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.
First, Lord Lisgar would replace Charles Monck as the Governor General of Canada on Feb. 2.
At his swearing in on Feb. 2, 1869, the Ottawa Daily Citizen reported quote:
“The Commission of His Excellency, Sir John Young, as Governor General, having arrived, he was sworn in on Tuesday as Governor General of Canada. He afterwards received addresses from the City Corporation, the Legislature and other bodies, and then held a levee. Everything passed off well.”
A special display was held in Ottawa of arts and manufacturers, which Young visited and was greatly impressed by. The mayor of Ottawa also declared that a holiday be observed throughout the city.
As Governor General, he would deal with several issues in the new country of Canada.
The first was diffusing Canadian-American tensions that were created by the Fenian Raids, but also the Red River Resistance and the fleeing of various leaders into the United States. During the resistance, the United States government prevented the Canadian ship Chicora from the Sault Ste Marie Canal, which was heading west. Young would make a formal protest, stating it had no military supplies on it, while adding that armed American ships regularly used the Welland Canal. His protest worked and the ban on passage was lifted by the American government.
When Fenians were captured during their raids, Young would prevent the hanging of the prisoners, likely to maintain good relations with the Americans.
Young, who had supported the Confederation of Canada, also had to mediate the conflict over the transfer of Rupert’s Land to Canada.
He would return to England in 1872 due to poor health and passed in 1876.
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.
According to the Weekly British Whig, Whalen stated quote:
“I am prepared but am not the man who done the deed. There are others. No matter now. I am under oath and I won’t break it.”
This was the second-last public hanging in Canadian history. The last public hanging would occur with Nicholas Melady on Dec. 7, 1869. He was put to death for the murder of his father and his stepmother on the outside wall of the jail in Goderich, Ontario.
After this point, the public could attend some hangings, by invitation only, until 1935.
The law officially changed after Thomasina Sarao was executed on March 28th, 1935. After the hangman received an incorrect weight for her, she was decapitated when hung.
On March 5, John Redpath would pass away at the age of 73. Redpath was born in 1796 in Scotland, the son of a farm worker and his second wife. In 1816, he would arrive in Quebec City with nearly no money, and walked barefoot to Montreal. There, he used the experience he had as a stonemason to get work and would help install the first oil street lamps in the city. Within a few years, he was running his own construction business and that would lead him to helping to build the canal. With the success of the canal project, Redpath would get more work and would built the Norte Dame Basilica and the first buildings of McGill University. In 1833, he was asked to sit on the Board of Directors of the Bank of Montreal, a position he would hold for the next 36 years. From 1840 to 1843, he was on Montreal City Council and would cede land that became Drummond Street, which was named for his second wife, Jane Drummond. He would found Redpath Sugar in 1854, which became a major employer in Montreal and operates to this day. Within a few years of its creation, the sugar refinery was exporting 7,000 tons of raw sugar.
The Ottawa Daily Citizen reported quote:
“The funeral of the late Mr. John Redpath was the largest witnessed here for some time. The employees of the sugar refinery numbering some hundreds and a large concourse of friends of the deceased, were in attendance.”
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 become an expert in the heart and a world leader in regards to heart defects. In 1904, she wrote a chapter on Congenital Heart Disease for William Osler’s System of Modern Medicine, which he called the best thing he had ever read on the subject. Abbott would go on to found the Federation of Medical Women of Canada and in 1936 she wrote the Atlas of Congenital Cardiac Disease. Over the course of her life, she wrote 140 books and papers and gave countless lectures.
She would pass away on her birthday from a brain hemorrhage. In 1943, she was painted on the mural of the National Institute of Cardiology of Mexico City. She is the only Canadian and the only woman depicted in the work.
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.
The Ottawa Daily Citizen would write quote:
“The Canadian Illustrated News made its first appearance on Saturday evening. It is beautifully printed and seems to meet with a good sale.”
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 company rejected the $10 million offer from the Americans for Rupert’s Land. Today, that would be worth $189.8 million and the offer came just after the Americans had bought Alaska from the Russians. Instead, the company returned Rupert’s Land to Britain and the British government then gave the land to Canada, while also giving the new country £300,000 to compensate the Hudson’s Bay Company. In the deal, the company received five per cent of the fertile land to be opened up for settlement.
Governor Anthony Musgrave would state quote:
“I have now to inform you that the terms on which Rupert’s Land and the North West Territory are to be united to Canada have been agreed to by the parties concerned and that the Queen will probably be advised before long to issue an Order in Council which will incorporate in the Dominion of Canada the whole of the British Possessions on the North American Continent, except the Colony of British Columbia.”
In 1870 the Deed of Surrender came into force. This territory that had once been Rupert’s Land would then become the North West Territories, and the fact that the Indigenous and Metis were not consulted over the change would lead to a watershed event in Canadian history. More on that later. On the same day that the deed came into force, July 15, 1870, the province of Manitoba would be admitted into Confederation.
In what would become a common decision for the next 75 years, Newfoundland rejected joining Confederation. Initially, it looked as though Newfoundland would join the country, with the agreement of 80 cents per head of the population being part of the agreement. The province in return would give up the rights to its forests, mines, etc. The residents of the island would be firmly against joining and negotiations would fail. 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.
Fort Whoop-Up was built this year by John Healy. Officially serving as a trading post, this first fort would burn down within a year and a second fort was built soon after at a cost of $25,000. Situated near to where Lethbridge is today, the traders would brew a drink called Whoop-Up Bug Juice, an alcohol spiked with ginger, molasses and red pepper. It was then coloured black with chewing tobacco, watered down and boiled. While there was legal trading that occurred here, the trade of alcohol with the Indigenous was rampant. Other whiskey trading forts were set up including Robber’s Roost at the junction of the belly and Oldman River, Weatherwax’s Post, Fort Spitzee near current High River, another post in the Cypress Hills and one near Blackfoot Crossing. It was due to this illegal whiskey trade that in only a few years, the Canadian government would create the North West Mounted Police.
At the same time that whiskey traders were coming into Canada, wolf hunters were doing the same, wiping out massive populations of the species throughout the prairies. These hunters would kill bison, then poison the meat of the bison. At this point they waited for wolves to eat the meat and die. The wolves would be skinned, and bounties collected, amounting to $2.50 per hide. The dogs of the Indigenous would often eat the meat and die, which added extra hardships to the Indigenous who already dealt with the declining bison numbers.
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.
In 1869, the year he moved, Eaton purchased a dry-goods and haberdashery business with his wife Margaret for $6,500 in Toronto. In order to promote his business, he came upon two revolutionary ideas. First, he made it standard that all goods had one price, and there would be no haggling and no credit. Second, he allowed all purchases to come with a money-back guarantee. The very first Eaton’s store was only 24 feet by 60 feet, with two large shop windows that overlooked the street. Four people worked in the store and the expectation of everyone was that the store was not going to succeed due to the no-credit and no-haggling policy.
As it turned out, the store began to prosper and in 1883, Eaton moved his store to 190 Yonge Street. The store was innovative for several reasons. First, it had the largest plate-glass windows in Toronto, and the first electric lights ever installed in a Canadian store.
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. One man who would survive this epidemic was Crowfoot, who would become an important Indigenous figure only a few years later.
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.
On June 27, George Copway passed away. Born Kah-Ge-Ga-Gah-Bowh, which means He Who Stands Forever in 1818 in Trenton, Ontario, his father John Copway was an Anishinaabe chief and medicine man. Copway would describe his father as an excellent hunter and a man who brought in more furs than anyone else. His mother was a member of the Eagle Tribe, whom he described as an active, sensible woman and a good hunter. In July of 1834, Copway was invited to work with his uncle and cousin as a missionary to the Anishinaabe who lived on the western end of Lake Superior. During the next two years, he would help translate the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of St. Luke into his language. Through his work as a missionary, the Methodists would provide his education and eventually ordain him as a minister.
In 1836, Copway would be traveling down the Mississippi through Sioux Territory when he was taken prisoner with his party. As an Anishinaabe, he was an enemy of the Sioux. He would be released after three days after he communicated that they were in fact, Christian missionaries.
In 1840, he would meet Elizabeth Howell. The daughter of farmers in the Toronto area, they fell in love and soon married. Following their marriage, they would move to Minnesota to work as missionaries. Together, they would have a son and a daughter.
He would write of his wife, quote:
“My wife has been a help, she has shared my woes, my trials, my privatization and has faithfully laboured to instruct and assist the poor Indians, whenever an opportunity occurred. I often feel astonished when I reflect upon what she has endured, considering that she does not possess much physical strength.”
After he and his family moved to New York City where he wrote The Life, History and Travels of Kah-Ge-Ga-Gah-Bowh. This became the first book to be published by a Canadian Indigenous person. In the first year, it went through six printings and became a bestseller. The book described his youth with the Anishinaabe and then as a Methodist missionary.
His autobiography would describe much of his life, and his travel through the Great Lakes region, but the main focus was the narrative of his mission work, with occasional moments of reflection and adventure.
He speaks of the landscape a great deal in his autobiography as well. He notes that the sand points of Grand Island had sunk near Sault Sainte Marie, and he would write, quote:
“The Great Spirit had removed from under that point, to some other place, because the Methodist Missionaries had encamped there the previous fall and had by their prayers driven the Spirit from under that point.”
Around this time, Copway began to advocate for Indigenous territory, suggesting that there be a 150-square-mile territory be established in the American Midwest. The tribes out there were beginning to feel the encroachment of European and American settlers. As can be expected, this proposal was not approved by Congress. He published his plan in a pamphlet called Organization of a New Indian Territory, where the official language would be Ojibwa. He planned to call the land Kahgega, which translates as Ever-To-Be.
One of the most important events of this year, and in Canadian history, would be the Red River 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. The Metis had been in the area for over a century by this point but the area was settled as the Red River Colony in 1812 by Lord Selkirk, which led directly to the Pemmican War between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company.
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. Throughout this, local Hudson’s Bay Company officials remained neutral.
Originally, the government had planned to take control of the territory on Dec. 1, 1869 but the resistance of the Metis prevented this.
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 by firing squad on the claim that he threatened to murder Riel. He would be put to death on March 4, 1870.
I’ll talk more about the Red River Resistance in the next episode, since most of the events take place in 1870.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Biographi, Governors General of Canada, Wikipedia, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, British Whig Standard, Ottawa Citizen