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For an American, there is an ironic clue to the history of our neighbor to the north; she became a nation because her people did not wish to be swallowed up by the United States Quant aux Canadiens français, ils ne voulaient pas seulement éviter être absorbés par les États-Unis; ils ne voulaient pas davantage être absorbés parleurs compatriotes “anglais”
December 1965 | Volume 17, Issue 1
The War of 1812 had reduced to a trickle the flow of emigrants from the United States into British North America. Anti-American sentiment, when the fight was over, showed itself in restrictions making it hard for Americans to get land in Upper Canada; but most of those who had any pioneer disposition were by that time turning their eyes toward their own Northwest Territory anyway. But immigrants—800,000 between 1815 and 1850—poured in from abroad, mostly from Great Britain. There, depressions following the end of the Napoleonic Wars sent shipload after shipload to seek better fortune on the Canadian frontier. There were numerous veterans from the armies of the Duke of Wellington, unemployed English factory workers, Irish weavers fleeing famine, and Scottish artisans. Smaller contingents came from Holland, Germany, France, and Switzerland. Some 40,000—most of them Scots—settled in Nova Scotia; at least as many Irish went to New Brunswick. As for Upper Canada, its population jumped from less than 100,000 in 1815 to nearly a million in 1850. Among the immigrants there, incidentally, were something like 30,000 American Negroes who reached their Canadian haven from slavery by means of the famous Underground Railroad. Like nineteenth-century immigrants to the United States, most of those who came to Canada from Europe found the trip a difficult one, and conditions in the New World often far harder than their dreams had led them to hope. The poor—and most of them were poor—came in the dank holds of ships that had carried lumber from Canada to British ports, and the filthy conditions they faced on the long voyage acted as a kind of artificial selection that weeded out the least fit before they ever arrived to struggle for a living on primitive Canadian farms. But many thousands of the hardy survived and even thrived in the new environment. One significant effect was to bring English speaking Upper Canada to a par, in population, with French-speaking Lower Canada by the 1850’s.
Like many others before and since, Lord Durham badly miscalculated one thing in his famous report of 1839. AS ne saw it, a chief benefit of union between Upper and Lower Canada would be the gradual but inexorable Anglicization of French-Canadian life. He failed to understand the deep tenacity of canadien cultural roots in a province where the official motto was “I remember.” The genre paintings of Cornelius Krieghoff made in Quebec in the 1850^ show a people whose prideful satisfaction with their old-time religion, language, and customs was stubborn enough to last for at least another century.
The oratorical effusions and triumphal arches (above) that greeted young Albert, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), when he visited the British North American colonies in the summer of 1860, augured a future in which the emotional tie to the Crown would remain strong regardless of what degree of national status might be won. At that moment, however, the prospects looked poor for Canadian nationalism. In the United Province of Canada the government was in a state of almost chronic crisis in the early 1860’s: the fact that Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario) had an equal number of votes in the legislature meant repeated deadlocks. Gradually, the idea of a federal union, perhaps including the Maritimes, took hold: under such an arrangement Quebec and Ontario each could have its own provincial government, yet remain politically tied together. Pressure from the United States acted as a catalyst. Invasion by Union troops was a constant threat during the American Civil War, since British cooperation with the South seemed to offer an excuse for American reprisal against Canada, if not annexation; and at the same time it was becoming clear that Britain would be glad to shed the burden of defending the colonies. In September, 1864, the first concerted effort toward confederation was launched. The occasion was a conference called by the Maritime Provinces at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, to discuss a purely Maritime union. Representatives from the Canadas, who managed to get themselves invited, soon expanded the agenda to a much more exciting scope: federal union of the British North American colonies to create a new nation—one that might ultimately stretch from sea to sea. The following month, at Quebec, seventy-two resolutions were passed which became in essence the constitution of the Confederation. They provided for a strong central government on the British model: the Canadian Parliament would hold sovereignty over the member provinces, which would exercise power only in those local matters specifically delegated to them. The plan was officially approved in London by passage of the British North America Act, and on July 1, 1867, the Dominion of Canada, comprising Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec, came into being.