Sir John A. Macdonald, lawyer, businessman, and the first prime minister of Canada (photo by William James Topley, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/c-10144). (The Canadian Encyclopedia)
A week ago, Canadians celebrated their nation’s birthday: Confederation. On 1st July 1867, Confederation united four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Previously, all Canadians observed their national holiday and were proud of their first Prime Minister. That is no longer the case.
A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald was removed in Victoria, British Columbia. John A. Macdonald put Amerindians on reservations and took Amerindian children from their parents and enrolled them in Residential schools, so they would be assimilated. Many were abused. One is reminded of Tzvetan Todorov‘s La Conquête de l’Amérique. La question de l’autre.[I]
Moreover, as soon as Rupert’s Land was bought, he let a land rush happen in the Red River Colony.
In the wake of Confederation, arrangements were made to transfer the colony and the vast neighbouring territory of Rupert’s Land to Canada, yet without either consultation with the colony’s inhabitants or any guarantees of their political or property rights. That set the stage for the Red River Resistance (…)
(See Red River Settlement, The Canadian Encyclopedia.)
Later, he allowed Louis Riel to be hanged. Louis Riel had entered federal politics and was elected three times as a member of Parliament for Provencher, Manitoba. He was not permitted to enter the House of Commons. When he entered, “he was expelled from the House on a motion introduced by the Ontario Orange leader Mackenzie Bowel.” (See Louis Riel, The Canadian Encyclopedia.) The government of the Red River Resistance had executed Orangeman, Thomas Scott. However, Jean-Louis Riel was viewed as Thomas Scott’s killer.
The Red River Colony was bought from the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), by the Earl of Selkirk. After the Earl of Selkirk’s death, the Colony was returned to the Hudson’s Bay Company, but it was settled. Settled land, such as the Red River Colony and the land the Indigenous people inhabited could not belong to the HBC/Canada, by virtue of the Royal Charter signed on 2nd May 1670.
Sir John A. MacDonald was a member of the Orange Order. The Orangemen opposed the presence of French-speaking Canadians and Catholics outside Quebec. Sir John A. MacDonald had a beautiful dream, a Canada stretching from sea to sea: A Mari usque ad Mare. That is Canada’s motto, its devise. But French-speaking Canadians would have to stay on one side of the wide country. He promised British Columbia a railroad. The railroad had to go across ranges of mountains, the Rocky Mountains. Several Chinese died building the railway whose chief supervisor was Sir Cornelius van Horne. On 4th July 1886, a passenger train arrived at Port Moody, British Columbia. British Columbia entered Confederation in 1871, believing that a railroad would be built.
Arrival of the first Canadian Pacific transcontinental passenger train at Port Moody, British Columbia, July 4, 1886. Canadian Pacific Limited Rail Corporate Archives (Photo Credit: Britannica)
Prince Rupert of the Rhine (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)
British Columbia had been New Caledonia. However, it was renamed on 2nd August 1858, by Queen Victoria.
New Caledonia (“New Scotland”), was a name given in 1806 to the central and highland plateau area of British Columbia by Simon Fraser, a partner, trader and explorer in the North West Co.
(See New Caledonia, The Canadian Encyclopedia.)
When Canada bought Rupert’s Land, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company had merged. The North West Company had forts in British Columbia. But it was no longer called the North West Company. Rupert’s Land was bought from the Hudson’s Bay Company.
In 1821, a parliamentary Act granted exclusive trade to the HBC and to William and Simon McGillivray and Edward Ellice of the NWC, in an effort to placate all parties by devising coalition, not amalgamation.
(See The North West Company, The Canadian Encyclopedia.)
The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and The North West Company (NWC) had quarreled for years but they were now the Hudson’s Bay Company. The school I attended in Victoria, British Columbia, St. Ann’s Academy, was built in 1859, before Confederation.
The French Fact
Sir John A. MacDonald put aside not only Canada’s Indigenous population, but he also ignored what I call the French Fact. Jacques Cartier discovered what would become Canada in 1534. In 1867, the year Confederation occurred, the French had been on the North American continent for 333 years and many had married Amerindians. I learned, late in life, that I am métissée, as are other Québécois.
In 1633 and 1635, the Huron-Wendat were asked by Champlain and Father Paul Le Jeune, S.J. to consider intermarriage with the French.
(See Huron-Wendat, The Canadian Encyclopedia.)
One could take the view that it was all about the weather. Winters were cold in New France. Moreover, how could the colony’s few colonists get beaver pelts without a canoe and snowshoes. The inhabitants of New France depended on Amerindian skills and equipment to survive. Champlain could not alienate Amerindians. He in fact fought the Iroquois, the Huron‘s enemies.
An account of the alliance between the Indigenous people and the French can be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Interestingly, The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica have joined forces to tell the history of Canada.
“Already in 1603 Champlain had noted that the Iroquois, whom Jacques Cartier had found there, had withdrawn from the St. Lawrence under pressure from the Algonquin Indians of the north country. The French then became the allies of the Algonquin in the rivalry that began for control of the inland fur trade. In 1609, in accordance with this alliance, Champlain and three companions joined an Algonquin war party in a raid against the Mohawk, the easternmost group of the Iroquois Confederacy. The party ascended the Richelieu River toward Lake Champlain. In an encounter with a Mohawk band, Champlain and his men killed some Iroquois, and the Europeans’ firearms panicked the remainder. This skirmish signaled the initial commitment of New France to the side of the Algonquin and the Huron (the latter being Iroquoian but hostile to the confederacy) in what became a century-long struggle for control of the output of furs from as far away as the western Great Lakes.”[II]
(See Confederation, The Canadian Encyclopedia.)
Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Quebec’s Premier, found merit in the partnership Confederation proposed. He died in 1873.
We cannot change the past, but we can shape the future. The killing of George Floyd led to soul-searching everywhere.
This list is incomplete. I will complete it later.
Love to everyone 💕
I apologize for the delay.
[I] Tzvetan Todorov, La conquête de l’Amérique. La question de l’autre, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1982.
[II] David J. Bercuson, Ralph R. Krueger and Others (See All Contributors), Canada, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc, June 20, 2020.
Sir George-Étienne Cartier, the prime minister of Quebec when it entered Confederation, composed this song.
Ô Canada! mon pays, mes amours (click on the title to see the lyrics)
© Micheline Walker
4 July 2020