Canada History

 

Prisma Cruises
Canada History   timelines 
AskAHistorian    blog 
 
 
Membership

 

         
 

Canadahistory.com

 

Canadahistory.com

         

Arts | Colonial | Empire | Explorers | Federal | Frontier | International  | Leaders | National | Native | News | Regional | United States | War

Abbott | Bennett | Borden | Bowell | Campbell | Chretien | Clark | Diefenbaker | King | Laurier | Macdonald | Mackenzie | Meighen | Mulroney | Pearson | St Laurent | Thompson | Trudeau | Tupper | Turner

William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950)
Canada's Diamond Jubilee

Canada at the Celebration
of the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation
Parliament Hill, Ottawa, 1st July, 1927

Four hundred years ago, Canada, from ocean to ocean, was a primeval forest, unknown to the civilized world. Its verdant grandeur lay mirrored in mighty rivers and inland seas. The boundless plains. concealed within its depths. rivalled in their sweep vast stretches of mountain range, unsurpassed in immensity, and unparalleled in antiquity. Through these ancient solitudes the Indian roamed, the lord of the forest, the monarch of all he surveyed.

In the perspective of history it would seem that our country has been well and truly named. Canada, when discovered, was the home of the Indian. Legend has it that the name, Canada, is derived from the Indian word, Kanata, which means a group of huts. If we are to go back to the beginning of things, where shall we find a truer picture of the primitive than that afforded by a group of huts?

The Confederation of Canada, the Diamond Jubilee of which we celebrate to-day, was the culmination of a two-fold undertaking, the task of settlement and of government which began more than three centuries ago.

Settlement and government of themselves are not sufficient to make a country. They must be continuous and combined. When, at the close of the fifteenth century, John Cabot, under royal charter from Henry VII, planted on the Canadian mainland the banner of England and the first cross, and when, early in the following century, Jacques Cartier erected a great cross, on which were the fleur de lis, and the words "Long live the King of France," these intrepid mariners bequeathed their names to our country as its discoverers. It can hardly be said that they were its founders. They established no authority, they set up no colony. Their presence at the dawn of our history was, however, strangely prophetic of the two great races that were to develop settlement and government in our midst. Whilst a settlement was begun at Port Royal - by Champlain and De Monts in 1605. It was not until Champlain in 1608 erected a small fort at Quebec, felled trees and planted wheat, that order and permanency. the essentials of nationhood, had their beginnings. That day, our Canada, daughter of the woods and mother of the fields, was born. From a group of huts to a group of provinces, such was the development of Canada in the period that intervened between the founding of our country and Confederation. It was a period of combined settlement and government, continuous over some two hundred and sixty years. In settlement and government alike there were, during this period, mighty developments and transitions.

At the end of a century and a half, Canada passed from a French to a British possession. Quebec, grown from a tiny fort to a rock fortress, reappears, at the moment of transition, as the corner-stone of the new national edifice. The monument erected at Quebec to the honour and memory of Montcalm and Wolfe is a fitting symbol of the spirit which has made our nation; a spirit which, in preserving the heroisms, has buried the animosities of the races which have shaped its destiny. Throughout the seventeenth century, colonization along the St. Lawrence and in the interior was largely French. In 1621, James I granted a charter to Sir William Alexander in the lands now included in the Maritime Provinces. This was the beginning of Scottish settlement in Canada. In the first half of the eighteenth century. the French colonists continued to out-number the English, -but in the second half, especially after the conquest. it was the other way. In the nineteenth century, English colonization increased very considerably and settlers began to come in numbers from other lands. The most significant contribution was the influx, following the war of American Independence, of United Empire Loyalists into Nova Scotia and the western portion of what was then the province of Quebec, as defined in 1774. As a result of this influx of new settlers, the Province of New Brunswick was established in 1784. What formerly had been one colony, largely French, was, by the Constitutional Act of 1791, divided into two provinces, Upper Canada and Lower Canada, corresponding, though in lesser outline, to the Ontario and Quebec of to-day. By the Atlantic, in addition to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, was the colony of Prince Edward Island. British Columbia, as yet under another name, was a lone colony by the Pacific.

In matters of government, during this period, control passed by degrees from autocratic governors and nominated councils to the elected representatives of the people under a system of responsible self- government. To Nova Scotia belongs the distinction of having led the way in representative institutions. The first Legislative Assembly met at Halifax in 1758. In Nova Scotia and the other Maritime Provinces, representative government of a restricted character was succeeded in the course of a normal evolution by responsible self-government. In the Provinces of Lower and Upper Canada, however, it was not without open revolt that responsible self-government was finally established. The rebellion of 1897- 98 was, in reality, not an uprising against British authority in Canada; it was an effort to bring the governments of Upper and Lower Canada more into accord with principles already recognized and established under British parliamentary practice. It was a rebellion claiming British rights for British citizens; a rebellion which failed on the field of battle, but which won on the field of principle. As settlement in the provinces increased, and representative institutions in government paved the way for responsible self-government, the desire for wider political union manifested itself. In 1841 Upper and Lower Canada were united. In 1864 the Maritime Provinces held a Conference at Charlottetown to consider the possible union of the British colonies by the Atlantic. It was to this Conference that, in September of that year, delegates from Upper and Lower Canada repaired in order to suggest a larger idea, the idea of a confederation of all the provinces of British North America. They began to talk about a Nation to which all would belong. A Nation that one day might extend from sea to sea. The idea made its appeal. A conference to bring this project into being was decided upon. Charlottetown thus became "the cradle of Confederation." Once more, however, Quebec was the historic centre. There, in the October following, the official conference was held. At the Quebec Conference assembled thirty-three delegates, men of diverse temperaments, racial origins, religious and political faiths, but all animated by one supreme purpose. They adopted seventy-two important resolutions which became the basis of the British North America Act, subsequently passed at Westminster.

Under its provisions. the Dominion of Canada came into being on July 1, 1867. Thus, in the place of its beginnings, was completed the first epoch in the task of settlement and government, begun two hundred and sixty years before.

History has given to the leaders who assembled at Quebec the title of "Fathers of Confederation." It has been well said they were "the first flowering of responsible Government, fitted by experience for their great task and responsibility."

With Confederation on July 1, 1867, the centre of our national stage shifts from Quebec to Ottawa. Here sixty years ago, on November 6. the first parliament of the Dominion of Canada met on the hill where we to-day are assembled.

The Canada of 1867 was, however, vastly different from the Canada of 1927. the Canada of to-day. In the light of what many of us have lived to witness, it would appear that, with Confederation, the work of settlement and government had just begun. The Great West had still to be acquired, most of it still to be explored. The record of its development is a history in itself. British Columbia, at the time of Confederation, remained in splendid isolation, a British colony by the Pacific. Prince Edward Island, despite its historic setting, continued, by the Atlantic, to enjoy a like isolation. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, save as Territories, were as yet unknown; as Provinces they were as yet unborn. The transformation of colonies into autonomous provinces, and of combined provinces into a self- governing nation became the larger task of settlement and of government. To settlement and to government there remained also the task of creating new provinces and of widening the country's bounds, that there might be one Dominion from sea to sea. The sixty years which have intervened since Confederation constitute an era of unprecedented expansion. - Manitoba in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1879, became a part of the Dominion. Saskatchewan and Alberta, newly created in 1905 out of the Middle West, brought to completion the federation of Provinces from coast to coast.

If the period prior to Confederation marked the development of Canada from a group of huts to a group of provinces, it is equally true that the period succeeding Confederation has witnessed Canada's transition from a group of colonies to a nation within a group of nations, and her transition from a group of provinces to a nation among the nations of the world. A land of scattered huts and colonies no more

But a young nation, with her life full beating in her breast, A noble future in her eyes - the Britain of the West. As Canada has developed in settlement and government, so has the great Empire of which Canada is a part. From a parent State with colonial possessions, the British Empire has become a community of free nations "in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs." They are "united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations." Such is the position and mutual relation of Great Britain and the Dominions, as defined at the Imperial Conference of 1926. As one of the nations of the British Commonwealth of Nations, though of her own accord, Canada shared in the sacrifices of the world's war; as a nation, Canada participated in the terms of a world's peace. In the larger Councils of Empire her position has been increasingly acknowledged; it has been accorded the highest recognition in the League of Nations as well. At no period of her history has Canada's status as a nation been so clearly defined, and at no time in her history have relations, intra-imperial and international, been happier than they are to-day. Thus has been realized, far beyond their dreams, the vision of the Fathers of Confederation.

As we view in retrospect our country's history, what impresses us most is the very brief time within which so much has been achieved. Even to-day we have not lost traces of the earliest Canada. In the background of the present, there remain the Indian habitations - the little groups of huts, silhouetted against the forest depths, content to remain within its shadows that the larger Canada, emerging from obscurity and shade, may take her place in the sun among the powers of the world.

Coming then to our own day, how shall we, who have the responsibilities of the present, play our part? As nation-builders, as Empire-builders, our opportunities are even greater than those of our forefathers. To the problems of nationhood and Empire have been added world problems, problems intimately related to the world's progress and the world's peace. A nation, like an individual, to find itself must lose itself in the service others.

First and foremost we must strive to be worthy of our past. And to be worthy of our past we must come to have a more intimate knowledge of its history. In the annals the world there is no more illuminating and inspiring history than the history of Canada. Take whichever phase you will, the economic, the political, the constitutional, where will you find within so small a compass so complete an evolution, and so many factors of world significance? Let us hope that the interest created by the present anniversary will give us a greater pride in our country's past, and mark a place of new beginnings in the importance to be attached to Canadian history in our universities and schools. Let it be a study not from some prejudiced, partisan, or favoured point of view, but a simple record of the truth. There will be sufficient there to reveal the working of Providence through the years.

Next let us strive to build wisely in the present; to make the present, if we can, even more wonderful than the past, knowing that other generations will follow our own, and that our day, too, will be weighed in the balances of Time. "The House Beautiful" - that would seem to be our particular task. Much of the rough and heavy work has been done by those whom we have most in mind to-day - the pioneers in settlement and government who have given us the house in which we dwell. As they laboured, their thought was less of themselves than of their children, and of their children's children. To bequeath to them a freedom, an education which they themselves had been denied, that was what made the hard struggle worth while. What Canadian home has not witnessed that sacrifice of parent for child? What privation and toil has there not been that, in the end, the rough places might be made smooth?

To the builders of our nation, we owe much for what in the way of adornment they have added to utility. The flowering geranium in the cottage window, the tree planted by the wayside, the spire on the village church, all these speak of the love of beauty in the human heart. To the powerful corporations of our land, we owe much for a kindred service. Our railways, our banks, our insurance and investment companies, many of our industrial concerns, have had an eye to the beautiful as well as to dividends. While furthering its economic development in different ways, they have given to our country some noble pieces of architecture and taught many a lesson in artistic design. Our municipalities and governments have done much to educate popular taste in seeking to express a true feeling of form and proportion and to give a befitting dignity and artistic quality to public buildings and other public works. They have done much in the way of establishing parks and public squares and in them of worthily commemorating great personages and great events in our history. My own view is that those in authority cannot have too high a regard for national memorials, nor do too much in the way of beautification of our land. Industry and commerce have robbed our country of much of its natural beauty. We shall not greatly err if, in different ways, we seek to restore what in this respect has been lost.

I am glad that in this year of Diamond Jubilee we have witnessed on the part of parliament and the city of Ottawa, a readiness to share in the permanent improvement of the capital of our Dominion. Let us always remember, it is not the Ottawa or the Canada of to-day that we at this hour are called upon to consider, nor the Ottawa or the Canada of a few years hence; it is the capital of our country as it will exist through generations to come. Already we condemn the failure which has denied us a fitting approach to these beautiful buildings and their magnificent setting. As years go by the extent of that failure will be increasingly felt. With all my heart I hoc that the great event in our history which we celebrate to-day may be commemorated in this capital by a means of access to the Houses of Parliament worthy of their great dignity and beauty, worthy of the vision which brought them into being and which placed them here, and in keeping with the place which they hold in our national life. Such an approach we all but have in the improvement already under way in the very heart of the city. Let us bring that splendid work to its obvious completion. Confederation Park, dedicated to the Fathers of Confederation, would be a worthy memorial to this historic occasion. It is a memorial which the Canada of to day. but even more the Canada of future years, would, I believe, loudly acclaim.

In seeking to be worthy of our past, to build wisely in the present, how can we do better than to remain true to the spirit of those whom we honour to-day; not the Fathers of Confederation alone, but that long procession of discoverers and explorers. pioneers and settlers, sailors and soldiers, missionaries and traders; the men and women who have hewn their homes from the forests, who have developed our resources, fashioned our industries, extended our commerce; the moulders of thought and opinion and ideals in the realm of letters and art and government; that vast unnumbered company, long since gathered to their fathers and now resting from their labours, whose courage and daring, whose heroic purpose and steadfast endurance, whose vision and wisdom, manifested in a multitude of ways, have created a record of achievement unequalled in the romance, and unsurpassed in the pageantry of history. In the Legislative Buildings at Prince Edward Island there was erected on the fiftieth anniversary of the event, a bronze mural tablet which commemorates the meeting at Charlottetown on September 1, 1864. It reads:

In the hearts and minds of the delegates who assembled in this room on Sept. 1st, 1864 was born the Dominion of Canada Providence being their guide They builded better than they knew.

As I reflect upon our country's past. I come to believe more and more in the profound truth of that inscription. Only I would give to it a wider application. I would have it include all who by service and sacrifice have made Canada what it is to-day. One cannot but be impressed with the sublime faith and the spirit of reverence which in the humblest and the highest have been so generally apparent. From every side they seem to have caught glimpses of "The Vision Splendid." "He shall have Dominion also from sea to sea. It would almost seem that this ideal had been present to the hearts and minds of all, and that they had worked together from the beginning to this great end. Can we do better than to find in these words a like inspiration, remembering always "Where there is no vision the people perish," and that "His truth endureth to all generations. "



Article/Document/Material Source:
Reference: www.canadahistory.com/sections/documents/documents.html