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When we look back through the years to the year 1875, we see several amazing anniversaries taking place in Canada. As with so many other years I have covered so far, 1875 has many notable events, births and deaths.
On January 14, the Halifax Herald begins publishing. Officially founded the previous year, the newspaper operates to this day, although it has seen its circulation decline to 91,490, a drop of 15 per cent, between 2009 and 2015.
On Jan. 14, the Ontario election occurred. Over the previous four years, Edward Blake left provincial politics and moved on to the federal level. Replacing him in 1872 was Oliver Mowat, who would have an impact on Ontario for the rest of the century. Mowat had previously been a judge and many wondered about a judge resigning to lead a party. As it turned out, very well as Mowat would become the longest serving premier in the history of the province by a margin of 10 years.
The Conservatives were led by Matthew Crooks Cameron, who had been serving in the Legislative Assembly since 1867. He had been opposed to Confederation, instead wanting a Legislative Union. He would run in the federal election that same year, but was not elected. He would serve in the cabinet of Premier Macdonald after the first election and after Macdonald died, Cameron became the new leader of the party.
As usual, there were issues with the election and campaign. One man impersonated another voter and was released without charges. The Montreal Star reported quote:
“The man who attempted to personate a voter at the late election was given leg bail and is now probably enjoying the proceeds of his attempted fraud and having a laugh at the so called strict election law.”
A reward of $50 was put forward for the arrest and conviction of anyone who took part in bribery or intimidation during the election.
Various newspapers would also endorse Mowat, including in Brantford. The newspaper stated quote:
“The record of four years of Reform Government is before the country, and upon that record Mr. Mowat and his colleagues have come back to the people, to ask for an endorsement of their conduct and policy, a renewal of confidence in the administration.”
In Mowat’s first election, on Jan. 18, 1875, he would lead the Liberals to a majority government, finishing with 50 seats, an increase of seven. Cameron would see his party lose four seats, finishing with 34.
The Brantford newspaper would write quote:
“Mr. Mowat and his colleagues have received at the hands of the people a following which will enable them to carry on the work of the country with success, and not be hampered by a close majority in the business of legislation.”
With this election win, Mowat would spend the next 24 years as premier of Ontario, becoming one of the most influential premiers in Canadian history. He was also involved in the Great Coalition government of 1864, which would lead to the formation of Canada, making him a Father of Confederation.
At the time, Mowat was aided by the fact that the previous government had created a financial surplus, which Mowat would be able to use. His government would quickly get to work promoting railroad construction, investing in land drainage and building colonization roads to the frontiers of the province to encourage settlement.
By February 1875, Sir John A. Macdonald had decided to take a loose rein to the party, and he fell into drinking a bit too hard after his election loss the previous year. In February, while his wife Agnes was visiting Niagara, he had been drinking brandy and by 3 p.m. was drunk. He was rushed into the House of Commons to give a scheduled speech, and spoke with enough clarity but during the speech of Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie, Macdonald interrupted him constantly. His party tried to get him out of the House of Commons but he refused to leave and his temper would get the best of him, as often happened when he drank. Agnes, who was able to keep him under control, was called back and Macdonald decided to turn over a new leaf, at least for a time. On March 2, he would join the Church of England.
On April 5, the Supreme Court of Canada was established, providing a vital judicial branch to the government. The creation of a central court of appeal was part of the campaign platform of the Liberals and Alexander Mackenzie in the previous election. It would be mentioned again in the throne speech after the election. The Supreme Court Bill would be introduced to parliament in February 1875, and passed with the support of both parties. It would not be the court of last resort in Canada until 1949 though. Prior to that year, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England was the highest court.
For the first time, on April 8, the Northwest Territories were given a lieutenant-governor that was separate from that of Manitoba. Alexander Morris would take on the role, serving in the position until 1876.
Philip Carteret Hill replaced William Annand as premier of Nova Scotia on May 11. He had served as the provincial secretary during that time and with feelings against Confederation still strong in the province, Hill was able to succeed Annand as premier. He would only serve for three years until 1878.
On June 1, one of the most important events in the early history of Canada occurred. The construction on the Canadian Pacific Railway, which would connect the country, began. I covered the entire construction of this railroad on my podcast Coast to Coast, so check it out.
On June 12, Sam De Grasse was born in New Brunswick. While trained as a dentist, he would turn to acting in 1912 and appear in several movies over the course of the next two decades. Some of the notable movies included Birth of a Nation, King of Kings, Robin Hood and The Man Who Laughs. He would pass away at the age of 78 in 1953.
On June 15, Herman Smith-Johannsen was born in Norway and would go on to become a notable pioneer in the sport of skiing, through the building of ski jumps and trails in Ontario. In 1972, he would be appointed as a member of the Order of Canada for helping to push skiing as a recreational sport for people to enjoy in Canada. He would die at the age of 111 on Jan. 5, 1987, making him for a brief time, in the last 22 days of his life, the oldest man on the planet.
On June 22, Sir William Edmond Logan would pass away in Wales. Born in 1798 in Montreal, he would go on to found and become the first director of the Geological Survey of Canada, a post he would hold from 1842 to 1869. He would also establish the Geological Museum in 1856, which would be the forerunner of both the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Canadian Museum of History. In 1869, he published a 983-page book called The Geology of Canada that would gain critical acclaim.
On June 30, the Land Purchase Act came into effect in Prince Edward Island. This Act was meant to settle the land question that had come up as PEI joined Confederation. At the time, much of the land in the new province was owned by absentee landlords. The new act would force landlords to sell their estates to the provincial government, who would then sell the land at a lower price to farmers on the island. This legislation was one of the most important in the history of the province. The first Chief Justice of Canada, William Buell Richards, would state that it should be, “viewed not as ordinary legislation, but as the settling of an important question of great moment to the community, and in the principle like the abolition of seigniorial tenure in Lower Canada and the settling of the land question in Ireland. The great object of the statute seems to have been to convert the leasehold tenures into freehold estates, a matter of great importance, and one which, if not settled, would be likely to affect the peace as well as well as the prosperity of the province.” To this day, many principles of this act are still in place in PEI. Non-residents are not allowed to purchase land of more than 4.9 acres without approval of the legislature cabinet.
One year after the NWMP arrived in the Canadian West, Fort Walsh was built in the Cypress Hills near where the Cypress Hills Massacre occurred in 1873.
It was named for its builder, Inspector James Morrow Walsh and the purpose of the fort was to stop the illegal whiskey trade and protect the border from the Americans who were often moving into the area to hunt and trade.
The Fort would serve as an important place for the next decade, with traders, settlers and Indigenous often visiting it.
Fort Walsh would actually serve as the headquarters for the North West Mounted Police from 1878 to 1882 but in 1883 it was officially closed and dismantled.
The original site of the fort was made a National Historic Site of Canada in 1924, and in the 1940s the entire fort was reconstructed and used to breed horses for the RCMP Musical Ride.
Today, the fort still stands and the buildings, townsite and cemeteries can all be toured. On Sept. 28, 2004, the fort was made part of the Cypress Hills dark-sky preserve.
On July 20, the British Columbia election was held with the issues of the unbuilt railway and Chinese immigration being the biggest topics. At the time, there still no official parties and the titles of government, opposition and independent were used instead of parties. A total of 25 members were elected from 12 ridings with some ridings having multiple candidates going to the government.
Also in July 1875, Fort Calgary was established by the North West Mounted Police. The fort was built at the junction of the Bow and Elbow Rivers and was completed in December of the same year. In all, it cost $2,476 to build, paid for by the federal government. Originally, it was called Fort Brisebois after the commander of F Troop of the North West Mounted Police. However, it was felt by his superiors that he had overstepped himself by naming the fort after himself. The fort name was then changed to Fort Calgary in honour of Calgary House in Scotland by James Macleod. Things did not begin well for the fort. During the winter of 1875 and into 1876, F Troop mutinied due to the poor leadership of Brisebois and a delegation was sent to Fort Macleod to air their complaints. Brisebois was relieved of duty and replaced with Lawrence Herchmer.
Of course, Fort Calgary would grow and eventually become Calgary, the largest city in Alberta and one of the most important cities in Canada.
Born on Aug. 2, 1875, Albert Hickman was a prominent businessman in Newfoundland who would serve as the Prime Minister of Newfoundland for a total of 33 days, from May 10, 1924 to June 9, 1924, in a caretaker position after the collapse of the government. Hickman was asked by the governor to form a government and Hickman invited members of the Liberal Reform Party, and members of other parties, into his government in what he called the Liberal-Progressive Party. His new party would lose the 1924 election since supporters of Warren had created their own party, the Liberal-Conservative Progressive Party. Hickman would serve as leader of the opposition until 1928 when he retired from politics. He would pass away on Feb. 9, 1943.
On Aug. 21, George Coles would pass away in Prince Edward Island at the age of 64. He was the first premier of Prince Edward Island, and a father of Canadian Confederation. He served as the colony’s first premier, prior to it joining Canada, from 1851 to 1854 and 1855 to 1859, followed by 1867 to 1869.
On Aug. 26, John Buchan, the first Baron of Tweedsmuir and future Governor General is born in Scotland. In 1910, Buchan wrote Prester John, the first of his adventure novels. Set in South Africa, it became a hit but Buchan was unable to enjoy the success as he was dealing with terrible ulcers at the time. In 1915, he published his most famous book, The Thirty-Nine Steps, which was a spy-thriller set just before the outbreak of the war. With this book, many credit Buchan with being a creator of the espionage novel genre. His novels often had the spy chase at the centre of the narrative, but due to other authors like Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and Ian Fleming, his contributions to the genre have often been overlooked. The success of this book would lead to four more books in the series, all following the hero Richard Hannay.
In 1911, he would run for Parliament and was progressive for his time, supporting women’s suffrage, national insurance, limiting the powers of the House of Lords and opposing the class hatred he saw being fostered by Liberal politicians.
When the First World War broke out, Buchan began to write for the British War Propaganda Bureau, while also working as a correspondent for The Times. He got the position after he was declared medically unfit for active service and was confined to a bed for the first months of the war.
He was made the First Baron Tweedsmuir by King George V on June 1, 1935. He was selected for the title due to his association with the village of the same name at the head of the River Tweed. As well, Lord Buchan was already taken at the time.
The reason he was elevated to peerage was because he was going to be the new Governor General of Canada, on the recommendation of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett. Opposition leader William Lyon Mackenzie King recommended that Buchan serve as viceroy as a commoner but the King would not allow this.
King would write in his diary about the appointment of Buchan as Governor General that he was inwardly delighted over the appointment. He would add quote:
“I gave word to the press that I was greatly pleased and that I regarded the appointment as an excellent one.”
On Nov 4, 1935, Buchan was sworn in as the new Governor General of Canada. When Buchan arrived in Canada, he found R.B. Bennett was out as prime minister and King was now back in the top post.
At his ceremony, Buchan would say quote:
“You have welcomed not only His Majesty’s representative, but my wife and myself, in words so kind that I find it hard to make an adequate reply. We are looking forward to five years of duties, and also of happiness. For we have come to a land which we already know and love, a land in which we have many friends them, among whom, Mr. Prime Minister, one of the oldest and most valued is yourself.”
By 1939, Buchan had travelled about 112,000 kilometres around the country. During one trip in 1937, he would fly all the way to the edge of the Arctic Ocean, a six hour flight from Fort Smith that was part of a longer 7,000 kilometre expedition by land, sea and air that began in Edmonton.
As governor general, Buchan encouraged a Canadian national identity, which angered some imperialists. In Montreal in 1937, he said quote:
“A Canadian’s first loyalty is not to the British Commonwealth of Nations but to Canada and Canada’s King.”
The Montreal Gazette would call him disloyal over the comment.
By August 1939, with his time as Governor General coming to an end, Buchan was popular enough that Prime Minister King began looking at extending Buchan’s time in Canada. At that point, no Governor General had served for more than seven years, which was what Earl Grey served from 1904 to 1911. At the time, many knew that Buchan’s health was not perfect, but that did not seem to bother King.
Unfortunately, less than a year later, Buchan’s time as Governor General would come to an end for a tragic reason.
In the morning of Feb. 6, 1940, while in his bathroom, Buchan hit his head, suffering a severe head injury.
On Feb. 11, 1940, Buchan, the Governor General of Canada, was dead. Upon his death at 7:13 p.m. until 10:30 p.m., when the Chief Justice was sworn in as the acting Governor General, Canada was without any representative of the British Crown.
King would write in his diary quote:
“So far as anyone within Canada was concerned, I was practically alone in the government of our country at least for those hours.”
King would announce to the country the news over the radio stating quote:
“In the passing of His Excellency, the people of Canada have lost one of the greatest and most revered of their Governors General, and a friend who, from the day of his arrival in this country, dedicated his life to their service.”
On December 5, Arthur Currie was born in Napperton, Ontario. Enlisting with the Canadian Army, he would earn the nickname of Guts and Gaiters and rise to the rank of a senior officer during the First World War. Starting as a simple pre-war militia gunner in 1897, he rose to become the first Canadian commander of the Canadian Corps. He is today considered to be one of the most capable commanders of the Western Front during the war, and one of the finest commanders in Canadian military history. He would eventually reach the rank of general and be knighted prior to his death in Montreal in 1933.
On Dec. 14, Marie-Anne Gaboury would pass away at the age of 95. Born in Quebec in 1780, Gaboury would marry and travel west with her new husband to the area that would one day be Winnipeg. She continued to travel with her husband through the years, reaching nearly to modern-day Edmonton. She would become the first woman of European descent to travel and settle in Western Canada. She would also be the grandmother of Louis Riel and would live long enough to see her grandson help to create a province in the area that she called home for so many years.
Interestingly since his grandmother died that same year, also during 1875, Louis Riel was granted amnesty on the condition that he stay banished from Canada for a period of five years. Jennifer Trout would become the first woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada. Emily Stowe had been the first woman to practice medicine in Canada since 1867, but she did so without an official licence.
Grace Lockhart would a Bachelor of Arts degree, the first ever awarded to a woman, from Mount Allison University. While she would be the first to earn the degree, she would spend most of her life as the wife of a Methodist minister but her academic achievement would help push more women into higher education.
The Hospital for Sick Children was founded this year. Located in Toronto, the current Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning is believed to be the largest paediatric research tower in the world. The hospital had been founded based on the example of the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. At the time of its opening, the hospital was an 11-room house that was rented for $320 a year by a women’s bible study group led by Elizabeth McMaster. Six iron cots were set up and it was declared open as a hospital for the admission and treatment of all sick children. The first child to attend the hospital was named Maggie, who came in on April 3, 1875 due to scalding. Within its first year, the hospital helped 44 children. In 1876, the hospital would move to a larger location.
Work on the signing of Treaty 5 also began this year, known as the Winnipeg Treaty. The treaty would be signed over time from 1875 to 1876 between the federal government and the Ojibwa people and Swampy Cree. The treaty land covers most of central and northern Manitoba, with some portions of Saskatchewan and Ontario.
Lt. Governor Morris and James McKay, an executive council of Manitoba member, began to negotiate with bands. They offered a one-time payment of $5 upon signing the treaty, less than half what the Indigenous people received for Treaty 3 and 4. The Ojibwe and Cree would only receive 160 acres of land per family, one quarter what previous treaties provided. In the first Treaty 5 trip, Morris and McKay met with the Indigenous on Sept. 20 and secured acceptance of the treaty terms with little debate. The next day, McKay and Morris went to Norway house and on Sept. 24, met two groups of Cree. The treaty was then signed with them. McKay and Morris then went to the Grand Rapids on the Saskatchewan River and met with more Indigenous peoples on Sept. 27. The Indigenous people there asked for $500 to cover the cost of moving and rebuilding on a reserve. This request was approved.
During negotiations and signings during the year, 258,998 square kilometres of land was ceded to the government, which included the land west of Cumberland House, and included the country east and west of Lake Winnipeg and the Nelson River.
Construction on the Merriton Tunnel under the Welland Canal would begin this year, conducted by the Grand Trunk Railway. Construction would complete in 1876, and it would officially open four years later though. The tunnel ran for 713 feet, and was made by men using only picks and shovels, with horses taking the dirt out in wagons. The construction of the tunnel was very dangerous. In 1875, a 14-year-old boy was killed when he was crushed by a large rock. In all, 107 men died in the construction of the tunnel, and the canal in that area.
The tunnel would be used until 1915 when it closed. It would eventually be sealed completely.