December 1965 | Volume 17, Issue 1
Editors in the United States have more than once suggested to me that Canada is bad literary material because few Americans are seriously interested in her. When they do think seriously of Canada, they picture an empty land with cold weather, extensive wheat fields and forests, and a population quiet enough to be taken for granted. Canada—that good, gray country! If Time Magazine has not already used this phrase, it must have been purely by oversight.
Nor have many Canadians been helpful in making their country seem real. From the travel publicists who depict it as quaint and romantic, through the businessmen who exchange jovial platitudes with their American counterparts at conventions, all the way up to the politicians who are so terrified of being misunderstood in Washington (and thereby getting a bad press both in the United States and at home), the spokesmen of this strange northern land nearly all seem motivated by a compulsion to disguise themselves, often without even knowing they do so.
At the same time, the 6,000,000-odd American tourists who annually cross the border are usually so struck by Canadian resemblances to their own country that they wonder why Canada is not part of the American union. The highway billboards advertise nearly every known brand of American soft drink, gasoline, canned and packaged foods, all presented in the customary American styles, and with good reason. The firms that sell them to Canadians are American companies with branch plants in Canada. When the tourist visits the newsstand in his Canadian hotel (which may well be run by the Hilton or Sheraton people) he finds all the familiar magazines of the United States awaiting him on the racks. Later he may tune his bedroom TV set to his favorite American program, since the chances are it will be carried by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Inevitably, the American briefly visiting Canada believes that the only thing different about the country is the scenery, and that he generally likes.
Moreover, the United States’ problems with other countries are so complex and threatening that it is no wonder if she is eager to take for granted any nation that never makes trouble for her; and Canada seems to be the obvious example. If American taking-for-granted has been modified lately, it is because trouble has appeared to be brewing. Separatist bombs in Montreal and the supposed danger to the life of the Queen in Quebec City in 1964 have done more to make the world aware of Canada than her two corps d’élite in the two world wars. Will Canada survive or will she disintegrate? This question is now being asked. And as Canada is the best customer of the United States and has been her most loyal friend, it is evidently to the interest of Americans, so many of whom have heavily invested in the country, to examine their relations with their northern neighbor in greater detail than they have hitherto done. To do this requires a more than superficial probing of the Canadian character, and of the forces that have shaped it. Under the surface the average Canadian, especially in the old, settled East, is different from the average American, and different in more respects than he himself consciously realizes. What made him that way?
Canada is not a nation that grew organically, like Britain or France, nor again is she one that sprang into being out of a successful revolution based upon a specific ideology, as did the United States. Her present nationhood was created by a political construction job performed nearly a century ago on some important left-over human materials in history’s untidy workshop. The Confederation of 1867 united politically four British colonies in North America—Ontario and Quebec (then known as Upper Canada and Lower Canada, from their positions on the St. Lawrence River), and the two Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. A number of circumstances conspired to bring this union about, and some of them will be discussed later. Let it suffice to say for the moment that the principal achievement of the Confederation of 1867 was to create a political framework which would permit the French Fact and the British Fact in North America—the one a leftover from the Seven Years’ War, the other from the American Revolution —to live together and prosper economically. It was believed that the mere act of living together politically would in time develop a spirit of true national unity, but the history of the near century that followed has proved that this belief was too optimistic. The original Confederation was not a failure; it was in fact a magnificent political achievement. But, although it provided remarkably well for Quebec’s political needs at that time, it has been inadequate to serve her cultural needs today. That is why the revision of Confederation is now the most important internal necessity in Canada. And what a tangle of historical paradoxes lies behind this necessity, and how alien most of them are to the American experience!
As so often happens in the case of what might be called leftover communities—Belgium is a classic European example—Canada’s history is so frustratingly complex that it defies focus. One cannot use the land as a focus because the land is too vast. Canada is geographically the world’s second-largest nation—the U.S.S.R. being the largest—widening broadly above the United States’ border and extending so far north that the northern islands verge on the Pole. But the size of the land is deceptive. Most of it forms the cold and rocky Laurentian Shield and is nearly useless for human habitation. Only about four per cent of modern Canada is under cultivation; it has been estimated that only seven per cent could ever be.
Culturally, Canadians are coeval with their American neighbors, and in terms of the arrival of the first settlers from Europe, the provinces of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Quebec are senior to Massachusetts by a few years. But this apparent equality of original stakes in the New World is again deceptive owing to the enormous differences between the terrain of eastern Canada and that of the eastern United States. There is so little good farm land in eastern Canada that in the early days the only important economic activities, above the level of the family subsistence farm, were fishing along the coasts and the fur trade of the interior. This meant that an urban culture grew very slowly. Quebec is older than any city in the north-eastern United States, but at the end of the War of 1812 her population was less than 30,000. At that time Montreal’s population was barely 15,000, yet the city had been the base of the fur trade for two centuries.
The effect of this huge, untamed land on the Canadian character cannot be estimated with any precision, but it has certainly been profound. Jf the Canadian character is now changing rapidly, it is partly because millions of Canadians no longer live on and with the land, though they are still more conscious of it than New Yorkers or Chicagoans. The huge growth of cities like Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver in recent years has produced more excitement and material prosperity than contentment and firmness of character, and within another twenty-five years it is possible that a generation of city dwellers will exist to whom their ancestors will be quite alien. But any Canadian of middle age remembers vividly how things used to be. He knows that for years the Canadian experience was lonelier than the American; he remembers how harsh was the climate, how bitter the struggle to exist.
But what should be the focus in an attempt to make this curious country understandable? A useful one is the influence of the United States. It is by no means a perfect focus. It ignores many other powerful influences. It cannot do justice to the deep character-forming role of the Roman Catholic Church in French Canada; it overlooks many important institutions inherited from Britain, and it disregards the emotional pulls of Scottish and Irish clannishness. Nevertheless, actions performed for and by people living in the United States have again and again been decisive in the political and economic lives of Canadians.
In telling the Canadian story to an audience largely American, my best point of departure is the decision of Lord Chatham, during the Seven Years’ War, to destroy forever the French Empire in North America. His purpose was to gain the Ohio Territory for the Thirteen Colonies, and in order to do so, he not only had to remove the threat of French invasion from the north; he had to control the Laurentian waterways into the interior. Wolfe captured Quebec in order to make the continent safe for England’s American colonists. He made it so safe for them that a few years later they felt they could safely revolt.
The next important date in the Canadian-American relationship is the Quebec Act of 1774, which could easily serve cynics with the moral that political generosity never pays. The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, had arranged for the ceding of New France, ils lands and its peoples, to the British Crown. The Quebec Act was intended to make them contented British subjects, and it paid strict attention—almost it paid homage—to French-Canadian institutions and to the French-Canadian character. Nobody can ever understand the French Canadians, and thereby the Canadian nation, unless his imagination can grasp the significance of the following facts:
For a century and a half before the Conquest of 1763, this tiny community of French settlers had endured repeated assaults by Indians and British colonial troops. It was a feudal society directly governed by an intendant appointed in Paris by the French Crown. This meant that all power and influence in the colony lay in the hands of clerical and quasi-military leaders. Furthermore, these Leaders were mostly plain men with little influence in the court at Versailles. But some of them were heroes, indeed the prime heroes, in the early story of North America. Champlain and his men, followed by Radisson, Joliet, Marquette, La Salle, and La Vérendrye, had explored by canoe the Great Lakes, the valleys of the Ohio and the Mississippi, and the southern extremities of Hudson Bay, and had reached sight of the Rockies, before the English settlers had crossed the Appalachians.
Moreover, in Quebec the Catholic Church was not the decadent, influence-riddled institution it was in France on the eve of the French Revolution. It was both militant and missionary. It did not regard the Indians as an obstacle to settlement (though they often were) but as a rich harvest of souls, and in gathering this harvest, priests like Brébeuf and Lallemant suffered horrible martyrdoms. In theology, the French-Canadian Church was still medieval, its spirit was ultramontane, its priests were heroically enduring.
Finally, the French Canadians were bound together by two of the strongest possible social forces: an unending struggle for survival and an overweening ambition on the part of their leaders. Bishops and governors might quarrel, but bolh sought to establish a French and Catholic empire extendine from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico. Had France supported them to the extent that England supported her colonial leaders, they might well have succeeded, because the internal lines of communication in New France offered such superior mobility. But the home government of France handicapped them at every turn. It governed New France despotically and at a distance; it sent out a number of corrupt governors who lined their pockets by extortion; worst of all, it failed to develop an adequate program of emigration. So it came about that the tiny French-Canadian community felt itself constantly beset by enemies more numerous and more fortunate, and this inculcated an intense clannishness, together with one of the most enduring emotions that can dominate a human society: the pride of the unappreciated. Their society was as small as it was tightly knit; at the time of the Conquest the population of New France was about 65,000. Traumatically shocked, not merely by the Conquest but by France’s cynical abandonment of them, they suddenly found themselves without a motherland to turn to, helpless in the grip of their conquerors, a tiny, defeated, Catholic island surrounded by Anglo-Protestants who had been their traditional enemies.
The history of Canada is picturesque in both the literal and the more figurative senses of the word. A full pictorial chronicle, illustrating how a thinly settled French colony of the seventeenth century became a complex and powerful nation in the twentieth, would indeed be a large and lavish volume. Yet it is possible to illuminate some of the salient forces and events of Canadian history in a smaller compass, and this is what AMERICAN HERITAGE , after wide search in Canada, has tried to do in the portfolio that follows .
It is easy for an American to forget that colonial Canada was almost exclusively French for a century and a half before the British conquest of 1759–60. The first British governors remembered it very well, and made little effort to force the French habitants into assimilating British cultural patterns. There was too much against it—another language, another religion, another social framework, and all almost untouched by the waves of the Enlightenment that currently were disturbing France. Moreover, the seigneurial system of landholding and governing—a kind of modified feudalism in which the clerical orders powerfully shared—insured an orderly and dutiful populace, willing to accept the rule of their new masters as long as their old French customs were not disrupted. Sir Guy Carleton, who administered British affairs in Quebec intermittently from 1766 to 1796, pushed the passage of the Quebec Act of 1774, which guaranteed maintenance of the Roman Catholic religion, French civil law, and the seigneurial system. This aroused ire in the thirteen British colonies that were about to launch the American Revolution: but it helped to keep Quebec from joining them, and entrenched its basically French character.
“We came up here.” said a citixen of Ontario recently, “from New York State—after the war.” He was speaking of his eighteenth-century forebears, and the war lie meant was the American Revolution. His ancestors were a few among some 40,000 loyalists from the American colonies who (led to Canada rather than desert the British Crown. When it is recalled that the French population of Quebec in 1783 was perhaps 100,000, the impact of this aftermath of American independence can be guessed at. In the future, Canadian life would be increasingly dualized between the two cultures, French-speaking and English-speaking; and a fully unifying national formula is not yet in sight. About 10,000 United Empire Loyalists (as they were called) settled in western Quebec, and by iygi had made for themselves a community distinctive enough so that the British government divided the old province into Upper Canada and Lower Canada—so-called by reason of their positions on the St. Lawrence. Another 30,000 refugees from the Revolution found new homes in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and other immigrants from the United States continued to flow into Canada in large numbers until the War of 1812, supplemented by a smaller influx from Great Britain—notably Highland Scots, who soon turned into a sturdy merchant class. The huge Canadian West was still wilderness, known only by Indians and fur traders: but in the East, Canada had already taken substantially its present shape.
The War of 1812 seldom rates more than a paragraph in a history of Great Britain, and tends to be glossed over in American annals as a series ol brilliant—and lucky—sea victories against the might of the Royal Navy. But in Canadian history it was epochal, a struggle for survival in which the young and loosely knit country—still, of course, a British dependency—pulled itself together and heroically fought off American attempts at Invasion by land. Canadian heroism was enormously assisted by American bumbling. At Detroit, General William Hull allowed himself to be convinced that the British-Canadian force under General Isaac Brock was larger, and supported by many more bloodthirsty Indians, than it really was. Hull surrendered after a mere skirmish; and two months later Brock fought to Ins death successfully repulsing an American invasion at Queenston Heights, near Niagara. In Lower Canada, French-Canadian militia twice threw back feeble American attempts to capture Montreal. Aside from the emergence of American sea power, the most substantial gain for the United States, by the time the Treaty of Ghent ended the war in 1814, was the breaking up of the Indian confederacy under Tccumseh, which had threatened to severely impede settlement of the American Middle West. For British North America there was something less material but psychologically more important: the first shoots of a spirit of true nationhood, embracing both French speaking and English speaking Canada. Anti-Americanism was largely the basis for this, yet negotiations after the war began to define what would eventually become famous as the longest unfortified border in the world.
In the early development of the Canadian Northwest, fur was everything. Until the end of the American Revolution the vast primeval forests were the domain of the Indians and of “The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay”—the famed Hudson’s Bay Company—which got its original charter from Charles II in 1670. Meanwhile the thriving fur traders of Montreal exploited the region of the Great Lakes, the Ohio, and the upper Mississippi; but with American independence these mid-continental regions were won by the new republic. In 1787 the North West Company was founded in Montreal, and its name indicated the new direction of its interest. Probing into the unknown wilderness west of the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay, its agents became discoverers whose names will never die in the history of western exploration: Alexander Mackenzie (who reached both the Arctic Ocean and the Pacific); Simon Fraser (who followed the river that would bear his name along the future route of the Canadian transcontinental railroads); David Thompson (who opened up the great Columbia water system in what is now the American Northwest). The audacious expeditions of these leaders and the voyageurs who paddled and portaged their great canoes resulted in formidable competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and lor over thirty years a titanic struggle went on for the furry wealth of the great Canadian West. But there was more at stake than fur. Lord Selkirk, of Scotland, dreamed of a settlement for Scottish emigrants in the fertile plains of the Red River area (near present-day Winnipeg), and in 1811–12, having bought a controlling interest in the Hudson’s Bay Company, he founded the Red River colony. Seeing this as a challenge, the North West Company harassed the new settlement mercilessly, leading Selkirk to import Swiss ex-soldiers to defend his colonists. Fights and law suits weakened both companies, but in 1821 it all ended with a merger: the Nor’Wcsters were absorbed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Selkirk’s community of settlers survived and grew, and their descendants were among the first citizens of Manitoba.
A pervasive theme in Hugh MacLennan’s novel, Two Solitudes , is the uneasy coexistence of English-speaking and French-speaking Canada throughout the country’s history. The difference in language is of course only a symbolic index of two quite different cultures that nevertheless were the embryo of a single nationality. From the great wave of British immigration between 1815 and 1850, Lower Canada (or Quebec) was very largely exempted, and New World French influences in architecture, dress, religion, and public cereinonv grew ever stronger there. Unlike the United States, where the fact of revolution and independence fostered a native tradition different from and often antagonistic toward British ways, Upper Canada and the Maritime Provinces became—as nearly as their inhabitants could make them so—replicas of the Old Country. Usually the leaders in this tendency were United Empire Loyalists, whose ancestors had fled the United States after the Revolution. To French Canadians (who call themselves simply Canadiens ), their English-speaking countrymen have always been known as les Anglais .
The faces of the men in the group portrait above are more important than their exact identities. They reflect the typical characteristics of the oligarchs, appointed in the name of the Crown hy the provincial governors, who wielded most of the power in both Upper and Lower Canada from 1791 to 1840: aristocratic bearing, good breeding, intelligence, shrewdness in business and finance, impatience with democracy. Typical also is the strongly British look, for not only were the systems of government the same in the two colonies, but even in Quebec the members of the ruling group normally were non-French despite the overwhelming French ancestry of the population. The Family Compact, as the oligarchy was commonly called in Upper Canada, and the Chateau Clique, its counterpart in Quebec, advised the provincial governors sent over from Great Britain, and often were able to nullify the efforts of the only elective body in each province, the Legislative Assembly. Self-government was still something but dimly glimpsed on the horizon, and repeated frustration led to steadily growing discontent with the old colonial forms. In Lower Canada, where the French-speaking majority controlled the Assembly, the ethnic split aggravated feelings against the English-speaking oligarchy; but in both Canadas, by the 1820’s, radical leaders were beginning to mount rebellious movements against the non-democratic aspects of the system. In Quebec, Louis Joseph Papineau, Speaker of the Assembly and a man of great eloquence and verve, vehemently demanded an upper legislative body, patterned after the United States Senate, to replace the Chateau Clique; in Upper Canada, the fiery little William Lyon Mackenzie, editor, first mayor of Toronto, and prominent member of the Assembly, made much the same demands. Violence broke out in both provinces in the late fall of 1837. But neither Papineau nor Mackenzie had much military ability, and their confused followers were quickly defeated by government troops and loyal volunteers. Both men soon lied to the United States, where Mackenzie organized sporadic and ineffectual raiding parties against Canada from among his American sympathizers. Yet the abortive rebellions of 1837 were to have significant repercussions.
To solve the problems of Canadian unrest, Great Britain sent over a remarkable man, “Radical Jack” Lambton, Lord Durham, socially an aristocrat but politically a democrat. Durham submitted a report (1839) that became a classic of Canadian history. It recommended union of Upper and Lower Canada and “responsible government” on the British model—that is, replacement of the old oligarchical councils by a cabinet representing the majority in the elective assembly and having full executive power. Despite opposition from conservatives, the two Canadas became one province in 1841, and in 1848 the Governor-General, Lord Elgin, appointed a ministry whose members all belonged to the Reform party Responsible government had arrived in Canada.
The flood of immigrants and a high birth rate in the Canadian provinces naturally demanded a greatly increased flow of goods to sustain the burgeoning population. Lumber and grain moved from the Great Lakes region down the St. Lawrence to the Maritimes, and from there in Canadian ships to Great Britain: back came a steady supply of British manufactured products. Between 1815 and 1850, the natural waterways of Canada were greatly supplemented by canals. The rough Lachinc rapids of the upper St. Lawrence were bypassed by canal in 1825: in 1829 the first Welland Canal, circumventing Niagara Falls between Lake Eric and Lake Ontario, was completed. Steam brought more reliable power for ships, and eventually made railroads an equally important factor in the commercial development of British North America.
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.
Two thousand miles west of the tiew Dominion of Canada lay the Pacific coast, Vancouver Island—and the “Oregon country.” This huge, forested area west of the Rockies had been left to joint British-American occupation following the War of 1812; but in the iS.jo’s American expansionists, under the banner of “fifty-four forty or fight,” demanded all of it up to Russian Alaska for the United States. In the Oregon Treaty of 1846, however, Britain profited by the American troubles with Mexico, which made Washington willing to settle for a dividing line extending along the forty-ninth parallel to the Pacific, but leaving all of Vancouver Island on the British side. The American-Canadian border was now virtually complete, although American annexatiouists still looked hungrily northward. The discovery of gold on the Fräser River in 1856 soon transformed the little Hudson’s Bay Company trading post of Victoria, on Vancouver Island, into a booming supply center for the inrushing prospectors—most of them Americans. To maintain British control, the new royal colony of British Columbia was quickly established, and in 1866, with the gold rush over and both British Columbia and Vancouver Island suffering in consequence, the two were combined into one, taking the name of the former but with Victoria designated as the capital in 1869. The addition of the vast Northwest Territories to the Dominion of Canada (which bought them from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1869) then led naturally to adding British Columbia; in 1871 it became a full-fledged province.
In her haste to secure the great Canadian Northwest against possible American encroachment—for all of Alaska had become United States territory in the summer of 1867—the new Dominion overlooked the sensitive feelings ol the only considerable body of settlers in the enormous reaches between Ontario and the Rockies. At the Red River Settlement, two generations of pioneers had tenaciously survived since the days of Selkirk’s first tiny colony. Numerous among them were the French-speaking Métis—part Indian, as their name suggests, but already a people with a proud sense of identity and a deep loyalty to the faith and culture imparted to them by ardent Catholic missionaries from Quebec. They undeniably had marks of frontier wildness about them, too—they were buffalo hunters, boatmen, trappers—but they did not deserve the description given them by the usually astute John A. Macdonald, first Prime Minster of the Dominion: “miserable half-breeds.” They were incensed when they heard, in the fall of 1869, that a Canadian lieutenant-governor was on his way to set up a territorial government about whose terms they had been totally unconsulted. At this point an educated young Métis with a gift for leadership, Louis Riel, took drastic action. He organized a “National Committee” which sent the would-be lieutenant-governor packing, took over Fort Garry, and in March, 1870, dispatched delegates to Ottawa. They demanded a regular provincial government to guarantee that the Metis could retain their French-Catholic customs and enjoy the equal protection of the Dominion’s laws. Ottawa acceded, and in July a small area of the Northwest territory around the Red River Settlement became the Province of Manitoba. Meanwhile, however, back at Fort Garry, Riel had indiscreetly and summarily executed a Canadian who had rebelled against his leadership. This unfortunate act polarized violent feelings between British and French Canadians. In Quebec, Riel was regarded as a heroic servant of the faith and the father of Manitoba; in Ontario, he was a desperate half-breed rebel. A military expedition sent by Canada to support the new provincial officials at Red River began to assume a punitive look, and before it arrived, Louis Riel took flight—to be heard from, however, later on.
When British Columbia became a Canadian province in 1871, Prime Minister Macdonald boldly promised that a transcontinental railroad would link it to Ontario and Quebec within twelve years. The performance he put on in this effort to give fuller substance to the motto of the Dominion, A mari usque ad mare (From sea to sea), was possibly the most brilliant as well as the most controversial of his long and tempestuous career. For a relatively undeveloped country of less than four million people to build such a railway was, technically and financially, a Herculean project. Attacking with new gusto in 1878, after five years out of office, Sir John worked intimately with a talented group of financiers and engineers who by 1884 had pushed the Canadian Pacific tracks across fifteen hundred miles of muskeg, lakes, rivers, canyons, and towering mountain ranges. It cost a fabulous amount of money as well as energy, however, and the builders repeatedly applied for public loans, which were granted with increasing reluctance. Ironically, what saved the day for the railway was another Métis uprising, once more led by Louis Riel, who returned to the Canadian West in 1884 after many years in the United States (and two, incognito, in Quebec mental hospitals). This time Canada’s Plains Indians shared the Métis grievances: extinction of the buffalo herds, rather strict control by the North West Mounted Police (formed in 1873), growing numbers of land-grabbing settlers—and now, intensification of all these pressures by the relentless advance of the railroad. The unbalanced Riel failed to prevent violence, and there were short but bloody encounters between Métis and Canadian troops who were swiftly transported to the troubled area by the new railroad, thereby greatly improving its public image. The rebellion was quelled, but the dispute over Riel raged anew between Ontario and Quebec—greatly intensified when he was hanged as a traitor in November, 1885. That same month, the Canadian Pacific reached the west const. The Dominion had been tied together with bands of steel.
Though physically united by the railroad, Canada suffered from severe political division as well as severe economic depression between 1885 and 1896. Then came a more hopeful time under the premiership of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, a Canadien who dreamed of a truly national Canada and did much to make it a reality. He was assisted by a remarkable upswing in the country’s economy: between 1897 and the start of World War I, Canada moved from near stagnation to become economically the most rapidly developing nation in the world. “Natural” products like fur, fish, and rough timber (above: hauling logs on the Ottawa, 1871) had been the chief sources of her national wealth; now more sophisticated industries began to dominate. It took decades of painful experimentation before Canadians developed a variety of wheat and the agricultural techniques suited to the relatively cold and arid northern plains; but by 1900 Canada was on the way to becoming “the breadbasket of the world.” (Above: a great wheat field in Alberta, in 1906—“sowed 22nd March, reaped igth August.”) At the same time there was an enormous surge in newer enterprises: canned fish; packed meat; pulp and paper; dairy products; copper, nickel, platinum, and other minerals; hydroelectric power—and widely diversified manufactured goods. For all her internal disparities, Canada had grown into a nation to count among the world’s powers. It remained lor her to sustain and mature her nationhood.
Sir John A. Macdonald , Conservative, 1867–73; 1878–91 . The new Dominion’s chief architect (above, in an efection poster of 1891) staked everything on westward expansion and the transcontinental railway—and won. Intuitive and unpredictable, sly and merciless, but more than any successor a man of the people, revelling in controversy. Notorious for boozing and for juicy stories. In 1873, campaign-fund scandals forced him to resign, but he staged brilliant comeback in 1878 and won again in elections of 1882, 1887, 1891. Held Quebec by careful alliances with strong French-speaking partners, while Ontario was at his feet when he thundered: “A British subject 1 was born, a British subject I will die.” His most serious adversary was the ghost of Louis Riel; failure to grant a pardon unhinged Macdonald’s Quebec following. A political opportunist, he followed often-contradictory policies. His clever delaying tactics won him the affectionate nickname, “Old Tomorrow.” With Sir Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King, he belongs to the trio of “greats” who have dominated modern Canadian history.
Alexander Mackenzie , Liberal, 1873–78 . Lacking in the cunning, colorful ways of his predecessor, he tried to get hy with hard work, honesty, reliability, and humility. But he also lacked luck: came to the helm just as prosperity gave way to depression and naturally got the blame. Forced to pull back on construction of Canadian Pacific, he appeared simply unimaginative and dull. Recent research has revealed an above-average man but clearly no match for the wily Macdonald. Respectful of the Crown and the British allegiance, yet refused a knighthood three times.
Sir John Abbott , Conservative, 1891–92 . First Canadian-born P.M. A reluctant, compromise candidate with no stomach for politics and no talent for holding together the tricky alliances molded by Macdonald. After a few failures, weary and ill, he resigned his office in disgust.
Sir John Thompson , Conservative, 1892–94 . First Roman Catholic P.M., called by Macdonald “the great discovery of my life.” Alert and able, he recognized in Manitoba’s decision to abolish state-supported Catholic schools an issue of extreme danger. Invited to Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria—he accepted partly to strengthen his hand among pro-British Canadians—he dropped dead at the royal luncheon at age of 52, ending a promising career.
Sir Mackenzie Bowell , Conservative, 1894–96 . Tiny, noisy, bigoted, and aggressive. Least successful P.M., his chaotic administration being marked by internal squabbling. Finally, his own Cabinet (“that nest of traitors!” he called them) ganged up and forced his resignation.
Sir Charles Tupper , Conservative, 1896 . Came to office too late (age 75) and for too short a time (three months) to have a fair chance. A hard-working bulldog trying to pull together a party still shattered by Macdonald’s death. Conducted a strong campaign in 1896 election but everything was against him.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier , Liberal, 1896–1911 . First of French descent, vain, dapper, eloquent in both languages; considered it his prime objective to bring the two national groups, “long estranged from each other, gradually to become a nation.” Succeeded better than any Prime Minister before or since. Lucky to govern during sunny prosperity and western expansion. Met stiff opposition in Quebec when he supported Canadian participation in the Boer War. His advocacy of limited economic reciprocity with U.S. cost him the 1911 election. As Opposition leader during World War I, supported the government but refused to vote for conscription, anathema in Quebec.
Sir Robert Borden , Conservative, 1911–20 . An uninspiring work horse of high integrity. Grew in stature us war in Europe put increased burdens on the office. Having failed to enlist Laurier in a Conservative-Liberal coalition in 1917, he assumed full responsibility for ugly conscription crisis. Won the right for Canada to sign the Versailles Treaty in its own name—a significant advance toward independent status. Left politics by choice. Frugal, he often bicycled to his office.
Arthur Meighen , Conservative, 1920–21; 1926 (for 3 months) . Brilliant lawyer and gifted orator, was said to memorize large sections of books after a single reading. Clear and precise, addressed the electorate as jurors, creating a cold, haughty impression. His strong pro-conscription stand doomed him in Quebec, and his British sympathies failed to win enough support elsewhere to sustain him.
William Lyon Mackenzie King , Liberal, 1921–26; 1926–30; 1935–48 . Was Prime Minister longer than any other man in the entire British parliamentary system. Knew how to use his colorless and cautious manner to best advantage, displaying courage and tenacity when least expected. His World War II statement, “Not necessarily conscription, but conscription if necessary,” was typical of his strategy. Played a strong game of defensive politics, revealing his hand only when he held all the aces. His strength lay in his Cabinets, always highly diversified, with strong French representation. Had an insatiable appetite for administrative detail, keeping in direct touch with all parts of his complex political machinery. Gradually gained control over diplomatic relations—demurely declining further guidance from London. During World War II he became an important figure at the Quebec Conference, consulting with Churchill and Roosevelt. Remained a bachelor with little taste for social life. Politically a pragmatist, he was personally a mystic. He conferred from time to time with his departed parents through spiritualists.
Richard Bedford Bennett , Conservative, 1930–35 . Only millionaire and second bachelor, “Bonfire Bennett” was once clocked on the stump at 200 words a minute, never missing a syllable. Worked a steady 16-hour day, delegating little responsibility. Despite bread lines, drought, appalling unemployment, he remained confident to the point of arrogance. Reversed himself in 1935 by promising “New Deal” type program. Retired to England in defeat.
Louis St. Laurent , Liberal, 1948–57 . Shrewd and dignified, lured into government by King from a comfortable law practice at the age of 60. Second canadien P.M., known as “Uncle Louis” to many who found his surname difficult. Less interested in politics than in international relations. Strong supporter of NATO and U.N.; urged Canadian aid to newly independent Commonwealth countries in Asia and Africa.
John G. Diefenbaker , Conservative, 1957–63 . Fiery campaign oratory won him the biggest landslide ever. After his victory, however, the bite proved less effective than the bark. Despite a strong mandate from Quebec, he weakened his position by failing to give able French advisers key posts in Cabinet; there, differences over defense policy led to open dissension.
Lester Bowles Pearson , Liberal, 1963 -. Called “Mike,” in some ways better known outside Canada for his U .N. work and Nobel Peace Prize. Has had to fight an egghead image and cope with Quebec’s unrest over its role in Canadian federation.
The Pearson government took grave political risks when it pushed the adoption of the new Canadian Maple Leaf flag, which since February, 1965, has flown from the top of the Peace Tower in Ottawa (above). The British Union Jack had waved above the nation’s capital until V-E Day, 1945, when it was replaced in a burst ot nationalist pride by Canada’s Red Ensign. Even that flag, because it retained the Union Jack in its design, was never acceptable to Quebec; the Canadiens had long demanded a distinctive flag without British or French symbols. (One of them, writing in 1865, had suggested the rainbow: “By the endless variety of its tints the rainbow will give an excellent idea of the diversity of … the Confederation.”) But, as in the case of the national anthem, debate was long and agreement was hard. The Maple Leaf Hag was an obvious gesture to reduce tension and promote unity as the nation prepared to celebrate its centennial on July I, 1967. Whether the gesture was too little or too late remains to be seen, but one thing seems sure: Canadian politicians are a little weary of talk about flags.
Their response to this challenge came out of a deep human instinct. During the first decade after the Conquest, the French-Canadian birth rate is believed to have set a historical record. Though the military leaders for the most part had returned to France, the clergy, together with a handful of wealthy landholders—the seigneurs—remained. Under the leadership of their priests, the French Canadians set before their eyes a categorical imperative from which their descendants never departed—to survive, to survive as the French-Catholic Fact in America. They won the respect of the first British governors, who were able and humane men. Moreover, these men knew that French Canada would never fit conveniently into the British colonial pattern. The language was not only different but was linguistically senior to English, and in the eighteenth century it was one of the prides of an English gentleman that he should be able to converse in French. The Catholic religion defied assimilation, and many among the eighteenth-century English gentry preferred it to the dissenters’ faith of New England. The old French civil law could not be adjusted to the British common law without creating chaos in Quebec.
The one act of generous statesmanship that stands to the credit of Lord North’s government, it has often been said, was its approach to the French-Canadian problem. In 1774, the British passed the famous Quebec Act, which established the geographical limits of the newly conquered colony and granted to the French Canadians certain inalienable rights. They were to retain the old French Civil Code, though they were required to adopt British procedure in criminal cases, which introduced them to trial by jury. The seigneurs were to enjoy the same privileges they had enjoyed under the French kings. The Roman Catholic Church retained the right to gather tithes. Though nothing was said about language, it was assumed that French would continue to be used in the schools and the courts.
Generous the Quebec Act undoubtedly was, according to the practice of the times, nor is it right to presume that the motives behind it were cynical. But it was, with equal certainty, one of the most unwise acts a British government ever passed in regard to its own interests. Not only did it establish a state different in kind from any other within the British Empire, a state well-nigh feudal in its basic institutions; it enraged the already exasperated radicals of New England, who saw in it a calculated concession to Catholicism, to authoritarianism, and to the Old World conservatism which they hated. In addition, the newly established boundaries extending into the Ohio Valley, which the French Canadians had explored, were a threat to Virginia’s ambition to expand westward. The Quebec Act must therefore be listed as one of the more immediate causes of the American Revolution. Lexington followed the year after the act was passed, and a new era in Canadian-American relationships began.
Immediately after the Revolutionary War broke out, Montreal was occupied by a small American force. For several weeks Benjamin Franklin lived in the Château de Ramezay, negotiating with the leaders of the French Canadians in an effort to persuade them to join the Revolution. It is curious that this astute man should have hoped for success. Had his visits to France led him to believe that Quebec too was seething with ideas of democracy and constitutionalism? At any rate, the French Canadians baffled him just as they were later to baffle their English-speaking countrymen, who assumed that nothing would please them better than to be assimilated. Though the habitants might have welcomed the idea of independence from church and seigneur, they were not consulted; the decision rested with their own elite.
There was only one decision the French-Canadian elite could make. Not only were the clergy untouched by the ideas of the Enlightenment prevalent in France before the Revolution, prevalent there even among some of the Church’s intellectuals; they were strongly ultramontane, and the Vatican at that time was as implacably hostile to democracy as today it is hostile to communism. The leaders of a small people determined to preserve their religion and ethnic integrity could never have consented willingly to join a democratic revolution of Anglo-Protestants with whom they had been at war for years. While American troops occupied Montreal, the bishops played for time and talked with Franklin; the moment a British force came down from Quebec and drove the Americans out, they declared their loyalty to George III. It was not a loyalty based on affection, but on pure self-interest as the bishops and seigneurs saw it. Montreal became a British military base, and it was from Montreal that Burgoyne set out on the disastrous expedition that ended at Saratoga. It is because of French Canada’s role in these years that French Canadians to this day argue that they saved not only the French Fact in America, but the British Fact as well, for they held onto a territory to which the United Empire Loyalists could emigrate when the war ended in an American victory.
Canadian history is full of ironies, but none is quite so spectacular as the complete reversal of Lord Chatham’s hopes and plans two decades after that statesman seemed to have achieved total success. Now Britain was ousted from the very colonies for whose sake Chatham had fought his war. On the other hand, conquered Quebec now flew the Union Jack. The only other colonies that did so in the western hemisphere were the British West Indies, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia, which then included New Brunswick and some of the territory now in the state of Maine. It is no wonder that Canadians have such a built-in mistrust of skillfully laid public plans and policies. It has been their experience that few such plans fail to caricature themselves.
The next step in American-Canadian relations was the establishment of a boundary between the victorious states of the Revolution and what remained of British North America; and seldom in the history of diplomacy was more gained at a conference table than was gained by the Americans at Versailles in 1783. The British ministers—Shelburne’s Whigs—were unbelievably ignorant of the most elementary facts of North American geography, and it never occurred to them to invite anyone from Canada to inform them. They were confronted by John Adams, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin, possibly the most able team of negotiators that ever represented the United States. The Americans knew precisely what they wanted—a boundary settlement that would guarantee that the United States could never again be threatened from the north. Their strategic aim was so to weaken what remained of British influence on the continent that in time the United States would go all the way to the Arctic. The Canadians were excluded from the Ohio Territory and their fur traders from Grand Portage, and the border was set so far north—west of the Great Lakes as far north as the forty-ninth parallel—that Canada nearly strangled in the cradle. This was still an agricultural era, and the American negotiators knew how little arable land lay between that border and the Laurentian Shield. The English either did not know or did not care.
Still another irony appeared immediately afterward: the arrival in Canada of loyalists who had opposed the Revolution and who now experienced the dubious honor of being the first people in the Christian era to be driven from their homeland solely for their political principles. Some were tarred and feathered, some whipped; many suffered the confiscation of their lands and homes. It is a common belief in the United States that the loyalists were rich, selfish, and privileged persons, traitors to democracy and exploiters of the poor. Perhaps some were; so were some of the slaveowners who supported the Revolution. But the lists of the loyalists who arrived on ships in New Brunswick show few rich men; rather they reveal a cross-section of the American population. With few exceptions, the loyalists opposed the Revolution on principle, and the principle was an honorable one.
The most accessible place for them to go was to what then remained of British North America. By ship and on foot they came in their thousands, settling in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, the eastern townships of Quebec, and in the wilderness that then was called Upper Canada and now is called Ontario. Their arrival made it almost inevitable that in the future a Canadian nation would exist; it also made it sure that this nation would be an uneasy political home.
For just as the French Canadians were determined to keep alive the French Fact in America, so the loyalists were determined to keep alive the British Fact. From the beginning they and the French were rivals, antipathetic in their political traditions, their memories, their religions, and their collective aims. But they did have certain common denominators. Both were political orphans. Both tended to overvalue, even to glorify, the lost causes for which they had suffered so much. Bereft of a capital in Paris, the French Canadians transferred their supreme loyalty to the Vatican. The former Americans became more British than the king. Just as every French-Canadian village was called after a saint, so nearly every new town or county in Ontario was called after a member of the Royal Family or a cabinet officer in His Majesty’s Government.
One more element in Canada’s future was introduced by this aftermath of the American Revolution: the nation was predestined to a double ambivalence. Religious differences made matrimony—the truest welding of all—as impossible as historical backgrounds made political unity. It is conceivable that these initial differences and antagonisms would have been irreconcilable had it not been for the appearance of still another defeated group, the Highlanders whose clans had been crushed in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rebellion in 1745. They came to Canada as deportees or simply as men made landless by the cruel system of enclosures in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the early days of British North America, these Highlanders did more than serve as a kind of cement between the French and the English. They were less conservative than either group because they were totally freed from their crippling past. Men like Simon McTavish, James McGill, and Alexander Mackenzie became dominant in the fur trade and in much of the business of Montreal. In Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island the Scots did less well financially because they lacked opportunities. But they turned eagerly to education, and for a century and a half the most important export from that region has been brains, both in education and in finance.
So there you have the nucleus of modern Canada, her “charter members,” as the social scientist Jean-Charles Falardeau has called them: three racial groups speaking three different languages (when the Highlanders arrived, few of them spoke English), each imbued with a sense of its own past and shocked by three total, if separate, defeats in war. Survival was the chief aim of them all, and at the close of the eighteenth century Canada was one of the most difficult lands for civilized men to survive in.
Though people did not know it then, even the fur trade was shortly to come to an end as a serious economic factor. As often happens in such cases, its sunset was magnificent. The Montrealers of the North West Company, in competition with the London-controlled Hudson’s Bay Company, now pressed their operations beyond Lake Athabasca. This is not the place to relate the story of those fantastic canoe voyages in which French-Canadian paddlers, generally led by a Scot who was a partner in the company, stroked at the average rate of forty to the minute sometimes for sixteen hours a day, portaged their canoes and loads at a dogtrot, and were expected to move a cargo of trade goods from Montreal to Fort William and to return with a load of furs (shipped by other voyageurs along the chain of rivers and lakes from the Athabasca country) in a single summer season. In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie led a party from Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca down the Slave River to Great Slave Lake, crossed the lake’s southwestern end, discovered the egress of the great river of the North which now is called after him, and in less than six weeks reached the Arctic Ocean. Four years later, thirteen years before Lewis and Clark, Mackenzie reached the Pacific coast overland. In 1807 Simon Fraser followed in his trail down the Fraser River to salt water. In 1811 the North West Company’s great geographer, David Thompson, discovered the Columbia and explored it to its mouth.∗ Mackenzie’s venture is recounted in “First by Land” in the October, 1957, AMERICAN HERITAGE ; “A Man to Match the Mountains,” in the October, 1960, issue, chronicles Thompson’s feat.
Economically, these voyages were of small importance; so far west did the trail lead from Montreal that the company overextended itself and was forced to capitulate to the Bay and John Jacob Astor. But politically the importance of these voyages was immense. By right of exploration, British North America was able to lay claim to the Canadian West and subsequently to build British Columbia.
But still there was no Canadian nation. Forest industries supplanted the fur trade in central Canada; in the Maritimes a superb seafaring tradition augmented the fisheries and culminated in the founding of the Cunard Line by a Haligonian in 1840, and the development of great port facilities at St. John, New Brunswick. But politically British North America was stagnant. The colonies of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Lower Canada, and Upper Canada were each ruled by a governor appointed in London, who was advised by a local council. West of the Great Lakes the prairies were nominally the possession of the Hudson’s Bay Company. They were inhabited by buffalos, Indian tribes, and a nomadic race of half-breeds known as Métis, the descendants of the mariages à la façon du nord between Montreal fur traders and Indian women. But democracy, as the Americans understood it, was to be unknown in Canada for another forty years.
Benjamin Franklin had cogently argued, in 1754, that all British subjects were entitled to the same rights, and that colonials of that race were as thoroughly British as those who lived in the motherland. During the long, cautious (perhaps the mot juste would be “dutiful”) struggle for democratic government in British North America, which went on approximately from 1830 until just before the establishment of Confederation in 1867, the consensus of Canadian thought echoed these sentiments almost precisely. Just as Franklin had warned the British government before the Revolution that separation would occur unless the principle of self-government were adopted, so now the Canadian progressives warned a later British government that only in this way could overseas communities of English speech be held within the Empire.
At first there was resistance both from British governors and from local cliques of rich merchants who profited by the colonial status of the people. But in 1832 the Reform Bill was passed in England, and this was a mighty weapon in the hands of the Canadian reformers. In Nova Scotia, Joseph Howe obtained responsible government without violence. But in Upper Canada and Lower Canada open rebellion broke out in the year 1837, the reformers in Upper Canada being led by William Lyon Mackenzie (grandfather of William Lyon Mackenzie King) and in Lower Canada by the seigneur Louis Joseph Papineau. In Ontario the rebellion was easily crushed; in Quebec there was more serious fighting because passions were inflamed by French-Canadian nationalism. But once the fighting stopped, the British government acted intelligently. They sent out a commission of enquiry led by the famous radical reformer, Lord Durham.
Though Durham was a Whig peer with grand tastes (he is said to have remarked that if one were careful, one could jog along on fifty thousand pounds a year), he was sympathetic to the aims of the colonists and a shrewd judge of men of the English race. He consulted the best minds in Upper Canada and listened to what he was told. As a result, he was able to contribute much toward the evolution of Canadian nationhood. His failure—as serious as it was understandable—was his inability to comprehend the French-Canadian character. Like many an Anglo-Canadian after him, he could not imagine that a people whose semi-feudal institutions had kept them backward would not leap at the chance of becoming progressive, even if the price of progress was assimilation. He sincerely believed that he was doing the French a favor when he proposed an arrangement in which he hoped that the sheer pressure of development within a liberal society would make a single united people out of the Canadians within a generation or two. Complaining that he had found “two nations warring in the bosom of a single state,” Durham recommended that Upper Canada should unite with Lower Canada and should do so on such terms that Anglo-Canadian society would ultimately prevail over the French. In 1841, as a direct result of the famous Durham Report, Ontario and Quebec were joined together to form a single province called Canada and were at last granted responsible government. It was typical of nineteenth-century liberalism that the progressives should have assumed that desire for political equality is a more potent force in human society than ethnic nationalism.
But not even democracy within the colonies meant that there was a Canadian nation. The individual colonies were still separately governed. British garrisons lingered, and the colonists wanted them as a protection against the United States, which was very menacing during the administration of President Polk. Once again, American pressures forced the Canadians to take a crucial step on the road to political nationhood.
There were now, of course, new economic motives in favor of union. Railways and canals were being built, and it was clear that as soon as a railway linked Montreal with the empty plains of the West, a tide of settlement would follow. Only a strong central government could preside over this development. There was also British Columbia (which became a province in 1858), divided from the East by the Laurentian Shield, the prairies, and the Rocky Mountains. Unless there were a modern communication link between British Columbia and eastern Canada, she would probably be lost to the United States. But internal American developments were the decisive factors leading to the great decision. As the “irrepressible conflict” approached during the eighteen fifties, fear of the United States created a sense of urgency in British North America. That this Canadian anxiety was not exaggerated was shortly to be proved by Secretary of State Seward, whose first proposal to the newly elected President Lincoln was that he declare war on Great Britain as the best means of preserving the Union.
In Britain at that time the political climate was favorable to some degree of Canadian independence, also because of fear of the United States. For Bismarck’s Prussia was then both militant and powerful. The British knew they could not face Prussia and the United States simultaneously. As their leaders had small hope of retaining Canada indefinitely, they welcomed the prospect of disengaging British forces—and prestige—from the defense of what they thought was an indefensible outpost.
So, during the eighteen sixties, the work toward (^J Confederation went rapidly forward. In Ontario it was led by John A. Macdonald, in Quebec by George Etienne Cartier, in New Brunswick by Leonard Tilley, in Nova Scotia by Charles Tupper. After a series of conferences, the conditions of a new nation were established, and principally they were as follows:
Canada was to become a federal state with powers divided between the capital and the provinces, each one of which was to have its legislature with authority in prescribed areas of government. The government was to be parliamentary, with an elected House of Commons and an appointed Senate. The banking system was to be subject to federal legislation. The British common law was to be in force in the English provinces, the French Civil Code was to be retained in Quebec. The highest court of appeal was to be Her Majesty’s Privy Council, in Britain. Public education, the maintenance of roads, care of public health, and charitable services were to come under provincial jurisdiction. The titular head of state was to be the British sovereign, represented in Canada by a governor-general. Each province was to have its own lieutenant-governor, though he was to possess no executive power.
In view of the present centrifugal forces in Canadian society, in many ways akin to those that operated in the United States before the Civil War, it should be remembered that the Fathers of Confederation created Canada shortly after the Civil War had nearly destroyed the United States. Before their eyes was the danger inherent in an excess of “states’ rights.” Therefore they sought to give the federal structure greater power than the framers of the American Constitution had given the central government in Washington. It has been against this extremely powerful federal concentration that Quebec (and some other provinces, too) have fretted ever since.
On July 1, 1867, the British North America Act established Confederation, and Canada became a new kind of nation under the sun, the first federal union of a group of ex-colonies achieved without war, revolution, or the severing of ties with the motherland. Canada was independent in all things save foreign policy, and even here she was partially so. If she remained in the British Commonwealth it was because her people wanted her to.
July 1, 1867, is therefore a turning point in the history of the English-speaking peoples. It was the beginning of the transition from colony to nation, from Empire to Commonwealth. Canada’s example was followed subsequently by Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland, and in our day by most of the colonies in Africa and Asia. (Though Newfoundland became a Canadian province in 1949, she had previously been a self-governing dominion under the Crown.) Even the word “dominion” came out of the Canadian Confederation: it was attributed to Sir Leonard Tilley, who got the word from a phrase in the Psalms—“He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.”
In 1867 only Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario united, but they were soon followed by others. The federal government purchased the land that became the Northwest Territories from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1869, and the next year Manitoba joined the Union. British Columbia followed in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1905, and Newfoundland in 1949. At present the western Canadian arctic and subarctic land, the Yukon, and what remains of the Northwest Territories, are administered directly from Ottawa. Ottawa itself, it should be added, was selected as capital by reason of its location between Toronto and Montreal, on the border of Ontario and Quebec.
The ninety-eight years since Confederation can be divided into five periods: the settling and developing of the Canadian West, which began with the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway and was largely accomplished by the end of the first decade of the present century; the First World War and its immediate aftermath; the Depression and the Second World War; the period of rapid industrial development between 1940 and 1960, when Canada became to a large degree a part of the American economic empire; the present period, which is dominated largely, at least in the minds of Canadians, by Quebec’s Silent Revolution and all it may imply for the nation’s future.
Throughout each of these five phases of our history, the eternal Anglo-French struggle runs like a stretched thread, the most curious aspect of the struggle being that it has been carried on without sufficient animosity to cause it to break into civil war. To use the title of a recent book written jointly by Gwethalyn Graham and Solange Chaput-Rolland, French and English Canadians are “Dear Enemies,” like a married couple, each demanding its own way and determined to get it, yet wishing only to hurt one another when they lose their tempers.
In both Canada and the United States the development of the empires of the West brought enormous wealth and power to the eastern cities, and with similar results. As New York became an imperial city, so to a smaller extent did Montreal. Just as American Populists were to rage against eastern financiers in the United States, so western farmers were to express their resentment against the bankers of Montreal and Toronto. But in Canada the political results were more serious, not the least of them being that there were practically no French Canadians who benefited from this western expansion. At that time French Canadians were uninterested in finance. Nor was this all: very few French Canadians emigrated from Quebec to join forces with the small enclave of French-speaking people already settled in Manitoba. This meant that the population of the Canadian West became overwhelmingly British in loyalty and Protestant in religion. Later immigration from Europe made the West appear somewhat like the American melting pot, but it raised few linguistic problems. The new immigrants learned English.
The conquest of the Canadian West was not accomplished without violence. Under Louis Riel the French-speaking Métis rose twice against the encroachments on their way of life by the railroad and the settlers. In 1870 their grievances were met peacefully, but in 1885 there was considerable bloodshed. As the Métis were French-speaking Catholics, this caused great bitterness in Quebec, and when Riel was hanged for treason he became a French-Canadian hero and martyr. Possibly as a result of this rebellion, probably out of fear of the Catholic Church, Manitoba later refused to permit French-language public schools in the province. French Canada slowly came to understand that the Anglo-Canadian conquest of the West had wiped out the federal gains she had made in 1867.
The next turning point in Canadian history, World War I, had greater effects on the nation’s mind than any other single experience. Canada entered the war immediately with England, on August 4, 1914, and the Conservative, Anglo-Saxon-dominated government of Sir Robert Borden may almost be said to have entered it without thinking. The British loyalties were still so strong that English-speaking schoolboys (I was one of them) were taught to sing Kipling’s lines, “What stands if Freedom fall? / Who dies if England live?” In the battles of France and Flanders the Canadian Corps became a legend. It withstood the first gas attack in history; it spearheaded the Battle of Amiens on August 8, 1918, which Ludendorff called “the black day in the German Army.” The First World War was the greatest single emotional experience in the life of English Canada.
The price was appalling—and twofold. Though Canada at the start of the war contained barely eight million people, she lost more men killed in action than did the United States. At the same time the nation was nearly torn apart by the conscription crisis of 1917-1918, when the dominant Anglo-Saxons compelled thousands of French Canadians to join the army against their will. Though some French-Canadian battalions, all volunteers, fought superbly in those years, most Canadiens considered that this was a war fought solely for England and imposed upon them by the English-speaking majority. They believed, rightly as the case turned out, that when it was over, the great powers would quickly forget Canada’s contribution.
At the risk of grave oversimplification, I would say that World War I had these results for Canada: English Canada achieved a sense of national pride and unity, but this was confined solely to English Canada . Quebec felt herself more isolated than she had ever been since the Conquest. Business boomed; industries began to invade and overthrow the traditional life of Quebec, but as these industries were all controlled by English Canadians, racial rivalry was exacerbated by a great economic discrepancy between the founding groups within the nation.
In the Depression years both French and English Canadians suffered more or less equally while the world drifted into World War II. Then once again the spectre of conscription threatened to divide the nation.
This time, however, the Mackenzie King government did all in its power to postpone conscription and actually succeeded in doing so until the end of 1944. This time also the war seemed, even to many French Canadians, a necessary one. During it, Canada once again fought and worked to the height of her capacity. As she was engaged from early in September, 1939, while the United States remained neutral until Pearl Harbor, she went through all the mental agonies attending the fall of France and the Battle of Britain, in which her pilots played a substantial role.
The results of the Second World War, again to oversimplify, were mainly these: With the British Empire liquidating itself, English Canadians at last began to think in terms of a nation entirely on her own and became much better disposed toward their French-speaking compatriots than they had ever been before. The base of the national economy shifted, during and after the war, from agriculture to industry. Some cities doubled and even trebled their size. In the postwar years a large immigration from Europe, coupled with a rising birth rate in English Canada, increased the population to nearly twenty million. And Canada now competes closely with Sweden for the second-highest living standard in the world.
The price again was great, and much of it has yet to be paid. In order to finance this industrial development, Canada depended heavily on foreign investment, most of it American. American corporations moved across the border in such numbers that the Canadian economy became, in substantial segments, a branchplant economy of the United States. Finally (and this leads to the present crisis), industrial prosperity suddenly produced a large, prosperous, educated, and articulate French-Canadian middle class which found itself, within Quebec, dependent for its prosperity on an economic system in which French Canadians had little more than ten per cent of the control. But how did Canada reach this crisis?
Even such a rapid survey of Canadian history as the foregoing should make one fundamental fact unforgettably clear: Canada became a nation because her people did not wish to become part of the United States. This was true of the French Canadians in 1775, and true of the English Canadians—the loyalists—who left the United States at the end of the American Revolution. As several Canadian observers have emphasized—notably, in recent months, Professor George Grant in his moving book, Lament for a Nation —both founding groups rejected the philosophical basis of the American Revolution in favor of an older, European moral and political tradition.
What they rejected was not democracy in itself, but the idea of progress for its own sake which was incorporated into the American conception of democracy. They recognized that the American Revolution was much more than a revolt against an incompetent political system; it was in essence a revolt against the classical past of the Western world. It was therefore the true beginning of the “modern” age, in which the tendency is to equate the good with unlimited human freedom. But the loyalists who emigrated to Canada, says Professor Grant, felt “an inchoate desire to build, in these cold and forbidding regions, a society with a greater sense of order and restraint than freedom-loving republicanism would allow.” It was therefore possible for them, and for their descendants, to join the French Canadians in resisting Americanization—which was only another word for modernism and a revolt against the values of the past.
But in recent years this has been undergoing rapid change. Under the impact of two world wars, English Canada has allowed her economy to become virtually incorporated into the economy of her mighty neighbor to the south. In the Maritime Provinces and in many small towns of Ontario the old way of life still endures after a fashion, but English Canada is now almost entirely dominated by the huge urban complexes of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, to say nothing of the oil oligarchy (about ninety per cent American-controlled) in Alberta. In short, English Canada had become almost totally “progressive,” in the American sense, before the present crisis with French Canada exploded.
On the surface, it would seem that Quebec’s Silent Revolution—a soubriquet that from time to time appears to be a misnomer—is an extension of the centuries-old resistance to Americanization—that is, to the concept of technological and social progress as the basic human value. The French-Canadian moderates, who wish to preserve Canadian Confederation, and the extremists, who agitate for an independent Quebec, both declare much the same aims with respect to French-Canadian culture. Both demand the right to work in the French language in all government employments; both demand that Quebec shall be free to develop herself, culturally, as her leaders see fit; both demand elevation from the status of “just another province” to that of “French Canada.” But both groups also make a further demand, and it is this that suggests the possibility that Quebec, like English Canada, is turning away from the traditional values of her past. For both insist that a complete revamping and modernization of French-Canadian education, with heavy emphasis on science, technology, and the social sciences, is essential to Quebec’s survival. Inevitably, this implies some degree of revolt against the Roman Catholic Church; and among the younger extremist leaders this revolt is quite explicit.
The truth is that the leaders of modern French Canada, despite their classical heritage, are now committed to progress. At the beginning of the Silent Revolution in 1960, there was much emphasis on the injustices that French Canada had suffered from the English-speaking majority. But it is significant that even Dr. Marcel Chaput, the original separatist, made a point of stating that no minority had ever been better treated than his own. No, this Quebec revolution is not really against les Anglais ; it is against Quebec’s own heritage. The French Canadians have understood that no classically religious people can survive in a world dedicated to the proposition that the chief good of man is the efficient production, distribution, and consumption of material goods, a world determined to give technologists the freedom to improve upon the handiwork of God, including perhaps man himself.
Progress, on the American plan, is thus something which English and French Canada can now share as a common aim, and the best hope for the continuation of Confederation rests on this. English Canada, at the time of writing, seems nearly ready to accept French Canada’s demands for the reform of the Canadian constitution so that Canada may fully become the home of two linguistic cultures, held together by a common commitment to modern industrial democracy. As a symbol of English-Canadian readiness, Prime Minister Pearson proposed, in 1964, the new Maple Leaf flag in place of the old Red Ensign with the Union Jack in the upper left-hand corner. After a long and bitter debate in Parliament the new flag went through, and in February, 1965, it became the official flag of Canada by royal proclamation. English Canada went a long way toward conciliation on that day.
If Canada succeeds in weathering the current crisis, the remaining question will be that of her relationship to the United States, the country that has influenced her most profoundly from the very beginning of her history. Whether the answer, ultimately, will be union with America, or a more assertive and competitive Canadian nationalism, the new Canada will not be one that can be taken for granted, as the old-fashioned, traditional, easy-going Canada was.