Happy Canada Day from everyone at CSN!
On today’s date in 1867, the British North American colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada, the latter of which became Ontario and Québec, were proclaimed as the Dominion of Canada. The move came about four months after Parliament passed the British North America Act, which later became the Constitution Act and laid the foundation for the fledgling dominion.
“In most parts of the new Dominion, it was a dazzling sunny day. The reverberation of a brass band could be heard in many towns,” according to Canada: A People’s History, a 17-episode documentary series published by CBC.
“In Toronto, children were given Union Jacks to wave and an ox was roasted in front of St. Lawrence Hall, with the meat then distributed to the poor. In Ottawa, a military review on Parliament Hill fired a salute. The soldiers forgot to take the ramrods out of their rifles and the iron rods arched over Sparks Street. In Quebec City, a cannon was fired on the Plains of Abraham to mark the day and most Canadiens spent the time by the water, happy to have a long weekend.”
John A. Macdonald was appointed as Canada’s first prime minister by Charles Stanley Monck, 4th Viscount Monck, who served as the country’s first Governor-General following Confederation.
Macdonald’s wife Agnes, who he married earlier that year on Feb. 16, marked the momentous occasion in her diary.
“This new Dominion of ours came noisily into existence on the 1st, and the very newspapers look hot and tired, with the weight of Announcements and Cabinet lists,” she wrote. “Here – in this house – the atmosphere is so awfully political that sometimes I think the very flies hold Parliaments on the kitchen Tablecloths.”
CHARLOTTETOWN, QUÉBEC CONFERENCES
Confederation was the product of a pair of conferences held in 1864 in Prince Edward Island and Lower Canada (present-day Québec), which together with Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) was part of the Province of Canada.
In September 1864, Prince Edward Island – then a British colony – hosted the Charlottetown Conference. Originally slated to discuss the union of colonies in the Atlantic region, delegates from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were “persuaded by a contingent from the Province of Canada, who were not originally on the guest list, to work toward the union of all the British North American colonies,” according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. P.E.I. officials found the terms of union unfavourable and refused to join, choosing instead to remain a colony of the British Empire.
The following month, delegates from five British North American colonies – the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland – gathered in Lower Canada for further discussions about uniting as a country. After adjourning on Oct. 27, the delegates drafted the “72 Resolutions,” most of which was produced by Macdonald, a lawyer with both legal and constitutional experience.
“As it is, I have no help,” Macdonald reportedly told his friend and fellow lawyer Sir James Gowan, who he later appointed as a senator. “Not one man of the conference (except Galt in financial matters) has the slightest idea of constitution making. Whatever is good or ill in the Constitution is mine.”
Macdonald was referring to Alexander Galt, another Father of Confederation who proposed several financial resolutions, including how the colonies’ existing debts would be shared and managed.
Altogether, the Québec Conference welcomed 33 delegates plus two observers, including:
- George Brown;
- Alexander Campbell;
- George-Étienne Cartier;
- Jean-Charles Chapais;
- James Cockburn;
- Alexander Galt;
- Hector-Louis Langevin;
- John A. Macdonald;
- William McDougall;
- Thomas D’Arcy McGee;
- Oliver Mowat;
- Étienne-Paschal Taché;
- Edward Barron;
- Chandler Charles Fisher;
- John Hamilton Gray;
- John Mercer;
- Johnson Peter Mitchell;
- William Steeves;
- Samuel Leonard Tilley;
- Adams George Archibald;
- Robert Dickey;
- William Alexander Henry;
- Jonathan McCully;
- Charles Tupper;
- John William Ritchie;
- Joseph Howe;
- George Coles;
- John Hamilton Gray;
- Thomas Heath Haviland;
- Andrew Archibald Macdonald;
- Edward Palmer;
- William Henry Pope;
- Edward Whelan;
- Frederick Carter, who was an observer; and
- Ambrose Shea, who was also an observer.
A third conference was held in London, England, in December 1866, when 16 delegates from the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick met with British officials to draft the British North America Act.
MORE COLONIES JOIN CONFEDERATION
Three years after Confederation in 1867, another two areas joined Canada.
On July 15, 1870, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) transferred control of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory to the Canadian government.
Comprising a third of present-day Canada, Rupert’s Land served as the HBC’s exclusive commercial domain from 1670-1870.
Named for its location in relation to Rupert’s Land, the North-Western Territory included present-day Yukon; mainland Northwest Territories; northwestern mainland Nunavut; northwestern Saskatchewan; northern Alberta; and northern British Columbia.
Most of these areas were formed into a new territory called the Northwest Territories; however, a region near Fort Garry – an HBC trading post seized a year earlier by Louis Riel and his Métis followers during the Red River Rebellion – was established as the province of Manitoba by the Manitoba Act.
B.C. & P.E.I. JOIN CONFEDERATION
On July 20, 1871, British Columbia became Canada’s sixth province; however, this outcome was of no certainty throughout the preceding decade, during which time residents of the colony debated joining their U.S. trading partners or upholding colonial power.
At the same time, Prince Edward Island was also exploring its options, which included becoming its own dominion or joining the United States. The colony began building a railway while starting early negotiations with the United States in 1871, but two years later Macdonald – always a critic of U.S. expansionism – negotiated to have Prince Edward Island join Canada as the country’s seventh province.
The federal government assumed the colony’s extensive railway debt, and Prince Edward Island entered Confederation on July 1, 1873.
NEARING & INTO THE 20TH CENTURY
On June 13, 1898, the Yukon was formed from part of the Northwest Territories following a boost in population during the Klondike Gold Rush a year earlier.
Seven years later, on Sept. 1, 1905, Saskatchewan and Alberta were also formed out of part of the Northwest Territories.
Nearly half a century passed before another province joined Canada.
On March 31, 1949, Newfoundland became the country’s 10th province following years of debate about the self-governance of what was then a British dominion (not unlike Canada).
The following day, on April 1, prime minister Louis St. Laurent made the first ceremonial cut into the only blank stone plaque remaining over the entrance to the Peace Tower in Ottawa. The plaque was one of 10 erected in 1920 amid the reconstruction of the Parliament Buildings following a fire during the First World War.
“We are all Canadians now,” said Newfoundlander F. Gordon Bradley, who accompanied St. Laurent at the ceremony more than seven decades ago.
NUNAVUT CREATED IN 1999
Finally, on April 1, 1999, Nunavut was created from part of the Northwest Territories.
Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing through the 1970s, a sustained effort took hold among Inuit groups to negotiate land claims with the federal government and secure their own territory.
Negotiations intensified in the 1980s and ultimately led to the July 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act between the federal government and Government of the Northwest Territories, which laid the foundation for the creation of the territory of Nunavut on April 1, 1999.
The creation of Nunavut was the first major change to Canada’s map since Newfoundland and Labrador joined Confederation in 1949, and it arose from the largest Indigenous land-claim settlement in Canadian history.
The new territory encompasses about one-fifth of Canada’s total landmass and is home to fewer than 40,000 people, most of them Inuit.
Nunavut means “our land” in the Inuit language of Inuktitut.
1927 CONFEDERATION STAMPS
In 1927, Canada’s Post Office Department (known as Canada Post since 1981) issued a colourful set of stamps marking the 60th anniversary of Confederation.
It was the first issue following the “Admiral” series (Scott #104-34), which ran from 1911-28.
On June 29, 1927, eight stamps were issued—five commemoratives in the “Confederation” issue (SC #141-45) and three in the “Historical” issue (SC #146-48).
The first issue, an orange one-cent stamp (SC #141), depicts Macdonald, who was Canada’s second longest-serving prime minister. With two non-consecutive terms, he served for nearly 19 years altogether.
FATHERS OF CONFEDERATION
The second issue (SC #142) was a green two-cent stamp depicting the Fathers of Confederation based on an oil painting by Group of Seven artist Robert Harris.
The painting was also used as the focal point of a 1917 three-cent Confederation stamp.
The third issue (SC #143), a brown-carmine three-cent stamp, depicts the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Situated on Parliament Hill, Parliament’s Centre Block overlooks the Ottawa River. The building contains the House of Commons, the Senate and the parliamentary offices.
The Peace Tower, which dominates the central axis of Centre Block, contains the Memorial Chamber in remembrance of Canada’s fallen soldiers. At the rear of the building is the Parliamentary Library.
The fourth stamp, a violet five-cent issue (SC #144), shows Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s seventh prime minister and the first French-Canadian prime minister (1896-1911).
Born in 1841 in the village of St. Lin, Qué., Laurier entered Parliament in 1874. Three years later, he became a member of the Dominion cabinet before eventually becoming prime minister in 1896.
In 1897, Queen Victoria knighted Laurier while he was attending ceremonies in connection with the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen’s accession to the throne. He died during the winter of 1919 and was buried in Notre Dame Cemetery, Ottawa.
The series’ fifth issue, a dark blue 12-cent stamp (SC #145), depicts a map of Canada in 1867 and 1927 with light blue shading symbolizing the country’s coast-to-coast expansion.
TRUTH & RECONCILIATION
As Canadian society reels in response to widespread concerns about racism, the country’s 153rd anniversary is taking on a different feel than it has in years and decades past.
On June 24, Reuters reported six Indigenous people were fatally shot by police since April.
The deaths included 26-year-old New Brunswick woman Chantel Moore, who was killed during a so-called “wellness check” on June 4. Later that month, hundreds of people gathered at public ceremonies in various cities as Moore’s family called for a full public inquiry into her death.
“We’ve been hurt many times,” said Joe Martin, a relative of Moore who said she was the second person in their family to be killed by police. “How can we ever trust any police force? Why should we answer a door for a wellness check?”
Living in Edmundston at the time of her death, Moore was originally from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia.
Earlier this year, a viral video captured Chief Allan Adam of Fort Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta being beaten by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers. While Adam was originally charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer, those charges were later dropped.
Const. Simon Seguin, who assaulted Adam, is due in court on Sept. 30 for charges of assault, mischief and unlawfully being in a dwelling house—all related to a separate incident from 2019. Seguin was not suspended, not fired and remains on duty despite the year-old charges.
“There is systemic racism in Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a recent press conference, welcoming public investigations into the recent cases of police brutality as calls to “defund the police” grow louder.
“It means that Indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and racialized Canadians are far more likely to suffer violence at the hands of the authorities and police than non-racialized Canadians.”
A 2017 study by CBC, which assembled the first country-wide database of every person who died or was killed during a police intervention, found a steady increase in deaths from 2000-17. More than 70 per cent of victims suffered from mental health and substance abuse problems, and Indigenous and Black people were disproportionately overrepresented.
“For example, black people in Toronto made up on average 8.3 per cent of the population during the 17-year window, but represent nearly 37 per cent of the victims. In Winnipeg, Indigenous people represent on average 10.6 per cent of the population, but account for nearly two thirds of victims.”
These cases are just the latest iterations of Canada’s long history with racism, which dates back to pre-Confederation.
“Infamously, the British North America Act only mentions, ‘Indians and lands reserved for the Indians’ in a single sub-clause, assigning responsibility for both to the federal government,” wrote Brian Gettler, assistant professor of history at the University of Toronto, in a three-part essay published in 2017.
“The ‘Fathers of Confederation’ first adopted the phrase without debate at the Quebec Conference in 1864, adding ‘Indians’ to the federal powers proposed by the Canadian Liberal-Conservatives in their aborted 1858 project of British North American Union, while replacing the less specific ‘Indian territories’ with ‘lands reserved for Indians.’ Along with the Indian Department and Indigenous policy more generally, this sub-clause remained absent from parliamentary debate on both sides of the Atlantic in the years following 1864 and from the London Conference that in the winter of 1866-67 produced the final version of the BNA Act.”
Historians have “long replicated this silence, finding no role for relations with Indigenous peoples in the constitutional origins of modern Canada,” added Gettler.
“Historians of Indigenous-state relations have concurred, unanimously downplaying Confederation while instead focusing on changing legislation from 1850, the 1860 shift in responsibility for the Indian Department from the empire to the colony, Canada’s 1869 purchase of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Red River Resistance, and the numbered treaties of the 1870s. Though correct to concentrate on these critical issues, we need to do more; we need to place them at the heart of our understanding of state formation and changing political thought in the mid-nineteenth century. This is critical if we are to avoid replicating the ‘Fathers” imperial and imperious perspective that, though consciously centred on land, resources, and the liberal individual, declared relations with Indigenous peoples a mere political afterthought.”
In his 2008 book, A Fair Country, John Ralston Saul explores three myths of Canada’s foundation, arguing the famed “peace, order and good government,” which supposedly defines the country, is a distortion of its true nature. He notes every foundational document drafted before the British North America Act used the phrase, “peace, welfare and good government.”
“Saul’s story begins – as every sensible essay on the Canadian identity must – with the fur trade, specifically with the economic and domestic relationships that were established between Europeans and Natives over the first 250 years of settler life in Canada,” reads an April 2009 review by the Literary Review of Canada. “As Saul points out, more often than not it was the Natives who were teaching and helping the newcomers survive, and in marrying Native women most European men were marrying up—greatly improving their social, political and economic lot in life. These relationships were partnerships in every meaningful way, and through this constant intermingling the Métis character of the Canadian people was shaped.”
Saul expands on this theory in two ways, the article adds.
“First, he emphasizes the oft-ignored role of the Natives as full partners in the military, civil and commercial affairs of the Canadas for the first 250 years of their existence. Since then, though, we have been engaged in what he calls ‘a double denial’: a denial of our own history, along with a denial that aboriginals even exist in a way that matters to our own flourishing as a country.”