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As Canada moved through the 1870s, it would see more growth and continued changes as the new nation found its feet.
So, let’s look at the year that was 1871 in Canada.
On Jan. 30, Wilfred Lucas was born in Norfolk County, Ontario. He would eventually make his way to Broadway and debut in 1904 before finding his way to Biograph Studios run by D.W. Griffith. A Canadian pioneer in the early years of Hollywood and would become successful as an actor, director and screenwriter. He would appear in over 375 films over the course of 30 years. Many of the films were shorts, filmed during the Silent Era. In his career, he became friends with other Canadians who pioneered movies in Hollywood including Mary Pickford and Mack Sennett, who hired him to direct and act in many films at Keystone Studios. Unlike others from the Silent Era, he made the transition to talkies and did well, appearing in several Laurel and Hardy films. He would pass away in Los Angeles on Dec. 13, 1940 in Los Angeles.
On Feb. 20, Paul Kane would pass away in Toronto at the age of 60. Born on Sept. 3, 1810 in Ireland, he came to Canada with his family when he was 10, where his father operated a shop selling wine. In 1834, Kane began his career as a sign and furniture painter. Beginning in 1836, Kane would tour through the American Midwest, painting portraits and going as far as New Orleans. In 1841, he went to Europe and began to hike around the continent painting to develop his talent, returning back to North America in 1843 and to Canada in 1844.
He would begin travelling throughout the northwest area of Canada in 1845, eventually reaching Fort Vancouver in 1846. Through his journeys, he would paint landscapes and the Indigenous, providing us with a valuable resource for what life was like in the Canadian West during those years. He would also paint Mount St. Helens erupting at night in 1847. This painting is now at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and is the only known image of an active Cascade volcano until 1914. Through his travels, Kane was one of the first Canadian painters to make a living from artwork alone and possibly the first tourist to travel across the Canadian west and Pacific Northwest. Returning to eastern Canada in 1848, he would be commissioned to paint 100 oil paintings by George William Allan, bringing in a fortune of $20,000. In 1937, Kane was declared a National Historic Person.
On March 10, the government of Manitoba would meet for the first time following its election and establishment the previous year.
On March 21, Ontario held an election with Edward Blake’s Liberals winning a majority government over J.S. Macdonald and his Liberal-Conservatives.
Newspapers often took a pretty hard stance in favour of the party they supported. The Brantford newspaper would write of Blake, quote:
“With Edward Blake as leader of such a powerful band of supporters as he now has, the honor and credit of the province are safe.”
In the election, Blake and the Liberals gained two seats to finish with 43, while the Conservatives fell by three, to finish with 38. While the seat count had the Liberals winning, the election was considered to be inconclusive and the they did not have a clear majority.
Sandfield, despite his health, was determined to carry on and said he would meet the legislature even if he had to, quote:
“Be carried in on a blanket.”
He would then avoid calling the assembly into session. Once he did, he ignored votes of no-confidence and this would prompt Edward Blake to make a move to remove Macdonald from leadership.
The Liberals charged the Conservatives with irregularities in the election of six Conservatives. The Controverted Elections Act of 1871 would then be passed and took electoral irregularities out of committees in the legislature and gave it to the courts. This resulted in by-elections being called for December 1871.
By that month, Blake had mounted a successful attack through back-room maneuvers and a no-confidence motion that led the resignation of Macdonald and Blake becoming the new premier of the province.
While Blake was on his way to leading the province, Macdonald would be dead on June 1, 1872.
On April 2, the first official Canadian census was completed. The population of the country would be listed as 3,689,257 people.
On May 8, the Treaty of Washington was signed to grant fishing rights and Great Lakes trade between Canada and the United States. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald was one of five commissioners representing British interests, but he was there to represent Canada. The treaty issues included the American desire to resume use of Canadian inshore fisheries, which had been banned from 1818 to 1854 and from 1866 to 1871, as well as the ownership of San Juan Island in the Georgia Strait, and restitution for Canada over the Fenian Raids of 1866 to 1870. While Macdonald was there, in reality he played a very small role and held little power in the decisions.
The new agreement helped to settle various disputes between the two countries. It was also a watershed moment for the two countries as it began the permanent peaceful relations between the United States and Canada that has continued to this day.
On May 16, Nova Scotia held an election to elect members to its Legislature. William Annand would win 24 seats, a drop of 33 per cent, while still winning the election for the Liberals. Hiram Blanchard and the Conservative Party saw a 600 per cent increase in seats, going from just two in 1867 to 14 in the next election.
A rather grim thing happened on July 15 when Phoebe Campbell murdered her husband with an axe. She had originally said that two men broke into her log cabin and killed her husband and six men were arrested. She would give a statement, stating that she heard someone hit her husband. This was printed in the newspapers, which stated quote:
“I was wakened by my husband calling out. I heard some one strike my husband in bed. I felt spatters of blood when the blow struck. My husband managed to get out and struggle round a little while with the man who had struck him. He called to for the knife and I got it. The man called out Don’t fetch it here, or I’ll murder you too, and I dropped it. I knew the voice to be that of Thomas Koyle. My husband soon fell and Koyle then struck him with the axe.”
However, doubts soon began to arise since she did not do anything to save her husband and showed no emotion during his funeral. She would eventually go on trail in 1872 and be found guilty. She would be hanged soon after the guilty verdict.
On July 20, British Columbia would officially join Confederation as the newest province in Canada.
In terms of remaining a British Colony, there was little enthusiasm for keeping British Columbia as a colony. Admiral Joseph Denman told the British Admiralty that British Columbia did not deserve Royal Navy protection, and that the government should, quote:
“divest herself of these possessions by any means consistent with honor.”
The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Granville, stated that he hoped British Columbia would become independent and annex itself.
Joining the United States was something several residents supported. Many saw the British Columbia was already linked economically with San Francisco and American currency was used heavily in the colony. The nearest British settlement to the colony was Manitoba, 3,218 kilometres to the east, and Hong Kong across the Pacific Ocean to the west. San Francisco was much closer and had a population of 60,000, while Victoria only had 4,000. Even the mail that came into Victoria came through San Francisco.
The United States purchased Alaska from the Russians in 1867, and while some American residents celebrated, British residents worried about having the Americans to the north and south of the colony. The Secretary of State for the United States, William Seward, had a plan to have the entire Pacific Coast under United States control and with the United States completing its trans-continental railroad in 1869, that just made the idea of joining the country stronger among some residents. In April of 1867, a false report began to circulate that the British government was considering settling the Alabama claims by ceding the colony to America. While this wasn’t true, it stoked the annexation movement, which was supported by three of the six newspapers in the colony. That same year, Senator Alexander Ramsey of Minnesota put forward a proposal that the United States pay the Hudson’s Bay Company $6 million for Rupert’s Land, but this did not go anywhere. In 1869, 104 citizens of the colony signed a petition and sent it to President Ulysses S. Grant asking for annexation.
Among residents, there tended to be the view that both London and Washington were equal competitors for the colony, while Ottawa, was foreign and not as familiar, with Canada only being a couple years old itself. Among some residents, the choice of which country to remain with came down to the incentives they gave. Annexation to the United States was mostly supported by Victoria merchants, while the mainland supported joining Canada.
There was a strong desire with residents remain part of the British Empire, and since there was little enthusiasm in London for the colony to remain as a colony, the logical path was to join Canada. Lord Granville, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the British Parliament persuaded the Legislative Council to pass a resolution that supported Confederation with Canada. For the British residents of the colony, Confederation was the best path to keep the connection to Britain.
The Confederation League was formed in the colony in 1867, which included Amor De Cosmos, the eccentric and future premier of British Columbia and John Robson, another premier. This league was formed due to the fear of annexation to the United States, the growing debt due to the huge population growth and the need for government-funded services to support the population in the colony. Before long, it became popular enough to establish branches in New Westminster, Hope, Yale and Lytton. On Sept. 14, 1868, the league held its Yale Conference with 26 Confederation League delegates passing 37 resolutions, all of which outlined terms for joining the Dominion of Canada.
In 1869, Governor Frederick Seymour, who was opposed to joining Confederation, suddenly passed away. As it turned out, this was good fortune who those who supported joining Canada. Anthony Musgrave replaced him, and he would support joining Canada.
One year after Canada acquired Rupert’s Land, British Columbia would join Confederation, but it did so on the promise of a connection to the rest of the country. There was little point in having a province so isolated from the rest of the country, and a road or railroad was the only way to make this new arrangement work. In return for joining Confederation, the Canadian government would also assume the colony’s debt.
It is a common myth that British Columbia demanded a railroad in return for joining Confederation, but this was not the case. The main concern was maintaining a connection to Britain, while also having the debt forgiven. Most residents of the colony believed that a wagon road would be built into the province, and little else. In fact, the Confederation League, when it made its resolutions, only asked for a wagon road to link the province.
Sir John A. Macdonald instead proposed the railroad as a substitute, as it was not only a method to connect British Columbia to Canada, but to encourage settlement in the Prairies and to assert Canadian control over that land.
One year after Canada obtained Rupert’s Land, it began negotiations with the Indigenous for the land in the hope that it could be settled. There was the desire to secure the land to the south of Lake Winnipeg and the Red River Valley, as it had ample resources and was the path the transcontinental railway would take through the country. The Indigenous of the region had been advocating for a treaty with the federal government for 15 years by that point. In 1857, Chief Peguis of the Anishinaabe petitioned the United Kingdom government for a fair and mutually advantageous treaty for his people. When the sale of Rupert’s Land was conducted, Chief Peguis worried that there was no recognizing of the Indigenous and their rights to the land. Around the same time that Chief Peguis and his son Henry Prince published their Indian Manifesto in the newspaper The Nor’Wester, Lt. Governor Adams Archibald of the new province of Manitoba arrived in the area. One of the first things he did was to meet with Henry Prince, promising to open up negotiations the following year. Archibald saw the rich agricultural lands in the Red River Valley as an opportunity for greater settler advancement into the region. He would write Joseph Howe, the Secretary of State for Canada, stating quote:
“We were all of the opinion that it would be desirable to procure the extinction of Indian title, not only to the lands included within the province, but also to so much of the timber grounds east and north of the province, as were required for immediate entry and use and also of a large tract of cultivable ground, west of the Portage.”
In response to the federal takeover of their land, 73 Indigenous leaders met near Portage la Prairie in the spring of 1871 and passed a resolution that stated, quote:
“We never have yet, seen or received anything for the land and the woods that belong to us, and the settlers use to enrich themselves.”
At the church in Portage la Prairie, this statement was posted on the door. At this point, the Indigenous began to fend off settlers who arrived on the land.
Wanting to avoid any conflict, the federal government decided to proceed with treaty negotiations.
Negotiations for Treaty 1 began on July 7 and would continue until Aug. 3. Lt Governor Archibald was on hand with Indian Commissioner Wemyss Simpson.
The Ottawa Citizen would report of the treaty negotiations, quote:
“The Commissioner was dressed in a Colonel’s regimentals and a great ceremony was observed.”
About 1,000 Indigenous individuals, including many chiefs and Henry Prince, came out to Fort Garry to negotiate the treaty. Lt. Governor Archibald told the gathered Indigenous that Queen Victoria wanted to deal fairly with the Indigenous and support their needs, with the hope they would begin to practice agriculture on the land. This treaty would also introduce the idea of reserves to the Canadian Indigenous. Archibald would say that the Indigenous could use the land for their traditional ways of life but added that this would continue only until a future time when the lands were needed for use. Once Archibald gave his speech, the Indigenous left and returned days later with their demands, which included large areas of land for each individual and family.
Archibald would tell Howe on July 29, quote:
“The Indians seem to have false ideas of the meaning of a reserve. They have been led to suppose that large tracts of ground were to be set aside for them as hunting grounds, including timber lands, of which they might sell the wood as if they were proprietors of the soil.”
Around this same time, the Ottawa Citizen would report, quote:
“The Indians near Lake Winnipeg are vexed because the treaty has been delayed, and will not allow the settlers to cut wood or hay in that quarter”
Archibald instead offered 160 acres per family of five. He would then add several statements that proved to not be the case including saying that the Indigenous could still use the land they surrendered to the government for traditional purposes and that whenever reserves were found too small, the government would provide more land elsewhere for the Indigenous. Archibald would add that immigrants were going to come in whether the Indigenous wanted them or not, and it was better to make an arrangement now, rather than later.
The government and the Indigenous would reach an impasse that would last until Aug. 2. By this point, the Indigenous were reassured by the government representatives that the Queen was willing to help the Indigenous in every way, providing schools and that those who wanted to cultivate the land would be provided for on the reserves. Along with 160 acres per family of five, every Indigenous person, including children, received a one-time payment of three dollars, and a yearly payment of $15 per family of five.
On Aug. 3, 1871, Treaty 1 was signed. The treaty was signed by Lt. Governor Archibald, Commissioner Simpson, Major A.G. Irvine and eight witnesses. Six Indigenous chiefs, Red Eagle, Bird Forever, Flying Down Bird, Centre of Bird’s Tail, Flying Round, Whip Poor Will and Yellow Quill, all signed the treaty.
The treaty was then ratified by the Governor General on Sept. 12, 1871. The land ceded to the federal government amounted to most of Southern Manitoba, including the future communities of Winnipeg, Brandon, Portage la Prairie, Selkirk, Steinbach, Grand Beach, Emerson, Winkler and more.
With Treaty 1 out of the way, the government began working on Treaty 2. The aim of this new treaty was the same for the government as with Treaty 1, to open up the land to settlement after a peaceful transfer from the Indigenous. Once again Lt. Governor Archibald and Commissioner Simpson took part in the negotiations, along with representatives from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Things would move much quicker with the same terms as Treaty 1, and it was signed on Aug. 21, 1871, at Manitoba House, a fort on the southwest side of Lake Manitoba. The treaty was signed with the Anishinaabe, and its territory would cover 21 million acres of land including several current National and Provincial Parks, the south basin of Lake Winnipeg, the north basin of Lake Manitoba, and the current cities of Brandon and Dauphin, Manitoba. The territory mostly covers southwestern Manitoba, and a small portion of southeast Saskatchewan.
On Sept. 9, 1871, the Ottawa Citizen, with the headline “Indian Title Extinguished”, stated quote:
“The Governor and Commissioner have succeeded in making a treaty with the Indians west of the province, the effect of which is to extinguish the Indian title over a fine tract of country, three times as large as Manitoba.”
On July 25, Richard Ernest William Turner was born in Quebec City. He would go on to join the Canadian Army and serve in the Second Boer War and the First World War. During the Boer War, he commanded a small group of men who repelled a large force of Boers at close range. For his efforts, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. He would reach the rank of Brigadier General at the start of the war, and become a Lt. General by the end of the war.
On Sept. 8, Robert Samuel McLaughlin was born in Ontario. He would eventually start the McLaughlin Motor Car Company in 1907, which was one of the first major car manufacturers in Canada. This would eventually evolve into General Motors of Canada. His brother John would eventually found Canada Dry, which Robert would run from 1914 to 1923.
On Nov. 11, the last of the British army would leave Canada after centuries of occupying territory.
On Nov. 18, Enos Collins would pass away at the age of 97. He was the founder of the Halifax Banking Company, which would one day merge with the Canadian Bank of Commerce. A supporter of the Anti-Confederation Party, his estate was estimated to be worth $6 million, which would make it the largest personal fortune in Canada at that time.
British Columbia would hold its first election following its establishment as a province. The province had to choose 25 members for its Legislature through 12 riding so. Polling was done from October to December and conducted by a show of hands on nomination day. There were no organized political parties at the time. A total of 46 candidates picked up 3,804 votes and John Foster McCreight would become British Columbia’s first premier.
On Dec. 4, The Halifax School for the Blind would open with only four students. When the Halifax Explosion happened in 1917, the building would survive and it would see its number of students skyrocket due to the amount of people who were injured by broken glass in their eyes. The building would stand until 1983 when it was torn down.
On Dec. 13, Emily Carr was born. She would become a noted Canadian artist and writer who was greatly inspired by the Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest. She had first begun to paint the Indigenous in 1898 when she was 27, staying in Indigenous villages during a time she said had a lasting influence on her. She would adopt the Indigenous name of Klee Wyck, which she used as the title of one of her works of writing.
In 1910, she would travel to France to paint, then returned to Canada in 1912 and opened a studio but locals did not like her style of painting and it soon failed. She would then begin traveling to Indigenous villages again. She would write in her book Klee Wyck, quote:
“Cumshewa seems always to drip, always to be blurred with mist, its foliage always to hang wet-heavy … these strong young trees … grew up round the dilapidated old raven, sheltering him from the tearing winds now that he was old and rotting … the memory of Cumshewa is of a great lonesomeness smothered in a blur of rain”
It would not be until later in her life that she would gain recognition for her work. She would be invited to exhibit her work at the National Gallery in 1927 and she began to travel through the 1920s and 1930s to paint more in British Columbia. It was not until 1935 that she had her first solo art show though. After a heart attack in 1937, followed by another in 1939, she moved in with her sister. In 1940, she suffered a stroke and in 1942 another heart attack. She would suffer her last heart attack on March 2, 1945 when she passed away.
Today, she is considered a Canadian icon and one of our greatest painters, whose work captured a time of transformation in Canada and Indigenous cultures. Many schools and buildings are now named for her, and her work is displayed at galleries across North America.
On Dec. 14, Marc-Amable Girard would become the first Francophone premier of Manitoba after he replaced Alfred Boyd, who had resigned as premier only five days previous.
Several other important events would happen during this year including the founding of the National Meteorological Service, and the legalization of the use of the metric system by Parliament. The Ontario Schools Act would pass that would require all students between the age of seven and 12 to attend school.
This was also the year that Prime Minister John A. Macdonald legalized the use of the metric system in Canada. Despite this, yards, pounds and gallons were still used and would continue to be used for another century before Canada made the move to the metric system.
Following the Battle of Belly River in 1870, which was the last Indigenous battle in Canadian history, the Cree and Blackfoot made a formal peace thanks to the efforts of Chief Crowfoot.
The Homestead Act was passed by Parliament this year, which granted a settler 160 acres of land for only $10, but they were required to live on the land for five years. This would eventually be lowered to three years. It was through this system that 60 million acres were made available and people from across Europe began to settle in the Canadian Prairies.
Goodwin Smith immigrated to Canada this year from England where he would begin to edit the Canadian Monthly and become a noted literary figure in the country.