remains these colonists came in unselfish pursuit of ideals ; and they gave of their blood and their brawn and all earthly possessions for those ideals ; and it is of such stuff that the spirit of dauntless nationhood is made. Men who build temples of their lives for ideals do not cement national mortar with graft. They build with integrity for eternity, not time. Their consciousness of an ideal gives them a poise, a concentration, a stability, a steadiness of purpose, unknown to mad chasers after wealth. Obstinate, dogged, perhaps tinged with the self superior spirit of "I am holier than thou" they may be; but men who forsake all for an ideal and pursue it consistently for a century and a half develop a stamina that enters into the very blood of their race. It is a common saying even to this day that Quebec is more Catholic than the Pope, and Ontario more ultra English than England; and when the Canadian is twitted with being "colonial" and "crude," his prompt and almost proud answer is that he "goes in more for athletics than esthetics." "One makes men. The other may make sissies."
With this germ spirit as the very beginning of national consciousness in Canada, one begins to understand the grim, rough, dogged determination that be-came part of the race. Canada was never intoxicated with that madness for Bigness that seemed to sweep over the modern world. What cared she whether her population stood still or not, whether she developed fast or slow, provided she kept the Faith and preserved her national integrity? Flimsy culture had no place in her schools or her social life. A solid basis of the three R's then educational frills if you like; but the solid basis first. Worship of wealth and envy of material success have almost no part in Canadian life; for the simple reason that wealth and success are not the ideals of the nation. Laurier, who is a poor man, and Borden, who is only a moderately well-off man, command more social prestige in Canada than any millionaire from Vancouver to Halifax. If demos be the spirit of the mob, then Canada has no faintest tinge of democracy in her; but inasmuch as the French colonists came in pursuit of a religious ideal and the English colonists of a political ideal, if democracy stand for freedom for the individual to pursue his own ideal then Canada is supersaturated with that democracy. Freedom for the individual to pursue his own ideal was the very atmosphere in which Canada's national consciousness was born.
In the West a something more entered into the national spirit. French fur traders, wood runners, voyageurs had drifted North and West, men of infinite resources, as much at home with a frying pan over a camp-fire as over a domestic hearth, who could wrest a living from life anywhere. English adventurers of similar caliber had drifted in from Hudson Bay. These little lords in a wilderness of savages had scattered west as far as the Rockies, south to California. They knew no law but the law of a strong right arm and kept peace among the Indians only by a daunt-less courage and rough and ready justice. They could succeed only by a good trade in furs, and they could obtain a good trade in furs only by treating the Indians with equity. Every man who plunged into the fur wilderness took courage in one hand and his life in the other. If he lost his courage, he lost his life. Indian fray, turbulent rapids, winter cold took toll of the weak and the feckless. Nature accepts no excuses. The man who defaulted in manhood was wiped out sucked down by the rapids, buried in winter storms, absorbed into the camps of Indian degenerates. The men who stayed upon their feet had the stamina of a manhood in them that could not be extinguished. It was a wilderness edition of that dauntlessness which brought the Loyalists to Ontario and the French devotees to Quebec. This, too, made for a dogged, strong, obstinate race. At the time of the fall of French power at Quebec in 1759 there were about two thousand of these wilderness hunters in the West. Fifty years later by way of Hudson Bay came Lord Selkirk's Settlers Orkneymen and Highlanders, hardy, keen and dauntless as their native rock bound isles.
These four classes were the primary first ingredients that went into the making of Canada's national consciousness and each of the four classes was the very personification of strength, purpose, courage, freedom.
But Destiny plays us strange tricks. When Quebec fell in 1759, New France passed under the rule of that English and Protestant race which she had been fighting for two centuries ; and when the American colonies won their independence twenty years later and the ultra-English Loyalists trekked in thousands across the boundary to what are now Montreal and Toronto and Cobourg, there came under one government two races that had fought each other in raid and counter raid for two centuries alien and antagonistic in religion and speech. It is only in recent years under the guiding hand of Sir Wilfred Laurier that the ancient antagonism has been pushed off the boards.
The War of 1812 probably helped Canada's national spirit more than it hurt it. It tested the French Canadian and found him loyal to the core ; loyal, to be sure, not because he loved England more but rather because he loved the Americans less. He felt surer of religious freedom under English rule, which guaranteed it to him, than under the rule of the new republic, which he had harried and which had harried him in border raid for two centuries. The War of 1812 left Canada crippled financially but stronger in national spirit because she had tested her strength and repelled invasion.
If mountain pines strike strong roots into the eternal rocks because they are tempest tossed by the wildest winds of heaven, then the next twenty years were destined to test the very fiber of Canada's national spirit. All that was weak snapped and went down. The dry rot of political theory was flung to dust. Special interests, pampered privileges, the claims of the few to exploit the many, the claims of the many to rule wisely as the few the shibboleth of theorists, the fine spun cobwebs of the doctrinaires, governmental ideals of brotherhood that were mostly sawdust and governmental practices that were mostly theft under privilege all went down in the smash of the next twenty years' tempest. All that was left was what was real; what would hold water and work out in fact.
It is curious how completely all records slur over the significance of the Rebellion of 1837. Canada is sensitive over the facts of the case to this day. Only a few years ago a book dealing with the unvarnished facts of the period was suppressed by a suit in court. As a rebellion, 1837 was an insignificant fracas. The rebels both in Ontario and Quebec were hopelessly out numbered and defeated. William Lyon MacKenzie, the leader in Ontario, and Louis Papineau, the leader in Quebec, both had to flee for their lives. It is a question if a hundred people all told were killed. Probably a score in all were executed ; as many again were sent to penal servitude; and several hundreds escaped punishment by fleeing across the boundary and joining in the famous night raids of Hunters' Lodges. Within a few years both the leaders and exiles were permitted to return to Canada, where they lived honored lives. It was not as a rebellion that 1837 was epoch-making. It was in the clarifying of Canada's national consciousness as to how she was to be governed.
Having migrated from the revolting colonies of New England and the South, the ultra-patriotic United Empire Loyalists unconsciously felt them-selves more British than the French of Quebec. Canada-was governed direct from Downing Street. There were local councils in both Toronto and Quebec or Upper and Lower Canada, as they were called and there were local legislatures ; but the governing cliques were appointed by the Royal Governor, which meant that whatever little clique gained the Governor's ear had its little compact or junta of friends and relatives in power indefinitely. There were elections, but the legislature had no control over the purse strings of the government. Such a close corporation of special interests did - the governing clique become that the administration was known in both provinces as a "Family Compact." Administrative abuses flourished in a rank growth. Judges owing their appointment to the Crown exercised the most arbitrary tyranny against patriots raising their voices against government by special interests. Vast land grants were voted away to favorites of the Compact. Public moneys were misused and neither account given nor restitution demanded from the culprit. Ultra-loyalty became a fashionable pose. When strolling actors played American airs in a Toronto theater they were hissed; and when a Canadian stood up to those airs, he was hissed. Special interests became intrenched behind a triple rampart of fashion and administration and loyalty. Details of the revolt need not be given here. A great love is always the best cure for a puny affection a Juliet for a Rosalind; and when a pure patriotism arose to oust this spurious lip-loyalty, there resulted the Rebellion of 1837.
The point is when the rebellion had passed, Canada had overthrown a system of government by oligarchy. She had ousted special interests forever from her legislative halls. In a blood and sweat of agony, on the scaffold, in the chain gang, penniless, naked, hungry and in exile, her patriots had fought the dragon of privilege, cast out the accursed thing and founded national life on the eternal rocks of justice to all, special privileges to none. Her patriots had themselves learned on the scaffold that law must be as sacredly observed by the good as by the evil, by the great as by the small. From the death scaffolds of these patriots sprang that part of Canada's national consciousness that reveres law next to God Canada passed through the throes of purging her national consciousness from 1815 to 1840, as the United States passed through the same throes in the sixties, but the process cost her half a century of delay in growth and development.
While the union of Upper and Lower Canada put an end to the evils of special privileges in government, events had been moving apace in the far West, where roving traders and settlers were a law unto themselves. Red River settlers of the region now known as Manitoba were clamoring for an end to the monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Fur Company over all that region inland from the Great Northern Sea. The discovery of gold had brought hordes of adventurers pouring into Cariboo, or what is now known as British Columbia. Both Red River and British Columbia demanded self-government. Partly because England had delayed granting Oregon self-government, the settlers of the Columbia had set up their own provisional government and turned that region over to the United States. We are surely far enough away from the episodes to state frankly the facts that similar underground intrigue was at work in both Red River and British Columbia, fostered, much of it, by Irish malcontents of the old Fenian raids. Once more Canada's national consciousness roused itself to a bigger problem and wider outlook. Either the far-flung Canadian provinces must be bound together in some sort of national unity or the Canadian mind did not let itself contemplate that "or." The provinces must be confederated to be held. Hence con-federation in 1867 under the British North American Act, which is to Canada what the Constitution is to the United States. It happened that Sir John Macdonald, the future premier of the Dominion, had been in Washington during one period of the Civil War.
He noted what he thought was the great defect of the American system, and he attributed the Civil War to that defect namely, that all powers not specifically delegated to the federal government were supposed to rest with the states. Therefore, when Canada formed her federation of isolated provinces, Sir John and the other famous Fathers of Confederation re-versed the American system. All power not specifically delegated to the provinces was supposed to rest with the Dominion. Only strictly local affairs were left with the provinces. Trade, commerce, justice, lands, agriculture, labor, marriage laws, waterways, harbors, railways were specifically put under Dominion control.
Now, stand back and contemplate the situation confronting the new federation: Canada's population was less than half the present population of the state of New York; not four million. That population was scattered over an area the size of Europe.* To render the situation doubly dark and doubtful the United States had just entered on her career of high tariff. That high tariff barred Canadian produce out. There was only one intermittent and unsatisfactory steamer service across the Atlantic. There was none at all across the Pacific.
British Columbians trusted to windjammers round the Horn. Of railroads binding East to West there was none. A canal system had been begun from the lakes and the Ottawa to the St. Lawrence, but this was a measure more of national defense than commerce. Crops were abundant, but where could they be sold? I have heard relatives tell how wheat in those days sold down. to forty cents, and oats to twenty cents, and potatoes to fifteen cents, and fine cattle to forty dollars, and finest horses to fifty dollars and seventy-five dollars. Fathers of farmers who to-day clear their three thousand dollars and four thousand dollars a year could not clear one hundred dollars a year. Commerce was absolutely stagnant. Canada was a federation, but a federation of what? Poverty-stricken, isolated provinces. Not in bravado, not in flamboyant self-confidence, rebuffed of all chance to trade with the United States, the new Dominion humbly set herself to build the foundations of a nation. She did not know whether she could do what she had set herself to do; but she began with that same dogged idealism and faith in the future which had buoyed up her first settlers ; and there were dark days during her long hard task, when the whiff of an adverse wind would have thrown her into national bankruptcy that winter, for instance, when the Canadian Pacific had no money to go on building and the Canadian government refused to extend aid. Had the Riel Rebellion of 85 not compelled the Dominion government to extend aid so that the line would be ready for the troops every bank in Canada would have collapsed, and national credit would have been impaired for fifty years.
Meanwhile, a country of less than four million people set itself to link British Columbia with Montreal, and Montreal with Halifax, and Ottawa with Detroit, and the Great Lakes with the sea. The story is too long to be related in detail, but on canals alone Canada has spent a hundred millions. Including stocks, bonds, funded debt and debenture stock, the Dominion railways have a capital of $1,369,992,574; and the country that had not a foot of railroads, when the patriots fought the Family Compact, to-day possesses twenty-nine thousand miles of trackage,* three trans-continental systems of railroads and threescore lines touching the boundary. Five times more tonnage passes through the Canadian Soo Canal than is expected for Panama or has passed through Suez; but consider the burden of this development on a people whose farmers were scarcely clearing one hundred dollars a year. It is putting it mildly to say that during these dark days property depreciated two thirds in value. Land companies that had loaned up to two-thirds the value of farm property found themselves saddled with farms which could not be sold for half they had advanced on the loan.
Three times within the memory of the living generation Canadian delegates sought trade concessions in Washington ; and three times they came back rebuffed, with but a grimmer determination to work out Canada's own destiny. Is it any wonder, when the fourth time came and Canada was offered reciprocity that she voted it down?
During the twenty dark years Canada lost to the United States one-fourth her native population.* During the last ten years she has drawn back to her home acres not only many of her expatriated native born but almost two million Americans. In ten years her population has almost doubled. Uncle Sam has boasted his four billion yearly foreign trade from Atlantic ports. Canada with a population only one-twelfth Uncle Sam's to-day has a foreign trade of almost a billion.
Take another look at Canada's area! All of Germany and Austria spread over Eastern Canada would still leave an area uncovered in the East bigger than the German Empire. England spread out flat would just cover the maritime provinces. Quebec stands a third bigger than Germany, Ontario a third bigger than France; and you still have a western world as large again as the East. Spread the British Isles flat, they would barely cover Manitoba. France and Germany would not equal Saskatchewan and Alberta ; and two Germanies would not cover British Columbia leaving undefined Yukon and MacKenzie River and Peace River and the hinterland of Hudson Bay, an area equal to European Russia. If areas in Canada had the same population as areas in Europe, the Do-minion would be supporting four hundred million people.
It would be assuming too much stoicism to say that Canadians are not conscious of a great destiny. For years they stuck so closely to their nation-building that they had no time to stand back and view the size of the edifice of their own. structure, but all that is different today. When four hundred thousand people a year flock to the Dominion to cast in their lot with Canadians, there is testimony of worth. Canadians know their destiny is upon them, whatever it may be ; and they are meeting the challenge half way with faces to the front. In the words of Sir Wilfred Laurier, they know that "the Twentieth Century is Canada's." What will they do with it? What are their aims and desires as a people? Will the same ideals light the path to the fore as have illumined the long hard way in the past? Will Canada absorb into her national life the people who are coming to her, or will they absorb, her?