As Canada marched through the first part of its second decade, the country began to expand and face several challenges unlike anything it had seen before.
Let’s begin our look at Canada in 1873.
On Jan. 10, George Orton was born. He would go on to become the first Canadian to win a medal at the Olympic Games, when he won bronze in 400 metre hurdles in 1900, followed 45 minutes later by a gold in the 2500 metre steeplechase. He would go on to set a then-record of 17 national running titles in the United States, win the U.S. one-mile championship six times, and would set a mile record of 4 minutes 21 seconds that lasted for 42 years. In his career, he won 131 races, including 33 national and international championships. He would pass away in June of 1958.
Nine days later on Jan. 19 in Woodstock, Thomas Pattullo would be born. He would go on to become the premier of British Columbia, serving from 1933 to 1941.
Another Olympian was born this year for Canada when Etienne Desmarteau was born on Feb 4 in Boucherville. A police officer in 1904, he was denied leave to compete in the Olympics, so he quit his job and left anyways. He would go on to win the gold medal that year in weight throwing. When he returned, he was rehired immediately but would sadly pass away in 1905 from typhoid fever. He is contended as our first true Olympic champion because George Orton was competing for an American university when he won his medal in 1900.
On Feb. 26, Gedeon Ouimet became premier of Quebec. He would serve as the second premier of the province from 1873 to 1874 before he had to resign as party leader due to the Tanneries scandal, which had severe implications for the Quebec government. The scandal had seen the government exchange land worth over $200,000 for a farm west of Montreal worth less than $40,000. An organizer for the party had received $65,000 in the deal and several members of the government were implicated in the deal.
On April 1, Prince Edward Island had its first provincial election just prior to becoming part of Canada. James Pope would be elected and be the first provincial premier of the province after the island joined confederation.
Also on April 1, the SS Atlantic would be wrecked off Peggys Cove. The Atlantic was an ocean liner belonging to the White Star Line that ran between Liverpool and New York. On its 19th voyage, it hit rocks and sank off the coast of Nova Scotia. Of the 952 people aboard, including 835 passengers, 535 people would die, making it the deadliest civilian maritime disaster in the North Atlantic Ocean at that time. It would also be the worst disaster for the company until the loss of the Titanic in 1912. Every woman, and every child except for one 12-year-old boy, would die.
On April 2, the Pacific Scandal would erupt when 150 members of the Conservative government took bribes in an attempt to influence the bidding for a national rail contract. No one would have ever found out about the scandal, at least at the time, if not for the fact that Sir Hugh Allan wrote a lot of letters and kept all of them. While Allan was in England with his lawyer, future prime minister John Abbott, his private secretary, George Norris, and another man stole the letters that Allan had left with Abbott for safety.
Those letters, once leaked to the public, showed there was an agreement between Macdonald, Sir George-Etienne Cartier and Hector Louis Langevin that assured Allan of the railway contract in return for the campaign funds.
Norris would sell the letters to the Liberal Party for $5,000 and on April 2, 1873, the scandal erupted in the House of Commons when L.S. Huntingdon, the Liberal MP for Shefford, brought forward his charges.
Huntingdon would say in the House of Commons, quote:
“That the Americans feel aggrieved that they are not to be permitted to control the Canadian Pacific Railway is perhaps natural. That Sir Hugh Allen in his negotiations with them may have held out hopes which are now disappointed, is not at all improbable. But Parliament has surely something else to do than avenge the personal wrongs of these people.”
Soon after the scandal became known, Macdonald had a parliamentary committee organized to investigate the allegations of conflict of interest and corruption.
The creation of a parliamentary committee was not greeted with enthusiasm by some outlets. Le Nationale would write on May 29, 1873, quote:
“Whether Sir Hugh Allan subscribed towards election funds or not, we are not aware. Being a wealthy man and politically in sympathy with the government he certainly ought to have subscribed, just as Mrs. Brown and Holton and Huntington and Laflamme…and hosts of others, have subscribed money to aid in ousting the Administration and placing themselves of their friends on the Treasury benches. It does not require a Parliamentary Committee to prove that wealthy men of a party contribute to the funds necessary for carrying on a great electoral campaign.”
The committee would meet in July of 1873 and letters and telegrams that had been purchased by the Liberal Party soon began to appear in newspapers. One of the most incriminating telegrams was from Macdonald to John Abbott. It states, quote:
“I must have another ten thousand, will be the last time of calling, do not fail me, answer today.”
Another letter from Allan to the Americans stated that he would be made president of the CPR in exchange for monetary conditions.
Soon seeing that the writing was on the wall and the scandal was not going away, Macdonald would meet with Lord Dufferin in August, the Governor General of Canada, and ask that parliament be suspended. Lord Dufferin granted a 10-week prorogation but he stated to Macdonald, quote:
“Your personal connection with what has passed cannot but fatally affect your position as minister.”
In the House of Commons in November, Macdonald would state, quote:
“I have spoken of the prorogation. I believe that it was constitutional. I believe that it was wise and whether it was wise or unwise, it was sanctioned by this Parliament and I know that this Parliament cannot, without dishonor, reverse their vote and I believe and I know that this House accepted that proposition.”
By this point, the Pacific Scandal was the main news in the country, with entire sections of newspapers featuring in bold letters the newest developments when it came to news of the scandal.
On Oct. 23, the House of Commons would reconvene and several of the Conservative Members of Parliament left the party. Donald Smith, one of the most prominent MPs in the party, would become an independent Conservative. Smith would eventually be the president of the CPR and the man to drive in the last spike,
There was the general consensus that if the prime minister had of forced a confidence vote early enough, he would have been able to survive it but that prospect was quickly fading.
With his government weakened, Macdonald realized that with Prince Edward Island joining Confederation and their Members of Parliament going against the Conservatives, he could lose a vote against the government.
Unfortunately for Macdonald, he sank into gin and despair, and waited for whatever trick the Liberals had up their sleave. He would make a rallying speech on Nov. 3.
He would acknowledge that he promised the presidency to Hugh Allan, telling the House of Commons, quote:
“I made that promise but I wish the House to remember that at the time of that telegram, in which I stated that as we could not form a company before the election, we would form one afterwards out of the two and would do what we could to make Sir Hugh Allan president, at that time there had been not one single word said about money.”
He would continue, speaking of the stealing of the letters, quote:
“If we had spies, if we had thieves, if we had men who went to your desk, picked your lock and stole your notebooks, we would have much stronger evidence than honourable gentlemen think they have now. We are fighting an uneven battle. We are simply subscribing as gentlemen, while they were stealing as burglars.”
In closing, he would look to the time ahead, stating quote:
“I have fought the battle of Confederation, the battle of union, the battle of the Dominion of Canada. I throw myself upon this House. I throw myself upon this country. I throw myself upon posterity and I believe that I know that, notwithstanding the many failing in my life, I shall have the voice of this country and this House rallying around me and if I am mistaken in that, I can confidently appeal to a higher court, to the court of my own conscience and to the court of posterity.”
On Nov. 5, Sir John A. Macdonald resigned as prime minister. The Liberals would then be invited by Lord Dufferin to form government, and Alexander Mackenzie became Canada’s second prime minister. In January of 1874, the Liberal Party won 138 of 206 seats to capture a huge majority.
The first act of that new government was to introduce secret ballots at elections to improve the integrity of future elections.
The NWMP was created through Parliament on May 23, 1873 following a debate in the House of Commons. With a vote, the Mounted Police Act was passed with the purpose of having a force of mounted police to watch the frontier from Manitoba to the foot of the Rocky Mountains, with headquarters in Winnipeg. Based heavily on the Royal Irish Constabulary, the force and its purpose would change heavily due to the Cypress Hills Massacre, in which American whiskey traders killed about 30 Assiniboine believing they had stolen their horses, more on that in a second. The first commissioner of the new force was George French. He had been born in Ireland and educated at the Royal Military College, had come to Canada at the request of the Canadian government in 1871 to become the head of the School of Gunnery. The first officer appointed to the force was Inspector William Jarvis. He would join the force on Sept. 25, 1873.
In the spring of 1873, a small party of wolfers, led by Thomas Hardwick and John Evans, were coming back through the area from their winter hunt. Camping near the Teton River, their horses disappeared in the night. The next morning, as they found their horses gone, the wolfers believed they had been stolen by Indigenous. About 40 of the horses had disappeared, and its possible they had been taken by local Cree, for the wolfers there was little difference between any Indigenous, and they saw all Indigenous as the same group.
Believing that the Indigenous had taken the horses over the border into Canada, they decided to set out to get the horses back.
Walking on foot to Fort Benton in the Montana Territory, they were told by the authorities that they would not assist them, so Hardwick organized his own expedition to find the horses. A group of 13 men, including some Canadians, set out from the fort and traveled north. Eventually, they would reach the trading post of Abe Farwell, located in the Cypress Hills. Across the creek was the fort of Moses Solomon. The Assiniboine in the area, who had dealt with a harsh winter and were low on food, liked Farwell but did not trust Solomon, who they said had cheated them. There were reports they even fired at his post. The Assiniboine had come from the north, where one-third of their number had been wiped out by smallpox.
While at the trading post, the wolfers met George Hammond, a whiskey trader who was friends with Hardwick. He quickly joined the group in pursuit of the horses.
Farwell, for his part, told Evans and Hardwick that the local Assiniboine, led by a man called Little Soldier, had no horses with them. A quick search was conducted of the Assiniboine camp and the wolfers horses were not found. In the night, the wolfers and whiskey traders began to drink whiskey with some Metis traders who had recently arrived. Farwell remained sober as those around him drank, including Solomon.
In the evening, the horse of Hammond wandered off.
In the morning of June 1, Hammond said that Little Soldier and his men had stolen his horse and he began to travel to the camp of Little Soldier, telling the other wolfers to follow him, which they did. Solomon also joined in the march towards the Indigenous camp. According to one story of the massacre, Alexis Labombarde, one of the Metis in the area, found Hammond’s horse had only wandered away. He called towards the men as they rushed towards the Assiniboine camp, but it was too late.
What happened next is up to debate as there is no reliable testimony from the next few hours. What is believed to have happened is that Farwell tried to restrain Hammond to prevent any violence, which he knew was coming. He was unsuccessful in stopping the men from proceeding to the camp. Hammond then approached the tent of Little Soldier and asked him where his horse was. Little Soldier then said he had not stolen the horse, and that it was grazing on a hill nearby.
Little Soldier then offered two horses as hostages until Hammond’s horse could be found.
At this point, Hammond and his party saw the women and children leaving the camp, and the men stripping off their garments, which they interpreted as a sign of impending battle.
The wolfers quickly lined up at a riverbank 50 yards from the camp ready to fight. Farwell begged the wolfers not to start shooting but instead of listening, Hammond fired his rifle, followed by the rest of the wolfers who fired a volley of bullets into the camp. The Assiniboine fired back, but their weapons were inferior and the wolfers were protected by the river bank.
The Assiniboine managed to outflank the wolfers, forcing them to a high cutbank northwest of their position but this didn’t prevent the slaughter of the Indigenous.
By the end of the gunfight, Ed Legrace, a wolfer, had been killed, while many Assiniboine were dead. The number is not known officially, but it is believed to be at least 20 people and as many as 30. If 30 were killed, likely twice as many were wounded. Some oral histories say it was as many as 300 people killed. Legrace was buried in a wooden coffin that is still located somewhere at the site, while the Assiniboine were left on the ground, with their bones dotting the landscape for years. According to some reports, the camp was rifled through and then burned by the wolfers. Some of the stories also relate that Little Soldier was killed and his head was put on a pike, while various women were assaulted by the wolfers. I couldn’t confirm if either of those events happened, which doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, but they could have also become embellishments on the story amid anti-American anger following discovery of the massacre by those in eastern Canada later in the year.
Another story of the battle states that Farwell had said he would negotiate to get two horses from the camp of Little Soldier, which Hammond would get until his horse was found. While he was negotiating with the Assiniboine, Hammond and the other men took up a position close to the camp. As Farwell left, possibly to tell Hammond what had been agreed to, shots rang out from Hammond’s position. In this story, Hammond had attempted to grab two horses from the camp, but he was stopped by an armed warrior and Hammond returned to the other wolfers who had lined up ready to fight. This story also features the variation that Farwell, realizing what was about to happen, told the Assiniboine to scatter.
It would be some time before news of the massacre reached to Ottawa. It was first reported by Farwell to authorities in Montana, who then reported it to Washington. The Assiniboine had fled to a Metis camp nearby, and the Metis would relay the news of the massacre to Winnipeg. By August of 1873, news had reached Ottawa from both Winnipeg and Washington. At first, it was believed that the massacre had occurred south of the Canadian border, but soon enough it was found that it was indeed in Canada and the matter was referred to Ottawa.
The Helena Herald ran a headline stating quote:
“Whites on the war path, forty lodges wiped out by 16 Kit Carsons.”
As the news reached the rest of Canada, anti-Americanism reached a fever pitch in the new country. The newspapers described the Americans as gangsters and scums. The shock that Americans would commit the crime on Canadian soil angered many, even though Canadians had taken part in the massacre as well. Canadians in Eastern Canada were led to believe that Americans would continually come into Canada to murder people.
The newspaper reports tended to increase the scale of the slaughter, with the Manitoba Free Press reporting more than 40 were murdered in the massacre.
On June 1, Joseph Howe, a former premier of Nova Scotia and a person who initially opposed Nova Scotia’s entry into Canada but would be instrumental in bringing Manitoba in, passed away. He had been chosen to be the Lt. Governor of Nova Scotia but died only three weeks into his new posting.
In June of 1873, the commissioners were ready to meet with the Saulteaux again to talk about Treaty 3 but this time there was an extra urgency for the government as the Canadian Pacific Railway construction was beginning from Lake Superior to Red River. If the commissioners were unsuccessful, it would have jeopardized the building of the railroad at the time. As such, the commissioners were given approval to offer $14 per person for ceding the territory, along with $6 to $10 in annual payments. The new Lt. Governor of Manitoba, Alexander Morris, was told to attend the meeting as well. Before leaving, the commissioners were told they could offer a maximum of $15 per head if it came to it.
There would be delays in meeting until September 1873, but the Saulteaux then said they wanted more time to discuss the treaty terms, so it was not until Oct. 1 that treaty talks resumed.
Lt. Governor Morris would tell the Saulteaux, quote:
“I give you ten dollars per head of the population and for every other year five dollars a head. To the chief men, not exceeding two to each band, we will give $20 a year forever. I will give each of you this year a present of goods and provisions to take you home and I am sure you will be satisfied.”
The Saulteaux discussed the offer for one day and came back with a counteroffer. They wanted $50 a year for each chief, $20 for each council member and $10 for each band member. They also wanted a one-time $15 payment for each band member, along with farming tools and equipment, household items, farm animals, clothing and fishing.
Chief Ma-We-Do-Pe-Nais stated that all of this was for the use of the land, not its ownership. He would say quote:
“All this is our property where you have come.”
Chief Ma-We-Do-Pe Nais was aware of the two previous treaties, and he did not want to lose out in negotiating with the government. He would state quote:
“I lay before you, our opinions. Our hands are poor, but our heads are rich, and it is riches that we ask so that we may be able to support our families as long as the sun rises, and the water runs.”
Negotiations would stall until several other chiefs stated they would sign the treaty, breaking away from the other chiefs. Knowing there was dissention between the chiefs, Morris used this and encouraged the Saulteaux to get together and consider the offer. He then said if they didn’t, he would go and negotiate with each individual band.
Eventually, the Saulteaux were persuaded to accept the offer, likely thanks to the influence of four Metis who joined them, including James McKay, who was a Member of Parliament. The Commissioners, at the same time, agreed to increase the one-time cash payment from $10 to $12 per family of five. They also decided to provide funding for farming tools.
On Oct. 3, negotiations began again and the Saulteaux found the new terms favorable, but they asked for more goods, which Lt. Governor Morris agreed to. They also obtained exclusion from conscription and permission to hunt and fish, and to allow their relatives who lived in the United States to relocate to Canada within two years. That day, the treaty was signed. The land covered by Treaty 3 was primarily west of Thunder Bay, just past the Manitoba border. The largest current community in that area is Kenora, Ontario.
On July 1, Prince Edward Island joined Canada, becoming the latest Atlantic province to join since Confederation brought in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It would be another 50 years before Newfoundland joined.
Two years after British Columbia joined Canada, the deadline for construction to begin was fast approaching on July 20, 1873, two years to the day that British Columbia joined Canada. Two days prior to this deadline, a symbolic commencement of construction was conducted. Sir John A. Macdonald would also have a survey party run a location line for a portion of the proposed Vancouver Island Railway. He also chose Esquimalt as the terminus for the railroad. At this point, the route for the railroad had not even been decided upon and would not be for another five years.
At this point, having minimally fulfilled its first promise regarding construction, the government went back to inaction regarding the railroad. The provincial and federal governments began to argue back and forth over the question of relaxing the ten-year timeline, but this only created more deadlock.
On Aug. 25, a cyclone hit Cape Breton Island, killing 500 people. On Sept. 1, L.C. Owen became the second premier of Prince Edward Island and he would serve for three years until 1876.
On Sept. 23, the Canadian Labour Union is founded. This was the first attempt at a national central organization in Canada and would consist of 46 unions. Unfortunately, tough economic times would result in few unions existing by the end of the decade and the organization would fade in away in 1878.
On Oct. 4, The Argonauts Football Club, which would one day become the Toronto Argonauts, are established. The football team would appear in the Grey Cup final 23 times and win a record 17 Grey Cups so far.
On Oct. 20, Nellie McClung was born in Chatsworth, Ontario to John and Letitia Mooney and following the failure of the family’s farm they moved to Manitoba. McClung would receive six years of education but would not learn to read until she was nine. As an adult, she would campaign for the Liberal Party in 1915 and 1916 for the right for women to vote. She would organize the Women’s Political Equality League and in 1914 it would hold a mock Parliament that was well-publicized and would become a common tactic of suffragists elsewhere in Canada. In this mock Parliament, suffragists would play the roles of politicians with McClung mocking Sir Rodmond Roblin, the premier of Manitoba at the time, in her debate of whether or not men should be given the vote.
McClung, during the 1914 election campaign, spoke 60 times in two months, sometimes three times a day, and she became a household name in the province with some calling her Manitoba’s prospective woman premier.
Maclean’s Magazine would write quote:
“McClung has the courage of her convictions, you know the moment she mounts the platform and begins speaking. She speaks to you. This is her charm. Time, place, audience and conventionalities all fade away, and there is no-one but you and Nellie McClung speaking of things you should have known long ago, but did not.”
McClung would tell the members of the Manitoba Legislature quote:
“Have we not the brains to think? Hands to work? Hearts to feel? And lives to live? Do we not bear our part in citizenship? Do we not help build the empire? Give us our due!”
Premier Roblin would respond that most women don’t want the vote, stating quote:
“Now you forget all this nonsense about women voting. You’re a fine, smart, young woman. I can see that. And take it from me, nice women don’t want the vote.”
Thanks to events such as the mock Parliament, the 1915 Manitoba election would become a turning point in the movement in the west. The Manitoba Liberal Party promised to give women the right to vote, which gained it the support of suffragists throughout the province.
That election would see the end of Conservative rule that had lasted since 1900, with the Liberals taking 40 of 47 seats.
In December 1915, the Political Equality League of Manitoba delivered 40,000 signatures in support of women gaining the right to vote.
Premier Norris would assure the women who gave him the petition that a bill was being prepared to give women the vote in Manitoba and that he hoped to have it before the coming session of the Legislature.
The Liberal Party then made good on its promise by granting women the right to vote and hold provincial office on Jan. 28, 1916. When the final vote was done on the new law, several seats in the legislature were set aside for women to sit at. As the bill was read for a third time, the women rose in the Legislature and sang O’ Canada and then cheered the members of the Legislature. The MPs then responded with a cheer of their own for the women.
On Jan. 28, 1916, Manitoba became the first province to give women the right to vote. By this point through, McClung had moved to Edmonton. In 1921, she was elected to the Alberta Legislative Assembly as a Liberal, serving until 1926.
In 1927, along with the other members of the Famous Five, Nellie McClung argued the Persons Case, which would be decided in 1929 with the ruling by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that legally recognized women as persons who could therefore sit in the Senate of Canada.
McClung would continue to be a popular and accomplished author through her life and would live until 1951, passing away at the age of 77. In 1954, she would be named a Person of National Historic Significance by the government. Her home in Calgary, that she lived in from 1923 to the mid-1930s, was designated as a heritage site, as were two other homes that she lived in.
On Nov. 8, Winnipeg is officially incorporated into a city. It had started out as a fur trading fort, and would eventually become one of the most important cities in Canada’s west.
On Dec. 10, 1873, Gabriel Dumont called a meeting to form a new government for the Metis settlement at St. Laurent, in what is now Saskatchewan, which was along the South Saskatchewan River. Chosen as the president of the council, Dumont and the government installed a Metis system of landholding and created a legal code. A constitution was even created by Dumont for the new government. The council also stated its loyalty to Canada and promised to disband as soon as a territorial government was created.
The year the council was created, Dumont had built his first log cabin in the area and began to state that his profession was that of a farmer.
Almost as soon as the council was created, the Canadian government began to state that it was the sole governing authority for the region. Dumont would respond that he was simply forming a local government, not trying to form an independent nation. For the most part, the government accepted this. In fact, the British Secretary for the Colonies, upon learning about the Council of St. Laurent, stated quote:
“It would be difficult to take strong exception to the acts of a community which appears to have honesty endeavored to maintain order by the best means in its power.”
This would be the beginning of a path that would lead the North West Resistance 12 years later.
It was also this year that Poundmaker was adopted by Crowfoot, the chief of the Blackfoot, which greatly increased his influence. Crowfoot had adopted Poundmaker after Crowfoot lost his son in a battle between the Cree and Blackfoot, as a means of replacing his fallen son. Crowfoot would give Poundmaker the name Wolf Thin Legs.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Macleans, CBC, Wikipedia,