Characters of Confederation - Lucie Roy

I enjoyed your July issue, which is the first one I received. Keep up the good work.

What is also truly interesting about 1867 is the blend of personalities and characters that helped to mould this great nation. It would be too long to go into each their stories and background but below are a few mentions.

George Brown almost became Canada’s first prime minister. When Sir John A. Macdonald was forming his first federal cabinet, he encountered so much trouble he almost relinquished the job to Brown. Scottish-born, Brown came to Canada in 1843 at the age of 25 by the way of New York, where he had published a newspaper. About a year later he founded, as a weekly, the Globe newspaper, with which his name became inseparably linked.

In 1851, he entered the Canadian (Quebec and Ontario) parliament as a member for Kent County. Immediately he became embroiled in a bitter fight against separate schools. Eventually he became convinced that Confederation was the only answer to Canada’s problems and he went as far as to join his bitter foe, Macdonald, in a coalition to achieve it. Later he resigned from the coalition but continued to fight for confederation. It was ironical that soon after Macdonald had almost passed to Brown the job of being the country’s first prime minister the Kent electors rejected Brown in the first federal election in 1867. He stayed outside Parliament until named to the Senate in 1873. On March 25, 1880 he was shot by a disgruntled former employee but lingered near death until he finally died on May 9, the same year.

When the British exiled a young lawyer named Georges-Etienne Cartier from Canada after the Papineau-Mackenzie rebellion in 1837, no one thought that 30 years alter he would be one of the founders of a new Canadian nation.

Edward Barron Chandler spent much of the time at the Quebec Confederation Conference in 1864 arguing with Sir John A. Macdonald over what Chandler thought was threatened loss of provincial rights. Others continue the same dispute, even today.

Jean Charles Chapais, one of Canada’s Fathers of Confederation is frequently ignored by reference and history books which devote considerable space to the legal-political-literacy career of his son, Sir Thomas Chapais.

Canada’s Fathers of Confederation were a turbulent crew. They spoke frequently and bitterly about each other’s shortcomings. Therefore, when Confederation became a fact and many of the fathers were elected to the House of Commons, the task of keeping these verbal assaults in check would require patience, skill and courage. The task fell on James Cockburn, Speaker of the House, a Cobourg Ontario lawyer who had been himself one of the founding fathers. He managed to keep such volatile characters as Sir John A. Macdonald and Thomas D’Arcy McGee in check and at the same time retain their respect for the seven years he held the job.

It is because of Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt that Canadians spend dollars and cents rather than the British-style pounds, shillings and pence. There were two men called John Hamilton Gray among the Fathers of Confederation.

John Mercer Johnson had a falling out with his fellow Fathers of Confederation during the talks which led to the formation of the Canadian nation. He argued that provincial legislatures should not have power over county or district courts. The others disagreed. The result is that the federal government names the county judges and dictates the criminal law but the province decides the civil law the court administers and runs the court.

As a young schoolmaster Jonathan McCully had a pupil by the name of Charles Tupper. Years later they came together again as fathers of Confederation for the Canadian nation.

William McDougall’s nickname was “Wandering Willie” and it summed up his political career in a nutshell.

Peter Mitchell’s political career was always highlighted by his stubbornness. There was the time Mitchell delayed approval of the estimate for the Intercolonial Railway until the railroad paid damages to a widow whose cow had wandered on to the tracks and been killed by a train. This stubbornness led him also into a long feud with Sir Leonard Tilley, a fellow Father of Confederation. Mitchell often referred to himself as the “third party.”


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