Key Terms

When you read the history of each province or territory, you will come across terms, concepts and events that may be unfamiliar to you. Learning about these elements is essential to understanding the process that led to the creation of Canada and the evolution of the country since that time. In the following section, you will find definitions for these "key terms".

  • There were several gold finds in British Columbia in the 1850s, but the largest and most important discoveries were made in the sand bars along the Fraser River. When the first consignment of Fraser River gold reached San Francisco on April 3, 1858, the Fraser River Gold Rush was on. Tens of thousands of people flocked to the area, increasing the population of Victoria from 500 to more than 5,000 people; thousands more moved to the mainland.

    Almost overnight, gold prospecting eclipsed the fur trade as the major industry in the region. In 1858 Britain formalized its hold on the coast by establishing the colony of British Columbia, sometimes known as the "gold colony". The economic boom lasted into the early 1860s, when British Columbia and Vancouver Island lapsed into a recession.


  • Absentee landlordism was the source of a century-long political controversy on Prince Edward Island. It began in the mid-1760s when a survey team divided the island into 67 lots. Each lot had an area of about 20,000 acres (8,000 hectares). On July 1, 1767, these lots were allocated to supporters of King George III by means of a lottery (even the King himself participated).

    The new owners agreed to fulfill certain terms and conditions in exchange for title to the land. These included payment of rent to the Crown and the provision of land on each lot for a school and schoolmaster. Most importantly, the new owners had to ensure settlement of at least one third of the land  --  with Protestants only  --  within ten years. Failure to meet the last clause was grounds for forfeiture of the lot. In fact, very few absentee landlords  --  or their descendants, who inherited the land  --  ever met all of these conditions.

    The fact that ownership of the land remained concentrated primarily in absentee hands angered Island settlers. Many resented being unable to gain title to land on which they worked and lived. They were also forced to pay rents, often a considerable burden. For decades, attempts were made to convince the Crown to confiscate lots from the landowners if the terms and conditions of ownership had not been met. However, the descendants of the original owners, generally well connected to the British government, refused to give up the land, and the Crown refused to force the issue.

    In 1853, the Island government tried a new tactic with the passage of the Land Purchase Act. This act empowered the government to purchase lands from those owners who were willing to sell, and then resell the land to settlers for low prices. When the Island ran short of money to continue with the purchases, they appealed for funds from the Crown. Their requests were refused, and the act became ineffective.

    Dissatisfaction boiled over into near rebellion on the Island on several occasions. In the 1860s, the Tenant League was formed. Most of the tenants on the Island joined. The League members refused to pay rents until the landowners agreed to sell their holdings. The conflict between the tenants and the landowners resulted in a series of incidents known as the Tenant League Riots.

    In 1864, the Island government saw union as a possible solution to the landlord problem. During discussions at the Charlottetown Conference, delegates proposed a fund to purchase landlords' holdings if the Island joined Confederation. However, this suggestion was withdrawn several weeks later at the Quebec Conference. As a result, the Island resolved not to enter Confederation at that time. The Prince Edward Island government then refused new offers from the other provinces. The Island finally relented in 1873, after a railway project pushed the local economy to near collapse. Under the terms of union, Canada agreed to provide the Island with, among other things, an $800 000 fund to purchase the remaining absentee holdings.


  • The Acadians were the French settlers of Atlantic Canada during the 17th and 18th centuries. They first arrived in 1604 and established the first permanent settlement at Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia) in 1605. They would eventually spread throughout the Atlantic region. By 1755 their population had grown to about 13,000. Despite the fact that the area changed hands between France and Britain several times over the next 150 years, the Acadians were able to thrive and prosper. They used aboideaus, a system of dikes and sluice-boxes to create farmland from marshes and became able hunters and fishermen. They also established and maintained a trading relationship with the New England colonies. Both the British and the French left the Acadians in relative peace, and they thought of themselves as politically neutral.

    Once the British gained permanent control of Acadia in 1713, they began establishing their own colonies. They also demanded an oath of loyalty from the Acadians, who refused (although they did agree to an oath of neutrality). By 1749, with France still holding the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton island, and building Fort Beausejour in New Brunswick, Britain grew anxious to resolve the Acadian problem. After the Acadians refused a final chance to swear an oath of loyalty in 1755, British soldiers began deporting the people by ship to British colonies in the United States. From there, many were sent on to France or the Caribbean. A few managed to escape by fleeing into the woods. Many others perished aboard the ships from hunger or disease.

    When the Acadians finally agreed to an oath of allegiance in the late 1700s, Britain allowed them to begin returning to the area. However, British settlers now occupied many of their former farms and villages. The Acadians were forced to relocate to less fertile areas along the coast. They turned to fishing and forestry as means of making a livelihood, but many lived in abject poverty. Because they were Catholic, they were denied the right to vote or sit in the legislature. For a short period of time, they were not even legally allowed to hold land. Schooling was obtained largely through travelling teachers who served many villages at once. It was not until the time of Confederation, nearly a century later, that the Acadians were able to re-establish some semblance of their former society. Schools and churches were founded, a professional class of citizens emerged, and the people began taking an active part in political life: the first Acadians were elected to the legislatures in the 1840s and 1850s.


  • After the Rebellions of 1837 and 1838 in Upper and Lower Canada, the British government sent Lord Durham to study the political situation in the British North American colonies. In his report, Lord Durham recommended, in particular, that the two Canadian provinces be united to form a single province. United Canada was thus born, and consisted of Canada East (formerly Lower Canada and the precursor of modern-day Quebec) and Canada West (formerly Upper Canada and the precursor of modern-day Ontario).

    The Act of Union was sanctioned on July 23, 1840, by Queen Victoria and came into effect on February 10, 1841.

    The Act of Union was the main reason for the political instability that reigned in United Canada until 1867. Because the Union gave equal representation to both parts of the colony, some members of the political elite, both francophone and anglophone, were calling for rep by pop (representation by population). The situation eventually became intolerable, and led to the Great Coalition in 1864, and ultimately to Confederation in 1867.


  • At the time of Confederation, the United States was extending its territory westwards. Between 1864 and 1890, nine new states were created, four of which were on the Canadian border. In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia. The end of the American Civil War saw renewed investment in land, in railway construction and in the exploitation of natural resources in the American west. At the end of the 1860s, American merchants and colonists began to look at lands in the Canadian west as a place where they could get established and the American government did not hide the fact that such a possibility was attractive.

    The Civil War made Canada's defence a touchy subject. Great Britain was reluctant to invest in such a major undertaking. Confederation of the British colonies seemed a more logical choice. It would allow transferring the administration of the "colonies" to a new, duly constituted, state and would put the brakes on the goals of the United States.

    The fear of American expansionism then led Great Britain to favour the purchase, by Canada, of the Northwest Territory and Rupert's Land. Great Britain wanted to avoid armed conflict with the United States at any cost. If the coveted territory were under the jurisdiction of a legally constituted country, Canada in this case, rather than under the jurisdiction of a trading company, logic would dictate that the United States would stop seeing annexation as a possibility. Eliminating this uncertainty with regard to the ownership of the Northwest Territory and of Rupert's Land, before 1867, would also quell the fervour of American claims.


  • In the late 1860s, British Columbia was the focus of a pro-American annexation movement. Its supporters were primarily Americans, and immigrants of non-British ethnicity who lived in the colony but had no special ties to the British Crown. During this period British Columbia was in the middle of a long recession. The union of the Vancouver Island and British Columbia colonies in 1866 had not eased the situation. There were two obvious alternatives: American annexation or union with Canada.

    Just how close British Columbia ever came to annexation is uncertain. Nevertheless, the debate was fuelled by two important events in 1867: Canadian Confederation, which took place on July 1, and the American purchase of Alaska. Some believed that the Americans would attempt to link their territories along the west coast by claiming British Columbia. There were rumors, apparently false, that negotiations to do so were already underway between the Americans and the British. Newspapers pointed out that the British could have ceded the colony to the United States as payment for the Alabama claim.

    In 1867, the first annexation petition was circulated in Victoria. It was addressed to the Queen and asked either that the British government assume the colony's expenses and debts, and establish a steamer link between the colony and Britain, or that the colony be permitted to join the United States. It is unknown how many signatures the petition gathered, or if indeed the Queen ever received it. Nevertheless, it caught the attention of Governor Frederick Seymour and the Colonial Office, which resolved to promote union with Canada more vigorously.

    In 1869, with the colony's fate still unresolved, a second petition, this one more strongly worded and addressed to the President of the United States, was circulated in Victoria. It was actually circulated twice, gaining just 43 signatures on the first circulation, and another 61 on the second. It was taken to San Francisco by Vincent Collyer, the special Indian Commissioner for Alaska, and presented to President Ulysses S. Grant on December 29, 1869. Although the signatures represented a small fraction of the 5,000 people then living in Victoria, the annexation movement gained attention with the petitions, both in British Columbia and abroad. It undoubtedly increased the resolve of those committed to Confederation.


  • The Basques, one of Europe's most ancient peoples, are from seven provinces grouped around the border between France and Spain near the Bay of Biscay. They define their nation through culture rather than geography. Their language, Eskara, appears to bear no resemblance to any other of the Indo-European family. Despite the lack of a separate nation, the Basques have managed to remain culturally distinct.

    Expert sailors, the Basques were among the earliest regular visitors to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. There is speculation that they arrived there even before the Vikings, although there is no documented evidence to prove this claim. However, there is evidence that they were making yearly fishing and whaling voyages by around 1525, and possibly as many as ten years earlier. Their ships usually arrived in the spring, returning home in early winter. They concentrated their operations along both sides of the Strait of Belle Isle in the northwestern part of the island, and along the northeast coast. With the Portuguese, the Basques were also among the first to come to the Grand Banks.

    With the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the Basques' access to the waters around Newfoundland was greatly reduced. However, the Basque influence is still evident in place names such as Port aux Basques, or Port au Choix (the French version of portuchoa, Eskara for "small port"). There is also a National Historic Site at Red Bay, Labrador, where people can view the remains of a fifteenth-century Basque whaling station, including many artifacts.


  • The Beothuk were the inhabitants of Newfoundland at the time of John Cabot's arrival. They are believed to be descended from the Recent Indians who came to the island around 50 B.C., specifically a sub-group referred to as the Little Passage Complex. They occupied the northeast and south coasts of the island. Initially, they fished the coastal waters and hunted the sea birds and mammals. Later, as they were forced inland, they relied on the available plants and animals for food. One of their distinguishing characteristics was the use of red ochre to decorate their bodies and their possessions, earning the nickname "Red Indians".

    Ancestors of the Beothuk, among those referred to in the Norse sagas as "skraelings", had intermittent contact with the Vikings in the early years of the eleventh century. The first Beothuk contact with explorers probably took place in the early 1500s. Although there was some limited trade with the Europeans who came to the island for the fishing season, the Beothuk tended to avoid extended contact. They preferred to scavenge the seasonal fishing camps for items and debris left behind by the fishermen.

    A combination of factors led to the extinction of the Beothuk in Newfoundland. Fighting with Europeans, and other Native groups of the Atlantic region, shrank their numbers. Contact with the Europeans brought diseases to which the Beothuk had no natural resistance. As settlement on the island grew more widespread, territory available to the Beothuk decreased. They were forced to retreat to smaller areas inland with fewer available resources. Never very large, the population shrank rapidly; by the early 1800s, it had declined past the point of recovery. Efforts made by the European population to communicate with the few remaining Beothuk proved futile. The last known surviving Beothuk, Shawnadithit, captured in 1824 with the intention of training her as an interpreter, died in 1829 at the approximate age of twenty-three.


  • Image: Advertisement for the British American Land Company.

    Advertisement for the British American Land Company.
    © Public Domain

    The British American Land Company was created in London in 1832 to manage land in Lower Canada. It purchased over 800,000 acres of land in the Eastern Townships for approximately 120,000 pounds sterling. The company hoped in this way to encourage the immigration of British subjects to the region. Its aim was to boost the English-speaking population in Lower Canada.

    This attempt to upset the ethnic balance in the new colony was sharply denounced by the Patriot Party and was referred to in the Ninety-two Resolutions adopted by the House of Assembly of Lower Canada.

    From 1844 to 1855, A. T. Galt served as the commissioner of the British American Land Company, whose offices were set up in Sherbrooke.


  • Following the Charlottetown Conference, the representatives of the three maritime colonies and of the Province of Canada agreed on a federation project for British North America. In October 1864, the delegates met in Québec to draw up a unification plan. Étienne-Paschal Taché, Canada's prime minister, chaired the conference. Although the 72 Resolutions of the Québec Conference were adopted by only the Province of Canada, they constituted the legislative basis for the British North America Act which in turn became the basis of the Dominion of Canada three years later.

    On March 29, 1867, the British Parliament passed the British North America Act, which established the provisions of the Confederation of the Province of Canada (Ontario and Quebec), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia into a federal state with a parliamentary system patterned on the British model.

    The Act established the division of powers between the central Parliament and the provincial legislatures. The federal government was responsible for, among other things, banking business, criminal law, the post office, the armed forces; the provinces could legislate, among other things, property law, contracts and local work.

    As part of the modernization of the Constitution in 1982, Canada adopted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the British North America Act was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867.


  • Until the 1840s, the British government gave tariff protection to products imported from its colonies, whether from North America or elsewhere. When London decided to phase out this protection and to adopt a free trade policy, the high price of Canadian products made it hard to find buyers in the international markets.

    The Canadian economy changed substantially when the British Corn Laws were repealed in 1846, followed by the gradual repeals of the Canada Corn Act in 1849 and the preferential tariffs on timber in 1847 and 1848. Canada had depended mainly on British preferential tariffs until that time.

    It was during this time that Canada began turning to the United States as its commercial partner. This trend would lead to the Reciprocity Treaty in 1855.


  • The Canadian Northern Railway Company was founded in 1899 by William Mackenzie and Donald Mann. These two businessmen had acquired experience in the railway business by taking part in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

    In 1896, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann bought the charter of the Manitoba Lake Railway and Canal Co., which offered rail service in northern Manitoba. From there, they built links that tied Winnipeg to Pembina, North Dakota. In the following years, the Canadian Northern Railway Company extended further and further eastwards. By 1902, rail links were in place between Edmonton and Port Arthur (present-day Thunder Bay, on the north-west shore of Lake Superior). By 1903, the Company was also operating in Quebec and Nova Scotia. In 1908, Toronto was joined to Port Arthur via Sudbury. Between 1908 and 1915, Edmonton was linked to Vancouver. As of that date, the Canadian Northern Railway Company became a transcontinental line linking the port of Quebec and the port of Vancouver.

    During its entire existence, the Canadian Northern Railway Company had to put up with strong competition from the Grand Trunk, the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Pacific railways.

    After the First World War, when financial difficulties became too great, the company was sold to the Canadian National Railways, and became one of its primary components.


  • The construction of a rail link uniting the West Coast with the rest of Canada was one of the conditions for the entry of British Columbia into Confederation. But the scandal that toppled John A. Macdonald's Conservative government in 1873 pushed this project back by several years.

    The government of Alexander Mackenzie (see First Among Equals) would make certain attempts to start construction of the transcontinental railway, but it was only with John A. Macdonald's return and his National Policy that the construction of the Canadian Pacific started in earnest.

    The Canadian Pacific Railway Company was officially incorporated on February 16, 1881. The Canadian government gave it a grant of 25 million dollars and transferred approximately 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of land to the company. The government also defrayed the cost of surveying these lands (37 million dollars) and exempted the Canadian Pacific Railway Company from property tax for the next 20 years.

    William C. Van Horne headed this enterprise as general manager from 1881 to 1889, president from 1889 to 1899 and chairman of the board from 1899 to 1910. His eagerness and indefatigable energy put their stamp on the railway company's achievements as well as on its expansion.

    Construction on the railway started in 1882 and ended in 1885. The first passenger train left Montreal on June 28, 1886 and arrived at Port Moody, British Columbia, on July 4 of the same year.


  • The French-Canadian Catholic clergy remained in the background for much of the debate leading to Confederation in 1867. This was despite the fact that Confederation was an important issue for the Conservative Party, which received clergy support.

    Monsignor Laflèche, Bishop of Trois-Rivières, and Monsignor Bourget, Bishop of Montréal, were among the most influential of the clergy. Mgr. Laflèche made his views on Confederation known in 1864. He wrote that it was essential to find a solution to the political instability in United Canada, but that a simple repeal of Union would favour Upper Canada in any new legislative arrangement, denying French Canadians their institutions and their cultural identity. Confederation, Laflèche argued, was the only viable solution.

    Monsignor Bourget's attitude toward Confederation was more difficult to discern. The bishop of Montréal remained quiet, a silence apparently motivated by his fear for the survival of certain French-Canadian institutions under the new constitution. Once Confederation became a reality, however, Mgr. Bourget broke his silence and encouraged his flock to accept the new political arrangement.

    This detachment on the part of the French-Canadian Catholic clergy encouraged both supporters and opponents of Confederation to lobby for Church support. On February 7, 1865, George-Étienne Cartier made a speech in the Legislative Assembly in which he stated that both the Catholic and Protestant clergies were in favour of Confederation because it would guarantee security for their cherished institutions:

    Eh bien! je dirai que l'opinion du clergé est favorable à la Confédération. Ceux qui sont élevés en dignités, comme ceux qui occupent des positions humbles sont en faveur de la Confédération, non seulement parce qu'ils voient dans ce projet toute la sécurité possible pour les institutions qu'ils chérissent, mais aussi parce que leurs concitoyens protestants y trouveront des garanties comme eux. (Débats parlementaires sur la question de la confédération des provinces de l'Amérique britannique du Nord, p. 60)

    Wilfrid Laurier, a young journalist and future prime minister of Canada, was against Confederation. Writing for the newspaper Le Défricheur in 1867, he stated that if the clergy were really in favour of Confederation, it would have openly supported the project, and that its silence could only be interpreted as tacit disapproval. He wrote:

    Or, si la Confédération était bonne, si elle protégeait les intérêts de la religion, ils [les évêques et le clergé] interviendraient en faveur du projet pour le faire réussir. Et à notre tour nous concluons : Le silence de nos évêques et du clergé en général ne peut donc signifier rien autre chose qu'une désapprobation tacite du projet de Confédération. (Le Défricheur, February 14, 1867, p.2)


  • Clause 15 was voted on in the British Columbia legislature during the Great Confederation Debate of 1870. During that debate the colonial legislature, dominated by non-elected officials, decided on the terms that would be taken to Ottawa to negotiate union. Clause 15 read:

    The constitution of the Executive authority and of the Legislature of British Columbia shall, subject to The British North America Act, 1867, continue as existing at the time of Union, until altered under the authority of said Act.

    In effect, the clause stated that British Columbia could continue without responsible government institutions even after union with Canada. The clause faced stiff resistance from reformers like Amor De Cosmos who hinted at rebellion if it was passed. Despite such opposition, the clause was adopted unchanged by the legislature.

    In Ottawa, Canadian negotiators at first seemed willing to accept Clause 15. During the course of the union negotiations, however, the Canadians changed their minds. The British Columbia government relented, and a fully elected provincial legislature was introduced to the west coast province shortly after it joined Confederation in 1871.


  • The Clear Grit Party was a political reform movement active in Canada West. Its supporters, the "Clear Grits," favoured elected institutions, universal suffrage (for men), free trade with the United States, the secularization of clergy reserves, and "rep by pop."

    After the Hincks-Morin government was defeated in 1854, the Clear Grits rallied under George Brown, who championed "rep by pop" and demanded the annexation of the >Northwestern Territory. George Brown was the most important Clear Grit leader in Canada West in the 1850s.


  • Newfoundland's political affairs were in disarray after the 1932 election. Beset by a crippling public debt and a high rate of unemployment, the island's government appealed to Britain for assistance. Britain responded by appointing a Royal Commission to investigate the matter. The members conducted their study during 1933 and presented their findings in a report to the British government later that year. They strongly recommended that responsible government be suspended in Newfoundland in favour of a Commission of Government, which would oversee the island's affairs until such time as it could again be self-supporting. The Newfoundland government agreed to the suggestion, and the Commission took office on February 16, 1934.

    The new governing body consisted of six commissioners, three from Britain and three from Newfoundland, headed by a governor. Great care was taken with the Newfoundland members to ensure equal representation among religious denominations. The first appointees were F. C. Alderdice, J. C. Puddester and W. R. Howley from Newfoundland, and E. N. Trentham, Thomas Lodge and Sir John Hope-Simpson from Britain. The first governor was Sir David M. Anderson. New members were appointed as older ones retired or passed away. Each commissioner was responsible for a portfolio covering a broad aspect of Newfoundland life. The British managed the areas of Finance, Natural Resources and Public Utilities, while the Newfoundlanders covered Education and Home Affairs, Justice, and Health and Welfare.

    While in office, the Commission initiated a number of reforms meant to prevent any future collapses from occurring. These included a restructuring of the civil service, a land resettlement plan and an attempt to modernize the fishery (including the formation of the Newfoundland Fisheries Board to improve marketing practices). However, the degree of control that the British government retained over the colony, particularly regarding finances, made it difficult to effect any long-term policies for change. With the declaration of World War II in 1939, the Commission's actions became primarily concerned with the war effort.

    Although the Commission initially met an enthusiastic reception, this feeling gradually faded as its term continued. The body became merely a caretaker for Newfoundland's affairs. More and more people began criticizing the Commission for failing to take a more active role in improving conditions. By the time of World War II, many believed that it was time for a return to responsible self-government. This feeling grew stronger during the war years, as Newfoundland experienced an unprecedented degree of prosperity, and increased prominence in world events. Nevertheless, the Commission of Government continued to manage the island's affairs until Confederation in 1949.


  • The Confederation League was an organization of British Columbian political reformers founded in May 1868. Historian George Woodcock called the league "... the first body resembling a political party ever created in British Columbia". It was brought into being after the legislative assembly of British Columbia refused to vote in favour of prompt union with Canada in April 1868. Amor De Cosmos and his allies formed the League in order to campaign for union with Canada, and to push for the introduction of responsible government institutions to the colony. John Robson, a newspaper publisher and politician, also joined the league.

    During the summer of 1868, the league sponsored a series of pro-Confederation speeches in towns around the colony. That September, the league held a conference at Yale, British Columbia, where 26 delegates gathered and passed motions in favour of joining Confederation. Their resolutions won wide support on the mainland, although on Vancouver Island reaction was decidedly mixed.


  • The Constitutional Act of 1791 repealed parts of the Quebec Act of 1774 and stipulated new provisions for the government of the colony. In this way London set up a constitutional government after 16 years of legislative government.

    There were many reasons for this change: a considerable increase in the population, the immigration of American Loyalists, the repudiation of the Custom of Paris, the development of trade, calls from English-speaking Canadians for a House of Assembly, indecision and confusion in applying judicial laws, and increased pressure from the Opposition in the House of Commons.

    The Act divided the colony -- the Province of Quebec -- into two new provinces: Upper Canada and Lower Canada. A governor general and members of the legislatives councils of both provinces were appointed by the British Crown. A House of Assembly was established for each province, the members of which were elected by the people. The result was representative but not responsible government. In Lower Canada, French civil laws were maintained, but both provinces were governed by the English criminal code.


  • The Crimean War (1854-56) was fought over the desire by various European powers to dominate the Ottoman Empire. The conflict, instigated by Russia against Turkey, took place on the Crimean peninsula, where English and French troops supported the Turks. Although Canada did not play an active role in this war, certain individuals did enlist and fight in the Near East.

    The Crimean War had a positive impact on the Canadian economy because of its effect on supply and demand of agricultural products, especially wheat. Since Russia and Great Britain were at war, Britain cancelled all imports of Russian wheat and bought Canadian wheat -- at higher wartime prices.


  • From the mid-19th to the early 20th century, the western hemisphere witnessed unprecedented population migration. Europeans crossed the Atlantic to settle in North America, part of the American east coast population moved farther west, and, closer to home, Canadians crossed the border to live in the United States.

    From 1840 to 1930 an estimated 900,000 people left Quebec for the United States. Most of these headed to factories in the industrial cities of the northeast, especially in New England. Certain cities such as Lowell, Massachusetts and Manchester, New Hampshire, received thousands of these emigrants. There, they established entire neighbourhoods and parishes of French-Canadian Catholics. There were many reasons for such a population migration: the division of agricultural land among many members of the same family led to a shortage of resources in Quebec. The province also experienced economic problems and the enticement of well-paying American jobs was often irresistible. Although the political elite and the Church tried various means to put a halt to this exodus, they never succeeded in stopping it entirely.


  • Sir John Franklin's life reads like an adventure novel. He had a distinguished military career in Europe, Australia and North America in the service of the British army. In 1818 he was chosen to take part in a British expedition to find the Northwest Passage. In 1819 he led a mapping expedition to Hudson Bay and the Arctic coast. He began his third expedition to the Arctic coast, this time to explore the Mackenzie delta, in 1825. Franklin died tragically in about 1847 when his ship got caught in the ice during his fourth Arctic expedition.

    From 1903 to 1905 Roald Amundsen explored Canada's frigid Arctic waters and sailed through the Northwest Passage. Just like Franklin several decades earlier, Amundsen's ship was caught in the ice. He was better prepared than Franklin, though, and survived the trip. It became clear, however, that the Northwest Passage would never become a viable commercial route.

    The most controversial of the Arctic explorers is undoubtedly Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Born in Manitoba of Icelandic parents, Stefansson made three important trips  --  to the Beaufort Sea in 1906, to Victoria Island in 1908 and to the western Arctic from 1913 to 1918. Stefansson was controversial because of his ability to manipulate the media and because he didn't always follow instructions from his "bosses" in the Canadian government.


  • Each of the British North American colonies experienced some form of Family Compact rule before the achievement of responsible government.

    The term most often refers to a small group of public servants who dominated the decision-making bodies of Upper Canada around 1830. This Family Compact came about through the desire of John Graves Simcoe, first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, to create a local aristocracy by naming his friends to important political and judiciary positions.

    Based mainly in York (Toronto), the members of the Family Compact were from Canadian high society, with strong ties to the British Empire. They were cautious of the United States and idealized British institutions.

    From about 1830 this practice of the British authorities caused discontent among certain segments of the Upper Canadian population and was one of the factors leading to the 1837 rebellions.


  • There are differing opinions on who should be considered Fathers of Confederation. For the purposes of this website, the term refers to the people who attended one or more of the three conferences held at Charlottetown, Quebec, and London to discuss the union of British North America


  • Named after warriors of Irish legend, the Fenians were committed to Ireland's independence from England. The Fenian movement originated as a secret society in Ireland around 1858. In America, veterans of the influence of the American Civil War were recruited into the society. This military faction identified Canada as a vulnerable British asset, where an Irish Republican territory could be founded.

    Fenian raids began in April 1866 with an attack at Campobello Island, New Brunswick. In June 1866, a Fenian force led by John O'Neill (1834-1878) captured Fort Erie, in Canada West, and battled British soldiers and members of Canada's volunteer militia at Ridgeway. When other Fenian troops failed to cross into Canada, O'Neill's retreat led to the arrest of hundreds of his soldiers, many of whom were put on trial in Toronto. Raids on the townships of Canada East met with similar results. Not only did the Fenians underestimate the resolve of the Canadian and British response, but their plans also counted on an uprising among Irish settlers in Canada, which never materialized.

    The Fenian threat continued for several years, including another invasion attempt by O'Neill in 1870. The assassination of Thomas D'Arcy McGee at Ottawa in 1868 generally is attributed to Fenian motives, but by then the movement had already influenced the course of Canadian history. The threat of attacks had revitalized the pro-Confederation movement in 1866, as colonies such as New Brunswick came to associate a unified British North America with solidarity and security.


  • Free and common socage was a form of traditional English land tenure governing land ownership and use. The expression refers to a type of free ownership of land (for example, lease rental and farm tenancy) based on common law customs. In Canada, it is to be distinguished from seigneurial tenure, which was abolished in 1854.


  • The history of the Grand Trunk Railway is one with several chapters.

    In 1852, the Canadian government officially announced its plan to build a railway between Montreal and Toronto. On November 10 of the same year, the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada was incorporated.

    In 1853, the Grand Trunk Railway Company began in the usual way, by purchasing five existing railway companies. It acquired the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad Company, the Quebec and Richmond Railroad Company, the Toronto and Guelph Railroad Company, the Grand Junction Railroad Company, and the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada East.

    St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad Company:
    The railway belonging to the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad Company and its American counterpart, the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad Company, connected Longueuil, Quebec, to Portland, Maine. It was built from 1846 to 1853 and gave Canadian manufacturers access to a seaport free from ice year-round.

    Quebec and Richmond Railroad Company:
    This stretch of railway connected Quebec City to Richmond, which was located on the St. Lawrence and Atlantic line. It was built from 1852 to 1854.

    Toronto and Guelph Railroad Company:
    In 1853, when the Grand Trunk Railway Company merged with the Toronto and Guelph Railroad Company, the latter's railway was already under construction. But the Grand Trunk Railway Company changed its original route and extended the line to Sarnia, a hub for Chicago-bound traffic.

    Grand Junction Railroad Company:
    The tumultuous history of this company ended with the construction of a line between Peterborough, Ontario, and Belleville, Ontario. After the railway was purchased by the Midland Railway of Canada, it served as a link between Belleville and Toronto.

    Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada East:
    This railway connected Quebec City and Trois-Pistoles, a tiny port on the St. Lawrence.

    In 1853, the primary Grand Trunk Railway Company project began with the construction of a railway between Montreal and Toronto. This stretch was built by late October 1856 and, the next month, extended all the way to Sarnia. In the early 1860s, the company operated a railway between Portland, Maine, in the United States, and Sarnia, Ontario.

    In 1861, the Grand Trunk Railway Company had accumulated a debt of several hundred thousand pounds sterling as the result of the expansion and due to a lack of rail traffic. Sir Edward William Watkin was sent from London to sort out the company's financial situation. He succeeded in having the Canadian government adopt legislation to reorganize the company's finances. The government's debt continued to grow, but the railway was saved from bankruptcy.

    In the 1880s, the Grand Trunk Railway Company continued to buy up other railway companies. For example, it purchased the Great Western Railway Company in 1882 and the Midland Railway of Canada in 1884.

    But to compete with the Canadian Pacific and the Canadian Northern Railway, the Grand Trunk Railway Company joined the transcontinental adventure by creating the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company. This would spell financial disaster for the company, which was dragged into bankruptcy in 1919. The federal government took charge of the railway and in 1923, amalgamated it with the Canadian National Railways, which later became the Canadian National.


  • Soon after the Sandfield Macdonald-Dorion government resigned, Governor Monck again called on Sandfield Macdonald to form the next government. He refused, and the Governor turned to Étienne-Paschal Taché. Étienne-Paschal Taché had left politics and George-Étienne Cartier's intervention was necessary before he accepted the Governor's offer. Étienne-Paschal Taché joined forces with John A. Macdonald to form a government that would remain in power for only a few months. This new setback demonstrated to the political authorities that it was impossible to govern the Canadas under Union.

    A consensus was therefore reached on the need to create a coalition of all Canadian political parties to reform the political system. The coming together of George Brown, the Clear Grits in Canada West, the Parti Bleu in Canada East, and the Conservatives finally occurred in June 1864. On June 30, the ministers of the Great Coalition were sworn in. Only the members of the Parti Rouge under Jean-Baptiste-Éric Dorion were left out.

    Representatives of the Coalition would attend the Charlottetown Conference. As the delegates for United Canada were eloquent, they convinced the Maritime colonies' representatives of the merits of uniting the British North American colonies. With this, the process of negotiation leading up to Confederation in 1867 had begun.


  • This railway company was incorporated in 1834 as the London and Gore Railroad Company. It became the Great Western Railway Company in 1853. In 1854, the Niagara Falls-London-Windsor corridor was inaugurated. In 1882, the Great Western Railway Company had 1,280 kilometres of track, mainly in southwestern Ontario.


  • Charter company founded in 1670. The idea of a trading company that would do business in North America came from Médart Chouard Des Groseillers and Pierre-Esprit Radisson. Unable to convince the French authorities of this project's worth, they took their idea to England.

    From its inception, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) fought with the representatives of France in North America for control of the fur trade, sometimes taking up arms. After the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, the French were forced to recognize the authority of the Company on the territory of Hudson Bay.

    Following the Treaty of Paris of 1763, French developers left North America and were replaced by English businessmen from Montreal (North West Company). From 1774 to 1821, the HBC carried out a vigorous policy of exploration of the North American territory. It set up trading posts in an area ranging from northern Ontario to the west coast of the continent. The fur trade was no longer as profitable as it had once been, however, and competition from the North West Company adversely affected its cost effectiveness. The two businesses merged in 1821, primarily to the benefit of the HBC.

    The HBC extended its hold on British North America by getting a renewal of its charter from the British Parliament. This charter granted the HBC a monopoly to operate in the territory. That is how it became the owner of Rupert's Land and the Northwest Territory until 1870.

    That same year, the new Canadian government bought these two territories and thus created the Northwest Territories. The HBC retained ownership of a vast territory in the northern part of the continent but its activities no longer related to the fur trade. From that point on, the HBC concentrated on real estate development, the exploitation of natural resources and business with the settlers of the Canadian Prairies. It was on this basis that the Hudson's Bay Company developed its retail business.


  • Sir John A. Macdonald's National Policy included elements designed to promote immigration to Canada, but these met with only moderate success. It wasn't until 1896 that Wilfrid Laurier's Liberal government introduced an effective immigration policy to attract emigrants to Canada, primarily to the regions west of Ontario.

    The minister responsible for this policy was Clifford Sifton. With this new immigration policy, the Liberals hoped to open up new markets for Eastern Canadian goods, and to encourage the transport of merchandise by train. Populating the Canadian West would also reinforce Canada's right to the territory and would eliminate the possibility that the United States would lay claim to the area.

    Hundreds of thousands of new settlers arrived from the British Isles and from Eastern and Central Europe. These emigrants formed the social fabric that was the basis for the cultural diversity found in the Western provinces today.


  • The Intercolonial Railway was a rail line connecting the Maritime colonies and the Province of Canada. Construction of the railway was discussed as early as the 1840s, and sections of the line were opened in 1858 and 1860. However, it took several more years for solid agreements to be reached on the construction and financing of the line as a whole.

    In 1862 a conference chaired by Thomas D'Arcy McGee was held in Quebec to discuss the project. A financing agreement was reached, whereby Canada and the Maritimes would split the costs of construction, while Britain would guarantee the interest on the ensuing debt. Unfortunately, the deal fell through before the end of the year. (The collapse of these negotiations may indirectly have led to the Charlottetown Conference -- the conference was originally planned to discuss Maritime union, seen by many area politicians as a means of gaining bargaining power for such things as the Intercolonial.)

    Despite the myriad difficulties encountered in financing and building the railway, it was always seen as a prerequisite to closer political ties between the British colonies in North America. Its completion was an important topic of discussion during the union conferences of 1864. Near the end of the Quebec Conference, a deal was finally reached to build the Intercolonial. Construction began shortly after Confederation in 1867. The Intercolonial railway was taken over by Canadian National Railways in 1919.


  • It is impossible to determine exactly when the first Europeans, other than the Vikings, came to Labrador. Certainly by the early 1500s Basque whalers and fishermen had established themselves along part of its coastline. The French gradually became a prominent presence in the area, regarding it as an extension of New France. When the French ceded most of their North American territory to the British under the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the so-called "coasts of Labrador" fell under the jurisdiction of the governor of Newfoundland.

    Over the next century and a half, responsibility for the area transferred several times between Quebec (later Canada) and Newfoundland. At the same time, Newfoundland continued to maintain jurisdiction over some portions of the coast. As late as 1888 a Newfoundland judge indicated to the island's governor that there was a discrepancy between what Newfoundland claimed of the territory, and what was indicated as Newfoundland territory on a Canadian government map. Although efforts were made at the time to settle the question, it was not considered an important issue, and interest dwindled.

    The modern boundary argument began in 1902, when the Newfoundland government granted a lumber company license to harvest trees on both sides of the Hamilton River (now called the Churchill River). The Quebec government considered the southern part of the river to be part of Quebec, and complained to Canada's secretary of state. Newfoundland refused to cancel the license. The island maintained that it had rights to the watershed of all rivers draining into the Atlantic Ocean. In 1904 the Canadian government suggested that the boundary question be put before the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council. Three years later, in 1907, Newfoundland indicated that it agreed to the proposal, and would prepare a submission.

    Disagreement over the content of the submissions, and the interruption caused by World War I, delayed the matter until 1922. The British Privy Council was finally asked to determine the boundary of the disputed territory as indicated in various proclamations, statutes and imperial orders-in-council. Deliberations began in October of 1926. In 1927 the Privy Council decided in Newfoundland's favour, a verdict accepted by Canada. The decision was further strengthened by Newfoundland's entry into Canada under the terms of the British North America Act, 1949.


  • The Loyalists were Americans of various ethnic backgrounds who supported the British during the American Revolution and subsequently fled the United States to escape persecution. As many as half of the estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Loyalists who left America during and after the Revolutionary War settled throughout what is now Canada.

    As many as 30,000 of the Loyalists settled in the Maritime colonies, the largest contingents arriving in 1783 and 1784. The two biggest settlements were in the Saint John River Valley in New Brunswick, and at Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Other settlements were located along the St. Lawrence River, the Niagara Peninsula and the Detroit River. The sudden influx of emigrants led to the creation of New Brunswick and Cape Breton as separate colonies in 1784, and Upper Canada in 1791. The Loyalists were active in social and governmental institutions, and continued to exert influence in their communities long after their arrival in Canada.

    Not all Loyalists were of British ancestry. Many were from religious, linguistic or ethnic minorities, who felt their rights would be better protected under the British Crown.

    Among these were significant numbers of Black Loyalists. Some had been slaves owned by white Loyalists who had fled to Canada. Others were escaped slaves and free Blacks who had fought for the Crown during the Revolution. Like the Acadians before them, Black Loyalists were denied many rights and privileges, and experienced an even greater degree of persecution and prejudice. Some Black communities dating from the period still exist, particularly in the Maritimes.


  • Maritime Union was a project pursued in 1863 and 1864 by Arthur Hamilton Gordon, the lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick. The project was unsuccessful, but it did help to spark Confederation.

    The idea of Maritime Union  --  the reorganization of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia into a single British colony -- was not new. Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick had once been administered as parts of Nova Scotia, until 1769 and 1784, respectively. Several of Lieutenant-Governor Gordon's predecessors, including J. H. T. Manners-Sutton, had also favoured reuniting the three colonies.

    In addition to historical precedent, there were more pressing reasons to reorganize the colonies. The United States, embroiled in the Civil War, posed a military threat. Many prominent colonial politicians felt that the united colonies would be able to mount a more effective defense. In Britain, the Colonial Office also favoured a reorganization of British North America. The British hoped that union would make the colonies less reliant on Britain, and therefore less costly to maintain. Gordon's own ambition may also have been a factor  --  he envisioned himself as the governor of the united Maritime colonies.

    Gordon did manage to create some interest in Maritime union. In the spring of 1864 the legislatures of the three colonies agreed to hold a conference to discuss the possibility of uniting. The movement stalled there, as none of the colonies would commit to a time and place for the conference. It was not until the Province of Canada asked for an invitation to the proposed conference during the summer of 1864 that a meeting was hurriedly organized for September 1 at Charlottetown. The Canadians arrived at the Charlottetown Conference well prepared to argue for a wider union of British North America, and support for Maritime Union quickly waned. Disappointed, Gordon left the conference before it had finished.


  • In the Canadian socio-historical context, a Métis is a person of mixed Aboriginal and European descent. Within the narrower context of the history of the Canadian west and, more specifically, that of Manitoba in the second half of the nineteenth century, a Métis was a person with White and Aboriginal ancestors, he or she was Francophone and Catholic and belonged to a cultural group with shared customs, values and lifestyle. The legal battles that the Métis had to conduct reinforced their cultural identity and the ties that bound them.


  • The National Métis Committee was formed around October 16, 1869, with John Bruce as president and Louis Riel as secretary. Created with the support of Father Ritchot, the Committee met at his house on the Sale River. Ritchot hoped to minimize the unilateral actions of the federal authorities regarding the administration of the territory of the Red River colony.

    It was by order of this committee that Lieutenant-Governor William McDougall was refused entry to the Red River colony on November 2, 1869.


  • The National Policy was an economic policy put in place in 1879 by John A. Macdonald's government. It remained the basis of Conservative economic policy for many years -- Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden would maintain the policy from 1911 to 1920, as would Prime Minister R. B. Bennett from 1930 to 1935.

    A nationalist policy designed to favour Canadian industries and to promote consumer confidence, the National Policy was initially seen as a protectionist measure. Over time, however, the policy took on a larger scope. The Canadian Pacific Railway, the colonization of the Prairies, the development of ports, and financial support for a sea link to Europe and Asia to support the export of Canadian goods came to be included under the heading of the National Policy.


  • At its inception, the North West Company was a weak association of Montreal merchants of British origin who wanted to counter the monopoly over the fur trade enjoyed by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). In 1780, it brought together people such as James McGill, Simon McTavish, Isaac Todd, the Frobisher brothers and Peter Pond. A more enduring partnership was established in 1783-84 when the North West Company was officially created. Three years later, it joined with Gregory, McLeod and Co. and, with this association, new people such as Roderick Mackenzie and Alexander Mackenzie entered the scene. McTavish and Frobisher took care of business affairs in the Montreal headquarters, while Alexander Mackenzie saw to the exploration of the western territories.

    The years from 1790 to 1800 were marked by important developments for the business: it failed to force an end to the HBC's monopoly and it managed to take control of two-thirds of the fur trade in Canada. An internal quarrel leading, in 1799, to the creation of a third company, the New North West Company (also called the XY Company), weakened its position. This latest company would not last long -- it was merged into the North West Company in 1804.

    From 1800 to 1820 the North West Company operated over an increasingly larger territory. Alexander Mackenzie, David Thompson and Simon Fraser set up several new posts, leading to greater conflict with the HBC. The creation of the Selkirk Concession and the events at Seven Oaks marked the beginning of the end for the North West Company. Wanting to quell these conflicts, Great Britain passed legislation granting the HBC exclusive rights to the fur trade.

    The North West Company differed from the HBC in its dynamic exploration of the territory as well as in its systematic use of Canadian employees who knew the territory intimately.


  • Although these were two separate territories, the terms used to refer to them are often somewhat confused in Canadian history textbooks.

    Rupert's Land included the hydrographic basin of Hudson Bay -- what is today northern Quebec and Ontario, the entire province of Manitoba, most of Saskatchewan, and part of southern Alberta. The North-Western Territory consisted of the areas to the north and west of Rupert's Land.

    In 1870, when Canada purchased these territories from the Hudson's Bay Company, they were renamed the Northwest Territories.


  • The Orange Order was founded in Ireland in 1795. It was originally created to commemorate William of Orange's (William III, King of England) victory over the Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

    In Canada, Ogle R. Gowan founded the order in 1830. It operated primarily in Ontario. This group involved itself in the daily life of its members either by organizing social and community activities or by taking part in the welcoming of new Protestant arrivals to Canada. It also became active in politics and took part in various public debates.

    The Orange Order adopted an openly hostile attitude towards Francophones and Catholics in many of its dealings. This Orange anti-Catholicism would be evident in Canadian history on more than one occasion.


  • In April 1873, the government of Sir John A. Macdonald was charged with accepting illicit funds from Sir Hugh Allan. In return for these payments, Allan was assured that he would be awarded the lucrative contract to construct the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. When evidence of the agreement was made public by Opposition members of Parliament and published in newspapers across Canada, the episode became known as the "Pacific Scandal."

    Allan's correspondence revealed that he and his American partners had attempted to influence a range of public figures, including journalists and politicians. During the election campaign of 1872, large sums were contributed to individuals such as George-Étienne Cartier and Hector-Louis Langevin. A telegram from Macdonald to Allan's legal adviser, John J. C. Abbott, provided the scandal's most sensational evidence, as it read: "I must have another ten thousand; will be the last time of calling; do not fail me; answer today."

    Macdonald employed a number of delay tactics in an attempt to avoid the political consequences of the scandal. However, there was no avoiding the public backlash and unrelenting attacks of the Opposition. The political cartoonist J. W. Bengough became popular for his illustrated commentaries on the Pacific Scandal.

    A Royal Commission was appointed in August 1873 to examine the matter, and in November Macdonald's government finally resigned. A general election followed, and Macdonald managed to keep his seat in Parliament. For many individuals involved in the scandal, the long-term consequences were negligible. Macdonald's party returned to power in 1878 and Macdonald served as prime minister until his death in 1891, when he was succeeded by none other than John Abbott.


  • The "parti rouge" was a political movement and party active in Canada East from 1848 to 1867. The Parti patriote disappeared when the Rebellions of 1837 and 1838 were put down. Its leaders succeeded in holding the support of a majority of French-Canadians and formed a political alliance that proposed a number of reforms.

    One faction of these pro-reformists took issue with what they saw as a shift toward the moderation and pseudo-Liberalism among its elite members. This faction, more radical than the rest of the party, became known as the "rouges" or "parti rouge," and was thus associated with the European revolutionaries.

    In the mid-1850s, members of this faction and more moderate reformers fought over the epithet of "Liberal." By the end of the 1850s, though, and particularly with the advent of Confederation, moderate reformers won popular support and the radicalism of the "parti rouge" lost favour.

    Politically, members of the "rouge" faction defended the democratic and republican principles of universal suffrage, the separation of Church and State, and legal and constitutional reforms. They encouraged frank political, philosophical and ideological discussion, and founded the Institut canadien to uphold this principle. Members of the "parti rouge" were also associated with a radical Liberalism and an anticlericalism that was popular only with a small number of French-Canadians.


  • The main purpose of the Quebec Act of 1774 was to meet the needs of the government of the Province of Quebec more effectively. Governor Carleton also viewed it as a means of satisfying the aspirations of French Canadians. The St. Lawrence commercial empire was to be reconstituted by re-establishing the former borders of the Canadian colony. Clearly influenced by the uprisings among the American colonies, the reintegration of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Great Lake regions into the Province's territory was intended to restore economic unity. London's new strategy was to partly reconstitute the former French empire so that the authority of the British Crown would be established in the interior of the continent and it would be in a better position to deal with rebellious Americans and unmanageable Native people.

    The new constitution renewed the guarantees of religious freedom, "within the bounds of English law" and made it possible for Catholic Canadians to hold government positions, as the oath of allegiance was reworded in a way that was acceptable to their religious convictions. It retained English criminal law and reinstated French civil law. At the same time, the legality of the colonial regime and of tithes was re-established.

    Although these measures were satisfactory to the French Canadians and the clergy  --  journalist Henri Bourassa described the Quebec Act as the "French-Canadian Charter"  --  they had an opposite effect among the British in the colony. Their discontent was such that they overlooked the business advantages inherent in re-establishing the former borders. Already they considered the Quebec Act intolerable.


  • On behalf of Great Britain and its British North American colonies, Governor Elgin signed a reciprocity treaty with the United States on June 5, 1854. This treaty eliminated customs tariffs. The agreement also governed the rights of American and British North American fishermen, raw materials, and agricultural commodities. Although trade between the two countries increased substantially in the years that followed, American politicians -- pressured by the protectionist fervour sweeping the United States -- demanded the treaty be abrogated. In 1865, the American government announced that the treaty would not be renewed, and it ended in 1866.

    The treaty was signed at an ideal time for United Canada and the other North American colonies, since Great Britain was phasing out its preferential system. The agreement with the United States gave the business class an outlet for its products. The end of the Reciprocity Treaty was a determining factor in the decision of politicians in United Canada to form a new type of partnership with the other British North American colonies.


  • The expression "rep by pop" is an abbreviation of "representation by population."

    Under the Act of Union, which became effective in 1841, Canada West and Canada East were given an equal number of representatives in Parliament. This measure had been requested and obtained by the British population of United Canada, who wished to ensure equal Parliamentary representation even if, at the time, the largely francophone Canada East had the higher population.

    The census of 1851 revealed that the population of Canada West had exceeded that of Canada East. From then on, politicians in Canada West were vocal in their demand for an amendment to this type of representation, which was no longer to their advantage.

    Although some elected members of the "parti rouge" supported this claim as a democratic ideal, most members of Parliament for Canada East were against it. Rep by pop would weaken their position in the Union and threaten the survival of French-Canadian institutions.

    This issue was not resolved until Confederation in 1867.


  • In the British North American colonial context, to have responsible government meant that the Executive Council had to obtain and maintain the support of a majority of members of the House of Assembly in order to be able to govern the province. The Executive Council would be governed by the leader of the political party that held an elected majority in the Legislative Assembly. That same leader would also appoint the members of the Executive Council. The governor would therefore be forced to accept these "ministers", and if the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly voted against them, they would have to resign. The governor would also be obliged to ratify laws concerning the internal affairs of the colony once these laws had been passed to the Legislative Assembly.

    This was a major evolution in the way that the British North American colonies were run -- responsible government greatly diminished the governor's powers. He could no longer use his right of patronage to appoint public employees; appointment to public positions fell to the Executive Council. The governor was no longer allowed to attend Council meetings, nor could he favour one political party over another.

    The achievement of responsible government in the Province of Canada in 1848 led to political instability that lasted until Confederation in 1867. Since it was very difficult to maintain a majority in the Executive Council, governments followed one another in rapid succession. This political instability was a major factor leading to the discussions that resulted in Confederation in 1867.

    Nova Scotia also achieved responsible government in 1848. Great Britain then granted it to Prince Edward Island in 1851, to New Brunswick in 1854 and to Newfoundland in 1855.


  • With the purchase of the North-Western Territory and Rupert's Land, the federal government began to feel the need to establish a police force to maintain law and order in that region.

    Great Britain already had experience, in Ireland and India, with the establishment of a centralized police force. John A. Macdonald used these as models for the creation of a police force for the new Northwest Territories.

    This police force was initially only meant to be temporary; it was to see the Northwest Territories through its transition period and then be disbanded. Circumstances would have it otherwise -- the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is very much still alive and well today.

    The North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was created in 1873, with its headquarters at Fort Garry. It started out with 150 men; another 150 were added the following spring. It was similar to a cavalry regiment armed with pistols, rifles and some small artillery.

    The North West Mounted Police had its first real test in 1874, when it was called to respond to a massacre in the Cypress Hills. Following this bloody confrontation 150 men were stationed permanently at Fort Macleod. Others were sent to Fort Edmonton and Fort Ellice, and, the following year, to Fort Calgary and Fort Walsh. Men were stationed at Battleford in 1876.

    Growing instability in the Northwest Territories, brought about by the disappearance of the buffalo and the construction of the Canadian Pacific, contributed to the expansion of the police force to 500 men in 1882. This number would still prove insufficient. Ottawa ignored the warnings of its police officers in the West, leading in part to the 1885 rebellion. Following that confrontation, Ottawa increased the police force to 1,000 men.

    The North West Mounted Police extended its jurisdiction northward in the 1890s. As rumours of gold in the Yukon increased, the NWMP sent 20 men to the territory in 1895. By 1899, this number had grown to 250.

    After 1900, when the gold rush was over, the NWMP pushed farther north, towards the Arctic, opening detachments at Fort McPherson, near the Beaufort Sea, and at Cape Fullerton.

    The North West Mounted Police changed its name to the Royal North West Mounted Police in 1904, and to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920.


  • In 1809, Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, and two others Scots, bought into the Hudson's Bay Company. In an effort to mitigate the desperate condition of a large number of the people living on his land in Scotland, Lord Selkirk organized settlement on land near the Red River. He convinced the shareholders of the Hudson's Bay Company to grant him 300 000 km2 of land in what is now Manitoba, Minnesota and North Dakota. In return for this concession, Lord Selkirk promised to provide the Company with 200 employees per year, to allow it to set up trading posts on the colony's territory, to forbid the colonists from taking part in the fur trade and to provide land to Company employees wishing to retire.

    In 1811, the colonization of the Selkirk concession was going well, in spite of climate-related difficulties. The aims of this colonization did not seem to be related strictly to immigration, however. The Métis living in this territory supplied the North West Company, a rival of the Hudson's Bay Company, with pemmican. Setting up a colony on this part of the territory would have destabilized the bison population. As bison were essential for the production of pemmican, this would have adversely affected the North West Company. Setting up a permanent colony would also have strengthened the claim of the Hudson's Bay Company on this territory.

    Conflicts with the Métis populations began a few years later. As a result of the pemmican war, the Hudson's Bay Company named a new governor, Robert Semple, who took stern measures, burning down Fort Gibraltar.

    To express their displeasure, the Métis organized an attack in May 1816. Cuthbert Grant, on the Métis side, and Governor Semple, faced each other at Seven Oaks. What began as a more-or-less peaceful confrontation results in tragedy: 21 colonists and one Métis were killed.

    After a series of skirmishes between 1815 and 1819, relations between the colonists and the Métis calmed down and life returned to a more normal course. The confrontation at Seven Oaks, however, would have a strong impact on the identity of the Métis. It gave them a sense of community and belonging. This would prove very important in the years that followed, especially with the arrival of Louis Riel 50 years later.


  • The Northwest Territories Act, 1875 included provisions that offered the population of the Northwest Territories the same rights to a religious education as those given to the people of Ontario when that province joined Confederation. The Act permitted territorial officials to pass laws ensuring that Catholic or Protestant minorities could establish separate schools in any district.

    Laws passed in 1884 and 1885 formally established the Territories' education system, with its two components of private and public schools. However, an 1886 amendment to these laws made it impossible to open separate schools except in an existing school district. Separate schools could no longer be set up in new school districts.

    In 1892 the Council of Education replaced the old Board of Education, and religious minorities were further disadvantaged within the Territorial school system. The creation of the Department of Education in 1901 did nothing to remedy the situation.

    In 1905, when Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier presented a bill on the creation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, he dealt with the schools question by stating that school administration would be as stipulated in the British North America Act. The educational system would be similar to systems in Ontario and Quebec, and would allow for the creation of two parallel school systems -- one Catholic and one Protestant.

    This clause was unacceptable to a large part of the Northwest Territories' population, the members of the Legislative Assembly, the press and the western clergy. Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior, resigned over the issue to voice his disagreement with Laurier's handling of the situation.

    Laurier was forced to back down. He proposed an amendment to his own law, and the schools clause reverted to the way it had been in 1892.


  • The Tenant League was an organization of farmers on Prince Edward Island that attempted to force a resolution to the absentee landlord question. The league was formed in December 1863, and membership grew through the winter and spring. By August 1864 the vast majority of land tenants on the Island had joined the Tenant League.

    The league held a convention at Charlottetown, where it adopted a constitution urging its members to withhold rent payments until the absentee landowners agreed to sell their lands. On March 17, 1865, both Catholic and Protestant members of the league attended the St. Patrick's Day Parade at Charlottetown. An attempt by the local police to arrest Tenant League leader Samuel Fletcher at the parade was thwarted by the crowd.

    Subsequently Governor George Dundas declared the Tenant League a seditious movement, and banned it. However, farmers refused to disband the league. There were several clashes between farmers and the bailiffs and sheriffs who were sent out to collect rents. These clashes are sometimes called the Tenant League Riots. The unrest became so severe that the governor requested a contingent of British troops be sent to the Island to restore order. The troops were obliged to remain for more than a year.


  • We might well ask ourselves why the federal government created two new provinces -- Alberta and Saskatchewan -- in 1905, but did not do the same for the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

    To understand the thinking of politicians and public servants on this matter, several things must be considered. Control of Crown lands was one factor; in creating new provinces, the government had to take into account the claims of the population and of politicians concerning management of Crown lands. Ottawa wanted to maintain control over the sale of parcels of land, the use of natural resources and the development of land. In creating territories, instead of provinces, the federal government allowed administration of the northwestern regions to fall to federal public servants.

    As the debate surrounding the creation of Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan showed, politicians and public servants did not all agree that provinces should be created in such sparsely populated areas. Ottawa relented in these three instances, but felt that for what remained of the Northwest Territories after the provincial divisions in 1905, territorial status would suffice.

    In 1905, the Northwest Territories was given a territorial commissioner whose powers included the authority to appoint a governing council. This was an extension of an 1875 law, and subsequent laws, which touched on the administration of the Northwest Territories. The original 1875 law outlined the matters over which the Territories would have control within its borders. These were: local and municipal taxation; property and civil rights and the administration of justice; public health; the licensing of inns and bars; border management; cemeteries; prevention of cruelty to animals; protection and conservation of wild animals, including game animals; protection of woods and forests; prisons and detention centres; policing; road and bridge construction and maintenance; infractions against public morals and public nuisance laws; all questions of a local or private nature; and the imposition of fines.

    When the responsibilities of territories are compared with those of provinces, it quickly becomes apparent that the latter had much more freedom to govern, and had control over more areas of governance.

    At the turn of the century, the attitude of politicians, public servants and the general population toward Native people was not guided by a commitment to social justice. Aboriginal populations were treated in whatever way would best ensure their not interfering with the plans of decision-makers. The series of treaties signed at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries are evidence of this attitude. The Northwest Territories of the early 20th century was home mostly to Aboriginal people, with only a few hundred white people living in the region. At that time, the "Indian question" was the responsibility of federal public servants -- the same public servants who oversaw management of the territory.

    The notion that Aboriginal people have the right to manage political systems within their own territories only made its way into mainstream thinking late in the 20th century. The establishment of seats of government in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, as well as the creation of Nunavut, are evidence of a new awareness on the part of the federal government and have been brought about by pressure exerted by Native people themselves.


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