The beginnings of the Dominion of Canada

The beginnings of the Dominion of Canada


The original inhabitants of the Dominion - the Iroquois /cynthia

The original inhabitants of the Dominion – the Iroquois /cynthia

Canada is the second largest country in the world, even if large masses of it are covered in ice. We all know that the cultivated or potentially arable parts of this vast territory were fought over following discovery by the French and the English and other races from Europe who had braved the Atlantic Ocean to start a new life in the New World. But first the world needed to know about the legal and political geography of Canada.

Demands were made before 1791 for a legislative assembly, and an Act was passed in that year dividing the province of Quebec into two parts along the Ottawa river. West of this was Ontario, then called ‘Upper Canada’, mostly British, though many settlers in the Thirteen Colonies on the eastern seaboard loyal to Britain had moved there before, during and after the American War of Independence. There were also the original inhabitants – the Iroquois. East of the river was ‘Lower Canada’. Quebec was the centre of the now less powerful French Empire in Canada, where French was universally spoken and the Catholic Church was powerful. Despite this both were governed by a British-appointed Governor. A legislative parliament was established in each province, but power had to be shared with an appointed, not elected Upper House. In both provinces land had to be set aside for the Protestant clergy – an idea which managed greatly to anger the French Canadians.

Then, after an uneasy forty-nine years, came the Act of Union in 1840 which united ‘Upper’ (West) and ‘Lower’ (East) Canada into one single province with one legislature, both parts having equal representation. It is clear that this was done to prevent French Canadians who one assumes were the majority from dominating the assembly. Immigration meanwhile was gradually making English-speaking Canadians into a majority, with the result that they developed a sense of grievance!

At last in 1867 the Parliament in London passed the British North America Act (funnily not mentioning the word Canada at all) and thus the Dominion of Canada was formed in the middle of an economic depression. Repeal of the Corn Laws (1846) in Britain had ended Canada’s protected market, even as the new Erie Canal siphoned off trade to New York State which had previously gone through Montreal. But in addition there was a population problem: the English-speaking people of Canada West (originally ‘Upper Canada’ had significantly outgrown the French speakers of Canada East (originally Lower Canada). The French resisted the English-speakers’ desire to enjoy a larger say in political affairs.

There were even ‘reformers’ requesting the United States to ‘annexe’ Canada, but this was resisted as well by the French Canadians because they thought that Canada – if American – would allow them even less say! It was an expedition to London made by Macdonald the Conservative leader, with the leader of the Reformers George Brown, and the French Canadians’ leader Cartier which finally persuaded the British Parliament to pass the British North America Act. It would unite the provinces of Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec) with the colonies of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia ‘to form one dominion under the name of Canada. This Act formed the basis of the Canadian Constitution until 1982. Before that the Pacific coast province of British Columbia joined the Confederation (in 1871) and Prince Edward Island in 1873, Newfoundland however did not become a member until 1949.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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