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The year 1869 came only two years after the Confederation of Canada, but it would be one of the watershed years for Canadian history with a multitude of important births, deaths and events throughout the year.
Let’s dive into this year and its lasting impact on the Canada we know and love today.
First, Lord Lisgar would replace Viscount Monck of Ballytrammon as the Governor General of Canada on Feb. 2. Lord Lisgar, also known as John Young, would serve for three years until 1872.
Only a week and a half later, on Feb. 11, Patrick James Whelan would be hanged for the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee the previous year. McGee, who helped to create Canadian Confederation, had been assassinated on April 7 after a parliamentary debate that lasted until midnight. His funeral was one of the largest in Canadian history. As for Whelan, he was accused, convicted and subsequently hanged for his crime. Many believe to this day that he was nothing more than a scapegoat for a Protestant plot. Whelan maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings but the government needed someone to blame. Most of the evidence against him was circumstantial. There were also allegations of the bribing of witnesses to ensure a guilty verdict. Whelan would be hanged in front of 5,000 people and it was said that he met his death with manliness and faith. He told the crowd he was innocent but he did know who killed McGee. His last words were God save Ireland and God save my soul.
On March 5, John Redpath would pass away at the age of 73. He was the pioneer behind the industrial movement that would help to make Montreal the largest and most prosperous city in Canada during his life. He would also sit on Montreal City Council and he would cede land to the city that would become Drummond Street, named for his second wife Jane Drummond.
On Aug. 25, Charles Jefferys was born in England. He would come to Canada in 1880 and become one of the most-renowned painters in Canadian history. During the First World War, he would paint soldiers training in Niagara for the Canadian War Records department. By the time of his death in 1952, he would have painted thousands of painting of Canada’s history. In 1972, 1,000 paintings would end up in the Public Archives of Canada. His love of history would be immortalized in a plaque at his former home, saying “if my work has stirred any interest in our country and its past, I am more than paid.”
On Sept. 2, Maude Abbott was born in Quebec. She would go on to become one of Canada’s earliest medical graduates and an expert on congenital heart disease. She was also one of the first women to obtain a BA from McGill University. Abandoned by her parents as an infant, she was raised by her grandmother. Her cousin, John Abbott, would become Canada’s third prime minister as well. She would pass away on her birthday in 1940.
On Oct. 24, the Canadian Illustrated News would be founded in Montreal. It was the first magazine in world history to produce photographs at a successful rate and over the course of its 14 years of existence, it would publish 15,000 illustrations.
On Nov. 3, the Hamilton Tigers were founded, becoming the first Canadian football professional team. The team would win a Dominion Championship in 1908, and five subsequent Grey Cups in 1913, 1915, 1928, 1929 and 1932. The team would suspend operations during both World Wars and would fold for good in 1950 when it merged with the Hamilton Wildcats to form the current Hamilton Tiger Cats.
On Nov. 19, the Deed of Surrender recognizing the purchase of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory from the Hudson’s Bay Company by the English Crown was completed. The lands were under the control of the Crown at this time and not formally belonging to Canada yet.
In what would become a common decision for the next 75 years, Newfoundland rejected joining Confederation. Newfoundland would come close to joining Confederation in 1892 but would remain a British colony until 1907 when it obtained Dominion status. Newfoundland wouldn’t join Confederation until 1949.
Timothy Eaton opened his first store in Toronto this year. Eaton’s, for those who don’t remember, was one of the most successful companies in Canadian history. At one time, it was the largest department store chain in Canada and its catalogue was found in most Canadian homes. The company would have many innovations including not haggling prices and having only one cash price. The first catalogue was published in 1884 and consisted of 34 pages in total. The catalogue would become an icon of Canadian culture and would feature in many important works including The Hockey Sweater, when a Quebec boy asks his mom for a Montreal Canadiens sweater from the catalogue but receives a Maple Leafs one instead. The catalogue would run until 1976. As for Eaton’s, it would suffer in a changing retail climate and would go into bankruptcy in 1999.
As more people began to move out into the Canadian prairies, they brought with them diseases that the Indigenous people were never exposed to. As such, a smallpox epidemic hit the Indigenous tribes, making its way with devastating efficiency through the Blackfoot, Piegan and Blood tribes.
Marie Susan Rye began to bring orphans from Europe over to Canada in this year. She would acquire a building in Niagara that she would rename Our Western Home on Dec. 1. After the children were trained, they would come to Canada to work as domestic servants. By 1895, she will have helped to bring 4,000 poor Scottish and English children over to Canada.
One of the most important events of this year, and in Canadian history, would be the Red River Rebellion. The Rebellion could make up an entire episode itself, and will possibly do so in the future, but today we are just going to give a quick rundown of the rebellion.
The rebellion would be the first crisis for the new federal government that was only two years old. Following the purchase of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company, William McDougall, an English-speaking governor, was appointed for the territory by the government. This was heavily opposed by the Métis and French-speaking inhabitants of the area that would become Manitoba. When surveyors were sent out to begin to plot land according to the township system used in Ontario, the Métis led by Louis Riel prevented him from entering the territory. The Métis then created a provisional government, to which they invited Anglophone representatives to be equal members. Riel then negotiated with the federal government to make Manitoba a province.
At the same time he was negotiating, Riel’s men arrested members of a pro-Canadian faction, including a man named Thomas Scott. Riel’s government tried and convicted Scott, then executed him on the claim that he threatened to murder Riel.
After it was agreed that the Red River Colony would join Confederation as Manitoba in 1870, and allowing for French schools for Metis children and protection of the practice of Catholicism, the government sent a military expedition to Manitoba to enforce their authority. This expedition was under the command of Garnet Wolseley. At the same time, outrage was growing in Ontario over the execution of Scott. Many demanded that Riel be arrested by the expedition and suppress what they were calling a rebellion. Riel would withdraw from Fort Garry the day the troops arrived after being warned the troops would harm him. He would flee to the United States, thus ending the rebellion that saw only one death. Most don’t even consider it a rebellion and many current scholars feel its only called a rebellion because of the alliteration of the name.