The Difficult Beginnings of the Dominion, 1867 to the 1890s
project made sense only if it was extended west to cover the whole
continent. Confederation included the hope of creating a transcontinental economy, and the Dominion needed to move
fast to prevent an American takeover of the rich western prairies.
was owned by Britain but was managed by the Hudson’s Bay
Company. The only settlement was a little town on the Red River
(the future Winnipeg) where lived 10,000 Metis (descendants of fur traders
and Indian mothers) and about 2,000 settlers and traders for
Britain, Canada and the US. The Hudson’s Bay Company was willing to sell the land west
as far as
the Rockies and north as far as the Artic circle to the
Dominion for $1.5 million. The problem, however, was that the Metis were afraid of
the impact of future white settlers on their
way of life.
behind Louis Riel, a Metis lawyer, to form their own government,
demanding the creation of a province, protection for the Catholic
religion and the French language, and Metis ownership of their
land. The opposition of the Metis led to two rebellions, in
1870 and 1885. Riel was hanged after the
second rebellion, but the Metis' goal was partly reached with the creation of the province of
Manitoba in 1871. The provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were created in 1905.
The Dominion also negotiated the
acquisition of the colony of British Columbia, peopled by 10,000
and 25,000 Indians. British Columbia agreed to join the Dominion in exchange
for the construction of a transcontinental railway and the payment of the
colony’s debts. British Columbia was integrated in 1871. Prince Edward Island joined
first, the National Policy was slow and costly, but little by
little it had some results, especially regarding the occupation
of the west, whose consequence was the 2nd Metis rebellion in 1885.
In turn, the rebellion
caused a conflict between Quebec and Ontario: the French Canadians
felt that the Metis were
oppressed because of their religion and language ; meanwhile English Canadians
saw Quebec's support of Riel and the Metis as an attempt
to build a French Canadian West. When Riel was hanged,
there were riots in Quebec and threats of separation by Quebec Premier Honoré Mercier.
Hence by the
late 1880s, Canada appeared very fragile, both politically
and economically. This explains the emergence of the annexation
movement, best defended by historian Goldwin Smith, who argued
that Canada would be better off if it joined the US. The Liberal
party under the leadership of Wilfried Laurier proposed a free
trade treaty in the US. Conservatives opposed it and won the
1891 federal elections by appealing to loyalty for the Empire
and anti-American sentiment, feelings encapsulated by
Macdonald's famous phrase: "A British subject I was born,
a British subject I will die".