We begin our trip through Canada’s history, year by year, in this first episode of Canada: A Yearly Journey.
Each week, I will take us through a year in Canadian history, beginning with 1867 and continuing to today.
A note on this episode, I begin my coverage of events on July 1, the first day of Canada being a country, rather than January 1.
So, Let’s begin.
The big event of the year, of course, was Dominion Day, when Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick formed together to create the Dominion of Canada through the British North America Act. Sir John A. Macdonald would become the first Prime Minister of Canada.
The Kingston Whig Standard wrote quote:
“The first of July has become the most memorable in the public history of this Canada of ours. The day witness the inauguration of the Union of the Canadas, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into a nation, the culmination of the wishes of four million of a prosperous people.”
In Kingston, the day was described as dawning with a pleasant sky. The newspaper relates further quote:
“Old Sol sending forth his rays to add luster to the occasion. A gentle breeze took away the effect of the sun’s heat, and it would be impossible to conceive a day more suited to the day of all days to Canada.”
While Dominion Day was a bigt event, it wasn’t the only one.
It was also on July 1 that the Windsor Police Service was created. The police service would replace the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment that had previously served the community.
With a new country now formed, there was a great deal of work to be done in regards to who would lead the provinces within the country.
Hiram Blanchard would be the first premier of Nova Scotia, serving in that capacity until Sept. 30 of 1867 when his party was decimated at the September election by the Anti-Confederation Party.
Pierre-Joseph Chauveau would become the first premier of Quebec, while also serving as the Provincial Secretary and the Minister of Education. In addition to being the premier of the province, he also served as a federal minister in Parliament. This was allowed until 1874 when the practice was stopped. He would serve as premier until 1873.
Originally, Sir John A. Macdonald had wanted Joseph-Edouard Chauchon to be the first premier of the province and had planned to appoint him. This was met with strong opposition from the anglophones of Montreal and the idea was scrapped. Chauchon’s position on public and religious schools had caused controversy, resulting in Pierre-Joseph-Oliveri Chauveau being appointed as the first premier of Quebec.
John Sandfield Macdonald, not John A. Macdonald, was chosen as the first premier of Ontario, a position he would hold until 1871. Just like Chauveau, he also served as an MP in the House of Commons at the same time. He would also be the last Roman Catholic premier of the province for the next 132 years.
Canada’s first official election would take place from Aug. 7 to Sept. 20.
The 1867 election would be the only one that would see just the original provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia take part.
At the time, there were three main parties all vying for control of the House of Commons. The Conservatives, also known as the Liberal-Conservatives, the Liberal Party and the Anti-Confederation Party. Yes, you heard that right, there was a party that was against Confederation, running in the election that came just after Confederation.
The Conservatives were led by Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, while the Liberals were without a leader, but George Brown was unofficially the leader at the time.
Joseph Howe, who had served as the premier of the Colony of Nova Scotia from 1860 to 1863, led the Anti-Confederation Party. The sentiment in Nova Scotia was very much against joining Confederation and it was through the efforts of Premier Charles Tupper, himself a future prime minister, that Nova Scotia joined Canada in 1867.
In the federal election, as well as the provincial elections at the time, votes were recorded orally or with a show of hands and only 13 per cent of the population was eligible to vote. This was because to vote, a man had to be 21 years of age or older, and be a born or naturalized citizen. They had to own or co-own $100 of property in rural areas, or $200 in urban areas. In addition to that, they also had to have an annual income of $250. Anyone who was a judge, crown clerk, land office employee, tax and duty collector or even postal worker were not allowed to vote.
Voting in those days was a shady affair and bribes were common. Employers, clergy and community figures would hang around polling stations and bribe people with food and money.
In the 1867 election, Macdonald and the Conservatives cruised to a majority government with 100 seats, taking 34.8 per cent of the vote. The Liberals took 62 seats, while the Anti-Confederation Party picked up 18 seats, all from Nova Scotia. In fact, 18 of the 19 available seats in Nova Scotia went to the Anti-Confederation Party.
Of the three parties to exist in this election, only the Conservatives and Liberals would be around for the next election. When Britain refused to allow Nova Scotia to secede, the movement died away and 11 of the 18 Anti-Confederation MPs would move over to the Conservatives.
The first general election in Ontario’s history was held on Sept. 3, 1867. The Conservative Party was led by John Sandfield Macdonald, while the Liberals were led by Archibald McKellar. Macdonald was a close friend of Sir John A. Macdonald, but despite the same last name they were not related.
When the election was called, the Conservative government opened polls in districts it felt it could win quickly, then gradually opened polling in tougher districts in the hopes that voters would be swayed in their decision by early victories for the Conservatives in other districts. At the time there was also no Canada Elections Act and election practices just continued from the colonial period for each province. Restrictions were also placed on who could vote. Obviously women couldn’t vote yet, but in Ontario an owner or tenant had to have property worth $200 in an urban area, or $100 in a rural area. This meant only about 16.5 per cent of adults in Ontario were enfranchised to vote in 1867. As well, anyone who was a judge, magistrate, police or prosecutor, as well as anyone in the civil service, were excluded from voting. Indigenous who met the property qualifications were excluded as well, even though they should have been allowed based on the property rules.
The Conservatives and Liberals would both finish with 41 seats, although the Conservatives had a higher percentage of the popular vote. The Conservatives under Macdonald were invited to form a government, which they did with help of the 15 Independents who formed a coalition government with him. With the tied vote, the first government for Ontario was called the Patent Combination because it was a mix of two different parties.
The first election in Ontario’s history was a joyous affair by most accounts. The Kingston Whig-Standard wrote quote:
“At the close of the polls in Toronto, a grand procession took place the carriages covering nearly half a mile, headed by a bandwagon drawn by horses. Following this was an open carriage containing the successful candidates, who were loudly cheered as they passed along.”
There was some controversy, including $10,000 of government money being used to defeat McKellar in his own riding, which was not successful.
Over in Quebec, Premier Chauveau would appoint his first cabinet, and then called the first election in Quebec’s history. The election would take place from August to September 1867.
Chauveau was a member of the Parti Bleu, which would become the Conservatives upon Confederation. The party was well-organized and easily adapted to the election call. The Liberals, who had been the Parti Rouge, were not well organized and had opposed Confederation. The party was unable to field a full slate of candidates, had no official leader and were not ready for the election. Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbiniere would be chosen as the leader of the Liberals, having been a member of the Legislative Assembly since 1861.
Chauveau knew that he would have to call an election soon, so he gathered around him a group of legal officers and clerks to form a public service as he prepared his party for the election.
For Quebec’s first election, there were 65 ridings.
In order to vote, polls were held in the open air, or in buildings that were free for the public to access along a highway. Polls could not be held in a tavern or place of public entertainment.
This was described by the Montreal Star, which stated quote:
“About 500 persons assembled opposite the Courthouse when the nominations were made at 12 o’clock. The Honorable J.E. Ferrier and the Honorable C.S. Rodler proposed, seconded by Mrs. Torrance and Bellevien, that Edward Carter be elected to represent Montreal Centre in the Local Legislature.”
Each Deputy Returning Officer had a poll book, and each voter would declare how they were voting. This was then recorded in the poll book. The poll book was then given to the Returning Officer, who would total all the polls in public and declare which candidate had won.
Not all the polls were completed in the same day, leading to the election being spread across two months.
In the election, Chauveau and the Conservatives won an overwhelming victory, taking 51 seats and 53 per cent of the total vote. The Liberals under Lotbiniere would win only 12 seats, and 35 per cent of the total vote.
In some ridings, it was an overwhelming victory with a bit of drama. In one riding, three men put their nomination to run for the Legislature. A man named George Simard would earn 809 of 811 votes. This was because after the nominations were filed, the two men, Blanchet and Garneau, both dropped out. Dr. Blanchet was burned in effigy in front of his house after putting his nomination in, and he would not only drop out of the election, but also leave the party completely. The Montreal Gazette reported quote:
“The whole police force rushed upon the mob but were hooted away. The people dispersed in quietness.”
Now, the year 1867 wasn’t all about elections.
With Canada now a country, Charles Monck, the first Governor General of Canada, would not only designate Dominion Day as the celebration of Confederation, but he would also persuade the federal government to buy Rideau Hall and make it the official residence of the Governor General. The cost was $82,000 and the hall remains the Governor General residence to this very day.
For Lord Monck, July 1 was a big day certainly. The Kingston Whig Standard reported quoted:
“Lord Monck has just been sworn in governor of the Dominion. Lord Monck then announced that the Queen had conferred on Mr. John A. Macdonald the dignity of KCB. Lord Monck shook hands with the judges and Mr. John A. Macdonald and the public were then directed to retire.”
It was in Canada’s first year that the Canadian Lacrosse Association would be formed, spearheaded by William George Beers, who was the founder of the Montreal Lacrosse Club. He would also codify the rules of lacrosse. The association remains to this day the governing body of lacrosse in Canada. This would make it the first governing body of sport in Canadian history. The club was formed on the motto of “Our Country and Our Game”. By the end of the year, there were 80 clubs operating across the country. That same year, the first tour of the sport would be held overseas when Captain W.B. Johnson organized a tour of England.
At the Stanstead Fall Fair in Quebec, the Henry Seth Taylor steam buggy was debuted. Modelled on a US-built steam car, the vehicle ran thanks to a coal-fire boiler. Steam would move a piston attached to a rear axle, thereby giving it movement. This was the first known car to be built in Canada. Never meant for mass production, it was only shown at various fairs in the area. It had a couple problems too, the chief of them being that it didn’t have any brakes. The vehicle would sit in a barn for nearly 100 years until it was found in the 1950s and restored. In 1983, it was put in the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.
In the summer, the O’Keefe Ranch was founded in the area of Armstrong, BC, and it would represent the beginning of European settlement in the Okanagan Valley. The ranch was founded by Cornelius O’Keefe, along with his partners Thomas Greenhow and Thomas Wood after they drove cattle up to the area in June of 1867. From here, the ranch would grow and by 1900 the ranch covered over 12,000 acres. Cornelius would be pressured to sell over time and he finally would in 1907 but the O’Keefe family would stay on and ranch in the area but on a smaller scale. Cornelius would pass away in 1919 and his wife Elizabeth, followed by his son Tierney, would take over the management of the ranch.
Several future prominent Canadians would be born in the second half of 1867. One was Thomas Walter Scott, who was born in Ontario on Oct. 27. Scott would go on to be editor of the Regina Leader-Post, and the first premier of Saskatchewan from 1905 to 1916. As a Liberal, he is one of only six Liberals to serve as premier of Saskatchewan. He is also the second-longest serving premier in the province’s history. Prior to becoming premier, he would also serve in the House of Commons from 1900 to 1904. Scott wanted Regina to be the capital of Saskatchewan but two-thirds of his caucus wanted it to be Saskatoon. He would insist on Regina through and the caucus would fall in line, defeating a motion to move the capital 21 to 2. It would also be Scott who would choose the location for the legislative building, which was approved in 1906. The cornerstone of the legislature would be laid down by the Duke of Connaught, the Governor General and favourite son of Queen Victoria. Scott’s government would appoint the first Royal Commission in Saskatchewan’s history, establish a telephone service, and spend $100,000 on highway construction, a figure that would rise ten-fold in only a few years. His government also increased the number of public schools from 405 to 2,747 during his tenure. In 1909, he chose to locate the new University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Unfortunately for Scott, it would be discovered that several Liberal MLAs were receiving kickbacks for liquor licences, public building contracts and highway work. This would lead Scott to step down as premier in 1916. Scott would pass away in 1938.
There were also notable deaths that year, including that of Edward Whelan on Dec. 10. Considered to be one of the fathers of Canadian Confederation, he was born in 1824 in Ireland and came to Canada at seven-years-old. Working as a journalist, he supported Confederation and saw it as a good opportunity for Prince Edward Island to control its affairs. He was one of the delegates for PEI at the Quebec Conference. Unfortunately, most other politicians and citizens from the island did not agree and PEI would not join Canada until 1873. Bitter over the defeat, his health began to decline in the fall of 1867 before he would pass away at the end of the year.
The Montreal Gazette reported quote:
“Prince Edward Island lost by death its most brilliant writer, and I may add with truth, its most influential public man, the Honourable Edward Whelan, Queen’s printer and editor of the Charlottetown Examiner. The late lamented gentleman had been ailing since the middle of August last, but not till the last two or three weeks did his distemper assume alarming proportions. He is gone, however, and his adopted country now mourns the death of her most gifted son, whose mantle descends on no man.”
Information from Montreal Gazette, Canadian Encyclopedia, Kingston Whig Standard, Wikipedia, Macleans
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