We have reached the second year of Canada’s existence, 1868, and plenty was going on that would have a long impact on Canada’s history.
One event was the return of Louis Riel to the Red River area. He had been living in eastern Canada but was getting tired of the legal work he was employed in. After a brief stop in Chicago where he worked odd jobs and a stop as a clerk in Minnesota, he returned to the Red River settlement. One year later, the Red River Resistance would erupt.
During this time in Manitoba, there was a movement to create an independent country. The movement was pushed by Thomas Spence, who had a retail store at Portage la Prairie. He persuaded the council in the community to petition the British government for a legally constituted administration. He was elected as president of the new reorganized council and he set up New Caledonia, which was later known as the Republic of Manitobah, and that is Manitoba with an h at the end. No reply ever came from the British government, so the new republic was created. The republic never had any formal borders and Hudson’s Bay Company traders refused to pay any taxes in the area. By 1868, the republic was told by the Colonial Office in London that it had no power. The republic soon collapsed but Spence would serve on the council of Louis Riel and help to form the new province of Manitoba.
It was in 1868 that Joseph Onasakenrat, who was the chief of the Mohawk people in the area of what would be the Kanesatake (KANA SEH TAG EH) Reserve, wrote a letter to the seminary stating that nine square miles of the land had been reserved for the Mohawk in the trust of the seminary and that the seminary had ignored and neglected that trust by giving themselves sole ownership rights to it. With nothing being resolved, Onasakenrat would launch a small attack on the seminary one year later after giving the missionaries eight days to hand the land over. The stand-off was ended when local authorities came in to remove the Mohawk from the seminary area. The land was also classified by the federal government as “interim land base” and not a reserve, which would allow it to not be covered under the Indian Act. This would be a major event that would lead to the Oka Crisis in 1990.
Another big event was the decision by the Hudson’s Bay Company to turn Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory over to Canada. This increased the size of the country immensely and would eventually lead to the creation of the territories and the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The Rupert’s Land Act was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This was a decision to authorize the transfer of land but the actual transfer would not happen until the following year.
The London Scotsman reported quote:
“There seems no alternative but for the Hudson’s Bay Company to yield to the inevitable and relinquishing their long-cherished idea of receiving a lump sum, down either from the Imperial or the Canadian government.”
As it turned out, the Hudson’s Bay Company would receive £300,000 in compensation when the transfer went through in 1870.
The first Canadian army was created this year when the Federal Militia Act was passed.
It was this year that the name for Pincher Creek, Alberta would be born. It was in this year that a group of prospectors, Joe Healy, Red Rock Jim, Mart Holloway, John Nelson, and William Lee, were in the area. While there, they lost a pincer, what we would call pliers today, in the small creek nearby. These pincers were important, as they were used to trim the feet of horses and it was not something you wanted to lose while in the middle of nowhere. Hence, the name of Pincher Creek was born, but not quite yet.
In 1874, the North West Mounted Police conducted their March West, and arrived in southern Alberta. They would set up their headquarters at nearby Fort Macleod and patrols through the area soon began. Soon after, one North West Mounted Police officer happened to discover the rusting tool that the prospectors had lost six years previous, in the creek. From there, Pincher Creek was the name given to the creek. In 1880, that name appeared on a Geological Survey Report.
On May 13, 1868, Wilfrid Laurier would marry Zoe Lafontaine. Laurier had decided not to ask for her hand in marriage because of his health but when he found out she was about to receive a proposal from another man, he decided to propose. The couple would have no children, but Zoe would be heavily involved in various organizations through her life including the National Council of Women and as the honorary vice president of the Victorian Order of Nurses. According to most sources, Laurier regretted never having children with Zoe. While the couple would have a happy marriage, that didn’t stop Laurier from seeking companionship elsewhere, and possibly having a son.
On Nov. 14, Charles Monck’s time as Governor General came to an end.
The end of his term as Governor General was greeted with little fanfare. The Kingston Whig-Standard reported quote:
“No Governor General ever left Canada with less notice of a public kind than his departing Excellency. He may not have been a bad Governor General, for we know nothing bad that he has done, but he has been anything but popular during his long administration. He kept himself aloof from the people of Canada, not caring to mix with them.”
Around this same time, Sir John A. Macdonald wrote to Nova Scotia Premier, and future Prime Minister, Charles Tupper, quote:
“Monck has managed the relations between Canada and the United States with great discretion, when the slightest mistake might have created a war.”
The following year, on Feb. 2, 1869, John Young would take over and become Canada’s second Governor General.
Several notable births would occur in 1868. On Jan. 16, Octavia Ritchie was born in Montreal. She would become the first woman to receive a medical degree in Quebec in 1891. Together with Maude Abbot, she would form the Association for the Professional Education of Women to advocate for women to seek medical or advanced degrees.
The man with the very long name, John Babington Macauley Baxter was born on Feb. 16, and would become the 18th premier of New Brunswick, serving from 1925 to 1931. He also served in Parliament, serving as the Minister of Customs under Prime Minister Arthur Meighen. Baxter would also lead the Maritime Rights Movement, which was born from the anger being felt in the Maritimes by the loss of influence for the provinces since Confederation. From 1935 to 1946, he would serve as the Chief Justice of the New Brunswick Supreme Court.
Another person who would play in the rights of women was born in 1868, Emily Murphy. Murphy would often spend time with her two older brothers, something her father encouraged and she would share responsibilities with them equally. Heavily influenced by her grandmother, Ogle Gowan, who founded a local branch of the Orange Order in 1830, along with her uncles who were a Supreme Court justice and a senator. At the age of 21, she would marry and have four daughters.
Once her children were living their own lives, Murphy began to organize women’s groups where housewives could meet and discuss ideas and plan group projects. She would learn about a woman whose husband sold the family farm after abandoning his wife and children, leaving them homeless. At the time, property laws did not give women any legal recourse. Motivated by this, Murphy would campaign for property rights of married women. With the support of rural women, Murphy would pressure the Alberta government to retain the rights of their land. In 1916, she was able to get the Alberta government to pass the Dower Act that gave a women legal rights to one-third of her husband’s property.
Following being denied the ability to see the trial, Murphy protested to Attorney General of Alberta, stating “if the evidence is not fit to be heard in mixed company, then the government must step up a special court presided over by women, to try other women.”
Her request was approved and she became the first woman police magistrate in the British Empire. That appointment as a judge though would cause a major controversy. Her first case was on July 1, 1916 and she found the prisoner guilty. The lawyer for that prisoner called into question her ability to pass any sentence since she was not legally a person. While the Provincial Supreme Court denied the appeal, this would begin the process towards the Person’s Case.
In order to test the issue, Murphy allowed her name to be put forward to Prime Minister Robert Borden as a candidate for the Canadian Senate. Borden would state that he was willing to do so but was unable to because of an 1876 British Common Law that ruled women were eligible for pains and penalties, not rights and privileges.
Over the next several years, Murphy would begin to work for clarification on how women were regarded under the British North America Act of 1867 and how they could become senators.
Enlisting the help of four other Alberta women, Murphy would sign a petition on August 27, 1927 asking the federal government to refer the issue to the Supreme Court. Joining her on the petition would be human rights activist Nellie McClung, ex MLA Louise McKinney, and women’s rights campaigners Henrietta Edwards and Irene Parlby. The Famous Five would argue the Persons Case and in 1929, they were successful and a major milestone for women’s rights in Canada had been reached.
Louise McKinney had been born in Frankville, Ontario in 1868 and in 1903 she made the move to Alberta where she began to live as a homesteader with her family. A year after women were given the right to vote in Alberta in 1916, McKinney would run for a seat in the 1917 Alberta general election in the district of Claresholm. As a candidate for the Non-Partisan League, she was able to defeat her Liberal opponent William Moffat. Interestingly, she was one of two women that year to be elected to the Alberta Legislature.
For McKinney, her election was no small feat. She defeated Moffat, the first resident of Claresholm and at one point its mayor. He had also served there since 1909.
McKinney would serve until 1921 when she ran for re-election but lost to the Independent Farmer candidate Thomas Milnes, another mayor of Claresholm.
Her role in Canadian history was not done though. McKinney would become one of the Famous Five who argued the Persons Case in 1927, eventually culminating in 1929 with the decision by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that women were legally recognized as persons and could therefore sit in the Senate of Canada. McKinney was also one of the few of the Famous Five who did not publicly endorse eugenics.
In 1931, she would briefly serve as the president of the Canadian Union and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, while also being named as Commissioner for the First General Council of the United Church of Canada.
Sadly for McKinney, she would pass away in 1931 only two years after the Persons Case victory. In 1939, she was recognized as a Person of National Historic Significance and a plaque commemorating her is on display in Claresholm. In 1997, the Persons Case was recognized as a National Historic Event, and in 2009 she was named an honorary senator by the Canadian Senate, along with the other four members of the Famous Five.
I’m not done talking about the Famous Five because a third member of the group was also born this year. Born in London England in 1868, Irene Parlby came to Canada in 1896 and by 1913 she would found the first women’s local of the United Farmers of Alberta. Her work with the organization helped to raise her profile across the province. During this time, and for many years after, Irene lived in the Alix area and was a well-known and respected member of the community. Her talents as a hostess were widely commended. She would often host members of the Canadian Press, MLAs and cabinet ministers at her home in Alix, Alberta.
That would culminate with her election to the Alberta Legislature in the Lacombe Riding, which she would represent for the next 14 years. During that time, she was appointed as a minister without a portfolio, making her the first woman cabinet minister in Alberta history.
Her most famous role in women’s rights would come as a member of the Famous Five, who took the issue of women being qualified persons to the highest court in the country. The group would win that case and help change women’s rights forever. Soon after its judgement, the first woman, Cairine Wilson, would sit on the Canadian Senate.
Throughout her life, Parlby was an advocate for rural Canadian women and children, and she pushed for public health care services and municipal hospitals.
She would pass away on July 12, 1965 in Red Deer, the last of the Famous Five.
A mural of Parlby also exists in Edmonton.
In 1966, Parlby was recognized as a Person of National Historic Significance by the Government of Canada and the plaque honouring that can be found in Alix.
Charles Stewart, the third premier of Alberta from 1917 to 1921 was born on Aug. 26 in Ontario. As premier, he would campaign on prohibition and attempt to implement proportional representation in Alberta. His government also brought in several irrigation projects into Southern Alberta to turn it from an arid area to one that could support widespread agriculture through the irrigation of 500,000 acres.
A future Governor General was also born this year. The Duke of Connaught was born on May 31, 1868 in London. He would eventually come to Canada in November 1916 and serve as Governor General until 1921.
Several deaths would occur in 1868 in Canada.
Alexander Roberts Dunn would pass away on Jan. 25. He was born in 1833 and was the first Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross. He was awarded the medal for his actions at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 when he rescued a sergeant who had been cut down by Russian lancers attacking from the rear.
One of the Fathers Of Confederation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee was assassinated by Patrick Whelan. He was called Canada’s first nationalist because of his passion for Confederation. McGee had come to the United States in 1842 when he was 17, working in Boston and beginning to make a name for himself as a journalist. After briefly returning to Ireland, he came back to the United States in 1848 and over the 1850s began to pay more attention to Canadian politics. During this time, he would also promote the idea that the United States should annex Canada, stating quote:
“The United States of North America must necessarily in course of time absorb the Northern British Provinces.”
McGee then began to visit Canada and over time, his opinion shifted as he saw Irish immigrants treated better in Canada than in the United States. In the spring of 1857, McGee left the United States and moved to Montreal where he established the publication New Era. He then started to support the cause of Canadian Confederation. In December of that year, he was elected to the Province of Canada Legislature, where he became known for his staunch support of Canadian nationhood. In 1864, he organized a diplomatic tour of the Maritime colonies for delegates from the Province of Canada to raise support for Confederation. He also attended the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences.
At this point, he began to denounce the Fenians, who were an Irish National Movement. McGee felt that they should follow the Canadian model of limited self-government within the British Empire. This earned him the label of traitor by many in the Irish community.
Then, on April 7, 1868, he was shot outside his Ottawa home.
The Kingston Weekly British Whig reported quote:
“As he reached his door, and was in the act of opening it, a pistol shot was fired at him from behind, the ball entering the back of his head and escaped through his mouth, breaking several teeth. His lodging house keeper, who was up, alarmed by the shot, opened the front door when Mr. McGee fell heavily into the entrance, quite dead.”
Before long, Ontario premier John Sandfield Macdonald and Prime Minister John A. Macdonald were on the scene, as were other members of Parliament.
While Patrick Whelan was arrested, he maintained his innocence throughout his trial. He would be convicted of murder and hanged in Canada’s second last public hanging.
McGee’s funeral procession would run through Montreal flanked by a crowd of 80,000, or roughly 75 per cent of the city’s population. Several schools would be let out and students would attend the funeral.
The Montreal Gazette wrote of the funeral, quote:
“Never since Jacques Cartier first planted the foot of a European on the site on which now stands the great city of Montreal, was there ever before a demonstration either funeral or other, within its borders such as that which took place yesterday.”
Laura Second, the heroin of the War of 1812, would pass away on Oct. 17. Born on Sept. 13, 1775 in Great Barrington, to Thomas and Elizabeth Ingersoll. Laura would marry James Secord, a wealthy man, in 1797. The couple would live in a house they had built in St. Davids, where the first floor was a shop. Secord would give birth to her first child, Mary, in 1799, followed by Charlotte in 1801, Harriet in 1803, Charles in 1809 and Applonia in 1810.
When the War of 1812 began, James Secord served in the First Lincoln Militia under the great Isaac Brock. He would be one of the men to carry the body of Brock off the battlefield after the General was killed at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October of 1812. In that battle, James was also injured in the shoulder. When Laura heard of his injury, she rushed to be with him. As she arrived, legend has it that she found three American soldiers about to beat him to death with their gun stocks. She begged them to save her husband and she offered her own in return. American Captain John E. Wool came upon the situation and reprimanded the soldiers. Whether this story happened or not is not known, but it shows her bravery, at least a small glimpse of it.
Her husband’s injury was not embellishment though, and she would spend the next several months nursing him back to health.
On May 27, 1813, the American army launched an attack and captured Fort George, allowing the Americans to capture the Niagara and Queenston area. Men of military age were taken prisoner, but James Secord was not among them.
In the next month, several U.S. soldiers would billet at the home of Secord, which would lead us to the legendary walk of Laura Secord.
It was on June 21, 1813 when Laura Secord was in her home as the American soldiers stayed there. She would hear of the American plan to attack the troops of Lt. James FitzGibbon at Beaver Dams. This attack, if successful would give the Americans control of the Niagara Peninsula.
The next morning, as her husband was still recovering, Secord began to walk to warn Lt. FitzGibbon. She would walk 32 kilometres from Queenston to St. Davids. Along the way, she would come across the camp of Mohawk warriors who led her the rest of the way to the headquarters of FitzGibbon.
With her warning, the small British force and the Mohawk warriors readied for an attack. When the Americans did attack on June 24 at the Battle of Beaver Dams, they would be defeated and many would be taken prisoner.
Secord was not mentioned in any reports following the battle, despite her critical information. It should be noted that FitzGibbon may have purposely kept her name out of the reports to protect her family as he had no issues telling others about her contributions after the war.
In the battle, 600 soldiers with the United States faced 400 Mohawks and 50 British troops. The battle would see 15 Mohawks killed, and 20 British killed, while the Americans lost 25 men, had 50 wounded and 462 captured. The failure of the attack would cause the troops at Fort George to become demoralized and they would abandon the fort on Dec. 10 and rarely sent patrols farther than a mile outside the fort when the occupied it.
Legends of her walk would change over the years. Some said she took a cow with her as an excuse to leave the property, while another says that she went barefoot to warn the troops. Secord herself would say “I left early in the morning”
The Secords continually tried to petition the government to acknowledge the efforts of Secord in the War of 1812 but these were unsuccessful. In 1860, when Secord was 85, the Prince of Wales visited Canada and found out about her story and that she was an aging widow. He would send her 100 Pounds, worth 12,239 Pounds today. This gift would be the only recognition Secord would receive in her entire life for what she did in June of 1813. When she passed away, nothing was written in the newspapers, despite her role in saving Canada during the War of 1812.
Information from As Told To Me: Memories Of Helen Coulter, Canadian Encyclopedia, Macleans, Wikipedia, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Kingston British Whig,