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Title: Sir George Étienne Cartier, Bart.--His Life and Times

Date of first publication: 1914

Author: John Boyd (1864-1933)

Date first posted: October 22, 2013

Date last updated: October 22, 2013

Faded Page eBook #20131024

This ebook was produced by: David T. Jones, Ronald Tolkien & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net

(This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)







FROM 1814 UNTIL 1873







Copyright, 1914,

Copyrighted in Great Britain


MACMILLAN & CO., Limited


To all Canadians, irrespective of race, language or creed, I dedicate this
work—the history of the life and times of one of the greatest of
French-Canadians, written by an English-speaking Canadian
—with the earnest hope that it will prove a stimulus
to patriotism and that it will preserve for
future generations the record of the
eminent services of one of the
greatest Fathers of the
Canadian Con-


“The first law of history is, not to lie; the second, not to be afraid
to tell the truth.” Leo XIII.
“After the political feelings of the present days have faded away, the
sterling merit of Sir George Cartier’s services—the real service he
performed in joining with the English speaking inhabitants of the country
in working up the great problem of Confederation—will be seen in its
true light.” —Sir John A. Macdonald.
  (Speech in Canadian Commons, May 23rd, 1873.)



It may be frankly avowed at the outset that when I undertook to write the History of the Life and Times of Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Bart., in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of that illustrious statesman’s birth, I did not fully realize the labour which such an undertaking would involve. Of the main facts of Cartier’s career and of his great achievements I was of course cognisant. But it was not with those alone that I proposed to deal. What I aimed at was to review the history of a period rather than to write the life of an individual. Amongst the numerous notices which appeared at the time of Sir George-Étienne Cartier’s death there was one in which it was declared that “to write the life of Sir George Cartier the future biographer must write the history of Canada during an eventful and progressive period,” and that “in the events of that time Sir George will be found a conspicuous actor, and for the progress of that time may be justly claimed for him no inconsiderable share of the honour and glory.”[1] To write such a history is what—forty years after Cartier’s death and in the centenary year of his birth—I have endeavoured to accomplish.

The period covered by George-Étienne Cartier’s career is one of the most memorable if not the most memorable in the whole range of Canadian history. It was a period which witnessed many great constitutional changes, numerous transformations of parties, and many fierce political contests. Opening with the momentous struggle for political freedom, it saw the beginning and end of the union of the two Canadas, it was marked by the triumph of the long struggle for responsible government, and it witnessed the birth of the Dominion. It was a period fruitful of great events and momentous development; it was also a period rendered notable by a long succession of great statesmen whose names must forever be illustrious in Canadian history. To deal fully and fairly with the political events of such a period, it may well be believed, has been no light task, especially when that period constitutes what may be called the formative period of our national history.

If history be the biography of great men, as a distinguished writer has observed, surely no career could offer a better subject for the historian than the career of George-Étienne Cartier. Patriot, legislator, reformer, administrator, statesman, and nation-builder, he was identified[viii] with many of the greatest events in the history of his country. His career, begun amidst the storm and stress of the struggle for political freedom and responsible government, ended a few years after the establishment of the mighty Dominion of which he was one of the principal founders. My object has been to present an historical painting of the whole period covered by George-Étienne Cartier’s career. Naturally, Cartier’s figure is the central one, but on the canvas will also be found the figures of Papineau, LaFontaine, Morin, Taché, Hincks, John A. Macdonald, John Sandfield Macdonald, A. T. Galt, George Brown, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Antoine-Aimé Dorion, Charles Tupper, Samuel Leonard Tilley, and many others. To all these great Canadians I have endeavoured to do full justice. It has, in fact, been my constant aim in dealing with Cartier’s career, and with the period of history under review, to rise above all party considerations, and to treat men and events in the cold light of facts.

George-Étienne Cartier’s memory is to-day the heritage of all Canadians. His name has ceased to be the shibboleth of any particular party; on the contrary, both parties have a right to share in the distinction of his achievements and in the glory of his memory. Beginning his public career as a constitutional Reformer of the LaFontaine-Baldwin school, he was one of those Reformers of Lower Canada who under Morin effected that alliance with the moderate Conservatives of Upper Canada which resulted in the birth of what became known as the Liberal-Conservative party. Thus he may be said to have been identified at different portions of his career with the two great political parties of the country. Patriotism, too, is the monopoly of no one party, and a reading of this work will show that Liberals as well as Conservatives rendered signal service to their country at critical periods of its history, and especially at the most critical epoch of all—the Confederation period.

Whatever shortcomings there may be in this work—and no human production attains absolute perfection—it may at least be claimed fairly that they are not due to lack of the most conscientious and painstaking effort. The list of authorities consulted, which will be found appended, will show what care has been taken in this respect. While these authorities were found useful for purposes of confirmation, I have as far as possible gone to original sources for facts. Papers, letters, and documents belonging to Sir George-Étienne Cartier have been at my disposition, and of these I have made ample use. That these papers are not more voluminous is regrettable. It was undoubtedly Cartier’s own desire and intention that his memoirs should be published within a certain period after his death, and with this in view he was in the habit throughout his public career of carefully preserving papers and information regarding men and events. “These memoirs,” he once remarked to[ix] a friend, “will be complete in regard to the political history of my time, but as there will be many disagreeable relations for some, and too agreeable for others, I will give orders that these memoirs will only be published ten years after my death.” What became of this mass of papers it is impossible to say, but the greater part was apparently destroyed, as only comparatively few remain. Had the full record been available further light would undoubtedly have been shed upon many events with which Cartier was identified.

When not only the whole Dominion but the whole Empire is uniting to do honour to the memory of one of the greatest Fathers of Confederation would seem to be an opportune time to present a definite history of the life and times of Sir George-Étienne Cartier. It is a rather remarkable fact that, whilst full justice has been done to Sir John A. Macdonald in Sir Joseph Pope’s monumental work “The Memoirs of Sir John A. Macdonald,” and whilst exhaustive biographies of other great Fathers of Confederation have appeared, no attempt has as yet been made to do adequate justice to the services of one of the greatest Fathers of Confederation, of the man without whom it has been declared by his most eminent colleagues Confederation would not have been possible. In saying this I do not wish in the slightest degree to disparage the excellent biographical sketches of Cartier which have already appeared. Dr. A. D. DeCelles’ Life of Cartier in the “Makers of Canada” series is an especially admirable work, reflecting the utmost credit upon that distinguished French-Canadian writer, whose pen adorns every subject of which it treats. L. T. Turcotte, Benjamin Sulte, and L. O. David have also written excellent reviews of the great French-Canadian statesman’s career. Admirable, however, as all these are, they are, after all, but sketches of a great career, as it was impossible within the limits assigned the writers to do full justice to the momentous events of Cartier’s career and to the period of history with which he was identified.

My principal aim, I may emphasise, has been to present Cartier as a great Canadian, as one of the chief founders of the Dominion, for it is upon his services in connection with the establishment of the Dominion that his abiding fame amongst all Canadians must rest. Confederation, therefore, being the great period of Cartier’s career, it is that period which has had most exhaustive consideration. It may be well, especially at those unfortunate times when racial animosity manifests itself, for English-speaking Canadians especially to realise the great part that eminent French-Canadians such as Papineau, LaFontaine, and Morin had in assuring the political liberties of all Canadians, and that if the Dominion exists as it is to-day it is due largely to a French-Canadian in the person of George-Étienne Cartier. As long as the Dominion lasts Cartier must in fact be remembered as one of its great founders, as a statesman[x] of the loftiest vision, the broadest and most tolerant views, and above and beyond all as a great Canadian.

As this work is intended not to replace but rather to supplement Joseph Tassé’s work, “Discours de Sir Georges Etienne Cartier,” which must ever remain a monument to that distinguished French-Canadian journalist’s industry and discrimination, I have not considered it necessary to burden the narrative with speeches except in cases where they were essential to illustrate the text or where they dealt with momentous political developments. Cartier’s speeches in connection with the establishment of the Dominion, utterly unknown as they are to most English-speaking Canadians, I have deemed of sufficient importance to translate and include in the narrative. Nor have I deemed it necessary to waste time on unimportant details. Rather have I sought to emphasise the great essentials which have contributed to the formation of Canadian national life, unimportant events having been subordinated to the great political developments of the period under review.

It has not been sought to make this work a panegyric of George-Étienne Cartier, but rather a serious contribution to Canadian historical literature. History to be of any value must be thoroughly truthful and impartial, and not made subservient to fulsome flattery and party interests. Throughout truth has been my guiding star and justice my objective. George-Étienne Cartier had his faults as well as his virtues; he made mistakes as well as accomplishing great achievements; and, though his services now overshadow all his errors, it would be only to prostitute the functions of history to make any work dealing with his career a panegyric. “Paint me warts and all,” once said an illustrious personage to the artist who was portraying his features. That is what I have endeavoured to do with George-Étienne Cartier—to give a life-like picture of the man as he was. He was sufficiently great to permit of a real instead of a counterfeit presentment. With an eminent French-Canadian historian I also agree that history would be nothing but a useless and senseless recital if the writer did not seek to find lessons in the facts which he narrates. The career of George-Étienne Cartier is replete with lessons to all Canadians, and these lessons I have tried to emphasise.

It may perhaps be acknowledged that not the least of the merits of this work, if it possesses any merits, is that the history of the life and times of one of the greatest of French-Canadians has been written by an English-speaking Canadian who has always sought to do justice to his French-Canadian fellow-countrymen.

Some idea of the amount of labour involved in this work may be gathered from the fact that in addition to the exhaustive research which was necessary every word of the manuscript, including the index, was written by my own hand.


My work is done and nothing remains but to submit it to the public, which I do with the earnest hope that it may not only impart lessons in patriotism, but that it will preserve for the benefit of future generations the record of one of the greatest careers in Canadian history and result in the eminent services rendered by the illustrious French-Canadian Father of Confederation being more fully appreciated by all Canadians, irrespective of race, language or creed.

I desire to express my special acknowledgments for kindly encouragement received during the preparation of this work from Right Hon. Sir Charles Tupper, Bart., sole surviving Father of Confederation and patron of the Cartier Centenary movement; Right Hon. Sir R. L. Borden, Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada, Right Hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Sir Lomer Gouin, Prime Minister of the Province of Quebec, Sir Rodolphe Forget, Sir Adolphe Routhier, Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, Sir John Willison, Sir Maxwell Aitkin, Hon. Louis Coderre, Secretary of State of the Dominion, Hon. Rodolphe Lemieux, Hon. F. D. Monk, Hon. T. Chase Casgrain, Hon. T. C. Chapais, Mr. Henri Bourassa, Hon. W. W. Lynch of Knowlton, Mr. William Wainwright, Mr. E. W. Villeneuve, President of the Cartier Centenary Committee, Dr. A. G. Doughty, C.M.G., Dominion archivist, Dr. A. D. DeCelles, librarian of Parliament, Mr. C. A. Dansereau, Mr. J. K. L. Laflamme, Mr. David Ross McCord, of the McCord National Museum, Montreal, Mr. Louis Joseph Cartier, of St. Antoine, Mr. P. B. de Crevecoeur, librarian of the Fraser Institute, Montreal, Mr. Fred. Villeneuve, librarian of the Civic Library, Montreal, Mr. G. A. Marsan, Mr. J. T. Bethune, Mr. Newton MacTavish, Editor of The Canadian Magazine, Dr. J. D. Logan, Mr. M. O. Hammond, Charles Robillard, Austin Mosher, and last, but not least, my dear friend Dr. John Reade, to whose unremitting encouragement any literary success that I have achieved is due.

It is my intention, if my life is spared, to write as a sequel to this work the history of the first fifty years of the Dominion of Canada, to show the mighty results which have followed from the labours of Sir George-Étienne Cartier and the other great Fathers of Confederation.


Montreal, August 1st, 1914.


When the first edition of this work was published in commemoration of the centenary of Sir George-Étienne Cartier’s birth, the roar of cannon resounded throughout Europe and the most awful conflict in the world’s history had begun. In that conflict, which is still in progress, Canada has played a great and glorious part. The bravery displayed by Canadians, both French and English-speaking, at Ypres, Neuve Chapelle, Festubert, Courcelette, Vimy Ridge, and upon many other desperate battlefields, the unprecedented sacrifices which Canadians have made during the last three eventful years, the gallantry of our men and the nobility of our women have written in letters of gold a chapter of history that can never be effaced from the annals of the Dominion.

While the sons of Canada are gaining glory for their country on the battlefields of Europe, Canadians at home are preparing to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the great Dominion. It is eminently fitting, even amidst the engrossing demands of the war, that this should be done, for it may be said with the strictest historical truth that had it not been for the labours of the Fathers of Confederation there would have been in 1914, when the world struggle began, no power on the North American continent to do what Canada has done.

The first edition of this work having been exhausted, it has been deemed advisable to issue a second edition, which appropriately appears on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Confederation of which Sir George-Étienne Cartier was one of the leading Fathers. To mark the rapprochement between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians which, thanks to the efforts of a number of patriotic Canadians, has lately been effected, it has been decided that this edition shall be known as the Bonne Entente edition. No more appropriate name could have been chosen by the publishers for a new issue of the life of Sir George-Étienne Cartier. The Bonne Entente, in fact, may be said to be the realization of Cartier’s dream of a united Canada, in which all Canadians, irrespective of racial origin, would work together for the welfare of their common land.

May the noble words of the great French Canadian statesman ever be kept in mind by all Canadians:—

“In our Confederation there will be Catholics and Protestants, English, French, Irish, and Scotch, and each by their efforts and success will add to the prosperity of the Dominion, to the glory of the Confederation. We are of different races not to quarrel, but to work together for the common welfare.”

Montreal, May 1st, 1917.



St. Antoine, Cartier’s Birthplace—House of the Seven Chimneys—Birth and Baptism—The
Cartier Family, Its Origin and History—A Picture of Habitant
Life—The Richelieu Region and Its People—Cartier’s Boyhood at St.
Antoine—At the College of Montreal—Distinction in Various Classes—Praise
of St. Sulpice—Begins the Study of Law—Admitted to the Bar—Youthful
Activity and Energy—Takes Part in Founding of the St. Jean Baptiste Association—Visits
to St. Antoine—The Calm Preceding the Storm 1
Position of the French-Canadians at the Time of the Cession—Agitation for Parliamentary
Institutions—First Parliament of Lower Canada—Joseph Papineau
and His Associates—Responsible Ministry Advocated by Bédard—Arbitrary
Conduct of Early Governors—Louis Joseph Papineau, His Career and Demands—The
Ninety-two Resolutions—Demands of the People’s Representatives
Refused—Assembly Stops Supplies and Dead-lock Follows—The Russell
Resolutions—Summary Prorogation of the Legislature—Activity in the Richelieu
District—Confederation of the Six Counties—Papineau Acclaimed at Great
Meetings—Prelude to the Rising 27
Popular Discontent—The Sons of Liberty—Cartier’s First Appearance in the
Political Arena—A Disciple of Papineau—Active Member of the Sons of
Liberty—Conflict Between Sons of Liberty and Doric Club—Warrants for
Popular Leaders—Cartier Repairs to St. Antoine—Opening Skirmish of the
Rising—Col. Gore’s Expedition Against St. Denis—Wolfred Nelson, the Patriot
Leader—The Fight at St. Denis—Bravery of the Patriots—Cartier’s Part in the
Engagement—His Coolness, Courage and Determination—Nelson’s Tribute to
[xvi]Cartier—Tragic Death of Lieut. Weir—Defeat of the Patriots at St. Charles—Valour
Displayed by the Habitants—Cartier’s Resourcefulness and Daring—Leaves
St. Denis with Nelson—Finds Refuge at Verchères—Death Reported
and Loss Deplored—Reaches the States—Returns to Montreal—The Rising, Its
Proportions and Meaning—Law and Order Supported by Roman Catholic
Bishops and Clergy—Cartier on the Rising 45
Dark Days for the French-Canadians—Lord Durham’s Mission—His Report and
Its Recommendations—Union of Upper and Lower Canada—Louis-Hippolyte
LaFontaine, His Career and Character—Auguste Norbert Morin—LaFontaine
Joins Forces with Baldwin—Career and Character of Robert Baldwin—Attitude
of the French-Canadians to the Union—Divergent Views of Papineau and
LaFontaine—Repeal of the Union Demanded by Papineau—Parliamentary Duel
Between LaFontaine and Papineau—LaFontaine’s Policy—Papineau’s Merits—Struggle
for Control of the Executive Power by the People’s Representatives—Union
of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians—Principles of Responsible
Government Promulgated in Parliament—Cartier’s Part in the
Struggle—Urged by LaFontaine to Stand for Parliament but Declined—Letter
Addressed by Cartier to LaFontaine—Cartier Supports LaFontaine’s Policy
on the Hustings—Defeat of Denis Benjamin Viger—Victory of the Liberal
or Reform Party Led by LaFontaine and Baldwin—The Second LaFontaine-Baldwin
Ministry—Triumph of Responsible Government—Cartier’s Debt to
LaFontaine—His Tribute to LaFontaine—The Country’s Debt to the Reformers 67
Beginning of Cartier’s Public Career—Elected to Represent Verchères in Assembly
of United Canada—Address to Its Constituents—Personnel of Parliament—Cartier’s
First Appearance in Parliament—The Rebellion Losses Bill—Violent
Scenes and Burning of the Parliament Building—Annexation Movement Opposed
by Cartier—The Elgin Reciprocity Treaty—Cartier as a Constitutional
Reformer—Transformation of Parties—The Clear Grit Party and the Parti
Rouge—Retirement of LaFontaine—Cartier Declines Cabinet Office—The Elections
of 1854 and the Position of Parties—Cartier Defeated for the Speakership—Fall
of the Hincks-Morin Government—John A. Macdonald and His Rise
in Politics—Birth of the Liberal-Conservative Party—Cartier’s Attitude
Defined—The MacNab-Morin Government—Morin’s Retirement—Cartier Enters
the Cabinet—Master Spirit of Lower Canadian Section—Re-elected in
Verchères After Warm Contest—Taché-Macdonald Government—Cartier
Attorney-General for Lower Canada—Succeeds Taché as Leader of Lower
Canada—Macdonald-Cartier Government, Its Record and Defeat—Short-lived
[xvii]Brown-Dorion Administration—Cartier’s Opportunity 93
The Cartier-Macdonald Ministry—The Double Shuffle—Cartier Announces Government’s
Programme—His Able Leadership—Mission to England on Confederation—Honours
Paid to Cartier—Guest of Queen Victoria—Return to Canada—Supports
Ottawa as Seat of Government—Work Begun on New Parliament
Buildings—Visit of the Prince of Wales—Cartier’s Part in the Reception
Ceremonies—Parliamentary Session of 1861—Dissolution of Parliament—Government
Sustained—Session of 1862—Reconstruction of the Cabinet—Militia
Bill Presented to Parliament by John A. Macdonald—The Government Defeated—Cartier
in the Minority from His Own Province—Cartier and His
Colleagues Resign—Sandfield Macdonald-Sicotte Government—Macdonald-Dorion
Ministry—Cartier Heads Majority from Lower Canada—Resignation
of Macdonald-Dorion Government—Taché-Macdonald Government, Brief
Existence and Defeat—Dead-lock—A Critical Situation—Formation of Coalition
Government 116
Cartier’s Legal and Judicial Reforms—His Practical Grasp of the Country’s
Requirements—Codification of Civil Laws and Laws of Civil Procedure—What
This Great Reform Involved—Work of the Codifiers and Consummation of the
Reform—Judicial Decentralisation—Extension of the French Laws to the
Townships—Liberty of the Roman Catholic Church—Other Legal Reforms—The
Seigneurial Tenure System—Its Earlier Advantages and Later Drawbacks—Preservation
of French-Canadian Nationality—Great Part Played by
the Roman Catholic Bishops and Clergy—Agitation for the Abolition of
Seigneurial Tenure—Measure Introduced by Louis Thomas Drummond—Credit
Due to That Statesman—The Seigneurial Act and Its Provisions—Strongly
Supported by Cartier—Reform Completed Under Cartier’s Government—Secularisation
of the Clergy Reserves—Representation According to Population
Advocated by George Brown—Cartier Successfully Opposes Any Change in
the Basis of the Union—Educational Reforms Inaugurated by Cartier—Importance
of Cartier’s Work as a Reformer 133
Early Means of Transportation—Inauguration of Canals—Beginning of Railways—Early
Railway Legislation—Inception of the Intercolonial Railway—Organisation
of the Grand Trunk Railway Company—Cartier’s Interest in Railway
[xviii]Development—Speeches in Favour of Railways—Secured Incorporation of the
Grand Trunk Railway Company—His Appointment as Solicitor of the Company—Supports
Company in Parliament—Secures Construction of Victoria
Bridge—Early Financial Difficulties of Grand Trunk Railway Company—Opposition
to Undertaking—Desperate Condition of Enterprise—Cartier Secures
Government Assistance—Saves Company from Bankruptcy—William
Wainwright’s Striking Tribute—Benefits of Cartier’s Work for Railways—Advocacy
of Canal Improvements—Interest in St Lawrence Navigation—Views
of Commercial Life—Work for Montreal’s Interests—Foretells Georgian
Bay Canal—General Benefits of Cartier’s Policy 151
Failure of the Political Machinery of the Union—Rise of Canadian National
Spirit—Genesis of Confederation Idea—Proposals in Parliament—Union Urged
by Alexander Tilloch Galt—Included as Part of Cartier Government’s Programme—Mission
of Cartier, Galt and Ross to England—Memorial Addressed
to Secretary of State for the Colonies Urging Confederation—First Practical
Step to Action—Attitude of the Imperial Authorities—Lord Carnarvon’s
Letter to Cartier—Crisis in Canada—George Brown, His Career and Attitude—Patriotic
Course at a Critical Juncture—Secures Appointment of Constitutional
Committee—Negotiations for Formation of Coalition Government—Cartier’s
Part in the Negotiations—Brown’s Declaration in Parliament—His Tribute to
Cartier—The Coalition Ministry—The Charlottetown Conferences—Quebec
Conference—Basis of Confederation 171
Cartier the Dominant Political Force in Lower Canada—Cartier and George
Brown—Their Respective Attitudes on Great Issues—Cartier Holds the Key
of the Crisis—French-Canadians Looked to for Justice—George Brown’s
Notable Declaration—Cartier, Galt and Brown and the Confederation Movement—Alliance
of Cartier and Brown—John A. Macdonald and His Attitude at
the Outset of the Movement—As Leader of Government—Great Part Played
by Cartier—George Brown’s Testimony—Cartier’s Course Justified—Cartier at
the Charlottetown Conference—His Notable Speeches at Charlottetown and
Halifax—Cartier’s Part in the Quebec Conference—His Grave Responsibilities—Insists
on a Federal Instead of a Legislative Union of the Provinces—Legislative
Union Favoured by John A. Macdonald—Triumph of Cartier’s
Idea—Safeguarded French-Canadian Interests Whilst Helping to Establish
Confederation—Cartier’s Pride in His Work—Justified His Alliance with George
Brown—Project of Confederation Defended—Mutterings of a Storm in Lower
[xix]Canada 195
Discussion of Confederation Project in the Legislature of United Canada—Personnel
of the Chamber—Cartier’s Strong Opponents—His Historic Plea for
Union—Reviews Steps to Confederation—Situation Which Made Confederation
a Necessity—Alternative to Annexation—Imperative Demand for Defence—Various
Objections Refuted—The United States’ Desire to Acquire Canada—Attitude
of the French-Canadians—How They Repulsed American Overtures—Washington’s
Proclamation—Loyalty of French-Canadians to the British
Crown—D’Estaing’s Appeal Unsuccessful—Loyalty of the Roman Catholic
Clergy and the Seigneurs—Superiority of the Canadian to the American Constitution—A
New Nationality—The Race Question—Distinction of Races an
Advantage—Justice to Minorities—The Federal System the Most Advantageous—Closing
Plea for Confederation 210
Attack on Confederation Project Opened by Holton—His Denunciations of the
Project—Antoine Aimé Dorion, Cartier’s Great Antagonist—His Career and
Policy—Opposed to Confederation Scheme—Believer in the Confederation of
the Two Canadas as a Preliminary—His Speech Against the Quebec Conference
Measure—His Objections to the Project and His Fears of Its Effects—Supported
by Other Prominent Members—Joly’s Fears for French-Canadian
Nationality—Arguments of the Opposition—Attacks Upon Cartier—One of
Cartier’s Followers Opposes the Measure—Campaign Against the Project Outside
of Parliament—Manifesto by Dorion—Scheme Denounced on the Hustings
and the Press—Appeal to the People Demanded—Cartier Persists in Face of
Bitter Opposition 227
Cartier Replies to Criticisms—His Defence of French-Canadian and Roman Catholic
Liberality—Position of the English Protestants in Quebec—John Rose’s
Tribute to Cartier—Position of French-Canadians in Federal Parliament—French
Language Guaranteed as One of the Bases of Confederation—Union
Project Meets Reverse in New Brunswick—Hailed by Dorion as Justification
of His Attitude—Passage at Arms Between Cartier and Dorion—Dorion’s
Final Appeal Against the Measure—Moving of Previous Question Meets with
Opposition—Protest from One of Cartier’s Followers—A Critical Situation
Saved by Cartier—Notable Addresses on Behalf of Confederation—A Dramatic
Incident—Joly’s Attack on Cartier—Langevin’s Striking Defence of His Leader—Langevin
Foretells Cartier’s Place in History—Amendments to the Project
Voted Down—Solemn Declaration by Cartier—Confederation Measure Adopted—An
[xx]Historic Division 241
Hostility to Confederation in Maritime Provinces—Howe’s Attitude—Cartier One
of a Delegation to England—Speech at Halifax—Success of the Mission—Cartier’s
Speech at the Fishmongers’ Dinner—Death of the Canadian Premier—A
Crisis Averted—Parliamentary Session of 1865—Cartier’s Speech on the
Mission to England—Removal of Seat of Government to Ottawa—Enthusiastic
Reception to Cartier at the Capital—Retirement of George Brown from the
Coalition Government—Cartier’s Unsuccessful Efforts to Retain Brown—Last
Session of the Legislature of United Canada—The Provincial Constitutions—Cartier
on the Quebec Constitution—The London Conference—Cartier’s Responsible
Rôle—Birth of the Dominion—A Disputed Question—Honours Paid
to Cartier—Special Audience with Queen Victoria—Visit to Rome and
Audience with the Pope—Return to Canada—Cartier on the Accomplishment of
Confederation—Credit Due to Cartier 257
First Dominion Administration—Cartier Minister of Militia and Defence—Declines
a C.B.—His Reasons—Charles Tupper’s Action—Tupper’s Letter to the Duke
of Buckingham—Statement by Sir Charles Tupper—A Baronetcy Conferred
Upon Cartier—His Arms and Device—Letter of Acknowledgment to Tupper—First
General Election Under Confederation—Cartier Secures a Triumph in
Quebec—Re-elected in Montreal East—Triumph of the Confederation Cause—Cartier’s
Work for Consolidation of the Dominion—Cartier and the Intercolonial
Railway—His Militia Bill—A National Policy of Defence—Speech on
Militia Measure—His Services as Minister of Militia—His Part in the Acquisition
of the Northwest Territories—Visit to England—Notable Speech at
Inaugural Dinner of Royal Colonial Institute—Gladstone’s Tribute to Cartier—Earl
Granville’s Praise—Cartier the Queen’s Guest at Windsor Castle—Return
to Canada—The North-West Revolt—Cartier’s Part in the Creation of the New
Province of Manitoba—His Calmness in a Time of Passion—Prevents Wolseley
from Being Appointed Lieutenant-Governor—Admission of British Columbia
to Confederation—Cartier’s Advocacy of Canadian Pacific Railway—A United
Canada 282
Vicissitudes of the Latter Part of Cartier’s Career—Politico-Religious Questions—The
New Brunswick School Question—Washington Treaty—Macdonald’s
Course and Justification—Cartier’s Attitude—His Last Speech in Parliament—Appeal
to His Followers to Support Macdonald—General Elections—Cartier’s
[xxi]Defeat in Montreal East—A Bitter Election Contest—The New
Liberalism—Expressions of Sympathy for the Defeated Statesman—Lord Dufferin’s
Tribute—Cartier’s Reception at the Capital—His Election for Provencher,
Manitoba—Failing Health—Departure for England to Consult
Specialists—A Pathetic Leave Taking—Last Public Utterances in Canada—Arrival
in London—The Canadian Pacific Railway Charges—Last Days of
Sir George-Etienne Cartier—His Last Letters to Sir John A. Macdonald—Death
of Sir George-Etienne Cartier—Message of Queen Victoria—Announcement
of Cartier’s Death in Canadian Parliament by Macdonald—Tributes in
Parliament—An Impressive Funeral—Cartier’s Last Resting Place 310
Cartier the Successor of Papineau and LaFontaine—Essentially a Man of Action,
Organisation and Execution—What He Desired for the French-Canadians—To
Be Faithful to the Religion and to Maintain Their Nationality and Language—His
Wish That French-Canadians Should Play a Large Part in the National
Life of the Dominion—A Champion of Justice—Rights of Minorities—Cartier’s
Tolerance and Broad-mindedness—The Diversity of Races An Advantage to the
Dominion—Union Not Fusion of Races Basis of Confederation—Cartier’s Ideals
for the Dominion—Canadian Nationality—His Ideas of the Future—A Strong
Believer in British Institutions—His Admiration of Great Britain and the
British Flag as the Symbol of True Liberty—Cartier’s Economic Creed—Protection
of National Industries—Cartier’s Grand Conceptions 347
Cartier’s Strong and Self-reliant Character—Description of His Person—A Man
of Action—His Frankness—Testimony of His Intimates—A Great Worker—His
System and Habits—As a Speaker—His Power as a Debater—A Famous
Parliamentary Passage at Arms—Cartier’s Optimism—His Daring, Fearlessness
and Pluck—His Retort to Howe—Impressions of Cartier by an Old Parliamentary
Associate—Cartier’s Geniality and Good Spirits—Reunions at His
Ottawa Home—His Fondness for Young People—Personal Kindness—His
Courage, Personal and Political—His Visits to Ontario and Replies to Attacks
Upon Him and the French-Canadians—His Attachment to His Church—Testimony
to the Liberty of Roman Catholics in Canada—Cartier’s Personal
Habits—His Close Friends and His Hobbies—Fondness for Poetry—Cartier’s
“O Canada, Mon Pays, Mes Amours,” and Its History—Honours and Distinctions—His
Family 361
Macdonald and Cartier and Their Relations—The Macdonald-Cartier Alliance and
[xxii]Its Significance—Sir John A. Macdonald’s Tribute to Cartier—Tupper and
Cartier—Impressions of Cartier by the Last Surviving Father of Confederation—George
Brown and Cartier—A. T. Galt’s Tribute—Cartier’s Support of
Minority Rights—His Desire for Justice—Thomas D’Arcy McGee on Cartier—Francis
Hincks’ Testimony—Eulogistic Reference to Cartier by John Henry
Pope—Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Striking Appreciation of Cartier—Notable
Declarations by Sir Lomer Gouin, Prime Minister of Quebec—Hon. Rodolphe
Lemieux’s Appreciation of Cartier—Cartier and His Services—A Striking Appreciation
by Right Hon. Sir R. L. Borden, Prime Minister of Canada 389
Epilogue—The Lessons of Cartier’s Life 408
Appendix I. St. Antoine and the Cartier Family and Genealogical
Table 412
Appendix II. The Cartier Memorial 420
Appendix III. Text of Autograph Appreciations of Cartier 422



Sir George-Etienne Cartier—(Photogravure) Frontispiece
House of the Seven Chimneys at St. Antoine, Cartier’s Birthplace 4
Cartier’s Parents and Grandparents 20
Historic Church at St. Antoine in Which George-Etienne Cartier Was
Baptised 40
An Old Seigneurial Mill in the Richelieu District 60
Fac-simile Autograph Letter from Sir Charles Tupper, Bart., Sole Surviving
Father of Confederation 90
Cartier When Prime Minister of United Canada 120
Fac-simile Autograph Letter from Right Hon. Sir R. L. Borden, Prime
Minister of Canada 150
The Charlottetown Conference 192
The Fathers of Confederation—Quebec Conference 204
Cartier in a Speaking Attitude 220
Fac-simile Autograph Letter from Right Hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier 246
Fac-simile Autograph Letter from Sir Lomer Gouin, Prime Minister of
Quebec 276
Portrait of Cartier Standing 312
Fac-simile of Last Letter Written by Sir George Cartier to Sir John A.
Macdonald 324
Fac-simile of Queen Victoria’s Telegram of Condolence on Sir George
Cartier’s Death 338
Profile Portrait of Cartier 362
Lady Cartier and Daughters 388
Genealogical Chart of the Cartier Family 412
The Cartier Memorial, Montreal 420
House at St. Antoine Where the History of the Life and Times of
Cartier Was Completed 424





Thirty-six miles from the city of Montreal, picturesquely situated on the historic Richelieu River, lies the ancient village of St. Antoine. It is a typical French-Canadian hamlet. Skirting the shore of the peaceful river which flows slowly northward to join the more turbulent waters of the mighty St. Lawrence, extends the main thoroughfare with its clusters of trim wooden cottages, embellished here and there by a more pretentious edifice of brick or stone. In summer neat flower beds add a touch of beauty to the comfortable dwellings. Dominating its surroundings stands in the centre of the village the parish church, a massive stone structure with each of its twin spires surmounted by the emblem of the Catholic faith. From the village smithy may be heard the music of the blacksmith’s anvil, often the only sound upon the restful stillness. Peacefulness and repose seem to cast their benison over the whole region. Adjoining the village and extending over many goodly acres, are well-tilled farms, which in numerous cases have been in possession of the same families generation after generation, the descendants of many of the original settlers still living in the neighbourhood.

The entire district is replete with historic memories. Almost directly opposite St. Antoine, on the south bank of the Richelieu, is St. Denis, the scene of the patriots’ victory over the British troops in the initial engagement of the rising of 1837. Seven miles to the west of St. Denis lies St. Charles, where a few days after the St. Denis engagement the patriots were crushed by the British soldiery. Nine miles from St. Charles, or sixteen miles to the west of St. Denis, is St. Hilaire, with Richelieu village twelve miles further west, and twenty-eight miles distant from St. Denis. To the east of St. Denis, at a distance of seven miles, is St. Ours, while twelve miles from the latter place, or nineteen miles to the east of St. Denis, lies the thriving town of Sorel, the former Fort William Henry. Opposite St. Ours on the north bank of the river is St. Roch, seven miles east of St. Antoine. At a distance of seven miles west of[2] St. Antoine is St. Marc, facing St. Charles. Nine miles to the west of St. Marc is Beloeil, opposite St. Hilaire, while at a distance of twelve miles from Beloeil, or twenty-eight miles from St. Antoine, lies Chambly, an historic military fortress of olden days. A chain of villages thus extends on either side of the river, divided only by the width of the stream. Communication from one village to another is furnished by small ferry boats propelled by pulley cables extending under the water from shore to shore.[2]

The Richelieu River meanders through one of the most beautiful and fertile districts of the whole Province of Quebec. Though the country is generally flat, many picturesque scenes greet the eye, and on a clear day may be discerned in the distance the outlines of Rougemont and Beloeil, two of the highest peaks of the province. Extending back from the river and for miles along its banks are the fertile farms of the habitants who reap an easy and profitable living from abundant crops of hay, now the staple product of the district.

In such secluded spots the devastating influence of so-called modern progress makes scant headway, and St. Antoine is but little changed from what it was a century ago. There is one exception which must ever be a cause of regret. Situated about a mile from the centre of the village and a short distance from the shore, there stood until a few years ago a large building known to all the countryside as La Maison aux Sept Cheminées (the House of the Seven Chimneys). Erected in 1782 by Jacques Cartier, a rich merchant of St. Antoine, and intended by him as a permanent homestead for his descendants, it was a veritable landmark for the whole district. A massive stone structure nearly one hundred feet in length and resembling a fortress in its proportions, it comprised a basement, a ground floor, and an upper or attic storey. Some idea of the extent of the house may be gathered from the fact that, apart from the basement or cellars, the two storeys contained no less than seventeen rooms, many of them of an unusual size.

It was in a small room on the ground floor of this house that there was born on September 6th, 1814, to Jacques Cartier and his wife, Marguerite Paradis, a son, who was destined to make the name of Cartier forever illustrious in Canadian history as that of one of the founders of the great Dominion. On the day of his birth, in accordance with the rites of the Roman Catholic Church, he was baptized by the curé of St. Antoine, Messire Bonaventure Alinotte, receiving the baptismal names of Georges Étienne. The second name was from his godfather, Étienne Gauvreau, while the first name, Georges, which had not been borne by[3] any of the family, is presumed to have been given to the child from the name of the reigning sovereign.

The Cartier family, as the name implies, is of distinctively French origin. The direct ancestors of George-Étienne Cartier hailed from Prulier, a small place in the diocese of Anger, France, where in the seventeenth century lived one Pierre Cartier. According to a family tradition this Pierre Cartier was a brother of Jacques Cartier, the celebrated navigator of St. Malo and the discoverer of Canada. But there are no positive proofs to substantiate this tradition, which, however, was firmly believed by him whose career was to add greater lustre to the name. Towards the middle of the 17th century, Jacques Cartier, a son of Pierre Cartier, by his wife Marie Beaumier, emigrated to Canada and settled at Quebec, where he was known as Cartier L’Angevin. He engaged extensively in trade, dealing principally in salt and fish, the field of his operations covering not only Canada but several European countries. On July 6th, 1744, this Jacques Cartier married at Beauport, Quebec, Delle Marguerite Mongeon, and from this marriage there were born, in addition to four daughters, two sons, Jacques and Joseph, who were the progenitors of the two Cartier families of St. Antoine. Towards 1768 the two brothers were sent by their father up the Richelieu River as far as Chambly to dispose of his merchandise and to open trade with the settlers. Impressed by the fertility of the district and the opportunities that it afforded for commerce, the two brothers decided to settle on the banks of the Richelieu as merchants. Jacques took up his residence at St. Antoine, while Joseph settled at St. Denis on the opposite side of the river.

Jacques Cartier, from whom George-Étienne Cartier was directly descended, was born at Quebec on April 11th, 1750, and married at St. Antoine on September 27th, 1772, Delle Cecile Gervaise, daughter of Sieur Charles Gervaise by his wife, Dame Celeste Plessis-Belair, and niece of the first curé of St. Antoine, Messire Gervaise. Jacques Cartier was a man of substance and high standing in the community. He engaged extensively in commerce and in addition to a general business exported large quantities of wheat to Europe, the Richelieu district being then noted for its production of that cereal. In 1782, or ten years after his marriage, the enterprising merchant, who had made considerable money, constructed the massive stone dwelling which was to be the home of the family for many generations. Noted for his public spirit as well as for his enterprise, he took a lively interest in public affairs, and from 1805 to 1810 he represented the electoral division of Surrey, subsequently known as Verchères, in the old Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada. He was also active in the militia, holding a commission for many years as a lieutenant-colonel, and was generally recognised as[4] a man of the greatest public spirit. He was the father of numerous children, all of whom died young, with the exception of a son also named Jacques, who was destined to be the father of one of the most illustrious men that the French-Canadian race has produced. Born at St. Antoine on August 29th, 1774, Jacques Cartier the younger married at St. Antoine on September 4th, 1798, Delle Marguerite Paradis, daughter of Joseph Paradis by his wife, Dame Josèphe Lavoie. Of this marriage there were born five sons and three daughters, of whom George-Étienne was the youngest son and the seventh child.

I have traced Cartier’s ancestry thus minutely because heredity certainly played its part in the formation of his character, which, as in the case of many others who have attained distinction, may be said to have been the result both of his heredity and of his environment. Therefore to fully understand Cartier’s career and the salient features of his character and policy, it is important that the reader should have a clear and comprehensive idea of his environment, of the lives, modes and customs of the people of whom he was one and amongst whom his early life was spent. Though Cartier’s father and his immediate ancestors were engaged in commercial pursuits, they were also landowners and belonged to the habitant class in the broad meaning of that term, being essentially inhabitants of the country. What manner of people were those old time habitants amongst whom Cartier’s lot as a youth was cast? Though the habitants of the present retain many of the characteristics of their ancestors, their mode of life has to a considerable extent been affected by the changing times, and many features of the patriarchal life which prevailed in Lower Canada during Cartier’s youth and for some years afterwards have disappeared. Fortunately, from the vivid description of De Gaspé and other native writers and of travellers, such as Lambert and Heriot, who visited Lower Canada at this period, we are able to reproduce a picture of the times. De Gaspé in his “Mémoires” and his “Anciens Canadiens,” one of the most charming books in all literature, portrays for us habitant life as it existed under the old régime, but his descriptions are largely applicable to an even later period. Lambert and Heriot have left us accounts of the habitant as he appeared at the very time when Cartier was born. The old-time habitant emerges from these recitals as a unique, interesting and wholly admirable character.

House of the Seven Chimneys at St. Antoine, Cartier’s Birthplace


At the time of Cartier’s birth but fifty-four years, a comparatively short period in the life of a people, had passed since that memorable day of 1760 which witnessed one of the most striking scenes in all history, the day when de Vaudreuil, the Governor-General of the colony, and Chevalier de Lévis, the Commandant of the French troops, accompanied by the officers, both civil and military, and the men who had so gallantly upheld the honour of France, embarked for home, leaving the[5] colonists who remained behind to work out their own salvation under what was to them a strange and alien rule. “With these beautiful and vast countries,” said de Vaudreuil, in a letter addressed to the French Minister, “France loses seventy thousand inhabitants of a rare quality, a race of people unequalled for their docility, bravery and loyalty. The vexations they have suffered for many years, more especially during the five years preceding the reduction of Quebec, all without a murmur or importuning their King for relief, sufficiently manifest their perfect submissiveness.” De Vaudreuil’s tribute was well deserved, and the French-Canadians were still to display those characteristics to which he referred under conditions equally, if not more, exacting. With their country, won at the cost of so much effort and sacrifice, ceded to the British Crown, and they themselves abandoned by many of the most notable colonists, the outlook for the French-Canadians seemed dark indeed. That a mere handful of settlers, so situated, should have developed into a people of nearly three million souls, preserving their racial characteristics, their language, their laws and their customs, in short, their homogeneity as a people, is one of the marvels of history. All the more marvellous will it appear when we shall see against what odds the French-Canadians had to contend.

If the colonising work of Colbert and Talon and their attempts to establish upon the banks of the St. Lawrence a powerful state to act as a counterpoise to English influence in America had ended in apparent failure, the French colonists as a result of their efforts had at least become, at the time of the Cession, firmly rooted to the soil. Outside the large centres of population, such as Quebec, Montreal, and Three Rivers, the colonists were scattered mainly along the waters of the St. Lawrence and Richelieu. There lived the descendants of those hardy and valiant Frenchmen who many years before had come from Normandy, Brittany, Provence, La Perche, Maine, La Savoie, Anjou, Gascogny, and other portions of the fair land of France, and who had hewn out homes amidst the primeval forests and in the face of hostile savages. Behind their descendants was the background of a glorious past of over two centuries of combat and of struggle, rendered forever memorable by the mighty deeds of pioneer, priest, warrior and heroine. When the French colonists passed from French to British rule, they did not forget the glory of their past and they waged an heroic and ultimately successful struggle to retain the legacy left to them by their forefathers.

For nearly a century following the Cession the patriarchal life which existed under the seigneurial tenure system, a survival of the old feudal system of land tenancy, was in evidence in Lower Canada. Though the beginning of this system in Canada has been traced back to the founding of the Company of the Hundred Associates by the great Richelieu in the[6] year 1627, a charter issued to the Marquis de la Roche, more than a quarter of a century before Richelieu became Minister of State, gave specific authority for the granting of seigneuries in the New World. As a matter of fact, several seigneurial grants were made prior to the establishment of the Company of the Hundred Associates, and the charter of that organisation, in giving the directors power to make feudal grants, merely followed what was an established practice. As the highest authority on this subject truly remarks, seigneurialism was transplanted to Canada simply because it existed almost everywhere at home and it was as logical for Frenchmen to bring this institution to the valley of the St. Lawrence as it was for Englishmen to bring to the English Colonies a system of tenure in free and common socage.[3] Through the efforts of the Company of the Hundred Associates, which had been granted the whole of New France by Louis XIII with full ownership, seigneury and justice, enterprising Frenchmen were induced to take over seigneuries, while at the same time they agreed to bring families from France to settle on the land. Robert Giffard, a physician of La Perche, to whom was granted in 1634 the Seigneury of Notre-Dame de Beauport near Quebec, was one of the earliest of these seigneurs, and furnishes perhaps the most notable example of the colonising lord of the soil of that early period. The same methods were followed in other cases, with the result that in course of time many seigneuries were granted on similar conditions. After the collapse of the Company of the Hundred Associates in 1663, other means were adopted to dispose of seigneurial domains, many of them being granted to officers who had seen service in the French army. It was in this manner that the seigneuries of the Richelieu district came into being.

Each seigneur of Lower Canada, it may here be explained, originally received his land under a tenure of foi et hommage. He had to pay fealty and homage to the Crown as the tenant had similarly to pay him homage. When he received the grant of his seigneury he accepted the obligation of clearing the land within a certain period under pain of forfeiture, but to obviate this the seigneur sublet portions of his domain for a nominal rent, the tenants accepting the obligation of clearing their holdings. Under this system the owner of the domain was known as the seigneur or lord, and those to whom grants were made by him as censitaires, or tenants. The seigneur guaranteed to the tenant a perpetual right of occupancy on condition that he should perform certain services, and pay periodically a specified rent. The tenancy descended to the heir of the occupant, who was bound by similar conditions. At first only a nominal rental, known as the cens et ventes, was exacted from the tenant,[7] the amount being generally restricted to a sou and a sou and a half per arpent, but in course of time much larger amounts were demanded by many of the seigneurs. The tenant had the right of disposing of his holdings, but the seigneur was entitled to a fine on all lands so sold, this fine, known as the droit de lods et ventes, amounting to the excessive sum of one twelfth part of the purchase money. Under another provision, known as the banalité, the seigneur possessed the exclusive right of erecting mills, the whole of the running streams being his property. As a result the tenant was obliged to bring his grain to the seigneur’s mill, and to have it ground there. Other obligations of a more or less galling character were imposed on the tenant, the seigneur, for instance, having a right to whatever quantity of wood he might demand from the tenant’s lands, as well as being the owner of all the stone within the bounds of the seigneury. The most objectionable feature of the system and the one which subsequently created the greatest dissatisfaction amongst the tenants was the droit de lods et ventes, which naturally became a great interference with land transfers.

The fact that the seigneurial system was a survival of the old feudal method of land tenancy has led to some misconception as to the real status of the censitaire or habitant of this period, who, it must be remembered, occupied in no sense a servile position. The very name habitant, by which he was generally known, and which has since become the characteristic name of the French-Canadian farmer among English-speaking people, is indicative of his status. As a matter of fact so free and independent were the early tillers of the soil in Lower Canada that, though holding their land practically under feudal tenure, they would accept no such designation as censitaires, which carried with it some sense of the servile status of the feudal vassal in Old France, but they called themselves habitants or inhabitants of the country.[4] They were free men, not vassals or slaves, nor did they always show ready acceptance of the seigneur’s exactions, or display that deference to which he considered he was entitled. It is true that there was the obligation of the corvée, under which, in addition to the payment he made for his land, the tenant was obliged to render a certain amount of personal service; but that this obligation was not onerous may be judged from the fact that rarely did the seigneurial demand amount to more than six days in the year, and the obligation could be commuted on payment of a small sum.

The religious and secular authorities generally acted in concert under the seigneurial system, the operation of which was attended by various quaint customs. The relations between the curés and the seigneurs, as a leading authority has remarked, were in the main close and friendly, the[8] curé in the early days often making his home at the seigneurial manor house, which thus became the centre of the religious as well as of the civil activities of the seigneury. The bounds of the parish and the seigneury were usually the same, and it was at the close of mass that all important secular announcements affecting the habitant were made. At the church door, for instance, the seigneur was accustomed each autumn to call formally upon his dependents to remember the approaching festival of St. Martin, when their annual rents would be due and payable, and it was also at the church door that copies of ordinances and edicts were posted up for the information of the people. Ancient custom, confirmed by ordinance in 1709, prescribed that for the use of the seigneur there should be built in the seigneurial church on the right of the main entrance, and four feet from the altar railing, a fixed pew of the same length as the other pews and not more than double the depth. In all religious processions the seigneur had precedence immediately after the curé and his rank also received due recognition at all special services.

St. Martin’s Day was made the occasion of a great local fête at each seigneurial residence or manor house. It was on this date that the annual cens et ventes or rental, restricted generally to a few sous, supplemented by some capons or fowls and a quantity of grain for every arpent of frontage, became due. All the inhabitants of the seigneury, women as well as men, would come to the manor house in caleches or carrioles, and the day was a red letter one in the annals of the parish.

The old-time seigneur, too, possessed certain honorary privileges, such as the right to receive the fealty and homage of each of his tenants upon the occasion of the latter’s first entering upon his holdings and at every subsequent mutation of ownership, the ceremony taking place at the manor house. Another quaint custom attended the obligation which the tenants were under, to appear before the manor house on the first day of May, to plant a May pole near the door. This ceremony was made the occasion of a merry gathering, the young folks especially turning out in large numbers and engaging in dances and games of various kinds, while they were the recipients of the seigneur’s hospitality.[5]

Whatever may have been the later disadvantage of the seigneurial system, it cannot be denied that it was of immense advantage in the early colonisation of the country, and later in the preservation of French-Canadian nationality. The seigneurial and parochial systems, the fruit of Colbert’s genius, and essentially democratic in character, constituted in fact the basis of the French colonial organisation. Under the seigneurial system the seigneur became the apostle of colonisation and the[9] natural ally of the people. By means of this organisation, the French-Canadians became firmly attached to the land, and so strong was their position at the time of the Cession that all attempts of the new rulers to denationalise or Anglicise them proved abortive. The Roman Catholic bishops and clergy at the same time played a great rôle in preserving the unity and strength of the religious life of the people, which, maintained under the parochial system, proved another bulwark of French-Canadian nationality. That the French-Canadians were able to maintain their national entity and their distinctive character, and that from the seventy thousand colonists at the time of the Cession have sprung nearly three million people, preserving their distinctive characteristics, their religion, their laws, and their institutions, must therefore be directly ascribed to the devotion of the Roman Catholic bishops and clergy and to the system of land tenure which resulted in the people becoming firmly rooted to the soil.

In no portion of Lower Canada was the seigneurial tenure system better exemplified than in the historic Richelieu region, which may truly be said to have been for many years the stronghold of the seigneurs. The history of the district recalls the romance of the old régime. From the mouth of the Richelieu at Sorel to a point above Chambly, the land, which was amongst the most fertile in the province, was divided in 1666 and the following years into large seigneurial grants and apportioned to officers of the famous regiment of Carignan-Salières, which took its double name from the Prince de Carignan, who recruited it, and the gallant colonel under whose command it came out to Canada. The regiment had had an enviable history, marked by hard fighting and by deeds of distinction. It had participated in the historic wars of the Fronde, it had battled against the Turks, and its record throughout was one of daring and of heroism. In 1665 it was sent to Canada to fight against the Iroquois and here displayed the same courage and bravery in the campaign against the ferocious red man as it had shown on European fields. When later it was decided to disband the regiment, inducements were offered to many of the officers and men to become settlers, the officers as seigneurs and the men as their tenants. No fitter or finer body of men could have been found to settle along the fertile banks of the Richelieu than these hardy fighters, as at this period not only had the settler to clear and cultivate the land, but at the same time he had to keep an ever-watchful eye for the incursions of the ruthless Iroquois, who made the Richelieu River the highway for their marauding operations.

With these grants began the virtual settlement of the Richelieu valley, and, as has been truly said, the officers of the Carignan regiment formed the nucleus of the aristocracy of New France.[6] The now familiar names[10] of Chambly, Sorel, St. Ours, Contrecoeur, Varennes, and Verchères, all of which figure prominently in the narrative of Cartier’s career, recall valiant officers of the Carignan regiment who were not only renowned fighting men in the French colony, but who were the first lords of the soil in the Richelieu district and on the adjacent shores of the mighty St. Lawrence into which the Richelieu flows. From Philippe de Chambly, who was at that time the chief proprietor on the Richelieu, the fort and village of Chambly took their names, and Sorel owes its designation to Pierre de Saurel, a captain of the Carignan regiment who constructed the military works at that point in 1665. St. Antoine, the birthplace of George-Étienne Cartier, forms part of the ancient seigneury of Contrecoeur, which was granted as far back as 1672 by Talon the Intendant, to Sieur Antoine Pécaudy, a captain of the Carignan regiment. Ennobled by Louis XIV in 1661, Pécaudy had assumed the title of Sieur de Contrecoeur. Arriving in Canada in 1665, he took an active part in the campaign against the Iroquois. It was in recognition of his services in this connection that he received a grant of the seigneury to which he gave his name, and the parish and village of St. Antoine take their designation from the first two seigneurs of Contrecoeur, Antoine and François Antoine Pécaudy. From the labours of these and other early seigneurs sprang the thriving and picturesque villages which dot the shores of the beautiful Richelieu.

The settlement of the Richelieu district was typical of the settlement of many other portions of Lower Canada. At the outset military forts, such as those at Sorel and Chambly, were erected to protect the settlers from the attacks of the fierce Iroquois tribes. Out of his domain, which varied from half a league to six leagues in front on the river, and from half a league to two leagues in depth, the early seigneur made allotments to his soldiers, and directed his personal attention to the improvement of his own property. His first tasks were to build the seigneurial mansion, which at the outset was generally nothing more than a log hut, to construct a fort, erect a chapel and provide a mill. The clearing and cultivation of the land followed. In the early days, when Indian raids were common, the houses of the seigneurs and tenants were frequently built together and surrounded by palisades, forming a sort of fortified village. Gradually as fear of the red man lessened, the settlements extended, adjacent lands were cleared and cultivated, and settled by families who came from France or from other portions of Lower Canada. In time these fields of military and colonizing operations became the centres of thriving settlements. In this manner St. Antoine, St. Denis, St. Charles, and other historic villages rose into being. In the train of the seigneur and the settler came the missionary curé to tend to the spiritual needs of the people. What do the French-Canadians not owe to[11] these devoted priests and to their successors in the work of the church, who literally bore in their hands the ark of French-Canadian nationality, which they carried in safety through the wilderness of danger and despair that followed the Cession! It is a true as well as a striking observation of a great historian that, while the splendid self devotion of the early Jesuit missions has its record, the patient toils of the missionary curés rest in the obscurity where the best of human virtues are buried from age to age.[7] The missionary curé of this period was the prototype of his heroic predecessor who figures so prominently in the annals of the old régime. His charge comprised what has been well designated as a string of incipient parishes, extending in many cases over a vast region. Covering the waters of the St. Lawrence and the Richelieu in his birch canoe, under the direction of a trusty guide, carrying with him the sacred vessels of his holy office, he bore spiritual consolation to the people of the most remote settlements, solemnising the sacrament of marriage, baptising the newly born, saying mass, hearing confessions, imposing penances, granting absolutions, and giving the last rites of the church to the dying. To these devoted men did the first inhabitants of St. Antoine and the neighbouring villages on the Richelieu owe the benefits of religion; their spiritual welfare being looked after by the missionary priests of Contrecoeur, which was established as a parish as far back as the year 1680. To this heroic body of men also belonged Messire Michel Gervaise, the first curé of St. Antoine, who in 1741 became missionary cure of St. Charles, having charge of the inhabitants of St. Denis and St. Antoine. It was under his direction that the first presbytery and church at St. Antoine were erected between the years 1750 and 1752. Gradually parishes were established and the presbytery became the fixed abode of the curé. The settlement of the Parish of St. Antoine may be traced back to a very early period, the oldest concession having been granted in 1714 by the second seigneur of Contrecoeur, François Antoine de Pécaudy, to Dame Veuve Picard de Noray. A portion of this concession later passed into possession of Messire Gervaise, the first curé of St. Antoine, and subsequently became the property through marriage of the Cartier family. Towards 1725 many farms of the district were taken up by families from the Rivière des Prairies in the vicinity of Montreal, who, descending the St. Lawrence with their household effects in canoes, ascended the Richelieu as far as St. Antoine. In this way these families—Archambault, Geurtin, Courtemanche, Bonin, Gadbois, Allard, Circe, St. Michel, Menard, and Phaneuf—became the virtual founders of the parish, and many of their descendants are still to be found in the district.

The inhabitants of Lower Canada, at the period of Cartier’s birth,[12] numbering some two hundred thousand souls, may be said to have been divided into four classes—those belonging to the church and the religious orders, the noblesse or seigneurs, the mercantile body and the habitants or landowners. Another class of the community may be described as the habitant merchant, men who, like Jacques Cartier, the grandfather of George-Étienne Cartier, not only owned and cultivated land, but also engaged in trade on an extensive scale. The merchants of Lower Canada of the period comprised importers and retailers. From the former the latter received the merchandise on credit, and generally gave produce in return for their goods. It was to the importing or wholesale class that Jacques Cartier belonged, and he was not only an importer but also an exporter, sending large quantities of wheat to Europe annually. Quebec was at this epoch the great commercial entrepôt from which the merchants brought their goods to the country districts, while the wheat from the Richelieu district was sent down the river in small boats to be loaded at Sorel on vessels for Europe. Large quantities of wheat were for many years shipped in this manner. Railways were then unknown and transportation was by sail boats and by land conveyance.

In each community the leading figures were those of the curé, the seigneur, and the doctor. The curé not only attended to the spiritual wants of the faithful, but also played a leading part in their temporal welfare, being looked to for guidance and advice in many of the important affairs of life. The seigneur was the lord of the soil, to whom the tenant or habitant owed certain obligations, and who in turn was expected to be the protector of the habitant’s interests. The doctor, who attended to their physical welfare from the cradle to the grave, from the nature of his calling naturally obtained a large influence in the community. Though to-day the seigneur, except in a few isolated cases, has practically disappeared, the curé and the doctor, to whom may now be added the notary, are still the leading figures in all French-Canadian communities.

At the time of George-Étienne Cartier’s birth, the seigneurial system, though gradually tending to decay, retained much of its pristine character and many of the old customs still survived. The cens et ventes were still brought to the manor house on St. Martin’s Day to the interesting accompaniments of talkative tenants and noisy capons, the seigneur still had his raised and cushioned pew facing the altar in the parish church, and other of his privileges, such as the banal mill, the corvée, the droit de chasse et de pêche, were still in evidence. From the manor house the seigneur continued to exercise a paternal supervision over his tenants. As a class the seigneurs of Lower Canada could not be said to be well-off, in fact an official report made to the home government in 1800 declared that “very few of them on their own territory have the[13] means of living in a more affluent and imposing style than the simple habitant.”[8] The seigneurs of the Richelieu district, however, if they could not be called rich in the modern acceptation of that term, lived in considerable comfort. Not many of their establishments, of course, were of the proportions of the home of the LeMoynes, the famous Seigneury of Longueuil, which was built of stone and modelled on an old French château, the whole covering a space of over one hundred and seventy by two hundred and seventy feet. But if the generality of the manor houses bore little resemblance to the sumptuous châteaux of the Loire and the Garonne, they were at least substantial and comfortable, being in many cases constructed of brick or stone. They were tastefully, and in some cases elegantly furnished. The Debartzch Manor House at St. Charles on the Richelieu, which may be taken as typical of others, is described by one who visited it at this period as a large brick dwelling with a raised verandah. The interior was neat and commodious and handsomely furnished with every comfort. An expensive piano stood in the drawing-room, and fine paintings ornamented the walls. The barn and outbuildings were well stocked and in the coach house were carriages, sleighs, and a number of fine horses. Adjoining the house was a large garden containing the choicest plants. The cellars of most of the manor houses were generally well stored with wine and spirits to provide for the lavish entertainment of the seigneur’s guests. The income of each seigneur was derived principally from the yearly rental of his lands from lods et ventes, the fine on the disposal of property held under him, and from his grist mills, to the profits of which he had an exclusive right. These old mills, many of which may still be seen in the Richelieu region, constituted a picturesque feature of the seigneurial domain. They were generally built of stone and in the old days contained loopholes, as they served as a blockhouse in case of attack from marauding savages. As the country became more settled and fear of the red man lessened, the mills were constructed without the customary loopholes. Such was the old mill at St. Antoine which, built in 1790, is still standing. The rent paid by each tenant to the seigneur was inconsiderable, but those who had a large number of tenants enjoyed a tolerably handsome income, each tenant paying annually in money, grain or other produce from five to twelve livres.

After the Cession, as well as under the old régime, the seigneurs sometimes played an important rôle. True to the allegiance which they had accepted at the time of the Cession, they repelled the overtures of the Americans in 1775, and when Canada was invaded they hastened to the defence of their altars and their homes. As an evidence of the general attitude of the seigneurs at this period it is on record that in the severest[14] season of the year, in March, 1776, three seigneurs, DeBeaujeu of Crane Island, De Gaspé of St.-Jean-Port-Joli, and Couillard of St. Thomas, headed their retainers and attempted to succour Quebec, then blockaded by the Americans but defended by the gallant Guy Carlton. In the war of 1812 both seigneurs and habitants rendered signal service on behalf of the British Crown. Many of the seigneurs, such as St. Ours and Debartzch of the Richelieu region, occupied prominent positions in the official life of the province, and the seigneurial families were regarded as the social leaders of the period. The children of the household were carefully reared, the daughters receiving a training under the direction of the good Sisters that made them capable housewives as well as accomplished members of society, while the sons were reared for the learned professions. The ambition of every well-to-do family was to have a son educated for the priesthood, and other members of the family made a doctor, a lawyer, or a notary. Nor was this ambition confined to the seigneur’s household. Even the poorest habitant found means to send at least one of his sons to college to be trained for the priesthood or for one of the learned professions, and from many a humble habitant home went youths who subsequently won distinction in the Church and in the State.

Along the banks of the Richelieu were situated not only the manor houses of the seigneurs, but also the humbler dwellings of the habitants, whose farms have been well described as ribbons of land with one end on the river and the other on the uplands behind, combining the advantages of meadows for cultivation and of woods for lumber and firewood. In the early days of the Richelieu district the country, which is now nearly a level plain, was well wooded and timber was abundant. The habitant generally occupied a farm of from one to two hundred arpents, for which in the early days he paid annually not more than two sous an arpent, and frequently less, a portion of the rental being payable in money, but the greater part of it in grain, eggs, and capons or other fowl. Upon his farm the habitant lived an industrious and contented life. His habitation, if not spacious and ornate, was at least clean and comfortable. Usually built near the shore and whitewashed on the outside, the rows of trim cottages that might be seen from the river presented a picturesque appearance. Constructed of wood or logs, the house, as it has been described, generally consisted of only one storey, or ground floor, usually divided into four rooms. Over the single storey was a garret or loft formed by the sloping roof. The chimney was generally in the centre of the house with the fireplace in the kitchen. The furniture was plain and simple and mostly of domestic workmanship. A few wooden chairs with twig or rush bottoms and two or three deal tables were placed in each room, a press and two or three large chests held the wearing apparel[15] and other effects of the household. A buffet in one corner of the dining-room contained a display of cups, saucers, glasses and teapots, while some choice pieces of chinaware might grace the mantelpiece. In the best room a large clock would generally be found, and the walls would be ornamented with pictures of the Blessed Virgin, the Infant Jesus, a crucifix and representations of saints and martyrs, indicating the exemplary piety and devotion of the people. In the largest apartment was usually placed an iron stove with a pipe passing through the other rooms into the chimney. In the kitchen, which was perhaps more used than any other room, were a dresser, a few chairs, and a display of kettles, trenchers, tureens and other culinary utensils. In the fireplace itself, one of the main features of the house, large logs of wood placed on old-fashioned iron dogs furnished on cold winter days a comforting blaze. Over the fire, supported by a wooden crane, was usually a large kettle which often as not contained a plentiful supply of tasteful and nourishing pea soup. The sleeping apartments, like the other rooms in the house, were simply but comfortably furnished in old-fashioned style. In a corner of each of the bedrooms was a kind of four-posted bedstead without pillars and raised a certain height above the ground. At the head there was generally a canopy fixed against the wall. Upon the bedstead would be a feather or straw mattress with the usual clothes and covered with a patch-work counterpane or green stuff quilt. One of the most interesting features of habitant life was the dress of this period, which was of a distinctive character. The farmer’s attire consisted generally of a long-skirted cloth coat or frock, made of homespun of a dark grey colour, with a capuchon or hood attached, the latter being used in winter or in wet weather as a head gear. The coat was tied around the waist by a sash of various colours, sometimes ornamented with beads. The waistcoat and trousers were generally of the same cloth as the coat and a pair of moccasins or heavy boots completed the lower part of the attire. Upon the head was worn the famous tuque bleue, at once unique and comfortable. In summer the long coat was usually exchanged for a short jacket and the tuque bleue for a straw hat. The attire of the women, which was neat and simple, was generally made of cloth of their own manufacture, the same as was worn by the men. A petticoat and short jacket was the most customary dress of the period, though occasionally the women would deck themselves in printed cotton gowns, muslin aprons, and shawls. The elderly women adhered to long waists, full coifs and large clubs of hair behind.

The thrift and industry of the old-time habitants is shown by the fact that they had almost every resource within their own families. From flax which they cultivated they made linen, and their sheep supplied them with the wool of which their garments were formed. From[16] the tanned hides of their cattle were made their moccasins and boots, from woollen yarn they knitted their stockings and tuques, and from straw they made their summer hats and bonnets. Nor was this the case only with their wearing apparel. From the produce of their farms they made their own bread, butter and cheese, their soap, candles and sugar. They built their own houses, barns and stables, and made their own carts, wheels, ploughs, harrows, and canoes.[9]

Occupied with his farming operations, the habitant for a good portion of the year had little time to spare. The spring was spent in ploughing and sowing, in summer he was kept busy with the numerous demands of the farm, and in the fall harvesting took up nearly the whole of his attention. The soil of Lower Canada at this period retained so much of its virgin fertility that it required little cultivation to yield abundant crops. Wheat was the principal crop, but hay, peas, oats, rye and barley were also more or less raised by every farmer. Maize or Indian corn was then cultivated more as an article of luxury than of necessity, and tobacco was grown in small quantities for domestic consumption. Vegetables were grown in sufficient quantities. At the beginning of winter the habitant would kill his hogs, cattle and poultry for his own consumption and for sale on the market. The provisions were kept in the garret of the dwelling houses, where they became frozen and were thus preserved until required for use, and the vegetables were deposited in the cellars or excavation of the earth made for the purpose beyond the influence of the cold.

The personal characteristics of the habitant were not only distinctive but admirable. The men were sturdy and intelligent, of a gay and vivacious disposition; the women were comely, virtuous and devoted to their families. Early marriages, encouraged by the priests, resulted in a high standard of morality and a numerous progeny. Families of a dozen and more children were common then, as they still are, and fifteen, twenty and even thirty children in the same family were not unusual. If his attire was quaint and his tastes simple, the manners of the habitant indicated the innate nobleness of his character. From his French ancestry he inherited that natural politeness which seems to be inherent in the French blood. What in fact most impressed visitors to Lower Canada at this period was the easy deportment of the habitant, free as it was from all rusticity, and his gracious and unaffected hospitality. Lambert, the English traveller, who visited Canada at this time and made personal observations of the habits and customs of the people, describes the habitants[17] manners as easy and polite. Their behaviour to strangers, he says, was never influenced by the cut of the coat, or a fine periwig. It was civil and respectful to all, without distinction of persons. They treated their superiors, Lambert adds, with that polite deference which neither debases the one nor exalts the other, and they were never rude to their inferiors. Their carriage and deportment were easy and they had the air of men who had lived all their lives in a town rather than in the country. They lived on the best of terms with each other, parents and children to the third generation frequently residing in one house. The farms were divided as long as there was an acre to divide, and their desire of living together, Lambert quaintly observes, was a proof that they lived happily, otherwise they would have been anxious to part. Heriot, whose “Travels through the Canadas” was published in London only a few years before Cartier’s birth, pays the French-Canadian habitants the high tribute of remarking that their address to strangers was more polite and unembarrassed than that of any other peasantry in the world. Though time has wrought many changes in Lower Canada as elsewhere, the habitant still retains his gracious manners, and it would be difficult to find a more polite, unaffected and hospitable people than the residents of the country parishes of the Province of Quebec.

Not only in his manners, but also in his disposition, did the habitant display his French blood, being possessed of that gay and vivacious temperament which is one of the chief charms of the French character. Even though he might not be rich in the world’s goods, he was blessed with an abundant store of good spirits and rejoiced in sociability. He was passionately fond of visiting, given to harmless gossip, and delighted in a good story, a rollicking song, and a lively dance. Lambert tells how the habitant at that time rejoiced in dances and entertainments at particular seasons and festivals, on which occasions there would be a constant succession of merry-making. The long fast in Lent was followed by days of feasting. Then every product of the farm was presented for the satisfaction of the appetite. Immense turkey pies, huge joints of beef, pork and mutton, spacious tureens of soup, or thick milk, and a plentiful supply of fruit pies decorated the board. On some of these occasions fifty or one hundred people would sit down to dinner; the tables groaned with their load, and the room resounded with jollity and merriment. No sooner was the meal over than the fiddle would strike up a lively air and the dancing would begin. Old-fashioned reels, jigs and minuets would conclude the joyous gathering. Many of the quaint customs of the period have since disappeared, but these dances survive to this day in the country parts of Quebec. What joy in the hospitable habitant home when in the midst of a gay gathering of young and old the fiddle strikes up an air and all join in the accompanying dance!


Attached to the faith of his fathers, his language and his institutions, the habitant led a happy and contented life. The piety of the people was shown by numerous wayside crosses which were scattered throughout the country parishes and which still stand to this day, receiving as the emblem of the divine, from every passer-by, a reverent salutation. Zealous in the observance of all the rites and observances of the Church, its great feast days, Les Fêtes or Christmas holidays, Mardi Gras, or the day preceding Lent, Pâques or Easter, La Toussaint or All Saints, were the dates from which a habitant re-reckoned the great events of his life and of the parish. He would join piously in the Fête Dieu or Corpus Christi, one of the most solemn and imposing ceremonies of the Catholic faith, and would reverently kneel as the Host was borne in procession through the village streets. On Sundays and other special feast days he would reverently partake of Le Pain Bénit or Blessed Bread. At that time it was the custom for each family to send a choice loaf, generally of unusual size, to the church, and the bread having been blessed by the priest and cut into small pieces was placed in large baskets and distributed amongst the faithful. Christmas and New Year’s were notable seasons. At Christmas time there would be that quaint custom, the Quête de L’Enfant Jésus, the collection for the Infant Jesus, when candles would be collected for the illumination of the church at the Christmas midnight mass, while the women would bring bits of lace, ribbons and artificial flowers for the decoration of the Holy manger, where a scene representing the birth of the infant Saviour would be exposed for veneration. Following the midnight mass would come the réveillon, when all would join in feasting and gossip. New Year’s day, which was a great day for visiting and merry-making, was ushered in by that touching custom known as La Bénédiction Paternelle, the Father’s blessing on his children. “At early morning,” says Abbé Casgrain in describing this beautiful custom, “our mother woke us up, attired us in our Sunday best and gathered us all together with the house servants following, in the parlour. She then thrust open the bedroom door of our father, who from his couch invoked a blessing upon all of us, ranged kneeling around him, whilst emotion used to bring tears to the eyes of our dear mother. Our father, in an impressive manner, accompanied his blessing with a few words to us, raising his hands heavenwards. Of course the crowning part of the ceremony was the distribution of the New Year’s gifts which he kept concealed behind him.”

On New Year’s day too the habitant would pay his respects to the seigneur and visits would be exchanged from house to house. Often the seigneur, who was the godfather of most of the first-born of his tenants, would receive visits from his numerous godchildren, and it is on record that in some cases more than a hundred children would gather at the[19] manor house. Following New Year’s would come the Epiphany, or Little Christmas, when there would be renewed festivities, and later in the year St. Catherine’s day, always a great day in the French-Canadian parishes, would furnish another occasion for merry-making. Weddings, too, were attended in the country parishes at this period, as they are to-day, with much festivity. Domestic attachment was one of the strongest traits of the habitant character, and he was generally devoted to his family. Were there no visitors to entertain in the long winter evenings, whilst the farmer smoked in front of the fireplace, and the good wife busied herself with her household duties, with the numerous children playing around, some quaint story of olden days might be told. The habitants were as a rule great raconteurs and the abundant fund of Canadian folklore furnished them with a plentiful supply of stories. Wherever there was a habitant gathering it was sure to be made interesting by some such tale. It might be a version of the chasse gallerie, that old superstition dating back to the days of those hardy woodsmen, the coureurs des bois, under the French régime, and telling of bark canoes travelling in mid air, full of men paddling and singing, under the direction of the evil spirit. Or it might be a grim tale of the terrible loups-garous or werewolves, those frightful monsters, half wolf and half man, with heads like wolves and arms, legs and body like men, devilish creatures, who lived on human flesh and who would entrap unwary travellers to their cannibal repasts. The inexhaustible store of Canadian folklore furnished many another such tale to pass the leisure hour when other entertainment was not to be had. Equally as fond of a song as of a good story, the habitant would rejoice when a rollicking chorus was raised in some festive gathering. The chansons populaires recalled the sunny land of France and the days of the old régime, and the airs of “À la Claire Fontaine” and of many another old French song were familiar throughout the whole countryside, and found an echo in many a joyous group.

Frugal, industrious, God-fearing, the habitant was attached to Canada, because it was his home and endeared to him by innumerable associations. In the simple village churchyard reposed the remains of his ancestors who had worked the farm before him, and beside whom he would one day also rest; from the tower of the village church rang the bell which summoned him to worship, and from the pulpit the good curé would admonish him to holy thoughts and moral living. In the manor house nearby lived the seigneur, to whom he was wont to look for guidance in his temporal affairs. His own farm furnished all that his simple tastes required. Blessed by nature with a natural shrewdness and a sound common sense, he was able to hold his own in the struggle for existence. Contented and happy, with his own particular parish the[20] centre of his activities, he passed his days in peace, knowing little and caring less of the bustling world beyond.

Such were the general characteristics of the people from whom George-Étienne Cartier sprang, and the modes of life which I have described constituted his environment during those early years when his character was in process of formation. He possessed many of the habitant virtues, honour, probity, patriotism, unaffectedness, attachment to family ties, and love for his native land. The House of the Seven Chimneys, in which he was born, was the centre of the activities of the whole district. There the merchant owner lived and there he directed his extensive commercial operations. The portion of the dwelling devoted to a warehouse was stored with goods intended for the farmers throughout the district, and from the farmers in turn were purchased large quantities of wheat for export to Europe. With such an ancestry, and amid such surroundings, it was not surprising that George-Étienne Cartier possessed in an eminent degree those practical and businesslike instincts which distinguished him in his public career. His grandfather, who passed away only a few months before the future nation-builder was born, was one of the most successful merchants of the period, and his uncle, Joseph Cartier, was also a leader in the commercial life of the district.

Grandmother of Sir George
Lieut.-Col. Jacques Cartier,
Grandfather of Sir George Cartier


Lieut.-Col. Jacques Cartier, Father
of Sir George Cartier
Mme. Jacques Cartier, Mother of
Sir George Cartier


Both the parents of George-Étienne Cartier possessed striking personalities, and to each of them the son was indebted for distinctive traits of his character. His father was in some respects of a unique type. Of a gay and careless disposition, he was disposed to be a bon viveur, and, though destined by his father to follow a commercial career, he showed little inclination for such a calling. Possessed of an abundant fund of good spirits and endowed by nature with a fine voice, which he was fond of displaying, he was never so happy as when engaged in the festivities of the countryside or entertaining his friends around his hospitable board. His hospitality in fact was so prodigal that he dissipated much of his fortune, but he maintained his jovial spirits to the close of his days. If George-Étienne Cartier owed to his father his genial spirits and that pronounced optimism which never deserted him, it was to his mother that he was indebted for the more serious side of his character. Madame Cartier has been described by those who knew her as a veritable saint. A woman of superior intelligence and understanding, she was possessed of a most devoted and charitable disposition. Her hospitality to all and her kindness to the poor were proverbial, and in her spacious and comfortable home many unfortunates found relief. Of a deeply religious character, fervent in her devotion, she was zealous in attending to the spiritual as well as to the temporal needs of her poorer neighbours. For a portion of every year her home was the abode[21] of the good Brothers who taught Catechism throughout the country, and who never forgot the kindness of their pious benefactress. Under the training of such a mother young Cartier imbibed those religious and patriotic principles which guided him throughout the whole of his career.

It was in the company of his vivacious father and his young brothers and sisters, and under the watchful eye of his pious mother, that the first ten years of Cartier’s life were spent. At the village school of St. Antoine he received the rudimentary elements of instruction. Traditions of his youth describe him as a lad of gay spirits, of a rather combative nature, fond of fun and jollity, and always ready to take his own part. He was the centre of many a merry group of young people, for in the festivities of the countryside at that period both young and old had their part. The Richelieu district at that time may be said to have been at the zenith of its glory. It was the garden of Lower Canada, a land of peace and of plenty, of lavish hospitality and endless festivity. Though the descendants of some of the original seigneurs, such as the St. Ours family, still lived in the district, many of the seigneuries had passed into other hands, but the owners were no less hospitable than those of the old régime. The Seigneur of St. Antoine and Contrecoeur was the Honourable Xavier Amable Malhiot, a man of wealth and substance. At St. Denis lived the seigneur of that place, Louis Joseph Deschambault, at St. Charles was the comfortable manor house of Honourable P. B. Debartzch, at St. Mare lived Seigneur Drolet, at St. Ours, Honourable Roche de St. Ours occupied the manor house, and, at St. Hilaire, Seigneur de Rouville had his comfortable and hospitable home. At the different villages many well-known French-Canadian families had an ever ready welcome for all their friends. At St. Antoine, the home of the Cartiers was the centre of attraction, and there would assemble, from time to time, many of the notables of the district. In the upper storey of the commodious dwelling were situated the guest rooms, designated, in order to distinguish them, as the green room, the red room, the yellow room, the grey room, and the rose room, and Cartier’s father was never so happy as when these rooms were all occupied. In the early morning the genial host would knock at each door, and awake his guests with a merry song, presenting to each with his good morning salutation a little glass of fine Jamaica as an early cordial. Similar hospitality was to be found in all the other homes of the Richelieu region. At St. Denis, in addition to the Deschambaults, were the Cherrier, Nelson, Laparre, Bruneau, Bourdages, and Hubert families. At St. Charles were the homes of the Debartzches and Duverts, at St. Mare the Drolet and Franchère families, and at Beloeil the De Rouvilles, the Brosseaus and the Allards. The dwellings of these families were[22] popular meeting places for the whole district, and the scenes of constant gaiety. The winter especially was the season of enjoyment. Then festivity and good cheer reigned supreme, and dinners, parties and dances were the order of the day. The dinners, or, as they were known, the “fricots,” were marvellous for the variety of the eatables and for the good cheer that accompanied them. Songs and music followed the sumptuous repast, and then would be heard many a gay old French song. Often as not it would be that beautiful air, “À la Claire Fontaine,” “without which one was not a Canadian,” and which was ever a favourite with Cartier:

“À la claire fontaine
M’en allant promener
J’ai trouvé l’eau si belle
Que je m’y suis baigné
Lui ya longtemps que je t’aime
Jamais je ne t’oublierai.
“J’ai trouvé l’eau si belle
Que je m’y suis baigné
Sous les feuilles d’un chêne
Je me suis fait sécher
Lui ya longtemps que je t’aime
Jamais je ne t’oublierai.
“Sous les feuilles d’un chêne
Je me suis fait sécher
Sur la plus haute branche
Le rossignol chantant
Lui ya longtemps que je t’aime
Jamais je ne t’oublierai.
“Sur la plus haute branche
Le rossignol chantant;
Chante, rossignol, chante
Toi qui as le cœur gai
Lui ya longtemps que je t’aime
Jamais je ne t’oublierai.
“Chante, rossignol, chante
Toi qui a le cœur gai
Tu as le cœur à rire
Moi je l’ai-t-à pleurer
Lui ya longtemps que je t’aime
Jamais je ne t’oublierai.”[10]

These merry gatherings were witnessed not only in the manor houses, but in the humbler, though none the less hospitable, homes of the simple[23] habitant. The people of one village exchanged visits with those of another, and the icebound Richelieu would be gay in winter with the tinkling of numerous sleigh bells as the comfortable carrioles would carry parties from one house to another. From the military quarters at Fort William Henry (Sorel) and Chambly would often come the gay cavaliers, giving a touch of colour to the scene and always sure of a warm welcome, especially from the charming belles of the district. So lavish were many of the families in their hospitality that they became impoverished, and their last days were in striking contrast to the splendour of their former lot. But while the bon vieux temps or the good old times, as they were known, lasted the lot of all was cast in pleasant places.

It was amid such scenes that George-Étienne Cartier passed the days of his boyhood, and they left a permanent impress upon his character. Throughout his subsequent career he was noted for his gay and jovial spirits and he never forgot the delightful days of his youth in the Richelieu district. But more serious work was in store for him. Having acquired all that the village school could teach, it was decided by his parents that he should receive the benefits of a collegiate course, and in his tenth year he was sent to Montreal to enter the Montreal College, which was then, as it still is to-day, under the direction of the Sulpicians, or as they are officially known, “Les Messieurs de St. Sulpice.” It was at the session of 1824-25 that Cartier began his course at this historic seat of learning, from which have been graduated many of the foremost men of Canada. The College of Montreal has indeed had a unique history. The Seminary of St. Sulpice, ever mindful of its duty towards youth, as early as 1737 established a college, and in 1754 a great impetus was given to the cause of education by the arrival from France of a remarkable man, Curateau de la Blaiserie, who in 1757 was ordained and became curé of Longue Pointe near Montreal. He possessed rare qualities, and surrounded himself with devoted scholars and sympathetic friends. In his presbytery he established a flourishing teaching school, under the patronage of St. Raphael. St. Sulpice gladly availed itself of its services, and in 1773, an opportunity presenting itself, the fabrique of Notre-Dame purchased the fine mansion and garden of the Marquis de Vaudreuil, covering the ground between St. Paul and Notre-Dame Streets in the city of Montreal, the site of the present Bonsecours Market and Nelson’s Monument. There Curateau de la Blaiserie was installed as director of the College of Montreal, and continued his services until death terminated his career in 1790. The first college establishment was destroyed by fire in 1803, and in the following year the Seminary, out of its funds, erected on the site on St. Paul Street, a short distance west of McGill Street, a spacious building, in which two years later the[24] work of education was continued. This edifice was long known as the College of Montreal, and its name, after the building had passed into secular uses, was perpetuated in College Street. The college was subsequently removed to the present premises on Sherbrooke Street, which were erected on the site of the famous Fort de la Montagne, where, as an inscription records, the Gospel was preached to the Indians. It was in the old building on College Street that young Cartier was a student, and when he entered the college Messire Joseph Vincent Quiblier was Superior of St. Sulpice, and Messire Jacques Guillaume Roque was director of the college. Both were learned and distinguished ecclesiastics, and had much to do with the formation of the character of one whose career was to reflect the highest honour on the institution.

The college records show that young Cartier was not only an earnest student, but that he distinguished himself in the various classes up to the close of his collegiate career. He followed the whole classical course of six years, in 1824-25 taking elementary Latin, in 1825-26 syntax, in 1826-27 méthode, in 1827-28 versification, in 1828-29 belles-lettres, in 1829-30 rhetoric, and in 1830-31 philosophy. In the various years young Cartier carried off some of the principal prizes. In his sixth class (1824-25) he obtained the first prize in grammar, in his fifth class (1825-26) he was awarded the first prize in sacred history, in the fourth class (1826-27) he took the first prize in profane history and was also given the accessit or honourable mention for Latin verse. In the third year (1827-28) he was awarded the first prize for modern history, the second prize for Latin verse, and the accessit for a Latin theme. In the second class (1828-29) he secured the second prize for Latin verse, the second prize for Latin composition, and the accessit for French composition. In his final class (1830-31) he was awarded the accessit for Latin verse and achieved the high distinction of being chosen as the ripest scholar of the whole college to publicly defend a Latin thesis in logic, metaphysics and ethics, propounded by the professorial staff. It was a proud day for the young student, then only in his seventeenth year, when on August 10th, 1831, he appeared at the closing exercises and defended the thesis with ability and distinction. That he should have been chosen from amongst hundreds of students for such a task shows that his ability was recognised even at this early period.

To the careful training of the devoted Sulpicians Cartier owed much of his future success and from them he imbibed his deep love of classics and of letters. Nor did he ever forget his Alma Mater or the debt he owed to the good priests of St. Sulpice. On more than one occasion in future years did he bear public testimony to their worth. Nearly thirty years after his graduation, when he had attained the exalted position of Prime Minister of United Canada, Cartier attended the scene of[25] his early triumphs on the occasion of the closing exercises of the college, held on June 10th, 1860. Then and there he saw another generation of students graduated, and listened with emotion as the young Canadians at the outset of their careers lustily sang the national song, “O Canada, Mon Pays, Mes Amours,” of which he was the author. “This is the first time,” said Cartier, “that I have had the pleasure of finding myself in this place since my college course. Then, like all my fellow students, I was full of hope. I cannot help expressing the emotion which I feel in again seeing the place where I received instruction in morals and religion. It may be permitted me to profit by the occasion to recall the presence of several whom I see in the audience, and to pay a just tribute of praise to the venerable ecclesiastic who is present at this interesting gathering and under whose direction I learned the best of what I know. In the course of my career I have kept a good remembrance of his teaching, and I may say that, after leaving this institution and being under the influence of what is sometimes called youthful folly, I never forgot the religious principles received from the venerable M. Bayle. All my fellow students of that time will render the same testimony.

“As for you young students, do not forget that you in your turn are the hope of the national family. Depositaries of the precious sciences in which you are instructed, you will later have to use them for the profit of your country when each one of you will enter the sphere of action which Divine Providence intends for you. It will be then that you will have to put into practice the Christian lessons which you have received in this blessed institution, remembering that it is by our firm attachment to the religion of our fathers and to their eminent virtues that we will preserve our French-Canadian nationality. Who knows perhaps one of you is destined to fill in this country the position which I at present occupy? He will, I have no doubt, fill it better than I. I beg him to have always present in his thoughts the teaching which assures the conservation of our race.”

Once again the occasion presented itself for Cartier to sound the praises of his Alma Mater under historic circumstances. On September 16th, 1866, when, at the zenith of his career as a great statesman and nation builder, he was one of a party of eminent men who accompanied Lord Monck, the then Governor-General of Canada, on an official visit to the Grand Séminaire, where they were received by the distinguished Superior Abbé Bayle, who had been one of Cartier’s professors. “Forty years after my departure from this institution,” said Cartier in an address on that occasion, “I experience great joy in being able to again meet my old professor, the present Superior, and also to meet you whom I will call my fellow students, though I preceded you many years. Perhaps you have sometimes in your imagination regarded as very high the position[26] which I occupy to-day. Well, I wish to confess to you that I do not owe this position to my own merits, or to my natural capacities, but it is due to the reverend gentleman, to Abbé Bayle. When I was as young and as unruly as you are, it was he in fact who instructed, disciplined, and enlightened me, who indicated the road to follow, and, as I am infinitely pleased to see him to-day Superior of St. Sulpice, he perhaps on his part rejoices to see me as an adviser and representative of Her Majesty.”

For the priests of St. Sulpice Cartier always entertained the warmest feeling, and it was a noble tribute he paid to these devoted men when in delivering a funeral eulogy on Abbé Granet, Superior of the Sulpicians in Canada, on February 14th, 1866, he said: “The Sulpicians have had a great part in the progress of the French-Canadians, and their modesty, their simplicity, and their tact have always been admirable, whilst their zeal has always been so disinterested that never have they excited the least jealousy amongst our fellow citizens who are not of our race or of our communion.”

Graduating from the College of Montreal in 1831, young Cartier at once took up the study of the law, which was his chosen profession. He was articled to Édouard Rodier, a prominent Montreal lawyer of the period, in whose office he spent some time, and after the necessary examinations he was admitted to the Bar in 1835. While pursuing his legal studies he was active in various directions. Of an ardent and impetuous temperament, the young student sought other fields for his abundant energies. He became active in the organisation of the St. Jean Baptiste Association, the national society of the French-Canadians, which was founded in 1834 by Ludger Duvernay, of Montreal. Cartier was the first secretary of the Association and subsequently became its president. During the period following his graduation the young student paid frequent visits to the family home at St. Antoine, where he was always the recipient of a warm welcome from his parents, his brothers and sisters, and his old friends, who were all looking forward to a distinguished career for the bright and sprightly youth. In the Richelieu district, though political discussion was already running high, all was yet peaceful. The seigneurs continued to entertain lavishly and the habitants made merry in their comfortable homes. The beautiful Richelieu valley slumbered securely, all unconscious of the coming storm which was to devastate its fair domain.




When George-Étienne Cartier first opened his eyes upon the world a spirit of unrest was everywhere manifest. Great social and political transformations were in progress. Europe, enjoying a brief period of tranquillity, was soon to be again thrown into the convulsions of war; America still resounded with the clash of arms. George III sat upon the throne of England and Prince Louis Stanislas Xavier de Bourbon had been hailed in Paris as Louis XVIII, King of France and Navarre. On the first day of the very year in which Cartier was born Blücher crossed the Rhine and vast armies invaded France from all sides. The mighty Napoleon, standing at bay against the world, after a series of brilliant engagements saw his capital evacuated by the French soldiers and entered by the allied troops, and, retiring to Fontainebleau, he was forced to abdicate the throne which he had won by his sword. The venerable Pius VII, after suffering the discomforts of exile and the ignominy of imprisonment, once more occupied his rightful place in the city of the Cæsars, whilst the fallen emperor, languishing on the little isle of Elba, was gazing wistfully towards that Europe which within a few short months was to witness the wreck of all his hopes.

The position of the British possessions in North America was precarious in the extreme. Four weak and disunited provinces had no ties in common, with the exception of their allegiance to the British Crown. The cities of Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, St. John, and Halifax were but villages compared to the great centres which they are to-day, and the now prosperous west was a terra incognita over whose boundless plains the buffalo roamed at will. Each of the British North American Colonies was a law unto itself, with a hostile tariff against the others, and no bonds of communication. As to a national sentiment, as it is understood to-day, there was none. Isolation, not unity, was the feature of the situation.

In Canada proper the war begun in 1812—an outcome of the titanic struggle between Great Britain and Napoleon—was still in progress. Following the declaration of war by President Madison, American troops poured into Canada, but French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians rose as one man to defend their common country. A year before George[28]-Étienne Cartier’s birth the heroic Brock fell upon Queenstown Heights in the hour of victory, and only a few months before the future Father of Confederation first saw the light of day in the little village of St. Antoine, the gallant De Salaberry, by repulsing the American troops on the field of Chateauguay, saved Canada to the British Crown. In the face of grave danger political issues were forgotten for the time being, but they were soon to assert themselves. Everywhere the people were demanding a greater share in government, and it was inevitable that Canada should be affected by the spirit of the times. The path to political freedom, however, in this country, as in other countries, was to be marked by many pitfalls. Agitation was followed by armed revolt, which in turn was succeeded by a constitutional struggle which eventuated in the full recognition of responsible government.

To treat exhaustively of the long series of events which culminated in the rising of 1837 in Lower Canada, or with the record of that stormy period, does not come within the scope of this work. But, as Cartier was a participant in the rising and as he played a rather prominent part in the preliminary agitation and in the initial engagement between the patriots and the British troops, it is essential that the reader should have a clear understanding of the political developments of which the events of 1837 were the outcome.

From the capitulation of Canada until the rising of 1837 a period of seventy-six years intervened. They were for Lower Canada, as well as for other portions of British North America, years of incessant political turmoil and struggle. By the Act of Capitulation signed on September 8th, 1760, Canada passed under British rule, and by the following year French domination, which had prevailed for over a century and a half, had ceased in every portion of the country.

Then began a struggle which was continued for many years. We shall see how the French-Canadians under the leadership of a long succession of distinguished public men, of whom Cartier was one of the most eminent, successfully resisted all attempts to denationalise them and how their solidarity as a people was preserved.

In reviewing this period of Canadian history it is absolutely necessary that we should divest ourselves of all partiality and prejudice, and view men and events in the cold light of facts. The mistake that is too often made is to regard past events from the viewpoint of the present, the fact being overlooked that what is to-day accepted as axiomatic in politics and in government was frequently in the past a matter of fierce contention and dispute. It may thus be a matter of surprise to us to see with what passion and prejudice such questions as parliamentary freedom and responsible government, so clear and simple to all to-day, were fought out in Canada, and how the contending forces were animated by the[29] strongest racial animosity. But we must remember that each of the opposing forces regarded events from a different viewpoint, that to each of them the outcome was deemed of supreme importance, and that in the struggle many sincere and honest men were engaged on each side. The verdict of history upon the merits of the question at issue can now be but one, but we should at least treat the participants in the struggle dispassionately and give men credit for the sincerity of their motives, mistaken though they may have been.

From the time of the cession of Canada to the British Crown two opposing forces were at work in the country. One, composed of British officials and British colonists, regarded Canada as a conquered country and their aim was to make it British in every sense of the word, British in laws, and in institutions, and English in language. Many of the British colonists or the “new colonists” as they were termed, especially those engaged in commercial pursuits, regarded the French-Canadians as a vanquished and inferior people with little or no claims to consideration from their new masters. It was this class which was largely responsible for much of the subsequent friction. It is not to be wondered at that the hardy habitants, rooted as they were to the soil, should have offered the strongest opposition to the attempts to denationalise them. In the contest that ensued strong passions were aroused on both sides, and it was not until after many years of bitter conflict that the struggle was decided and that the French-Canadians gained the plenitude of their political freedom. Nor is it perhaps surprising that people of such widely different temperaments and mentalities as the old and new colonists should have clashed before by long association they had learned to understand and appreciate the sterling qualities of each other. The original inhabitants, or, as they were generally known, the habitants, were then, as the great mass of them still are, a simple, industrious, God-fearing, easily contented people, to whom the restless spirit of so-called modern progress made little appeal. Their folklore and their legends show that they were, like most people of Latin stock, of a deeply religious and spiritual nature. The English, or the new colonists as they were styled, were people of an entirely different stamp. For the most part they belonged to the commercial class and were attracted by the opportunities that the country afforded for trading. Of a cool, calculating, practical temperament, with an eye to the main chance, they for the most part regarded the country simply as a field for exploitation and for material gain. With a practical training and experience of affairs, generally well provided with money and enjoying powerful connections in Great Britain, they were mainly concerned in seeking profitable avenues for their enterprise. To such a class of men, naturally aggressive in their methods, the simple contented life of the habitant seemed an anomaly. Utterly ignorant, as most of the[30] newcomers were, of the heroic history of the people of the country, of their language, customs and institutions, they regarded the habitants as an inferior class whom it would be a blessing to Anglicise, and to inculcate with the spirit of commercial enterprise and of modern progress. The important fact that the simple industrious life of the habitant devoted mainly to agricultural pursuits, his spirit of loyalty, justice and fair play and his deep religious feelings were assets of the utmost value to the country, was completely overlooked. It is this difference in racial temperament and mentality that explains much of the friction that occurred between the two peoples. By long association that friction has to a great extent been happily removed, but whenever we find it recurring it may be explained to a large extent by the difference in racial temperament.

It is a fact of considerable interest that the French-Canadians of the period under review, whose descendants are naturally such keen politicians and so jealous of all the essentials of popular government, had no conception of the real meaning and scope of parliamentary institutions. The government of Canada under the French régime was as a matter of fact largely patterned upon that of France, the cardinal principles of which at that date have been well designated as absolutism and centralisation. It was through a Governor and Intendants that public affairs in Canada were administered, there also being a Superior Council which had legislative, executive and judicial powers. As far as the government of the country was concerned both the seigneur and the habitant were practically negligible factors under the French régime. Unlike the English colonies in America, there was never in the French colony any representative legislative body in which the people had a voice. “The very name of parliament,” as an eminent constitutional authority has remarked, “had to the French colonist none of that significance it had to the Englishmen, whether living in the parent state or in its dependencies.”[11]

But though the French-Canadian colonists did not enjoy parliamentary institutions, though in fact they had no conception of parliamentary freedom, once such institutions were secured their leading men were not long in grasping their full spirit and meaning and in realising what use might be made of them to assure the fullest political freedom for the French-Canadian people. The full realisation of the meaning of parliamentary institutions by the French-Canadians, their long struggle to achieve complete political freedom and the success which crowned their efforts form an historical study of absorbing interest. We must here content ourselves with a succinct review of the principal stages in that[31] momentous struggle especially as related to the events in which Cartier played a conspicuous part.

The three régimes of 1760, 1763 and 1774, imposed successively upon the French-Canadian population by the British Government after the Cession, have been described by a French-Canadian historian as on the whole simply changes in forms of tyranny.[12] This, though certainly an extreme view, contains an element of truth. Canada at the outset was regarded, at least by the British officials, as a conquered country and in many respects treated as such. The inhabitants of the country had practically no voice in the government. Though under the royal proclamation issued by George III in 1763, constituting four new provinces in America, of which Quebec was one, express power was given to the governors to summon general assemblies, and though General Murray summoned such an assembly for Quebec in 1764, it never met, as the Roman Catholic members naturally refused to take an oath which would have been practically an abjuration of their faith. As a result, from 1763 to 1774 the government of the Province was conducted by the Governor-General with the co-operation of an Executive Council, only one member of which was a French-Canadian.

While therefore the régimes of 1760 and 1763 were of an arbitrary character, the Quebec Act of 1774, which was carried despite the strongest opposition not only in England itself but in the English-speaking colonies, has been well described by an eminent French-Canadian historian as truly the Magna Charta of the French-Canadian people.[13] This Act substituted the laws and usages of Canada for English law, provided that Roman Catholics should no longer be required to take the test oath, but simply the oath of allegiance and gave the French-Canadians “additional assurances that they would be secured in the rights guaranteed to them by the terms of the capitulation and the subsequent treaty. Roman Catholics were permitted to observe their religion with perfect freedom and their clergy were to enjoy their accustomed dues and rights with respect to such persons as professed that creed.” It is true that no reference was made either in the terms of capitulation or in the subsequent treaty in regard to the use of the French language, but apparently it was not regarded as necessary that any such provision should be made. To make a people speak any particular language or to prevent them from speaking their mother tongue is not to be effected by either laws or treaties, a fact which is clearly demonstrated by the tenacity with which French-Canadians have held and still hold to their language.

It is important that the foregoing provisions of the Quebec Act should be especially emphasised, as it was upon these provisions that Cartier, as[32] well as all other French-Canadian leaders, based their claims for the due respect of solemn assurances. Many, especially amongst newcomers to the country, ignorant alike of its history and its traditions, have seemed, and in many cases still seem, to think that the French-Canadians enjoy certain unusual privileges to which they have no right, and which should be put an end to as soon as possible. It is therefore well to emphasise that what the French-Canadians enjoy in respect to their institutions and their religion are not privileges but rights guaranteed to them alike by treaty, by the law of nations and by the pledged honour of the British Crown.

The Quebec Act was generally regarded as for that period a most liberal measure, and it has been admitted by Garneau, the most eminent of French-Canadian historians, that it greatly tended to reconcile the French-Canadians to British rule. Liberal however as the Act was, it did not provide for representative institutions. Under it the government of the Province was entrusted to a Governor and a Legislative Council appointed by the Crown, it being declared that it was “inexpedient to call an Assembly.” During the seventeen years that the Act continued in force, the agitation in favour of parliamentary institutions was continued. The English-speaking element was amongst the first to petition for such institutions, hoping that by means of a representative assembly in which they would have the predominating influence to carry out successfully their idea of Anglicising the French-Canadians. It was because they feared this that a number of French-Canadians petitioned against the granting of a representative assembly. Joseph Papineau and other eminent French-Canadian leaders, however, with striking perspicacity, foresaw that the division of the country into two provinces with a representative assembly for each, chosen by the people, would eventually make the French-Canadians masters of their own destinies. Owing largely therefore to Papineau’s influence, numerous petitions were forwarded to England between 1783 and 1790, demanding representative institutions. “Let His Majesty,” said Papineau the elder, “give us a House of Assembly, where we may defend and conserve our laws and expose our griefs and our needs.” Papineau had his wish gratified in 1791, when, by what is known as the Constitutional Act, two provinces were established in Canada, each province being given a Legislative Council, and Assembly with power to make laws.

So persistent had been the opposition on the part of the French-Canadians to all attempts to denationalise them, that leading British statesmen realised that any such endeavour must prove futile and the Constitutional Act of 1791 was adopted in the hope that, French-Canadians[33] being left in the majority in one province and the British in the other, harmony would prevail.[14]

The 17th of December, 1792, is a date which must be forever memorable in the annals of Quebec, as it marked the beginning of representative parliamentary institutions for the French-Canadian people. It was in the previous month of June that the people of the province first exercised the proud privilege of electing members to a representative assembly, and it was on December 17th that the legislature of the Province of Quebec met for the first time.[15] The line of cleavage between the two parties became apparent at the very outset, the so-called British party endeavouring to secure the election of an English-speaking member as Speaker, and to impose the English language as the sole official mode of communication upon an Assembly composed of a large majority of French-speaking members. These attempts were frustrated, but they were but the prelude to a fierce and bitter struggle which continued for a period of over forty years.

From 1792 until 1812 Papineau the elder, Bédard, and other French-Canadian parliamentary leaders waged a ceaseless struggle for the achievement of parliamentary freedom. The great defect of the existing system was even then clearly seen by one at least of those eminent statesmen. Bédard in the legislature of 1808 declared that there was but one way to remedy the defects of the Constitution of 1791, that was to create a responsible ministry. In a series of articles in his newspaper, Le Canadien, which had been established expressly to advocate the popular cause, Bédard ably maintained his proposal, a proposal which was to be put into practice only after long years of agitation and conflict. The majority of the early governors, who were sent over to Canada by the Imperial government, were men better fitted to command troops than to govern a liberty-loving people. Many of their acts were of a most arbitrary character, but it must be said, in justice to their memories, that they were acting according to their lights, that they were largely guided by instructions from the Imperial authorities, and that the Colonial Ministers of that period had no conception of the broad and enlightened policy which was subsequently adopted and which made the self-governing provinces of the Empire towers of strength instead of sources of weakness[34] and dissatisfaction. Racial animosity was increased and the solidarity of the French-Canadian population strengthened by the fact that the governors, in the majority of cases, looked to the so-called British party for support, a party by whom the French-Canadians were regarded with disdain.

It was under the administration of Sir James Craig (1807-1811) that the real contest for the control of the machinery of government began. Craig has been well described as a soldier with pronounced ideas on such subjects as the necessity of discipline and the due subordination of inferiors; as one who detested the French-Canadians as a race, was suspicious of their church, doubted their loyalty and had no faith whatever in their capacity for self-government.[16] While the French-Canadian party was dominant in the Assembly, the British party looked to the Executive Council for support and they generally found in the Governor a zealous partisan. The seizure of the newspaper Le Canadien (1810), the imprisonment of Bédard, Taschereau and Blanchet and other measures of a like arbitrary character were but incidents in a reign of terror intended to strike fear into the hearts of the people. Craig’s methods, however, failed in their object, and the struggle was continued by the popular leaders with renewed vigour, only to be interrupted by the war of 1812, which effected a truce between the contending parties in face of the common danger.

It is at this stage that there first appears upon the political scene one who was destined to play a leading part in public affairs, who for a long period was the stormy petrel of Canadian politics and whose career has been the subject of much acrimonious criticism and discussion. By some historians Louis Joseph Papineau has been pictured as an unscrupulous demagogue and agitator, and an unprincipled politician; by others he has been lauded as a peerless statesman, a faultless patriot and a much maligned man. In neither of these extreme views is to be found the exact truth. A fairer and a juster estimate of his career will show that Papineau, though great in many respects, had his limitations, and that, though like all human beings he had his faults, they were accompanied by eminent virtues. This is not the place to estimate the value of the services he rendered to his country, as that may be better done at a subsequent stage of the narrative. At present it is solely essential that the great struggle Papineau conducted from 1820 until 1837 for parliamentary freedom should be reviewed especially in the bearing that struggle had upon George-Étienne Cartier’s career.

Born in Montreal on October 7th, 1786, Papineau was a young man twenty-eight years of age in the year which witnessed Cartier’s birth.[35] Elected to the Quebec Assembly in 1812, two years before Cartier was born, Papineau had already made a name for himself by the brilliancy of his oratory and his personal gifts. He was even then marked as the destined leader of the French-Canadians, and a worthy successor of his distinguished sire, who had so valiantly upheld the rights of his people. A man of the most attractive personality, of commanding presence, of wonderful eloquence and of the highest character, he appeared eminently fitted to lead his countrymen, and to be the champion of his people’s rights. In 1815, though only in his twenty-ninth year, he was elected to the high office of Speaker of the Assembly. From 1815 until 1820 Papineau, it has been remarked, still hoped for the removal of the existing abuses by means of the Constitution of 1791, which he then regarded “as a nearly perfect instrument of government.”[17] Papineau’s hopes in this respect were destined to prove illusive. It is not my purpose to enter into all the details of the long struggle which ensued, and in which Papineau boldly stood forth as the fearless champion of the rights of the people. In its essence, the French-Canadian question, as an eminent authority has said, was simple enough; it was whether the British minority or the French majority should rule.[18] While the French-Canadians had been given representative parliamentary institutions, those institutions had been practically rendered inoperative. The people possessed the shadow without the substance of parliamentary government. It was a British system without what such a system implied—British freedom. The Assembly in fact, as has been well remarked, was “not much more than a debating society which might fume and froth and pass revolutionary resolutions without any one being a penny the worse.”[19] Lord Durham subsequently hit on the crux of the situation when he remarked “How could a body strong in the consciousness of wielding the public opinion of the majority confine itself to the mere business of making laws and look on as a passive or indifferent spectator while those laws were carried into effect, or evaded, and the whole business of the country was conducted by men in whose intentions and capacity it had not the slightest confidence.”[20] “The Assembly,” says a writer from whom I have already quoted, “could not appoint a single Crown servant. The Executive Council, the law officers and such heads of administrative departments as there were were placed in power without consulting the Assembly and remained in power however strongly the Assembly might desire their removal. The Governor and his little knot of advisers could always get[36] the Legislative Council to reject a bill with which they were dissatisfied; and even when after repeated struggles the Assembly succeeded in forcing a law through, it had to be administered by the very men who most strenuously opposed it. The Governor who came out from England, generally an old soldier, knew nothing of the temper of the people. He was thrown into the arms of the little group of officials which had governed the country before he came, and could hardly escape coming under their influence. From the point of view of the Assembly, the Governor was an opponent from the day he landed.”[21] The people of Lower Canada, as has been well remarked by a high constitutional authority, after having had some years’ experience with representative institutions, “could not now be satisfied with the working of a political system which always ignored the wishes of the majority who really represented the people in the legislature; consequently the discontent at last assumed so formidable a character that legislation was completely obstructed.”[22] It was that discontent which was to culminate in the rising of 1837.

Papineau’s labours from 1820 to 1837, both in the House of Assembly and on the public platform, were of a herculean character. As a popular tribune he was facile princeps. During this great period of his career, that is to say from 1820 to 1837, Papineau was, to use the words of a French-Canadian writer, “the personification of a whole people.” During that whole period he was undoubtedly the outstanding figure in Lower Canadian politics, and he had an almost unbounded sway over his fellow countrymen. Those who have treated Papineau as a mere agitator and demagogue have done him a great injustice. His utterances, it is true, were, especially in the latter stages of the great struggle, often marked by extreme language, but the very weakness of the popular body which was supposed to be the voice of the people will explain in a great measure, as Lord Durham pointed out, the violent and revolutionary speeches of Papineau and some of his chief lieutenants. “They were not like a constitutional opposition preparing the way for their return to power ... they were a permanent opposition. Nothing short of a revolution could put them in office.”[23] To political hostility were added racial animosity and prejudice. “The old-fashioned Tories who surrounded the Governor-General,” as another writer observes, “witnessed the exclusion of the House of Assembly from all power and patronage with a fullness of enjoyment not given to the Family Compact of Upper Canada. The pleasure of keeping down the representatives of the people was indeed common to both, but the former had the additional satisfaction of knowing that in their case the people were of an alien race and that in[37] vindicating their political principles they were gratifying their natural prejudices.”[24] Is it any wonder that under such circumstances Papineau’s patience should have been sorely tried and that at times his language was far from conciliatory?

The efforts of the so-called British party were persistently directed to the subordination of the French element and the annihilation of their political power. It was with this object that a bill was introduced in the British Commons in 1822 making a single province of Upper and Lower Canada, abolishing the use of the French language and giving an enormous preponderance to English-speaking representatives in the proposed Canadian parliament. It was only through the sense of justice of leading British statesmen that the proposal was shelved.

It is not necessary to enter into all the details of the momentous struggle which was waged for a period of nearly twenty years between the parliamentary forces led by Papineau and the executive or ruling forces headed by the respective governors of the period. From that struggle, though it met with apparent defeat as the result of the unsuccessful rising of 1837, was destined, as will be seen, to ultimately result responsible government, and the political liberties which Canadians at present enjoy. Papineau, basing his contention on British principles, maintained the supremacy of the people’s representatives and his remedy for the exciting abuses was the application of the elective principle to every part of the administration and especially to the Legislative Council. “I solemnly declare,” he said in 1834, “that no harmony whatever can exist in this country between the several branches of the legislature until the elective principle shall have been applied to every part of the administration; it must above all be applied to the Legislative Council, where a pack of old men paralyse by their ceaseless opposition all the efforts of the representatives of the people.”

It was at least the merit of Papineau that he was no exclusionist, that he demanded nothing that he was not ready to concede to others. “The Government I long for,” declared the French-Canadian leader in a striking speech in the Assembly in 1835, “is one composed of friends of legality, liberty and justice, a government which would protect indiscriminately every proper interest and accord to all ranks and to each race of the inhabitants equal rights and privileges. I love, I esteem all good men as men, not preferentially because they are of this or that descent, but I detest those haughty dominators who come amongst us and dispute our right to enjoy our own laws, customs and religion.... There is no lawful distinction between their status in the province and ours, the same rights and a like just claim for protection are common to us both.... Briefly we demand for ourselves such political institutions[38] as are in accordance with those of the rest of the Empire and of the age we live in.” That was the speech of a patriot and a statesman. With the idea of making common cause with the reformers of Upper Canada and other portions of British North America, who at the same time were engaged in an equally strenuous struggle for political freedom, Papineau corresponded and conferred with William Lyon Mackenzie, the great Upper Canada reformer, who, like Papineau himself, had a positive genius for political agitation, and who has been well described as the greatest agitator that ever Upper Canada has had. Correspondence also passed between Papineau and Joseph Howe, the great Nova Scotia reformer.

Nor did Papineau have the support in Lower Canada of his French-Canadian countrymen alone in his agitation for reform, at least in the earlier stages of it. One of his strongest supporters and one of the truest friends of the French-Canadians was John Neilson of the Quebec Gazette, in whom the cool and prudent temperament of the Scot was united with the Scotchman’s love of justice and freedom. James Cuthbert, of Berthier, and other leading English-speaking Canadians, were also earnest upholders of Papineau until the extreme attitude assumed by him in the later stages of the agitation led to a rupture. Representatives of the Eastern Townships, peopled by descendants of the United Empire loyalists, were frequently found voting in the Assembly with Papineau and his party for the constitutional reforms which they advocated. When the Assembly at its session of 1834 expressed its grievances in a series of resolutions, a number of the inhabitants of the Eastern Townships assembled at Stanstead and passed resolutions in approbation of the Assembly’s action, and at the height of the agitation Papineau visited the Townships in person and was enthusiastically received as the champion of political freedom.

The Imperial authorities from time to time showed a disposition to make some concessions to the people’s demands, but they were not ample enough to meet the approval of the majority of the Assembly. Thus at the session of 1831 it was announced that in accordance with the concessions and reforms recommended by Lord Goderich, the Home Government was willing to give up all control over the Colonial revenues, except the casual and territorial income, on condition that a civil list of £19,000 a year should be given to His Majesty for life. These concessions, which in the opinion of the more moderate members might have been made the basis for further concessions, the Assembly refused to sanction, more sweeping reforms and guarantees for additional ones being demanded by the majority.

The demands of the parliamentary representatives of the people eventually found formal expression in the famous Ninety-two resolutions[39] proposed by Elzéar Bédard in the Assembly of 1834. These resolutions, which were inspired by Papineau and drafted by Augustin-Norbert Morin, who has been well described as the ablest political writer of the day and who was destined to fill a great rôle in Canadian politics, were carried in the Assembly by an overwhelming majority. In a rather diffuse manner, they summed up the grievances of the people’s representatives, alleging “arbitrary conduct on the part of the Government, intolerable composition of the Legislative Council, which they insisted ought to be elective, illegal appropriation of the public money and violent prorogation of the provincial parliament.” It was declared that “The French-Canadians had been treated with contumely, that they had been debarred from public office and that their habits, customs and interests had been disregarded.” “Since the origin and language of the French-Canadians,” declared the people’s representatives, “have become a pretext for vituperation, for exclusion, for their meriting the stigma of political inferiority, for deprivation of our rights and ignoring popular interests, the Assembly hereby enters its protest against such unjust assumptions and appeals against them to the justice of the King and Parliament of Great Britain, likewise to the honourable feeling of the whole British people.”

The Assembly had, at a previous session, almost unanimously adopted the report of a committee, by which, in order that peace and harmony might be established in the province, there had been demanded:

1. Independence of the judges and their exclusion from the political business of the province.

2. Responsibility and accountability of political officers.

3. A greater independence of support from the public revenues and more intimate connection with colonial interests in the composition of the Legislative Council.

4. Application of the Jesuit Estates to educational purposes.

5. The removal of obstructions to land settlement.

6. A redress of grievances generally.

These resolutions were embodied in addresses to the Imperial parliament which, at the instance of the Assembly, the Governor transmitted to London. It was the decision of the Assembly that in no case would it recede from its determination to assume unlimited control over the entire financial receipts and public expenditure; that the Imperial parliament, wherein Canada had no representative, had no right to interfere for the renovation of laws which the Canadians considered needful for the maintenance of their rights. At the same time the people’s representatives intimated that interference in the local legislation of Canada in any way by British legislatures could only aggravate existing evils.

Most of the demands of the people’s representatives would appear as[40] perfectly reasonable in the light of present ideas of free government. These demands, however, fell upon deaf ears. The British statesmen who at that period successively filled the office of Colonial Minister were not men animated by the broad principles of colonial policy which guided their successors. Following the adoption of the Ninety-two resolutions and the refusal of the authorities to meet the demands of the reformers political conditions in the province went from bad to worse. Since 1832 the Assembly had persistently refused to vote supplies and the Governor was eventually driven to the extremity of paying salaries by loans from the war funds. By 1835 the government of the province had practically arrived at a deadlock, and it was under such circumstances that a special commission with Lord Gosford at its head was sent out by the Imperial authorities to investigate conditions. Lord Gosford, a man of broad and enlightened views, was in favour of conciliation and reform, but he was overridden by his colleagues and their report was a hard blow to those who hoped that the people’s grievances might be redressed in a constitutional manner. The report in substance declared against the principle of an elective upper house, stated that ministerial responsibility was inadmissible and favoured means being found to elect a British majority to the legislature by a change in the franchise. Coercion was finally recommended as the last resort. On March 6th, 1837, Lord John Russell submitted to the British parliament a series of resolutions respecting Lower Canada which were destined to bring matters to a head. These resolutions stated in substance that no supplies had been voted since April 31st, 1832, that the supplies up to the current year (1837) amounted to £142,160, that the House of Assembly demanded an elective Legislative Council and other concessions, that in the present state of the Province the granting of these demands was inexpedient, and “that, for defraying the arrears due and the customary charges of the government, the Governor be empowered to apply to those objects the hereditary territorial and casual revenues of the Crown.”[25] Despite the strongest opposition on the part of some of the leading members of the British Commons, the entire series of resolutions was, after protracted debate, agreed to on April 24th.

Historic Church at St. Antoine in Which George-Étienne Cartier Was Baptised


A storm of popular disapprobation and protest followed in Lower Canada. That the Imperial government felt that the proposal to defray the customary charges of the government without the sanction of the[41] people’s representatives would be regarded as an arbitrary and unconstitutional step, and that it might result in trouble was shown by the fact that the Colonial Secretary, Lord Glenelg, empowered Lord Gosford to draft any troops he might be in need of from Nova Scotia. The dissatisfaction in many portions of the province gradually reached such a pitch that in the month of June the Governor-General issued a proclamation warning the people against agitation. Despite the proclamation Papineau, Morin, LaFontaine and other popular leaders addressed a series of public meetings at which the action of the Imperial government was strongly denounced. Towards the end of June Lord John Russell announced in the British Commons his willingness to leave in abeyance the bill founded upon his resolutions and duly adopted in the hope that the Assembly of Lower Canada would be convinced that their demands were incompatible with their status as colonials. Lord John Russell frankly admitted that the measure was one that bore a harsh and coercive character, but at the same time he desired it to be understood that he was conceding nothing to the Canadians as to their propositions for organic changes and he trusted that other views would animate the Assembly at their next sitting. Lord John Russell’s emphatic declaration was a clear intimation to the people’s representatives that they need expect nothing from him in regard to the reforms which they had demanded. The legislature of Lower Canada was summoned by Lord Gosford for August 18th and the Governor in opening parliament recommended the Assembly to make arrangements for the employment of the revenue, intimating that if they did not do so the Imperial government would order it to be done for them. The answer of the Assembly was to vote an address protesting against the recommendations made by the report of the Commissioners. When this address was presented to the Governor on August 26th, he at once prorogued the legislature. It was to be many years before the people of Lower Canada were again to have a legislature of their own.

The summary prorogation of the legislature was the signal for further popular protests. The Richelieu district, which included the six populous counties of Richelieu, St. Hyacinthe, Rouville, Chambly, Verchères and L’Acadie, was the hot-bed of popular dissatisfaction. A sort of political compact known as the Confederation of the Six Counties was formed with the support of a dozen members of the Assembly and a number of militiamen marshalled by officers who had had their commissions cancelled as a result of their activity in the agitation. Political excitement ran high throughout the district. At the successive meetings which were held numerous banners were displayed bearing such inscriptions as “Papineau and the Elective System,” “Honour to those who have resigned their commissions and been sent adrift,” “Shame upon their[42] successors,” “Our Friends of Upper Canada,” “Honour to the brave soldiers of 1813, the colony needs their services,” “Independence.” The Legislative Council was pictorially represented on flags by a death’s head and cross bones.

The first of the great series of popular demonstrations which were to precipitate the rising was held at St. Ours in the Richelieu district on May 7th, 1837. The meeting, which was presided over by Côme-Séraphin Cherrier, a leading patriot, attracted a large gathering. The principal speaker was Dr. Wolfred Nelson, of St. Denis, who had attained marked prominence in the patriot ranks and who was destined to have a leading part in the impending conflict. A series of resolutions were adopted, strongly denouncing the Russell resolutions as a violation of the terms of capitulation, the treaty and the constitutional acts granted to the province, and denying the right of the British parliament to legislate for the internal affairs of the colony against its consent and without its participation and demand. It was further resolved that the people should abstain as far as possible from using and consuming imported articles, and to render this effective it was decided that a patriotic association should be formed, the object of which should be to have only articles manufactured in the colony used. It was further declared advisable that the people should rally around Papineau, who was hailed as the “regenerator of a nation.”

The St. Ours meeting was followed by others at which similar resolutions were adopted. On June 15th Lord Gosford issued a proclamation forbidding such meetings, an action which was hailed as another attack upon the people’s rights of free assembly. Public meetings and demonstrations were continued with greater enthusiasm than ever. “Vive Papineau,” “Vive la Liberté,” “Point de Despotisme,” “A Bas la Proclamation,” “Hurrah for the English who are our friends,” “Down with those who would injure us,” now became the rallying cries of the popular gatherings. Papineau in some of his addresses denounced Lord Gosford’s proclamation as an infringement of the people’s rights and in many places where the proclamation was posted up it was torn down by the enraged people. During the months of June and July Papineau addressed another series of monster meetings, proceeding on the south shore of the St. Lawrence as far as Kamouraska, while LaFontaine and other speakers addressed a series of similar gatherings on the north shore. In the meantime the supporters of the government, or, as they were styled, the Constitutionalists, were not idle and a number of monster meetings were held under their direction. These divergent meetings and the speeches made at them helped to fan the public excitement.

The climax of the popular agitation was reached at a great mass meeting held on October 23rd, 1837, at St. Charles, which was shortly afterwards[43] to be the scene of a sanguinary conflict between the patriots and the British troops. The St. Charles meeting has been rightly termed the most important of all the public gatherings which preceded the rising of 1837, as it precipitated the dénouement by leading the authorities to intervene.[26] Delegates were present from all of the six confederated counties of the Richelieu district, and a gathering of over six thousand people collected. Papineau and O’Callaghan, one of his chief lieutenants, were amongst the principal speakers, and were supported by thirteen members of the Assembly. A column was erected surmounted by the cap of liberty and bearing the inscription “A Papineau, Ses Compatriotes Reconnaissants, 1837.” In presenting Papineau to the gathering as the chief orator of the day Dr. Wolfred Nelson, who had been chosen chairman, declared that the action of Lord John Russell and Lord Gosford’s proclamation prohibiting public meetings should lead the people to organise in order to meet violence by violence. Papineau, who was the recipient of a great ovation from the people, who were always stirred by his powerful eloquence, whilst expressing the grievances of the country and strongly protesting against the actions of the Imperial government and Lord Gosford’s conduct, counselled the people to restrict themselves to constitutional agitation. It was at this period of Papineau’s speech that Dr. Nelson, who was soon to lead the patriot forces on the battlefield of St. Denis, is reported to have exclaimed, “Well I differ from Mr. Papineau. I maintain that the time has arrived to cast our spoons into bullets.” Despite Papineau’s pacific utterances, extremely violent language was used by some of the speakers, Dr. Côté, one of the most outspoken, closing his discourse with the remark “The time for speeches is past, it is bullets that we must now despatch to our enemies.”

Before the great gathering dispersed a series of resolutions, thirteen in number, were adopted declaring in substance for the rights of man, affirming the right and necessity of resisting a tyrannical government, urging the English soldiers to desert the army, encouraging the people not to obey the magistrates and the militia officers named by the Government and to organise themselves.[27] A military air was given to the gathering by the presence of a company of dismissed militiamen who, under the command of Captains Lacasse and Jalbert, surrounded the column of liberty, and before dispersing many of the enthusiasts in the[44] crowd swore before the column to be faithful to their country, to conquer or to die.

It was the St. Charles meeting, followed closely by others of a similar character, that led the authorities to consider the advisability of taking drastic measures against the popular leaders. A report which gained currency that warrants for the arrest of the patriot chiefs were likely to be issued furnished the spark to the fuel of discontent. The storm was almost ready to break.




“Every one in the colony is discontented, we have demanded reforms and not obtained them, it is time to be up and doing,” exclaimed LaFontaine in the early part of 1837. “We are despised, oppression is in store for us and even annihilation. But this state of things need endure no longer than while we are unable to redress it,” said the mild and gentle Morin. These declarations of two of the leading public men of Lower Canada expressed the general temper of the people. Many, it is true, still hoped for a peaceful and constitutional redress of the existing abuses through action by the Imperial authorities, others, rendered impatient by the long and apparently futile struggle, saw no remedy except in extreme measures. The advice of prudent men who counselled patience, moderation and conciliation fell upon deaf ears in a period of intense political agitation and excitement.

The popular discontent was most apparent in the city and district of Montreal, then as now the chief centre of the country, and in the six counties of the Richelieu district which had been the scene of Papineau’s triumphal progress and of the great popular gatherings. Following Lord Gosford’s proclamation and the summary prorogation of the legislature, some of the more ardent spirits amongst the younger element of the patriots decided to form an organisation which should constitute a rallying point for their forces. The idea seems to have been first suggested by one, Pierre Jodoin, in the month of June, when the public excitement over Lord Gosford’s proclamation ran high. The proposal was enthusiastically received, and on September 5th, 1837, the association, which was given the name “Fils de la Liberté (Sons of Liberty), was solemnly organised at a large meeting held in the Nelson Hotel on Jacques Cartier Square in the city of Montreal. The demonstration was marked by violent speeches by Robert Nelson, a brother of Wolfred Nelson, André Ouimet and Édouard-Étienne Rodier, a popular orator in whose law office Cartier had been a student. A military semblance was given to the proceedings by a band of music which played patriotic airs. Before dispersing, the gathering, to the number of several hundred, proceeded with the band at their head to the residences of two of the popular[46] chiefs, Papineau and D. B. Viger, who warmly congratulated them on having so patriotically responded to the appeal of their chiefs.

The Fils de la Liberté was a semi-political, semi-military organisation, being constituted of two divisions, one intended to conduct a political agitation by means of the platform and the press, the other to effect by force of arms, if deemed necessary, the triumph of the popular cause. The motto chosen for the organisation was “En Avant” (Forward). Of the political division André Ouimet, of Montreal, was named president, with J. L. Beaudry and Joseph Martel as vice-presidents. Thomas Storrow Brown, an American, who had resided for some years in Montreal and taken sides with the popular cause, was named “General” of the military division, having under his orders six chiefs of sections, the city having been marked off into six military divisions. Frequent meetings of the sections were held; the members were instructed in military drill and many parades were held, arousing the enthusiasm of the patriots to fever heat. Arms, however, were lacking, what weapons the members had being confined to stout bâtons with a few fowling pieces. Some of the more enthusiastic members were in favour of bringing in arms from the United States, but this idea was strongly opposed by the leaders and abandoned on the advice of Papineau himself. Some of the assemblies of the Association were very largely attended; for instance, on the eve of the great meeting at St. Charles, a gathering of over one thousand men paraded at Côte-à-Baron, a suburb of Montreal.

George-Étienne Cartier was at this period in his twenty-third year, and he threw himself into the political struggle with all the ardour and impetuosity of youth. His first appearance in the political arena was as early as 1834, when as a youth of twenty he took part in the elections of that year, in support of the candidature of Papineau and Robert Nelson against Walker and Donallen, who were the candidates of the Bureaucrats.[28] Even at this early period Cartier had made himself conspicuous by his activity and ability. He was one of the most fervent disciples of Papineau. Frequently he had listened to the great tribune thunder from the platform and had come under the spell of his magnetic eloquence. Other influences too had been at work to make the young man a zealous upholder of the popular cause. Admitted to the Bar in 1835, he passed some time in the office of Édouard Rodier, a prominent Montreal lawyer, who, though only thirty-two years of age, at this time was one of the most popular champions of the people, and one of the chiefs and the favourite orator of the Sons of Liberty. Rodier was a member of the Legislative Assembly, and was one of the strongest and[47] most violent opponents of the existing order of things. His oratory was of a perfervid character. “They attack us now,” he exclaimed on one occasion when a conflict took place between the Sons of Liberty and the Constitutionalists; “it is well; soon they will call us not only the Sons of Liberty but the Sons of Victory.” As environment has much to do with the formation of character, it was doubtless from Rodier, with whom he was for a considerable period almost in daily contact, that Cartier drew the inspiration that transformed him from the quiet and peaceful student of the good priests of St. Sulpice into the political zealot and the bellicose son of liberty. He became one of the most active members of the organisation, and took a prominent part in all the proceedings. Enjoying the popular soubriquet of “Petit George” (Little George), on account of his diminutive stature, he was a familiar figure at all gatherings of the Association; he became in fact the bard of the movement, and a song which he composed under the title “Avant tout je suis Canadien” (Before all I am a Canadian) was invariably sung by the Sons of Liberty during their parades. The production, whilst not possessing much literary merit, was of a stirring character and calculated to arouse the enthusiasm of the fiery young agitators as they paraded to the lively air of the words:

“Souvent de la Grande Bretagne,
On vante et les mœurs et les lois;
Par leurs vins, la France et l’Espagne
A nos éloges ont des droits.
Admirez le ciel d’ltalie
Louez l’Europe, c’est fort bien;
Moi, je préfère ma patrie:
Avant tout je suis Canadien.”[29]

In addition to his activity in the Sons of Liberty Cartier also became joint secretary with the unfortunate Chevalier Delorimier of the central and general committee of the Patriots of Montreal.

The proceedings of the Sons of Liberty, whilst they strengthened the patriotic fervour of the people, incensed the “Constitutionalists” or “Loyalists,” as the adherents of the ruling party were variously styled. The Constitutionalists of Montreal had an organisation of their own known as the Doric Club, the membership of which was largely composed of the English-speaking youth of the city. Between the Sons of Liberty and the Doric Club there was deadly enmity and the prevailing passion and[48] prejudice tended to fan the flames of animosity. Aroused by the activity of the Sons of Liberty, appeals finally appeared in some of the English newspapers urging drastic action against the members of the organisation. “Where are the guns,” ran one appeal; “where is the axe-handle brigade, where is the Doric Club which we are accustomed to see whenever it is necessary to defend the constitution and British honour? To what lengths are we going to allow these revolutionary scoundrels (the Sons of Liberty) to proceed?”

The passion engendered on both sides was such that a conflict between the two forces was rendered inevitable. Minor disturbances were frequent, but it was not until November 6th that there occurred what was described in a contemporary account as “the first collision in the province between British subjects of English and French origin for those political opinions which had so long estranged them from one another, as parties contending for different schemes of government.” It was a day long to be remembered in the annals of Montreal. Some days previously it was reported throughout the city that the Sons of Liberty intended to meet on the Place d’Armes and there raise the cap and plant the tree of liberty. There appears to have been no foundation for such a report, but it had the effect of arousing public excitement, which was still further increased when a proclamation was issued by the magistrates declaring that depositions had been lodged before them that numerous bodies of men with distinctive badges and denominations and influenced by adverse political opinions intended to parade the streets, from which processions under the prevalent state of public feeling there was reason to apprehend that riots and tumults might result. All parties were therefore called upon to refrain from joining or forming part of such processions as were calculated to disturb the public peace. On the morning of November 6th a placard posted on the city walls called on the different “loyal” and “constitutional” wards to meet at the Place d’Armes at twelve o’clock (noon) to assist “to crush rebellion in the bud.” The most intense excitement prevailed throughout the city, large crowds gathered on the streets and the day’s developments were anxiously awaited. It was not until two o’clock in the afternoon that the Sons of Liberty began to muster in their regular meeting place, the yard of Benacina’s Tavern, in front of the American Presbyterian church on what was then known as Great St. James Street.

The muster attracted the attention of the “Constitutionalists” or members of the Doric Club, a force of whom had soon gathered in front of the meeting place. Who were the aggressors in the initial conflict has been disputed. By the Constitutionalists it was claimed that those assembled in the yard rushed out and made an indiscriminate attack on those outside with sticks and stones. On the Patriot side it was[49] contended that whilst a peaceful meeting was in progress the Constitutionalists began throwing stones into the yard which had its entrance on St. James Street and knocking at the door, applying to the Sons of Liberty opprobrious epithets, especially branding them as cowards, that as soon as the meeting was ended the members sallied from the yard in close column and were immediately assailed by a shower of stones. The conflict lasted for some hours and shifted from one portion of the city to the other. Both sides claimed the victory, but in such a series of street encounters it would be difficult to say who had the best of it, the advantage varying according to the numbers of the respective bands. During the conflict Brown, one of the Patriot chiefs and the general of the military division of the Sons of Liberty, was personally attacked by a band of Constitutionalists, sustaining injuries from the effects of which he lost his right eye.[30] The conflict was so serious that early in the afternoon the Riot Act was read and the Royal Regiment ordered out to parade the streets, supported by the artillery. Early in the evening, after the Sons of Liberty had dispersed to their homes, the Constitutionalists assembled in considerable force and marching up Bonsecours Street made an attack upon the residence of Papineau, all the blinds of which were broken by stones. The office of the newspaper Vindicator, conducted by Dr. O’Callaghan, one of the Patriot leaders, was sacked, the mob breaking open doors and forcing their way into the printing office, which they overturned from top to bottom, breaking everything that fell into their hands and throwing the type, paper and machinery into the street. These outrages, which were condemned even by the Constitutional supporters, had the effect of increasing the bad feeling.

Where was Cartier during this brief but fierce conflict which was the prelude to the more serious engagements between the Patriots and the British troops on the Richelieu river? The record is silent as to his actual doings on this eventful day, but we may well believe that he was present at the meeting of the Sons of Liberty which preceded the conflict and that he was either a participant in or a spectator of the conflict itself. One who had been such an active member of the organisation, who personally was so fearless and so zealous for the popular cause, was not likely to be absent from the scene when danger threatened. We shall see him soon in the very thick of the fight.

The Montreal conflict was the signal for drastic measures against the[50] popular leaders. Arrests were made both at Montreal and Quebec, proclamations were issued forbidding all public meetings and processions of a nature to disturb the public peace, and the magistrates were provided with printed copies of the proclamation required by the Riot Act to be read for the dispersion of tumultuous gatherings. A new Commission of the Peace for the district of Montreal, issued about the same time, removed no less than sixty-one magistrates, many of them leading citizens, who were suspected of being in sympathy with the popular cause. These measures increased instead of allaying the prevailing discontent and signs were everywhere apparent of approaching trouble. On November 9th Sir John Colborne moved from Sorel, or Fort William Henry as it was then called, to Montreal, which he made his headquarters for the winter. Volunteer corps of infantry, including riflemen with artillery and cavalry, were formed in Montreal under the authority of the government, and rapidly filled up. In addition the entire military force in the two Canadas was concentrated in the District of Montreal and Colborne also ordered up reinforcements of regulars from New Brunswick.

The steps taken by Sir John Colborne were significant enough, but the prevailing discontent was fanned into fury when on November 16th warrants were issued for the arrest of a number of the Patriot leaders, including Papineau, Morin, O’Callaghan and Wolfred Nelson, on charges of high treason. Warrants were also issued against many of the more active Patriots in the city of Montreal, and such as could be found were immediately arrested and lodged in prison. Amongst the number were André Ouimet, the active president of the Sons of Liberty. Papineau, O’Callaghan, Brown and several others apparently received a warning from some friendly source of the impending action, for they evaded High Constable Delisle, who was charged with the execution of the warrants, and escaped from the city, directing their course towards the Richelieu River, where they were sure of a warm welcome and safety amongst their numerous friends and sympathisers. It was about the same time that Cartier, who had been active in the agitation at Montreal, left the city and proceeded to his home at St. Antoine on the Richelieu.

Events now began to move quickly to the bloody dénouement on the banks of the Richelieu. A few days subsequent to the departure of Papineau and the other Patriot chiefs from Montreal a party consisting of eighteen of the Montreal Volunteer Cavalry, under Lieut. Ermatinger, was despatched to St. Johns, accompanied by a constable, to arrest two of the leading citizens of that place, Messrs. Davignon and Desmaray, who were charged with treasonable practices in being present at the St. Charles meeting. The homes of the accused were forced open in the dead of night, and they were placed under arrest. The alarm was given by some vigilant Patriots and the whole countryside was soon aroused. The[51] prisoners, who were securely bound and placed in a cart in charge of the constable, were escorted to Chambly and thence towards Montreal by the Longueuil road, through a district in which nearly every man was an adherent of the Patriot cause. The troops were not destined to reach the city with their prisoners. A party of the Patriots under Bonaventure Viger of Boucherville, who had received word of the arrests, had taken up a position on the road with the object of releasing the prisoners. When the cavalry escort approached Viger boldly sprang into the road. “Halt!” cried the Patriot leader. “I order you in the name of the people to hand over your prisoners.” “Attention,” was Ermatinger’s instant reply, as he addressed his troops. “Go on, make ready, fire.”

An exchange of shots between the two forces followed in the course of which the leaders on either side, as well as a number of their followers, were wounded. Viger had arranged his small force skilfully in different quarters of the wood, and by feigned orders which he shouted at the top of his voice he conveyed the impression that he had a large number of men under his command. Lieut. Ermatinger accordingly ordered his party to retreat, leaving behind the waggon with the constable and the two prisoners, who, having been unbound and set at liberty by Viger, were escorted in triumph to the house of Capt. Vincent at Longueuil, where the first victory of the Patriots was celebrated with great enthusiasm.

Drastic measures were now determined upon by Sir John Colborne to apprehend the popular leaders against whom warrants had been issued and to strike terror into the heart of their sympathisers. To dislodge the Patriots from two of their strongholds, St. Charles and St. Denis on the Richelieu, one combined movement, by different routes, was the first step decided upon. For this purpose two brigades were formed, one consisting of the 24th, 32nd and 66th detached companies with two pieces of artillery under the command of the Hon. Col. Gore; the other under the command of Col. Wetherall being composed of four companies of the Royals, two of the 60th, a party of artillery, with two field pieces, and a detachment of the Montreal Cavalry. A deputy sheriff, Mr. Juchereau-Duchesnay and two magistrates, P. E. Leblanc and Sydney Bellingham, accompanied the expedition to execute the warrants. Col. Gore’s brigade, consisting of two companies of the 24th under Lieut.-Col. Hughes, the light company of the 32nd under Captain Markham, and a detachment of artillery with a few volunteer cavalry, left Montreal by steamer on the morning of November 22nd for Sorel, where they arrived early in the same evening. Two companies of the 66th which were at Sorel reinforced the brigade, which under Col. Gore’s personal command marched for St. Denis, twenty-four miles distant, about ten o’clock at night, taking the upper road, which was by way by St. Ours. Despite tempestuous weather and almost impassable roads the brigade was in[52] sight of St. Denis the following morning. By a mere chance circumstance, which unfortunately resulted in one of the most tragic incidents of the whole rising, the Patriots had been apprised of the coming of the British troops. At daylight on the morning of November 22nd Lieut. Weir, a young officer of the 32nd Regiment, left Montreal by land for Sorel, with despatches for the officer commanding at that post, directing him to have the two companies of the 66th regiment under his command in readiness to march with Col. Gore’s force which was proceeding by steamer to Sorel. The roads were so bad that Lieut. Weir, who travelled in a calèche or light waggon, did not arrive at Sorel until half an hour after Col. Gore had marched with his whole force for St. Denis. The young officer thereupon hired a fresh calèche and started to join the troops. There were two roads leading from Sorel to St. Denis, and instead of taking the upper road by which the troops had marched, young Weir took the lower road, arriving at St. Denis about one o’clock in the morning long in advance of the troops. He believed that he would find his comrades quartered in the village, and his surprise at seeing no sign of them may be imagined. He was at once seized by some of the Patriots and brought before Dr. Wolfred Nelson, the Patriot leader, who ordered him to be kept a close prisoner but to be treated with every consideration. The sequel, as we shall see, was of a tragic character. Weir’s appearance and his expressions of surprise at not seeing the soldiers stationed at St. Denis were the first intimations that the Patriot leader had that British troops were on their way to Sorel to apprehend him and to strike terror into his sympathisers. Nelson at once resolved to resist the attempt.

It is a curious as well as an interesting fact that the two active leaders of the French-Canadian forces in the rising of 1837, Wolfred Nelson, who commanded at St. Denis, and Thomas Storrow Brown, who had charge of the operation at St. Charles, were of English origin, and that in their advocacy of extreme measures to resist what they regarded as tyrannical oppression they were much more vehement than even the most violent of the French-Canadian patriots. Wolfred Nelson, at the time of the engagement at St. Denis, was a man in his forty-fifth year, of commanding presence and powerful physique, standing six feet four in his stockings. Of English ancestry, a connection of Britain’s immortal naval hero, he was born in the city of Montreal in 1792. At the early age of fourteen he began the study of medicine at Sorel, and on receiving his diploma in 1811, when he was only nineteen years of age, he took up his residence amongst the hospitable residents of the pretty little village of St. Denis. Though the entire population of the village was French-Canadian, the young English doctor soon acquired great popularity, and it was not long before he had an extensive practice in the district. He was familiarly known as the “Frenchified Englishman.” Nelson early espoused[53] the popular cause, and in the election of 1827 he was the Patriot candidate for Sorel against the Attorney-General of the province, James Stuart, whom he defeated after a bitter contest by a majority of only two votes. Though he did not seek re-election at the ensuing elections, he continued to support the popular cause warmly, and he was a familiar figure at the great political gatherings which preceded the rising and was pronouncedly outspoken in his denunciation of the Imperial government and the provincial authorities. In addition to his large medical practice, Dr. Nelson had extensive interests in St. Denis, being the owner of a large distillery and other property, and his life as well as his fortune was now to be staked for the popular cause. The commander of the Patriot forces was not without military training and experience. He had served as surgeon of a battalion raised in the district during the war of 1812 and had thus become familiar with military operations. To this fact as well as to the marked bravery displayed by his followers the success of the Patriots in the initial engagement of the rising was, doubtless, in some measure due. A man of sterling honour, of fine feelings and of great determination, with the love of British freedom in his blood, he believed that the French-Canadians, whom he regarded as his fellow countrymen, were being unjustly treated and this aroused his indignation.

When Nelson learned from young Weir of the approach of the British troops he at once set his son, Horace, and his pupil, a young man named Dansereau, to the task of making bullets. After a conference with Papineau and O’Callaghan, who had been his guests for several days, he mounted his horse and rode down the high road to observe the movements of the troops. It was about six o’clock in the morning, the weather was threatening, and it was so dark and gloomy that the Patriot commander was almost in the midst of the advance guard of the British troops before he knew where he was, and had barely time to make good his escape. Perceiving the danger, he turned his horse’s head, galloped back to the village, gave orders that the bridges in the vicinity should be demolished, and that the patriots from the surrounding districts should be summoned to the scene. The bells of the ancient village church were soon sounding the tocsin calling the Patriots to gather. A force of about five hundred men responded to the call and placed themselves under Nelson’s orders. A comparatively small number of the Patriots had muskets, ammunition was scarce, and the weapons in the hands of the greater number of the insurgents were picks, pitchforks, and cudgels. It was such a force that was about to be pitted against trained veterans of Waterloo and other British campaigns. But what the Patriots lacked in the way of arms and ammunition was more than made up by the determination of their leader and their fearless demeanour under the fire of the troops. The majority of the Patriots sincerely believed that they[54] were fighting for their political freedom, and it was this that nerved their arms and gave strength to their resistance.

The Patriot leader skilfully arranged the force at his command. The larger number of those who had muskets were ordered to take possession of a large stone house, known as the Maison Saint Germain and situated on the main road by which the troops had to pass to gain the village. There they barricaded themselves on the second storey. Another party of some thirty armed men took up their quarters in the distillery owned by Dr. Nelson, situated not far from the Saint Germain house. Several small armed parties were stationed in some stores in the vicinity. Those who were without arms were placed under the protection of the walls of the church with orders to rush upon the troops with their improvised weapons whenever a favourable opportunity should present itself.

The British commander, perceiving that he had to meet with determined resistance, divided his brigade into three columns, one of which he marched towards a wood situated to the east of the village, another took its way by the banks of the river, which were close to the scene of the conflict, whilst the main force with the cannon kept along the highway in order to lay siege to the Saint Germain house in which the most formidable force of the patriots was quartered.

It was now between nine and ten o’clock in the morning, the weather continued dark and threatening and it had turned very cold. Nelson was everywhere, exhorting the Patriots to firmness. Entering the Saint Germain house, he briefly addressed his main force. “My friends,” he said, “I do not desire to force any one to remain with me, but I hope that those who do remain will do their duty bravely. In my political conduct I have nothing to reproach myself with, and I am ready to face all accusations that are legally and justly brought against me. If I am summoned to deliver myself into the hands of the authorities, in conformity with law and custom, I shall do so, but I will never allow them to arrest me as a malefactor, to treat me as they have treated Desmaray and Davignon.” Scarcely had these words fallen from Nelson’s lips, when a cannon shot cut down two of the Patriots who were standing near him. “You see, my friends,” exclaimed the Patriot chief, “it is necessary to fight; be firm, do not expose yourself needlessly and let every shot tell.”

It was afterwards claimed that the first shots came from the Patriot pickets and killed two of Gore’s advance guard. In any event Gore’s cannon were not long in getting into action and the interior of the patriots’ quarters was swept by a hail of shot which killed four of the defenders and made a large opening in the fortress. Seeing the danger to which his men were exposed, Nelson ordered them to descend to the ground floor where the massive walls constituted an almost impenetrable barrier from which the Patriot marksmen were able to pick off the[55] advancing soldiers with deadly precision. Some of the defenders were expert shots, notably one, David Bourdages, son of a noted Patriot leader in the old Assembly. Young Bourdages with the utmost sang-froid, after having kept up an almost ceaseless fire for about two hours, coolly lit his pipe and resumed firing as he continued to smoke. Many of the advancing soldiers fell under the deadly fire of Bourdages and his companions in the fortress. The combat continued to wax more furious and Nelson, seeing some of his men who were stationed in the neighbourhood carelessly exposing themselves to the fire of the troops, ordered his aide-de-camp, Charles Ovide Perrault, a brilliant young lawyer of Montreal, and a member of the legislature, to warn them of their danger. Perrault in crossing the highway to deliver the message of his chief was shot twice and fell, mortally wounded. He was removed to a neighbouring house to receive treatment.

Towards midday, after many unsuccessful efforts to reduce the fortress, the soldiers sought shelter from the deadly fire of the Patriots behind fences, piles of cord-wood and a large barn in the vicinity from which they kept up a ceaseless fire upon the fortress. Every time, however, that a soldier exposed himself he drew the fire of the defenders. After the combat had lasted for four or five hours, the British commander, who was astounded at the determined stand made by the Patriots, ordered Capt. Markham to turn their position. Three times the gallant captain with a picked detachment essayed the feat, but each time he was forced to retire with loss. In another attempt the brave British officer was severely wounded and dismounted, receiving two balls in the neck and a wound across the knee. He was removed from the field by his men, who carried him to a place of safety.

At this critical stage of the conflict the Patriot force was considerably reinforced by fresh arrivals from St. Antoine, St. Ours and Contrecoeur, who crossed the Richelieu from St. Antoine to St. Denis in bateaux. Encouraged by the arrival of these reinforcements, the Patriots redoubled their efforts to repulse the troops. Col. Gore, perceiving the danger of a complete rout, owing to the lack of ammunition and the condition of his men, ordered a retreat on Sorel. Retiring a short distance along the road by which they had advanced, the troops crossed over a bridge to the left in order to march by the second road. They were closely pursued by the jubilant Patriots. After the troops had succeeded in crossing the bridge with their guns the horses broke down and the guns stuck fast in the ground. The ammunition that remained was then thrown into the river and the howitzer was spiked and abandoned. The pursuing Patriots succeeded in capturing several of the soldiers, with whom they returned in triumph to St. Denis.

The Patriot loss in the engagement was twelve killed, the most notable victim being young Perrault, whose death was universally deplored.[56] The loss of the troops was a matter of dispute. It was claimed by the officers that only six men were killed, but it was maintained by the Patriots that one hundred and six failed to respond to the roll call that night at Sorel. Of this number it was further claimed thirty had been killed and of the wounded six remained on the battlefield. The latter, by Dr. Nelson’s orders, were most humanely treated, being conveyed to the home of the Desmoiselles Dormicour, where their wounds were dressed by the young ladies of the house, assisted by some friends. Dr. Nelson ordered that every consideration should be shown to the wounded and his humane conduct did much subsequently to mitigate the feeling against him.

In this memorable engagement young Cartier had a prominent part and displayed in a marked degree that coolness, courage and determination which characterised him throughout his whole career. As we have seen, when the warrants were issued for the apprehension of the Patriot leaders, Cartier repaired to his native village. He was active in the arrangements that were made to protect the persons of the leaders from seizure. On the day of the engagement he was early astir and throughout the whole fight was one of the most active of the combatants, infusing his ardour and courage into his comrades. He proved of invaluable service to the Patriot leader, who showed the confidence he had in his young follower by despatching him about two o’clock in the afternoon, when the conflict was at its height, to St. Antoine for reinforcements and supplies. Young Cartier successfully fulfilled this difficult and dangerous mission, crossing the Richelieu under the brisk fire of the troops and returning in about an hour’s time with a considerable force of men from St. Antoine and the neighbouring parishes. It was these reinforcements which assured the success of the Patriots in the day’s engagement and resulted in Col. Gore’s eventual decision to retreat. Nelson himself in a public statement he made some time afterwards bore testimony to the striking courage and devotion displayed by young Cartier on this memorable day. “It is true,” said the Patriot leader, “that Henri Cartier (George Cartier’s cousin) remarked that it would be better to retreat owing to the ravages caused by the enemy, the lack of ammunition and the flight of a number in consequence. I strongly opposed this proposal and Henri Cartier vigorously supported us during the whole of the day. Georges Cartier never made allusion to retreat and like his cousin valiantly and efficaciously contributed to the success of the fight. Moreover, these gentlemen only left me when I was obliged to leave nine days after this time on the occasion of the second expedition against St. Denis when resistance had become impossible.

That I sent Georges Cartier towards two o’clock in the afternoon to secure supplies at St. Antoine, and that he promptly returned with[57] assistance after about an hour’s absence. Georges Cartier did not wear a tuque bleue (the cap usually worn by the habitant) the day of the battle.

Nelson’s testimony, which is of the utmost historical value and interest, is conclusive as to the great services rendered by Cartier to the Patriot cause at the most critical stage of the St. Denis engagement and as to the calmness and courage with which he carried out the orders of his leader. It is interesting to note that even at this early period of his career Cartier gave striking proof of those qualities of devotion which he was to display in every cause with which he became identified.

The engagement at St. Denis, in which the Patriots displayed such bravery and resourcefulness, was unfortunately accompanied by the tragic killing of Lieut. Weir, whose arrival at St. Denis was the first intimation the Patriots had of the approach of the British troops. Dr. Nelson, as we have seen, when the young officer was brought before him, ordered him to be placed in custody but to be treated with every consideration. When the fighting between the Patriots and the troops commenced young Weir was placed in a waggon owned by Dr. Nelson, and under a guard commanded by a Capt. Jalbert started for the neighbouring village of St. Charles. On arriving at the outskirts of St. Denis the cords with which the young officer was fastened became so painful that he asked that they should be loosened, and when this was done he jumped out of the waggon into the road as if to escape. He was then set upon and killed.[31]

While the Patriots were reaping victory at St. Denis events were taking a different course in the neighbourhood of St. Charles. As the two actions were closely connected and as the St. Charles engagement had a bearing upon Cartier’s fortunes, it is essential that some account of it should be given. At St. Charles, which is only six miles from St. Denis, a considerable force of the Patriots under Thomas Storrow Brown had taken possession of the manor house which the seigneur of St. Charles, Hon. P. B. Debartzch, had abandoned. Here after strongly barricading the house the Patriots awaited the arrival of the troops sent to dislodge them.[32] Col. Wetherall’s force which had left Montreal on November[58] 18th arrived at Rouville on the 22nd after crossing the river in bateaux. It was at this point that word was received of the failure of Col. Gore’s expedition against St. Denis. Notwithstanding the report, Col. Wetherall determined to proceed upon his own responsibility. Having been joined by Major Warde, with the Grenadier company of the Royals from Chambly, Col. Wetherall at ten o’clock on the morning of November 25th began his march against St. Charles. It was found that the bridges across the small streams tributary to the Richelieu had been destroyed and it was necessary to form temporary fords. In order that the troops might be harassed as little as possible, Col. Wetherall in his further progress to the village avoided the main road by making a detour through the fields. During an engagement with the pickets of the Patriots, which were located in some barns on the outskirts of the village, a prisoner was taken and he was sent to the village with a demand for its surrender. The answer to the summons of the British commander was a deafening storm of cheers which indicated that the Patriots were prepared to make a determined resistance. Col. Wetherall, deciding to attack the place, deployed his rear divisions as the brigade marched in close column, the light company being extended on each flank. In front of the deployment was a level space of ploughed fields, to the right well wooded land and to the left Richelieu River, about three hundred yards wide at this point and taking a course parallel to the village, which was long and straggling. The British commander hoped that a display of his force would induce the Patriots to yield, but in this he was mistaken. From the west side of the river the Patriots at once began a determined fire, which in spite of the distance did some execution amongst the troops. At the same time an attack was made from the woods so desperate that the Grenadier company of the Royals was sent to the aid of the harassed soldiers. The artillery was ordered to advance within one hundred yards of the breastworks and a severe cannonading of shrapnel, shell, round shot and canister was commenced by the troops.

From behind the Patriots’ breastworks a continued fire was directed against the centre of the British line, which was ordered in consequence to lie down. Owing to its exposed position, however, it suffered materially. At this stage of the combat the three centre companies, headed[59] by Col. Wetherall in person, fixed bayonets and charged the breastworks, while the Patriots redoubled their efforts to repulse the troops. Despite a galling fire which raked the earth in all directions some dwellings to the right of the breastworks were gained by the troops. The place, however, was still far from being taken; the barns and outhouses which flanked each other were so well fortified and so obstinately defended that it took quite a period of sharp firing to reduce them. The defenders fought with the greatest bravery, many maintaining their posts until shot down or put to the bayonet. By this time the guns had advanced a few paces supported by a sub-division of the Royals, and poured in canister shot upon the multitude of heads which appeared in front. The combat was now at its height and both on the right and left of the line an animated scene was presented. To the right a constant discharge of musketry was directed against the breastworks, while to the left skirmishers were to be seen cutting off the retreat of those who sought safety in the woods. The fire of the artillery having in great measure discouraged the Patriots in their strongholds, the breastworks were stormed and carried; the defenders were mostly put to flight, but a number of them maintained their position, firing upon the soldiers at close quarters. The brave defenders were cut down and bayoneted without mercy by the soldiery. Many, to escape the fury of the troops, jumped into the river, preferring to meet a watery grave than to yield to the enraged troops. Brown, the Patriot leader, who was not under fire, made his escape from the scene and managed to reach the States in safety.

Of the Patriots between fifty and sixty were taken prisoners, while the bodies of 150 lay within the breastworks, showing the stubborn resistance that had been made. The estimated loss on the Patriot side amounted to over 300, many having perished from fire and water. On the side of the troops the loss was considerable. A quantity of arms found within the Patriot lines was destroyed and two small six pounders which were mounted within the breastworks were spiked and sunk in the Richelieu.

The courage and devotion which the Patriots had displayed in defence of their village were acknowledged by the British troops, to whom valour always appeals. So deadly in fact was the Patriot fire that the British commander had a narrow escape, his horse being shot under him, while the horses of several other British officers were also killed. Whatever else may be said, there can be no question of the valour displayed by the French-Canadian habitants. “On entering the town,” says a British officer who was in the engagement, “there was little quarter given, almost every man was put to death; in fact they fought too long before thinking of flight. Many of them were burned alive in the barns and houses which[60] were fired as they would not surrender.... The loss of the rebels was great; their position was strong and they defended it with desperation.”[33]

Following the sanguinary combat the British guns were placed to guard the road in case of attack, and the officers and men retired to rest while the prisoners were placed under guard to pass the night in the village church. In this hour of desolation and despair the brave French-Canadians sought the consolation of their religion, and Lord Charles Beauclerk, one of the British officers, has left a striking picture of the pathetic scene. “In the centre of the church,” he says, “a large fire blazed, whilst groups of soldiers were regaling themselves. Along the gloomy aisles a single candle cast its dim light. By the altar lay stretched the dead bodies of the soldiers, whilst in the vestry room adjoining the church the prisoners were lodged, most of whom assumed a kneeling posture, engaged apparently in solemn and silent prayer. The scene made a deep impression on my mind not to be easily forgotten.”

After burying the dead and putting a portion of the village to the flames, Col. Wetherall with his whole force began the return march to Montreal, which was reached on November 30th, and the detachment, which was reported to have met with defeat, was greeted with enthusiasm.

Though it is difficult to see how the Patriots could ever have hoped for success in the field, had it not been for one of those unforeseen incidents which often have an important bearing on the course of events, the actual history of the rising of 1837 might well have been different. Shortly before the engagement at St. Charles couriers, sent by Sir John Colborne with orders to Col. Wetherall to make an immediate retreat upon Montreal, were arrested by Patriot pickets a few miles from the village. “If the couriers,” says one historian, “had not been arrested the battle of November 25th would not have taken place, the southern parishes, electrified by the victory at St. Denis, would have risen, arms which were expected from the United States would perhaps have arrived, and who knows what would have been the result? As England would not have been able to send out additional troops before the spring, the Patriots would have been until then masters of the situation, and who can say whether in the interval they would not have obtained the aid of the United States?”[34] All this of course, though interesting, is simply conjecture. Destiny determined that the Patriots should be defeated in the field, but that the principles for which they fought should be ultimately victorious in the political arena, and that Lower Canada should become, through the efforts of one of the combatants at St. Denis, an important province of a great Canadian commonwealth.


An Old Seigneurial Mill in the Richelieu District


While the conflict at St. Charles had been in progress the Patriots at St. Denis had not been idle, and young Cartier was one of the most active and energetic of the victorious force. Following the retreat of the British force, a meeting which Cartier attended was held at Nelson’s house to determine upon future action. It was a critical situation that the Patriots faced. They had compelled Col. Gore to retreat, but the chances were that the British commander would return with a much stronger force and that, in the event of Col. Wetherall being victorious, the Patriots at St. Denis would be caught between two fires. What was to be done under the circumstances? It was here that young Cartier gave proof of that coolness and resourcefulness under difficulties which were to stand him in good stead in many a critical situation during his public career. Some of those in attendance at the improvised council were in favour of abandoning the field at once. No such idea found favour with young Cartier, who on the contrary maintained that immediate steps should be taken to fortify the place. It was finally decided by a majority of the council, in accordance with Cartier’s advice, that the village should be put in a thorough state of defence. It was decided to maintain as a fortress the Saint Germain house, which had proved of such advantage, and to erect palisades to the north of the house as a further protection. Trees were cut down and all the roads leading to the village barricaded, the bridges were destroyed and sentinels were posted to warn the defenders of the approach of the troops. A large barn which commanded the highway was loopholed and transformed into a fortress. In all of these proceedings young Cartier was one of the most energetic spirits, displaying the utmost vigour and devotion and by his high spirits infusing courage into his comrades. He gave himself little rest, working uninterruptedly until he saw that everything possible had been done. All that remained was to await the course of events.

On the very day that the victims of the conflict at St. Denis were being buried the Patriot forces at St. Charles were being overcome, and the news of their defeat was not long in reaching the neighbouring parish. It was a crushing blow to the hopes of Nelson, Cartier and the other active spirits of the Patriot forces, who soon found themselves deserted by most of their followers. Curé Demers, of St. Denis, believing that the victorious British troops would march direct from St. Charles upon St. Denis and destroy the latter village, in the interest of humanity and in order to save St. Denis from destruction, used all his powers to persuade the people to throw down their arms and to return to their homes.[35] The effect was that the pickets soon deserted, the arms were stacked, the bridges repaired and the barricades abandoned.

Nelson managed to keep a small portion of his force intact until[62] December 2nd, when, judging that there was no longer any hope for success, he decided to leave the place. He endeavoured as best he could to encourage his downcast friends. “Courage, my friends,” he exclaimed to his unfortunate followers whom he encountered on the way. To some of his friends he declared that if he had but twenty men to stand with him he would never abandon the field. For a portion of the way the Patriot leader was accompanied by young Cartier and several other staunch friends, but the party ere long took diverse routes in their efforts to reach the States. After proceeding some distance Cartier and his cousin Henri Cartier, who accompanied him, believing that they would be more secure amongst their friends, decided to retrace their steps, and after some days wandering found refuge in the house of Louis Chagnon dit La Rose, a rich farmer of the parish of Verchères, not many miles from Cartier’s native village of Saint Antoine.

In the meantime a report had gained currency that in seeking to make good their escape young Cartier and his companions had perished of cold and hunger in the woods. It was afterwards said that Cartier himself had had the report published in order to throw the pursuers off his trail and that when he read the report in a newspaper he remarked to his cousin, “Now, my dear Henri, we may sleep in peace.” However that may be, the report was generally believed and in announcing Cartier’s death Le Canadien, of Quebec, edited by the distinguished Étienne Parent, remarked: “He was a young man endowed in the highest degree with qualities of heart and mind and before whom a brilliant career opened.” Prophetic words which were to be happily realised!

For most of the winter Cartier and his cousin found safety in the home of the hospitable farmer, and they would likely have remained longer had not their presence been discovered by outsiders in a rather curious way. The servant of the household was at the time receiving court from one of the young men in the neighbourhood. Whenever he visited the house the refugees were in the habit of concealing themselves until he had taken his departure. But on one particular evening the young gallant happened to notice two pair of feet stretching from under the kitchen chimney. The secret was out; the young woman was obliged to confide it to her lover, at the same time enjoining strict silence. But the gallant was of a jealous nature and after holding his tongue for some time, one evening in the spring he made a scene, accusing his sweetheart of preferring the young men to him and threatening that not only would he divulge their hiding place, but that he would also denounce the farmer to the authorities. Cartier and his cousin accordingly decided to take their departure at once. They succeeded in reaching the States in safety and took up their residence first at Plattsburg, N.Y., and later at Burlington, Vt., where a number of the leading refugee Patriots, including Ludger[63] Duvernay, the founder of the St. Jean Baptiste Association of which Cartier had been secretary, had found a safe retreat. At Burlington Cartier remained until the following August (1838), when, under the amnesty granted by Lord Gosford, he returned to Montreal, richer in experience and in wisdom from the stormy scenes through which he had passed.

Was the rising of 1837 a premeditated, preconceived rebellion or a spontaneous rising of the people against what they regarded as arbitrary and tyrannical measures? The weight of evidence inclines to the latter view. If we were to judge by the proceedings of the Sons of Liberty, and by some of the violent utterances made at the popular gatherings which preceded the rising, it might be regarded as positive that actual rebellion was in the minds of some of the agitators. But too much weight should not be attached to sentiments expressed amidst the heat and passion of the time. Many of the speakers, doubtless smarting under what they sincerely regarded as the unjust and tyrannical conduct of the ruling class, allowed their feelings to get the better of their reason and used expressions that they would not have used in their calmer moments. Eventually a considerable number of the people, unduly excited by a long course of agitation, spontaneously rose to the support of the popular leaders, when those whom the people regarded as the vindicators of their rights were threatened with seizure. It would, however, be erroneous to regard the mass of Lower Canada as being desirous of rebellion. As a matter of fact the rising was confined to a comparatively small portion of the country, the six counties of the Richelieu district being as we have seen the hot-bed of dissatisfaction. In the parliamentary arena even Papineau’s followers were divided as to the wisdom of his course in the latter stages of the agitation, with the result that a split occurred in the ranks of the reformers. While Papineau continued to have the support of LaFontaine, Morin, Girouard, Viger and others, a number of his followers formed what was known as the moderate group, composed almost exclusively of members from the district of Quebec and including such men as Bédard, the mover of the “Ninety-two resolutions”; Caron, afterwards Lieut.-Governor of the province, Vanfelson, Huot and J. B. Taché. It was the desire of the moderates to avert a collision between the several branches of the legislature, hoping to obtain the reforms demanded by constitutional means. They were seconded in the press by the able pen of Étienne Parent, who, with conspicuous ability, directed Le Canadien, which had long been the exponent of popular rights. Though in a minority in the Assembly, the moderates were not without influence in the country. The extreme utterances at this period of some leading men who were afterwards noted for their prudence and moderation is to be[64] explained by their youth and inexperience and by the natural indignation they felt at the pernicious system of government.

The Roman Catholic Church, ever the upholder of law and order, used all its influence to restrain the agitation within constitutional bounds. The bishops and clergy, whose influence had been largely instrumental in preserving Canada to the British Crown during the American revolution, had not been indifferent to the struggle of the people for their political rights. The saintly Bishop Plessis not only firmly held out for the full recognition of ecclesiastical prerogatives and the liberty granted the Church by treaty, but also raised his powerful voice in favour of justice to his compatriots. He was one of the strongest opponents of the proposed union project of 1822, the ill-disguised object of which was the subordination of the French-Canadians, and until his death in 1825 he warmly seconded Papineau in his demands for constitutional reforms. But, when the agitation eventually threatened to pass beyond the constitutional limit, the bishops and clergy almost without exception raised their voices for law and order. Mgr. Lartigue, Bishop of Montreal, addressed a pastoral letter to the clergy and all the faithful of his diocese, solemnly warning them against opposition to the constituted authorities, and his example was followed by the other bishops. In this respect the spiritual heads of the people, as Cartier afterwards acknowledged, showed more prudence and foresight than some of the popular leaders whose inflammatory utterances were calculated to inflame passions already at fever heat.[36]

Papineau, Nelson and the other patriot leaders subsequently disclaimed in the strongest language that it was ever their intention to ferment a rebellion, and declared that the rising was a spontaneous action on the part of the people.[37] In a narrative of Nelson’s participation in the troubles, published in 1851 and inspired by the former Patriot leader himself, it was emphatically declared “that while it was the object of the leaders to employ the most unequivocal terms of remonstrance it[65] was not their intention to overstep the limits of legitimate discussion and reproval, knowing full well that the very worst interpretation would be given to their proceedings; already accusations of sedition might be fabricated for the purpose of tormenting if not violently punishing ‘the audacious men for their treason’ against not the mother country, nor against the law of the land, for it was well known that this was never contemplated, but in truth and solely for their opposition to the miserable handful of place-men and place-ministers, constituting the most odious oligarchy that ever insulted and oppressed a country and forced it to assume a position of self-defence.”

“In the strict acceptation of the term,” says another who took an active part in the rising, “there was no definitely planned revolt, but the people, spontaneously and without concert, determined upon protecting their leaders. This put numbers in arms that gave to the country an appearance of preconcerted rebellion, but there was no such thing; and if proof were requisite it could be found in the unprepared state of the people in point of armament, there being generally two or three pitchforks and as many scythes and flails to one fowling piece, and this not always of the best. The immediate aim of the country was not the overthrow of British dominion; it was a movement of self-protection against an arbitrary exercise of ministerial and judicial power.”[38]

As far as Cartier was concerned, he had no reason to be ashamed of the part he played in the rising, nor did he ever offer any apologies for his conduct during this period of his career. Speaking at St. Denis some years subsequent to the rising, he referred to that epoch in terms which showed that the cause for which the Patriots had fought was just, though he was inclined to blame the political course of those who had been the leaders of public opinion at the time. “There is no longer any danger,” he said on that occasion, “of a return to the events of 1837, caused by the actions of a minority which desired to dominate the majority and exploit the government in its own interests. The events of 1837 have been badly interpreted. The object of the people was rather to reduce this oppressive minority to nothingness than to bring about a separation of the province from the mother-country. But happily we can hope to have fair play since the advent of responsible government which obliges the head of the administration to surround himself with advisers enjoying the confidence of the majority. The minority to-day finds itself powerless to do evil. It is in vain that it seeks to raise its head to again dominate, it has been crushed at that game.... The responsibility for the unfortunate events of 1837 rests upon the heads of those who directed public opinion at that epoch. Mr. Viger was one of those, and with the[66] influence that he had he should have better advised his compatriots; he and his friends, I say, should have acted in a more enlightened and foreseeing manner.”

The rising of 1837 was not, as Cartier pointed out, a rising against British authority or British connection, but against the vicious system of government which then prevailed in Canada. Though the rising was doomed to failure from the outset, the principles for which the Patriots fought, and their devotion to which they sealed with their blood, were founded on justice and liberty, and they were before many years had elapsed to receive full recognition in the concession of responsible government.




The period following the rising of 1837 was full of peril for the French-Canadians. The Patriots, victorious at St. Denis, were crushed at St. Charles, St. Benoit and St. Eustache. The abortive rising of 1837 was followed in 1838 by the foolhardy movement headed by Robert Nelson, a brother of Wolfred Nelson. Proclaiming a Canadian republic, the younger Nelson entered Canada from the States with a nondescript following, but the expedition was completely defeated at Lacolle and Odelltown, and its leader decamped to Vermont. The constitution of the province was suspended, martial law was proclaimed in the district of Montreal and a price was set upon the heads of Papineau, Nelson, O’Callaghan, Brown, Cartier and other leading spirits of the rising. The leaders of the French-Canadians were either in prison or in exile; the prisons were filled with those who had taken part in the insurrection; ninety-nine of the prisoners were tried by court martial and sentenced to death; twelve were executed and the remainder transported. It was the darkest page in the history of the French-Canadian people. But it was the darkness before the dawn of a brighter day. The lives that had been lost had not been sacrificed in vain. The Imperial authorities, alarmed at the existing conditions in Canada and the stubborn resistance shown by the people to arbitrary measures, realised that it was time to take action to provide a remedy. With that end in view Lord Durham was, early in 1838, appointed Lord High Commissioner as well as Governor-General of British North America and vested with extraordinary powers, with special instructions to report upon the conditions and requirements of the country. Lord Durham arrived at Quebec on May 27th, 1838, and remained in Canada until November 3rd following. The result of his mission was the famous report which has been well described as one of the classics of British political literature and the most important state paper in our archives.

With a masterly grasp Durham seized upon the salient defects of the Canadian situation and his report furnished the strongest justification for the constitutional reforms that had been demanded by Papineau and[68] other leaders of the popular cause. In language remarkable for its lucidity the case for colonial freedom was stated. “The powers for which the Assembly contended,” Lord Durham remarked, “appear to be such as it was perfectly justified in demanding. It is difficult to conceive what could have been their theory of government who imagined that in any colony of England a body invested with the name and character of a representative assembly could be deprived of any of those powers which in the opinion of Englishmen are inherent in a popular legislature. It was a vain delusion to imagine that by mere limitation in the Constitutional Act or an exclusive system of government a body strong in the consciousness of wielding the public opinion of the majority could regard certain portions of the provincial revenues as sacred from its control, could confine itself to the mere business of making laws and look on as a passive and indifferent spectator while those laws were carried into effect or evaded and the whole business of the country was conducted by men in whose intentions or capacity it had not the slightest confidence. Yet such was the limitation placed on the authority of the Assembly of Lower Canada. It might refuse or pass laws, vote or withhold supplies, but it could exercise no influence on the nomination of a single servant of the Crown.... However decidedly the Assembly might condemn the policy of the Government, the persons who had advised that policy retained their offices and their power of giving bad advice.... The wisdom of adopting the true principle of representative government and facilitating the management of public affairs by entrusting it to the persons who have the confidence of the representative body has never been recognised in the government of the North American colonies.”

“It is difficult to understand how any English statesmen,” proceeds Lord Durham, “could have imagined that representative and irresponsible government could be successfully combined. There seems, indeed, to be an idea that the character of representative institutions ought to be thus modified in colonies, that it is an incident of colonial dependence that the officers of government should be nominated by the Crown, without any reference to the wishes of the community whose interests are entrusted to their keeping. It has never been very clearly explained what are the Imperial interests which require this complete nullification of representative government. But if there be such a necessity it is quite clear that a representative government in a colony must be a mockery and a source of confusion. For those who support this system have never yet been able to devise or to exhibit in the practical working of colonial government any means for making so complete an abrogation of political influence palatable to the representative body.”[39]


Even Papineau’s objection to the constitution of the Legislative Council was sustained by Lord Durham, who declared that the constitution of the upper house was defective and recommended its revision.

Lord Durham’s realisation that responsible government was the sole remedy for political evils in Canada showed the keen insight and broad vision of a great statesman. He believed that the remedies which he proposed could best be carried into effect by a legislative union of the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada and that was the practical recommendation of his report. But, penetrating as was Lord Durham’s insight, splendid as was his vision and admirable as were many of his conclusions, he failed to grasp one most essential fact, that was the marvellous racial vitality of the French-Canadian people, which had enabled them to successfully resist all attempts to denationalise them. The aim of Lord Durham in recommending the union of the two provinces was to Anglicise the French-Canadians, not by any harsh or drastic measures, but by the slow process of time and the overwhelming preponderance of numbers. The object was to be achieved by constitutional means through a legislative union. In this Lord Durham was perfectly frank. Even those who have most strongly denounced his object have admitted his loyalty and frankness. There was no ambiguity or equivocation about his language. “I entertain no doubts,” says the noble Lord, “as to the national character which must be given to Lower Canada; it must be that of the British Empire, that of the majority of the population of British America, that of the great race which must in the lapse of no long period of time be predominant over the whole North American continent.”

“If the population of Upper Canada is rightly estimated at 400,000, the English inhabitants of Lower Canada at 150,000 and the French at 450,000, the union of the two provinces would not only give a clear English majority, but one which would be increased every year by the influence of English emigration, and I have little doubt that the French, when once placed by the legitimate course of events and the working of natural causes in a minority, would abandon their vain hopes of nationality.”

Nothing certainly could have been more outspoken than Lord Durham’s language. But it is remarkable that a statesman of such keen insight could have imagined that the French-Canadians who had displayed such wonderful racial resistance, and who had shown themselves so tenacious of their national status, would so easily abandon their position and be content with a subservient condition.

Lord Durham’s supreme merit is undoubtedly that he was the first British statesman to recognise the advisability of applying the principles[70] of representative government in their entirety to the colonies. “Without a change in our system of government,” he remarked, “the discontent which now prevails will spread and advance.”

“It needs no change in the principles of government,” he adds, “no invention of a constitutional theory to supply the remedy which would in my opinion completely remove the existing political disorders. It needs but to follow out consistently the principles of the British constitution and introduce into the government of these great colonies those wise provisions by which alone the working of the representative system can in any country be rendered harmonious and efficient.”

In line with this declaration, Lord Durham distinctly recommended that “the responsibility to the united legislature of all officers of the government, except the governor and his secretary, should be secured by every means known to the British constitution.” “The governor as the representative of the Crown should be instructed,” added Lord Durham, “that he must carry on his government by heads of departments in whom the united legislature shall repose confidence and that he must look for no support from home in any contest with the legislature, except on points involving strictly imperial interests.”

How different was Lord Durham’s language from that of other British statesmen of the period! As has been stated by one who played a leading part in the battle for reform in Canada, the introduction of parliamentary government into the colonies was not deemed practicable by any English statesmen at that time.[40] Both Whigs and Tories were at one in this respect. Lord John Russell, speaking in the British Commons, emphatically declared that “cabinet government in the colonies was incompatible with the relations which ought to exist between the mother country and the colony. Those relations required that His Majesty should be represented in the colony not by ministers but by a governor sent out by the king and responsible to the parliament of Great Britain, otherwise Great Britain would have in the Canadas all the inconveniences of colonies without any of their advantages.” The Imperial parliament set its seal to this declaration by adopting resolutions repudiating the idea of responsible government for the colonies and declaring that it was inadvisable to subject the Executive Council of Lower Canada to the responsibility demanded by the House of Assembly. Amendments favouring the recognition of responsible government for the colonies were rejected by the British Commons. “The very idea was in fact regarded in some quarters as absurd and its advocates as irresponsible.” “It does not appear, indeed,” remarked Lord John Russell at a later stage, “that any very definite meaning is generally agreed upon by those who call themselves the advocates of this principle (responsible government), but its very vagueness[71] is a source of delusion and if at all encouraged would prove the cause of confusion and danger.”[41]

Lord John Russell’s view was shared by other British statesmen who had to do with the colonies. Lord Glenelg expressed the opinion that in the administration of Canadian affairs a sufficient practical responsibility already existed without the introduction of any “hazardous schemes.” Such was the opinion of all the British statesmen, who successively presided over the Colonial office. Nor should we be too ready to denounce, as some have done, the action of British statesmen of that period, as if it was dictated by malicious intent towards the colonies. They were, to a great extent, acting according to their lights. It required years to develop that enlightened colonial policy under which the overseas Dominions have become such free, progressive and prosperous communities. Though representative institutions had been granted to the Canadas and though the constitution was supposed to be the very image and transcript of that of Great Britain, the imitation, as one historian has wittily remarked, was somewhat like the Chinese imitation of the steam vessel, “exact in everything except the steam.”[42] It remained for Lord Durham to recognise that the true policy was to follow out constitutionally the principles of the British constitution and to introduce into the government of the great colonies the wise provisions by which the working of the representative system could alone be rendered harmonious and efficient. Lord Durham was in fact the real inventor of colonial autonomy.[43]

Lord Durham’s splendid vision was further demonstrated by his recommendation of an ultimate confederation of all the British North American colonies, though the plan that he proposed for such a union contained a defect. His vision indeed was to be realised, but not on the basis he proposed—a legislative union with the provincial legislatures abolished and a single government for the whole country—but by a federal union which while providing for a strong central government left the direction of purely local affairs in the hands of the provinces. The achievement of this result was, as we shall see, largely due to the genius of George-Étienne Cartier, whose advocacy of a federal union was to triumph over the idea of a legislative union which was supported by some of his great colleagues.

The legislative union of the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada[72] recommended by Lord Durham became effective by proclamation on February 10th, 1841. It had been considered advisable by the Imperial authorities before putting the scheme into operation to secure the formal sanction of the legislative bodies which were presumed to represent the two provinces. As far as Lower Canada was concerned the sanction so obtained was little short of a mockery, as owing to the suspension of the constitution the province was practically at this period without representative institutions. The sanction of the Special Council which had been appointed following the suspension of the constitution was easily obtained, as its members were Crown nominees, nearly all of whom belonged to the so-called British party. But the Special Council could in no sense be regarded as a representative body. It adopted the union resolutions by a majority of twelve to three, two of the dissentients being English-speaking Canadians and only one a French-Canadian—John Neilson, James Cuthbert and Joseph Quesnel. The Governor-General, Poulett Thomson, afterwards Lord Sydenham, was not inclined to pay any attention to the views of the dissentients, though in reality they were the true exponents of the public opinion of the province.[44]

The provisions of the Union Act were clearly unfair in many respects to Lower Canada. Not only was the Act distinctly aimed, as its author had frankly intimated, at eventually denationalising the French-Canadians, but though the population of Lower Canada was much larger than that of Upper Canada, under the terms of the Union Act, Upper Canada was given an equal parliamentary representation with Lower Canada. While the public debt of Upper Canada was large and its financial condition deplorable, the public debt of Lower Canada was small and its financial condition sound. Upper Canada had therefore everything to gain from the union, while Lower Canada had much to lose. The clause of the Union Act proscribing the use of the French language in all public proceedings was a most unjust and humiliating provision in respect to a people who had more than once displayed their loyalty to Great Britain and had a right to expect at least British fair play. Under the circumstances[73] it was little wonder that the Union Act should have aroused general indignation amongst the French-Canadian population.[45]

It was fortunate that at this critical stage of their history the French-Canadians possessed a leader of the mental, moral and physical equipment of Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine. No less fortunate was it for the peace and future welfare of the country that a great and enlightened English-speaking Canadian was found in the person of Robert Baldwin to join forces with LaFontaine in the momentous struggle that was about to ensue. Thus was begun and cemented that union of the two great races in this country based on the only possible foundation—the common interests of both.

LaFontaine is one of the noblest figures in Canadian history. A man of the highest intellectual attainments, of spotless moral character and of the most ardent patriotism, his career is one of which all Canadians have reason to be proud. Physically LaFontaine was of heroic mould. In his[74] youth he was noted for his great strength. Of medium height but of massive build, his sturdy frame was crowned by a noble head. His features were of a Napoleonic cast; the face, illumined by genius, wore an habitual expression of calmness and serenity. His speech was grave and measured; his whole demeanour was marked by that intellectual distinction which was his predominating trait. Inclined to radicalism in his youth, LaFontaine gained wisdom and experience in the momentous struggle that preceded the rising of 1837, and thereafter his actions were guided by a calm and unimpassioned judgment, by a ripened wisdom and an undeviating devotion to constitutional methods. Like nearly all the young men of the period, LaFontaine in his youth was under the dominance of Papineau, who was twenty years older than his gifted young lieutenant. But LaFontaine was not one to be for long the blind follower of any man, however eminent. After the stormy days of his youth, with his powers matured and possessing himself in an eminent degree many of the qualities of leadership, LaFontaine marked out a course for himself, and with Papineau in exile it was not long before he became the undisputed leader of the French-Canadians. Without either the eloquence or the personal magnetism of Papineau, he approached every question from the logical side. With a well-stored mind, deeply versed in history and in constitutional law, he appealed to the reason rather than to the imagination of his auditors. He was a great debater rather than a great orator.

Born near the village of Boucherville in the county of Chambly in 1807, LaFontaine when the union of the two Canadas was effected was only in his thirty-fourth year. In 1830, at the age of twenty-three, he was elected to the Quebec Assembly for the county of Terrebonne, and at once assumed a leading part in the agitation for political freedom. From 1830 until the rising of 1837 he was one of Papineau’s ablest lieutenants and one of the most zealous advocates of the popular cause. When the agitation culminated in armed resistance to the authorities the youthful Patriot realised the dangers to which his people were exposed and a few days after the engagements at St. Denis and St. Charles he hastened to Quebec and made a personal appeal to Lord Gosford to summon parliament. His appeal proving ineffective, LaFontaine left for Europe, only to return the following year. Arrested and thrown into prison on the flimsiest pretext, he was soon released, and so great was his influence that, prior to the Union Act going into force, he was solicited by the Governor-General, Poulett Thomson, to accept the position of Solicitor-General for Lower Canada on the understanding that he would approve the Governor’s policy. LaFontaine naturally declined this tempting offer. He had from the outset been one of the most determined opponents of the union, which he rightly regarded as an attempt to denationalise his[75] people, and he was not the man to relinquish his principles for the sake of office.

LaFontaine found an able and devoted coadjutor amongst his compatriots in Augustin-Norbert Morin, one of the finest figures in Canada’s political annals. Born in 1803, Morin was slightly older than LaFontaine, being in his thirty-eighth year at the time of the union. He became a member of the Quebec Assembly at the same time as LaFontaine and soon attained prominence as one of the strongest supporters of the popular cause. It was Morin who drafted the famous Ninety-two resolutions, which were passed by the Assembly in 1834, and he was a delegate to England to lay the Assembly’s petition before the Imperial authorities. Morin was the Chevalier Bayard of Canadian politics. In his person the highest abilities were united with the noblest character. He was inferior to LaFontaine only in practical qualifications and in that personal energy which is so essential in public life. His sensitive nature and his benevolent temperament ill fitted him for the fiery ordeals of the political arena. He was destined, however, to fill many high offices, all of which he adorned by the nobleness of his character.

The great English-speaking Canadian, whose name must forever be linked with that of LaFontaine, was eminently qualified both in natural gifts and in temperament to be LaFontaine’s associate. Robert Baldwin, who was three years older than the French-Canadian leader, having been born in 1804, was at this period in his thirty-seventh year. The two great leaders in the struggle for responsible government were therefore very nearly of the same age and both were in the full vigour and prime of life. Though not possessing intellectual qualities in as high a degree as his illustrious colleague, the great Upper Canadian reformer was a man of ability, of sterling character, of scrupulous honour and of the most exalted patriotism. Entering public life in 1829 as member for the town of York in the Assembly of Upper Canada, he became one of the staunchest supporters of reform. It has been truly said that the alpha and omega of Baldwin’s programme of political reform lay in the demand for the introduction of responsible government.[46] His supreme merit is that, rising above the sectional and racial prejudices that prevailed in his time and perceiving with the insight of a true statesman that the salvation of the country lay in a union of all Canadians to achieve responsible government, he joined forces with LaFontaine and made the achievement possible.

Neither LaFontaine nor Morin accepted the union, or perhaps it would be more correct to say that they accepted it only under protest. LaFontaine made his position perfectly clear in an address that he issued to the electors of the county of Terrebonne when he declared: “The[76] union is an act of injustice and of despotism, in that it is imposed upon us without our consent, that it deprives Lower Canada of its legitimate number of representatives, that it deprives us of the use of our language in the proceedings of the legislature, contrary to the faith of treaties and the word of the Governor-General, in that it makes us pay without our consent a debt which we did not contract, in that it permits the Executive to illegally employ under the name of a civil list and without a vote of the representatives of the people an enormous portion of the revenues of the country.”

Morin’s attitude was defined with equal emphasis. “To resume the whole details in a few words,” he said, “I am against the union and against its main features, as I think every honest Lower Canadian should be. But I am not for violence or haste; I do not expect a direct repeal at least for a time, and therefore I do not wish to take a hostile position and embarrass government on account of the union. I want to convince the authorities of their error and give them the necessary time to repair it. As to firm though moderate declarations and protestations, we would be unworthy of those whom we represent if we did not make them. We cannot sacrifice or compromise their essential rights, we even hope that a liberal majority will be with us to assert them. You must not be surprised if we are opposed to the union. Marked with so many defects in its details, the measure in principle has been advocated both in England and here as the surest means of destroying the political rights and social institutions of half a million of people. No other principle but that one can be squeezed out of it.”[47]

The attitude of both LaFontaine and Morin it will thus be seen was utterly hostile to the union. But though LaFontaine was emphatic in his declaration against the injustice of the union, he did not go as far as Papineau in demanding its repeal. Upon this critical issue the views of these two eminent men, who had for years been friends and co-workers, were strongly at variance. Their divergent views were clearly indicated in the famous parliamentary duel during the session of 1849. Returning from exile in 1845 after eight years’ absence from Canada, Papineau decided to re-enter public life, and the prestige of his great name and his past parliamentary triumphs were sufficient to secure his election for the constituency of St. Maurice. Papineau at once showed himself irreconcilable. He was against the union, he had no faith in responsible government, such as advocated by LaFontaine and his colleagues, and he declared in favour of independence. He demanded “the repeal of the Act of 1840 and the independence of Canada, for the Canadians need never expect justice from England; to submit to her would be an eternal disgrace[77] and a signing of their own death warrant; independence, on the contrary, would be a principle of resurrection and natural life.” The bitter experience through which he had passed had embittered the great tribune against England and monarchical institutions; the United States appeared to him as the acme of freedom. It was inevitable under the circumstances that Papineau and LaFontaine should come into collision. Early in the session of 1849 in a speech of ten hours’ duration Papineau made an attack upon the policy of his former friend and follower. His principal grievance against LaFontaine was that the latter had finally accepted the union of 1840, after having at first protested against it. Papineau’s denunciation of the union and of those whom he charged with having accepted it was couched in the strongest possible language. He charged LaFontaine and his French-Canadian colleagues with having by accepting power contradicted themselves and their protestations in 1841 against the Union Act. “Far from thinking like them,” he declared, “I find the constitution extremely defective, tyrannical and demoralising. Conceived by statesmen of a genius as narrow as it was malevolent, as small as was great that of those who under happier circumstances prepared the Act of 1791, it has up to the present and can only have in the future dangerous effects, ruinous and destructive results. From the moment that the Liberal party attained power I saw that it was intended to ask from us this degrading and unconditional approbation of the Union Act, and it was from that moment that I resolved not to put my confidence in men on their simple promises, but always to judge men by their acts.” LaFontaine’s attitude he denounced as cowardice, as the union could only prove disastrous to the French-Canadians. “For my own part,” declared Papineau, “I see nothing in it but treachery and iniquity, a law of proscription and of tyranny against our people. That Liberals such as LaFontaine should accept this régime is something I cannot understand.” In regard to the question of representation Papineau also differed from LaFontaine. “As far as I am concerned,” he said, “I do not wish either to practise or to impose an unjust domination, and if Upper Canada should have a larger population and demands, as she cannot fail doing, a majority of representatives, yes, I will vote for the general application of this essential principle of constitutional government—representation according to population.... Far from being discouraged by the prospect of a much more rapid increase of population in one section than another, the only reasonable and patriotic conclusion to be deduced is that there is not a day, not an hour, to lose, but that we should at once demand the repeal of the Union Act.” In another passage of his speech Papineau declared that annexation was inevitable, that it was only a question of time and in no sense a subject of doubt or uncertainty. He closed his onslaught by declaring that the Tory ministry of which he had thought so[78] badly and the Liberal party of which he had hoped so much had both equally disappointed his expectations.

LaFontaine’s reply to Papineau’s onslaught was calm, reasoned and deliberate, though at times he displayed some feeling at what he apparently regarded as an attack upon his honour. “It will not,” said LaFontaine, “be unjust to the honourable member to qualify his system as a system of opposition to the bitter end; he himself so qualified it on several occasions. I leave to the honourable member the full benefit of a declaration which I have often made and now repeat: The idea of the governor who suggested, the idea of the man who had drafted the Act was that the union of the two provinces would crush the French-Canadians. Has that object been attained? Has Lord Sydenham’s idea been realised? All my fellow countrymen, except the honourable member, will answer with one unanimous voice—no. But they will also admit, as every honest man will admit, that had the system of opposition to the bitter end, upheld by the honourable member, been adopted it would have brought about ere now the aim of Lord Sydenham—the French-Canadian would have been crushed! That is what the honourable member’s system would have brought us to, and what it would bring us to to-morrow if the representatives of the people were so ill-advised as to adopt it.

“The protest of 1841 has a scope and bearing which it behooves us to bear well in mind to-day; but to my mind the refusal of the government and the majority of the legislature of Upper Canada to accede to that protest had a far greater significance. That refusal demonstrated absolutely that the Act of Union had not made of the two Canadas one single province, but that it simply united under the action of one single legislature two provinces, theretofore distinct and separate, and which were to continue to be so for all other purposes whatsoever; in short there had been effected, as in the case of our neighbours, a confederation of two provinces of two States. It was in accordance with this view of the facts, based on the operation of the Act of Union, as it was interpreted by Upper Canada itself, when the province was invited to do so by the Lower Canada Liberals in their protest of 1841, that I regulated my political course in 1842, and relying upon the principle that the Act of Union is only a confederation of the two provinces, as Upper Canada itself declared it to be in 1841, I now solemnly declare that I will never consent that one of the sections of the province shall have in this house a larger number of members than the other, whatever may be the figure of its population.”

It will thus be seen how divergent were the views of Papineau and LaFontaine, not only as regarded the union itself, but as regarded the vexed question of representation by population which was to become in course of time a brand of political discord. Though Papineau’s long discourse[79] was listened to with the utmost respect by a crowded house, though it has been stated by one who heard him,[48] that there was in the attitude, the gesture and the voice of the great tribune something solemn and majestic which commanded attention, the force of logical argument was with LaFontaine, and an amendment which Papineau moved to the address expressive of his view received the support of only eighteen members out of a house of sixty-six.

Among those who listened to the eloquent denunciations of Papineau and the calm reasoning of LaFontaine was a young man of thirty-five who had just been elected to represent the county of Verchères in the parliament of United Canada. It was George-Étienne Cartier. What his thoughts were as he listened to the great tribune who had been the idol of his youth and the calm statesman who led the reformers of Lower Canada we can well imagine. Cartier was then, as he was ever afterwards, a supporter of LaFontaine’s policy.

LaFontaine clearly perceived that the Union Act, unjust and arbitrary as many of its provisions were as concerned the French-Canadians, contained a germ from which might spring the political freedom of his people. That germ was ministerial responsibility, or, as it was generally termed, responsible government. “I do not hesitate to say,” declared LaFontaine in his address to the electors of Terrebonne, “that I am in favour of the English principle of responsible government. I see in its operation the sole guarantee that we can have of good constitutional government.” LaFontaine was ably seconded in this view by Morin. “But one thing is to be dissatisfied with the Union,” said that statesman, “and another thing to be disposed to break everything on account of it. I am convinced that the Act would not be immediately repealed and that if it was it would be only for the worse. It is a well-known fact that it has been passed in opposition to the well-known wishes of Lower Canada. But as the metropolitan authorities are at present towards us from lack of duty or from misapplied national prejudice, it is only with time and with the help of honest and liberal men amongst you that we can instill better feelings in the hearts of our rulers. Let us try to do so and in the meantime let Upper and Lower Canadians know and appreciate each other better and cement a union which at all events will be profitable to both.”[49]

LaFontaine’s policy, in which he was seconded by Morin, was to take the Union Act as he found it and to make of what was intended as an instrument for the subordination and denationalisation of the French-Canadians the means of their political aggrandisement. Papineau, on the other hand, was consistently and vehemently opposed both to the[80] recognition of the Union and to the policy of ministerial responsibility as advocated by LaFontaine. His remedy for the political evils in Lower Canada, as we have seen, was the application of the elective principle to all branches of government. He had himself refused a seat on the Executive Council of Lower Canada, and when in 1830 Dominique Mondelet accepted an appointment to the Council Papineau unsparingly denounced him and he was subsequently expelled from the House. The appointment of Mondelet to the Council Cartier subsequently claimed as a step in the direction of responsible government. “In reading the Ninety-two resolutions proposed by Elzéar Bédard but which were drafted by Mr. Morin,” said Cartier, “we see enumerated all the evils of which Lower Canada complained with much reason. What was demanded? One thing only—that the Legislative Council should be elective. The public men at that time do not seem to have understood the importance of the system of responsibility. When in 1830 Mr. Panet was called to the Executive Council of Lower Canada little attention was paid to it though he was a member of the Legislative Assembly. But it was otherwise with Mr. Dominique Mondelet. He was a distinguished advocate, deeply versed in law and enjoying a considerable practice. He represented in the Assembly the county of Montreal and the counties of Jacques Cartier and Hochelaga. This nomination was the introduction of responsible government in Lower Canada. Mr. Mondelet having a seat in the Assembly would have defended the government’s measures, but he himself would have been under the influence of the House, which would have obliged him to influence his colleagues to obtain the reforms demanded. The House, however, did not have this just view of things. It considered Mr. Mondelet a spy and in an unfortunate moment it decided to expel him.”[50] It would be unjust to Papineau, however, to regard him as being ignorant of ministerial responsibility. Bédard, one of his colleagues, as I have pointed out, was an advocate of the principle and Papineau was certainly cognisant of it. But to Papineau of far greater importance than ministerial responsibility at the time of the conflict between the two branches of the legislature was the supremacy of the will of the people as represented by the Legislative Assembly. Few men, in fact, were better versed in British history and the British constitution than the great tribune, who possessed the largest library of British historical literature in the country and who was a deep reader and student. To Papineau the supremacy of parliament was all important and he desired the abolition of the Legislative Council because that irresponsible body stood in the way of the people’s will as expressed by the Assembly. In this Papineau was undoubtedly on reasonable[81] grounds in the early stages of the struggle, but his subsequent course under the Union was not equally justifiable.

Papineau’s irreconcilable attitude was further indicated in an election address which he issued in 1847 and in which he said: “All that I demanded in the House of 1836 I demand again in 1847 and believe that it is impossible there can be contentment as long as these just demands shall be unsatisfied. The repeal of the Union must be demanded because it is the wish of the people declared in their petitions of 1822 and 1836, because apart from the injustice of its provisions its principle is stupidly onerous in placing under one legislature a territory so vast that it cannot be sufficiently well known for the representatives to decide advisedly as to the relative importance of local improvements demanded on all hands and the contradictory allegations of the people on a great variety of measures.” Papineau went on to say that he despaired of the useful working of “responsible government” and that he hoped those of his friends who did not might prove not to be mistaken.

Though he did not display in this respect the political acumen that was shown by LaFontaine, this is no reason for minimising the great services which Papineau rendered his country. It is not necessary to disparage Papineau in order to glorify LaFontaine. Both were great men and both rendered invaluable service under entirely distinct conditions. They do Papineau a grave injustice who represent him as merely an agitator, and as one who loved agitation for its own sake. His convictions, whatever they were, were sincere, and he fought the battle of the people with unflagging zeal because he was convinced of the justice of their demands and was filled with a righteous indignation against the pernicious system of government that prevailed. In the great constitutional agitation that preceded the rising of 1837 Papineau was essentially the man for the times. His figure dominates the whole period; he was the political colossus of the epoch. At this stage of their history, when their rights and liberties were menaced by a tyrannical minority the French-Canadians required a leader who could show that he was inferior to none in eloquence, courage and devotion to the people’s cause. Such a leader they found in Papineau. Though his course under the Union cannot be justified, none the less was Papineau the veritable pioneer in the great work that had to be done before responsible government could be achieved. He impressed upon his compatriots their rights as British subjects and as free men. With dauntless courage and incomparable eloquence, consistently true to the principles which he believed to be right, he attacked the mass of abuses which had to be removed before the ground was clear for the seed that was to have so bountiful a harvest. In this sense Papineau was the precursor of LaFontaine and rendered LaFontaine’s work possible.


The fact is that at the time of the Union Papineau’s great work was done; the glorious epoch of his career was over. His close association during his long stay in Paris with Louis Blanc, Béranger and others led him to espouse radical anti-clerical and republican principles which were utterly at variance with the views and feelings of the great mass of his French-Canadian compatriots. When he returned to Canada in 1845, after his long exile, political conditions had entirely changed and the new conditions called for a leader of an entirely different equipment and temperament. Such a leader was found in LaFontaine and it was through the efforts of that great man, assisted by Robert Baldwin, that the solid edifice of responsible government was reared upon the ground that had been cleared through the efforts of Papineau and his fellow-workers. It was because he apparently realised that his great work had been accomplished that Papineau retired from public life in 1854. To the very last he remained opposed to many of the political changes that had been effected. But, whatever his mistakes, it can at least be said of Papineau—what unfortunately cannot be said of all public men—that he was true to his principles and that no considerations of office, power or emolument could swerve him from the course he deemed right. No one loved his country better or was actuated by a higher sense of patriotism. There was justification for the utterance in the last public address he delivered: “You will believe me, I trust, when I say to you, I love my country; I have loved her wisely; I have loved her madly. Opinions outside may differ, but looking into my heart and mind in all sincerity I feel that I can say that I have loved her as she should be loved.”

Had Papineau shown somewhat more patience; had he been able to restrain the impetuosity of his extreme followers and had he kept the agitation of which he was the recognised leader within strictly constitutional bounds until the will of the people was acknowledged, as it eventually was, as the supreme rule of government, he would to-day be universally hailed as one of the greatest of constitutional reformers. The unsuccessful appeal to arms, for which he should not be held responsible, with the distress and suffering that it evolved, tended to dim his prestige and to lessen his influence. But despite all his mistakes Papineau must ever remain one of the most striking figures in Canada’s political annals and his memory be honoured by all Canadians as that of one of the great champions of political freedom.[51]


It is a noteworthy historical fact that the French-Canadians who were forced to struggle so desperately to secure the plenitude of political freedom showed their justice and tolerance under the parliamentary régime by putting all Protestant sects on a footing of equality with the Roman Catholic Church, and were amongst the first to remove the civil and political disabilities of the Jews. Papineau himself in supporting a law passed by the Legislative Assembly, giving to all Protestant sects the right to keep records of births, marriages and deaths in the same manner and with the same legal effect as the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches of England and Scotland, declared in an address to his electors against the arbitrary will of the Governor his unalterable creed that men are accountable for their religion to their Maker only and not to the civil powers.

Though the views of LaFontaine and Papineau differed widely and though they advocated opposite policies, the great principle for which they contended was in reality essentially the same—popular sovereignty, the control of the executive power by the representatives of the people. I do not propose to enter into all the details of the momentous struggle which LaFontaine and Baldwin conducted to a successful issue; to do so would require a separate work. Suffice to say that, disguised as that struggle was under various forms, the contest extending from 1774 to 1848, so long, so stubborn and so heroic, as an eminent Canadian statesman has remarked, was in reality the battle of the people to secure control of the executive power.[52] “The constitution of 1774,” as the same authority remarks, speaking of the liberties acquired by the French-Canadians, “gave us representation, but we did not have liberty. The constitution of 1791 assured to the people more extensive powers, but still we did not have liberty. The Union Act of 1840 re-established representation, but it was full of grave perils and tainted with flagrant injustice. There was not liberty, there could only be liberty when the executive power was under popular control.”

LaFontaine for a period of ten years, from 1841 to 1851, conducted a vigorous and persistent struggle for the recognition of the rights of his compatriots and for popular control of the executive power. It would of course have been impossible for LaFontaine to have achieved success without the aid and co-operation of the Upper Canadian Reformers. While each of the provinces had its special and particular grievances, there was one that furnished a common ground for action, that was the pretension of the Governor to act independently of the popular will. It was the demand for popular sovereignty, for the control of the executive power by the representatives of the people, that furnished the bond[84] between Baldwin and LaFontaine. Hitherto the reformers of Lower Canada had directed their attention to securing an elective upper house as the best means of achieving constitutional government, while the Upper Canadian reformers had aimed to secure control of the executive power. Both were now united on the latter course as the surest means of attaining political freedom.

LaFontaine’s attitude in respect to the position of the French-Canadians was simply that they were entitled to equal rights with English-speaking Canadians. “Lower Canada,” he declared, “should have what is granted to Upper Canada, nothing more, but nothing less.”[53] This was the position that the French-Canadian leader maintained from first to last. As we have seen, he declined to accept the position of Solicitor-General for Lower Canada prior to the Union Act coming into force, and he firmly and consistently refused all overtures to form part of any administration in which the just claims of the French-Canadians were not recognised.

In the famous Draper-Caron correspondence,[54] the French-Canadian leader made his position perfectly clear. “I shall observe at first,” he says in a letter addressed to Mr. Caron, “that I infer from the tenor of your letter, although not stated in express terms, that you are of opinion that in the circumstances of the country the majority of each province should govern respectively in the sense that we attach to that idea, that is to say, that Upper Canada should be represented in the administration of the day by men possessing the confidence of the political party in that section of the province which has the majority in the House of Assembly, and that it should be the same for Lower Canada.... The present administration as far as regards Upper Canada is founded on this principle, but as regards Lower Canada its formation rests on an opposite principle. Why this distinction between the two sections of the Province? Is there not in this fact alone a manifestation of injustice, if not of oppression?”

The policy that LaFontaine urged upon his compatriots was to be united if they wished to advance and maintain their political rights. “What French-Canadians should do above everything else,” he said, “is to remain united and to make themselves respected. They will thus make themselves respected in the Council and will thence exercise the legitimate influence which is due to them, not when they are represented there only by the passive instruments of power, however numerous they may be, but when they shall be constitutionally represented there by a[85] Lower Canadian administration formed in harmony with principles which public opinion does not repudiate.”

The high principles and patriotic spirit which dictated LaFontaine’s course are shown by his memorable declaration: “If under the system of accepting office at any price there are persons who from personal and monetary advantages do not fear to break the only bond which constitutes our strength, namely, union amongst ourselves, I do not wish to be and I never will be of the number.”

It was on September 3rd, 1841, in the first session of the first parliament of United Canada that the principles of responsible government which LaFontaine and Baldwin had so earnestly advocated were solemnly promulgated. Baldwin had resigned on the very day the legislature assembled because his demand that the ministry should be reconstructed so as to give adequate representation to the French-Canadians had been refused by the Governor-General, Lord Sydenham. Following his resignation, Baldwin moved for copies of Lord John Russell’s despatches and other papers on the question of responsible government, and shortly after those documents had been brought down, the Upper Canada leader moved a series of resolutions affirming the principles of responsible government. The Draper ministry, which was then in office and which had a safe working majority in the legislature, seeing the way public opinion was veering, did not think it advisable that the Reform party should have the credit of such resolutions, and accordingly a second series of resolutions, very much to the same effect as that proposed by Baldwin, were proposed by Hon. S. B. Harrison, Provincial Secretary in the Draper government.

These resolutions, which, though moved by Harrison, must forever be associated with the name of Baldwin, as it was the great Reformer who took the initiative in having them introduced, were adopted almost unanimously. They were as follows:

1. “That the head of the Executive Government of the province being within the limits of his government, the representative of the Sovereign is responsible to the Imperial authority alone, but that nevertheless the management of our local affairs can only be conducted by him by and with the assistance, counsel and information of subordinate officers of the province.”

2. “That in order to preserve between the different branches of the provincial parliament that harmony which is essential to the peace, welfare and good government of the province, the chief advisers of the representative of the Sovereign constituting a provincial administration under him ought to be men possessed of the confidence of the representatives of the people, thus affording a guarantee that the well-understood wishes and interests of the people which our Gracious Sovereign has declared shall[86] be the rule of the provincial government will on all occasions be faithfully represented and advocated.”

3. “That the people of this province have, moreover, a right to expect from such provincial administration the exertion of their best endeavour that the Imperial authority within its constitutional limits shall be exercised in the manner most consistent with their well understood wishes and interests.”

These resolutions, it has been well remarked by a high constitutional authority, “constitute in fact articles of agreement upon the momentous question of responsible government between the executive authority of the Crown and the Canadian people.”[55]

I have dwelt upon LaFontaine’s part in the great struggle for responsible government because it had an important bearing upon the career of George-Étienne Cartier. In that momentous conflict Cartier was in fact one of LaFontaine’s most ardent disciples and one of his strongest supporters. When he returned from exile after his bitter experience following the rising of 1837, young Cartier devoted himself assiduously to the practice of his profession in Montreal and soon acquired an enviable position at the Bar. He never, however, lost his interest in public affairs. His experience had convinced him of the folly of armed resistance to the constituted authorities; he realised that the remedy for the existing political evils must be sought not through such means, but through constitutional agitation and legislative action. He, therefore, became a constitutional reformer and as such a warm supporter of LaFontaine’s policy. So high an opinion did LaFontaine have of his young follower that he urged him to stand for parliament in 1841, on the occasion of the first elections held under the Union Act. But both on this occasion and in the subsequent elections of 1844 Cartier refused to accede to the demands of his leader, desiring to acquire an independent position in his profession before embarking on the stormy sea of politics. None the less did he display the liveliest interest in the discussion of the great questions which were then agitating the public mind.

The first LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry was formed in September, 1842 and, as has been truly said, marked an epoch-making date in the constitutional history of Canada, as it was the first Canadian cabinet in which the principle of colonial self government was recognised. In that government LaFontaine held the office of Attorney-General for Lower Canada, Baldwin, his great colleague, being Attorney-General for Upper Canada.

Cartier, who had taken a prominent part in support of LaFontaine’s policy, was overjoyed at the result, and as showing the close and intimate relations that existed between the great French-Canadian leader and one[87] who was destined to be his successor, I cannot do better than give the following letter addressed by Cartier to LaFontaine at the time:

Montreal, 18th Sept., 1842.

Hon. L. H. LaFontaine, Kingston.

Dear Sir: I did not expect to learn on my arrival yesterday from St. Charles the extremely good news, so happily confirmed, of your appointment as Attorney-General. Permit me to offer you my congratulations on your promotion to such an important position. I must congratulate you in the first place as a friend of the country. Certainly the events of the past week must constitute a chapter in the history of Canada. One could never have imagined that the power which during recent years has never acted except to crush and sacrifice our too long unfortunate party, would of itself, in advance, offer the olive branch to that party and choose amongst us to aid in repairing past injustices and to accomplish future good a man so worthy and esteemed as you are in all respects. I wish to tell you that all our friends here, and myself in particular, give our complete approval to the conditions which you made before accepting your new office. We recognise your independence, your uprightness, and your patriotism. Your appointment has electrified our hearts and our spirits; we begin to revive, to have hope and confidence, things which we had so long abandoned. We seem to rouse ourselves from the torpor and disgust, which have weighed us down, and push forward to social and political life, for the defence and the conquest of our legitimate rights. May the car of state under your direction run better than it has in the past.

“I have spoken as a friend of the country. It remains for me to express myself as your friend, on your present position which rejoices me beyond all words. I am gratified to see that your work and your perseverance have received due recompense. I know that in your public life you have been exposed to small and unjust calumnies, which you have endured with a patriotic patience. What can venomous tongues say now? There is nothing in your acts or your principles that they can wrongly interpret, or injuriously comment upon. The independence of which you have always given proof and your merit recognised in such a signal manner, should forever silence these petty enemies. I have confidence that every friend of the country will aid you in your ministerial action. You should expect that, and you may count upon being sustained and supported in your measures by the influence and actions of our compatriots.

“I see that in one of your last letters to Berthelot[56] you ask me to go to Kingston. I do not think that at present I can be of use to you. Nevertheless, if you judge that my presence at the seat of government would benefit you in any way, I beg you to write me, and I will govern myself accordingly. I lost the whole of last week at the District Court of St. Charles (which amongst other things I hope to see disappear). I am greatly behind for the term, and I cannot without difficulty leave before eight or ten days. I inform you of this circumstance, so as to aid you in what you may desire to do with me. Berthelot and I drank champagne to your health. We put our stomachs in unison with our hearts.

“I close by wishing you success and prosperity. Believe me your very obedient servant and friend,

Geo. Et. Cartier.

“N.B.—I write this letter slowly, in order that you may be able to read it.”

Not only historically but also for the personal and intimate references it contains is this letter of interest. It shows how staunch Cartier was in support of LaFontaine’s policy and how devoted he personally was to his great leader, as well as what confidence the latter placed in his youthful follower. It also indicates that Cartier was already contemplating some of those great legal reforms which were to be amongst his most notable achievements. With the natural jollity of youth Cartier and his boon companion, Berthelot, join in drinking champagne to their[88] leader’s health, so that their stomachs might be in unison with their hearts. The postscript is indicative of Cartier’s poor handwriting, which was often extremely difficult to decipher.[57]

Cartier’s support of LaFontaine’s policy never wavered and we find him in 1844 again taking up the cudgels on behalf of that policy. When Sir Charles Metcalfe refused to accept the recommendations of his advisers in regard to public appointments, the LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry, holding that the governor’s action was in direct contravention of the principle of responsible government, resigned. Only one French-Canadian in the person of Denis-Benjamin Viger, who had previously rendered distinguished service to the Patriot cause, could be found to enter the Draper ministry, which succeeded the LaFontaine-Baldwin government. On September 23rd, 1844, the legislature was dissolved, and a general election followed. Viger, whose action was generally regarded in Lower Canada as inimical to the interests of his compatriots, sought re-election in St. Hyacinthe and it was during the contest that Cartier made his first public speech of which we have record. That speech was a clear and vigorous appeal on behalf of responsible government and in support of LaFontaine’s policy.

“You have heard the speech of Mr. Denis-Benjamin Viger, President of the Executive Council,” said Cartier in addressing the electors at St. Denis. “This speech cannot have my approbation any more than the conduct of the honourable gentleman in agreeing to form an administration at the demand of Sir Charles Metcalfe.

“The question which agitates the country, in a few words, is the triumph of the principle of ministerial responsibility, enunciated in the resolutions of 1841 and put in practice under Sir Charles Bagot. Now what do these resolutions say? That the most important and the most incontestable of the rights of the people is to have a government which protects its liberties, which exercises a constitutional influence on the executive, which legislates on all matters within its province; that the governor whilst responsible alone to the Imperial authorities should conduct our affairs with the assent of responsible ministers and that the ministers should enjoy the confidence of the representatives of the people.

“Sir Charles Bagot desired to make a loyal trial of the resolutions, that is why he called to power our worthy and respected chief, Mr. LaFontaine, who with his eminent colleague, Mr. Baldwin, really represents popular sentiment. His successor, Sir Charles Metcalfe, refused to follow the advice of his ministers in matters which were within their absolute province, and I am here to-day to blame him. He has found[89] three Lower Canadian members to approve him and Mr. Viger is one of them. Not satisfied with having badly voted, he has become the chief adviser of the governor and has allied himself with our worst enemies. What has become of the man who remained nineteen months behind the bars for not submitting to conditions which were not in accord with the honour of his country? Times have greatly changed.[58]

“Mr. Viger now seeks to divide us by lending himself to the manœuvres of Sir Charles Metcalfe. But Lower Canada will tell him in a few days with an almost unanimous voice that it remains inviolably attached to the principle of ministerial responsibility. That is our salvation in our fight of the present as in our struggle of the future.

“Electors of St. Denis,” eloquently concluded young Cartier, “you gave proof of your courage on November 22, 1837, when, armed with a few poor guns, pitchforks and bludgeons, you repulsed the troops of Col. Gore. I was of your number and I do not think I showed lack of courage. To-day I demand from you a greater, a better, a more patriotic action. I appeal to you to repel by your votes an arm still more formidable—those who would continue oppression by depriving you of the advantage of responsible government. Yes, electors of this noble parish, do your duty, give a salutary example and Lower Canada will be proud of you.”[59]

The youthful orator’s words, which struck home to the hearts of his hearers, proved to be prophetic. Viger was badly beaten and the government of which he was one of the leaders was defeated in Lower Canada, though it secured a majority in Upper Canada.

For four more years the struggle was continued, LaFontaine and Baldwin maintaining their demands for the full recognition of the principles of responsible government against the arbitrary and unconstitutional interpretation of the governor. The Viger-Draper ministry, the Draper-Daly ministry, and the Sherwood-Daly ministry, which held office successively following the resignation of the LaFontaine-Baldwin government, each had a precarious existence. The dissolution of parliament by Lord Elgin at the close of 1847 was followed by a bitter struggle and the election resulted in the triumph in both Lower and Upper Canada of the Liberal or Reform party led by LaFontaine and Baldwin. The new parliament met on Friday, February 25th, 1848; on Friday, March 3rd, an amendment to the address which was practically a motion of non-confidence in the Government was carried by fifty-four to twenty, and on the following day the Sherwood-Daly ministry resigned. Lord Elgin, who was determined to govern constitutionally, at[90] once put himself into communication with LaFontaine, who was entrusted with the task of forming a new administration. On March 10th LaFontaine accepted office as Premier and Attorney-General and on the 11th of March the second LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry assumed the direction of affairs. “The day when Lord Elgin after long hesitation,” as a distinguished Canadian statesman has said, “summoned Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine to ask him if he could form a cabinet which would have the confidence of parliament, the day when LaFontaine accepted the charge of Premier and took the oath, stipulating that Robert Baldwin, his life-long friend, should be his colleague, the 11th of March, 1848, was without doubt a day of triumph dearly bought. It was also the blessed day of the birth of free government for our country, the true birth of our nation. On that day the last shackles, the last bonds, were broken and colonial autonomy was consecrated forever.”[60]

Fac-simile Autograph Letter from Sir Charles Tupper, Bart., Sole Surviving Father of Confederation


The long struggle for responsible government was won. LaFontaine and Baldwin had triumphed and the principle of popular sovereignty, of the control of the executive by the people’s representatives, was recognised in its entirety. When we realise the conditions that had to be met at the outset of the struggle, the triumph of the reformers is all the more remarkable. The lot of reformers in Canada in those days was no bed of roses. They had to face not only the bitterest and most powerful opposition, but also contumely, misrepresentation and persecution in the accomplishment of their great design. That they should have persisted in their efforts in the face of such conditions is the strongest proof of their sincerity and of their patriotism. To the triumph of the great cause, Cartier, though not a member of parliament, had, as we have seen, by his efforts and his influence contributed in no small degree. I have said that Cartier was LaFontaine’s disciple and a staunch supporter of his policy. He was destined to be even more, he was to be LaFontaine’s successor as the undisputed leader of the French-Canadian people for a long period. I have dwelt upon the careers of Papineau and LaFontaine because it was in association with those two great men that Cartier learned his first lessons in politics. We have seen how the mass of abuses was demolished by Papineau, how the solid edifice of constitutional freedom was reared by LaFontaine and Baldwin on the ground thus cleared. We shall see how great reforms were carried into effect, gigantic public works inaugurated and a mighty Dominion established through the efforts of Cartier and his illustrious colleagues. Cartier throughout the whole of his career never forgot the lessons he had learned from LaFontaine; he continued to be an ardent reformer and a staunch constitutionalist; his whole policy in fact was based upon principles he[91] had imbibed from the great French-Canadian Reform leader. When LaFontaine’s work was completed his mantle fell upon one who was eminently fitted by nature and temperament to meet a new set of conditions which demanded the highest practical qualifications. As LaFontaine was the natural successor of Papineau, equally so was Cartier the natural successor of LaFontaine.

And when LaFontaine, who retired from public life in 1851 at the early age of forty-four years to adorn the bench for a period of twelve years, passed away in 1864, no nobler or more sincere tribute was paid to the memory of the great French-Canadian than that delivered by Cartier in the parliament of United Canada. “As far as concerns my relations with the eminent man who has just passed away,” said Cartier on that occasion, “I may observe that he was my friend in my profession and that I took him for a model. Not that I was capable of being an equal or a rival of his. No, Judge LaFontaine possessed a vast intelligence, and when he practised at the Bar it was always with fear that I undertook to defend a case in opposition to him who is now no more. If I have been able to acquire some experience as a lawyer, I owe it in great measure to the model which I was happy in attempting to emulate. I had the good fortune to be not only the professional but also the personal friend of Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, who was my political chief and of whom I was a follower in the House as I was before my entrance to Parliament.

“The late Chief Justice was a great man and his death I venture to say is an irreparable loss to his country. He was remarkable for his uprightness, his precision in debate, and his probity. No doubt he had adversaries, but he never forgot the respect he owed to his reputation for honesty and ability in the midst of the fiercest political agitations. I may add that he never claimed by exterior actions the position to which he had a right.

“We must therefore all deplore the loss which we have suffered by the death of Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, who reflected honour on the judiciary of his country. His appointment as Chief Justice of Lower Canada was viewed with the greatest favour by the public, without exception. It was desired to recompense him in a certain measure for his generous services and when Her Majesty conferred on him a high mark of distinction, the title of baronet,—there was but one voice in proclaiming that none was worthier of it.”[61]


The words used by Cartier in reference to LaFontaine were to be equally applicable years afterwards to LaFontaine’s great successor in the leadership of the French-Canadian people. What the reformers, of whom Cartier was one, achieved was to prove of lasting benefit to their country. It was in fact nothing short of a revolution, but a revolution effected by peaceful and constitutional methods. It laid broad and deep the foundations of Canada’s political liberties and national autonomy. It was the foundation upon which was erected by Cartier and his associates the mightier fabric of a great confederation of sister provinces enjoying equal rights and liberties and bound together in a common destiny of national greatness.

We have hitherto seen George-Étienne Cartier in a subordinate capacity; soon his figure shall loom large upon the political horizon until the course of events shall make him one of the dominating personalities of Canadian history.




It was in the year 1848 that George-Étienne Cartier began that public career which was to be so fruitful of results and of such benefit to his country. As we have seen, both in 1841 and in 1844 he declined to accede to the solicitation of his leader to enter the political arena. By 1848 conditions had materially changed. Cartier had by hard work and assiduous attention to his professional duties acquired a considerable standing at the Bar, and the large clientèle which he enjoyed had given him, to a certain degree, that financial independence which he deemed necessary before embarking on the sea of politics. When, therefore, in the early part of 1848 the seat for Verchères in the parliament of United Canada became vacant through the appointment of the sitting member, James Leslie, to the Legislative Council, George-Étienne Cartier at the demand of a large number of friends accepted the candidature as a supporter of the LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry. His opponent was M. Marion, a well-known resident of the county, but young Cartier’s popularity was such that the voting which took place on April 3rd and 4th resulted in his election by a majority of 248 votes. In the leading parish, that of Varennes, Cartier received no less than 374 votes to only four for his opponent. The victory of the young son of the county, who had already made his mark in the great world, was received with the utmost enthusiasm and the new member was the recipient of a series of ovations. Leaving Verchères on April 5th for Varennes, he was hailed on his way by many prominent residents of the county, who accompanied him on horseback as far as Varennes, where he was the guest of the seigneur, Paul Lussier, at a banquet which was attended by many notables of the parish. A few days afterwards the young member returned to Verchères, the chef-lieu of the county, for the proclamation of his election, being accompanied on his return by a large concourse of his electors. At Verchères he was the recipient of a great popular ovation on the part of the electors from all portions of the county. Following the proclamation, the new member was escorted back to Varennes by a great multitude, and all along the route his appearance was the signal for manifestations of joy. Even when Varennes was reached and Cartier prepared to take leave of the people,[94] they insisted upon accompanying him until the boundary line dividing Verchères from the county of Chambly was reached.

In an address that he issued to his electors shortly afterwards young Cartier modestly expressed his thanks for the honour conferred upon him and his misgivings as to his ability to fulfil expectations. “The result of the election,” he said, “has inclined the balance in my favour and has conferred upon me the most important and the most sacred mandate that it is possible to confide to a man, that of taking part in your name in the legislation of the country. Whilst offering you my most sincere thanks for this signal honour, and for the confidence you have honoured me with in choosing me to represent you, I confess that I fear that my feeble capacity will not be always equal to the duties which I must fill as a member of parliament. Nevertheless I may assure you that I will spare no efforts to acquit myself as well as I can in my new and important functions, counting to a great extent, to aid me in attaining this end, upon the co-operation which I have a right to expect from the patriotism, the enlightenment and the intelligence which distinguish in a high degree the electors of the county of Verchères.” With this modest estimate of his own merits and a high sense of his responsibility, did Cartier begin a public career which was to be one of the most notable in Canadian history.

It was at the session of 1849 that Cartier, then in his thirty-fifth year, took his seat in the parliament of which he was to be for many years one of the most striking figures. The session of 1849 was one of the most memorable in our parliamentary annals. The long struggle for responsible government, thanks to the efforts of LaFontaine and Baldwin, had been crowned with victory and henceforth the will of the people was to be supreme. Parliament assembled in the city of Montreal on January 18th. It was the last time that Montreal was to be privileged to be the meeting place of the people’s representatives. Before the session was concluded, the Parliament building, owing to the outrageous conduct of an incendiary mob, was in ruins and Montreal had lost forever the distinction of being the capital of the country, though it was always to retain its proud title of the commercial metropolis.

In the parliament of 1849 the LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry had a large majority. The general election of 1847 had resulted in an overwhelming triumph for the Reform party, both in Upper and Lower Canada, and when the first session of the new parliament assembled in Montreal on February 25th, 1848, the vote on the election of a Speaker showed the strength of the Reformers, Morin, their candidate, defeating Sir Allan MacNab by a vote of fifty-four to nineteen. An amendment to the address prepared by Robert Baldwin to the effect that the Government—the Sherwood-Daly ministry which had succeeded the Draper ministry shortly before the election—did not enjoy the confidence of the country[95] was carried on March 3rd by a vote of fifty-four to twenty. Under the circumstances there was but one thing for the Government to do, that was to resign, which it at once did. Lord Elgin thereupon immediately sent for LaFontaine, who in conjunction with Baldwin formed a ministry which assumed office on March 11, 1848, and which only ceased to exist with the retirement of Baldwin and LaFontaine from public life in 1851.

When Cartier took his seat in parliament at the opening of the session of 1849, he found himself the associate of many men whose names are now illustrious in Canadian history. In the list of members of that parliament are found the names of Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, Robert Baldwin, Louis Joseph Papineau, Augustin-Norbert Morin, John A. Macdonald, Alexander Tilloch Galt, Joseph Cauchon, T. C. Aylwin, P. J. O. Chauveau, Wolfred Nelson, L. T. Drummond, Henry Sherwood, J. H. Cameron, John Sandfield Macdonald, Allan MacNab, William Cayley, Malcolm Cameron, Francis Hincks and William Hume Blake. Several of these noted men were to become colleagues of Cartier and of one he was to be the lifelong friend and associate.

The leader of the Opposition in the Assembly was Sir Allan MacNab, who was at this period in the fifty-third year of his age. The Tory leader, who though not one of the most illustrious is at least one of the most picturesque figures in Canada’s political annals, had had a chequered career. The son of the principal aide to General Simcoe, he was born at Niagara in 1798. Becoming a midshipman in 1813 when only fifteen years of age, he served a short while in the British fleet on Lake Ontario, but left the navy for the army and took part in several engagements, including the battle of Plattsburg. At the conclusion of the war he began the study of law and was admitted to the bar of Upper Canada. First elected to the Upper Canada Assembly in the Tory interests by the county of Wentworth, he became Speaker of that body in 1837. During the rising in the upper province he had command of the provincial militia, and it was he who directed the cutting out of the steamer Caroline from the American side of the Niagara River and the sending of her adrift to float over the cataract several miles below. It was principally in recognition of his military services at this period that he subsequently received the honour of knighthood. At the first election for the Union parliament MacNab was elected to represent Hamilton and took his seat in the Assembly as the recognised leader of the advanced Tories, a position he was destined to fill for a number of years, until a more modern and enlightened spirit was infused into the Tory ranks. For a period Sir Allan MacNab was also Speaker of the Assembly. Though he could lay no claim to the title of a statesman, his strong Tory principles, to which he displayed an unswerving devotion, and the prestige he enjoyed as the result of his military exploits, made him an acceptable leader to the rank and file[96] of the then Tory party, to which liberalism in any form was anathema—something in fact that called for the most drastic measures. A man of commanding presence, high spirits and genial manners, the doughty knight was personally popular despite his many eccentricities. His mansion, now transformed into an historical museum, on the banks of beautiful Burlington Bay on the outskirts of Hamilton, attests to his extravagant tastes and the stately magnificence of his style of living. Such was the man who was to lead the old-time Tories in their final stand against the disintegrating forces of liberalism.

The second LaFontaine-Baldwin Government at the very outset of its administration set vigorously to work on that programme of legislative reform and progress which was to earn for it the proud title of the Great Ministry. The opening of the session of 1849 was marked by the announcement, particularly gratifying to the people of Lower Canada, that the Imperial parliament had passed an act repealing that clause of the Union Act which had declared English to be the sole official language of the legislature, and the Governor-General, Lord Elgin, gave practical effect to the announcement by reading his speech from the throne in French as well as in English. Another announcement made by the Governor-General was significant of the change effected since the rising of 1837. “I am authorised to inform you,” said Lord Elgin, “that it is Her Majesty’s purpose to exercise the prerogative of mercy in favour of all persons who are still liable to penal consequences for political offences arising out of the unfortunate occurrences of 1837 and 1838, and I have the Queen’s commands to invite you to confer with me in passing an act to give effect to Her Majesty’s most gracious intentions.” The passing of an act of indemnity by the provincial parliament, which was also intimated in the speech, was the prelude to one of the stormiest episodes in our parliamentary annals. After an animated debate the address in reply was adopted by a vote of forty-eight to eighteen. It was during the discussion on the address that there occurred the famous parliamentary duel between LaFontaine and Papineau, to which reference has already been made. Before the final adoption of the address Papineau proposed several amendments which were all voted down by large majorities. An amnesty bill in favour of those implicated in the rising of 1837 and 1838 was introduced by LaFontaine, passed by the legislature and assented to by the Governor-General on February 1st.

The vigour and activity of the Government were shown by the fact that nearly two hundred measures were passed before the session closed. Legislative, judicial and domestic reforms of a most important character were inaugurated and the session also witnessed the initial steps in that great policy of domestic development which was to result in an era of railway building, canal construction, the inauguration of great public[97] works and a marked material expansion. It was in this connection that George-Étienne Cartier was first heard in parliament, the opening speech of his parliamentary career being made on February 15th, 1849, when he presented a petition on behalf of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railway Company asking for aid from the public treasury for the completion of the road. Cartier’s activity in the promotion of railways and other great public enterprises will receive due attention at another stage of this work, but it is interesting here to note that the young member at the very outset of his public career showed his interest in projects that had as their object the development of the country.

Great and important as was much of the legislation of the first session of parliament in which Cartier figured, from the viewpoint of historical interest all other questions are cast into the shade by the famous Rebellion Losses Bill. Early in the session LaFontaine moved, seconded by Baldwin, a series of resolutions in favour of the appointment of commissions to consider claims for losses during the rising in Lower Canada, and the payment of such claims. These resolutions were carried by large majorities and on February 27th LaFontaine introduced a bill founded upon the resolutions and entitled, “An Act to provide for the indemnification of parties in Lower Canada where property was destroyed during the rebellion in the years 1837 and 1838.” The bill, which was passed on March 9th by a vote of forty-seven to eighteen, provided that the Governor-General should appoint five commissioners, “faithfully and without partiality to enquire into and to ascertain the amount of the losses sustained during the rebellion.” These commissioners were empowered to summon witnesses and to examine them under oath. The maximum amount to be expended on the claims it was stipulated should not exceed £100,000, and, if the claims allowed amounted to a higher total, the distribution was to be made on a proportionate basis. The act also expressly stipulated that no claim should be recognised on the part of any person “who had been convicted of treason during the rebellion, or who, having been taken into custody, had submitted to Her Majesty’s will and been transported to Bermuda.”

It is difficult to understand at the present day why such a measure should have aroused such a storm of disapproval. The act, which was based on the clearest principles of equity and of justice, was simply intended, as Baldwin pointed out, to do for Lower Canada what had already been done for Upper Canada. An act had been passed by the Assembly of Upper Canada in the closing days of its existence (October 22nd, 1840) extending compensation to those who had suffered damage in that province by the troops and otherwise, and this act was rendered operative by an act passed by the Draper Government in 1845. What was now proposed by LaFontaine’s measure was simply to extend to Lower Canada[98] a privilege which had been accorded to Upper Canada. It must, however, be remembered that but a few years had elapsed since the rising of 1837, that racial prejudice and passion, though they had to a great extent subsided, had not entirely disappeared, and that there were fanatics, as there always are, who were ready to take advantage of the opportunity to fan the smouldering flames into a conflagration. This is exactly what happened. No doubt, too, advantage was taken of the popular excitement to create party capital. The Rebellion Losses bill was denounced by Tory orators as a measure to reward rebels, and “No pay for rebels” became the tocsin of the Opposition. The passage of the bill was marked by fiery debates and violent scenes in parliament, and the discussion, which began on February 27th, was not terminated until March 9th.

It does not appear that George-Étienne Cartier took any part in this historic debate, though he was undoubtedly present in the House during the whole discussion and voted for the measure. From the time that he had taken his seat young Cartier had applied himself assiduously to his parliamentary duties. It was his immediate object to make himself a thorough master of parliamentary practice and procedure rather than to shine in debate. He was a member of several of the standing committees of the House, and was even at this early stage of his career noted for the careful attention he gave to the questions, and his wonderful grasp of details. Occupied with study and observation and with such duties as were assigned to a new member, he took but little part in the debates at the outset of his career.

But though Cartier remained silent during the discussion on the Rebellion Losses bill, we may well believe that he was an intensely interested spectator of all that transpired. We can imagine how he must have been stirred when his old leader on the battlefield of St. Denis, Wolfred Nelson, now the member for Richelieu, stung to fury by the terms of “rebels” and “traitors,” rose in his place and in a voice trembling with rage and emotion exclaimed, “I declare to those who call my friends and myself traitors that they lie, and I am ready to assume here and elsewhere the responsibility for what I say. But, Mr. Speaker, if the love which I bear for my country, if the attachment which I have for the English Crown and our glorious sovereign constitute the crime of high treason, why then truly I am a rebel. But I say to those gentlemen in their faces that it is they and their like who cause revolutions, overturn thrones, drag crowns in the dust, and overthrow dynasties. It is their iniquities which rouse the people and drive them to despair. I here voluntarily renounce all claim for the heavy losses so cruelly inflicted upon me, for I hope with the help of Providence that I may be able by my work, despite my advanced years, to acquit myself of my obligations and to pay what I owe. But at least compensate those whose goods have been destroyed on my[99] account. There are hundreds of brave men to-day reduced to misery whose only crime was to place confidence in the man they loved. Restore to those unfortunates what they have lost, indemnify them, I ask nothing more.”

With all the other members of the House how Cartier too must have been spellbound by the ringing periods of William Hume Blake, when, in one of the most eloquent and impassioned orations in the annals of parliament, that statesman, who was destined to be the father of one who was to make the name even more illustrious, replying to statements made by Sir Allan MacNab, who had stigmatised the French-Canadians as rebels and strangers, exclaimed, “I am not come here to learn lessons of loyalty from honourable gentlemen opposite, I have no sympathy with the would-be loyalty of honourable gentlemen opposite, which, while it at all times affects peculiar zeal for the prerogative of the Crown, is ever ready to sacrifice the liberty of the subject. This is not British loyalty—it is the spurious loyalty which at all periods of the world’s history has lashed humanity into rebellion.... The expression ‘rebel’ has been applied by the gallant knight opposite (Sir Allan MacNab) to some gentlemen on this side of the House, but I tell gentlemen on the other side that their public conduct has proved that they are the rebels to their constitution and country.”

The violent scene that followed could not have failed to impress Cartier as well as the other members who witnessed it. “If the honourable member means to apply the word ‘rebel’ to me,” shouted Sir Allan MacNab, purple with anger, “I must tell him it is nothing else than a lie.” The whole house was soon in an uproar; a personal encounter between Blake and MacNab was only prevented by the timely intervention of the sergeant-at-arms; members displayed intense excitement, and above the din of the crowded chamber could be heard a storm of shouts and hisses from the packed galleries. It was only with the placing of Blake and MacNab in the custody of the House official and the arrest of a number of the ringleaders of the mob in the gallery that the tumult subsided.

With what sympathy and approval Cartier would also have listened to the words of Papineau when the great tribune who followed William Hume Blake in the debate concluded with an impressive tribute to the Patriots: “Their memory is and always will be dear to the Canadian people,” explained Papineau. “They died as they lived, brave men, repeating the words ‘God, my country and its liberty.’ It shows little moral or civil courage not to applaud the constant patriotism of which they gave such striking proof.”

It was such violent scenes as the one I have related that indicated the feeling outside the House upon the measure. But the Government, convinced of the justice of its proposal, had no intention of being awed by a[100] mob, and the measure was finally passed by the House of Assembly by a vote of forty-seven to eighteen. There was a majority in favour of the bill from both provinces. Of the Upper Canadian members out of thirty-one who voted on the third reading seventeen were for and fourteen against, whilst of the Lower Canadian members, in addition to the whole of the French-Canadian delegation, six out of the English-speaking members voted for the measure.

Cartier, though he took no part in the debate, supported LaFontaine’s programme and his name appears among those who voted for the resolutions and the bill. Among the names of those who voted contrary was that of John A. Macdonald.[62]

The division on the adoption of the principal clause in which the names of both Cartier and Macdonald appear was as follows:

For—Armstrong, Baldwin, Blake, Beaubien, Boulton, Boutillier, Cameron, Cartier, Cauchon, Chabot, Chauveau, Davignon, De Witt, Drummond, Duchesnay, Dumas, Egan, Ferguson, Flint, Fortier, Fournier, Fourquin, Guillet, Hall, Holmes, LaFontaine, Laterrière, Laurin, Lemieux, Macdonald (Glengarry), McFarland, Merritt, Méthot, Mongenais, Morrison, Nelson, Notman, Papineau, Polette, Price, Sauvageau, Scott (Bytown), Scott (Two Mountains), Smith (Wentworth), Taché, Thompson, Viger, Watts—48.

Against—Badgley, Brooks, Cayley, Christie, Chrysler, Dickson, Gugy, Johnson, Lyon, Macdonald (Kingston), MacNab, Malloch, McConnell, McLean, Meyer, Prince, Robinson, Seymour, Sherwood, Smith (Dunham), Smith (Frontenac), Stevenson, Wilson—23.

It was not until the Governor-General, Lord Elgin, gave his formal assent to the bill on April 25th that the storm of popular fury broke loose. A great crowd that had assembled near the parliament building greeted the departure of the Queen’s representative, after he had signed the act, with groans and hoots, and as he drove through the streets he was followed by a furious mob which hurled stones and rotten eggs at his carriage. The whole city was soon in an uproar. In the evening a monster mass meeting was held on the Champ de Mars and, in the midst of incendiary harangues, the cry was raised, “To the Parliament House.” The mob, incited to fury by its ringleaders, marched through the streets, wrecking the office of the Pilot, which supported the Government. Arriving at the parliament building, the rioters began hurling a volley of stones through the windows. The House was in session at the time and the members made a hasty exit, taking refuge in the lobbies and the committee rooms. In a few minutes the mob had invaded the chamber itself and expended[101] its fury upon the furniture and ornaments, which were completely wrecked. One would-be Cromwell took the chair and proceeded to dissolve the legislature. In the midst of the work of destruction the cry of fire was raised, and in a short time the entire building was in flames. Within a few hours the parliament house was a mass of ruins and an irreparable loss had been sustained by the destruction of the valuable library, which contained many rare volumes and priceless public documents.

Of Cartier’s doings on that memorable night we have no record; but that he was amongst the members present when the mob entered the building is almost a certainty, as at the time the Assembly was sitting in committee discussing the Judicature Bill for Lower Canada, a measure in which Cartier would undoubtedly take the deepest interest, and to which he would pay the closest attention.

It is not necessary to follow in detail the further unseemly scenes which disgraced the metropolis. Lord Elgin, in the face of mob violence and popular contumely, steadfastly refused to be swerved from the course he had marked out for himself. The majority of the people’s representatives had voted for the measure. Whether it was a good or bad measure, it had been supported by an unquestioned majority, and Lord Elgin took the only sound ground, that under responsible government the majority should rule. By his course at this time, though he was made to suffer personally, he forever guaranteed responsible government, and thus rendered a service that entitles his memory to grateful recognition. I have dwelt upon these stormy incidents because they, in a sense, served as the introduction to Cartier’s parliamentary career.

It was at this period that Cartier also gave a striking proof of his faith in the future of Canada as a distinct political entity. The year 1849 witnessed the somewhat celebrated movement for the annexation of Canada to the United States. That movement has been well described as commercial rather than political in its character. Canada at this time was suffering from a severe period of depression. The adoption by Great Britain in 1846 of a free trade policy, and the consequent disappearance of the British preference in favour of Canada, proved a heavy blow to the commercial interests of the country, and the dissatisfaction found expression in the issuing of a manifesto advocating a peaceful separation from Great Britain and “a union upon equitable terms with the great North American Confederacy of Sovereign States.” At a meeting held in Montreal on December 12th, 1849, the annexation of Canada to the United States was openly advocated by leading Canadians, and an association was formed for the purpose of promoting that object.[63] The annexation[102] movement found no sympathy from Cartier, who resolutely opposed it from the outset, and largely through his efforts a protest was drawn up and signed by a number of the leading members of parliament. That protest, which I give in full as expressive of Cartier’s well defined attitude, was as follows:

“We, the undersigned, members of the provincial legislature, residing in the city of Montreal and its vicinity, have read with astonishment and regret a certain ‘Address to the People of Canada,’ recently published by divers persons with the avowed intention of exciting in the midst of our population a movement in favour of the separation of this province from Great Britain, and of its annexation to the United States of America.

“Sincerely attached to the institutions which the Mother Country has acknowledged, and convinced that those institutions suffice through a system of wise and judicious legislation to secure prompt and efficient remedies for all the evils which this province can complain of, we consider ourselves urgently bound to protest publicly and solemnly against the opinions enunciated in that document.

“We deem it our duty at the same time, and without waiting the concurrence of the other members of the legislature, upon the approval of whom with few exceptions we may, however, confidently rely, to appeal to the wisdom, the love of order, and the honour of the inhabitants of this country, and to call upon these to oppose by every means in their power an agitation tending to subvert a constitution which, after having been long and earnestly sought for, was received with feelings of deep gratitude towards the Metropolitan government—an agitation, moreover, which can result in nothing beyond the continuation of the scenes from which this city has already so severely suffered, the disturbance of social order and a renewal of the troubles, commotions and disasters which we have had to deplore in times now past.”

Montreal, 15th October, 1849.

J. Leslie, M.L.C.,
Joseph Bourret, M.L.C.,
A. N. Morin, M.P.P., Bellechasse,
L. M. Viger, M.P.P., Terrebonne,
Malcolm Cameron, M.P.P., Kent,
J. H. Price, M.P.P., S. Riding York,
Louis T. Drummond, M.P.P., Shefford,
N. Dumas, M.P.P., Leinster,
Geo. E. Cartier, M.P., Verchères,
Pierre Davignon, M.P., Rouville,
L. Lacoste, M.P.P., Chambly,
Wolfred Nelson, M.P.P., Richelieu,
A. Jobin, M.P.P., Montreal.


In his attitude in regard to the annexation movement Cartier showed not only more patriotism but greater political foresight than some other public men of the period. Time justified him in his attitude and many of those who signed the annexation address lived to regret their action and to take a prominent part in the public life of Canada, one of those whose names appear first on the list of signatures eventually becoming Prime Minister of the Dominion.

The annexation movement of 1849 died a natural death, and a few years later, through the efforts of Lord Elgin, Canada secured without annexation all the benefits which had been expected from such a step. To somewhat anticipate events it may here be emphasised that the Reciprocity Treaty concluded by Lord Elgin, through personal negotiations at Washington, was one of the most important measures of the Union period. That treaty was sanctioned on June 5th, 1854, and went into effect in Canada on October 18th, 1854, and in the United States on March 16th, 1855. Under its provisions the Americans secured the liberty of utilising the inshore fisheries of the waters of the British North American Provinces, except for shell fish, while British subjects were accorded similar privileges in American waters. A large number of the products of the two countries were granted reciprocal free trade in each of their territories. The Americans, under the treaty, also secured the free navigation of the St. Lawrence, and the canals between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic and with the corresponding rights to British subjects on Lake Michigan. It was provided that the treaty should continue in force for ten years, but might afterwards be abrogated by either party giving one year’s notice.[64] The treaty was undoubtedly of great advantage to Canada as well as to the United States, and under it the trade between the two countries greatly increased. At the end of ten years it was abrogated by the United States, but we shall see that what was intended as a blow to Canada was really a blessing in disguise, leading indirectly to the union of all the British North American provinces and to the adoption of a truly national policy. Cartier hailed the successful negotiations of the Reciprocity Treaty with satisfaction, realising that its effects would prove a boon to Canada and effectually offset all feeling in favour of annexation, to which he was so strongly opposed. As late as 1861 he was under the impression that the treaty would not be abrogated, but in this he was doomed to disappointment.[65]

It was as a Reformer of the school of LaFontaine and Baldwin that Cartier began his public life. The Reform party, after years of trial and vicissitude, was now at the very zenith of its power and influence. It was[104] not long subsequent to the passage of the Rebellion Losses bill that indications became apparent of that transformation of parties which was to have most important political results. Hitherto the Reformers of Upper and Lower Canada, united in a common cause, had presented an unbroken front to the old line Tories. But disintegrating forces were at work which were to result in marked changes on both sides, in the formation of a radical wing of the Reform party and a more liberal group of the Tory party. In the former case the result was the advent of the Clear Grits in Upper Canada and the formation of the Rouge or democratic party in Lower Canada, whilst on the Tory side the changing conditions were eventually to lead to the triumph of the moderate Conservatives, who for some time had been looking to John A. Macdonald of Kingston as their rising hope.

It was in 1850 that the more radical element of the Reform party in Upper Canada, taking the ground that the administration was too slow in dealing with certain questions, notably the clergy reserves, formed themselves into a distinct party which became known as the Clear Grit party. The radical character of the policy they advocated may be judged from some of the planks of their platform, which included the application of the elective principle to all the officials and institutions of the country from the head of the Government downwards, universal suffrage, vote by ballot, biennial parliaments, the abolition of property qualification for parliamentary representation, retrenchment in public expenditure, free trade and direct taxation and the secularisation of the clergy reserves.

About the same time that witnessed the rise of the Clear Grit party in Upper Canada, the radical wing of the Reform party in Lower Canada assumed a distinctive status by the formation of the Parti Rouge or Parti Démocratique, under the leadership of Papineau, who as we have seen was entirely out of sympathy with LaFontaine’s policy on most questions. The Rouge party, which at the outset looked to Papineau for its inspiration, included in its ranks such men as Antoine Aimé Dorion, who was to become Cartier’s great antagonist, his brother J. B. E. Dorion, known as l’enfant terrible, Rodolphe Laflamme, Joseph Doutre, and Charles Laberge, several of whom were to gain distinction in the parliamentary arena. The Rouges even went further in their radicalism than the Clear Grits, their programme pronouncing not only in favour of such measures as universal suffrage and the abolition of the property qualification for members of parliament, but also favouring the repeal of the Union, and a republican form of government with annexation to the United States as the ultimate object. As the Rouge platform in some of its planks was strongly anti-clerical, it naturally aroused the hostility of the Church and other conservative elements in Lower Canada. It was largely for this reason that the support of the Church and the great mass of the people of[105] Lower Canada, naturally conservative in their ideas, was given for years to Cartier as the leader of the moderate party and that with a solid following thus gained he was able to a great extent to dominate the political situation in Canada.[66]

LaFontaine was able to count upon the cordial support of the greater number of the Reform members until the close of his public career. But he clearly perceived that disintegrating forces were at work, and this no doubt hastened his retirement from public life. On LaFontaine’s retirement in 1851 the Governor-General, Sir Charles Metcalfe, entrusted the task of forming a new administration to Francis Hincks, member for the County of Oxford, who had held the office of Inspector-General (Finance Minister) in the LaFontaine-Baldwin Government. Francis Hincks, or to give him the appellation by which he is best known, Sir Francis Hincks, at this period in his forty-fourth year, was a man who for a long period cut a considerable figure in Canadian politics, but whose fame has of late years been somewhat eclipsed. An Irishman by birth, having been born in Cork in 1807, he came to Canada in 1832 and settled at Little York in Upper Canada. Having been early trained to commercial pursuits, he began his career in Canada as a wholesale merchant. He subsequently became a bank manager and first attained prominence in connection with the investigation into the affairs of the Welland canal. Becoming a close personal friend of the Baldwins, he espoused the Reform cause, and in 1838 established the Toronto Examiner, a weekly paper devoted to the Reform interests. Hincks was a vigorous writer and a strong and convincing speaker. His special forte was finance; he possessed a most comprehensive knowledge of all matters connected with the trade and commerce of the country, and he has been well described as a “master of accounts.” It was as such that he made his greatest reputation, though he was destined to hold many high offices both in the Canadian and in the Imperial service.

Amongst the followers of LaFontaine there was but one man who was designated by common consent as his successor in the leadership of the French-Canadian party. That man was Augustin-Norbert Morin, to whom reference has already been made. Hincks had been a colleague, and was also a warm personal friend of Morin, and it was in conjunction with the French-Canadian leader that he formed an administration which assumed office on October 28th, 1851. On November 6th parliament was dissolved,[106] and the elections resulted in a triumph for the new Government. Amongst the members returned was George-Étienne Cartier, who was re-elected for Verchères as a supporter of the Government. The Hincks-Morin Government, which held office until September 8th, 1854, deserves the credit for much useful and beneficial legislation, especially in connection with railway development and public improvements, and from its administration must be dated an era of marked material expansion.

To the Hincks-Morin Government Cartier gave his cordial support, and so much progress had he made in the estimation of his parliamentary colleagues that he was offered the position of Solicitor-General in the new government, an offer which he declined to accept. On September 20th, 1852, John Young resigned as Commissioner of Public Works, owing to the decision of the Government to impose differential duties against United States vessels using the Canadian canals. As Mr. Young was an out and out free trader, he could not very well support such a policy, and by resigning from the Government he showed his high sense of principle. On Mr. Young’s resignation, Cartier was again given an opportunity of entering the ministry, but again he declined. Addressing the Assembly on September 22nd, he frankly declared that one of the reasons for his refusal to accept the position was the smallness of the salary attached to the office, and the independence that Cartier showed on that occasion was characteristic of him throughout his whole career.

Though he did not accept office at this time, Cartier continued to give the Hincks-Morin Government the benefit of his powerful influence and support. The Government had not been more than a couple of years in office before it encountered the bitterest hostility not only of its pronounced opponents, but of many of its former adherents. It was finally decided in 1854 to seek a new mandate from the people and accordingly parliament was dissolved and elections announced for the months of July and August. The contest was an extremely bitter one. The Government had to face the opposition not only of the Conservatives, but also of the Clear Grits in Upper Canada, and the Rouges in Lower Canada. George Brown, who had practically become the leader of the Clear Grits, whom he had formerly assailed, went so far as to support Conservative candidates in a number of constituencies.

When a new parliament assembled three distinct parties were represented on the floor—the moderate Reformers or Ministerialists, the advanced or radical Reformers, comprising the Clear Grits and Rouges, and the Conservatives. Though the Ministerialists were the strongest of the three groups in point of numbers, they were not sufficiently numerous to withstand a combination of the radical Reformers and the Conservatives. The first trial of strength was upon the election of a Speaker, and in this connection George-Étienne Cartier figured conspicuously. At a full meeting[107] of the Reform members it was decided that Cartier, who had been re-elected to represent Verchères, should be their candidate for Speaker. It was well known that John Sandfield Macdonald, who had already filled the office, was to be the candidate of the combined opposition of the Clear Grits and the Conservatives, and it had likewise transpired that the Lower Canadian opposition had determined to bring forward a candidate of their own in the person of L. V. Sicotte, member for St. Hyacinthe. The election took place on September 5th, 1854. It was clear that there was an understanding between the Conservatives and the Clear Grits to act together so as to bring about the defeat of the Government. When the House proceeded to the election, the first name submitted was that of George-Étienne Cartier, who was proposed by Robert Spence, member for North Wentworth, and seconded by François Lemieux, member for Lévis. Mr. Sicotte was then proposed by Mr. Dorion, the Rouge leader, and John Sandfield Macdonald was next nominated by John Scatcherd, member for West Middlesex. During the discussion that followed William Lyon Mackenzie, the noted Upper Canadian Reformer who represented Haldimand, and who had allied himself with the Clear Grits, made an attack upon Cartier, his principal complaint being that the latter was too friendly to the Grand Trunk Railway Company.

At the conclusion of the debate W. B. Lindsay, the Clerk of the Assembly, who occupied the chair, put the question: “Shall Mr. Cartier be Speaker?” The vote resulted in Cartier’s defeat by a majority of only three votes, the division being sixty-two against, fifty-nine for. While he had a majority of nine in his favour from his own province, there was a majority of twelve against him from Upper Canada.[67]

Though Hincks had failed to secure Cartier’s election as Speaker, he was determined that John Sandfield Macdonald, for whom he had no love, should not secure the honour. The Opposition had calculated that the safest course to follow was to put up Sicotte next and on his certain defeat to elect Macdonald with the aid of Sicotte’s friends. They had, however, reckoned without Hincks. The Government leader had fully grasped the tactics of the opposition, and when the division was called on Sicotte’s candidature, he did not get a vote from the ministerial side of the house, as all sat still until the votes of his own supporters were recorded. When the last vote was taken, to the utter consternation of the opposition, Hincks rose and calmly remarked, “Put me among the yeas.” Morin, who sat beside his leader, followed Hincks’ example, and then one by one the ministerial supporters voted for Sicotte, with the result that he was placed in the Speaker’s chair by a large majority.

Though the vote on the Speakership indicated the weakness of the Government, it held on to office until, being defeated on the evening of[108] September 7th on a question of privilege, Hincks determined to resign, and on the following day the Government had ceased to exist.

The fall of the Hincks-Morin Government brings us to one of the most important chapters of Canadian political history. The continuance of the Government in office having been rendered impossible, what was to be done? I have already alluded to that transformation of parties which had been in progress for some time. Though the moderate Reformers headed by Hincks and Morin were numerically the strongest of all the groups in the House, the advanced or radical Reformers, comprising the Clear Grits of Upper Canada led by George Brown and the Rouges of Lower Canada led by Antoine Aimé Dorion, in conjunction with the Conservatives under Sir Allan MacNab, were sufficiently strong to defeat any Government which they might determine to oppose. The government of the country had to be carried on, and the problem was not one easy to solve. Any alliance between the moderate Reformers of Upper and Lower Canada with either the Clear Grits or Rouges was obviously out of the question. It was under these circumstances that the clear intellect and penetrating genius of John A. Macdonald, the young member for Kingston, came into play.

John Alexander Macdonald was at this time in his thirty-ninth year, only four months younger than Cartier, having been born in Glasgow, Scotland, on January 11th, 1815. His father, Hugh Macdonald, had emigrated to Canada with his whole family in 1820, when his second child and eldest son, the future Prime Minister of the Dominion, was only five years of age. The family took up their residence first at Kingston and then at Adolphustown on the Bay of Quinte, and finally at a locality then known as the Stone Mills in the county of Prince Edward. Unsuccessful in his various ventures, the elder Macdonald finally returned to Kingston, where he fell into ill-health and died on the 28th September, 1841, leaving his son, John Alexander, as the mainstay of his family. Young Macdonald, who had attended the Royal Grammar School of Kingston for a period of five years, was then forced to begin the world for himself at the age of fifteen. Entering upon the study of law in the office of George Mackenzie at Kingston, he was admitted to the Bar of Upper Canada in 1836 at the age of twenty-one, and settled down in Kingston to the practice of his profession.[68] He early took an interest in public affairs, was elected a member of the Kingston City Council in 1843, and was first returned to parliament as member for Kingston at the general elections of 1844, thus beginning his parliamentary career four years before Cartier entered the House. During the ten years that had intervened Macdonald had gained a position of marked prominence. His ability, united with his great personal popularity, had already made him a force in politics.[109] Appointed Receiver-General in the Draper ministry in 1846, and subsequently occupying the office of Commissioner of Crown Lands, he had been re-elected for Kingston at the general election of 1847, was a member of the Opposition during the second LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry, and strongly opposed the Hincks-Morin Government. It was as an upholder of high Tory principles that Macdonald was first returned to parliament. He had given his support to William Henry Draper, Lord Metcalfe’s favourite minister, and he had subsequently followed the lead of Sir Allan MacNab. But John A. Macdonald was too big a man, his mind was cast in too liberal a mould and his vision was too broad, to be long bound by any such narrow and restricted views as those that were represented by Draper and MacNab. With the passing of the years, greater experience and close association with men of divergent views, his ideas had broadened and his tendencies had become more liberal. His penetrating intellect made him perceive that the day of high Toryism in Canada was over, that a more liberal and progressive spirit would have to be infused into the Conservative party if it was ever to command the support of any considerable section of the people. He had become, as I have said, the rising hope of the moderate Conservatives and had a considerable personal following in the ranks of the party, which was still under the leadership of Sir Allan MacNab. Macdonald gave his leader a loyal support, but it is apparent that he had already shaped in his mind that enlightened and far-seeing policy which was to give birth to a new party and to make its author the dominating force in Canadian politics for many years. He but waited for a favourable opportunity to put his ideas into effect, and the opportunity had now arrived.

Owing to the division that existed in the Reform ranks Macdonald perceived that the time was ripe for an alliance or coalition between the moderate Conservatives and the moderate Reformers of both Upper and Lower Canada, between whom there was much in common. Sir Allan MacNab, who had been sent for by the Governor-General and entrusted with the task of forming a new administration, accordingly opened negotiations with Morin, the leader of the Lower Canadian Reformers, and submitted to him the proposal for a coalition of the two parties which they respectively represented. Morin regarded the proposal favourably, and obtained the concurrence of Hincks, who agreed to secure the support of the Upper Canadian Reformers on condition that he should have the privilege of selecting two members of the new administration. The final result of these negotiations was the formation of what is known as the MacNab-Morin Government representing the alliance of the Conservatives with the moderate Reformers. The alliance was strongly denounced by the advanced Reformers, but it met with the warm approval of Robert Baldwin, who endorsed it in a letter addressed to Francis Hincks. Thus[110] was born, as the result of the transformation of parties to which I have referred, the great Liberal-Conservative party which was destined to play a notable rôle in Canadian politics, to preside over the destinies of the country for many years and to be adorned by the names of many illustrious men.

Cartier, who was already marked for leadership in the ranks of the Lower Canadian Reformers, played no inconsiderable part in the accomplishment of the alliance which resulted in the birth of the Liberal-Conservative party. He was naturally, as one of the leading members of the Lower Canadian delegation, consulted by Morin during the course of the negotiations, and gave his approval to the proposal. Cartier perceived that any further working arrangement between the moderate wing of the Lower Canadian Reformers and the advanced Reformers of Upper Canada had been rendered out of the question by the extreme views of some of the leaders of the latter party, and that an alliance between the Lower Canadian Reformers and the Upper Canadian Conservatives would be possible if the latter would agree to renounce some of their high-Tory principles. In a speech in the Assembly on June 20th, 1854, on the fall of the Hincks-Morin Government, replying to some remarks by Mr. Sicotte, Cartier remarked: “Does he desire a coalition with our adversaries? But Upper Canadian Conservatives have not yet shown that they are ready to form such a coalition. If so they will have to renounce many of their principles. There remains a third means of forming an administration, that would be to make an alliance with the honourable member for Kent (George Brown). But my honourable colleague (Sicotte) has too much sense to believe that Lower Canada would ever approve of an alliance with a man who daily insults in such an outrageous manner our beliefs and our ideas.”

That Cartier regretted the division in the Reform ranks, that he was opposed to coalitions in principle, and that he supported the alliance with the Conservatives simply because he deemed it necessary for the carrying on of the government is made clear by a speech he delivered in the Assembly on September 20th, 1854, following the formation of the MacNab-Morin Government. “There has not been for us (the Lower Canadian Reformers) any coalition,” he said on that occasion. “We support the same ministers. The Lower Canadian section of the Cabinet was not affected by the vote of non-confidence of last June. That section of the Cabinet was then sustained by a majority of the Reformers of Lower Canada, it still counts a majority in the House, and it has never been condemned by them. For these reasons I believe that it is wrong to say that the Government is a coalition Government; as far as concerns Lower Canada to call it so is a false designation. It is true that a coalition has taken place in Upper Canada and that Honourable Mr. Morin has[111] accepted it. I do not like coalitions. I am a party man. I like a Government which represents my sentiments and my principles. At the same time I admit that a coalition in Upper Canada has become necessary, and I will support it as well as the measures which the Cabinet believe should be presented in the material interests of the country. I desire it to be understood, however, that the support which I give to the Upper Canadian ministers applies not to persons but to measures. I do not support the ministry as a political entity, but because it is necessary to the carrying on of the government. I regret the divisions which have arisen in the ranks of the Reformers; the Upper Canadian Reformers who have condemned the coalition may easily remedy it by ceasing their quarrels.”

It would appear from these remarks that Cartier still hoped that there was a chance of healing the divisions in the Reform ranks. But time convinced him of the impracticability of this and subsequently in alliance with John A. Macdonald he was to become one of the pillars of the Liberal-Conservative party.

The MacNab-Morin Government, which held office until May 21st, 1856, underwent several changes before the close of its lease of power, and these changes had an important bearing upon George-Étienne Cartier’s career. At the beginning of 1855 a reconstruction of the Lower Canadian section of the ministry was rendered necessary by the retirement from public life of its distinguished leader, whose health had become impaired. Morin, after a long and notable public career, accepted a judicial appointment and he continued to adorn the Bench of his native province until his death in 1865. On Morin’s retirement his place as leader of the Lower Canadian section of the ministry was taken by Étienne-Paschal Taché, the senior Lower Canadian minister, and under his direction a reconstruction of the Lower Canadian section followed. L. T. Drummond continued to hold the portfolio of Attorney-General, but P. J. O. Chauveau, who had been Provincial Secretary, and Joseph Chabot, who had held the Commissionership of Public Works, retired. The vacant offices were speedily filled, George-Étienne Cartier being appointed Provincial Secretary and François-Xavier Lemieux, member for Lévis, Commissioner of Public Works, whilst Joseph Cauchon, member for Montmorency, was appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands, the office which Morin had held.

The Cabinet as thus reconstructed stood as follows:


Sir Allan MacNab, President of the Executive Council.

John A. Macdonald, Attorney-General, West.

W. Cayley, Inspector-General.

Robert Spence, Postmaster-General.

Henry Smith, Solicitor-General.

John Ross, President Legislative Council.



Étienne-Paschal Taché, Receiver-General.

L. T. Drummond, Attorney-General, East.

George-Étienne Cartier, Provincial Secretary.

Joseph Cauchon, Commissioner of Crown Lands.

François Lemieux, Commissioner of Public Works.

Dunbar Ross, Solicitor-General.

George-Étienne Cartier accordingly found himself at the early age of forty-one years a member of the Government. He was in the full vigour of his youthful prime. Within a period of seven years from his first appearance in the legislative halls of his country he had acquired a commanding position in the parliamentary arena, and was generally regarded as a man who would go far. He was in fact the rising hope of Lower Canada, as John A. Macdonald was the rising hope of Upper Canada. For the first time these two men who were to play such a great part together were associated as members of the same Government. It was not long before Cartier became the master spirit of the Lower Canadian section of the Cabinet. Étienne-Paschal Taché, who was the Lower Canadian leader, was a man who was generally esteemed for his character and patriotism, but he could lay no claim to be regarded as a great political leader. His name has passed into history chiefly as being the head of the coalition ministry which brought about confederation.

Cartier’s appointment to cabinet office necessitated his seeking a new mandate from his constituents. The contest that followed in the county of Verchères was an extremely bitter one. The Rouges or advanced Reformers of Lower Canada recognised in Cartier their most formidable adversary, and they did everything in their power to compass his defeat. His opponent, C. Prefontaine, a farmer of St. Marc, was supported by Dorion, Doutre, Laflamme, Pepin, and other leading members of the Rouge party, whilst Cartier had the platform support of Louis Simeon Morin, one of the most brilliant orators the French-Canadians have had, T. J. J. Loranger, C. J. Coursol, and others. Cartier was attacked during the contest with extreme bitterness. He was pictured by the Opposition press as the paid advocate of the Grand Trunk, “the partisan of monopoly, defender of lucrative posts, upholder of privileges, supporter of corruption, ally of the seigneurs and enemy of the censitaires, the adversary of justice, champion of illegality, apostle of slavery, preacher of passive submission, a trafficker in human consciences, a Tory agitator, jobber,” etc. These extravagant terms are simply mentioned to show the warmth that marked the contest and the commanding position that Cartier must have acquired to have been the object of such attacks. Cartier, who was never known to quail before any attack, proved himself more than a match for his redoubtable opponents. In a speech which he made on nomination day he warmly defended himself and his public actions. “I do not regard[113] the honour conferred upon me,” he remarked, “as simply a personal honour. I believe that it is reflected on the whole county which at various times has elected me as its representative. This county is dear to me for many reasons. My wife and I here first saw the day, my family here traces back its origin; I here possess property and I have the advantage of personally knowing nearly all those who hear me.” The opposition to him, he added, did not come from the county, but “from a certain number of young men who were known as Rouges,” who were jealous of the position his work and energy had won him. “They have come upon the hustings to attack my votes,” added Cartier, “but I am ready to defend them. Far from being ashamed, I am proud because I have always voted for greater liberty and to make the people better.” Proceeding to review his parliamentary career, Cartier defended the votes he had given on various measures and also justified the MacNab-Morin alliance, which had been attacked by the Rouges. Despite the strong campaign put up against him, Cartier was triumphantly re-elected by a majority of 186 votes over his opponent.

Cartier continued to hold the portfolio of Provincial Secretary until May 21st, 1856, when Sir Allan MacNab, whose public career was fast drawing to a close, handed in the resignation of himself and his colleagues to the Governor-General, who at once entrusted Étienne-Paschal Taché as the senior executive councillor, with the formation of a new administration, a task which in co-operation with John A. Macdonald he successfully accomplished. In what was known as the Taché-Macdonald Government George-Étienne Cartier went a step higher, being appointed to the important office of Attorney-General for Lower Canada in succession to L. T. Drummond, who refused to form part of the Ministry unless he was recognised as the leader of the Government forces in the Assembly, a condition to which John A. Macdonald naturally would not agree.

The composition of the new Government, of which Cartier was one of the leading members, was as follows:


Étienne-Paschal Taché, President of the Legislative Council.

George-Étienne Cartier, Attorney-General, East.

Joseph Cauchon, Commissioner of Crown Lands.

François-Xavier Lemieux, Commissioner of Public Works.

T. L. Terrill, Provincial Secretary.


John A. Macdonald, Attorney-General, West.

William Cayley, Inspector-General.

Robert Spence, Postmaster-General.

P. M. VanKoughnet, President of the Executive Council and Minister of Agriculture.

J. C. Morrison, Receiver-General.


Though Étienne-Paschal Taché, as the senior Executive Councillor, was the titular head of the Taché-Macdonald Government, the real head was John A. Macdonald, and the strongest man in the Lower Canadian section was undoubtedly George-Étienne Cartier, though Joseph Cauchon was also a man of marked ability and resourcefulness. Cartier now found himself in an office for which his legal training and experience eminently qualified him, that of Attorney-General for Lower Canada, and as such he was to render distinguished service in connection with important legal and judicial reforms. In November, 1857, owing to the retirement from the Cabinet of Étienne-Paschal Taché, a reconstruction became necessary. John A. Macdonald was entrusted with the formation of a new administration, and George-Étienne Cartier became the head of the Lower Canadian section. He thus at the comparatively early age of forty-three and after only nine years’ service in parliament succeeded to the position which had been held with such distinguished honour by LaFontaine and Morin, and he was henceforth to be for many years the undisputed leader of a large body of the French-Canadians and the most conspicuous statesman of Lower Canada. For the first time the names of Macdonald and Cartier, which for many years were to be inseparable in Canadian politics, were linked in the government of the country. Cartier’s first act on becoming the Lower Canadian leader was to endeavour to effect a union of the political forces of his province. With this object in view he chose two Liberals, N. F. Belleau and Louis V. Sicotte, as colleagues, and empowered the latter to offer the portfolio of Provincial Secretary to Antoine Aimé Dorion, who was the strongest man in the ranks of his opponents. But the Rouge leader declined Cartier’s advances on the ground that the acceptance by him of a seat in the Government would be regarded as a sacrifice of his principles. T. J. J. Loranger and Charles Alleyn were then chosen to make up the complement of the Lower Canadian section of the Cabinet.

The Macdonald-Cartier Government which assumed office on November 26th, 1857, was composed as follows:


John A. Macdonald, Prime Minister and Attorney-General, West.

William Cayley, Inspector-General.

P. M. VanKoughnet, President of the Executive Council.

Robert Spence, Postmaster-General.

J. C. Morrison, Receiver-General.


George-Étienne Cartier, Attorney-General, East.

Louis V. Sicotte, Commissioner of Crown Lands.

N. F. Belleau, President of the Legislative Council.

C. Alleyn, Commissioner of Public Works.

T. J. J. Loranger, Provincial Secretary.


The formation of the new administration was followed on November 28th by the dissolution of parliament. The appeal to the people resulted in an overwhelming majority of Government supporters being returned from Lower Canada, but the majority of those returned from Upper Canada were hostile to the new administration. The ministerial forces in Lower Canada under Cartier’s able direction had gained a sweeping victory. Dorion’s Rouge following which in the previous parliament had numbered nineteen was now reduced to a mere handful, Dorion himself had secured re-election, but a number of his most prominent followers were amongst the fallen. At this election Cartier presented himself as a candidate both in Verchères and in Montreal. He was re-elected by his own county, but was defeated in the city, which had not then been divided into electoral districts. The victorious candidates in the city were Dorion, Cartier’s rival, John Rose, and Thomas D’Arcy McGee. In first seeking the suffrages of the electors of Montreal, it is interesting to note that Cartier came out in favour of adequate protection for home industries and manufacturers, and of measures for the development of the commercial metropolis.

As a result of the general election the tenure of the government clearly rested, as it was to rest for some time to come, on Cartier’s following from Lower Canada; and in this sense Cartier became the real master of the administration, though he cordially acted in co-operation with John A. Macdonald.

The Macdonald-Cartier Government continued to hold office until July 28th, 1858, when, following the adoption by a vote of sixty-four to fifty of a motion proposed by George Brown, against the selection of Ottawa as the Capital, John A. Macdonald handed in the resignation of himself and of his colleagues. The resignation of the Macdonald-Cartier Government was followed by the formation of the short-lived Brown-Dorion Government—which consequent upon the adoption of a motion of non-confidence in the Assembly, and the refusal of the Governor-General, Sir Edmund Head, to grant Brown’s demand for a dissolution, resigned on August 4th.

The political situation that now developed was to make Cartier the man of the times.




We are now to find George-Étienne Cartier at the comparatively early age of forty-four years, after a career of only ten years in parliament, attaining the highest position open to a Canadian, that of Prime Minister of United Canada. By his indefatigable efforts and unceasing work, his great parliamentary labours and his command of a large and devoted following, he had acquired a pre-eminence in the parliamentary arena that was second to none, not even to that of his great colleague, John A. Macdonald, who was at this period dependent upon Cartier for the continuance of himself and his party in power.

On the resignation of the Brown-Dorion Government, the Governor-General first summoned Alexander Tilloch Galt, the member for Sherbrooke, and requested him to undertake the formation of a new administration. Galt, being without any substantial following in the House, declined to accede to the Governor-General’s request and suggested that Cartier, of whom he was a warm personal friend, should be sent for as the man who had the largest following in the House. The Governor-General adopted Galt’s suggestion and Cartier accepted the task of forming an administration, which he successfully fulfilled on August 6th. The Cartier-Macdonald Government was practically the same as the Macdonald-Cartier Government, with the exception that T. J. J. Loranger and Wm. Cayley were omitted, their places being taken by Alexander Tilloch Galt and George Sherwood.

The assumption of office by the Cartier-Macdonald Government was rendered somewhat notable by what became known as the “double shuffle,” a proceeding which justly evoked much adverse criticism. With the object of facilitating such transfers or interchanges of portfolios as occur in all governments, the seventh section of the Act further to secure the independence of parliament, passed at the session of 1857, provided that “whenever any person holding its office of Receiver-General, Inspector-General, Secretary of the Province, Commissioner of Crown Lands, Attorney-General, Solicitor-General, Commissioner of Public Works, Speaker of the Legislative Council, President of the Executive Council, Minister of Agriculture or Postmaster-General, and being at the[117] same time a member of the Legislative Council, shall resign his office and within one month after his resignation accept any other of the same offices, he shall not thereby vacate his seat in the said Assembly and Council.”

When the personnel of the Cartier-Macdonald ministry was announced on August 6th, it was seen that the ministers who were members of the Assembly all held different portfolios to what they had held in the Macdonald-Cartier Government. George-Étienne Cartier was Inspector-General, John A. Macdonald Postmaster-General, Mr. Sicotte Commissioner of Public Works, Mr. Alleyn, Provincial Secretary, Mr. Rose, Receiver-General, and Mr. Sidney Smith, President of the Council and Minister of Agriculture. Only two of the ministers, P. M. VanKoughnet and N. F. Belleau, who were members of the Legislative Council and not obliged to seek a new mandate, held their old portfolio. This composition of the ministry was of very brief duration. On August 7th, the letter of the law having been complied with, the ministers resumed their old portfolios. Thus occurred what has passed into history under the name of the “double shuffle,” a proceeding which, though in accordance with the letter of the statute of 1857, was undoubtedly contrary to its spirit and intention. The object of the proceeding, as Cartier frankly admitted in the Assembly, was “to meet the requirements of the law and at the same time to prevent any unnecessary elections.” The action was generally condemned by public opinion and it was the first and last time that such a method was employed.[69]

The Cartier-Macdonald ministry, as finally constituted on August 7th, was as follows:


George-Étienne Cartier, Premier and Attorney-General, East.

A. T. Galt, Inspector-General.

N. F. Belleau, Speaker of the Legislative Council.

L. V. Sicotte, Commissioner of Public Works.

Charles Alleyn, Provincial Secretary.


John A. Macdonald, Attorney-General, West.

P. M. VanKoughnet, Commissioner of Crown Lands.

Sidney Smith, Postmaster-General.

John Ross, President of the Council.

George Sherwood, Receiver-General.

On August 7th, the day following the formation of the ministry, it fell to Cartier’s lot as Prime Minister to make the ministerial explanations in the House. He remarked that after a conference with the Governor he[118] had acceded to the latter’s request to form an administration on condition that he would have the co-operation of his honourable colleague, the Attorney-General for Upper Canada (John A. Macdonald). The Governor, Cartier added, had given him carte blanche. He had explained to the Governor that his honourable friend (Macdonald) on account of the state of his health was thinking of retiring from public life, but that he hoped that he would have his support. He had then consulted with Macdonald, who, after considerable hesitation, had consented to aid him in forming an administration.[70] The Prime Minister then announced the composition of the Cabinet, and proceeded to explain the transfer of portfolios, which obviated the necessity of the ministers seeking re-election.

William Lyon Mackenzie at this point interrupted the Prime Minister with the remark, “A greater comedy was never played,” but he was sharply called to order by the Speaker. On Mackenzie continuing to interrupt, Cartier requested him to wait until he had finished his explanations, when he would be prepared to answer any questions. The Premier concluded by declaring that the Government was ready to submit to the judgment of the House.

Mr. Rymal (South Wentworth)—“But not to the judgment of the country.”

Mr. Cartier—“Certainly to the country also.”

The fiery member for Haldimand (William Lyon Mackenzie) continued to interrupt, declaring, when Galt’s nomination was referred to, that the latter was a director of the Grand Trunk, to which Cartier retorted that Galt had ceased to be a director of that company.

In conclusion Cartier announced the policy of the Government on the following terms:

“In order that there may be no misunderstanding, we have put in writing the policy of the Government, and this policy is the same as was enunciated in the Speech from the Throne.” At this declaration there was some laughter, which was met by Cartier with the remark: “Some honourable members may laugh, but I believe they will finish by being on our side.”

The Premier continued: “The policy of the present government is the same as was announced in the Speech from the Throne in regard to all the subjects therein referred to. The operation of the new tariff will be closely watched and it will be readjusted from time to time with a view to maintain the public revenue and uphold the provincial credit and incidentally[119] to encourage native industry and domestic manufactures. In such readjustment the policy of basing the tariff upon the ad valorem principle will be kept steadily in view.

“The Government feel themselves bound to carry out the law of the land respecting the seat of government, but in the face of the recent vote on that subject, they do not consider themselves warranted in incurring any expenditure until parliament has had an opportunity of considering the whole question in all its bearings.

“The expediency of a federal union of the British North American provinces will be anxiously considered, and communications with the Home government and the Lower Provinces entered into forthwith, on this subject. The result of these communications will be submitted to parliament at its next session.

“The Government will during the recess examine into the organisation and working of the public departments and will carry out such administrative reforms as will conduce to economy and efficiency.”

The Government’s opponents were not disposed to allow the announcement regarding the exchange of portfolios to pass unchallenged, and on August 10th a motion was proposed declaring that the action was “a fraudulent evasion of the Act for the independence of parliament, and a gross violation of the rights of the people by the members of the administration,” and that they had “thereby forfeited all title to the confidence of this House and of the country.” It was maintained by the Opposition that the action of the ministers was unconstitutional, that the law had been enacted simply with the intention of facilitating occasional exchanges of portfolios within the Cabinet and not with the idea of exempting the members of a new ministry from the necessity of seeking re-election.

That the Government could depend upon the support of the majority of the House was shown by the fact that the motion was defeated by a vote of fifty-two to twenty-eight, and a similar amendment which was proposed on August 12th to the supply bill was rejected by forty-seven to nineteen.

The government of which George-Étienne Cartier was the head, it will thus be seen, had a good working majority and accordingly had no difficulty in disposing of business for the remainder of the session. In connection with the tariff plank of the Government’s platform, it is interesting to note that the question of “protection to home industries” first came before parliament at this session.[71] As the result of Cartier’s amendments to the tariff introduced by William Cayley, rates of twenty and twenty-five per cent. were imposed upon certain commodities, and a general rate of fifteen per cent. on all articles not specially enunciated or[120] exempted. This was practically the inauguration of the Canadian protective system. Cartier himself was in favour of a moderate protection and Galt was strongly protectionist in his views. In supporting Cayley’s amendments Galt had in fact come out flat-footed for a protectionist policy and challenged the view expressed by George Brown that an increase of duty would be detrimental to the agricultural interests. Referring to the states of Maine and New Hampshire, Galt maintained that the experience of these states showed that the industrial results of labour increased enormously under the protective system, and he declared that he would be glad to see the Canadian tariff so altered as to keep in the country and probably to employ the great numbers annually leaving the province. Galt as Finance Minister was now in a position to have his views acted upon, and he was doubtless entitled to the credit for the strong tariff plank in the Government’s platform, as well as for the reference to the union of the British North American provinces of which he was a strong advocate.

Cartier When Prime Minister of United Canada


For a period of nearly four years from August 7th, 1858, until May 23rd, 1862, during which the Cartier-Macdonald ministry held office, George-Étienne Cartier as Prime Minister led the Government forces with conspicuous vigour and ability. During the whole of that period he was not merely the nominal but the actual head of the Government.[72] As such he had the cordial support of John A. Macdonald, the leader of the Upper Canadian section of the Cabinet, though at one time Cartier came near suffering the loss of his great colleague. As a matter of fact on July 11th, 1859, Macdonald placed his resignation as a member of the Government in the Prime Minister’s hands, and in a letter addressed to Cartier gave[121] as his reason, that the Finance Minister had assumed the responsibility of giving £100,000 of exchange to the Bank of Upper Canada, without such advance being submitted to and approved by the Governor-General in Council. Whilst expressing the opinion that Galt had acted as he thought best for the interests of the province, Macdonald declared that he could not subscribe to so dangerous a principle.[73] The misunderstanding, for it was only a misunderstanding, was arranged after a personal conference. Macdonald withdrew his resignation and continued to give Cartier his heartiest support until they went down to defeat together.

With the principal proceedings of the Government of which Cartier was the head I shall now briefly deal, as many of these proceedings doubtless owed their initiation to the Prime Minister.

The session of the legislature which witnessed the formation of the Cartier-Macdonald Government was prorogued on August 16th, and the ministry proceeded to carry into effect the policy which it had announced to parliament. A. T. Galt and George Sherwood, who had not been members of the previous Government, and who were therefore obliged to seek a new mandate from their constituents, were re-elected. Early in the autumn the Prime Minister, accompanied by A. T. Galt and John Ross, left for England, to ascertain the views of the Imperial authorities on the subject of a federal union of the British North American provinces. It was Cartier’s first visit to Great Britain, and he was the recipient of many attentions. Queen Victoria received him personally and by special invitation he was her guest for three days at Windsor Castle. The Premier took advantage of the occasion to say how pleased all Canadians would be if the Queen would visit them when the Victoria bridge was inaugurated, to which the Queen replied that state business would probably prevent her from accepting the invitation, but one of the Princes would likely assist at the ceremony. During his stay in England Cartier also personally met many of the leading British statesmen, including Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, and Disraeli, who was at that time a member of the Derby administration. With the special measure which took him and his colleagues to England, and which had no immediate result, I shall deal in a subsequent chapter.

Shortly after Cartier’s return to Canada, a change took place in the ministry, owing to the resignation of Louis V. Sicotte as the result of a difference of opinion over the seat of government question. Sicotte maintained that, as the result of the adverse vote in the Assembly, the Government was not obliged to act upon the Queen’s selection of Ottawa as the capital. As the other members would not concur in this view, Sicotte resigned on December 24th, and was succeeded as Commissioner[122] of Public Works by Hon. John Rose, who entered upon his duties on January 11th, 1859.

The Cartier Government again faced parliament when the House reassembled for the despatch of business on January 29th, 1859. During the session, which lasted until May 4th, the Government continued to have the support of a good majority, though it was met by a very strong opposition. The vexed question of the seat of government, which had resulted in the downfall of the Macdonald-Cartier ministry, again came up in connection with the consideration of the Speech from the Throne. “I cannot doubt,” said His Excellency, “that you will recognise a selection made by Her Majesty at your own request and that you will duly acknowledge her gracious compliance with the addresses which you yourselves caused to be presented to her.”

During the discussion Sicotte, who had resigned from the Government as he was adverse to the choice of Ottawa, moved an amendment against its selection. Cartier made a powerful plea in favour of the confirmation of Ottawa’s selection as the capital. He had always, he said, favoured either Montreal or Ottawa, and he had declared that, after Montreal, Ottawa would be the most convenient location. Sicotte’s amendment, after an animated debate, was voted down by a majority of five, and the clause of the address was adopted on a similar division, the vexed question thus being disposed of and Ottawa decided upon as the seat of government. That already progressive city was destined to become the capital of a still greater confederation, and one of the most beautiful cities of the country.

One of the most important events of the session of 1859 was the presentation of the tariff policy by the new Finance Minister. Galt’s measure was, to a great extent, an enlargement and expansion of the tariff of 1858, and was principally designed with a view of protecting Canadian manufacturers. It was also at the session of 1859 that under Cartier’s direction the seigneurial tenure question, which had for many years occupied the attention of parliament, was finally disposed of.

Before the close of the session both Houses passed an address to the Queen, praying that Her Majesty, accompanied by the Prince Consort and such members of the royal family as might be selected to attend her on the occasion, would graciously deign to be present at the opening in the following year of the Victoria Bridge, and the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Henry Smith, was deputed to proceed to England to present the address and receive Her Majesty’s reply.

When parliament was prorogued on May 4th, the public departments were removed from Montreal to Quebec. It was not until six years later that they were permanently installed at Ottawa. It was under the administration of which Cartier was the head that work was begun upon the[123] present parliament buildings at Ottawa, admitted to be amongst the finest in the world. In 1859 notices were issued by the Public Works Department, of which Hon. John Rose was the head, inviting architects to send in designs. Thomas McGreevy secured the contract for the construction of the buildings, of which Fuller & Jones, architects, were the designers. Construction operations were begun before the close of the year, and the work was thereafter steadily pushed to completion.

Parliament reassembled at Quebec on February 28th, 1860, and continued in session until May 19th. At the opening a despatch from the Duke of Newcastle, the Colonial Secretary, to the Governor-General was laid before parliament. It announced the receipt of addresses from the two houses of the Canadian parliament, expressed regret that the Queen’s duties would prevent her acceptance of the invitation to be present at the opening of the Victoria bridge, but held out the hope that it would be possible for the Prince of Wales to be present. The legislative record of 1860 was not of an important character, but the session was marked by some exciting debates. A motion presented by George Brown for the repeal of the union was defeated by the decisive vote of sixty-seven to twenty-six. Throughout the session the Government was sustained by good majorities.

The period during which George-Étienne Cartier was Prime Minister was rendered notable by the visit to Canada of Prince Albert Edward of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII. It was on July 10th, 1860, that the Prince, accompanied by the Duke of Newcastle and a numerous suite, sailed from Plymouth on board H.M.S. Hero, Captain Edward Seymour, C.B. The Hero, which was accompanied by H.M.S. Ariadne, Captain Vansittart, arrived on the evening of July 23rd at St. Johns, Newfoundland. After a stay of several days at St. Johns, the party visited in succession Halifax, St. John, Fredericton and Charlottetown, and on August 11th the Prince and suite embarked for Canada. On Sunday, August 12th, at sunset, the Hero and Ariadne entered Gaspé Bay. Here the Government steamers Victoria and Lady Head were anchored, having aboard the Governor-General, Sir Edmund Head, the Prime Minister, George-Étienne Cartier, and the members of the Government, who had come down from Quebec to welcome the young Prince to Canada. Early on Monday morning the Governor-General went aboard the Hero and extended a welcome to the Prince, after which the whole squadron proceeded into Gaspé Basin. Here the Prime Minister and other members of the Government boarded the Hero and were each in turn presented to the Prince by the Duke of Newcastle. Cartier and his colleagues had luncheon with the Prince and then returned to the Government steamer. The Hero, escorted by the Ariadne and the Government steamers, resumed her journey to Quebec, a visit being paid to the[124] Saguenay on the way, and on Friday night, August 17th, the whole fleet anchored a short distance from Quebec.

The trip up the St. Lawrence was attended by many festivities. Of a naturally gay and genial temperament when unburdened of the cares of state, Cartier was the heart and soul of many a pleasant party on board the Hero. “The last night upon the St. Lawrence,” says a contemporary account of the trip, “was celebrated by a merry gathering on board the Hero. The scene towards nine o’clock was utterly void of stately or ceremonious conditions. Grouped together on the main deck, the Prince and his party, officers from other ships and visitors from the halls of Canadian governments smoked and sang and frolicked in a manner calculated to quite dispel the doubts as to the capacity of gentlemen with large titles and severe responsibilities to participate in humour and natural enjoyment. At the close a minister high in provincial fame, impelled solely by melodious instinct, stepped to the centre and broke out in a very earnest Canadian song of emphatic accent and tender purport. A circle encompassed Mr. Cartier and listened approvingly. The chorus was found to be attainable with little effort. Now a few voices chimed in, the Prince leading, then others, maturer, the Duke’s beyond a doubt among them. Afterwards others not less distinct, then finally everybody’s. As each verse ended the refrain came clearly out, all that could tune a tune, and some perhaps that could not, uniting with determined ardour and sending forth to the waves, which sang their own gentle song, the refrain ‘Jamais je ne l’Oublierai.’ And it did seem extremely probable that no one there present and thus engaged would be likely to forget any member of the party or any detail of the scene itself.” It was a good thing, naïvely concludes the chronicler, who was not a Canadian, to see the Prince of Wales approaching this more than half French Province, and while drawing near joining so jovially in the chorus of a French song sung by a French officer of the Government.[74]

On August 18th the Prince of Wales was officially welcomed in the city of Quebec; on the 22nd he received addresses from the two branches of the legislature, and conferred the honour of knighthood upon their respective Speakers. In the evening the Prince attended a grand ball given in his honour, and among a number of ladies with whom he danced was Madame Cartier, wife of the Prime Minister. On the morning of[125] August 23rd the royal party accompanied by the Governor-General, General Williams, Admiral Milne, Sir Allan MacNab, A.D.C., Sir E. P. Taché, A.D.C., and George-Étienne Cartier, Prime Minister, embarked for Montreal on board the steamer Kingston, which had been chartered and beautifully furnished by the provincial Government. Arriving at the commercial metropolis on Saturday, August 25th, the Prince received an enthusiastic welcome. He visited the exhibition, attended the ceremonies connected with the opening of the Victoria Bridge and was a guest at a déjeuner given by the Grand Trunk Railway Company at which were present the Prime Minister, members of the Government, and many distinguished citizens, the guests numbering over six hundred.

One of the most notable events of the Prince’s tour was the grand ball given in his honour by the citizens of Montreal on the evening of Monday, August 27th. The ball took place in an immense wooden pavilion which had been specially erected for the occasion. The royal party appeared in the ballroom about ten o’clock and the Prince took his seat upon a dais. The Duke of Newcastle presented Mrs. Young, wife of Hon. John Young, chairman of the committee, with whom the Prince opened the ball. The Prince had on his immediate right the Prime Minister, Hon. Mr. Cartier, who escorted Mrs. Dumas. It is recorded that the Prince danced incessantly until half-past four in the morning and greatly enjoyed himself.

After a visit to the Eastern Townships and other points the royal party proceeded to Ottawa, where on September 1st the Prince laid the foundation stone of the new parliament buildings. Cartier was present as Prime Minister amongst the distinguished company which attended that notable ceremony. What a change had been effected within the brief period of twenty-three years. The young Patriot of 1837, who had taken up arms in redress of the evils arising from a pernicious and irresponsible administrative system, had lived to see the full concession of responsible government and now stood as the Prime Minister of a united Canada beside the son of the Sovereign, as there was well and truly laid the foundation stone of the magnificent edifice which was destined to be the meeting place of the representatives of a mighty confederation extending from ocean to ocean, of which he was to be one of the principal architects. Even then the vision was before the eyes of Cartier, Macdonald, Galt and other great Canadians.

The Prince of Wales concluded his tour of Canada on September 20th, after meeting with an enthusiastic reception at every place he visited. None contributed more to the success of the tour than the distinguished French-Canadian who held the position of Prime Minister of United Canada, and of whom the Prince always, even when years afterwards[126] he ascended the throne as King Edward VII, cherished the most pleasant recollections.[75]

The legislation of the last session of the sixth parliament which assembled at Quebec on March 16th, 1861, was of an unimportant character, but the bitterness of party spirit was shown by the acrimonious debates that marked the session. During the debate on the address a motion was presented censuring the Government for the failure of the Prince of Wales to land at Kingston and Belleville, on account of the Orange society being present in regalia, but it was defeated by a vote of eighty-five to fourteen. The most important debate of the session was on a motion made by Thomas Ferguson, member for North Simcoe, for leave to introduce a bill to amend the representation on the basis of population. The six months’ hoist was moved by Joseph Cauchon and the debate which was commenced on April 5th was not finished until April 26th, fifty-seven speeches having been delivered in the meantime. During the discussion Cartier made one of the longest and most powerful speeches of his parliamentary career, addressing the House for four hours in opposition to any change in the basis of the union, a point on which he was strongly supported by John A. Macdonald. Cauchon’s motion for the six months’ hoist was carried on division by sixty-seven to forty-nine. The Premier and his colleagues had to face a most determined opposition. There were also indications of a weakening of the Government forces and a motion presented by Dorion on May 3rd, condemning the Government for advancing moneys to the Grand Trunk without the consent of parliament, was only defeated by a vote of fifty-eight to forty-eight, the division showing a serious diminution in the Government’s strength. Cartier with his keen political insight considered the time opportune for an appeal to the people. Parliament was prorogued on May 18th, and dissolution was announced by proclamation of the Governor-General issued on June 10th. The result of the election was, as Cartier had anticipated, favourable to the Government, which received a majority both in Upper and Lower Canada. The Liberals, though they made some gains in Lower Canada, suffered a distinct loss by the defeat of Dorion, who was successfully opposed in Montreal East by Cartier himself, John Rose and Thomas D’Arcy McGee being returned as Cartier’s colleagues in the representation of the city. Dorion after a year’s absence reappeared in parliament as member for Hochelaga. In Upper Canada, the most conspicuous loss suffered by[127] the Liberals was the defeat of George Brown in East Toronto, but it was not long before he secured another constituency.

The new parliament met on March 20th, 1862. In the meantime Sir Edmund Head had been succeeded as Governor-General by Viscount Monck and the opening of the first parliament under his régime was marked by unusual pomp and splendour. The opening of the session was followed by a reconstruction of the Cabinet. John Rose had some time previously resigned the portfolio of Public Works, and been succeeded by Joseph Cauchon. John Ross now resigned as President of the Council and retired from public life, and George Sherwood exchanged the portfolio of Receiver-General for that of Crown Lands. To fill the vacancies John Beverley Robinson was appointed President of the Council, and John Carling Receiver-General.

Cartier’s reconstructed cabinet was composed as follows:


George-Étienne Cartier, Premier and Attorney-General, East.

A. T. Galt, Finance Minister.

N. F. Belleau, Speaker Legislative Council.

Joseph Cauchon, Commissioner of Public Works.

Charles Alleyn, Provincial Secretary.


John A. Macdonald, Attorney-General, West.

George Sherwood, Commissioner of Crown Lands.

Sidney Smith, Postmaster-General.

J. B. Robinson, President of the Council.

John Carling, Receiver-General.

Various measures, none of them of a very important character, were presented between the opening of the session and the beginning of May, when the question arose that resulted in the downfall of the Government. It was on an issue of considerable importance, the reorganisation of the Canadian militia system, that the ministry of which Cartier had been the head for nearly four years went down to defeat. The seizure by the United States sloop of war San Jacinto of Mason and Slidell, commissioners of the Southern Confederacy, on board the British mail steamer Trent bound for England, threatened at one time to result in war between Great Britain and the United States, in which Canada would have been necessarily involved. Though the affair was happily settled, it was felt that Canada’s defences were in an altogether unsatisfactory condition. John A. Macdonald accepted a new portfolio of Minister of Militia Affairs, and in January, 1862, it was announced that a commission had been named consisting of John A. Macdonald, Cartier, Galt, Sir Allan MacNab, Sir E. P. Taché, Col. Thos. E. Campbell, Col. Lysons, C.B., and Col. Angus Cameron, with the following instructions:


1st. To report a plan for the better organisation of the department of Adjutant-General of Militia.

2nd. To investigate and report upon the best means of organising the militia, and producing an efficient and economical system for the defence of the province.

3rd. To prepare a bill or bills on the above subjects to be submitted to parliament at its next session.

The report of the commission, which was published early in April, recommended an active force of fifty thousand men, field batteries to be composed of eighty-five men, troops of cavalry of fifty-three men, and battalions of infantry of eight hundred and four men. The usual period of training it was provided should be twenty-eight days, never less than fourteen days, with fourteen additional for recruits.

Provision was also made for drill grounds and buildings in each regimental division. John A. Macdonald in introducing a bill founded upon the report on May 22nd, explained that if fifty thousand men were raised and drilled for twenty-eight days, the expense, including clothing, would approach $1,000,000, and it might possibly exceed that sum. The cost of the armories, he added, would vary according to place. He provided for both volunteer and regular militia. There was, he said, no estimate for the cost of arms, as it was the intention of the ministry to ask the British Government to supply them.

The measure gave rise to an animated debate, and when it came up for its second reading on May 20th it was thrown out on a division of sixty-one to fifty-four, a majority of seven against the Government. Of the fifty-six upper Canadian members who voted, thirty-two were in favour of the measure, and twenty-four against it, and, of the fifty-eight Lower Canadian members, thirty-seven were against the bill. There was thus a majority of eight from Upper Canada in favour of the bill, but a majority of sixteen from Lower Canada against it. For the first time in his career Cartier found himself with a minority from his own province. The measure had in fact caused a decided weakening in Cartier’s following, many of his supporters being strongly against the proposal, on the ground that it would involve great expense. That Cartier was greatly disappointed by the result of the vote was shown by a speech he made on May 22nd, when, after congratulating John A. Macdonald upon being sustained by a majority from Upper Canada, he added: “The vote of Tuesday has overthrown us. I would not regret it if it only affected the ministry, but I fear that those who are hostile to the institutions of Lower Canada, and they are numerous, will make it an instrument (derisive applause from the Opposition). The Opposition in order to overthrow the Government has the right to select the measure on which it is weakest, but I repeat that enemies of Lower Canada, especially[129] those of the French-Canadians, will take advantage of this vote. I, however, hope that the noble conduct of our clergy and the sentiments manifested by the French-Canadians last fall, will paralyse the efforts which will be made to throw suspicion upon their loyalty. One thought consoles us in our downfall, that is that we fall on a measure designed for the protection and defence of our country, a measure which we believe necessary to put Canadians in a state to freely enjoy their political institutions beneath the glorious flag of old England.”

In view of the adverse vote there was but one course open to the Government, and Cartier at once placed the resignation of himself and his colleagues in the hands of the Governor-General. The three years and ten months during which they had held office had been arduous ones for Cartier, but he had acquitted himself of the responsibilities of his high office with honour and distinction. His powers had matured and he was ready to play his part in the epoch-making period that was shortly to open.

On the resignation of the Cartier-Macdonald ministry, the Governor-General entrusted the formation of a new administration to John Sandfield Macdonald, a task which, in conjunction with Louis V. Sicotte, member for St. Hyacinthe, he successfully accomplished. John Sandfield Macdonald, who was one of the picturesque figures of Canadian politics, was at this time in his fiftieth year. A Scotch Catholic, a native of Glengarry county, born in 1812, he was first returned to parliament for his native county in 1841. He was from the outset inclined to assume an independent attitude, to enjoy the rôle of what he himself termed a political Ishmaelite. In 1848 he identified himself with the Reform party and was appointed in 1849 to succeed William Hume Blake as Solicitor-General for Upper Canada in the LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry. He refused to accept the Commissionership of Crown Lands in the Hincks-Morin Government, contending that he was entitled to the Attorney-Generalship. Elected Speaker of the Assembly in 1852, he assumed a hostile attitude to Hincks and his Government, and was through Hincks’ efforts defeated for re-election as Speaker in 1854, when Cartier, the Ministerial candidate, was also defeated. He continued to follow an independent course in parliament, but accepted the portfolio of Attorney-General in the short-lived Brown-Dorion administration. Following the downfall of that Government, differences arose between Macdonald and George Brown.

During the Cartier-Macdonald administration marked differences had arisen between the Clear Grits and the Rouges, which finally resulted in an open rupture. Sandfield Macdonald, who was recognised as the leader of the moderate Reformers of Upper Canada, had formed an alliance with Sicotte, who had formerly been a supporter of Cartier, from whom[130] he had seceded on the seat of government question. Sicotte, who was a man of ability and high character, had succeeded in securing a distinct following in the House, including in it such men as T. J. J. Loranger, François-Xavier Lemieux, and the brilliant Drummond. At this period Sicotte had practically superseded Dorion in the leadership of the Lower Canadian opposition, Dorion’s alliance with Brown not being acceptable to many of his followers. The outcome of the alliance between John Sandfield Macdonald and Sicotte was the formation of the Macdonald-Sicotte administration.

That Government assumed the reins of power on May 24th, 1862, but it had not been in office a year when dissensions became apparent. Macdonald wished to strengthen the ministry by taking in Dorion, but the latter declined to join the Government unless as chief of the Lower Canadian section, to which Sicotte would not consent. When Macdonald persisted, Sicotte with all of his Lower Canadian colleagues withdrew from the ministry. Macdonald then had recourse to Dorion, who agreed to join the Lower Canadian section, and on May 16th the Macdonald-Dorion ministry assumed office. In the meantime parliament had been dissolved and election writs issued returnable July 3rd. The election resulted in a majority for the Government in Upper Canada, but a minority in Lower Canada, the electors of which showed themselves decidedly in favour of Cartier and his following. Dorion was again defeated in Montreal East by Cartier, but was returned by Hochelaga. Holton and Drummond, two of Dorion’s colleagues in the ministry, went down to defeat, and the Liberal chief found himself supported by a mere handful of followers from Lower Canada. The position was now reversed from what it had been under the Macdonald-Cartier and the Cartier-Macdonald Governments. Then the preponderating power was the French-Canadian element, led by Cartier, now it was an Upper Canadian majority, largely under the influence of George Brown, which dictated the course of events. Conditions were now rapidly moving to a crucial stage. The “double majority” principle or the idea that a government, to continue in office, must have the support of a majority of the members from both sections of the province, an idea of which John Sandfield Macdonald was the principal upholder, had been shown to be utterly impracticable as a means of meeting the situation.

Whilst in opposition Cartier took an active part in directing the Opposition forces and in leading assaults upon the Government, which were eventually to result in the defeat of the administration. The parliament met on February 19th, 1864, and it was soon apparent that the ministry was too weak in the House to carry on the government of the country. On March 21st its resignation was announced. At this critical juncture, when, owing to the closeness of party lines, a deadlock[131] was threatened, Étienne-Paschal Taché was appealed to, and that distinguished French-Canadian consented to come forth from his retirement and attempt to form an administration, a task which, in co-operation with John A. Macdonald, he successfully accomplished. What is known as the Taché-Macdonald Government—the last distinctively Liberal-Conservative administration under the Union—was constituted as follows:


Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, Prime Minister and Receiver-General.

George-Étienne Cartier, Attorney-General.

Alex. T. Galt, Finance Minister.

J. C. Chapais, Commissioner of Public Works.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Minister of Agriculture.

Hector L. Langevin, Solicitor-General.


John A. Macdonald, Attorney-General.

Alexander Campbell, Commissioner of Crown Lands.

M. H. Foley, Postmaster-General.

Isaac Buchanan, President of the Executive Council.

John Simpson, Provincial Secretary.

James Cockburn, Solicitor-General.

The Taché-Macdonald Government was destined to a brief existence, as on June 14th it was defeated on a motion of censure proposed by Dorion, which was carried by a majority of two votes. The situation was now a most critical one. Within the brief period of three years no less than four distinct ministries had been defeated, two general elections had been held and parties were so evenly divided that the successful carrying on of the government of the country had practically become impossible. It was a time for compromise, and fortunately, at this critical juncture of Canadian history, there were found men sufficiently patriotic to lay aside party differences and quarrels, and to unite for the common welfare. As the result of overtures made by George Brown, who was now generally recognised as the dominating personality of the Liberal party, a coalition Government, which included representatives of the two great parties, was formed. It was under the administration of the coalition Government of which Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché was the titular head, and which included amongst its members John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, Alexander Tilloch Galt and George Brown, that the union of the British North American provinces into a great confederation was effected. The leading part played by George Brown at this juncture, and the epoch-making labours of the coalition ministry, will have full consideration in subsequent chapters, which will deal with the whole Confederation period.

I have now reviewed Cartier’s parliamentary and official career from the time when he entered the legislature of United Canada until he became a member of the coalition ministry which was destined to bring[132] about confederation. It is not my intention to deal in detail with the legislative record under the Union. Much of the legislation was of a minor and provincial character, but at the same time there were many important reforms and progressive measures inaugurated under the Union. Of such measures, and more particularly of those with which Cartier was especially identified, I now propose to treat.




The great questions of the period, says one who was a leading figure of the times, were responsible for parliamentary government and the secularisation of the clergy reserves.[76] Had he added the settlement of the seigneurial tenure question and the legal, judicial and administrative reforms, for which Cartier was mainly responsible, the list would be well-nigh complete. The triumph of responsible government had been achieved when Cartier began his public career in 1848. The seigneurial tenure question in Lower Canada and the clergy reserves question in Upper Canada were next to demand attention, and were the subject of long and animated discussions before they were finally removed from the parliamentary arena.

To Cartier’s credit must be put first the legal and judicial reforms which he effected for his native province, and chiefly the codification of the civil laws and the laws of civil procedure. These great reforms, as has been well remarked, constitute in themselves a master work, which alone would be sufficient to immortalise Cartier, were there no other reason why his name should be handed down to posterity.[77] Cartier himself cannot be considered as in any sense a great jurist, as he had neither the mental acquirements, the legal habit, nor the deep legal culture and lore that are the necessary foundation of every consummate jurist. Moreover, the active political career in which he found himself from his earliest years excluded him from that absolute devotion to the profession which cannot be reconciled with the absorbing cares of an active public career such as Cartier’s was. What Cartier did possess was a good general knowledge of civil, criminal and public law. He was familiar with the working of our municipal institutions, and he had, what was of the utmost importance, a quick practical business mind, which enabled him to grasp the essential necessities of the time. It was in 1857 that Cartier, as Attorney-General for Lower Canada, proposed and had adopted a law for the codification of the civil laws and laws of civil procedure in Lower[134] Canada. A legal revolution had been effected in Lower Canada by the abolition of the seigneurial tenure and the moment was opportune for a revision of the laws and their codification. The necessity for such a codification, as Cartier remarked in submitting the proposal to the Assembly, had been greatly felt, as Lower Canada was inhabited by people of different origins. The knowledge of the civil law could not be placed within the reach of every one except by codification, and the sources of these laws were so varied that a knowledge of them exacted much research. The codification, he pointed out, would remedy this inconvenience. Dorion and some others at this time advocated the assimilation of the laws of the two provinces with a view to having a single code for Lower and Upper Canada, but Cartier remarked that it would be preferable to begin by the codification of the laws of Lower Canada, a reform that was imperatively demanded. After this work had been accomplished it would be time enough to consider an assimilation of the laws of the two provinces.

Cartier’s project was favourably received and passed both branches of the legislature without any opposition. Under the law Judges Caron, Day and Morin were constituted a commission to codify the civil and commercial laws and the rules of civil procedure. The work begun in 1859 was not completed until 1864; it involved an immense amount of labour. Until this great work had been accomplished the French civil law, that is the old coutume de Paris, and the old French commercial law (except when varied by statutory enactment) applied throughout the province, as having remained the law of the land after the cession to the British in 1759. It was a maze of very old and very often obscure rules, that could only be elucidated by recondite references to old commentators, very profound but somewhat obsolete. The rules of commerce were extremely uncertain except where defined by statute. Procedure in civil cases was governed by ancient French ordinances, complicated, tedious and difficult of application in the Canadian system. Codification was an immense step forward; it clearly set forth almost every rule possible of application in any and every relation of civil life, and settled a number of questions which had always been doubtful of solution under the old system. The codification was largely modelled on the Code Napoléon, a monument to the ablest jurists of modern France and adopted largely throughout Europe. The Lower Canada code, however, maintained the absolute freedom of willing, not admitted in France, but introduced in Canada by statute as inseparable from British liberty. The new code also limited the power of entail on substitution, so as to facilitate the transfer of property.[78]


The civil code of Lower Canada differs in some important respects from the Code Napoléon, but only, it may be said, in those particular features of the latter which seem to have been the direct outcome of the reactionary ideas that triumphed with the Revolution. The Lower Canada code gave rules clear and precise, laid down in brief, modern, unequivocal language. The change effected by its enactment was satisfactory to all classes, English as well as French, to the commercial, industrial and trading interests.

Both the civil code and the code of civil procedure prepared by the commission and promulgated under Cartier constituted a great advance. Cartier, with his practical mind, perceived the urgency of placing his native province, which was beginning to take great steps forward in material development, under the provisions not of an old and in many cases obscure system of laws, but under clearly defined rules, such as a code affords. He saw the necessity there was for such a change, and, as a man of action and of progress, he put the change into effect, while securing a safe transition by means of a commission of experienced jurists. After passing the test of three of the ablest, most learned and most experienced judges in the country, the code went into force in 1866. It was with pardonable pride that Cartier, in presenting the new code of civil laws to parliament at the session of 1865, referred to its importance. “The work of the codifiers,” he said, “has been based on that of the penal code, and in following its example there was no danger of not succeeding. If Lower Canada desires to grow, if it would conserve its individuality and its nationality, nothing can help more in the realisation of these hopes than the adoption of a code of law. When the laws of Lower Canada are better understood, when their study and application will be easier, our neighbours of Upper Canada will borrow from them and they should have their influence in Confederation, if it takes place.”

In presenting the code of civil procedure, completing the great work, to parliament on June 26th, 1866, Cartier took advantage of the occasion to give an historical review of the whole system of jurisprudence of the province, and of the reforms which had been inaugurated. He hailed with satisfaction the fact that the Province of Quebec was entering Confederation with its system of laws intact. “When the government of the Union is on the eve of finishing,” he exclaimed, “when we are preparing to live under another system of government, we are able to say, on looking back, that within ten years there has been more done to improve and simplify our system of laws than during the existence of all other bodies. Within a few weeks we will enter Confederation. Well, we will enter it with a whole system of law, classified and codified in the two languages.” Cartier paid a well merited tribute to the codifiers for the manner in which they had executed their onerous labour, but it is to Cartier himself[136] that the merit of this great reform is due, as it was he who initiated it. It was at the session of 1865, the final session of the Canadian legislature at Quebec, that the civil code of Lower Canada was adopted. As the result of a measure moved by Cartier, to give effect to the code, and of a proclamation subsequently issued by the Governor under its authority, the code came into operation on August 1st, 1866. It was the crowning of many years of labour on Cartier’s part, and one of the greatest and most far-reaching measures passed under the Union. Well might Cartier when the measure was adopted, “with the feeling of a man who is conscious that he is placing the crowning stone on an edifice, which has speak as he is said, by one who heard him, to have spoken in the Assembly cost many years of labour and anxiety to build.”[79]

During the same session at which the codification was proposed, Cartier introduced and had passed the law providing for judicial decentralisation. The object of this important measure, so to speak, was to bring justice to the door of litigants. The Province of Lower Canada was divided into judicial districts, thirteen in number, a Superior Court judge was to be made for each district, and lawsuits which previously had to be heard and decided in Montreal or Quebec could, under the new system, be heard or decided in the district where they originated. This reform, which was carried by Cartier’s efforts, was regarded at the time as a great boon, as it appointed a resident judge for each district, and saved the trouble and expense of conveying witnesses long distances to Montreal and Quebec, for the hearing and decision of cases. It also assured the establishment of lawyers in the newly created districts and made litigants feel that they were nearer the courts and could more easily have their legal business executed. The measure entailed an immense amount of labour upon Cartier, who, however, had the satisfaction of seeing it generally approved.

It was also through Cartier’s efforts that a law was passed providing that, whenever the Roman Catholic Church deemed it advisable to establish a new parish in any diocese it could be done by a simple petition to the courts without recourse to parliament for an act of incorporation. In this measure Cartier took special pride, expressing the view that it completed the liberties of the Roman Catholic Church in Lower Canada.

Another important measure, which Cartier had adopted at the parliamentary session of 1857, introduced the French laws into the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada. Up to that time the laws of that portion of the province had not been clearly defined, the judges at times applying the English law and at others the French law. With the object of unifying the law system of the entire province, Cartier had a law passed to bring the Eastern Townships under the application of the new code,[137] making one and the same law apply throughout the whole province. Other legal reforms were inaugurated by Cartier, though they were of minor importance compared with those which I have dwelt upon. He introduced legislation for the improvement of the criminal law in several respects, and in 1857 had a law passed authorising the Court of Queen’s Bench, now the King’s Bench, to sit in revision on decisions of criminal court judges. He also had a law passed providing for the summary administration of justice in criminal cases and for the establishment of reform institutions. Through his efforts also the death penalty was abolished in a number of cases. The importance of the legal reforms initiated and successfully completed under Cartier’s direction was generally acknowledged as entitling him to the highest credit and distinction.

Though Cartier cannot be said to have been the author of the measure which was destined to sweep away the seigneurial tenure system, he took a prominent part in that important reform, especially in its final stages, and his name has thus been linked with it as one of its strongest supporters. I have already referred to the advantages afforded by that system in the early colonisation of the country and how it later served in the preservation of French-Canadian nationality by enabling the people to become firmly rooted to the soil. In course of time, however, many of the seigneurs were exacting in their demands, with the result that the system finally became oppressive and a real obstacle to agricultural development and the settlement of uncultivated lands. The exclusive right to running streams possessed by the seigneurs, preventing as it did the establishment of manufactures and industries, did more than anything else to keep Lower Canada in a backward condition. The droit de lods et ventes was nothing short of a tax on the industry and activity of the habitants. Many of the obligations imposed upon the habitant became extremely objectionable to him. To have to grind his grain at the seigneur’s mill, bake his bread in the seigneur’s oven, work for him a certain specified time during the day, give him one fish in every eleven for the privilege of fishing in the river before his farm, and fulfill other obligations of a similar character were naturally not always to the censitaire’s liking. The system in fact, while suited to a patriarchal state of society such as existed in New France, was utterly unfitted for more modern times. It eventually became a drag upon the province, preventing its development and prosperity.

Agitation against the system extended over many years. Respective Governments were memorialised to substitute the tenure of free and common socage or to grant other relief. The first practical effort towards the abolition of the system was an act known as “The Canada Trades Act” of 1822, but while the act provided for free and common socage it made no provision for the relief of the censitaires, who were[138] the real complainants. By the act, known as “The Canada Trades and Tenures Act” (6 George IV Chap. 59, 1825), passed as a supplement to previous legislation, it was provided that “when a seigneur obtained a commutation of the tenure of his seigneury from the Crown, he should be bound to award his tenants an opportunity to secure a like commutation of their holdings.”

As an encouragement to the seigneurs to take advantage of this legislation the Crown offered to commute its rights upon a basis of five per cent. of the actual value of the seigneury. The seigneurs, however, refrained from taking advantage of this liberal offer, for fear that their tenants would demand the commutation of their dues upon the same low basis of five per cent. After the union of the two Canadas, the new parliament passed legislation under which a commission was named to study the seigneurial question, and report to the legislature. The report which was laid before the legislature on March 4th, 1843, recommended the complete extinction of the seigneurial tenure. The outcome of this report was the passing of an act, “the better to facilitate optional commutation of the tenure of lands en roture in the seigneuries and fiefs of Lower Canada into that of franc aleu roturier,” 8 Vict. Chapter 42 (1845). This act was supplemented by 12 Vict. Chap. 49 (1849). Under these acts the censitaire might contract with his seigneur for the commutation of his seigneurial dues for a price agreed upon. Little benefit, however, attended the legislation, as the seigneurs and the censitaires could rarely agree as to what seigneurial dues could be legally claimed by the seigneurs.

Opinions differed as to the best means of dealing with the question. Some demanded that the lands should be expropriated without compensation, others favoured expropriation but with compensation to the seigneurs, while some urged that the question should be left for arrangement between the seigneurs and censitaires. Comparatively few, amongst whom was Papineau, himself a seigneur, were against any change whatever. Owing to the futility of all legislation that had been passed for the relief of the censitaires or tenants, the leaders of political thought in the country finally became impressed with the belief that nothing short of compulsory commutation for both the seigneurs and censitaires would give relief to the situation. The legislature accordingly in 1851 appointed a special committee, consisting of Hon. Lewis T. Drummond, Attorney-General of Lower Canada, who acted as chairman, Hon. Wm. Badgley, Solicitor-General, David M. Armstrong, Thomas Boutillier, Marc Pascal de Sales Laterrière, and François-Xavier Lemieux, to prepare a plan and the drafting of a bill for the commutation of seigneurial dues.[80]


It was at the session of the legislature of United Canada in 1853 that Lewis Thomas Drummond, then Attorney-General for Lower Canada in the Hincks-Morin Government, submitted the measure which was eventually to result in the seigneurial tenure system being swept out of existence. Justice demands that that brilliant statesman and jurist should be given the largest share of credit for the inauguration of this great reform.[81] The project of law submitted by Drummond defined the respective rights of the seigneurs and censitaires and provided means for the redemption of the seigneurs’ rights. The measure gave rise to a long and animated discussion, there being strong opposition to it. Christopher Dunkin, a brilliant young lawyer from the Eastern Townships, of whom we shall hear again, made a notable speech at the bar of the House on behalf of the seigneurs, by whom he had been retained as counsel. Drummond’s measure was finally adopted by the Assembly by a large majority, but it was rejected by the Legislative Council. In 1854 the measure was re-introduced by Drummond in the Assembly. With some amendments it was finally adopted by a majority of thirty-nine votes and, after having been further amended in some particulars, it received the sanction of the Legislative Council.

The Seigneurial Act, as it was known, authorised the Governor to name commissioners to carry the proposed changes into effect. A tribunal,[140] composed of judges of the Court of Appeal and the Superior Court of Lower Canada, was constituted under the title of the Seigneurial Court, to decide upon the points of law, so as to determine the real rights of the seigneurs, and what might be redeemed by the censitaires. The Seigneurial Court, which met on September 4th, 1855, under the distinguished presidency of Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, Chief Justice of Lower Canada, continued in session until May, 1856, when it rendered judgment on the respective points of law submitted to it.[82] The court decided, amongst other points, that the seigneurs were obliged to sublet their lands to settlers, that they could not sell uncleared lands, that no law fixed the rents, that the cens et ventes stipulated in the contracts should be maintained, that the banalité, having been legalised by an arrêt of 1686, should be maintained practically in its integrity, but it was declared that the censitaires were the proprietors of non-navigable waters running through their properties, and that the timber and other revenues should be abolished without compensation. The points of law having been decided by the Seigneurial Court, the commissioners proceeded with the task of effecting a settlement between the seigneurs and the censitaires. The greater portion of the commission’s work was finished by 1859, but it was not until 1862 that it was finally completed. The act provided a fund of $1,500,000 to indemnify the seigneurs for the suppression of their rights, but this amount was subsequently found to be insufficient and had to be increased.

Though Drummond, as I have said, deserves the largest share of credit for the introduction of this great reform, Cartier materially assisted in its passage through parliament. From the beginning of his parliamentary career, Cartier realised that the seigneurial system was a drag upon his province, that it retarded its development and material prosperity, and he was determined to use his utmost efforts for its removal. “I am not one of those,” he said, speaking on the question in the Assembly of 1850, “who believe that the seigneurial tenure system is the most advantageous system for a new country. One thing is certain, and that is that the region colonised under the seigneurial tenure has not been as prosperous as that governed by another tenure.” But though Cartier was opposed to the system he was against any change that might savour of injustice or confiscation. “Despite the active agitation which is being carried on in Lower Canada for the abolition of the seigneurial tenure,” he said in 1850, “nobody desires an injustice towards any one. We should proceed as was done for the expropriation of lands for certain public ends in Upper Canada. The Constitution happily provides that the House[141] shall be composed of men possessing property. We thus have the guarantee that they shall not act like the Socialists and Radicals of Paris.” The proposals submitted in 1849 found a warm supporter in Cartier, who declared that it was imperative to change the system on equitable conditions. When Drummond’s measure was submitted to parliament in 1853, Cartier again took an active part in the discussion. In a speech that he delivered on March 29th of that year he highly complimented Christopher Dunkin on the ability he had shown in presenting the case of the seigneurs before the bar of the House, but he took issue with him in a number of his contentions. It was utterly false, Cartier declared, that the seigneurs were the absolute proprietors of their seigneuries, the best proof of which, as he pointed out, being that the seigneurs had never dared to dispose of the lands by an act of sale. Regarding the droit de banalité, Cartier maintained that it was not a right inherent in the system, but a right by custom. If the censitaires stood strictly by their rights they could force the seigneurs to fulfil their obligations, a course which would ruin many, as there was not one seigneur in twenty who possessed large mills. The droit de banalité, Cartier further maintained, had caused much evil, as, while there were in Upper Canada more than two hundred flour mills, there were in Lower Canada only two which could prepare flour for the market. The result was that the Lower Canada flour was inferior and they suffered a great loss. The seigneurs, he maintained, had no right to claim anything for the loss of the banalité.

The bad effect of the de lods et ventes, Cartier remarked, was easy to see. A censitaire improved his property, but could reap no benefit if he sold it. The lods et ventes became exigible and instead of gaining he lost one-twelfth of the value of his property. “The seigneurial tenure,” concluded Cartier, “retards the progress of the country. If the project infringed on some of the rights of the seigneurs, I would vote against it, but I am persuaded to the contrary. I wish to treat all the interested parties with justice and impartiality, and I desire at the same time to end the agitation which is in progress in Lower Canada, an agitation which will assume grave proportions if it is not stopped without delay.”

When, at the session of 1854, Drummond’s measure was re-introduced, Cartier again strongly supported it and aided in its passage.

It was under the administration of the government headed by George-Étienne Cartier that the great reform was consummated. The sum of $1,500,000, voted in 1854 for the redemption of the seigneurs’ rights, having been found insufficient, Cartier at the session of 1859 asked that an additional sum of $2,000,000 should be voted, the amount to be taken from the municipal loan funds, without the censitaire having to pay any[142] interest; a sum equal to the annual charge on the amount paid to the seigneurs, it was further provided, should be granted annually to Upper Canada and the Eastern Townships. At the same time provision was made for the abolition of the tenure in the seigneuries of St. Sulpice, the Lake of Two Mountains and Montreal, which had been exempted under the act of 1854. Despite violent opposition on the part of the Clear Grits, some of whom went so far as to declare that it was robbing Upper Canada for the benefit of Lower Canada, and that, if the proposals were adopted, it would be the duty of Upper Canada to demand the repeal of the union, Cartier’s motion was adopted by a vote of sixty-six to twenty-eight. On this occasion Cartier, occupying as he did the position of Prime Minister of United Canada, made a powerful speech reviewing the whole question, and showing conclusively how imperative had been the necessity for this great reform. “It is said,” remarked Cartier, “that the feudal system introduced by the kings of France, and later modified by special laws, greatly contributed to assure the settlement of the country. I believe so, but this institution has had its day, and we have the satisfaction of being able to suppress it without the least trouble or the least effusion of blood.... The Government,” concluded Cartier, after dwelling upon certain features of the reform, “believes that the measure which it presents will satisfy all the large interests and that it will do justice to the seigneurs as well as to the censitaires. It shows that the Government has found the means of giving aid to the censitaires of Lower Canada and corresponding advantages to Upper Canada and the Townships.”

Thus was consummated, under Cartier’s auspices, this vital reform, which did so much to aid in the development and material progress of Lower Canada.[83]

On the clergy reserves question, which did not affect the interests of his compatriots, Cartier, though opposed to it in principle, supported the policy of secularisation which ultimately prevailed, because it was demanded by the majority of the province which was affected. “As to the clergy reserves,” he said in parliament in 1854, “I have always believed that they should be secularised. I have not expressed the opinion before, as I awaited a favourable opportunity. I know that many members of the English Church in Montreal voted for secularisation at the last election. This shows that public opinion is more and more disposed[143] to accept it provided that satisfactory compensation is given the interested parties. The question of secularisation was not raised by the Catholics of Lower Canada but by the great Protestant majority of the other province. To it therefore must attach the responsibility. The last election showed that the idea of secularisation has become popular. If the Protestants had not elected an overwhelming majority in favour of secularisation, the Catholics would not support this measure.”

Defending his vote for the secularisation of the reserves before his electors in 1855, Cartier said: “I am reproached with another vote, that which I gave on the clergy reserves. In this connection let me say that, while opposed to the principle of the bill, I did not refuse it my support as the majority from Upper Canada demanded it with persistence, and this demand was not such as could be refused.”

The measure which Cartier supported, and which removed this question, which had long been a brand of discord, from the parliamentary arena, was brought down by the MacNab-Morin Government, of which Cartier was a member, the bill for the secularisation of the reserves being introduced by John A. Macdonald on October 17th, 1854, adopted by the Assembly on November 23rd by a vote of sixty-two to thirty-nine, and sanctioned on December 10th by the Legislative Council.

A question which more particularly affected Lower Canada, and in which Cartier stood forth as the uncompromising defender of the interests of his compatriots, arose out of the agitation in favour of representation according to population. The issue was nothing less than a change in the basis of the union. At the time the union was effected, while the inhabitants of Lower Canada numbered some six hundred thousand souls, the population of Upper Canada was only four hundred thousand. Despite this marked disparity in population, each province had been given an equal representation in the united legislature, a provision which naturally aroused much dissatisfaction amongst the French-Canadians. The Lower Canadian representatives, by maintaining a united front, had been able to defeat the object that the authors of the Union Act had in view, the swamping of the French-Canadian influence, and they had finally succeeded in exercising a preponderating influence on legislation. In course of time tacit recognition was given to the principle that a government in order to hold power had to be sustained not only by a majority of votes in the entire legislature, but by a clear majority from each province. This principle is what became known as the double majority, and it was largely as the result of its recognition that the agitation for representation according to population arose. For some years after the union Lower Canada maintained its position as the more populous province, but the census of 1852 disclosed the fact that the population of the Upper province exceeded that of the Lower[144] by some sixty thousand. It was about this time that the agitation in favour of representation by population began to assume the importance of a live issue. The most strenuous advocate of the principle was George Brown, the famous editor of the Toronto Globe, and destined to pass into history as one of the great fathers of confederation.

The French-Canadian leaders persistently opposed any change in the basis of the Union Act, maintaining that the union was in the nature of a compact or treaty. Though representation according to population was undoubtedly sound in principle, and though it was subsequently made the basis of parliamentary representation, the French-Canadian leaders were perfectly justified in the stand they took. If, in 1841, Lower Canada, with a much larger population than Upper Canada, had been given the same number of parliamentary representatives as Upper Canada, it was manifestly unfair, when the population of the Upper province exceeded that of the Lower province, to seek to change the basis of union. The French-Canadian leaders had been thoroughly consistent in their attitude. At the session of 1849 LaFontaine, as Attorney-General for Lower Canada, submitted to the legislature a measure to increase the total number of representatives from eighty-four to one hundred and fifty, or seventy-five from each province, it being provided under the Union Act that the representation could be increased by a two-thirds vote of the Assembly. Papineau, who opposed the measure at this time, expressed himself in favour of representation according to population, and in reply LaFontaine declared that relying upon the principle that the Act of Union was only a confederation of the two provinces, as Upper Canada itself had declared it to be in 1841, he would never consent that one of the provinces should have in the House a larger number of members than the other, whatever might be the figure of its population. LaFontaine’s proposal to increase the total representation failed to secure the necessary two-thirds vote, and it met the same fate when it was re-introduced at the session of 1851. It was not until 1853, under the Hincks-Morin administration, that a measure submitted by Morin increasing the total representation from eighty-four to one hundred and thirty—sixty-five from each section—was passed after vigorous opposition.

At the session of 1856 William Lyon Mackenzie, who had allied himself with the Clear Grit party, proposed in the Assembly the repeal of the union as being in the interest of the two sections. On this occasion the Rouge chief, Antoine-Aimé Dorion, whilst declaring himself against a dissolution of the union, declared that if the union was to continue it could only exist with representation based on population, which he considered the only just system. “I prefer,” added Dorion, “a federal union, but, failing that, I prefer, to the existing order of[145] things, representation based on population, and I will vote for it, if after having tried I cannot obtain a federal union.” George Brown, while opposing Mackenzie’s motion for a repeal of the union, strongly advocated representation according to population. Mackenzie’s motion failed to pass, though it met with a certain measure of support. At the session of 1858, a determined attempt was again made to secure the recognition of the principle of representation by population. George Brown and Malcolm Cameron submitted motions which had that end in view. They were defeated, but the divisions served to show that the feeling amongst the Upper Canadian members in favour of the principle was very strong. The agitation in Upper Canada continued active, and at a great Reform convention, held in Toronto in 1859, and attended by nearly six hundred delegates, a resolution was adopted that no government would be satisfactory to the people of Upper Canada unless based on the principle of representation by population. It was further declared that the union had failed to realise anticipations, and a change was recommended. The practical result of the convention was the organisation of a Constitutional Reform Association, the main object of which was to secure the election to parliament of candidates pledged to the support of representation by population, and other measures advocated at the convention. At the session of 1861 the discussion was renewed on a motion to the address made by Thomas Ferguson, member for North Simcoe, which had as its aim the recognition of representation by population. The debate that followed was extremely animated. Wm. Macdougall, one of the advocates of the principle, went so far as to threaten an appeal to the Imperial parliament, and, failing success from that quarter, to look to Washington. Though the motion was defeated, the discussion showed that the agitation had made headway, the vote standing sixty-seven against forty-nine. All the members from Lower Canada, English-speaking as well as French-speaking, with one single exception, voted against any change in the basis of the union. A further impetus was given to the agitation by the census of 1861, which showed that the population of Upper Canada exceeded that of Lower Canada by three hundred thousand souls. The advocates of representation by population had become persistent in their attempts to secure its recognition. William Macdougall, at the session of 1862, proposed a motion blaming the Government for not according representation by population, but it was defeated by a large majority, the forty-two members who voted in the affirmative being all from Upper Canada. At the beginning of the session of 1863, an amendment to the address in reply moved by M. C. Cameron, member for North Ontario, in favour of representation by population, and expressing regret that the Government had not sought to do justice to Upper Canada, was defeated, the Lower Canadian members[146] again voting solidly against it. It was about this time that the movement in favour of a union of the British North American provinces began to assume important proportions, and the agitation for representation by population became merged in the larger issue.

Cartier throughout the whole course of the agitation strongly and successfully opposed every attempt to change the basis of the union, holding with LaFontaine that the Union Act was in the nature of a treaty. At the session of 1849, his first session in parliament, he supported LaFontaine’s attitude in a vigorous speech, and at the session of 1858, when the agitation had assumed important proportions, he vigorously opposed the proposals of George Brown and Malcolm Cameron. “Has Upper Canada conquered Lower Canada?” he remarked on the latter occasion. “If not, in virtue of what right does it demand representation based on population. With the object of governing us? Everybody knows that the union of the two provinces was imposed on Lower Canada, which did not desire it at any price. But Lower Canada has worked in the union loyally and sincerely, with the determination to maintain it on its present basis.... I very well understand the object of the honourable member for Toronto (George Brown), in proposing representation by population,” added Cartier. “He demands it so persistently because he hopes by that means to have sufficient partisans to control Lower Canada.” Cartier added that he did not oppose the proposals with any desire of being unjust to Upper Canada, but because he wished to see all loyally standing by the union, which had resulted in great benefit to the whole country.

“The Government,” concluded Cartier, “does not fear this question. It is pleased to have an opportunity of discussing it. I may say, in the name of all the members from Lower Canada, except one, that Lower Canada will adopt other political institutions before submitting to the yoke of such a man as the honourable member for Toronto.”[84]

Cartier’s attitude on this vexed question was precisely what LaFontaine’s had been, that the union was a confederation of two provinces, and that therefore no change should be made in the basis of representation. “The union in my view,” he said at the session of 1861, “rests on the principle that the two provinces co-exist with equal powers, and that neither should dominate over the other in parliament.” The longest and most notable speech pronounced by Cartier on this vexed question was delivered in the Assembly on April 5th, 1861, when the project of law proposed by Thos. Ferguson, member for North Simcoe, which[147] recognised representation by population, was under discussion. Cartier at this time occupied the exalted position of Prime Minister of United Canada, and added weight was thus given to his utterances. His speech, which covered the whole ground of the controversy, was a powerful protest against any change in the basis of the union. He showed that Lower Canada had worked loyally in the union, despite the fact that, while its population largely exceeded that of the Upper Province, it had only been given the same number of representatives, that Upper Canada instead of losing had gained considerably by the union in a marked improvement in its financial condition and otherwise, and now that its population was largely in excess of that of Lower Canada, it had no cause to complain of injustice and to demand a larger representation than its sister province. Cartier pleaded for union between the two provinces as having so many interests in common. “Lower Canada and Upper Canada,” he remarked, “are united by the St. Lawrence, by railways and canals, and each of the two is absolutely necessary to the prosperity of the other. I approve of no hostile sentiment towards any. I am ready to render justice to Upper Canada as well as to Lower Canada in maintaining the union.” Cartier acknowledged that Upper Canada had four or five hundred thousand more inhabitants than Lower Canada, and if this progressive increase continued it would be absolutely necessary to modify the nature of the union. But he would witness its dissolution with regret. He believed, however, that the union which had done so much for the country could continue for some years yet. Cartier in referring to the common interests of Upper and Lower Canada, and pleading for their continued union, was apparently looking forward to the time when they would form the pivot of a great confederation of sister provinces. The great idea which was to solve this, as well as many other difficult problems, though it had already been broached, had not as yet assumed practical shape. Cartier and other statesmen were feeling their way towards the path which was to lead to the birth of the Dominion and Canadian nationhood. Cartier did not stand alone in demanding that the union should be given a further trial. The discussion to which I have just referred was rendered notable by a striking speech pronounced by John A. Macdonald, who, rising above all sectional prejudices, showed that Upper Canada had never suffered from injustice, that the pretended French domination was a phantom invoked by ambitious demagogues, that the union had worked marvellously, that Canada enjoyed the highest credit of any country in the world with the exception of Great Britain, and that it would be absurd to destroy the union because Upper Canada had a tenth more population than her sister province. “If, unfortunately,” added Macdonald, “we should have a dissolution of the union, we could not hope that central[148] Canada would remain united to Upper Canada. The valley of the Ottawa and the country to the east of Kingston are united to Lower Canada by their commerce and prosperity; Montreal and Quebec are their markets. Upper Canada would thus be forced to abandon this vast and productive portion of the country, which would give the preponderance to Lower Canada. Such would be the result of this appeal for dissolution.” John A. Macdonald in this, as in many other instances, showed his superiority to sectional considerations, and his broad grasp as a statesman. Cartier paid a well merited tribute to his great colleague for his attitude, when, on the question again arising at the session of 1862, during the course of another vigorous speech, he exclaimed, “Who can reproach Honourable John A. Macdonald, the leader of the ministerial party in Upper Canada? Has he not placed an obstacle in the way of the current of prejudice directed by factions against the rights and liberties of Lower Canada? Has he not endangered his sectional popularity in the fight of justice and union which he has carried on for our benefit?

“The Attorney-General of Upper Canada (Macdonald) and myself,” concluded Cartier, “are agreed on this constitutional difficulty. We demand the support of this House to maintain that equality which is the only foundation of the union. We demanded at the last elections the support of public opinion and we obtained it.”

In successfully opposing any change in the basis of the union and in advocating its continuance, Cartier not only directly safeguarded the interests of his compatriots, but indirectly rendered a great service to the whole country, as the union of the two provinces was but a step to a confederation of sister provinces, enjoying the fullest control over our local affairs. The dissolution of the union at this time would certainly have retarded if not prevented such a consummation.[85]

Not only by his great legal and judicial reforms, by his support of the abolition of the seigneurial tenure, and by his steadfastly upholding the basis of the union, did Cartier serve the interests of his compatriots.[149] He realised that the French-Canadians, to be in a position to successfully compete with their fellow Canadians, must possess as efficient educational facilities as those of Upper Canada. At the session of 1856 he accordingly presented two important measures, which resulted in placing the educational system of Lower Canada upon a much higher standing. These measures provided for the creation of a Council of Public Institution and the establishment of normal schools. The object of the measures, as Cartier explained, was to place the educational system of Lower Canada on the same footing as that of Upper Canada, and they formed the foundation of Quebec’s present educational system. During the discussion that took place on the proposals Cartier warmly defended his compatriots against slurs that had been cast upon their educational institutions, pointing out that, as far as higher education was concerned, Lower Canada occupied a most enviable position, and that under the new system primary education would be greatly improved.

To inaugurate the important educational reforms provided by Cartier’s measures, Pierre Joseph Olivier Chauveau, who had been prominent in the parliamentary arena, and a member of the Hincks-Morin and MacNab-Morin Governments, was appointed, through Cartier’s exertions, Superintendent of Public Instruction for Lower Canada. A man of versatile parts and the broadest culture, a brilliant orator, poet and littérateur, Chauveau was eminently qualified for such an important task. He was destined to fill the still higher position of Prime Minister of his native province on the inauguration of confederation, but his tastes to the last impelled him rather to the literary than to the political field.[86] He will always be remembered not only as a statesman and orator, but as one of that brilliant company of literary men who have conferred distinction upon the French-Canadian race. It was about the same time that Laval University, the great Roman Catholic seat of learning in the Province of Quebec, was established under a royal charter obtained in 1852. On September 21st, 1854, the University was brilliantly inaugurated in the presence of the Governor-General, Lord Elgin, the bishops of the province, members of the legislature and an imposing assemblage of clergy and citizens. From that day to this Laval has been[150] foremost in educational work, and numbers amongst its graduates many of the leading men of the country.[87]

By the great legal and judicial reforms which he inaugurated, by the conspicuous part which he played in bringing about the abolition of the seigneurial tenure system, by his successful championship of the rights of his compatriots under the union, and by his efforts in securing improved educational facilities for his native province, Cartier within a comparatively few years accomplished more in a practical direction than had been achieved during many preceding years. Of course the times were propitious for such reforms. The preceding years had been years of strife and of struggle. Papineau had been fully occupied in attacking existing abuses, and in clearing the way for LaFontaine, whose main efforts were directed towards the triumph of responsible government. With that triumph the way was open for the inauguration of much needed reforms, and Cartier, with his great abilities, his business aptitudes, and his practical grasp of all questions, was eminently the man to inaugurate these reforms and to carry them to a successful issue. What he achieved in this respect has proved of permanent advantage, not only to his own province but to the whole Dominion, and constitutes one of his chief claims to glory.


Fac-simile Autograph Letter from Right Hon. Sir R. L. Borden, Prime Minister of Canada




It was not solely to the accomplishment of great legal, judicial and administration reform that George-Étienne Cartier’s efforts were directed. Of the material interests of the country he was not unmindful, and his work in promoting those interests was of paramount importance. The triumph of responsible government in Canada was followed by an era of marked material expansion and development, and the years between 1849 and 1854 were especially noteworthy in this respect. It was a period of railway building, of canal improvement, and of the establishment of great public works which laid the basis of Canada’s commercial and financial prosperity.

The material progress of Canada, it has been well remarked, has depended on nothing so much as its means of communication, the facilities for conveying men and goods from one part of the country to the other.[88] The history of transportation from the days when the rivers and lakes formed the natural highways, and the Indian’s birch-bark canoe was the sole means of reaching distant points, forms an absorbing study. It is proof of the slow progress of transportation facilities in the early days of the country that, though Canada was discovered in 1534, the only means of getting to Lake Superior as late as 1800 possessed by the North West Company, the most powerful organisation that then existed in Canada, was the birch-bark canoe. The cost of carriage under such circumstances was necessarily enormous. Steamboat communication on the St. Lawrence was established in 1811 through the enterprise of John Molson, a well-known Montreal merchant, and twelve years later there were no less than seven steamboats plying between Quebec and Montreal. Previous to the inauguration of the canals, the rapids of the St. Lawrence barred the way to the further progress of steamers, and for years the flat-bottom bateaux made of pine boards and narrowed at bow and stern, forty feet by six, with a crew of four men and a pilot, and provided with oars, sails and poles for steering, conveyed in cargoes of five tons all the merchandise that passed to Upper[152] Canada. The water routes were the main arteries of transportation. Efforts prior to 1849 were directed towards the improvement of inland navigation facilities by the construction of canals, and a large amount of money had been expended by the various Governments for that purpose. By 1850 the magnificent canal system of Canada was practically completed by the official opening of the Welland Canal on June 7th of that year, in the presence of the Governor-General, Lord Elgin, and the members of the legislature. It was a far cry from the day in 1770 when Dollier de Casson, Superior of St. Sulpice, conceived the idea of utilising the little River St. Pierre, and the small lake of the same name, situated almost parallel to the St. Lawrence, to avoid the dangerous Lachine rapids, and thus originated the Canal de la Chine, subsequently enlarged into the great Lachine Canal, the first of the Canadian canals. Stage by stage the system was extended, until by the year 1850 a chain of canals—the Lachine, Beauharnois, Cornwall, Williamsburg and Welland—gave a clear passage for navigation to the great lakes. In addition the dredging of Lake St. Peter and the deepening of the St. Lawrence channel permitted of the passage of large ocean vessels. Upon all of these great works directed to the improvement of inland navigation over twenty million dollars had been expended, but the money had been well spent, and as a result Canada in 1850 possessed one of the finest canal systems in the world. There was every reason for expecting that as the result of the improved water facilities a large amount of western trade would be attracted to the St. Lawrence route. The prospects in fact were of the brightest when the abolition of the differential duties on foreign and colonial grain, which accompanied the repeal of the corn laws by Great Britain, proved a decided blow to Canadian commerce, as it removed the advantage which Canada had enjoyed over the United States in the English market. The result was that a great portion of the St. Lawrence traffic was diverted to American ports, and it was the disastrous result upon the trade of Canada that gave rise to the movement in favour of annexation, a movement that was offset by the successful negotiations of the reciprocity treaty with the United States. The Americans had for a long time been fully alive to the importance of railways, construction work had been conducted with celerity, and the various companies were carrying on a keen contest for traffic. There was danger that the carrying trade not only of the Western States, but also that of Western Canada, as that term was then understood, would be diverted to American lines. Under the circumstances, the necessity of railway facilities for Canada became more and more apparent. It was clearly realised, as A. T. Galt pointed out, that, unless Canada could combine with her unrivalled inland navigation a railroad system connected therewith and mutually sustaining each other, the whole of her[153] large outlay must forever remain unproductive. Little attention had hitherto been paid to railway development in Canada. The first road built in the country, the Montreal & Champlain line, running from St. Lambert to St. Johns, Quebec, a distance of twenty miles, was opened on July 21st, 1836, and the year 1847 witnessed the opening of the Montreal & Champlain road from Montreal to Lachine, a distance of eight miles. It was fully a decade later when the Huron & Ontario and the Great Western projects took practical shape in Upper Canada, and so little progress had been made in railway construction that in 1850 there were not fifty-five miles of railway in all the provinces. The necessity of providing railway communication was strongly felt, not only in the two Canadas, but also in the other British colonies. As early as 1838, in Earl Durham’s commission, a military road from Nova Scotia to Quebec was suggested by the British Government. Lord Durham recommended instead of a military road the construction of a railway, and a correspondence followed between the governments of the Maritime provinces and Canada and the British cabinet, regarding an Intercolonial Railway. The Imperial Government, in 1846, put on a staff of engineers to make surveys for the proposed lines, and the result was what became known as the Major Robinson survey, from the military officer who directed it. It was not, however, until confederation that the construction of the Intercolonial Railway was assured.

In the meantime events were moving quickly in Canada, in the direction of railway development, the eventual outcome of which was to be the organisation of the Grand Trunk Railway Company, with which George-Étienne Cartier was to be closely identified. In 1845 what was known as the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railway Company was incorporated, under the acts of the Canadian parliament and the legislature of the State of Maine, to construct an international line of railway connecting Montreal and Portland with a branch to the city of Quebec. By another act passed at the same session power was given to the London & Gore Railway, which had previously received incorporation from Upper Canada, to extend its road to the Detroit River, and to any point on the Niagara River, and the name of the railway was changed to that of the Great Western Railroad. The LaFontaine-Baldwin administration, or the Great Ministry, which was then in office, and of which Cartier was a supporter, was fully alive to the necessity of railway development, and it was under its auspices that the first great impulse was given to railway enterprise in Canada by the passage of what is known as the Guarantee Act of 1849, which laid down a policy on which the Government should assist private companies undertaking the construction of railroads. The preamble of the act (12 Vict. Chap. 29), which was entitled “An Act to provide for affording the guarantee of the province[154] to the bonds of railway companies on certain conditions, and for rendering assistance in the construction of the Halifax & Quebec Railway” (the future Intercolonial), recited that in new and sparsely peopled countries, where capital was scarce, government assistance in the construction of railways was necessary and might be safely afforded to lines of considerable extent in the form of a guarantee to promote companies acting under charter. The enacting clauses of the act provided that such aid should not be given towards constructing any railroad less than seventy miles in length. The province was not to issue debentures or provide capital in any shape, but merely to guarantee the interest of loans which the railway companies might raise on their own securities; in other words, the Government was to endorse the securities of the company, but only for the payment of interest and to the amount of six per cent. The amount of the guarantee was to be limited by the cost of the road; it was not to exceed one-half of the entire cost, and was not to be given until one-half of the road had been completed, and when the amount to be given would be sufficient to complete the road. The payment of the interest on the guarantee bond was to form a first charge on the revenue of the company, and no dividend was to be declared till after the interest was paid and three per cent. of the capital set aside for a sinking fund. The province was to have a first lien on the road for any sum paid or guaranteed.

A further impetus to railway building was given by the succession of Francis Hincks to the Premiership in 1851. Hincks was a man of great business ability, of keen foresight, and a master of finance, and he was fully cognisant of the importance of railway building in connection with the material development of the country. It was largely through his efforts that what subsequently became known as the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada was organised. Hincks himself has left us the story of the inception of that great enterprise. From him we learn that at the beginning of 1848, when he first accepted office, several Canadian railway companies, the Great Western, the Northern and the St. Lawrence & Atlantic, were labouring under great difficulties, owing to want of capital to construct the projected lines. The cost of transport had been materially lessened by the improvement of inland navigation, but, as during several months of the year that navigation was closed, it was deemed an important measure of public policy to secure access to the seaboard at all periods of the year. The feeling, too, was general that there would be sufficient Canadian traffic to support a railway connecting the principal cities and towns of the then Province of Canada. It was in 1851 that Hincks proposed and had carried “an Act to make provision for the construction of a main trunk line of railway throughout the whole length of this province” (14 & 15 Vict. Chap. 73). Under this act the[155] Governor-General was authorised to enter into arrangements with the Governments of Great Britain and the Lower Provinces for the construction of the Quebec & Halifax (Intercolonial) Railway if the necessary funds should be raised under the Imperial guarantee. The Governor in Council was authorised to apply in furtherance of that work all the ungranted lands to the extent of ten miles on either side of the line. The road was to be continued as far as Hamilton under the Imperial guarantee, if that were obtained, but if it was not obtained, or the amount was not sufficient to accomplish so much, the whole road or the residue of it was to be built at the joint expense of the province and such municipal corporations as would subscribe towards it. A fund was to be formed out of the municipal subscriptions, to be called “the municipal subscription fund.” If the funds for constructing the main trunk line could not be raised in any of these ways, it was provided that the work might be undertaken by chartered companies, and a Board of Railway Commissioners, consisting of the Receiver-General, the Inspector-General, and the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner of Public Works, was created. The guarantee under the act of 1849 was not to be given till this board had reported to the Governor in Council that the land for the whole line or section had been obtained and paid for, and a part of the work done, and that the fair cost of this was equal to what would have been expended for the completion of the road. The Government in 1849 confined the guarantee to the interest of the loan raised by the railway company, but, by the act of 1851, it authorised the Governor in Council to extend it to the principal in the case of the Grand Trunk. Provincial debentures might also be exchanged for those of railway companies.

While this legislation was under consideration by the Canadian legislature, a deputation from the Maritime Provinces, consisting of Joseph Howe, then Prime Minister of Nova Scotia, and Hon. E. B. Chandler, of New Brunswick, visited Toronto to invite the co-operation of Canada in the construction of the Intercolonial Railway, which had already been surveyed on the joint application of the three provinces, and which the Imperial Government had offered to aid by a guarantee. The result of the mission of the Maritime delegates was an agreement between the three Governments to recommend to the respective legislatures to provide for the joint construction of a railway between Halifax and Montreal, on the line known as Major Robinson’s, each province to bear one-third of the cost, but New Brunswick to receive an Imperial guarantee for the line known as the European between the bend of the Peticodiac and the frontier of the State of Maine. The policy of the Government was endorsed by the Canadian parliament and was defined in the act of 1851 (14 Vict. Chap. 73) introduced by Hincks, which provided for assistance to the Intercolonial Railway, and while limiting future aid to a[156] main trunk line increased the facilities of companies desiring to avail themselves of such aid.

The object of the legislation passed at the session of the Canadian legislature in 1851, as we have seen, was to make provision for the building of a main trunk line from Quebec to the western boundary of the province. Not only were inducements to be held out to capitalists to undertake the construction of the road, but it was expected that the Imperial Government would give assistance in the shape of a guaranteed loan. Should these means not be available, it was the intention to build the line by the credit of the country with municipal assistance, and the Government was authorised in the event of the Imperial guarantee being forthcoming to make arrangements with the Government of Great Britain and the Maritime Provinces for the construction of the Intercolonial road from Halifax to Quebec, and of the line thence westward to Hamilton. It was while he was being entertained at a public banquet at Toronto, during his visit in connection with the Intercolonial Railway, that Joseph Howe in the presence of the Governor-General, Lord Elgin, read a letter from Betts and Brassey, prominent English railway contractors, in which they offered to construct such Canadian railways as might be required. These contractors having just completed extensive works in France, and having a large quantity of unemployed plant at their disposal, made it known that they would readily engage in constructing all the railways required in Canada, and that English capital to any amount that might be needed would be supplied provided the works were entrusted to contractors who were known to and in the confidence of the English capitalists. In 1852 Francis Hincks, who in the meantime had succeeded LaFontaine as Prime Minister of Canada, whilst in England in connection with the Intercolonial Railway negotiations, had several personal interviews with Mr. Jackson on the subject of a contract. The substance of these conversations was that Petto, Brassey, Betts and Jackson were to undertake the construction of the railway from Montreal to Hamilton, at a rate which would by their own estimate produce them the same profit they had made in England and on the continent of Europe. The contractors were to send out engineers to survey the line, and if any difficulty occurred the province was to pay the cost. To the extent of five-tenths of the capital the direct bonds of the Government were to be issued instead of the company’s bonds guaranteed by the Government. The bonds were to be issued through Baring Bros. and Glyn, Mills & Co., the eminent London bankers.

At the session of the Canadian legislature in 1852 two acts presented by George-Étienne Cartier were passed. The first, “An Act to incorporate the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada” (16 Vict. Chap. 37), incorporated a company with a capital of three million pounds[157] sterling, in twenty-five-pound shares, to construct a railway on a designated route from Toronto to Montreal. The Government guarantee, to be given in the form of provincial debentures, was limited to three thousand pounds a mile, to be handed over in amounts of forty thousand pounds whenever one hundred thousand pounds sterling should be ascertained to have been expended, with due regard to economy, on the road. The second act (16 Vict. Chap. 38) provided for the incorporation of a company to construct a railway from opposite Quebec to Trois Pistoles, and for the extension of such railway to the eastern frontier of the province. The capital was fixed at one million pounds sterling with power to increase it to four millions, and the right to extend the road to the eastern limits of the province. The same amount of provincial guarantee as in the case of the first company was to be given to that section which lay between Pointe Lévis and Trois Pistoles, but for the extension a grant of a million acres of land was to be accorded in lieu of a money aid. In other respects the terms of the two acts were similar. Such was practically the inception of the great Grand Trunk Railway system of Canada. On the formation of the company and the grant to it of the provincial guarantee, it was deemed expedient to give the Government a representation in the direction, with the idea that the interests of the province would be thereby better safeguarded. This arrangement was subsequently made the cause of attacks both on the company and the Government, and when in 1857 the Government lien had been practically given up, and there was no longer any object in retaining the Government directors, legislation was passed doing away with this arrangement.

What is known as the Amalgamation Act (16 Vict. Chap. 39) completed the important railway legislation of the session of 1852. This act empowered any railway company whose road formed part of the main trunk line to unite with any other such company, and its provisions were applied to the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Company and the railway which that company was empowered to construct. In 1853, through legislation also secured by George-Étienne Cartier, the Grand Trunk Railway Company was authorised to increase its capital or to borrow to the extent of one million five hundred pounds sterling, for the purpose of constructing a general railway bridge across the St. Lawrence River, at or in the vicinity of Montreal. The work of building the Victoria Bridge, as it became known, was begun on July 20th, 1854, and what has been well described as one of the noblest monuments of engineering skill the world has ever seen was practically completed on December 17th, 1859, when the first passenger train passed over the bridge.

By another act passed at the session of 1853 (16 Vict. Chap. 76) the Amalgamation Act was extended to companies whose railways intersected[158] the main trunk or touched places which that line touched. In pursuance of this provision, the Toronto & Sarnia, the Toronto & Kingston and the Quebec & Trois Pistoles lines were united, the amalgamated company assuming all the liabilities of the several companies. While the arrangements for the fusion of the various companies were in progress, the prospectus of the Grand Trunk Railway Company was issued in London under guarantee of powerful names of the monetary world of London and seven members of the executive Government of Canada. Among the London directors were Baring of the great banking firm and Glyn of the equally prominent London financial concern. The Canadian Government directors were Hon. John Ross, Hon. Francis Hincks, Hon. E. P. Taché, Hon. James Morris, and Hon. Malcolm Cameron. Glyn, Mills & Co. and Baring Bros. were the bankers. Hon. John Ross was appointed president, through the influence of the English contractors who held the control of the stock. The company’s prospectus was issued when the different companies had agreed to a scheme of amalgamation, which included the construction of the Victoria Bridge. Such is the history of the organisation of the great railway company which has been and still is so prominently identified with the material development of Canada.

The facts that I have given in regard to the early railway legislation in Canada and the inception of the Grand Trunk Railway, I have deemed of interest as George-Étienne Cartier was closely identified with the movement. He had been by no means an indifferent spectator of the progress of railway development in Canada which I have outlined. From the very outset of his career, in fact even before he was elected to parliament, he was one of the strongest and most ardent supporters of railway construction, and one of his earliest speeches was delivered at a great mass meeting held on the Champ de Mars in the city of Montreal, on August 10th, 1846, under the presidency of Louis H. LaFontaine, to promote the construction of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railway, which had as its object the connection of Montreal with Portland, and the provision of direct communication with the United States. His speech on that occasion shows that, even at this early stage of his career, he fully realised the importance of railways to the country. Such an undertaking as the one proposed he declared was a truly national work, as it was impossible for a country to enjoy great prosperity without railways. He instanced the fact that in Europe it was those countries which had been the first to construct railways, such as England, Belgium and France, which were at the head of commerce and industry. The United States also, he pointed out, owed its greatness largely to the facilities of communication afforded by its railways and canals. If Montreal was to become a great commercial metropolis, railway communication, he declared,[159] was imperative. “The prosperity of Montreal,” added Cartier, “depends upon its position as the emporium for the commerce of the west. The changes effected in the Corn Laws have placed this commerce in danger, and we can only assure it by better means of transport from the waters of the west to the Atlantic by our canals and railways.” To show his personal faith in the enterprise, Cartier with many others subscribed on this occasion to the company’s shares. When he became a member of parliament, Cartier continued his active interest in railway development, and one of his first speeches in the legislature was made on February 15th, 1849, in presenting a petition for aid for the St. Lawrence & Atlantic road. The company, he pointed out, had succeeded in completing thirty miles, had expended more than £183,000, and the amount subscribed exceeded £250,000. The sooner the road was completed the better it would be, he declared, for the whole country, and in the interest equally of the public works and the canals, which had already cost to the province a round sum of £3,000,000. “Our present means of transport,” added Cartier, “do not suffice for commerce, which is suffering greatly from the accumulation of western produce, both at Montreal and Quebec.... There is no time to be lost in the completion of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic road, if we wish to assure for ourselves the commerce of the west. All the cities of the Atlantic coast are disputing for that commerce.” He emphasised the efforts being made by New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and other American ports to secure western traffic. “In seeing the efforts that an intelligent population is making,” concluded Cartier, “we cannot doubt the importance of the trade of the lakes which they covet and the profits which await them. Now, we may secure the greater part of that trade by constructing as soon as possible the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railway.” At the parliamentary session of 1849 Cartier warmly supported the measure proposed by the LaFontaine-Baldwin Government to encourage the construction of all railways more than seventy miles in length, and at a mass meeting held in the city of Montreal on July 31st, 1849, to urge the completion of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic, he made another striking speech in favour of railway development. On that occasion he urged Canadians to rouse themselves for the great future in store for them. “The time has come,” he exclaimed, “to belie your reputation as apathetic men, without energy and without a spirit of enterprise. Let these terms cease to be attached to the name of Canadian. This great meeting is one of the first which has been held in a city of the British provinces to encourage an enterprise of this importance. It is desirable that the example should come from Montreal, the commercial head of British America. It should show itself worthy of its position.” The construction of railways, he further declared, would be the most powerful means that could be adopted to stop[160] the movement for the annexation of Canada to the United States. “Think that we have only seventy miles of railway in all Canada,” concluded Cartier, “and that the construction of the first railway, that from Laprairie to St. Johns, dates only from July 21st, 1836. Let us bestir ourselves, let us agitate. Montreal is destined to become the great entrepôt for the west. But without railways and canals it will be impossible for it to attain that glorious position which will make it one of the principal cities of the continent.” Largely through Cartier’s persistent efforts the St. Lawrence & Atlantic railway, which for a long time furnished the only outlet during the winter months for Canadian produce destined for Europe, was completed and inaugurated in 1851, being subsequently under a long term lease made part of the Grand Trunk system, of which it still forms one of the most important branches.

It was, as we have seen, George-Étienne Cartier who, at the parliamentary session of 1852, presented the bill for the incorporation of the Grand Trunk Railway Company, which he had carried despite considerable opposition. It was one of the measures which gave him the greatest pride. Cartier had become identified with this great railway organisation as its legal adviser, a position which he held for many years, and in which he rendered invaluable service. One of the first actions of the directors on the organisation of the company was to formally appoint Cartier to be solicitor of the company for Canada East. I quote the following from the minute book which is still preserved in the company’s archives:

“The first meeting of the Board of Directors of the Grand Trunk Railway Company was held at the company’s office, Quebec, on Monday, 11th July, 1853.

”Present: Honourable John Ross, Hon. James Morris, Francis Hincks, Peter McGill, E. P. Taché, Benjamin Holmes, R. E. Caron, George Crawford, William Rhodes.

“Resolved that Messrs. Swift & Wagstaff of No. 30 Great George St., London, be the solicitors of the Company in England, That George E. Cartier, Esq., of Montreal, be the solicitor of the company for Canada East, and that John Bell, Esq., of Belleville, be the solicitor of the Company for Canada West.”[89]

During the early years of his career Cartier was unremitting not only in attending to the legal duties of his office, but also in promoting the interests of the company through legislation in parliament. Nor was he at all lukewarm in the part he took in promoting the interests of this great national enterprise. When charged in the legislature with promoting the interests of the company, he had a sharp retort for his critics.[161] Speaking to the address after the formation of the MacNab-Morin Government, he said: “If I refer to the railway legislation adopted at the last session, it is to say that the construction of the Grand Trunk is the greatest benefit that has ever been conferred upon the country.”

J. M. Ferris, member for Missisquoi (interrupting): “Are you not a paid agent of the company?”

Cartier: “No.”

Ferris: “Do you not receive money from the company?”

Cartier: “I am the lawyer for the company, but I have not yet received a cent. I have, however, expended several thousand dollars for it, and I am waiting to be reimbursed. But I do not depend upon the company. I am independent, my private clientèle renders me so. Whether I merit it or not, the public has had sufficient confidence in me as a lawyer to render me independent of all emolument I may receive from the Grand Trunk company.”

That Cartier regarded with pride the fact that he had secured the incorporation of the Grand Trunk Railway Company was shown by the declaration he made on the same occasion to which I have just referred. “I had charge of the act which created the Grand Trunk Railway,” he exclaimed, “and I am prouder of that than any other action of my life. Even to-day it is the Grand Trunk which is the principal cause of public prosperity.”

It was also largely due to Cartier’s efforts, as we have seen, that the Victoria Bridge was built across the St. Lawrence at Montreal, and there was justification for the declaration he made years afterwards, when reviewing his political career at a great banquet given him by the citizens of Montreal on the eve of confederation:

“In 1852-53, encouraged by the Hincks-Morin Ministry, I asked for the incorporation of the Grand Trunk Railway Company, and I had it voted despite the most furious opposition. I also had the construction of the Victoria Bridge voted. You will recall the prejudices there were against that measure. It was a work which would produce floods in Montreal, it was a means to divert commerce towards Portland. But the prejudice against these great measures were soon dissipated, it was only a passing tempest. It was so, too, for the Grand Trunk and the Victoria Bridge. The Grand Trunk and the Victoria Bridge have flooded Montreal with an abundance of prosperity. What would Montreal be without the Grand Trunk? It has assured for us the commerce of the West.”

Addressing the electors of Montreal-East when seeking re-election in 1867, Cartier, referring to the construction of the Victoria Bridge, said: “You know that there existed considerable jealousy or rivalry between Quebec and Montreal, and that the two cities sought at the[162] same time to secure the possession of a bridge across the river. I will not stop to discuss the advantages of such a bridge. Thanks to my efforts, I am proud to be able to say, Montreal finally secured it.”

The Grand Trunk Railway Company at the outset of its history had many difficulties, financial and other, to encounter, and it was due to Cartier more perhaps than to any other individual that the company was enabled to tide over those difficulties and to become the great and successful enterprise that it is to-day. It is not necessary here to enter into all the details of these difficulties; it will be sufficient to show what a prominent part George-Étienne Cartier played in assuring the success of an enterprise which meant so much for the material development of the country. As is often the case with such huge enterprises, mistakes were made at the inception of the Grand Trunk undertaking, working expenses were underestimated, and the expenditure was much greater than that anticipated. The company’s stock, which had been quoted at the outset at a premium, became depressed and dark clouds seemed to hang over the enterprise. Nor were financial troubles the sole cause of anxiety. The enterprise from the beginning met with determined opposition, not only out of parliament, but from many of the leading public men of the day. John A. Macdonald joined hands with George Brown in 1852 in “strongly and persistently opposing the grant to the company as proposed by Mr. Hincks, but all their efforts to defeat it were unavailing, and the road became a fact.”[90]

At the session of 1854-55 a bill authorising a loan of £900,000, or $4,500,000, was introduced. The company up to that time had received from the Government under the provincial guarantee nearly £1,800,000, but the company’s financial difficulties were such that aid was imperative to avert a complete collapse of the enterprise. The proposed loan met with the vehement opposition of George Brown and Sandfield Macdonald, who held that the Government was too closely connected with the railway company. It is true that Hon. John Ross, the Speaker of the Legislative Council, and a member of the Government, was also president of the company, Francis Hincks was a shareholder, Cartier was also a shareholder as well as solicitor for the company, A. T. Galt and L. H. Holton were also interested in the railway, which was rightly regarded by many public men of both parties as a national enterprise upon which the future welfare of the country must largely depend. The proposed loan was carried despite strenuous opposition, John A. Macdonald supporting it “on the ground that, the country having become interested in the railway to the enormous extent of two millions of pounds sterling, which would be thrown away in the event of the collapse of the company, it was the duty of the Government to finish the undertaking.”[91]


More than once was the Canadian parliament obliged to go to the aid of the enterprise. At the session of 1856 the company was authorised to raise two million pounds to enable it to carry on its work. Unable to raise more than £750,000, the company again appealed to parliament at the session of 1857, and Cartier presented a measure which provided that, in consideration of the company completing the road from Rivière du Loup to Sarnia, including the construction of the Victoria Bridge, which was already well advanced, the Government would forego all claims for interest on £3,500,000 which the Government had advanced until the company was in a position to pay its expenses and a dividend of 6 per cent. on its capital, an action which it was explained would permit the company to raise the requisite funds for the completion of the road. This measure aroused great opposition, not only from prominent Liberals, but also from leading supporters of the Government. George Brown was supported by forty-eight members in demanding an investigation into the company’s affairs. Several prominent Liberals, however, dissented from Brown’s course; Dorion, the Lower Canadian Liberal leader, approved of the proposed aid to the company, declaring that he considered the Grand Trunk a national enterprise, and he was convinced by an examination of the company’s affairs of the absolute necessity of aid being given. Dorion’s attitude on this occasion evoked the praise of Cartier, who declared that the action of the Lower Canadian Liberal leader was that of a statesman who considered above all the interests of the country. “I should observe,” remarked Cartier, “that the honourable member for Montreal (Dorion) has designated the Grand Trunk as a great national enterprise, and all the members who have held the same language merit well of the country. I hope that the member for Lambton (George Brown) will ultimately arrive at the same conclusion, and then I will applaud him as I have applauded the member for Montreal.” L. H. Holton, John Young and other prominent Liberals followed Dorion’s example, and Cartier, despite the strong opposition of several of his leading supporters, including Joseph Cauchon, who retired from the Cabinet on the question, succeeded in carrying the measure through parliament. All these measures, however, proved insufficient to extricate the company from its difficulties and several times thereafter the Government was obliged to make advances in order to prevent the undertaking from being abandoned. These advances resulted in sharp attacks upon the Government, and one of the main issues in the general elections of 1861 was the charge that the Cartier-Macdonald Government, of which George-Étienne Cartier was the head, had advanced large sums of money to the Grand Trunk Railway Company without the authorisation of parliament. As Cartier pointed out at the time, this was only done in case of extreme urgency, such as a loan that had been made when the[164] Prince of Wales was about to visit Canada. “Who will hesitate to say,” remarked Cartier, speaking in parliament at the session of 1861, “that the country should not have been saved the humiliation of seeing the Grand Trunk closed up when the eldest son of our Sovereign was coming on the invitation of parliament and the entire country to open the Victoria Bridge?” Despite frequent Government assistance, the financial condition of the enterprise went from bad to worse. Bankruptcy in fact was staring the company in the face, when in 1862 a reorganisation was decided upon, and Sir Edward Watkin, then general manager of the Manchester-Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway and afterwards president of the Grand Trunk system, was sent out to Canada to effect the reorganisation. With him he brought Mr., afterwards Sir Joseph, Hickson, and a number of others who subsequently became prominent in Grand Trunk affairs. Sir Edward Watkin speedily realised that a thorough reorganisation was necessary if the company was to be saved from bankruptcy, and it was through the influential support and co-operation of George-Étienne Cartier that the situation was saved. Cartier with his accustomed energy took the matter in hand, and put through parliament an “Arrangements Act” whereby the company was allowed to issue thirty-five million dollars of third preference stock. By that act the company was undoubtedly saved from bankruptcy, and was subsequently able in the course of time to get its finances into good shape.

Frequently did the Grand Trunk enterprise play a part in politics, and it was, as we shall see, on a question arising out of an advance made to the company that the Taché-Macdonald Government went down to defeat in 1864, from which resulted the deadlock that virtually brought about confederation. It was because he rightly regarded the Grand Trunk Railway as a national enterprise, and its completion as essential to the welfare and progress of the whole country, that Cartier on all occasions so strongly supported it, and to the legislation secured by him was the fact due that the company was able to surmount its difficulties and that the great undertaking was brought to a successful completion.

Few men probably knew George-Étienne Cartier better or had more favourable opportunities of studying him than William Wainwright, long vice-president of the Grand Trunk Railway Company, and one of the most distinguished railway men of America. Connected with the Grand Trunk system for over half a century, William Wainwright for years personally attended to the company’s legislation, and his duties in that connection brought him into contact with all the great public men of the Dominion. His appreciation of George-Étienne Cartier, as he personally gave it to me, is therefore of the utmost historic interest and[165] value. “It was in 1862,” said Mr. Wainwright, “that I first met George-Étienne Cartier, when he was Prime Minister of United Canada and Attorney-General in the Cartier-Macdonald Government. He was also at that time attorney for the Grand Trunk Railway Company, a position he had filled for some years with the utmost advantage to the company. When I came over to Canada in 1862 was the time of the reorganisation of the Grand Trunk, when Sir Edward Watkin was made special commissioner and came to Canada to represent the Barings and Glyns, bankers of London, who really owned the Grand Trunk, which was then practically in a state of bankruptcy. I remember that, while I was engaged to come out for three years, after I saw how things were, I wrote home that I thought the road would not last twelve months. The financial condition of the company was in fact such that it was unable to get credit for one hundred dollars, the men had not been paid for months, and things generally were in a most precarious condition. It was undoubtedly through the Arrangements Act, the passage of which by the Canadian parliament was secured by George-Étienne Cartier, that the company was saved at that time. By that act the company was allowed to issue thirty-five million dollars third preference stock, the proceeds of which enabled us to effect a financial reorganisation and to surmount our difficulties. George-Étienne Cartier in this connection rendered a service that should never be forgotten by Canadians, for through his influence the collapse of a railway enterprise that meant so much for the country was unquestionably prevented.” “George-Étienne Cartier was the biggest French-Canadian I have ever known,” was the emphatic declaration of Mr. Wainwright. “I met him on many occasions and he always impressed me as a man of great intellect and power, and of what I may describe as bulldog nerve, a man who had the courage of his convictions and who would carry them out at all costs. His high personal character and integrity were above question, and he was a patriot in the true sense of that term, always having the welfare of the country at heart. A brusque manner, which was only on the surface, covered a heart of gold and the highest qualities of intellect. He was a man whose memory should be forever cherished and venerated by all Canadians.”[92]

Cartier continued to show his interest in the progress of the Grand Trunk to the very close of his life and did everything in his power to promote its interests, rightly regarding it as a national undertaking that was worthy of the strongest support. His faith has been justified by results. The Grand Trunk System proper, with the lines which it controls, comprises nearly five thousand miles of lines, while the Grand[166] Trunk Pacific as planned and chartered will, when fully completed, have a main line some three thousand six hundred miles long, with several thousands of miles of branch lines. When we consider the important factor that the Grand Trunk Railway Company has been in the development of Eastern Canada, and what the Grand Trunk Pacific will be in the opening up and development of rich new districts in the West, it will be realised that George-Étienne Cartier in the part which he played in support of this great railway system rendered a most important service to Canada. The centenary year of Cartier’s birth witnessed the virtual completion of the Grand Trunk Pacific, that great enterprise having been brought to a successful issue under the presidency of Mr. E. J. Chamberlin. The struggling railway organisation which Cartier so strongly supported in its early days has become one of the greatest corporations of the world, with a net-work of lines covering the whole Dominion and its operations extending to the distant city of Prince Rupert on the shores of the mighty Pacific.

The benefits to the national welfare of the country which followed from that railway development of which Cartier was such a strenuous upholder were incalculable. While in 1850 there were only about fifty miles of railway in the whole of Canada, there were in 1854 thirteen railways under construction, with a prospect of a mileage of nineteen hundred and eighty, of which seven hundred and ninety miles had been completed, at an expenditure of $50,150,000. The expenditure of such a large amount of capital in the country within a short time, as has been well remarked, naturally stimulated all forms of industry, gave employment to thousands of workingmen, attracted emigration, and led to the building of new towns. It was a merited tribute that was paid to Cartier by Sir Edward Watkin at a banquet given by the proprietors of the Great Western Railway Company of Canada to Cartier and McDougall in London in 1869, when the president of the Grand Trunk in eulogising Cartier for his services remarked, as showing the progress made by Canada, that, while in 1853 the railway mileage of that country was insignificant, it was then (1869) over three thousand miles. “It may be,” added Sir Edward Watkin, “that the railways have not been as profitable to the shareholders as they might have desired, but there is no doubt that they have powerfully contributed to the prosperity of Canada.”

That the importance of Cartier’s services in the railway development of the country was recognised at the time was shown by the remarks of a contemporary writer, who observed that from first to last Cartier had been perhaps the most earnest, as he was the most energetic, advocate of the railway policy of the country. Before he entered parliament, observed the same writer, many would recollect with what fervour on the Champ de Mars and elsewhere in Montreal he advocated the cause of[167] railway extensions, with what indomitable perseverance on the floor of parliament he pressed the passage of a bill which authorised the erection of the Victoria Bridge, a wonder alike of science and of art, how steadily he had combated the prejudice of his countrymen, and how boldly he had ever proclaimed it to be his wish, as it was his pride, intimately to associate his name and fame with the extension of railways in Canada. The iron bonds which bound the two provinces together, added the writer, Cartier regarded with statesmanlike approbation not only as the means of material progress, but as the means of social and political progress, directly tending to the greater intercourse of two peoples.

For fourteen years, from 1852 to 1867, Cartier was chairman of the Railway Committee of the Legislature of United Canada. It has been well observed that the union of British North America would have been a farce till the success of railways was an economic fact.[93] It may thus be realised how important were Cartier’s services in the cause of railway development, not only to the material welfare of the country, but as a preliminary to the political union of the provinces. “Our policy is a policy of railways,” he declared on one occasion, and that was a policy he advocated until the very close of his career. His faith in the future expansion of the country’s commerce was displayed by the declaration he once made that the day would come when three transcontinental railways would not be sufficient to carry the traffic of the Dominion. We shall see how later he supported the construction of the Intercolonial Railway and had it built on the route which he favoured, and how he crowned his career by having passed by parliament the first charter for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, that great national undertaking which has contributed so much to the progress and prosperity of the Dominion. To Cartier, in short, must be accorded the credit of having been one of the first clearly to realise the importance of railway construction in connection with the development of the country, and of having been one of the strongest supporters of that forward policy to which is due the existence of the three great railway systems which the Dominion possesses—the Grand Trunk, the Canadian Pacific and the Canadian Northern. When it is considered that in the centenary year of Cartier’s birth the total mileage of railways in Canada is nearly forty thousand, that the total capital invested in these railways is $1,548,256,700, and that the total annual earnings are over two hundred and fifty million dollars, some idea may be obtained of the vast benefits that[168] have resulted from that railway development, of which George-Étienne Cartier was such a strenuous advocate.

It was the development of trade by the Grand Trunk Railway Company that resulted in the establishment of the Allan Steamship Line, by Hugh Allan, afterwards distinguished as Sir Hugh Allan, in his day one of the greatest business men and financial powers of the country. Beginning with six small vessels in 1866, the company gave weekly communication with Great Britain from Quebec in summer and from Portland, a Grand Trunk terminus, in winter. Cartier’s interest in the development of St. Lawrence navigation was shown by the powerful support which he gave to the Allan Company in its early days. When at the parliamentary session of 1860 it was proposed to grant a subsidy of £104,000 to the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company, which was the official designation of the Allan line, for a service to England, it met with determined opposition from George Brown and other members, and it was largely due to Cartier that the proposal was adopted. Expressing himself at that time as strongly in favour of all means to increase navigation by the St. Lawrence, it was humiliating, Cartier declared, to see nearly all Canadian imports arriving by the steamships, the railways and the canals of the United States. “Let us rise to the height of the changes wrought by progress,” prophetically declared Cartier on this occasion, “for we are at the beginning of a new era which will eclipse anything we have yet seen.”

In addition to his persistent advocacy of railway construction, George-Étienne Cartier zealously supported the improvement of the canal system and the deepening of the St. Lawrence channel, so as to increase navigation facilities. With him it was a constant object to divert the commerce of the West from American ports to the port of Montreal, which he wished to become the great emporium of the country. To this end he supported the abolition of canal tolls and the making of the St. Lawrence route perfectly free from the ocean to the great lakes. “Up to the present,” he said, discussing the deepening of Lake St. Peter, in the legislature of United Canada on May 11th, 1860, “all our debt has been contracted for the execution of very important public works—the Welland Canal, the St. Lawrence Canal, the Rideau Canal, the Lachine Canal, etc., but we have not yet attained our object, which is to divert the commerce of the great lakes from the American routes to the St. Lawrence. This commerce continues to pass by New York and Pennsylvania, and all that we see is the traffic destined for Ogdensburg and Oswego. What means should be taken to remedy this condition of affairs? We have come to the conclusion to abolish all tolls on the canals, and to make the St. Lawrence route perfectly free from the ocean to the great lakes.”

Cartier’s remarkable foresight was again shown by his virtual prediction[169] of the Georgian Bay Canal, a project that of late years has received considerable attention. Speaking in the Legislative Assembly of United Canada on February 29th, 1864, Cartier used these words: “The idea of enlarging the Welland Canal is a good one; nevertheless, I believe that that canal will be insufficient to attract the commerce of the West to the St. Lawrence. The House cannot overlook the fact that the State of New York has pronounced for the construction of a canal to the south of the Niagara River. So that it should not flatter itself that we will be able to attract simply by the enlargement of the Welland Canal the commerce of the West, which is so essential to the prosperity of Canada.... He (the Minister of Finance) forgets that to have the products of the West pass by the St. Lawrence, we must have routes preferable to the Erie Canal, and that the enlargement of the Welland Canal will be insufficient.” Speaking at Ottawa in 1865, he said: “When confederation is achieved, it will be necessary to deepen the canals of the Ottawa and of Lake Huron, as we must rival the United States. Too vast interests are at present at stake to permit of these works being now undertaken, but once the union is accomplished, if the distance between Chicago and Montreal is lessened by five hundred miles by this route, the West will have an advantageous outlet for an immense quantity of its products. The Federal parliament, when it is assembled here in its splendid buildings, will recognise the necessity of utilising the Ottawa for the transport of grain and other merchandise.” That he believed the day would come when Ottawa would not only be the capital of the great Dominion, but the centre of an immense commerce secured by means of such a project, was shown by the remarks he made to the citizens of Ottawa in 1867. “You possess the natural route which conducts the river St. Lawrence to the interior,” said Cartier on that occasion. “Let a few more events transpire and your river free from all obstacles will carry vessels to the West, to bring back productions which you will exchange with your fellow countrymen of the East.” Cartier thus with his lofty vision foresaw the time when the marked expansion of the Dominion’s commerce would necessitate greatly increased means of transportation.

With his strong practical qualities, Cartier had a natural inclination to commercial pursuits, and the mercantile and business interests of the country always found in him a friend who was prepared to do all he could to promote their welfare. He had a very high conception of mercantile life. “Merchants,” he said, speaking at a dinner tendered him by the merchants of Quebec in 1869, “contribute greatly to the progress of the country. Without the English merchants England could not have kept its possessions in the world. Like Rome, she would have lost her colonies soon after their conquest. But the English merchant was the[170] means of forming bonds between the new possessions of the Empire. I respect the interests of those here present. Those interests have greatly contributed to render Canada prosperous, and those who devote themselves to commerce form in every country one of the most important classes of society.”

With an eye to the welfare of the whole country, Cartier had special regard for the interests of Montreal. From 1861 until 1872 he represented the city first in the parliament of United Canada, and subsequently in the House of Commons of the Dominion, and also during a portion of this period he was one of the city’s representatives in the Quebec legislature, under the system of dual representation which prevailed for some time following the establishment of Confederation. Montreal’s interests were always dear to Cartier’s heart, and throughout his long public career he zealously strove to promote the welfare and development of the city, which he predicted would become one of the greatest cities on the American continent. How Cartier’s faith in Montreal has been fulfilled is known to all. What was at the time he spoke a village compared with the great city of to-day has developed into a mighty metropolis, steadily advancing to a population of over a million souls. That it has been able to attain this proud position is due largely to Cartier’s efforts, not only in securing increased railway facilities and improved navigation, but in arousing his fellow citizens to make the most of the city’s unrivalled position.

I have now traced George-Étienne Cartier’s part in the railway and transportation development of the country, and when it is considered what vast results have followed, in connection with the industrial and commercial expansion of the country, from the policy which he so strongly and persistently advocated, it will be realised that the services which he rendered in this connection were of incalculable advantage. We have seen that Cartier achieved distinction as a reformer, an able administrator, a legislator, and a constructive statesman. His name is indelibly attached to some of the most important acts passed under the Union, a period prolific of important legislation. But Cartier was to be something more than a reformer, an administrator, and a legislator. He was also to be a great nation builder. A still more glorious era was about to dawn for Canada.




The course of events has brought us to the most memorable epoch of Canadian history, and the most notable period of George-Étienne Cartier’s career. We have hitherto viewed Cartier as a provincial politician working within a restricted sphere; we are now to see him develop into a great national statesman, one of the chief architects of a mighty Confederation.

When great questions end little parties begin, says an eminent constitutional authority.[94] This was actually the case in Canada in 1863. The union of the two Canadas, inaugurated in 1841 and designed principally to denationalise the French-Canadians, had signally failed in that object. The French-Canadians, by maintaining their solidarity under the guidance of eminent leaders, had made of the Union Act an instrument by which to assure not only the recognition of their rights, but to secure a dominant influence in the parliamentary arena. Upper Canada, with a steadily increasing population, was persistently demanding increased representation, a demand which the Lower Canadian leaders, quite naturally under the circumstances, as persistently refused to concede. The Union, though it had been marked by many important reforms and decided material expansion and prosperity, was at best but a makeshift. The great questions which had occupied men’s minds for many years having been removed from the parliamentary arena, political life degenerated into a struggle of parties for power. Not one of these parties was numerically strong enough to dominate the situation and petty squabbles took the place of statesmanlike action. Something was needed to inspire new life in the body politic, to replace the spirit of sectionalism by a national outlook. That something was found in the idea of a great Confederation uniting all the scattered and disjointed provinces of British North America. It was a glorious idea and the results were to be of supreme importance.

The times were ripe for a change. Canada had obtained not only the plentitude of political freedom, but by the abolition of the navigation laws and the securing of complete control over tariff legislation had[172] likewise achieved economic liberty. The tide of Canadian nationalism began to flow strongly in the last years of the Union, and it was to continue to flow with increasing strength until it swept sectionalism and provincialism into the broad stream of a truly national life under Confederation.

Under the inspiration of an awakened national conscience there was a growing feeling that Canada should have the most complete autonomy. Galt, as Finance Minister in the Cartier-Macdonald Cabinet in 1859, struck what has been well described as “perhaps the finest statement of independence made by any responsible provincial minister.” Canada now claimed complete control over its own legislative acts.[95] The vast public improvements, the establishment of a gigantic canal system and the inauguration of railways had tended to further develop the national spirit and broaden men’s outlook. The reciprocity treaty of 1854 was followed by an era of the greatest trade expansion and prosperity, and the abrogation of that treaty by the Americans, though it was intended as a blow at Canadian commerce, was really the best thing that could have happened under the circumstances. It threw Canadians back on their own energies, made them realise that the path of wisdom lay in developing their own resources, building up their own industries and creating a truly national policy. With the dawning of the national consciousness came the desire for territorial expansion and for union with the sister colonies of British North America. It was fortunate for Canada and for the other British American colonies that at this critical period they possessed men of the broadest views and of the highest statesmanship. Fortunate, too, was it that in the great movement which resulted in the establishment of the Dominion both political parties could claim a share and that eminent Liberals as well as distinguished Conservatives are numbered amongst the great Fathers of Confederation.

The actual genesis of Confederation it would be difficult, indeed impossible, to trace, but that the idea had arisen in some minds many years previous to this period is evident from the fact that as far back as 1783 Colonel Moore, who was designated as “chief engineer in America,” and[173] who had been instructed by Sir Guy Carleton to make a report on the resources and defences of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, recommended uniting the Maritime Provinces with Canada, that by establishing the same laws, inducing a constant intercourse and mutual interest, a great country may yet be raised up in America, to facilitate which it may be found proper to establish a seat of general government and protection. Such a government appeared to its proposer the only chance of saving what remained to Great Britain upon the continent of America, and of building up a formidable rival to the American states. Though the report had no practical result, its author is at least entitled to the credit of being one of the first, if not the first, to have the view of a great Canadian Confederation.

From this time on the idea of a union of the British North American colonies entered many minds and became the theme of much academic discussion. Richard J. Uniacke of Nova Scotia, Lord Durham, Chief Justice Sewell of Quebec, Hon. J. W. Johnstone, the distinguished Nova Scotian statesman, Judge Robinson of Upper Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie, Joseph Howe, Alexander Morris, and P. S. Hamilton were amongst those who successively discussed such a union. But it was not until the late fifties, and then under a Government of which George-Étienne Cartier was the head, that the question became a practical issue in Canadian politics.

The question first came before the parliament of United Canada at the session of 1851, when William Henry Merritt, member for Lincoln, proposed an address to the Queen, asking her to authorize the Governor to summon a conference to consider a federal union. The motion, however, obtained the support of only seven members.

At the parliamentary session of 1857 Antoine Aimé Dorion suggested as a remedy for the existing difficulties the substitution for the legislative union of the provinces, of a confederation of the two Canadas by means of which all local questions would be consigned to the deliberation of local legislatures, with a central government having control of commercial and other questions of common or general interest. Dorion expressed the view that considering the different religious faith, the different language and laws that prevailed in the two sections of the country, the best way to meet the difficulty would be to leave to a general government questions of trade, currency, banking, public works of a general character, etc., and to commit to local legislatures all matters of a purely local character. If such an arrangement could not be effected, Dorion added, he would certainly go for representation by population, with such checks and guarantees as would secure the interests of each section of the country, and preserve to Lower Canada its cherished institutions. When the Brown-Dorion Government was formed in 1858, one of the agreements[174] made between its members was that the constitutional question should be taken up and settled either by a confederation of the two provinces or by representation according to population, with such checks and guarantees as would secure the religious faith, the laws, the language and the peculiar institutions of each section of the country from encroachments on the part of the other. George Brown then strongly urged that representation by population should be adopted as the method by which to settle the constitutional question, but Dorion, seeing the difficulty that would attend the adoption of such a scheme even with such checks and guarantees as were spoken of, made the counter proposition that a confederation of the two provinces should be formed. Dorion subsequently stated from his seat in parliament that had the Brown-Dorion Government not been so short-lived, one of the two methods would have been submitted as a solution of the evils complained of, but that he would not have attempted to carry such a measure without first obtaining the sanction of Lower Canada for it.

At the session of 1858 Alexander Tilloch Galt, in a powerful speech delivered on July 6th, advocated a federal union of the British North American provinces, declaring that unless such a union was effected the provinces would eventually drift into the United States. Galt was for many years a striking figure in Canadian politics. When he came into prominence as an advocate of confederation he was in his forty-first year, having been born at Chelsea, London, England, in 1817, the son of John Galt, the distinguished Scotch novelist. Coming to Canada in his seventeenth year, in connection with the British American Land Company, he took up his residence in the Eastern Townships, and by 1844 had shown such marked business ability that he was appointed Chief Commissioner for the Company. Galt was first elected to parliament as the representative of Sherbrooke in 1849, the same year that Cartier entered the House. Though classed as a Liberal in his early days, he was inclined to assume an attitude independent of parties, and to plough a lonely furrow in politics. Thus he voted against the Rebellion Losses bill and several other measures of the Reform administration. He soon gained prominence as an authority on trade and finance. To him must justly be given the credit of having been the first to force confederation to the front as a practical issue in Canadian politics. It has been well remarked that in politics an idea dates from the day when some responsible politician makes a definite proposal and is prepared to stand or fall by his measure. It was unquestionably Galt who was first instrumental in having the idea of confederation adopted by one of the great political parties as a plank of its programme.[96] He lived to see the union of which[175] he was such an earnest advocate accomplished and to render the Dominion, of which he was one of the great founders, distinguished service. The plan that Galt urged in 1858 in its general lines was similar to what was subsequently adopted and it was advocated by its author in a masterly speech. Galt’s action in this connection made such a deep impression that when the Macdonald-Cartier Government was defeated, a short while afterwards, he was summoned by the Governor-General and requested to form an administration, a responsibility which he declined to assume. When on his advice George-Étienne Cartier was summoned and formed a government, he asked Galt to become a member of the ministry. When Galt accepted he insisted on confederation being made a Cabinet question, which was agreed to by Cartier. When the Prime Minister announced the Government’s programme on August 7th, one of its chief items was as follows: “The expediency of a federal union of the British North American provinces will be anxiously considered, and communications with the Home Government and the Lower Provinces entered into forthwith on this subject. The result of these communications will be submitted to parliament at its next session.” At the close of the session the Governor-General, Sir Edmund Head, in his speech proroguing parliament, said: “I propose in the course of the recess to communicate with Her Majesty’s Government and with the Governments of the sister colonies on another matter of very great importance. I am desirous of inviting them to discuss with us the principles on which a bond of a federal character uniting the provinces of British North America may perhaps hereafter be practicable.”

In accordance with that pledge, the Prime Minister, accompanied by A. T. Galt and John Ross, went to England after the adjournment of parliament and on October 23rd they addressed Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Secretary of State for the Colonies, a memorial recommending a union of all the provinces as the sole means of putting an end to the existing difficulties between Upper and Lower Canada, and of consolidating British power on the North American continent.


This document is of such transcendent importance in connection with the steps to Confederation that I herewith give it in full:

London, October 23, 1858.


We have the honour to submit for the consideration of Her Majesty’s Government, that the Governor-General of Canada, acting under the advice of his responsible advisers, has been pleased to recommend that the subject of a Federated Union of the provinces of British North America should form the subject of discussion by delegates from each province, to be appointed under the orders of Her Majesty’s Government, and we have been instructed to urge the importance of this step as well upon grounds peculiar to Canada as from considerations affecting the interests of the other colonies and of the whole Empire.

It is our duty to state that very grave difficulties now present themselves in conducting the government of Canada in such a manner as to show due regard to the wishes of its numerous population. The union of Lower with Upper Canada was based upon perfect equality being preserved between those provinces, a condition the more necessary from the difference in their respective language, law and religion—and, although there is now a large English population in Lower Canada, still these differences exist to an extent which prevents any perfect and complete assimilation of the views of the two sections.

At the time of the Union Act Lower Canada possessed a much larger population than Upper Canada, but this produced no difficulty in the government of the United Provinces, under that act. Since that period, however, the progress of population has been more rapid in the western section, and claims are now made on behalf of its inhabitants for giving them representation in the legislature in proportion to their numbers, which claims, involving, it is believed, a most serious interference with the principles upon which the union was based, have been and are strenuously resisted by Lower Canada. The result is shown by an agitation fought with great danger to the peaceful and harmonious working of our constitutional system, and consequently detrimental to the progress of the province.

The necessity of providing a remedy for a state of things that is yearly becoming worse, and of allaying feelings that are being daily aggravated by the contention of political parties, has impressed the advisers of Her Majesty’s representative in Canada with the importance of seeking for such a mode of dealing with these difficulties as may forever remove them. In this view it has appeared to them advisable to consider how far the union of Lower with Upper Canada could be rendered essentially federative in combination with the Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, together with such other territories as may be desirable to incorporate with confederation from the possessions of the Crown in British North America.

The undersigned are convinced that Her Majesty’s Government will be fully alive to the grave nature of the circumstances referred to, which are stated by them under the full responsibility of their position as advisers of the Crown in Canada. They are satisfied that the time has arrived for a constitutional discussion of all means whereby the evils of internal dissension may be avoided in such an important dependency of the Empire as Canada. But independent of reasons affecting Canada alone, it is respectfully represented that the interests of the several colonies and of the Empire will be greatly promoted by a more intimate and united government of the Empire’s British North American possessions.

The population, trade and resources of all these colonies have so rapidly increased of late years, and the removal of trade restrictions has made them in so great a degree self-sustaining, that it appears to the Government of Canada exceedingly important to bind still more closely the ties of their common allegiance to the British Crown, and to obtain for general purposes such an identity in legislation as may serve to consolidate their growing powers, thus raising under the protection of the Empire an important confederation on the North American continent.

At present each colony is distinct in its government, in its customs, its industries, and in its general legislation. To each other no greater facilities are extended than to any foreign state, and the only common tie is that which binds all to the British Crown. This state of things is considered neither promotive of the physical prosperity of all, nor of that moral union which ought to be possessed in the presence of the powerful confederation of the United States.


With the population of three and one-half millions, with a foreign commerce exceeding twenty-five millions sterling, and a commercial marine inferior in extent only to those of Great Britain and the United States, it is in the power of the Imperial Government, by sanctioning a confederation of these provinces, to constitute a dependency of the Empire valuable in time of peace and powerful in the event of war, forever removing the fear that these colonies may ultimately serve to swell the power of another nation.

In the case of the Australian colonies the Imperial Government have consented to their discussion of the question of federation, although the reasons for it, as relates to the Empire, can scarcely be so urgent or so important as those which affect British North America.

The Government of Canada do not desire to represent the feelings of the other provinces—their application is confined to the request that the Imperial Government may be pleased to authorise a meeting of delegates on behalf of each colony, and of Upper and Lower Canada respectively, for the purpose of considering the subject of a Federative Union and reporting on the principles on which the same could properly be based.

That such delegates should be appointed by the executive Government of each colony and meet with as little delay as possible.

That the reports of such delegates should be addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and that a copy of it, as soon as it is prepared, should be placed in the hands of the Governor and Lieut.-Governor of each colony, in order that he may lay the same before the Provincial Parliament with as little delay as possible.

Upon the report of such delegates it will be for Her Majesty’s Government to decide whether the interests of the Empire will be promoted by Federation, and to direct the action of the Imperial Parliament thereon, with the concurrence of the Legislatures of the respective Colonies.

We have the honour to be,
Your most obedient and humble servants,

G. E. Cartier,
Jno. Ross,
A. T. Galt.

The Right Honourable
Sir Edward L. B. Lytton,
Secretary of State for the Colonies.

During their stay in London Cartier and his colleagues strongly pressed the question upon the Imperial authorities, urging them to authorise a meeting of delegates from the British North American provinces to consider the subject and report upon it. The Imperial Government at this time does not appear to have had any definite policy on the subject. When, as the result of action by the Nova Scotia legislature, Hon. J. W. Johnstone and Hon. Adams G. Archibald went to England in 1857, to confer with Her Majesty’s Government on the question, they were told by Mr. Labouchère, the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, that it was a question entirely for the colonies themselves and that no obstacle to its accomplishment would be thrown in their way. In accordance with the representations of Cartier and his fellow delegates, the Imperial Government opened communications with the Governments of the various British North American colonies, but the Newfoundland Government was the only one which expressed its readiness to appoint delegates. The Governments of the other colonies, while not expressing themselves as opposed to union, hesitated about taking part in such a[178] conference as was proposed, as the question had not been prominently brought before their people. Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, informed the Canadian delegates that the question “was necessarily one of an Imperial character,” and declined to authorise the meeting, for the reason that with the exception of one he had received no expression of sentiment from the Lower Provinces on the subject. That the Imperial authorities hesitated about expressing themselves on the question, but that they were prepared to welcome any means which would increase the prosperity and strength of the British North American colonies, was shown by the fact that a few years later, that is to say, in 1862, the Duke of Newcastle, the then Colonial Secretary, in a despatch to the Governor-General, after stating in explicit terms that Her Majesty’s Government was not prepared to announce any definite policy on this question for a similar reason, added that “if a union either partial or complete should hereafter be proposed with the concurrence of all the provinces to be united, I am sure that the matter would be weighed in this country both by the public, by parliament and by Her Majesty’s Government with no other feeling than an anxiety to discuss and promote any course which might be the most conducive to the prosperity, the strength and harmony of all the British communities in North America.”[97]

The official reply of the Imperial authorities to the memorandum of the Canadian delegates was contained in the following communication addressed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Governor-General of Canada:

Downing Street, 20th Nov., 1858.


I have on a former occasion acknowledged your despatch No. 118 of the 9th Sept. accompanied by a Minute of the Executive Council of Canada, proposing that Her Majesty’s Government should authorise a meeting of delegates to discuss the expediency and the conditions of a Federal Union of the British North American provinces. By this name I understand to be meant an arrangement for establishing a common legislation in the provinces upon matters of common concern. I have since received a letter on the same question, dated the 25th of Oct., from those members of your Executive Council who have recently visited England, and I have to inform you that the proposal has received from Her Majesty’s Government the careful consideration which its importance demands.

The question, however, is one which involves not merely the interests of the important province of Canada, and its relations towards the Empire, but also the position and welfare of the other North American provinces. The Government of one of these has afforded some indication that it deems the question of a legislative union of some or all of the colonies as equally deserving of consideration. With this exception Her Majesty’s Government have received no expression whatever of the sentiment which may be entertained by the Governments of the Lower Provinces. We think that we should be wanting in proper consideration for those Governments if we were to authorise, without any previous knowledge of their views, a meeting of delegates from the Executive Councils, and thus to commit them to preliminary steps towards the settlement of a momentous question of which they have not yet signified their assent to the principle.


A communication in terms corresponding with the present despatch will be addressed to the Governors of other provinces in order to place them and their responsible advisers in full possession of the actual state of the question.

I have, etc.,

E. B. Lytton.

Right Hon.
Sir E. Head, Baronet, etc.

Cartier’s visit to London in 1858 was the first of several memorable visits which he paid to Great Britain, and he then began an association with several leading British statesmen which was to have important results. To show what an impression the French-Canadian leader created, I give the following historic letter addressed to Cartier by Lord Carnarvon. It is of value not only as showing the high opinion entertained of Cartier, but as giving the views of one of the leading British statesmen on the position of the French-Canadians:

Highclere Castle,

Newbury, Sep. 8, 1859.

My dear Mr. Cartier:

I was absent from home when your letter was forwarded to me and it was only after some delay that at last it came to hand. I forwarded your letters to my mother and my cousin, Miss Pusey, who were and still are in Germany, at Aix la Chapelle, and I now enclose you a letter from my cousin. The Canadian songs will often, I doubt not, be sung and admired here: and I shall certainly never hear them without remembering the very pleasant visit which I persuaded you to pay me last autumn. Of all departments of state I may truly say that I feel grateful to have been brought into connection with the Colonial Office. All that I have ever heard, or known, or imagined before of the colonies was comparatively a dream, but the actual contact with colonial questions and eminent colonists who happened to be in this country made the reality much greater than the original imagination. Of all English colonies there is none which impresses one’s mind more, or even to the same extent, as Canada. There is the same remarkable development of material and territorial resources as in some of the Australian colonies, but, from the greater age and the more gradual working out of the constitutional question, there are, as it has always seemed to me, greater moderation and solidity—the solidarity—as it was called in the Crimea—a nearer approach, in fact, to our own disposition and temperament in the Mother country. And here, as far as I can understand the question, the Lower Canadian element has come in with much advantage and effect. With its old traditions and less varying customs, it has strengthened the principle of preservation and conservation, which ultimately resolves itself into a principle of loyalty. And, in reference to this last point, I sometimes feel that in Canada, with many apparent disadvantages, you possess one great advantage which is denied to us here in England. You are brought into daily and visible contact with the naked and therefore repulsive democracy of the United States. When viewed so closely it can have no charms; but here in England the “distance lends enchantment to the view,” and there are persons foolish enough to believe in it who, if they saw its practical working for one single week, would be dispossessed of the illusion. We are in this country in a very peculiar and I cannot—with my views—think a satisfactory condition. The main body of the nation is, I believe, sound and conservative in its large sense, but there is so much apathy on the one hand, so much reluctance to take unnecessary trouble, on the other, and so much misplaced confidence in the good fortune of the country to make her way through all difficulties and trials, that I can quite believe that, when circumstances favour them, the strong Radical party may gain an important move upon us. Personally I would be indifferent to the change of government—for I found that I was obliged to neglect all private duties and affairs when in office—but politically the present administration is so heterogeneous, unfixed in principle, and unreliable in conduct and action that I fear we may be led into difficulties. I should enjoy nothing more than to see Canada next[180] year at the time of the opening of the Great Bridge, and next to that nothing more than to find you still in office, and to have the great pleasure of renewing an acquaintanceship which is one of my most agreeable recollections of Downing Street, and which, if you will allow me to say so, I value very highly. Pray remember me most kindly to Mr. Ross and Mr. Galt when you see them, and whenever you can devote from more serious business a few lines to an idle man in England like myself it will be fully appreciated.

Believe me, dear Mr. Cartier,
Yours most truly,

When Cartier returned from London he did not allow the confederation question to remain dormant, and on his motion a minute was passed by the Executive Council of Canada that a copy of the proceedings that had taken place in reference to the question, including the memorandum of the Canadian delegates to the Imperial authorities, should be communicated to the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor of each of the provinces, “with a view to invite such action in the matter as may be deemed expedient.”[98] The efforts undertaken by Cartier and his colleagues, for the reasons given, proved futile, but they undoubtedly gave a great impetus to the movement. They constituted the first practical step in the direction of confederation. The memorandum signed by Cartier, Galt and Rose, and submitted to the Colonial Secretary, was, to use the words of the lamented Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the first real step in success, the thing that gave importance to theory in men’s minds. Though checked for the moment, the movement was to bear fruit and to ultimately result in union.

The question continued to occupy the attention of public men and of the press. One of the ablest advocates of confederation at this time was a French-Canadian publicist, J. C. Taché, Secretary of the Board of Agriculture, who wrote a work which was almost prophetic of the present constitution of the Dominion. Taché pointed out the resources of the various provinces and foretold the great future that awaited them, declaring that they formed an aggregate which, if turned to account by a competent population governed by a political system based on true principles of order and liberty, justified the most extravagant calculations of profit and the most extraordinary predictions of growth as compared with the then existing state of things.[99] At a public lecture delivered in Montreal in 1859 Alexander Morris with prophetic vision drew a wonderful picture of the great Dominion as it is to-day, “with its face to the south and its back to the north, with its right and left resting on the Atlantic and the Pacific and with the telegraph and the railroad connecting the two oceans.” Speaking in the parliament of United Canada in 1861, as member for South Lanark, Morris expressed his confidence[181] that new means would be found to present a measure that would bring together the different provinces of British North America into a union, founded on such a basis as would give to the people of each province the right to manage their own internal affairs, whilst at the same time the whole people should provide for the management of matters of common concern, so as to secure the consolidation of the Britannic power on this continent. Though he was not to have the distinction of being known as one of the Fathers of Confederation, Alexander Morris deserves a very high place in the confederation movement, both for the brilliant manner in which he outlined the scheme in advance and for the important part that he subsequently played in the negotiations that led to the achievement of confederation.

At the great Reform Convention held in Toronto in 1859 the question of confederation was discussed, but the general feeling was that the difficulties in the way of bringing about a federal union of all the provinces would cause such delay as to place the project beyond consideration as a remedy for existing evils, and it was decided that the most practical remedy would be found in the formation of two or more local governments, having control over all sectional matters and of some joint authority having control of interests common to the two sections at large. About the same time a document issued by the Lower Canadian Liberals also advocated the confederation of the two Canadas with some joint authority for both.

This proposal was brought before the Canadian parliament at the session of 1860 by George Brown, who, in two motions that he submitted, set forth that the union had proved a failure and could not be advantageously maintained, that the best remedy was to be found in the formation of two or more local governments with some joint authority, charged with such matters as were necessarily common to both sections of the province. Brown made a powerful speech in support of his proposals, but they were defeated by overwhelming majorities.

During the session of 1860 John A. Macdonald expressed himself plainly on the great question of confederation, with which he was subsequently to have so much to do. “The only feasible scheme which presents itself to my mind for the evils complained of,” said the great Upper Canadian leader, “is a confederation of all the provinces. In speaking of a confederation I must not be understood as alluding to it in the sense of the one or the other side of the line, for that has not been successful.... The fatal error which they have committed—and it was perhaps unavoidable from the state of the colonies at the time of the revolution—was in making each state a distinct sovereignty, in giving to each a distinct sovereign power, except in those instances where they were specially reserved by the constitution and conferred upon the general[182] government. The true principle of confederation lies in giving to the general government all the principles and powers of sovereignty, and in the provision that the subordinate or individual states should have no powers but those expressly bestowed upon them. We should thus have a powerful central government, a powerful central legislature and a powerful decentralised system of minor legislatures for local purposes.” Macdonald continued up to the achievement of confederation to advocate a powerful central government, in fact he subsequently favoured a legislative union with one government for the whole country.

Macdonald’s wonderful vision and political prescience were shown by the fact that in his speech of 1860 he foretold what has since been amply fulfilled. “We were now approaching to a population of 3,000,000 of people,” he said. “We were approaching to the population of the United States at the time they declared their independence; we were standing at the very threshold of nations, and when admitted we should occupy no unimportant position among the nations of the world. Long might we remain connected with Great Britain.” He hoped that for ages, forever, Canada might remain united with the Mother country. But we were fast ceasing to be a dependency, and assuming the position of an ally of Great Britain. England would be the centre surrounded and sustained by an alliance, not only with Canada, but with Australia and all her other possessions, and there would thus be formed an immense confederation of free men, the greatest confederation of civilised and intelligent men that had ever had an existence on the face of the globe. He hoped to live to see that day, and it would surely come if our statesmen would only be patriotic enough to lay aside all desire to do that which tended to rend the existing union.

It will thus be seen that the idea of confederation was at this period engaging much attention. Some strongly favoured a confederation of all the British North American provinces, others advocated the confederation of the two Canadas as a preliminary step. Affairs drifted along until 1864, each successive Government having a precarious existence owing to the closeness of party divisions. The crisis was reached when on June 14th, 1864, the Taché-Macdonald Government was defeated and, both parties having vainly attempted to carry on the government of the country, a deadlock ensued.

It was at this critical juncture that George Brown came to the forefront. He, who had hitherto been a sectionalist, chiefly concerned with the interests of his own province, rose to the height of the great occasion and appeared as a patriot of lofty vision and a statesman of commanding grasp. George Brown was unquestionably one of the greatest figures of the confederation period. All attempts to detract from his merits in this respect must fail in presence of the record. To Brown, in fact,[183] belongs the supreme credit of having suggested that coalition of parties which made the realisation of confederation possible. The great Upper Canadian Liberal was at this period in his forty-sixth year. Born near Edinburgh in 1818, he emigrated with his father to New York in 1838, where for a period father and son engaged in journalistic pursuits. In 1843 George Brown moved to Toronto, where he founded first the Banner as the champion of Free Church Presbyterianism, and subsequently the Globe, destined to become one of the greatest newspapers of the country, made its appearance in 1844 and from the outset was a strong advocate of responsible government, espousing the cause of Baldwin and his fellow reformers against the Governor. First returned to the parliament of United Canada by the county of Kent in 1854, Brown became a strong advocate of the secularisation of the clergy reserves. His attitude towards the French-Canadians and his stand in the Roman Catholic question were such as naturally to arouse the strongest hostility in Lower Canada and to make his alliance dangerous to any French-Canadian.[100] Systematically denouncing what he was wont to term French domination and strongly opposing every concession to Roman Catholics, George Brown, prior to the confederation period, could only be regarded as a provincial leader, chiefly concerned with the interests of Upper Canada. It must be said in justice to him that he was to a great extent the creature of his environment, that his views in many cases were political rather than personal, and reflected the prevailing sentiment of a large section of his province. He had, voicing the feeling of Upper Canada, demanded increased representation for that province, and became the zealous champion of what was known as representation by population. His persistent efforts to change the basis of the union had, as we have seen, been strongly and successfully opposed by Cartier. Unsuccessful in this direction, Brown proposed federalising the union, his idea being the formation of two or more local governments with some joint authority having control of interests common to the two Canadas at large. This idea, however, it must in justice be said, was but a preliminary in Brown’s mind to a greater confederation which would embrace all the other provinces as well as the great Northwest, then a terra incognita, and in which Brown was one of the few who at that time had any faith. He believed that the wisest course would be to commence federation with the two Canadas and to leave it open to[184] extension thereafter, if time and experience should prove it desirable. Speaking at the great Reform Convention at Toronto in 1859, Brown used language which clearly shows that even at that date he looked forward to the time when the British North American provinces would stand amongst the nations of the world as one great confederation. Referring to a question that had been raised as to whether the proposed federation was a step towards nationality, Brown said, “I do place the question on grounds of nationality. I do hope there is not one Canadian in this Assembly who does not look forward with high hope to the day when these northern countries shall stand out among the nations of the world as one great confederation. What true Canadian can witness the tide of emigration now commencing to flow into the vast territories of the Northwest without longing to have a share in the first settlement of that great fertile country? Who does not feel that to us rightfully belong the right and the duty of carrying the blessings of civilisation throughout those boundless regions, and making our own country the highway of traffic to the Pacific? But is it necessary that all this should be accomplished at once? Is it not true wisdom to commence federation with our own country and leave it open to extension hereafter if time and experience shall prove it desirable?” Brown was now by his patriotic course to make possible a larger federation embracing at the outset not only the two Canadas but the two greatest of the Maritime provinces, and resulting eventually in that great confederation which in 1859 he foreshadowed.

Early in the session of 1868, George Brown in a forcible speech supporting a motion in favour of constitutional changes strongly urged that a special committee should be appointed to consider the relations of Upper and Lower Canada, and to report upon the constitutional changes necessary to put an end to the existing difficulties. Brown succeeded in having his motion adopted and had a special committee, composed of fifteen of the foremost members of the legislature, appointed to enquire into the important subject embraced in the despatch regarding confederation addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies by Cartier, Galt and Ross while they were in England in 1858. This committee, which comprised eight Conservatives and seven Reformers, was composed of John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, A. T. Galt, J. C. Chapais, J. E. Turcotte, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, J. H. Cameron, W. Street, George Brown, John Sandfield Macdonald, L. H. Holton, Oliver Mowat, William McDougall, Archibald McKellar, and L. V. Sicotte. “Much that is directly practical may not flow from the committee,” wrote Brown on May 20th, 1864, “but it is an enormous gain to have the acknowledgment on our journals that great differences exist and that some remedy must be provided.” The constitutional committee, as it was designated,[185] held a number of meetings when the whole subject was discussed and the report of the committee was submitted to the House by the Chairman, George Brown, himself, at the session of June 14th, 1864, only a few hours before the defeat of the Taché-Macdonald Government, an event that resulted in the crisis which gave birth to the coalition Cabinet. I take the following from the Journals of the Legislature (Session June 14th, 1864):

Hon. Mr. Brown, from the select committee appointed to enquire into the important subjects embraced in the despatch to the Colonial Minister addressed to him on the 2nd February, 1859, by the Hon. George E. Cartier, the Hon. A. T. Galt, and the Hon. John Ross, then members of the Executive Council of this Province, whilst in London acting on behalf of the Government, of which they were members, in which they declared that “very grave difficulties now present themselves in conducting the government of Canada in such a manner as to show due regard to the wishes of its numerous population”—that “differences exist to an extent which prevents any perfect and complete assimilation of the views of the two sections”—that “the progress of population has been more rapid in the western section and claims are now made on behalf of its inhabitants for giving them representation in the legislature in proportion to their number”—that “the result is shown by an agitation fraught with great danger to the peaceful and harmonious working of our constitutional system, and consequently detrimental to the progress of the province,” and that “the necessity of providing a remedy for a state of things that is yearly becoming worse, and of allaying feelings that are daily being aggravated by the contention of political parties, has impressed the advisers of Her Majesty’s representative in Canada with the importance of seeking for such a mode of dealing with these difficulties as may forever remove them,” and the best means of remedying the evil therein set forth presented to the House the report of the said Committee, which was read as followeth—

“That the committee have held eight meetings and have endeavoured to find some solution for existing difficulties likely to secure the assent of both sections of the Province.

“A strong feeling was found to exist among the members of the committee in favour of changes in the direction of a federative system, applied either to Canada alone, or to the whole British North American provinces, and such progress has been made as to warrant the committee in recommending that the subject be referred to a committee at the next session of parliament.

“The whole respectfully submitted.

Geo. Brown, Chairman.”

The Committee differed as to the adoption of this report and the yeas and nays being called for were taken down as follows—

Yeas—Hon. Messrs. Cartier, Galt, McDougall, Cameron, Holton, Turcotte, McGee, Chapais, Brown, Mowat, McKellar, Street.

Nays—Hon. John A. Macdonald, Hon. Sandfield Macdonald, Mr. Scoble.

It will be seen by the record that John A. Macdonald gave his vote in the negative on the question of adopting the committee’s report. Why did Macdonald not favour the adoption of the report? The Journals of the House are silent on that point, but the presumption is that Macdonald either did not like the wording of the report, which indicated that changes were favoured in the direction of a federative system applied either to Canada alone or to the whole British North American provinces, or else regarded the proposals as inopportune. It is unquestionable from the speech that he delivered during the parliamentary session of 1860 that John A. Macdonald favoured a union of all the North American[186] colonies, and he was apparently opposed to joining that idea with George Brown’s idea of federalising the two Canadas alone. Sir Joseph Pope, who had unrivalled opportunities of knowing the mind of his chief, and from whom I sought light on this important question, writes me: “Sir John over and over again declared his advocacy of confederation, but he did not like the wording of the resolution adopted by the committee of 1864. The proceedings of that committee were very much hurried, and the whole thing was suddenly knocked on the head by the crisis.”

The story of the negotiations which resulted in the formation of the coalition Government, by which confederation was effected, negotiations in which George Brown was the pivotal figure, has been frequently told, but it cannot be told too often. It will be seen from the narrative that George-Étienne Cartier played a leading part in these historic proceedings.

On June 15th, the day following the defeat of the Taché-Macdonald Government, when a deadlock had practically been reached, George Brown, in the course of a conversation that he had with Alexander Morris, the member for South Lanark, and John Henry Pope, member for Compton, in regretting the deadlock, expressed the view that the crisis might be utilised “in settling forever the constitutional difficulties between Upper and Lower Canada.” Mr. Morris informed Senator Ferrier, a leading supporter of the Government in the Upper House, of Mr. Brown’s conversation, and was advised by him to communicate it at once to leading members of the Government, which he did. Morris in turn was authorised to make arrangements for a meeting between Brown and some members of the Government. This was the beginning of the memorable negotiations which led to Brown joining forces with Macdonald and Cartier, becoming a member of a coalition Government, and thus rendering possible the carrying out of confederation. The successive stages of the negotiations were related in detail in a statement which John A. Macdonald, as leader of the Assembly, made in the House on June 23rd. According to this announcement, to utilise a succinct summary of its main statements, “immediately after the defeat of the Government on Tuesday night (June 14) and on the following morning, Mr. Brown spoke to several supporters of the administration, strongly urging that the crisis should be utilised in settling forever the constitutional difficulties between Upper and Lower Canada, and assuring them that he was ready to co-operate with the existing or any other administration that would deal with the question promptly and formally with a view to its final settlement. Mr. Morris and Mr. Pope, to whom the suggestion was made, obtained leave to communicate it to Mr. John A. Macdonald and Mr. Galt. On June 17th Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Galt called upon Mr. Brown. In the conversation that ensued Mr. Brown expressed his[187] extreme reluctance to entering the ministry, declaring that the public mind would be shocked by such an arrangement. The personal question being dropped for the time, Mr. Brown asked what remedy was proposed. Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Galt replied that their remedy was a federal union of all the British North American provinces. Mr. Brown said that this would not be acceptable to Upper Canada. The federation of all the provinces ought to come and would come in time, but it had not yet been thoroughly considered by the people, and even were this otherwise there were so many parties to be consulted that its adoption was uncertain and remote. He expressed his preference for parliamentary reform based on population. On further discussion it appeared that a compromise might be found in an alternative plan, a federal union of all the British North American provinces, or a federal union of Upper and Lower Canada with provision for the admission of the Maritime Provinces and the North West Territory when they desired. There was apparently a difference of opinion as to which alternative should be presented first. One memorandum reduced to writing gave the preference to the larger federation; the second and final memorandum contained this agreement: ‘The Government are prepared to pledge themselves to bring in a measure next session for the purpose of removing existing difficulties by introducing the federal principle into Canada, coupled with such provisions as will permit the Maritime Provinces and the North West Territory to be incorporated into the same system of government, and the Government will, by sending representatives to the Lower Provinces and to England, use its best endeavours to secure the assent of those interests which are beyond the control of our own legislation to such a measure as may enable all British North America to be united under a general legislature based upon the federal principles.’ It was Mr. Brown who insisted upon this mode of presentation.”[101]

The official statement clearly shows the important part played by George-Étienne Cartier in the negotiations. Brown, as a matter of fact, liked Cartier much more than he did John A. Macdonald, and it was accordingly to Cartier that he largely looked for the success of the negotiations. Cartier was present at the various conferences that were held between Brown, Macdonald, and other members of the Government, and Brown subsequently declared publicly in the House that it was upon the fair, frank and manly manner in which Cartier had met the difficulties that he put his justification for the alliance and his consent to enter the Cabinet. Coming from one who had been his bitter political opponent, no higher tribute was ever paid to Cartier.[102]


Following the explanations of the Government leader in the House, Brown made a frank, manly and patriotic speech in which he justified the course he had taken at this momentous crisis. He candidly declared that had the circumstances under which the country was placed been one whit less important than they were he should not have approached the honourable gentlemen opposite to negotiate with respect to the present difficulties. The House he believed would see that if there was an occasion in the affairs of any country which would justify such a coalition as the present, that crisis had arrived in the position of Canada. Referring to the existing difficulties, Brown declared that while he claimed representation by population for Upper Canada, he had always maintained that the feelings of Lower Canada must be consulted, that he was prepared to go into such arrangements as would settle this question and do justice to both sections of the province. The day of such an opportunity had at last arrived. Brown made a patriotic appeal to his Lower Canadian Liberal friends to give their aid in the great movement. He would say to his honourable friends of Lower Canada, he remarked, “Let us all try to rise superior to the pettiness of mere party politics, and take up this question as it should be considered, wait till a measure is brought down and if we are to be condemned let us be so, but at any rate give us an opportunity of showing we are honest and will do our duty to our country.” To his friends from Lower Canada who were afraid of the character of the measure, or who might think that Upper Canada might obtain the advantage in this settlement, he would say that whatever was done would be done with openness and fair play—everything should be free as air and he was sure that in saying this he spoke the sentiments of every one who was a party to the negotiations. There was no desire but to extract their country from the unfortunate position in which it had been placed. Brown added that he wished it clearly understood that the alliance between the honourable gentlemen opposite and himself, and between their followers, was not a common political alliance for political purposes, that it had been brought about by the crisis that had arisen in public affairs, and upon this and the fair, frank and manly manner in which the honourable member for Montreal East (George-Étienne Cartier) had met their difficulties, he (Brown) based his justification for the present alliance and consent to enter the Cabinet. He apprehended that the Government would proceed to the immediate consideration of the scheme of federation, that it would send delegates to the Intercolonial Convention at Charlottetown, and also to England,[189] in order to effect a federation as soon as possible. As far as he was concerned, he had gone into the Cabinet for the settlement of that question, and thereby he would stand or fall. If ever there was an important question before the country, added the Upper Canadian Liberal leader, this was it, and he must congratulate the House that there were men from both sides united and prepared to sacrifice even party ties and personal friendship in this matter, for the good of the country. Brown’s closing words were amply justified. If, he remarked, he had no other success to boast of during his political career than that which had attended him in bringing about the formation of a Government with a strength which no other Government had possessed for many years, a Government formed for the purpose of settling the sectional difficulties between Upper and Lower Canada—he felt that he had something to be proud of, and that he had accomplished some good for the country. He wanted no greater honour for his children—no more noble heirloom to transmit to his descendants than the record of the part he had taken in this great work. Canadians for all time will recognise the justice of George Brown’s claim in this respect.

The announcement that Cartier and George Brown, who for many years had been bitterly opposed to each other, had effected an alliance in order to find a remedy for the existing constitutional difficulties, naturally caused a tremendous political sensation, and the whole country waited with interest to see what would be the outcome. On June 30th parliament was prorogued and on the same day the historic coalition Government was formed, George Brown and two other leading Liberals, Oliver Mowat and William McDougall, becoming members of the ministry. Brown entered the Government as President of the Council in place of Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Mowat became Postmaster-General instead of Mr. Foley, and McDougall replaced Mr. Simpson as Provincial Secretary.

The coalition ministry formed for the purpose of effecting confederation was composed as follows:

Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, Receiver-General, Minister of Militia and Premier.

John A. Macdonald, Attorney-General, West.

George-Étienne Cartier, Attorney-General, East.

Alexander Tilloch Galt, Minister of Finance.

Alexander Campbell, Commissioner of Crown Lands.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Minister of Agriculture.

Jean Charles Chapais, Commissioner of Public Works.

William McDougall, Provincial Secretary

Oliver Mowat, Postmaster-General.

Hector Louis Langevin, Solicitor-General, East.

James Cockburn, Solicitor-General, West.

While events were thus taking their course in Canada, the legislatures of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island had at their session of 1864 severally passed resolutions authorising their[190] respective Governments to enter into negotiations and hold a convention for the purpose of effecting a union of the Maritime Provinces, political, legislative and fiscal. The convention was appointed to meet at Charlottetown, P. E. I., in the month of September following. The prime mover in the project for a union of the Maritime Provinces was Charles Tupper, destined to be one of the great Fathers of Confederation, and the last survivor of that illustrious company of statesmen, which laid broad and deep the foundations of the great Dominion.

At the session of the Nova Scotia legislature in 1864 Charles Tupper, in a powerful speech, strongly advocated a union, or, as he termed it, a reunion of the Maritime Provinces. Not only that, but his remarks on that occasion clearly indicate that he foresaw the formation of a still greater federation, a project that he had already publicly urged. “Whilst I believe,” said the great Nova Scotian, “that the union of the Maritime Provinces and Canada, of all British America, under one government, would be desirable if it were practicable—I believe that to be a question which far transcends in its difficulties the power of any human advocacy to accomplish—I am not insensible to the feeling that the time may not be far distant when events which are far more powerful than any human advocacy may place British America in a position to render a union into one compact whole not only practicable but absolutely necessary. . . . Hostile as I believe the sentiment of Canada is at the present time to a union with the Maritime Provinces, the day is not far distant when it will be for the interest of both to unite, and Canada will, I have no doubt, seek in that union the solution of those difficulties that are now found inseparable from the government of the country.” How true a prophet Charles Tupper was will be shown by the course of events.

While in Canada George Brown was uniting with his life-long opponents to consider the project of a federation, the Governments of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island proceeded with their original design. Here as in Canada public men rose above party considerations for the public good. “In order that the question of their union,” to quote from one who played a leading part in the movement, “might as much as possible be removed beyond the pale of party conflict, the delegates to attend the convention at Charlottetown were selected from the Liberal and Conservative ranks alike. Dr. Tupper, the leader of the Government of Nova Scotia, with his own colleagues, Attorney-General Henry, and Mr. Dickey, a Conservative supporter, had included Hon. Adams G. Archibald and Jonathan McCully, long and well-known leaders of the Liberal party. Mr. Tilley, the leader of the Government in New Brunswick, with his own colleagues, Messrs. Johnson and Steves, had included the Hon. Edward B. Chandler and John Hamilton Gray, prominent and well-known leaders of the Conservative party[191] there, while in Prince Edward Island the Premier had with equal consideration selected the Island delegates from both sides of the House.“[103]

The recommendations of the respective Governments having been approved by the Lieutenant-Governors, the convention was opened at Charlottetown on September 1st. The Premier of Prince Edward Island, Hon. John Hamilton Gray, was unanimously chosen chairman and the convention as organised stood thus:

Nova Scotia, Charles Tupper (Premier), A. G. Archibald, Jonathan McCully, R. B. Dickey, W. A. Henry.

New Brunswick, S. L. Tilley, John M. Johnson, John H. Gray, E. B. Chandler, W. H. Steves.

Prince Edward Island, Col. Gray (Premier), Edward Palmer, W. J. Pope, George Coles, A. A. Macdonald.

The coalition Government of Canada, being aware of the assembling of the Charlottetown conference, determined to take advantage of the opportunity to lay before it the question of a union of all the British North American provinces, and accordingly, with the sanction of the Governor-General, a delegation from the Canadian Government was sent to Charlottetown. That delegation was composed of John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, George Brown, A. T. Galt, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, H. L. Langevin, Wm. McDougall, and Alexander Campbell. The Charlottetown conference had in the meantime determined after consideration that its proceedings should be with closed doors. The departure from Quebec of the Canadian delegation having been announced by telegram, and it having been determined to receive the deputation and to consider any propositions they might make, it was agreed to postpone the consideration of the union of the Maritime Provinces until after the Canadian deputation had been heard. The following morning the Canadian delegates arrived, were cordially received and in due time were introduced to the convention. The advantages of a union of all the British North American provinces, instead of the more restricted one of the Maritime Provinces, and the outlines of the proposed constitution should a union be effected, were submitted to the convention by John A. Macdonald, ably supported by George Brown and George-Étienne Cartier. The financial position of Canada was contrasted with the several provinces, their various sources of wealth, their comparative increase, the detrimental way in which their conflicting tariffs operated to each other’s disadvantage, the expansion of their commerce and of their manufactures, and the development of the various internal resources that would be fostered by free intercourse of trade and a greater unity of interest, were pointed out with great power by A. T. Galt. McGee, Langevin and McDougall ably supported the views of[192] their colleagues and after two days’ command of the undivided attention of the convention the Canadian delegates withdrew. Before doing so they proposed that the convention should suspend its deliberations upon the immediate subject for which they had met, namely a union of the Maritime Provinces, and should adjourn to Quebec at a date to be named by the Governor-General, there further to consider that wider and broader union which had been proposed.

On the following day the convention deemed it better for the general interests of British North America that an adjournment should take place and agreed to report to their respective Governments what had occurred.[104]

Before returning home the Canadian delegates were hospitably entertained at Charlottetown and subsequently at Halifax and St. John, N.B.

In accordance with the recommendation of the Canadian Government, the Governor-General addressed the several Lieutenant-Governors of the Maritime Provinces, including Newfoundland, to send delegates to the convention to be held in Quebec, an invitation that met with a cordial response.

It was on October 10th, 1864, that there assembled at Quebec the historic conference from which was to issue the constitutional fabric of a great confederation. The place was well chosen for such a gathering. In the ancient capital of Canada, the city of Champlain and of Laval, in the neighbourhood of which Wolfe and Montcalm, the representatives of the two great races, had fought and died, were now assembled the delegates of the five great provinces to cement the ties that would unite all sections and constitute a powerful commonwealth.

The Charlottetown Conference
(Cartier’s figure marked by arrow.)


The delegates who composed the Quebec Conference which resulted in the establishment of the Dominion were:

Canada, Hons. Sir E. P. Taché (Premier), John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, George Brown, A. T. Galt, Alexander Campbell, William McDougall, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Hector Langevin, J. Cockburn, Oliver Mowat, and J. C. Chapais.

Nova Scotia, Hons. Charles Tupper, W. A. Henry, R. B. Dickey, Adams G. Archibald, and Jonathan McCully.

New Brunswick, Hons. Samuel L. Tilley, John M. Johnson, Edward B. Chandler, J. H. Gray, Peter Mitchell, Charles Fisher, and William H. Steves.


Prince Edward Island, Hons. John Hamilton Gray, Edward Palmer, W. H. Pope, George Coles, A. A. Macdonald, T. H. Haviland, and Edward Whelan.

Newfoundland, Hons. F. B. T. Carter and Ambrose Shea.

At the first session of the conference Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, Prime Minister of Canada, was unanimously chosen president. The great figures of this historic gathering were of course John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, George Brown, A. T. Galt, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Charles Tupper, Samuel Leonard Tilley, and Oliver Mowat. After some consideration it was decided that the convention should hold its deliberations with closed doors. It was further decided “that as the Canadian representation in the convention was numerically so much greater than that of any of the other provinces, the voting in case of division should be by provinces and not by members, Canada, as composed of two provinces, having two votes, thus assuring to the smaller provinces that in the adoption of any proposition equal rights should be given to all.“ In the arrangement of the sittings, Canada occupied the central position with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia on one side, and Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland on the other. The first great question to be determined was what form the proposed union should take, and the decision was “that a federal in preference to a legislative union would be best suited to the exigencies of the country, its extended area and comparatively sparse population rendering it utterly impossible that the local wants of distant districts could be attended to in the general parliament, particularly as in several of the provinces municipalities were not established, direct taxation was unknown and the people were accustomed to look to their local legislatures for all those measures which would increase the settlement, open communications, afford education and tend to develop the resources of their provinces.“[105] In this vital decision, really the most important of the whole conference, for it formed the very basis of the confederation, George-Étienne Cartier played a determining part; in fact it was largely due to his influence that the constitution took the federal form instead of that of a legislative union, which was favoured by some of the leading members of the conference. Of Cartier’s action on this and other questions at the conference I shall treat at a subsequent stage. On the second day the outlines of a contemplated confederation were submitted by John A. Macdonald in a series of resolutions. Macdonald, in a clear and comprehensive speech in presenting the resolutions, pointed out with minuteness the provisions of the constitution proposed, declaring emphatically that it was intended to be, as far as circumstances would permit, similar to the British constitution and recognising the Sovereign of Great Britain[194] as its sole and only head. In the course of the arguments that followed on the submission of these resolutions, which extended over several days, it was shown that whereas in the United States all powers not specifically conceded by the several states to the Federal government remained with the several states, in the proposed Canadian constitution all powers not specifically conceded to the separate provinces were to remain with the Federal government. In other words, the source of power was exactly reversed. The great aim of the leading fathers of confederation seems to have been to avoid the dangers of state sovereignty, those dangers which even while the conference was in session were receiving such a terrible illustration in the United States.

The apportionment of the representation in the Federal parliament was attended with considerable difficulty, but it was finally settled satisfactorily by making Quebec the pivot of representation. The electoral divisions of the Province of Lower Canada (now Quebec) at that time numbered sixty-five. In New Brunswick the fourteen counties, with the city of St. John in addition, constituted fifteen electoral districts. In Nova Scotia there were nineteen, the county of Halifax being divided into two. It was considered politic not to disturb these divisions, but, making Quebec the pivot, to give to each district or division, as then existing, one representative, and taking Upper Canada (now Ontario), to give her eighty-two representatives, the number that her presumed population would entitle her to. It was determined that every future readjustment of the representation in the several provinces at the completion of each decennial census should be as to the number of members upon the same proportion to the population of the province that the number sixty-five bore to the population of Quebec at the same census, the number for Quebec being fixed at sixty-five.

The Quebec Conference, which began its sessions on October 10th, did not complete its labours until October 28th. Some difficulty was experienced in connection with the financial terms, but this was finally straightened out, and the results of the entire deliberations were embodied in ninety-two resolutions which practically formed the basis of the new constitution.

The statesmen who assembled at Quebec in 1864, to devise means for effecting the union of the British North American provinces, had grave problems to solve and great difficulties to overcome, but they were all men of the most ardent patriotism, of the loftiest vision and the broadest views, and with a firm determination to carry to a successful issue the great task with which they had been entrusted. No one played a more important part in that historic gathering than George-Étienne Cartier, whose responsibility, from the peculiar situation of his province, was greater than that of any of the other delegates. How well he acquitted himself we shall see.




The time has come to record Cartier’s part in the confederation movement and to adjudge him his just dues in connection with that epoch-making measure. It is essential at the outset that Cartier’s position at this period should be clearly understood. He was the dominant political force in his native province, and the large and devoted following which he possessed in the legislature of United Canada gave him a determining influence in the parliamentary arena. He had, as we have seen, persistently and successfully opposed all attempts to change the basis of the union, rightly maintaining that the concession of representation according to population would be fatal to Lower Canada’s interests. While Cartier was the steadfast upholder of Lower Canadian interests, George Brown stood forth as the champion of Upper Canada’s demands. Paradoxical as the statement may appear, it is nevertheless true that as far as natural temperament was concerned, there was much in common between George-Étienne Cartier and George Brown. Each was the dominating political personality in his respective province, both were men of masterful force, indomitable energy and tenacity of purpose. Each, to a great extent, was the creature of his peculiar environment. Had Brown’s environment been different and had he been in Cartier’s position, he would no doubt have fought just as strongly for the interests of Lower Canada as he did for those of Upper Canada, and, had circumstances made Cartier the champion of Upper Canada’s demands, he would have been as determined in supporting them as he was in defending Lower Canada’s interests. It was Brown’s habit to denounce what he termed French domination, and to level his attacks against the Roman Catholic Church for what he claimed was the undue political influence that it exercised. But it must have been apparent to him that whatever fault there might be was in the machinery of the union and not in any intentional design to work injustice.

The French-Canadian representatives in the legislature exercised a dominating influence, because under Cartier they were united, and it could hardly be expected that the Roman Catholic bishops and clergy in Lower Canada would view with complacency a movement which, if[196] successful, would have been fatal to the interests of their people. Though Cartier and his following possessed a dominant influence in the legislature, it could never be claimed that their dominance was used to work injustice to Upper Canada—the exact contrary, as John A. Macdonald himself acknowledged, was the case. Party politics of course had a share in the situation. While in Upper Canada it was represented that the government was under the heel of Lower Canada, the ground of attack in Lower Canada was that Cartier was far too British in his principles; that he was completely under the influence of John A. Macdonald, who in turn was governed by the Orangemen. But there was really nothing strange in this. It was simply the old game of party politics in which, as in love and war, everything is regarded as fair.

Cartier’s course in opposing the demand for representation according to population as long as the political machinery of the union was maintained was justified both by justice and expediency. Brown’s bitter attacks on the French-Canadians and the Roman Catholic Church were utterly without justification. But at the same time it cannot be denied that apart altogether from his violent denunciations, which naturally had the effect of making him personally obnoxious to the people of Lower Canada, there was justice in Brown’s demand that Upper Canada should have increased representation. The population of Upper Canada had increased much faster than that of Lower Canada, and at this period greatly exceeded the population of the sister province. Cartier was amongst the first to acknowledge the justice of Upper Canada’s demand for increased representation, but he differed from Brown as to the means to be employed to meet the situation. He had to see that while Upper Canada should obtain justice no injustice should be done to Lower Canada. The situation was critical. It was a time for the exercise of wisdom and of the highest statesmanship. George Brown, who in 1852 could hardly find a seconder for his motion in favour of representation by population, in 1860 claimed fifty-three members from Upper Canada elected to stand or fall by that measure.[106] But under the political machinery of the union representation according to population was obviously impracticable. The French-Canadians would with justice never have consented to a system which would have simply meant the annihilation of their political influence and which, as has been well observed, would have been “a species of terms dictated by a triumphant Protestant West to a defeated and humiliated Catholic East.”[107] A more just and more equitable solution had to be offered and that solution was eventually found in the scheme of confederation. At this period Cartier held the key to the situation. The machinery of the union, designed by[197] its authors to destroy the political influence of the French-Canadians, had signally failed in that object, and had now broken down as a means of governing the country. What a transformation from the early days of the union, from the régimes of Sydenham and of Metcalfe. Then the position of the French-Canadians seemed desperate, and their demands for a just share of political influence were ignored. Now the French-Canadian representation under Cartier’s direction was all powerful, and it was to their sense of justice that the English members had to look for a redress of their constitutional grievances. This was freely admitted by George Brown himself, in a notable utterance in the Canadian parliament: “The scene presented by this chamber at this moment,” said the Upper Canadian statesman, “I venture to affirm has few parallels in history. One hundred years have passed away since these provinces became by conquest part of the British Empire. I speak in no boastful spirit—I desire not for a moment to excite a painful thought—what was then the fortune of war of the brave French nation might have been ours on that well-fought field. I recall those olden times merely to mark the fact that here sit to-day the descendants of the victors and the vanquished in the fight of 1759, with all the differences of language, religion, civil law and social habit nearly as distinctly marked as they were a century ago. Here we sit to-day seeking amicably to find a remedy for constitutional evils and injustice complained of—by the vanquished? No, sir, but complained of by the conquerors. Here sit the representatives of the British population claiming justice, only justice, and here sit the representatives of the French population discussing in the French tongue whether we shall have it.” It should never be forgotten by English-speaking Canadians that the appeal made to Cartier and his French-Canadian following for justice was not made in vain, to the representatives of a people who had themselves been denied justice when the union was inaugurated.

In the initial stages of the confederation movement there are three men who deserve special credit, and their names must ever be inseparably linked in the history of this period. They were Alexander Tilloch Galt, George-Étienne Cartier and George Brown. In the subsequent stages John A. Macdonald, Charles Tupper and Leonard Tilley appear as conspicuous figures. Galt, as we have seen, had, at the parliamentary session of 1858, zealously advocated a union of the British North American provinces, and had been instrumental in having the idea made part of the programme enunciated by the Government of which Cartier was the head. Cartier and Galt, accompanied by John Ross, went to England and endeavoured to have the Imperial Government take the question up, but without success. The difficulty of conducting the government of the country under the existing political machinery yearly became more[198] pronounced, until in 1864 a deadlock resulted. It was at this stage that George Brown by his patriotic course enabled a coalition government to be formed. The alliance of Cartier and Brown at this juncture was of supreme importance in its effects. Without Cartier, who had the largest personal following of any man in parliament at the time, the support of Quebec to the project could not have been secured, and without the support and co-operation of Brown and his adherents it would have been impossible for the Government to do anything in the direction of confederation.

Galt and Alexander Morris, who had also been an early advocate of Confederation, played a large and important part in bringing Brown, Macdonald and Cartier together, and in the negotiations which led up to the formation of the coalition Government. Despite the fact that they had been bitterly opposed to each other, Brown and Cartier seemed to have been at this period attracted to one another and to have become fast friends. We shall later find Cartier doing his utmost to induce Brown to reconsider his withdrawal from the Cabinet.[108]

The leading part played by Cartier and Brown in the Confederation movement has been emphasised by Sir Richard Cartwright, who was active in the parliamentary life of the period. “So far as confederation was the work of anybody,” says Cartwright in his “Memories of Confederation,” “it was pretty nearly absolutely the work of a few leaders. . . . It so happened that in 1863 and in 1864 there were two men in Ontario and Quebec who possessed a predominant if not an almost despotic influence over their respective provinces. One of these men was Mr. George Brown in the Province of Ontario, and the other was Mr., afterwards Sir George Cartier, in Quebec. They were both masterful men. They had been for many years bitterly opposed to each other. Nevertheless these two gentlemen had one thing in common, I am bound to say, looking back through the vista of two- or three-and-forty years, that they in their own respective ways, were both large minded, unselfish and patriotic men. At any rate one thing is certain, both of them for various reasons had a thorough and hearty detestation of anything that promised to lead to absorption by the United States. Sir George Cartier thought that absorption by the United States would mean that the Province of Quebec would lose its nationality, and that it would lead[199] to the creation of a state of things closely resembling that which exists in Louisiana to-day. Mr. Brown, although he was a staunch partisan of the United States in many ways, and although he had supported the North in the war to the uttermost, was equally devoted in maintaining British connection.

“Under the circumstances there was no step possible without the concurrence of these two men; nobody who knew anything as to the state of feeling in Ontario at the time but must know that I am strictly within the facts in saying that no project of confederation could have made any headway in Ontario without the active support of George Brown and of the Globe. No man I think will deny that things were very much in the same position in Quebec, and that without the active co-operation of Sir George Cartier very little headway could have been made in that direction. Both of these gentlemen were men of experience, men who had been engaged in politics for a long time, and both were thoroughly alarmed at the state of things then existing. The difficulty was to bring them together. . . . Fortunately amongst us there was at that time one man in particular who was eminently qualified to supply the element required. That man was the late Sir Alexander Galt, who, besides being a large-minded and brilliant man, was a natural born diplomat. Sir Alexander was fascinated by the project of confederation. He threw himself into it with all his energy and he succeeded in making a convert of Sir George Cartier. Mr. Brown was red-hot already; therefore I say without intending or wishing at all to detract from the work done by other able men in this connection, that to these three men, for good or evil, must be attributed the initiation of the project of confederation, and I repeat, and with knowledge, that at that time at any rate, without their concurrence, the confederation project would have been utterly impossible.”

Whether it was on account of his dislike for George Brown, for whom personally he had no love, or that he feared an alliance between the Upper Canadian Conservatives and Liberals, as Cartwright avers, or that he was alarmed over the results of a union between Brown’s followers and Cartier’s compact party, John A. Macdonald was not at the outset particularly enthusiastic over Brown’s overtures. We have seen that in the Constitutional Committee of 1864 Macdonald voted against the committee’s report, because he did not like the wording of it. What he was strongly opposed to was the coupling of the idea of a federal union of the two Canadas with the larger project of a confederation of all the British North American colonies, which he favoured in his speech of 1860. It was perhaps not to be expected that Macdonald would view with much favour Brown’s prominence in the movement. Neither, as I have said, was friendly to the other, and Macdonald, who was a great party[200] leader, could hardly be expected to commit himself hastily to anything that would add to his political rival’s prestige. Nor could he be expected to regard with much satisfaction the alliance between his colleague for many years, George-Étienne Cartier, and his own great political rival, George Brown. Macdonald was an exceedingly cautious statesman, and he had to be convinced that a movement was likely to be a practical success before he would enter heartily into it even though he might theoretically believe in it. But once he was persuaded that confederation was called for by the existing conditions and that there was a chance of it succeeding and resulting in great benefits not only to the colonies but to the whole empire, he took the lead in supporting it with all his conspicuous ability and energy. He undoubtedly deserves the utmost credit for insisting at the outset of the negotiations upon the greater scheme of a union of all the British North American colonies in preference to the project of a federal union of the two Canadas. Cartier, Galt and Brown were chiefly instrumental in inaugurating the movement which resulted in confederation, but in Macdonald they all found a pilot who carried the great measure safely through the shoals and rocks of the sea of opposition to the secure haven of success. To keep the divergent elements of the coalition Government together required all the tact, resource and ability of John A. Macdonald, who was the real though not the titular head of the Government during all the negotiations which culminated in confederation.

In the memorable negotiations which resulted in the entrance of Brown into the ministry and the formation of the coalition Cabinet Cartier, as the record shows, played a conspicuous part. He was present at nearly all of the conferences which were held during the fateful days of June, 1864, and was zealous in support of a movement which offered an honourable solution of the existing constitutional difficulties. Both Cartier and Brown, who had hitherto been sectional leaders endeavouring primarily to promote the interests of their respective provinces, were now, while still seeking to safeguard those interests, to rise to the height of great national statesmen, with a broader vision and more extended interests. Brown generously acknowledged the predominant part played by Cartier at this critical juncture. “Long and earnestly did we fight for the justice we demanded,” said Brown in his speech at the Halifax banquet to the Canadian delegates at the Charlottetown Conference, “but at last light broke in upon us. Parties were nearly equally balanced; the wheels of government had nearly ceased to move, a deadlock was almost inevitable, when Mr. Cartier, who wields great power in Lower Canada, boldly and manfully took the ground that this evil must be met and he would meet it. On this basis I and two political friends joined the administration and the existing coalition was formed, expressly for the[201] purpose of settling justly and permanently the constitutional relations between Upper and Lower Canada.”

Cartier was bitterly attacked by some of his compatriots for consenting to an alliance with George Brown, who was regarded in Lower Canada as the incarnate enemy of the French-Canadians and some of whose public deliverances went far to justify that opinion. But, under the circumstances, what other course was there open to Cartier? George Brown was at the time the dominating political force in Upper Canada as Cartier was in Lower Canada, and the future destinies of the country to a great extent were in the hands of those two masterful men. Cartier was perfectly justified in opposing Brown’s demand for representation according to population under the union machinery, as such a change would have been inimical to French-Canadian interests, of which Cartier was the recognised guardian. But when Cartier saw that Brown was ready to consider the project of a federation, to have repulsed Brown’s overtures and to have maintained an irreconcilable attitude would have been a suicidal policy both for Canada and for the French-Canadians. It was really providential that at this critical juncture these two masterful men with their divergent views and their different ideals were able to reach an understanding. Had Cartier sacrificed any of the interests of his compatriots he might have been held blameworthy. But not only did his alliance with George Brown not involve any sacrifice of his countrymen’s interests, but it resulted in safeguarding those interests, whilst at the same time permitting justice to be done to Upper Canada and a confederation of all the provinces to be established.

When the coalition ministry was formed, and it was decided to send a delegation to Charlottetown to confer with the Maritime Province delegates on the question of a larger union, Cartier was one of the delegates named to undertake that mission. At the Charlottetown Conference he united with Macdonald, Brown and the other Canadian delegates in ably advocating the advantages of a union of all the British North American colonies. The proceedings of the conference were with closed doors, but Cartier’s utterances at this time in the notable addresses he delivered at Charlottetown and Halifax clearly show that the scheme of confederation as it ultimately developed had already been fully elaborated in his mind, and that with statesmanlike prescience he foresaw the day when a united Canada would extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific, constituting a great sisterhood of provinces—a maritime as well as a land power. In an address which he delivered at a banquet tendered to the Canadian delegates at the close of the Charlottetown Conference the French-Canadian leader expressed the conviction that there would result from the negotiations a great confederation, which would redound to the benefit of all and the prejudice of none. “As to[202] the question of colonial union,” said Cartier on this occasion, “the convention having met with closed doors, I am not at liberty to say what took place, but I may be permitted to express my hope and confidence that there will result from our deliberations a great confederation which will be to the benefit of all and the disadvantage of none. The delegates met to consider if the provinces could not, by putting an end to their isolation, form a nation or a kingdom. Canada, however vast may be its territory, cannot alone form a nation; no more can the Maritime Provinces left to themselves be a kingdom. It is therefore necessary that the provinces should unite all their forces and all their resources to take rank among the most important countries of the world, by their commerce, their industry, public prosperity and national development.”

It was at a banquet tendered to the Canadian delegates at Halifax and presided over by Dr. Tupper (now Sir Charles Tupper) that George-Étienne Cartier made a notable address which showed that he had clearly seized the advantages offered by confederation, and that he foresaw the benefits that would result from the union of all the provinces.

“I must at once thank you for this imposing demonstration in honour of the Canadian delegates,” said Cartier, addressing the large and distinguished gathering. “We have just come from a conference which kept its deliberations up to a certain point secret. What cannot be ignored, however, is that we discussed this question—cannot we find the means of reuniting the great national units which constitute the British North American provinces, and to make of them a great nation, or shall we continue to be separate provinces, having, it is true, the same noble and gracious Sovereign, but divided politically? Everybody knows that this division necessarily implies a certain amount of weakness, and everybody must feel that if all the provinces have a general or common government, they will thus become a more important portion of the British Empire. As I have submitted it to you the question is of the highest importance. Did the delegates show presumption in discussing it? I do not think so; I believe that the conference was very opportune, and I think it was held at a favourable time. When we consider that Canada has a population of 3,000,000, Nova Scotia 350,000, New Brunswick nearly 300,000, and Prince Edward Island nearly 100,000, making a population of over 3,500,000, it is easy to see that we possess the first of those elements requisite to make a nation. If we next examine the territory occupied by these provinces, we will find another element required for the foundation of a great state.

“We have in Canada, it is true, the two principal elements of nationality—population and territory—but we also know what we lack. Great as is our population and our territory, there is wanting that other element absolutely necessary to make a powerful nation, the maritime[203] element. What nation has ever been powerful without the maritime element? It was long said that the sea was a barrier to the progress of a people. I know that they called the English ‘insular,’ but that did not prevent them becoming the first power of Europe. Austria is great in territory and population—I may say the same of Prussia and other countries—but these nations are restricted in their actions, because they have not the sea. Whilst in Canada we know that we have a large population, and that it has settled sufficient territory to merit an honourable rank beside many a European nation, we wish to acquire still greater importance, which can only be accomplished by your uniting with us. You must not forget on your part that though the Maritime Provinces are situated on the seacoast, they will never be more than a string of hills and a seacoast if they refuse to join us. We have for you too much friendship, too much consideration to permit of such a thing. We can form a vigorous confederation whilst leaving the provincial governments to regulate local affairs. There are no obstacles which human wisdom cannot overcome. All that is needed to triumph is a strong will and a noble ambition. When I think of the great nation we could constitute if all the provinces were organised under a single government, I seem to see arise a great Anglo-American power. The provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia represent the arms of the national body embracing the commerce of the Atlantic. No other will furnish a finer head to this giant body than Prince Edward Island, and Canada will be the trunk of this immense creation. The two Canadas extending far westward will bring into confederation a vast portion of the western territory.

“When we possess a federal government, one of the most important questions to settle will be that of the defence of the country. As we are, we have the wish and the determination to defend ourselves, if attacked, but can we defend ourselves with success? Look at each province in turn, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the two great Canadas. Can they defend themselves or aid Great Britain to defend them as long as they will be separated or disjointed? No. But if united? Their militia will furnish at least 200,000 men, and if we have the 60,000 marines which the two Canadas and the Maritime Provinces possess and the navy of Great Britain what nation would be foolish enough to attack us?

“Since my arrival in Halifax I have heard the objection made that you would be exposed to absorption in the union. It will be easy for me to dissipate your fears. I will reply by a question—have you not refused to be absorbed through commerce? Thanks to the Intercolonial Railway, Halifax will be benefited by that which now enriches Portland, Boston and New York. If you do not wish to do all in your power to aid us in[204] accomplishing a great work, you will force us to divert to the United States all the trade which should belong to you. Will the people of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia be in a better position if they drive away this trade—this source of boundless prosperity? It is manifest that when the Intercolonial will be built—and that must necessarily result with confederation—there must be almost daily steamers leaving for Liverpool and returning; in fact these two great cities will be in continuous communication. Besides large numbers of travellers will come to visit your seacoast cities.

“Let me also remove another prejudice which has taken possession of some, who believe that if confederation takes place the tie which binds us to Great Britain will be weakened. I believe it will be the contrary that will result. I represent the province whose people are monarchical, by religion, by customs, and by traditions of the past. Our wish in endeavouring to obtain a confederation of the provinces is not to weaken monarchical institutions, but to strengthen them, and to increase their influence. We believe that when confederation is accomplished, it will become a vice-royalty, governed, we have the right to hope, by a member of the Royal family.

“I believe that the situation is very well understood in Great Britain. Every one familiar with public opinion knows that the dominant question is that of defence. I may say at once that I detest the school of Bright, Cobden and Company. All this indifference to the colonies only exists amongst a certain number of politicians, but in any case it is incumbent upon us to remove all causes of complaint which this school may have against the colonial system. If we can organise our militia in such a manner as to convince Great Britain that in the event of difficulty we can aid her, believe me, that school will not last long.

“You need not be afraid of us because we come from Canada, and because that country exceeds yours in population and extent. Do not be afraid of us, do not reject our proposals, do not answer us with the words of the Latin poet, Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. The promises which we make you are sincere and loyal, and in asking union we wish your welfare as well as our own.”

The Fathers of Confederation—Quebec Conference


It was at the historic Quebec Conference that George-Étienne Cartier was called upon to play the most important rôle of his political career. There were assembled thirty-three of the most distinguished statesmen of British North America. Though the conference was presided over by a French-Canadian in the person of Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, and though Cartier in upholding the interests of Lower Canada had the able support of his two colleagues in the Government, Hector Louis Langevin, who was destined to be his successor, and Jean Charles Chapin, Cartier was really the master mind of the Lower Canada delegation. And what a[205] momentous responsibility rested upon his shoulders. It was for him to see that the interests of his compatriots were safeguarded, that their rights, institutions, nationality, in short everything they cherished most, should be secured under the proposed union. That Cartier played a most important part in the negotiations leading up to the Quebec Conference and in the conference itself is indisputable, though, strange to say, it is not apparent from the official minutes of the proceedings. It is regrettable that more exhaustive minutes were not kept of this historic conference. In the preface to the Confederation Papers the editor well remarks that the drafts of the minutes “are meagre,” and the record of the discussions “obviously deficient and in places fragmentary.” In carefully reading over the minutes I find that Cartier is mentioned but once as having taken part in the discussions of the conference, namely, in the report of the proceedings of Thursday, October 20th. During a discussion in regard to the constitutions of the new provinces George Brown expressed the view that the provincial machinery should be as simple and democratic as possible; and professed his preference for a single chamber elected every three years. At this point Cartier remarked: “I entirely differ with Mr. Brown. It introduces in our local legislatures republican institutions.” This at least is interesting as revealing Cartier’s preference in regard to provincial institutions, a preference which he further exhibited by eventually having two chambers instead of one for the province of Quebec. I also find Cartier mentioned as having presided in the absence of the chairman, Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, at the closing meeting of the delegates, which was held at the St. Lawrence Hall, Montreal, on Saturday, October 29th, when the final report of the Quebec Conference was adopted. The fact that these are the only two instances in which Cartier’s name is mentioned in the official minutes of the Quebec Conference clearly shows how defective the record is, and in addition we have the assurance of Sir Charles Tupper, the sole survivor of the historic conference, that Cartier was one of the leading spirits in that gathering and that he took a most active part in all the discussions, his legal and constitutional knowledge being of the utmost value. Undoubtedly many of the clauses of the British North American Act owe their form to him.

Cartier’s master-stroke in all the negotiations that eventually resulted in confederation was the securing of the federal form for the new constitution, instead of a legislative union, which would have meant the swamping of French-Canadian interests. From the very outset Cartier insisted that confederation should be established on the federal principle, and the triumph of that idea, which assured the success of confederation was due to him. John A. Macdonald, as well as other delegates, favoured a legislative union with a single government for the whole country.[206] Macdonald at a subsequent stage frankly acknowledged that he had favoured a legislative union. “Now as regards the comparative advantages of a legislative and federal union,” said the Upper Canadian leader, “I have never hesitated to state my own opinion. I have again and again stated in the House that, if practicable, I thought a legislative union would be preferable. I have always contended that if we could agree to have one government and one parliament, legislating for the whole of these peoples, it would be the best, the cheapest, the most vigorous and the strongest system of government we could adopt. But on looking at the subject in the conference, and discussing the matter as we did most unreservedly, and with a desire to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion, we found that such a system was impracticable. In the first place, it would not meet the assent of the people of Lower Canada because they felt that in their peculiar position, being in a minority, with a different language, nationality and religion from the majority, in case of a junction with the other provinces, their institutions and their laws might be assailed, and their ancestral associations, on which they prided themselves, attacked and prejudiced, it was found that any proposition which involved the absorption of the individuality of Lower Canada—if I may use the expression—would not be received with favour by her people. We found, too, that though their people speak the same language and enjoy the same system of law as the people of Upper Canada—a system founded on the common law of England—there was as great a disinclination on the part of the various Maritime Provinces to lose their individuality as separate political organisations as we observed in the case of Lower Canada herself. Therefore we were forced to the conclusion that we must either abandon the idea of union altogether or devise a system of union by which the separate provincial organisation would be in some degree preserved. So that those who were, like myself, in favour of a legislative union were obliged to modify their views and accept the project of a federal union as the only scheme practicable even for the Maritime Provinces.”

Macdonald’s declaration is clear and precise. That he and those like him who favoured a legislative union were obliged to modify their views and accept the project of a federal union was due in great measure to Cartier, who, by having the federal system adopted, prevented the absorption of the individuality of Lower Canada, to use Macdonald’s very apt expression. All attempts to remove questions involving the individuality of Lower Canada, such as the question of education, Cartier firmly opposed. To the federal government he was willing that all questions affecting the common material welfare of the provinces should be committed, but he insisted that all matters directly concerning Lower Canada should be left to its own legislature.


Cartier at this time, in the fiftieth year of his age, was in the full vigour of his prime and his legal and constitutional training and his long experience in public affairs eminently qualified him to accomplish the great task that had devolved upon him. The existing political situation could clearly not continue. The safeguarding of French-Canadian rights and interests consisted in the equality of representation that prevailed in the legislature, but with the continued increase of population in Upper Canada, increased representation to the latter would have had to be conceded and this would have meant the extinction of Lower Canada’s political influence. It would have been nothing short of what was desired by many, a legislative union under which the French-Canadian influence would have become a nullity. What was to be done in order to maintain Lower Canada’s individuality and preserve French-Canadian influence? Cartier clearly foresaw that the only salvation for Lower Canada under the circumstances was to obtain a federal union under which the interests common to the whole country would be left to a general government, whilst what the French-Canadians cherished most dearly would be under the control of their own legislature. He realised that Upper Canada’s demand for representation according to population, just in itself, though unsuited for application as a governing principle as between the two provinces, would not involve the same objection if other provinces were drawn in by a federation. Hence his strong support of confederation in a federal form, which, while permitting the establishment of a great North American commonwealth in which the French-Canadians could take their part, would at the same time safeguard the individuality of Lower Canada. To permit of the first object he was agreeable that there should be mutual concession, but he was as firm as adamant up to the very moment that confederation was achieved in insisting that there should be no compromise where the great interests of his compatriots were at stake. The making of Quebec the pivot in the apportionment of representation in the Federal parliament was another triumph of Cartier’s foresight, as the fixing of Quebec’s representation at a stationary figure assured the maintenance for all time of a uniform French-Canadian representation in the general parliament.

The labour and responsibility that devolved upon Cartier at the Quebec Conference were tremendous, and no doubt proved a severe strain upon his constitution, strong and robust though it was at this period. He had the satisfaction of seeing his efforts crowned with success, and the confederation measure as it came from the Quebec Conference bears the impress of his strong personality.

It was with a justifiable note of pride that at a great banquet given on October 28th by the citizens of Montreal to the delegates to the Quebec Conference, Cartier referred to the result of his labours at that[208] historic gathering. He also took advantage of the opportunity to justify his alliance with George Brown. “Without being indiscreet I would say at the outset,” he remarked, “what all the world knows, that I am now allied with Hon. George Brown, with whom I have been in a state of almost continual antagonism for nearly fifteen years. Up to the present in all great questions of public interest we have always been opposed to each other, always at war, he in the name of Upper Canada and myself in the name of Lower Canada. This war became interminable, without profit to anybody, when one day we tried to arrive at an understanding on this great project of confederation, to unite under one government the British North American provinces. In making an alliance with Mr. Brown I took the advice neither of my compatriots nor of my political friends. I here confess that in all the important acts of my political career I never consulted anybody.... I wish to say in speaking of my alliance with Mr. Brown, that he has faithfully kept his word under all circumstances since the formation of the coalition. What Mr. Brown thinks of me I ignore, besides I have a sufficiently good opinion of myself to concern myself very little with what is thought of my personality” (laughter). Referring to the project as decided upon at the Quebec Conference, Cartier dwelt on the importance of the provision that matters of common interest should be committed to the general government, and subjects of local concern to the local legislatures. He emphasised that what was desired was that justice should be done to all interests. “If we present to the legislatures of the provinces and the Imperial Government,” he said, “a project carrying with it the creation of a general government, it will be our duty equally to protect all races and to safeguard the interests of each of them. If we succeed we will have done much. I am told that in Lower Canada there exists a strong opposition to this project because the English-speaking population will find itself at the mercy of the French population. Why, I answer, should the English born in Lower Canada yield to such arguments? Let them reflect that if the French have a majority in the provincial government they will in their turn be in a large minority in the federal government. The French population in confiding their interests to a federal government give proof of confidence in our English fellow countrymen. Is it too much to ask the English that they should rely on the liberality and the spirit of justice of the French race in the local government? To whom will be committed the most important interests for the two populations of Lower Canada? Will it be to the federal or the local government? For my part I am ready to openly admit to-day that the prosperity of the two Canadas is principally due to the spirit of enterprise of the English race. But why should they oppose the establishment of a provincial government where[209] the French-Canadians will be represented in accordance with their numbers? In any case I do not hesitate to proclaim that I will never suffer, as long as I am a minister of the Crown, an injustice being done under the constitution or otherwise, to my countrymen whether English or Catholics. I will never permit that my compatriots, the French-Canadians, shall be unjustly treated, because they belong to a different race and religion from the people of Upper Canada.

“In reply to the objections raised by the extreme French-Canadian party, and the annexationist or American party,” added Cartier, “I will say that if the present movement succeeds there will be a central government, whose attributions will embrace all general interests, and local governments to which will be committed provincial affairs and properties. Under the new system Lower Canada will have its local government and almost as much legislative power as formerly.

“I desire to say that I am of the opinion,” concluded the Lower Canadian leader, “that this confederation could not be realised if it should tend to destroy or even to weaken the bond which attaches us to Great Britain. I am for confederation because I believe that the establishment of a general government will give even greater force to that tie, which is dear to us all.”

Thus did Cartier justify his support of the great scheme of confederation. But his course was not to be all clear sailing. The mutterings of a storm which had been brewing in his native province could clearly be heard and its thunder was soon to resound through the chambers of parliament and the counties of Lower Canada.




George-Étienne Cartier’s justification for the course he followed in the confederation movement is to be found in the speech he made in favour of the measure during the discussion of the project in the legislature of United Canada. Parliament reassembled at Quebec on January 19th, 1865, and within a few weeks after the opening the momentous question came before the members for consideration. On February 3rd the report of the Quebec Conference embodying the resolutions adopted at that historic gathering was submitted in the Legislative Council by the Prime Minister, Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, who moved “that a humble address be presented to Her Majesty praying that she may be graciously pleased to cause a measure to be submitted to the Imperial parliament for the purpose of uniting the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island in one government, with provisions based on the resolutions which were adopted at a conference of delegates from the said colonies at the city of Quebec on the 10th of October, 1864.” On February 6th, John A. Macdonald, as leader of the Government in the Assembly, presented a similar motion in the Lower House, and the great debate—the most memorable ever heard in a Canadian parliament—was begun.

Let us glance at the personnel of that historic chamber from which was to emerge after a long and animated discussion the fabric of a new nation. The Prime Minister of United Canada, Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, who, though not a great political force, was universally respected for his high character and his sterling patriotism, and who will forever be remembered as chairman of the Quebec Conference and head of the coalition Government which effected confederation, was a member of the Upper House, and the task of piloting the epoch-making measure through the representative chamber fell to John A. Macdonald. That great statesman, who had just attained the fiftieth year of his age, was in the full vigour of his physical and intellectual powers, and brought to the accomplishment of the supreme task before him a long and varied[211] parliamentary experience, great personal gifts, a deep knowledge of human nature, and a positive genius for the management of men. Whatever else may be said of John A. Macdonald, he must, as has been truly observed, go down in history as the greatest master of parliamentary management in a day when that commodity was scarce in Canada. Though Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché was the titular head of the coalition Government, Macdonald was the real leader, and it was due in great measure to his incomparable qualities of leadership, his indomitable courage, and his supreme faith in the future of Canada that the confederation cause eventually triumphed. Supporting Macdonald in the ministerial seats as members of the Coalition Government sat George-Étienne Cartier, the illustrious French-Canadian leader, Alexander Tilloch Galt, distinguished both as a financier and statesman, George Brown, the great Upper Canada Reform leader, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the eminent Irish-Canadian patriot and orator, Alexander Campbell, accomplished jurist and statesman, William McDougall, distinguished both as a journalist and politician, and second only to George Brown as a force in Upper Canadian politics, Oliver Mowat, already noted for his keen intellect and destined to fill the highest offices in the state, Hector Langevin, who had been Cartier’s colleague at Quebec and upon whose shoulders that great leader’s mantle was eventually to fall, Jean Charles Chapais, also Cartier’s able colleague, and James Cockburn, distinguished for his legal skill and ability. On the Government side of the House were many men who were already conspicuous, or who were subsequently to attain distinction in public life, such as Charles Alleyn, John Henry Cameron, John Carling, Richard John Cartwright, Joseph Cauchon, Charles de Boucherville, Thomas Ferguson, de Lotbinière Harwood, Alexander Morris, John Henry Pope, John Rose, John J. Ross, Walter Shanley, and Alonzo Wright. The former opposition was split into the followers of George Brown, who supported him in the course he had taken in entering the coalition Government, and the irreconcilables who condemned Brown’s course and opposed the confederation project in toto. Prominent among the Liberals who supported Brown were Alexander Mackenzie, member for Lambton and destined to be the first Liberal Prime Minister of the Dominion, Hope F. Mackenzie, and William Pearce Howland, who was subsequently to replace Brown in the coalition Cabinet. Liberals like John Sandfield Macdonald and D. A. Macdonald were numbered with the opposition. Of the sixty-five members representing Quebec in the House, the vast majority were arrayed in solid phalanx behind George-Étienne Cartier, but the minority, which included such men as Antoine Aimé Dorion, his brother, J. B. E. Dorion, L’Enfant Terrible, Henri Gustave Joly, Louis Labrèche-Viger, Maurice Laframboise and J. X. Perrault, was not to be despised. Leading[212] English-speaking representatives from Quebec, such as Luther Hamilton Holton, Christopher Dunkin, Lucius Seth Huntingdon and James O’Halloran, joined forces with the French-Canadian opponents of confederation. The minority, though small in numbers, included men of conspicuous ability and of marked debating power, and it was in the face of opposition from such men that Cartier had to justify his support of confederation.

It was at the session of Tuesday, February 7th, the day after John A. Macdonald as leader of the Government had delivered a masterly speech in explanation of the project, that from his seat in parliament George-Étienne Cartier justified his course and replied to the criticism of which he had been made the object. It is a noteworthy fact that of the two hundred members composing the legislature of United Canada at that time, but one survived to witness the centenary anniversary of Cartier’s birth in 1914. Charles-Eugène Boucher de Boucherville, then a man of forty-three years of age, sat in this historic assembly as member for Chambly, and he recalls Cartier’s speech as a powerful appeal for union which made a deep impression upon the members.[109] Though he was not a great speaker and never made any pretensions to oratory, the momentous character of the measure and the solemnity of the occasion appear to have given a certain eloquence to Cartier’s remarks on this historic occasion. He had carefully prepared himself, and, speaking for over three hours in French with remarkable vigour, he traversed the whole[213] ground of discussion, ably defending the measure as submitted to parliament and replying to the numerous attacks that had been made upon it and upon him personally. This speech is one of the most notable deliverances of Cartier’s whole public career, for on this occasion he appeared as a great nation builder, as one who while safeguarding the interests of his compatriots was helping to lay broad and deep the foundations of a mighty national structure. It has been well remarked that “of all the orations which adorned or concealed the statesmanship of these days, two are worthy of being singled out for special mention, those of the two men (Macdonald and Cartier), one British and the other French, whose patient co-operation and parliamentary skill had brought their country to the great event, and who together were to give the formal justification to confederation by making it a practical working instrument of government, and that for Cartier the event was notable as it marked the union which still allowed his fellow countrymen all their privileges, and the note of his speech was ‘unity in difference.’”[110] The note struck by both Macdonald and Cartier placed the great question on the plane to which it rightly belonged, as the most momentous in Canadian history.

Both from the supreme character of the project and from its own merits, Cartier’s speech on confederation must rank as of first importance amongst his numerous public discourses and be remembered as long as the Dominion lasts. There are, it is true, few if any lofty flights of oratory in Cartier’s Confederation speech. It differs in this respect from the deliverances of several of the other illustrious advocates of the project. Cartier’s address was a cool, calm, unadorned presentation of a great subject. He approached the question, as he approached nearly all questions, from the practical side. Confederation to him had become a practical necessity for the colonies, in order to add to their strength and to assure the perpetuation of British power on the North American continent. That was the principal argument which Cartier advanced in justification of a measure which he maintained would not only permit the establishment of a powerful nation, under a strong central government, but also the safeguarding of special interests, under a system of provincial legislatures. It was the practical benefits of confederation that appealed most to Cartier, and it was upon those that he most strongly insisted. But the speech not only displayed practical qualities, but also the vision of a great statesman. Cartier, in fact, foretold the rise of a united Canada, in which men of all races and of all creeds should work together on a plane of perfect equality for the aggrandisement of their common country, where justice and equity should be guiding principles, where all minorities should be protected, and where[214] a strong and self-reliant national spirit should be developed. Confederation he justified on the ground that while it was opposed by extremists it had the support of all moderate men and was best suited to meet the exigencies of the time, as well as the necessities of the future.

“While this is not the first time that I have dealt with this question, having already had occasion to discuss it in the Maritime Provinces and elsewhere, still it is with a certain hesitation that I approach it,” were the openings words of George-Étienne Cartier’s contribution to the historic debate. “I feel in this critical moment,” added the French-Canadian leader, “that I shall be responsible to my constituents and to my country for all that I shall say on a subject of such great importance. It is pretended that the Taché-Macdonald Government undertook the solution of a problem of which the public was ignorant, and which had not even been mooted when that Government was formed. Those who make that assertion are ignorant of the parliamentary history of the past few years. In a few words this is how this great question has already occupied the attention of Parliament and of the country. On August 7th, 1858, the Cartier-Macdonald ministry, which succeeded the Brown-Dorion ministry, presented to parliament a political programme, and one of the articles of that programme was as follows:

“‘The expediency of a federal union of the British North American provinces will be anxiously considered and communications with the Home Government and the Lower provinces entered into forthwith on this subject. The result of these communications will be submitted to parliament at its next session.

“As will be seen, the question of a union of the provinces was proposed in the programme of the Cartier-Macdonald Government in 1858. I have quoted this passage to show that neither parliament nor the country is to-day taken by surprise. [Hear, hear.] We have had general and special elections since 1858, and to pretend that the proposal of a union of which there has so often been a question is new is to assert an untruth. At the close of the session Sir Edmund Head, in his speech proroguing parliament, made use of the following words: ‘I propose in the course of the recess to communicate with Her Majesty’s Government and with the Governments of the sister colonies on a matter of very great importance. I am desirous of inviting them to discuss with us the principles on which a bond of a federal character uniting the provinces of British North America may perhaps hereafter be practicable.’

“In accordance with the programme of 1858 a deputation composed of Hon. Mr. Galt, Hon. Mr. Ross and myself went to England. We submitted the question to the Imperial Government and asked from it authorisation to call a meeting of delegates from the different Governments[215] of British North America to confer on this subject and to make a report which would be communicated to the Colonial Secretary. Naturally we desired to act with the sanction and approbation of the Imperial Government. Of all the Maritime Provinces, Newfoundland, I believe, was the only one which declared itself ready to name delegates. The others were not opposed to confederation, but they did not consider it their duty to take part in the negotiations which the Canadian delegates undertook in 1858 with the Imperial Government, their reason being that the project had as yet not been generally considered by their people. At this period the Canadian delegates requested the Governor, Sir Edmund Head, to fulfil the promise which he had made in proroguing parliament. [Hear, hear.] The Canadian Government reported the result of the mission to England at the ensuing session of parliament. [Cartier here read the historic despatch dated October 23rd, 1858, proposing confederation, which was transmitted to the Imperial Government, this document setting forth the sectional difficulties which had arisen between Upper and Lower Canada, principally on account of Upper Canada’s demand for increased representation in parliament.] I was opposed to that increase and I do not regret it. If it had been granted, what would have been the result? A perpetual political conflict between Upper and Lower Canada, as one section would have been governed by the other. I am accused of having been hostile to the rights of Upper Canada because during fifteen or twenty years, I fought my honourable friend the President of the Council (George Brown), who demanded with insistence that representation should be based on the population in each section of the united provinces. I opposed it because of the danger of a conflict between the two sections. I do not wish to say that the majority of Upper Canada would have certainly tyrannised over Lower Canada, but simply the idea of Upper Canada obtaining an overwhelming preponderance in the government would have sufficed to arouse animosity.

“In 1858 I saw that the principle of representation according to population, while not suitable for United Canada, would not involve the same objections if several provinces were included in confederation. In a struggle between two parties, one weak and the other strong, the weaker must be overcome. But if there are three parties the stronger will not have the same advantage, as it will be to the interest of the two others to combine in resisting it. [Applause.] I do not oppose the supporters of representation according to population with the intention of refusing justice to Upper Canada, but simply to prevent Lower Canada from suffering injustice. I do not fear that the rights of Lower Canada will in any way be placed in peril by the project of confederation, even though in a general legislature the French-Canadians will have a smaller number of representatives than all other nationalities combined.


“The resolutions show that in the questions which will be submitted to the Federal parliament, there will be no danger to the rights and privileges of the French-Canadians any more than to those of the Scotch, English or Irish. Thus questions of commerce, inter-provincial communication and all other matters of general interest will be discussed and determined by the general legislature, but in the exercise of the functions of the general government there is no reason to fear that anything will be enacted harmful to the interests of any particular nationality.

“I do not intend to enter into the details of the confederation project. I simply desire now to expose the principal reasons which should induce members to approve of the resolutions proposed by the Government. Confederation is, so to speak, a necessity for us at this time. It is impossible to close our eyes to what is going on on the other side of the line. We see that there a government established not more than eighty years ago has not been able to keep united the family of states which shares that vast country. We cannot hide from ourselves that the result of this terrible struggle, the progress of which we all follow with such anxiety, must affect our political existence. We do not know what the result will be—whether this great war will end by the establishment of two confederations or by the re-establishment of that which has already existed.

“It is for us to act so that five colonies inhabited by people whose interests and sympathies are the same shall form a great nation. The way is for all to unite under a general government. The question reduces itself to this—we must either have a confederation of British North America or be absorbed by the American Union. [Hear, hear.] Some are of the opinion that it is not necessary to form such a confederation to prevent our absorption by the neighbouring republic, but they are mistaken. We know that England is determined to aid us, to support us in any possible struggle against our neighbours. The English provinces, separated as they are at present, cannot alone defend themselves. We have duties to fulfil towards England; if we desire to obtain her support for our defence, we must help ourselves, which we cannot very well do without a confederation. When we are united the enemy will know that if he attacks any province, either Prince Edward Island or Canada, he will have to deal with the combined forces of the Empire. Canada, remaining separate from the others, would be in a dangerous position if war was declared. When we have organised a system of defence, suitable for our mutual protection, England will not fail us in case of need, either in soldiers or in money. In territory, population and riches, Canada excels any of the other provinces, but it lacks an element essential to its national greatness—the maritime element. The trade of[217] Canada is now so considerable that it is absolutely necessary to have means of communication with England at all seasons of the year. Twenty years ago the summer season was sufficient for the movement of our commerce, but now it is insufficient, and for our communication with the outside world during the winter we are at the mercy of our neighbours, through whose territory we are obliged to pass. In the situation in which we are at present a war with the United States would deprive us of our winter port.

“Canada possesses two elements which constitute a great country, an extensive territory and a rapidly increasing population, but it lacks the maritime element which the Lower provinces in joining it will supply to the general advantage. They are mistaken who pretend that the British North American provinces are not more exposed, separated as they are, than they would be united in a confederation. The time has arrived for them to form a great nation, and I maintain that, as far as we are concerned, confederation has become necessary to our commerce, our prosperity, and our protection. Is the confederation of the British North American provinces necessary to increase our power and to maintain the ties which attach us to the mother country? As far as I am concerned I do not doubt it. Those persons of British origin who are opposed to this project seem to believe that the English element will be absorbed by the French-Canadian element, while its opponents amongst the French-Canadians declare that it may have as a result the extinction of the French-Canadian element. The annexationist party of Montreal, including the partisans of John Dougall of the Witness, oppose confederation on the ground that they see in it a danger to the English of Lower Canada. Their desire is to throw Canada into the American Union. The absorption of Canada by the American Union has long been contemplated, as will be seen by Article 7 of the original draft of the American Constitution, which I ask permission to read.

“‘Art. 7. Canada, according to this confederation and joining in the measures of the United States, shall be admitted into and entitled to all the advantages of this union, and shall be equally with any other of the United States solemnly bound to a strict observance of and obedience to these articles, as shall also any other colony which shall be admitted into this confederacy. The seven votes in Congress shall be increased in proportion as the confederacy is extended, but except Canada, no other colony shall be admitted into the confederacy without the assent of eleven or more votes, as the case may require by the confederation being extended.’

“By that article no other colony could go into the Union except by the vote of the number of states required to admit a new partner. But as regards Canada it was exempt from that condition; all it needed was[218] the wish to form part of the Union. [Hear, hear.] The newspapers lately contained a report of a meeting of the Institut canadien de Montréal at which it was resolved that it was to the interest of Lower Canada, to the interest of the French-Canadians, that the province should be incorporated in the American Union.”

A. A. Dorion (interrupting): “That is not the case.”

George-Étienne Cartier: “If there was no resolution at least sentiments to that effect were expressed. Then L’Ordre, the organ of the Institut, declared that the interests of Lower Canada would be better safeguarded by annexation to the United States than by confederation of the provinces. But it is not surprising that the French-Canadian annexationists betray their purpose in opposing confederation, and that their English-speaking allies profess a fear for their rights if it takes place. They know that once this project is adopted, no one will want to form part of the American Union. [Hear, hear.]

“There has been much fault found with the fact that the deliberations of the delegates were secret, but that was absolutely necessary. Every one will understand that if all the differences that arose between the delegates during the conference had been divulged to the public every morning it would have been impossible for them to continue the discussion and to decide by compromise all the complicated questions that were presented. The deliberations of the American Congress in 1782 were with closed doors and the results were not published until after the close of the negotiations. In support of what I claim, I ask leave to quote a letter of Col. Mason, a member of the convention:

“‘All communications of the proceedings were forbidden during the sitting of this convention; this, I think, was a necessary precaution, to prevent misrepresentations or mistakes, there being a material difference between the appearance of a subject in its first crude and undigested shape and after it shall have been properly matured and arranged.’

“That is why the Quebec Conference sat with closed doors. [Hear, hear.] The Government is of the opinion that confederation is necessary, but it is ready to hear the honourable members on the other side, who apparently intend to oppose it. I am aware that members of this House and a number of people in Upper Canada and the Maritime Provinces believe that a legislative union would be more advantageous than a confederation. As far as I am concerned, I believe that a single government could not properly deal with the private and local interests of the various sections or the various provinces. [Hear, hear.] No other system is practicable but a federal system.

“It is pretended that it will be impossible to carry out confederation on account of differences of race and of religion. Those who hold that[219] opinion are in error. It is precisely on account of the difference in races and local interests that the federal system should be established and that it will work well. [Hear, hear.] We have often read in the newspapers—and there are public men who hold likewise—that it is a great evil to have such different races, such distinctions between French-Canadians and English-speaking Canadians. I desire in this connection to vindicate the rights and the merits of the French race in Canada. [Hear, hear.] It will suffice to recall the efforts which the French-Canadians made to uphold British power on this continent, and to show their attachment for the British Crown in a time of trial. We all know how difficulties arose between England and her American colonies in 1775. Lower Canada—or rather I should say the Province of Quebec, for the colony was not then known by the name of Canada, but was called the Province of Quebec—contained the most numerous, the most united population of any North American colony at that time, for which reason Lower Canada was naturally coveted by the other American colonies, and great efforts were made by those who had decided upon overthrowing British power upon the American continent to induce Canada to espouse the so-called cause of liberty. General Washington addressed a proclamation to the French-Canadians, urging them to abandon the flag of their new masters, inasmuch as they could not expect anything from them in language, in religion or in racial sympathies. What was then the conduct of the French-Canadians? What was the attitude of the clergy and the seigneurs? It is well to recall this chapter of our history so that justice may be done to whom justice is due. The French-Canadians refused to respond to an appeal which had for its object the complete overthrow of the monarchical system in America. [Hear, hear.] Only a few years had elapsed since France had ceded the country to England, but in the brief interval the French-Canadians had learned to appreciate their new situation, though they still had reason to struggle and to complain. The people realised that it would be better for them to live under the crown of Protestant England than to become republican. [Hear, hear.] But that is not all. When the Americans invaded the country, the French-Canadians fought the forces of Arnold, of Montgomery and of the other rebel leaders.

“It is attempted to create opposition to confederation by pretending that with a system of provincial legislatures the Protestant minority of Lower Canada will be ill treated. But from the fact that the English Protestants, when they were only a few hundred, never had any cause of complaint against the French-Canadians, it is reasonable to presume that the French-Canadians will not attempt to tyrannise over them, now that they are far more numerous.

“I wish to cite here a passage of Washington’s proclamation, which[220] was circulated throughout the country by the invading American army under Arnold:

“‘We rejoice,’ said General Washington, in that proclamation addressed to the French-Canadians, with the object of having them unite with the other colonies, ‘we rejoice that our enemies have been deceived with regard to you. They have persuaded themselves—they have even dared to say—that the Canadians were not capable of distinguishing between the blessings of liberty and the wretchedness of slavery; that gratifying the vanity of a little circle of nobility would blind the people of Canada. By such artifices they hoped to bend you to their views, but they have been deceived.... Come, then, my brethren, unite with us in an indissoluble union. Let us run together to the same goal.... Incited by these motives, and encouraged by the advice of many friends of liberty among you, the grand American Congress have sent an army into your province, under the command of Gen. Schuyler, not to plunder, but to protect you—to animate and bring into action those sentiments of freedom you have disclosed and which the tools of despotism would extinguish throughout the whole creation. To co-operate in this design and to frustrate those cruel and perfidious schemes which would deluge our frontiers with the blood of women and children, I have sent Col. Arnold into your country with a part of the army under my command. I have enjoined upon him and I am certain that he will consider himself and act as in a country of his patrons and best friends. Necessaries and accommodations of every kind which you may furnish he will thankfully receive and render the full value. I invite you, therefore, as friends and brethren, to provide him with such supplies as your country affords, and I pledge myself, not only for your safety and security, but for an ample compensation. Let no man desert his habitation—let no one flee, as before an enemy. The cause of America and of Liberty is the cause of every virtuous American citizen, whatever may be his religion or his descent. The United Colonies know no distinction but such as slavery, corruption and arbitrary dominion may create. Come, then, ye generous citizens, range yourselves under the standard of general liberty, against which all the forces of artifice and tyranny will never be able to prevail.’

“We thus see what promises, what seductive offers were made by the republican general to the French-Canadians. But they were made in vain. Their history discloses other instances of a similar character. In 1778, Baron D’Estaing, commander of the French fleet which was acting in aid of the American revolutionary party, issued the following proclamation to the French-Canadians:

“‘I shall not ask the military companions of the Marquis de Lévis, those who shared his glory, who admired his talents and genius for war, who loved his cordiality and frankness—the principal characteristics of our nobility—whether there be other names in other nations amongst which they would be better pleased to place their own. Can the Canadians who saw the brave Montcalm fall in their defence—can they become the enemies of his nephews? Can they fight against their former leaders, and arm themselves against their kinsmen? At the bare mention of their names the weapons would fall from their hands. I shall not observe to the priests of the altars that their evangelistic efforts will require the special protection of Providence to prevent faith being diminished by example, by worldly interest and by sovereigns whom force has imposed upon them, and whose political indulgence will be lessened proportionately as those sovereigns shall have less to fear. I shall not observe that it is necessary for religion that those who preach it should form a body in the state, and that in Canada no other body would be more considered and have more power to do good than that of the priests taking a part in the government, since their respectable conduct has merited the confidence of the people. I shall not represent to that people, nor to all my countrymen in general, that a vast monarchy, having the same religion, the same manners, the same language where they find kinsmen, old friends and brethren must be an inexhaustible source of commerce and wealth, more easily acquired and better secured by their union with powerful neighbours than with[221] strangers of another hemisphere, among whom everything is different, and who, jealous and despotic sovereigns, would sooner or later treat them as conquered people, and doubtless much worse than their late countrymen, the Americans who made them victorious. I shall not urge on a whole people that to join with the United States is to secure their own happiness, since a whole people, when they acquire the rights of thinking and acting for themselves, must know what are their own interests. But, I will declare, and I now formally declare in the name of His Majesty who has authorised and commanded me to do so, that all his former subjects in North America who shall no more acknowledge the supremacy of Great Britain may depend upon his protection and support.’

Cartier in a Speaking Attitude


“D’Estaing, as you will see, recalled their ancestry; he invoked the names of Lévis and Montcalm, he even tried to influence the clergy. It was all labour lost. The French-Canadians realised their situation too well. They understood that they would preserve intact their institutions, their language and their religion by adhesion to the British Crown. But if they had accepted the offers of Washington it is probable that there would not have existed to-day a vestige of British power on this Continent, and that the French-Canadians would also have seen their nationality disappear. [Hear, hear.]

“These historical facts teach us that French-Canadians and English-speaking Canadians should have for each other a mutual sympathy, having both reason to congratulate themselves that Canada is still a British colony. [Hear, hear.] Just now I had occasion to mention the French-Canadian clergy in connection with the proclamation of Baron D’Estaing. Well, I will say to their honour, that if Canada is still a portion of the British empire, it is due to the conservative policy of the French-Canadian clergy. [Applause.]

“It is gratifying to me to be able to find in these old documents proofs of the honour, the loyalty and fidelity of the French-Canadian people. I am as devoid of prejudices as any member of this House, but when I read or hear said that there is reason to fear, under a federal system, that the French-Canadians will be too powerful, that their predominance in Lower Canada will be used to the prejudice of the English Protestant minority, I believe that a reference to our past history will suffice to put an end to such allegations. [Hear, hear.]

“It was in 1778 that Baron D’Estaing issued his proclamation. It was circulated in Canada through the instigation of Rochambeau and Lafayette, but those who were then the leaders of our people—the clergy and the seigneurs—judged that it would be imprudent to place their interests and their fate in the hands of the democratic element. They knew that in the democracy lay the abyss. [Hear, hear.] To-day we are discussing the confederation of the British North American provinces when the great confederation of the United States is broken up and divided against itself. But there is a marked difference in the conduct of the two people. The Americans united with the object of perpetuating[222] democracy on this continent; we, who have had the advantage of seeing republicanism in operation for a period of eighty years, of perceiving its faults and its vices, have been convinced that purely democratic institutions cannot assure the peace and prosperity of nations, and that we must unite under a federation so formed as to perpetuate the monarchical element. The difference between our neighbours and ourselves is essential. The preservation of the monarchical principle will be the great feature of our confederation, whilst on the other side of the line the dominant power is the will of the masses, of the populace. Those amongst us who have conversed with public men and writers of the United States can testify that they all admit that the government became powerless owing to the introduction of universal suffrage, in other words, that mob rule supplanted a more legitimate authority. At this moment we are witnesses of the sad spectacle of a country torn by civil war, and brethren fighting against brethren.

“The question to ask ourselves is this: Shall we live apart, will we be content to preserve a mere provincial existence when united we may become a great nation? No union of small communities ever was able to hope to reach national greatness with such facility as we are. In past centuries warriors have struggled for long years to give to their country a strip of territory. In our own days Napoleon III, after an enormous expense of treasure and blood in the war with Italy, acquired Savoy and Nice, which added about a million people to France. If any one were to calculate the value of these acquisitions compared with what they cost, he would be struck with the disproportion and convinced that the territory acquired had perhaps been secured too dearly.

“In British North America we are five different groups inhabiting five separate provinces. We have the same commercial interests and the same desire to live under the British Crown. Why should New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland retain their several customs tariffs against our trade, and why should we maintain similar duties to their disadvantage? In ancient times the manner in which nations developed was not the same as it is to-day. Then a weak settlement developed into a village, the village into a town or a city, which in turn became the nucleus of a nation. This is not the case in modern times. Nations now are formed by the joining together of various people having similar interests and sympathies. Such is our position at the present time. Objection is made to our project, because of the words ‘a new nationality.’ But if we unite we will form a political nationality independent of the national origin and religion of individuals. Some have regretted that we have a distinction of races, and have expressed the hope that, in time, this diversity will disappear. The idea of a fusion of all races is utopian; it is an impossibility. Distinctions of this character[223] will always exist; diversity is the order of the physical, moral, and political world. As to the objection that we cannot form a great nation because Lower Canada is French and Catholic, Upper Canada English and Protestant, and the Maritime Provinces mixed, it is futile. Take for example the United Kingdom, inhabited as it is by three great races. [Hear, hear.] Has the diversity of races been an obstacle to the progress and the welfare of Great Britain? Have not the three races united by their combined qualities, their energy and their courage, contributed to the glory of the empire, to its laws so wise, to its success on land, on sea and in commerce? In our confederation there will be Catholics and Protestants, English, French, Irish and Scotch, and each by its efforts and success will add to the prosperity of the Dominion, to the glory of the new confederation. We are of different races, not to quarrel, but to work together for the common welfare. [Applause.] We cannot by law make the differences of race disappear, but I am convinced that the Anglo-Canadians and the French-Canadians will appreciate the advantages of their position. Set side by side, like a great family, their contact will produce a happy spirit of emulation. The diversity of races will in fact, believe me, contribute to the common prosperity. The whole difficulty will be in the manner of rendering justice to minorities. In Upper Canada the Roman Catholics will be in the minority, in Lower Canada it will be the Protestants who will be in the minority, whilst in the Maritime Provinces the two communions will equalise each other. Is it possible then to suppose that the general government or the provincial governments can become guilty of arbitrary acts? What would be the result, even supposing that one of the provincial governments should attempt it? Measures of such a character would undoubtedly be repudiated by the mass of the people. There is no reason then to fear that it will ever be sought to deprive a minority of its rights. Under the federal system, which leaves to the central government the control of questions of general interest, to which differences of races are foreign, the rights of race and of religion cannot be invaded. We will have a general parliament to deal with questions of defence, tariff, excise, public works and all matters affecting individual interest. I will therefore ask those defenders of nationality who have accused me of bartering fifty-eight counties of Lower Canada with my colleague who sits near me (George Brown), how can injustice be done to the French-Canadians by the general government? [Hear, hear.]

“I now come to the question of provincial governments. In view of the difficulties which the country experienced in the days of Mr. Papineau, owing to certain laws regarding commercial matters, I can easily understand the fears which the project of confederation has inspired amongst some of the English of Lower Canada. The difficulties were[224] great, and Mr. Papineau, who was not well versed in commercial affairs, did not comprehend the importance of such laws. I believe that Mr. Papineau was right in fighting against the oligarchy then in power, but I never approved of the attitude he assumed in regard to commercial affairs, nor of his opposition to measures calculated to favour the progress of the country. This fact, however, cannot now serve as a basis for such an objection, as commercial matters will be under the jurisdiction of the general government. There can exist no ground for fearing that the minority will suffer by the adoption of laws affecting the rights of property. But in such a case arising the proposed constitution will contain a remedy.

“The magnitude of the present project is perhaps a reason why those who have not examined it carefully feel some apprehension, but when we discuss it clause by clause, I will be prepared to maintain and to show that no interest would be jeopardised by confederation if it were adopted. One striking thing is the strange manner in which the extreme parties have joined together and are working in concert to oppose the project. [Laughter.] For instance, the party which composed what was called Mr. Papineau’s tail (the extreme democratic party) has joined with the tail of John Dougall of the Montreal Witness. [Loud laughter and applause.]

J. X. Perrault (member for Richelieu), interrupting: “And also the clergy, who are opposed to the project.” [Hear, hear.]

George-Étienne Cartier: “The honourable member is greatly mistaken. The clergy approve it. But the honourable member may have the floor after me, if he so desires. The project meets with the approval of all moderate men. The extremists, the socialists, the democrats, and the annexationists are alone in opposing it. Its opponents amongst the French-Canadians pretend to fear that their religious rights will suffer under the new constitution. It is certainly an edifying spectacle to see the celebrated Institut Canadien of Montreal, whose leader is Citizen Blanchet, taking religion under its protection. [Laughter.] Mr. Dougall, on the other hand, loudly proclaims that the English Protestant minority will be at the mercy of the French-Canadians. It seems to me that the fears expressed by the young members of the French-Canadian democratic party regarding the dangers which threaten their religion and their nationality ought to calm Mr. Dougall’s fears. The True Witness, a Catholic journal, which also opposes the project, is of the opinion that if it is adopted the French-Canadians will be annihilated, whilst its confrère in violence, the Protestant Witness, assures us that it will be the Protestants who will suffer. [Hear, hear, and laughter.] We see that at a recent meeting in Montreal Mr. Cherrier enrolled himself amongst the opponents of confederation. As far as I am concerned, I have never[225] heard it said that Mr. Cherrier was a public man of great power. However, it seems that he has come out of his retreat to fight this monstrous project intended to destroy the nationality and the religion of the French-Canadians, and proposed ‘by that Cartier, whom may the Almighty confound.’ [Loud laughter and applause.] Allusion has been made to the attitude of the clergy. Well, I say that it is favourable to confederation. [Hear, hear.] Those of the clergy who are high in authority, as well as those in humbler positions, have declared for confederation, not only because they see in it all possible security for the institutions which they cherish, but also because their Protestant fellow-countrymen, like themselves, are also guaranteed in their rights. The clergy in general are opposed to all political dissension, and if they are favourable to the project, it is because they see in confederation a solution to the difficulties which have so long existed. The alliance of those who under ordinary circumstances are so opposed to each other, such as the True Witness, Mr. Dougall of the Witness, and the young members of the Institut Canadien, to oppose the new constitution, constitutes one of the strongest arguments in favour of confederation. [Hear, hear.] We have for us all moderate men, all respectable and intelligent men. [Cries of hear, hear, and oh, oh.] I certainly do not mean to say that we have not respectable opponents. But I maintain that the new constitution meets with the practically unanimous approval of wise, honourable and intelligent men.

“I am opposed to the democratic system which prevails in the United States. In this country we must have a distinct form of government in which the monarchical spirit will be found. When we have confederation, our government, you may be sure, will be more imposing and command more respect. [Hear, hear.] The great defect in the United States constitution is the absence of some personification of that executive authority which imposes respect upon all. How is the head of the United States government chosen? Candidates come forward, and immediately they are each vilified and abused by the opposite parties. One of them triumphs, he occupies the presidential chair, but even then he is not respected by those who opposed his election, and who tried to make him pass for the least worthy, the most despicable man in the world. Under the British system, on the contrary, the ministers may be belittled, even insulted, but the insults never touch the sovereign. Whether we have for our supreme head a king or a viceroy, and whatever name may be given to our new politico-social organisation, we have the certainty of acquiring, as the result of confederation, a new prestige which will redound still further to our credit abroad.

“As far as I am concerned, my most ardent desire is to see this House adopt the principle of confederation. As my honourable colleague, the[226] Attorney-General (West), John A. Macdonald, observed, if we lose this favourable opportunity, who knows that it will ever occur again? We know that the approbation of the Imperial Government is assured. If, therefore, Canada adopts these resolutions, as I have no doubt it will, and if the other British North American colonies follow its example, the Imperial Government will then be called upon to accord us a central government established on a broad and solid basis, and provincial governments under whose protection will be placed the persons, the properties, and the civil and religious rights of all classes of society.”

Cartier, who had held the close attention of the whole House throughout the address, resumed his seat amidst loud applause, his faithful followers from Lower Canada enthusiastically cheering their great leader, who in a calm, practical and logical manner, that appealed to the reason as well as to the patriotism of his hearers, had pronounced one of the most notable speeches of his long public career, a striking appeal for a United Canada in which both French-speaking and English-speaking people could co-operate for the common welfare.




Cartier’s powerful speech on behalf of confederation was followed by equally notable addresses by Galt, Brown and McGee. Hardly had the echoes of these memorable discourses died away when strong opposition to the project made itself manifest. The first discordant note was struck by Luther Hamilton Holton, member for Chateauguay, a man who personally was universally respected for his high character and his sterling qualities. A Canadian by birth, prominent in the mercantile life of Montreal for many years, Holton was a man of advanced Liberal views. Like many other prominent business men of the period, he had supported the annexation movement of 1849, had subsequently become one of the founders of the Rouge party, and was first returned to parliament, in 1854, as a representative of the city of Montreal. His business ability and his wide knowledge of commercial affairs made him an able critic on financial and trade questions, and he soon attained a conspicuous standing in the Liberal ranks. He had been Commissioner of Public Works in the short-lived Brown-Dorion administration, and subsequently Finance Minister in the Sandfield Macdonald-Dorion Government. Having been defeated in Montreal, he was elected in Chateauguay, which he was destined to represent for a long period. Holton stood forth as one of the strongest opponents of the confederation movement. There was no ambiguity about his attitude, which was dictated by honest convictions. Though theoretically believing in the federal principle of government, he considered that the time was not ripe for such a scheme as the confederation of the British North American colonies, and he was altogether opposed to Brown’s course in pledging the support of the Liberal party to the project. For these reasons he consistently and persistently offered the strongest opposition to the measure from the outset. Thomas D’Arcy McGee’s eloquent periods were still ringing in the ears of the members at the session of Thursday, February 9th, and John A. Macdonald had moved the adjournment of the debate until the following Thursday, when Holton rose and faced an expectant house. The eloquent speeches of the great confederation advocates, Macdonald, Cartier,[228] Galt, Brown and McGee, had apparently made little impression upon the somewhat stern and rugged Liberal. Nor did he spare the previous speakers. Macdonald, he bluntly declared, had in his speech given the lie to twenty years of his political life. His reference to Cartier was mildly sarcastic. No Attorney-General since attorney-generals were first invented, remarked Holton, could have delivered on such an occasion the speech which Cartier had delivered. To Galt, Brown and McGee he was hardly more complimentary. He was not afraid, Holton declared, that the speeches which had been heard in favour of confederation should go to the country unanswered. “The country will see that these honourable gentlemen have utterly failed to establish a cause for revolution,” added Holton. “They are proposing revolution, and it is incumbent upon them to establish a necessity for revolution. All revolutions are unjustifiable except on the ground of necessity. These honourable gentlemen were therefore bound to establish this necessity. The country will see, too, that they have failed to explain, to vindicate and to justify the disregard of parliamentary law and of parliamentary usage by which they are attempting to extort from this House an assent not merely to the principle of union—which would be perfectly proper—but to all the clumsy contrivances adopted by that self-constituted junta which sat in Quebec a few weeks since, for giving effect to that union, and to all those huxtering arrangements by which the representatives of the Lower provinces were induced to give their adhesion, and so far as they could the adhesion of their provinces, to this scheme.”

Other objections raised by Holton were based on the proposed construction of the Intercolonial, which he maintained would involve the country in enormous expense, and the question of defence, in which he held there would be a similar danger.

“I say, then, let these speeches go to the country,” dramatically exclaimed Holton in conclusion. “If the country,” he added, “by perusing them is not awakened to the danger which threatens it from the adoption of this crude, immature, ill-considered scheme of the honourable gentlemen—a scheme which threatens to plunge the country into measureless debt, into difficulties and convulsions utterly unknown to the present constitutional system, imperfect as that system confessedly is—if the country is not awakened to a sense of its dangers by a perusal of these speeches, I do not say I will despair of my country, for I will never despair of my country, but I anticipate for my country a period of calamity, a period of tribulation, such as it has never heretofore known.”

Holton’s doleful prognostications, which showed that despite his many admirable qualities he lacked the lofty vision of a great statesman, had little effect upon the assembled legislators. Macdonald’s motion for an adjournment of the debate was agreed to and the speeches, as Holton[229] had desired, went to the country unanswered. Holton’s declaration was, however, the signal for drawing closer together the ranks of the opposition, and when the debate was resumed it was Cartier’s most formidable opponent who claimed the attention of the House.

The leader of the Quebec opposition and Cartier’s great antagonist in the Confederation movement was Antoine Aimé Dorion, whose name has frequently appeared in these pages. Dorion was at this time in his forty-seventh year, three years younger than Cartier, and had had a notable career in public life, though the greater portion of it had been spent in opposition. Born in the parish of St.-Anne-de-la-Perade, in the County of Champlain, in 1818, Dorion was called to the Bar of Lower Canada in 1842, and soon attained eminence in his chosen profession, being elected on three successive occasions bâtonnier for the district of Montreal. He was first returned to parliament for the city of Montreal at the general elections of 1854, and continued to sit as one of the members for that city until 1861, when he was defeated by Cartier. After an interval of a few months he was elected for Hochelaga, which he represented at the time the confederation project was under discussion. From the time that he entered the House Dorion took a prominent part in the debates, and was soon recognised as the leader of the Quebec Rouges, or advanced Liberals. He had joined George Brown in the formation of the Brown-Dorion Government, in which he held the portfolio of Attorney-General for Quebec, the office that Cartier had filled in the preceding administration. As the Brown-Dorion Government lasted only a few days, Dorion had little chance to show what he could do in office. In the Sandfield Macdonald-Sicotte administration he was Provincial Secretary for a few months, but resigned on a difference of opinion over the Intercolonial Railway, to the construction of which he was persistently opposed. When the Macdonald-Sicotte Government was reconstructed, he again entered the ministry, replacing Sicotte, and the Government became known as the Macdonald-Dorion administration. Dorion continued in office until the defeat of the Government on March 21st, 1864, when he again went into opposition.

Dorion’s advanced Liberal views and his alliance with George Brown, who was regarded as hostile to the French-Canadians, proved a heavy handicap to the Rouge leader in Lower Canada. It was bad enough to be known as a Rouge, but to be placarded as the chief of the Rouges and as the ally of George Brown would have been fatal to any one who aspired to leadership in Lower Canada. The radical views of the Rouge leader naturally alienated the sympathy and support of the Roman Catholic bishops and clergy, and what was his loss in this respect was Cartier’s gain. Personally Dorion was in every respect a foeman worthy of Cartier’s steel. Conspicuous ability, courtly manners and the nicest[230] sense of honour were joined in him to the highest moral character. As a speaker he excelled in perfection of form and diction, and it has been rightly declared of him that as a fluent speaker of both languages he had no superior in the parliament of Canada. Dorion’s mind was essentially judicial, and though graceful and fluent in his language he lacked that fire and imagination which are essential to the making of a great popular tribune. More polished and diplomatic than Cartier, what Dorion lacked was Cartier’s political courage, optimism, and dogged tenacity of purpose, which recognised no insurmountable obstacles to the accomplishment of a great design. His high personal qualities well entitle him to the tribute paid his memory by another great Canadian, as one of the noblest, purest and greatest characters that Canada has produced.[111]

Dorion, it must be remembered, was not opposed to the principle of confederation, but he believed that the union of all the British American colonies at this time was premature. Though he had favoured as a remedy for the existing difficulties the substitution for the legislative union of the two provinces a confederation of Upper and Lower Canada by means of which all local questions would be consigned to the decision of local legislatures, with a central government having control of questions of common or general interest, he declined to follow Brown’s lead towards the realisation of a greater confederation, and when the latter scheme was proposed he stood forth as the leading Quebec opponent of confederation against Cartier. The course of events has condemned Dorion and justified Cartier. But Dorion must in justice be given credit for the sincerity of his views, which, though in the main mistaken, were not all illusory.

I deem it essential at this stage to fairly review the arguments of Dorion and the other leading Quebec opponents of confederation, both as a matter of justice, and because these arguments reflected a considerable body of thought in the Province of Quebec which rendered the task that Cartier had assumed in securing the support of his province to confederation all the more formidable. It was on the resumption of the debate at the session of Thursday, February 16th, that Dorion made his arraignment of the confederation project before the legislature of United Canada. He spoke forcibly after careful preparation and covered the whole ground, presenting the views of the Quebec opposition in detail. At the outset he condemned the substitution of an upper chamber, nominated by the Crown, for an elective Legislative Council, on the ground that it would restrict the influence and control of the people over the legislature of the country, and he also declared against pledging the credit and resources of the country for the construction of the Intercolonial[231] Railway, a project to which he had been consistently opposed. Referring to the constitutional difficulties, he recalled that in 1856 he had suggested in parliament that one means of remedying the difficulties would be to substitute for a legislative union a confederation of the two Canadas. He believed that, considering the different religious faiths, the different language, and the different laws that prevailed in the two sections of Canada, the best way to meet the difficulty would be to leave to a general government questions of trade, currency, banking, public works of a general character, etc., and to commit to the jurisdiction of local legislatures all matters of a local nature. When the Brown-Dorion Government was formed, he had, he said, again made the proposal for a confederation of the two provinces. He would not, however, he declared, have attempted to carry any such measure through without obtaining a majority from Lower Canada, without ascertaining that the people in his section of the country were in favour of such a change. He held to those views. He believed that a federal union of the two Canadas might hereafter extend to embrace other territories, east or west, that such a system was well adapted to admit of territorial expansion without any disturbance of the federal economy. But this did not mean, Dorion added, that he had ever been in favour of confederation with the other British provinces. On the contrary, he had always set his face against that idea, believing that such a confederation could only bring trouble and embarrassment, that there was no racial, no commercial connection between the provinces proposed to be united, nothing to justify their union at this juncture. He would not say that he should be opposed to their confederation for all time to come. Population might extend over the wilderness that lay between the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and commercial intercourse might increase sufficiently to render confederation desirable.

The confederation he had advocated, Dorion declared, was a real confederation, giving the largest powers to the local governments, and merely a delegated authority to the general government; his scheme in that respect, he maintained, differed in toto from the one proposed, which gave all the powers to the central government and reserved for the local government the smallest possible amount of freedom of action. In Dorion’s mind the Grand Trunk Railway authorities were at the bottom of the whole scheme of confederation. The Grand Trunk had, he declared, suggested it as the surest means of bringing with it the construction of the Intercolonial. The scheme, he added, was not called for by any considerable portion of the people, it was not laid before the House as one which was demanded by any great number of people, it was not brought down in response to any urgent public call. It was simply in his view a device of men who were in difficulties for the purpose of getting[232] out of them. The project, he further maintained, was the most conservative measure ever laid before parliament, and he especially objected to a nominative upper house, which he declared had been imposed upon the delegates at the Quebec Conference by the Maritime Provinces. The method adopted in this case, he maintained, was simply to assure a Conservative preponderance, and he contended that, taking the average time each member of the upper house would be in that body to be fifteen to twenty years, it would take a century before its complexion could be changed. So far as this generation and the next were concerned, the Legislative Council or Senate, he declared, would be controlled by the influence of the Conservatives. Taking three per cent. as the average number of deaths per annum, it would take nearly thirty years, he estimated, to bring about a change in the character of the majority of the upper house, even supposing all the additions made to it to be from the Liberal ranks. The result, Dorion claimed, would be that the upper chamber would be enabled, under the constitution, to stop all measures of reform, such as were desired by the Liberal party. He claimed that these provisions had been inserted to please the Lower provinces, and the government had pledged that the scheme would be carried without amendment. If the two Canadas were alone concerned, Dorion said, the proposal for the upper chamber would have no chance of being carried, as it was not long since that the House by an overwhelming majority had voted for the substitution of an elective for a nominated upper chamber. Dorion foretold that a conflict would inevitably arise between the two houses. The upper house, he pointed out, was to be a perfectly independent body, the members being named for life. How long, he asked, would the system work without producing a collision between the two branches of the legislature? Suppose the lower house became chiefly Liberal, how long would it submit to the upper house named by Conservative administrations, which had taken advantage of their temporary numerical strength? As to the scheme in general, Dorion declared it to be absurd from beginning to end. “The instincts of honourable gentlemen opposite,” remarked the Rouge leader, “whether you take the Honourable Attorney-General, East (Cartier), or the Honourable Attorney-General, West (John A. Macdonald), lead them to this—they think the hands of the Crown should be strengthened and the influence of the people, if possible, diminished, and this constitution is a specimen of their handiwork. With a Governor-General appointed by the Crown, with local Governors also appointed by the Crown, with Legislative Councillors in the general legislature and in all the provinces nominated by the Crown, we shall have the most illiberal constitution ever heard of in any country where constitutional government prevails.”

Dorion ridiculed the argument that a confederation was necessary for[233] the purpose of providing a better mode of defence. Whilst he believed they were bound to do everything they could to protect the country, they were not bound to ruin themselves in anticipation of a supposed invasion, which they could not repel, even with the assistance of England. The battles of Canada, Dorion declared, could not be fought on the frontier but on the high seas and at the great cities on the Atlantic Coast, and it would be nothing but folly for them to cripple themselves by spending fifteen to twenty million dollars a year to raise an army of fifty thousand men for the purpose of resisting an invasion of the country. The best thing that Canada could do, he said, was to keep quiet, and to give no cause for war. If war did come between England and the States, even if from no fault of Canada, they would cast their lot with England and help her to fight the battle, but in the meantime it was no use whatever to raise or to keep up anything like a standing army.

John A. Macdonald, at this point of Dorion’s speech, interjected the rather interesting question: “Will my honourable friend let me ask him how we can assist England in a war on the high seas unless we have a naval force?” to which Dorion’s reply was: “The honourable member for Peterboro stated the other day, and correctly I believe, that the place for our militia was behind the fortifications of our fortified places, where they would count for something and be of some use. No doubt of this.”

Another most objectionable feature of the scheme proposed, Dorion contended, was the one which gave the general government control over all the acts of the local legislature. The fact that the general government would exercise the veto power over the acts of the local house would, he maintained, be a source of danger. The financial burdens of the two Canadas, he also argued, would be largely increased to benefit the Maritime Provinces. Not only so, but the scheme proposed a union not only with Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, but also with British Columbia and Vancouver Island, and he understood that there were despatches to hand stating that resolutions had been adopted in the Legislature of British Columbia asking for admission into the proposed confederation at once. To him it seemed like a burlesque to speak as a means of defence of a scheme of confederation to unite the whole country extending from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, thousands of miles intervening without any communication except through the United States or around Cape Horn.

Cartier: “There is an interoceanic railway to be built.”

Dorion: “Yes, I suppose that is another necessity of confederation to which we may soon look forward, some western extension of this Grand Trunk scheme for the benefit of Watkin & Company, of the New Hudson Bay Company.”

It was evident from what had transpired, Dorion added, that it was[234] intended eventually to form a legislative union of all the provinces. The local governments in addition to the general government would be found so burdensome that a majority of the people would appeal to the Imperial Government for the formation of a legislative union. He warned his hearers that the people of Lower Canada would never stand for a legislative union. “Perhaps the people of Upper Canada,” remarked Dorion, “think a legislative union a most desirable thing. I can tell those gentlemen that the people of Lower Canada are attached to their institutions in a manner that defies any attempt to change them in that way. They will not change their religious institutions, their laws and their language for any consideration whatever. A million of inhabitants may seem a small affair to the mind of a philosopher who sits down to write out a constitution. He may think that it would be better that there should be but one religion, one language and one system of laws, and he goes to work to frame institutions that will bring all to that desirable state. But I can tell the honourable gentlemen that the history of every country goes to show that not even by the power of the sword can such changes be accomplished. . . . I know that there is an apprehension amongst the British population in Lower Canada that even with the small power that the local government will possess their rights will not be respected. How then can it be expected that the French population can anticipate any more favourable result from the general government when it is to possess such enormous powers over the destinies of their section of the country? Experience shows that majorities are always aggressive and it cannot well be otherwise in this instance.”

Dorion professed to see in the whole confederation scheme nothing but another railway project for the benefit of a few people. He also condemned the Intercolonial Railway feature of the measure, declaring that to go into the construction of this railway without knowing what it was to cost or over what particular route it was to be built, was something not to be thought of by any prudent man. But the whole scheme, apart from the construction of the Intercolonial, was, he declared, worse than the railway scheme itself and ought to be more strongly opposed. Independent of various other considerations, the mere question of its expense ought to cause it to be rejected by the representatives of the people. Dorion also contended that the local constitutions were as much an essential part of the whole scheme as the general constitution, and that they both should have been laid at the same time before the House. The people of the country, Dorion further contended, did not understand the scheme, and the sense of the people upon it should be obtained. “I will simply content myself with saying,” concluded Dorion, “that for the reasons which I have so imperfectly exposed I strongly fear it would be a dark day for Canada when she adopted such a scheme as this. It would[235] be one marked in the history of this country as having had a most depressing and crushing influence on the energies of the people in both Upper and Lower Canada, for I consider it one of the worse schemes that could be brought under the consideration of the House, and if it should be adopted without the sanction of the people the country would never cease to regret it.”

How strange these closing words of Dorion’s anti-confederation speech sound to-day. Yet at the time they were uttered they did not appear so singular; on the contrary, they found an echo in many minds, as there was much misgiving as to the future, and it was only men of broad vision like George-Étienne Cartier who foresaw the great future that confederation would assure. Dorion was not alone in his fears as to the effects of the project upon the destinies of the people of Lower Canada. That confederation was effected at all at the time was due, as has been well said, to the self-sacrifice and statesmanship of a few great men. There was not even in Ontario or Quebec any popular enthusiasm over the project, while the feeling in the Maritime Provinces was at first decidedly hostile. Dorion, therefore, no doubt sincerely felt that he had justification for his opposition.

The Quebec Rouge leader had able supporters among members of his own party. Henri Gustave Joly, member for Lotbinière, who followed Dorion in criticism of the measure, strongly expressed his want of confidence in all confederations, condemning them for their instability and their tendency to cause intestine wars and commotions. He thought that the proposed confederation, instead of being a means of union, would be a means of disunion and dissension. “When the different provinces,” remarked Joly, “shall meet in the federal parliament as a field of battle, when they have there contracted the habit of contending with each other, to cause their own interests, so various and so incompatible with each other, to prevail, and when from repetition of this undying strife jealousy and inevitable hatred shall have resulted, our sentiments towards the other provinces will no longer be the same, and should any great danger in which our safety would depend upon our united condition arise, it would then perhaps be found that our federal union had been the signal for our disunion.” But it was because he believed that the proposed confederation would be fatal to French-Canadian nationality that Joly objected most strongly to the project. He openly charged Cartier with treason to his compatriots, and with having sacrificed French-Canadian nationality. “I asked of myself with all seriousness,” exclaimed Joly in conclusion, “where then are the aspirations of the French-Canadians? I have always imagined, indeed I still imagine, that they all centre in one point, the maintenance of their nationality as a shield destined for the protection of the institutions they hold most dear. For a whole century[236] this has ever been the aim of the French-Canadians. In the long years of adversity they have never for a moment lost sight of it. Surmounting all obstacles, they have advanced step by step towards its attainment, and what progress have they not made? What is their position to-day? They number nearly a million, they have no longer, if they are true to themselves, to fear the fate of Louisiana, which had not as many inhabitants when it was sold by Napoleon to the United States as Canada had in 1790. A people numbering a million does not vanish easily, especially when they are the owners of the soil. Their number is rapidly increasing, new townships are being opened in every direction and being peopled with industrious settlers. . . . We possess all the elements of a nationality. But a few months ago we were steadily advancing towards prosperity, satisfied with the present, and confident in the future of the French-Canadian people. Suddenly discouragement, which had never overcome us in our adversity, takes possession of us; our aspirations are now only empty dreams, the labours of the century must be wasted, we must give up our nationality, adopt a new one, greater and nobler we are told, than our own, but then it will no longer be our own. And why? Because it is our inevitable fate against which it is of no use to struggle. But have we not already struggled against destiny when we were more feeble than we are now, and have we not triumphed? Let us not give to the world the sad spectacle of a people voluntarily resigning its nationality. Nor do we intend to do so.

“In conclusion,” declared Joly, “I object to the proposed confederation first as a Canadian, without reference to origin, and secondly as a French-Canadian. From either point of view I look upon the measure as a fatal error, and as a French-Canadian I once more appeal to my fellow countrymen, reminding them of the precious inheritance confided to their keeping—an inheritance sanctified by the blood of their fathers and which it is their duty to hand down to their children as unimpaired as they received it.”

Such were the baneful effects which Joly believed confederation would have on the destinies of the French-Canadians. The note struck by Dorion and Joly was taken up by other representatives from Lower Canada, J. B. E. Dorion, of Drummond and Arthabaska, a brother of the Rouge leader, a forceful and eloquent speaker, “l’enfant terrible” of the hustings, Felix Geoffrion, of Verchères, Maurice Laframboise, of Bagot, and J. X. Perrault, of Richelieu. It was maintained by the various speakers that the holding of the Quebec Conference had never been authorised by the people, that the conference had no right to arrogate to itself the power of making a radical change in the political constitution of the country, that the methods pursued by the conference were reprehensible, that the Maritime Provinces, having the larger number of votes,[237] were able to exact the most concessions, and that the greater number of the compromises made were in their favour. The confederation scheme, it was further argued, was not in reality a federal union but a legislative union in disguise, that all strength and power were concentrated in the federal government, whilst weakness, insignificance and in fact annihilation would be the lot of the local governments. The opponents of confederation also professed to see in the measure a scheme which instead of removing the existing difficulties would multiply them. Moreover, it was maintained that the proposed constitution was faulty in many respects, that it took away from the people rights which they had enjoyed, amongst others that of electing their representatives to the upper chamber. Other arguments against the measure were that the local legislatures would have but a semblance of power and authority, that grave difficulties would inevitably arise in relation to the concurrent powers conferred in regard to several points on the general and local governments, that the provincial Governors would be only tools in the hands of the general government, that by the right of veto, vested in the Governors, local legislation would be a farce, that the proposed financial arrangements were defective, that there was no necessity or use for confederation from the commercial point of view, that instead of increasing the strength of the country to defend itself, confederation would prove to be a source of danger and of weakness, and that the existing parliament had no power to change the constitution of the country, as it was proposed to do, without obtaining the sanction of the people. Objection was further taken to the measure because it provided for the construction of the Intercolonial Railway, and because it proposed to guarantee the fulfilment of all engagements entered into with the Imperial Government by the various provinces up to the time of confederation, on the subject of the defence of the country. But it was with regard to the anticipated effects on the future of Lower Canada and the French-Canadian people that the Lower Canadian opponents of the measure were most outspoken. It was maintained by them that the project menaced the autonomy of Lower Canada and placed it at the mercy of a parliament composed largely of English-speaking members, that confederation would be a deadly blow to French-Canadian nationality and eventually result in the loss of their language, their institutions, and their laws, which had been safeguarded at the expense of so much toil and sacrifice. “I say that the people of Lower Canada are alarmed at the scheme of confederation, and the unknown changes which are on foot,” exclaimed J. B. E. Dorion, in the course of a long address. French-Canadians, he declared, would risk everything that was dear to them, even their nationality, whilst they could gain nothing by the change.

Cartier himself was not spared by the opponents of the measure. He[238] was charged with having sacrificed the interests of his compatriots, with having surrendered to George Brown, who was pictured as the inveterate foe of the French-Canadians, and with favouring confederation for the sake of personal honour and emolument. Joly was not alone in bitterly denouncing the Quebec leader. Laframboise, after expatiating on the dangers which he foresaw for the French-Canadians, concluded with a vehement attack upon Cartier. “The Attorney-General for Lower Canada,” exclaimed Laframboise, “will receive his reward and be made a baronet, if he can succeed in carrying his measure of confederation, a measure which England so ardently desires. For my part, I do not envy him his reward, but I cannot witness with satisfaction the efforts he makes to obtain it by means of a measure of confederation which I believe to be fatal to the interests of Lower Canada.”

The position that the French-Canadians would occupy in the parliamentary arena under confederation was a subject that engaged the attention of some of the opponents of the measure. J. X. Perrault of Richelieu, in an exhaustive speech covering the whole constitutional history of Lower Canada, maintained that under confederation the French-Canadians, being in a great minority in the general parliament, would have to carry on a constant contest for the defence and preservation of their political rights and liberties. The French-Canadian representatives, being comparatively so small a percentage of the members of the general parliament, would, he maintained, have to act together like one man to maintain their influence, and that would cause the English element to unite on its side to crush and vanquish it. “It is because I fear such a strife,” exclaimed the member for Richelieu, “that I cannot approve of a constitution which does not secure our political rights and the working of which will necessarily entail disastrous consequences to our race.”

Of those who constituted Cartier’s following in the legislature, one alone deemed it his duty to differ from his leader on this momentous question. Henri E. Taschereau of Beauce, elected as a supporter of the Government, declared that he felt himself bound to abandon on this question those with whom he had always acted because he was not convinced that the proposed constitution embraced guarantees sufficient to protect the rights of the French-Canadians. He believed that if the people were asked for their opinion they would be more decidedly opposed to confederation than they ever were to any measure. In voting to change the constitution of the government without consulting the people on the subject the members, he maintained, were exceeding their powers. One of the clauses which Taschereau most strongly objected to was that providing for the establishment of a federal Court of Appeals. Confederation he believed was but a first step to a legislative union, in fact he[239] was convinced, he said, that it would be converted into a legislative union within a few years. “I cannot say,” concluded the member for Beauce, “that our posterity will be grateful to us for having opened the way for them to become members of the great empire of the Provinces of British North America. I shall say, on the contrary, what will be soon found out, that this confederation is the ruin of our nationality in Lower Canada—that on the day when confederation is voted a death blow will have been dealt to our nationality, which was beginning to take root on the soil of British North America.”

Whilst the opposition members for Lower Canada were denouncing confederation in parliament its opponents had not been idle in that section of the country. Following the lead of Dorion, who came out with a strong manifesto against the project, the anti-confederates in Lower Canada waged an active campaign both on the platform and in the press against the projected union. Public meetings were held in many of the counties at which the project was denounced and an appeal to the people demanded. Petitions were circulated and numerously signed, protesting against the adoption of the measure before the people’s wishes were consulted. In the press an active campaign was waged. L’Union Nationale, under the direction of Médéric Lanctôt, of Montreal, was especially violent in its attacks both upon the project and upon Cartier personally. Lanctôt had the assistance of a group of able contributors, including such well-known men as L. A. Jetté, by whom Cartier was subsequently defeated in Montreal East, D. Girouard, H. F. Rainville, J. X. Perrault, J. M. Loranger, and L. O. David. It was maintained that confederation was simply the realisation of the long sought for end to place Lower Canada under the domination and influence of an English majority; that the federal government being supreme and having practical control over the provincial governments, confederation was simply a legislative union in disguise; that the number of Quebec representatives in the federal parliament being stationary, the province would be at the mercy of a majority which would continually increase in the federal parliament, and which would finish by overwhelming the French-Canadian representatives; that the French language, submerged in a parliament three-quarters of whose members would not understand it, would finally disappear; that the English members, divided on certain questions, would always unite when a national or religious conflict arose; and that the influence of the other provinces would in time be such as to be fatal to Lower Canada. In a public address Charles Laberge, one of the ablest and most respected members of the Rouge party, declared, as the sum and substance of the opposition to the measure, that the effect of the new régime including other provinces would be to give Lower Canada three or four enemies instead of one. What the opponents of the project most[240] persistently demanded was an appeal to the people, their contention being that to effect a political revolution without such an appeal was utterly unjustifiable. Though the anti-confederates were in a minority, they kept up an active and energetic campaign throughout Lower Canada during the fall of 1864 and the winter of 1865. Cartier was the favourite target of their attacks. He was represented on the hustings, in the press, and in the political cartoons of the time as sacrificing his province and destroying French-Canadian nationality by bringing Lower Canada into confederation. One of the opposition cartoons pictured him as selling the counties of Lower Canada in lots by auction. The determined opposition to the measure was in fact such as might have deterred a weaker man from proceeding further with the scheme. But Cartier was not the man to quail before any opposition, however formidable; in fact opposition only served to arouse his spirit and to make him more determined than ever to pursue his course to the end. He had set his hand to the plough and there was to be no turning back.




Despite the determined opposition offered to the confederation measure in Lower Canada, Cartier, having fully set before parliament his reasons for supporting the project, awaited the course of events with his accustomed confidence. It has been well said of him that of all the great leaders of the confederation movement he was the most optimistic. No opposition or no reverses could daunt him or turn him aside from the course he had determined on following to the end.

During the progress of the memorable discussion Cartier addressed the House a number of times, his remarks being devoted principally either to explaining provisions of the measure or to answering attacks made upon it. Some misgivings were expressed by the representatives of the English minority in Quebec that under confederation the interests of that minority might be jeopardised. It was made clear by Cartier that not only was it his desire that the rights of his compatriots should be safeguarded, but that the English minority of Quebec should suffer no injustice. In this connection he gave the most positive proof of his high sense of equity. Replying to Col. Haultain, member for Peterboro, who had expressed fears as to the future status of the English minority in Lower Canada, Cartier showed that the fears expressed were largely chimerical. “The Protestant minority of Lower Canada,” said the French-Canadian leader, “have always lived in harmony, not only with the Catholics, but with the Catholic clergy of Lower Canada. And I may say also on behalf of the Protestants of Lower Canada—the majority of them at all events—that they are so convinced that there is true liberality in the hierarchy, in the Catholic clergy of Lower Canada as well as in the great majority of the Roman Catholics of Lower Canada, that they have no such fears as the honourable gentleman entertains.

“I can say this,” added Cartier in answer to an interjection, “I have seen a considerable amount of political life, and during all that time I have always stood by the cause of the Catholic hierarchy of Lower Canada when it was attacked, but at the same time I have always stood up on behalf of the right of the Protestant minority, and it has been my lot always to have the confidence of that body.”


An expression by Col. Haultain that he was convinced that Cartier would oppose anything like an oppression of the Protestant population of Lower Canada, and that he would faithfully carry out the assurances he had given with reference to the amendments to the Education Act, guaranteeing the educational right of the minority, drew a pointed retort from the Lower Canadian statesman. “I may say that my fulfilment of those pledges will be easily performed, because it has never entered the minds of the Catholic clergy in Lower Canada, or of the majority of the Catholics of Lower Canada, to oppress their fellow subjects the Protestants.”

Even more emphatic was the declaration Cartier made in answer to some remarks by Wm. H. Webb, member for Richmond and Wolfe. The French-Canadian leader remarked that he was aware that great efforts had been made by those opposed to confederation to create apprehension and distrust in the minds of the Protestant minority of Lower Canada. “But,” Cartier added, “I now reiterate what I have already stated in this House, as a Catholic and as a member of the Canadian Government, that when the measure for the settlement of the local government of Lower Canada comes before this House for discussion it will be such as to satisfy the Protestant minority in Lower Canada.” That Cartier was true to this pledge subsequent events will show. That he was justified in his defence of the liberality and tolerance of his compatriots and that the representatives of the English minority of Quebec had the most perfect confidence in him, was shown by the striking tribute paid both to the French-Canadians and to Cartier personally during the course of the discussion by one of the leading representatives of the English-speaking minority of Lower Canada. “I am fully persuaded,” said Hon. John Rose, “that in the past conduct of the majority in Lower Canada there is nothing which will cause the minority to look with doubt upon the future, for I will do my honourable friend (Cartier) the justice of saying that in the whole course of his public life there has not been a single act on his part either of executive, administrative, or legislative action tinged with illiberality, intolerance, or bigotry. I say this to express my belief that in the future wherever he has control there will be no appearance of bigotry and illiberality, and I feel that the confidence I repose in him in this respect is shared in by many others in this House and throughout the country.” Few public men have had a finer tribute paid to them.

It is of interest now to learn, from Cartier’s remarks during the discussion on confederation, what he considered would be the position of the French-Canadian representation in the federal parliament of the future. The French-Canadian leader of that time had apparently no fears that the fact that the Quebec representatives would be in a decided[243] minority in the federal parliament would prevent them from having their legitimate share of influence. He frankly stated that his remedy in case of unreasonable opposition to the French-Canadians having their share of influence would be to break up the Government by retiring.

In reply to an interjection by John Sandfield Macdonald that he would be in a minority in the federal government, Cartier retorted: “Am I not in a minority at present in appointing judges? And yet when I propose the appointment of a judge for Lower Canada is he not appointed? Did the honourable member for Cornwall (John Sandfield Macdonald) when he was in the Government ever attempt to interfere with the appointments recommended by the honourable member for Hochelaga (Dorion)? And now when a chief justice or a puisne judge is to be appointed for Lower Canada I find myself surrounded by colleagues a majority of whom are English and Protestants, but do they presume to interfere with my recommendation? No, no more than we Lower Canadians interfere with the recommendations of my honourable friend the Attorney-General from Upper Canada in making appointments to office in Upper Canada. There will be in the federal government a leader for Lower Canada, and do you think that the other ministers will presume to interfere and intermeddle with his recommendations? But I am told that I am in a minority. So I am now, so I have been for eight years.”

A Member: “You have equality between the two provinces.”

Cartier: “Yes, we have equality, but not as a race, nor in respect of religion. When a leader for Lower Canada shall have sixty-five members belonging to his section to support him, and command the majority of the French-Canadians and the British from Lower Canada, will he not be able to upset the Government if his colleagues interfere with his recommendations to office? This is our security. At present if I found unreasonable opposition to my views my remedy would be to break up the Government by retiring, and the same thing will happen in the federal government.”

Dorion: “The honourable member will be allowed to retire from the Government, as there will then be a sufficient number of English members to be able to do without him; he will be allowed to retire and nobody will care.”

Cartier, however, apparently felt that the spirit of fair play and of justice amongst the English-speaking members of the Government and of parliament would always be sufficiently strong to assure fair treatment for the French-Canadian representation in the federal parliament, though the latter would be in a minority.

It was also explicitly stated by both Cartier and Macdonald during the discussion that steps had been taken to guarantee the continued use of the French language. Dorion had expressed the view that there was no[244] guarantee for the continuance of the language of the French-Canadians but the will and the forbearance of the majority. John A. Macdonald in answer to this emphatically declared that it had been proposed and assented to by the deputation from each province that the use of the French language should form one of the principles upon which confederation should be established and that its use would be guaranteed by the Imperial Act.

To the remarks of his colleague Cartier added: “I will add to what has been stated by the honourable Attorney-General for Upper Canada that it was also necessary to protect the English minority in Lower Canada with respect to the use of their language, because in the local parliament of Lower Canada the majority will be composed of French-Canadians. The members of the conference were desirous that it should not be in the power of that majority to decree the abolition of the use of the English language in the legislature of Lower Canada any more than it will be in the power of the federal legislature to do so with respect to the French language. I will also add that the use of both languages will be secured in the Imperial Act, to be based on those resolutions.” Thus it was made perfectly plain by the two leaders that confederation was to be established on the principle of perfect equality between the two great races of the country.

While the discussion of confederation was proceeding in the Canadian parliament tidings came from New Brunswick early in March that the Government of that province, which was pledged to the project, had been defeated at the polls. The news proved decidedly discouraging to the upholders of confederation in the Canadian parliament, and was hailed with satisfaction by the opposition as a justification of their claim that the people were opposed to the scheme. Dorion openly exulted over the course of events in the Maritime Provinces, which he accepted as an endorsement of his attitude. “The honourable Attorney-General, West,” remarked the Rouge leader, “says that the scheme of confederation has obtained the consent of the Governments of all the provinces. But where are those Governments now? Where is the Government of New Brunswick? Where is the Government of Prince Edward Island? As for the Government of Nova Scotia, it pledged itself to bring the scheme before the legislature, but it is well known that it dare not press it, and still less appeal to the people upon it. The members of that Government were wiser than the Government of New Brunswick and would not appeal to the people. And here I must say that I compliment the Government upon the wisdom it shows in not appealing to the people of Canada. Honourable gentlemen have shown far more foresight in this matter than the Government of New Brunswick in refusing to let the people have an opportunity of pronouncing upon this scheme, for the petitions[245] coming down daily against it show conclusively that the people of Lower Canada at all events are almost unanimously against it, and that an appeal to them would meet, as regards the members of the Lower Canada administration, with the same fate which befell the members of the New Brunswick Government.”

At a subsequent session Dorion declared that the intelligence from New Brunswick had caused the question of confederation to lose much of its interest, that every one was now convinced that it was a question which no longer had any real existence and which might safely be shelved for some time to come at all events. Dorion’s exultation, while perhaps natural under the circumstances, proved to be premature. He little knew the real character of his antagonist if he imagined that Cartier would permit any reverse to turn him aside from his great purpose. Opposition and reverses in fact only made Cartier more determined than ever. The situation, however, was undoubtedly critical, and how tense things were at this stage was shown by a sharp passage at arms between Dorion and Cartier. Dorion had remarked that they might perhaps see that in the constitution as finally approved by the Imperial authorities the principle of confederation would be sacrificed in order that a legislative union pure and simple might be imposed which was the more probable, he added, as it was well known that the Maritime Provinces had repudiated the plan of confederation in its proposed shape. At this point Cartier interrupted Dorion to remark sarcastically: “We shall make a small confederation by dividing Canada into four parts. That is what the honourable member for Hochelaga (Dorion) promised the honourable member for South Oxford (Brown) when he formed his Government. There should be little men, little provinces, and a little confederation.” Cartier’s sally, which was evidently aimed at Dorion, was greeted with laughter, amidst which a member remarked derisively: “Now-a-days the Government has only great projects.”

“Yes,” quickly retorted Cartier, “we propose great measures, and what is more we carry them.”

“Yet the honourable Attorney-General,” retorted Dorion, “has undertaken to grant a little confederation and to divide us into little provinces if the grander scheme does not pass, and he has a very fair chance to come back to little matters.”

Dorion, however, was mistaken. What he well described as the grander scheme was destined to be accomplished. That Dorion, however, regarded the whole project with distrust was shown by the closing words of the final appeal which he made against it at the session of March 6th. “Suppose even that the scheme should not be modified,” said the Rouge leader, “I would not approve it. I cannot with a joyful heart give up the imprescriptible rights of the people who have sent me[246] here to represent them. I cannot consent to a change which is neither more nor less than a revolution, a political revolution, it is true, but which does not the less on that account affect the rights and interests of a million of inhabitants, the descendants of the first settlers in America, of those who have given their names to the vast regions which they discovered and whose careers have been rendered famous by so many heroic traits. I am opposed to this confederation in which the militia, the appointing of the judges, the administration of justice, and our most important civil rights will be under the control of the general government, the majority of which will be hostile to Lower Canada, of a general government vested with the most ample powers, whilst the powers of the local government will be restricted first by the limitation of the powers delegated to it by the veto reserved to the central authority, and further by the concurrent jurisdiction of the general authority or government. Petitions with more than twenty thousand signatures attached to them have already been presented to this House against the scheme of confederation. Numerous public meetings have been held in nineteen counties in Lower Canada, and one in the city of Montreal. Everywhere this scheme has been protested against and an appeal to the people demanded. And yet in defiance of the expressed opinion of our constituents we are about to give them a constitution the effect of which will be to snatch from them the little influence which they still enjoy under the existing union. We are about on their behalf to surrender all the rights and privileges which are dearest to them, and that without consulting them. It would be madness—it would be more, it would be a crime. On these grounds I shall oppose this scheme with all the power at my command, and insist that under any circumstances it shall be submitted to the people before its final adoption.”

Fac-simile Autograph Letter from Right Hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier


Dorion’s words had no effect upon the advocates of the confederation measure, who were determined on carrying it through despite all opposition. The answer of the Government to the jubilation of the Opposition over the turn of affairs in the Maritime Provinces was to move the previous question, so as to bring the discussion to a more speedy close. A motion to that effect was made on March 7th by Macdonald, seconded by Cartier. But this action evoked not only a vigorous protest from the Opposition, but some dissatisfaction even amongst supporters of the Government. Hon. François Évanturel, member for Quebec County, a strong supporter of the Government and of the principle of confederation, expressed the view that if it was admitted that New Brunswick, by its repudiation, and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were no longer parties to the contracts agreed upon between the provinces, and England had now to be asked to modify the constitution only in relation to the two Canadas, the conditions were no longer the same, and he was[247] much less disposed to allow the Government to present to England as the basis of their future constitution the resolutions which they had been compelled to accept under very unfavourable circumstances. Évanturel declared that he did not hesitate to say that the position assumed by the Government was a very dangerous one for themselves, and for those who would gladly assist them to pass a good measure of confederation. He expressed regret that the previous question had been moved so as to reduce the friends of the Government to the necessity of voting on the measure without being able to move any amendment, and that in the face of a total change of circumstances.

The position at this stage was critical in the extreme. The remarks of the member for Quebec County, one of Cartier’s staunch supporters, expressed the views of more than one of his followers. Cartier, it must be remembered, had the largest individual following of any man in parliament, and had there been a split in the ranks the confederation project, for the time being at least, would have been doomed. It remained for Cartier to again save the situation. Rising on Tuesday, March 7th, just one month after he had delivered his memorable discourse in favour of confederation, the French-Canadian leader replied to the objections of the member for Quebec County, and declared his intention of standing by the project despite the turn of events in the Maritime Provinces, or of any opposition that might be offered. “I am glad,” said Cartier, “that the honourable member for the County of Quebec, has, with his customary candour, communicated to us his apprehension. I have listened to him with great attention, and I am certain that there is no difference between his views and ours. We are perfectly agreed. [Hear, hear, and laughter from the Opposition.] I knew perfectly well, Mr. Speaker, before I rose to give explanations to the honourable member for the County of Quebec and to the House, that the few words I have just uttered would excite the laughter of the Opposition, for the moment these honourable gentlemen see a member who is usually a supporter of the Government rise in this House and speak with some degree of animation on any measure of the Government, they are ready to conclude from his animation that the honourable member is opposed to the measure. I say again, Mr. Speaker, that the Government is in the present case perfectly of the same mind as the honourable member for the County of Quebec. If they now request that the House would hasten their decision on the grand question of the confederation of all the British Provinces of this continent (not of the two Canadas, as the honourable member for the County of Quebec terms it), it is because they are desirous, as the honourable Attorney-General for Upper Canada observed yesterday, to despatch delegates to England to lay before the Imperial parliament the resolutions adopted at the conference. The[248] Government wish to give effect to the compromise entered into between the Maritime Provinces and Canada, to enable the Imperial Government to offer their counsel to the Governments of the provinces who have backed out from their agreement, and show them that the document to which they will have their sanction is a compromise. They would prove to Great Britain that if one of the Maritime Provinces, or all of them, refused to carry out the terms of the compromise after their solemn engagement with the Canadian Government to observe it—if, in short, they have failed to fulfil the terms of the treaty—Canada has been true to them, and desires its fulfilment. The constitution prayed for is not a constitution for the two Canadas only, as the honourable member for Chateauguay said it was, putting a false construction on the explanations of my honourable colleague, the Attorney-General for Upper Canada, but on the contrary the constitution for all British North America. If the Government now press the House for a decision, it is not to enable them to go to England and ask for a constitution for the Canadas, under a pretext that the other contracting provinces have failed to fulfil the treaty into which they had entered. By no means, Mr. Speaker. I have always had the interests of Lower Canada at heart and have guarded them more sedulously than the honourable member for Hochelaga (Dorion) and his partisans have ever done.

“I now come to the observations of the honourable member for the County of Quebec. This is what the Government propose to do. We shall represent to the Imperial Government that Canada consented to compromises and sacrifices and that the Lower Provinces failed in the fulfilment of their part of the treaty at the last moment. We shall entreat the Imperial Government to offer their advice to the Governments of those provinces, and we entertain a hope that the influence which England necessarily exercises over those colonies will have the effect of inducing them to reflect on their proceedings with reference to us. I pray the honourable member for the County of Quebec to lay aside his fears. I assure him that not a single member of the Government has the slightest intention of asking Great Britain to legislate on the address which we are to present and to pass a constitution for the two Canadas. Our whole intention is to lay before the Government of the Mother country our position as it now is, in consequence of the breaking of the treaty by the Maritime Provinces, in order that they may bring some pressure to bear upon them to bring about the federal union which was designed. Even though the legislatures of those provinces should rue the part they took in the plan of confederation, the adoption of it would be only a question of time, for probably within twelve months they will amend their decision and accept the compromise. We say that as far as we are concerned we can do neither more nor less than carry out the compromise: that we are[249] desirous of acquitting ourselves of the duty we owe to the Imperial Government, as they sought fit to sanction it in the despatch laid before the House, as well as by the honourable mention made of it in Her Most Gracious Majesty’s speech from the throne. It is of consequence, I say, that we should show to the Imperial Government that Canada, which contains more than three-fourths of the population of all the provinces on this continent, has not failed to fulfil her part in the compromise, but that the Maritime Provinces it is which have broken their sworn engagement, and that, if the compromise is not to be carried into effect, English supremacy over the American colonies may at no distant day be in danger. We trust that all these considerations may have a salutary effect, that they will dissipate the unfounded apprehensions of the Maritime Provinces, and that hereafter the constitution based on the compromise which we shall submit to the Imperial Government will bear sway over the several English provinces on this continent, united in one great confederation. [Hear, hear.] I can assure the honourable member for the County of Quebec, therefore, that the only purpose of the Government of which I am a member in urging forward the adoption of the scheme submitted to the House is to despatch it to England in order that the Imperial parliament may merely sanction the letter of the measure. The Government never had a thought of taking the House and the people by surprise. If we were to go to England and pray for a constitution different from that which is mentioned in the address we should be branded with disgrace, and deservedly so, and should render ourselves unworthy of the position which we now fill. These reasons are sufficient, I think, to show that there is not so much difference between the opinion of the Government and that of the honourable member for the County of Quebec as that honourable gentleman supposes. We are agreed on the point to which he takes exception, and as he has declared that he would vote in favour of a new constitution if the Maritime Provinces continue to be party to it, I have reason to trust that he will do so, as the Government will be in no way bound to abide by that constitution unless the other contracting party shall accept it.”

Cartier’s explanations had the desired effect, the threatened split in the ranks of his following was averted and the confederation project was saved.

The historic debate on confederation which began on February 3rd was not concluded until March 11th. Of the great speeches which marked the discussion, apart from Cartier’s memorable discourse it is not within the scope of this work to treat in detail. They were all worthy of the men who made them and of their great subject. John A. Macdonald opened the discussion with a masterly presentation of the whole question; Cartier followed with his powerful appeal for union;[250] Galt dealt with the financial and economic aspects of the question in a comprehensive and illuminating address; George Brown made the greatest speech of his whole career, the speech of a patriot and a statesman, foretelling with prophetic vision the great future that lay before the proposed Confederation; and Thomas D’Arcy McGee lent his incomparable eloquence to the support of the measure, in a speech marked by the fire of genius and the burning accents of the loftiest patriotism. From Quebec in support of the measure and of the position that Cartier had taken, were heard forcible speeches from Hector Langevin; Joseph Cauchon, one of the leading writers and public men of Lower Canada, who, after having at first opposed confederation, became one of its strongest and ablest advocates; Dr. J. G. Blanchet, of Lévis; Joseph Dufresne, of Montcalm; and A. Chartier de Lotbinière Harwood, the brilliant young member for Vaudreuil, whose eloquent predictions of the magnificent future that awaited the new Dominion drew from Cartier a tribute of praise, coupled with an expression of regret that the venerable ancestor of the eloquent speaker, Hon. Alain Chartier de Lotbinière, one of the first Speakers of the Assembly of Lower Canada, whose portrait adorned the walls of parliament, could not hear the well-considered, loyal and heartfelt expressions of his descendant. Hon. John Rose, the leading representative of the English minority at Quebec, supported the measure while insisting that the interests of the minority should be fully safeguarded. The longest speech of the great debate was that made by Christopher Dunkin, member for Brome, who, replying to John Rose, addressed the House for two days and two nights. His speech has been well described as “certainly the most elaborate and the most exhaustive of all the speeches either for or against the proposition. Every conceivable and almost inconceivable objection was taken and worked out to its extremest limit. All that a well-read public man, all that a strong party politician, all that an ingenious lawyer, all that a thorough sophist, a dexterous logician, a timid patriot, or a prophet of evils could array against the scheme was brought up and pressed with unflagging industry.”[112]

Nor was the great debate without its dramatic features. One of the most dramatic, which had an equally striking sequel, directly concerned Cartier. Henri Gustave Joly, member for Lotbinière, in the midst of a strong attack on the whole confederation project, turned his batteries upon Cartier personally. “There is only one man in Canada who could have done what the Attorney-General of Lower Canada (Cartier) has done, and that man is himself,” exclaimed Joly. “Thanks to his energy, to his intimate acquaintance with the strong and the weak points of his fellow countrymen, the Attorney-General for Lower Canada has[251] succeeded in attaining an elevation which no one can dispute with him—that of chief of the French-Canadian nationality. To attain this eminence he has crushed the weak, cajoled the strong, deceived the credulous, bought up the venal and exalted the ambitious; by turns he has called in the accents of religion and stimulated the clamour of interest—he has gained his end. When Lower Canada heard of his alliance with the President of the Council (George Brown) there arose from all quarters one universal cry of indignation. He managed to convert the cry of anger into a shout of admiration. When his scheme of confederation became public a feeling of uneasiness prevailed in all minds; that instinct forewarned them of the danger which impended. He has hushed that feeling to a sleep of profound security. I shall compare him to a man who has gained the unbounded confidence of the public, who takes advantage of it to set up a savings bank, in which the rich man deposits his wealth and the day labourer the small amounts which he has squeezed out of his wages against the day of need—both without a voucher. When that man has gathered all into his strong box he finds an opportunity to purchase at the cost of all he holds in trust the article on which he has long set his ambitious eye, and he buys it unhesitatingly, without a thought of the wretches who are doomed to ruin by his conduct. The deposit committed to the keeping of the Attorney-General is the fortune of the French-Canadians—their nationality. That fortune had not been made in a day, it was the accumulation of the toil and the savings of a whole people in a whole century. To prolong the ephemeral existence of his administration for a few months the Attorney-General has sacrificed without a scruple his precious trust, which the unbounded confidence of his fellow countrymen had confided to his keeping.”

Cartier: “And what have I received in payment for that?”

Joly: “A salary of five thousand dollars per annum and the honour of the position.”

Cartier: “That is not enough for me.”

Joly: “I am well aware of it; that is why the honourable member is desirous of extending the circle of his operations. But he will not long enjoy the fruits of his treason; by crushing the power of the French-Canadians he has crushed his own, for upon them his existence depends. Does he believe in the sincerity of the friendship of the Liberals of Upper Canada? They fought with him for too long a time to allow of the existence of any sympathy between them and him, and now he has lost even their respect. They consented to ally themselves with him in order to obtain their object—representation by population; but when they no longer stand in need of him they will throw him aside like a worn out tool.”

Cartier, during this personal onslaught, sat calm and unmoved, but[252] his actions were not to be left without defence. At the following session the sequel was witnessed when Hector Langevin, the Solicitor-General and Cartier’s fellow delegate at the Quebec Conference, at the close of one of the ablest addresses of the whole debate, electrified the House by what was undoubtedly the strongest defence of Cartier’s career and policy ever made, and in the course of which the speaker prophetically declared that Cartier would have his reward and that his name would go down to posterity as one of the greatest benefactors of his country.

“If the honourable member for Lotbinière were here,” exclaimed Langevin, whilst the House listened with rapt attention, “I would answer him on other points, but I will not attack him as he last night attacked the honourable Attorney-General. The honourable member compared the conduct of the honourable Attorney-General in moving the scheme of confederation to that of a man who, presiding over a savings bank in which every one came to deposit his savings, having confidence in his honesty, should some fine day turn defaulter, betray their confidence and ruin them. He said that the honesty of the honourable Attorney-General for Lower Canada had yielded to the temptation of honours, titles and places, and that he had forgotten all his obligations and duty and sold his fellow citizens. I shall not retort on the honourable member, but I shall take upon me to continue the comparison made by him and tell him that the honourable Attorney-General has in fact opened a savings bank and has invited every one to deposit in it his title deeds and his savings. Accordingly we find one day the seigneurs and the censitaires coming and depositing in his keeping their title deeds, their lands, and all they have. These the honourable Attorney-General takes and deposits in his bank, and when he is called upon to restore them, when he is required to account for them, he pays as never man paid before him; to the censitaires instead of their title deeds, burdened with mortgages, lods et ventes, corvées, and all sorts of services and duties, he restores their lands free from all burden, while to the seigneurs he tenders the full value of their seigneurial rights, and if this day there are seigneurs holding 100,000 acres of land in full right of property, which they can safely estimate as worth $8.00 per acre, they may thank the Attorney-General for Lower Canada for it. The suitors in our courts come next; they were oppressed with enormous cost which amounted almost to a denial of justice; they went and deposited their briefs, declarations and pleas in the honourable Attorney-General’s savings bank, and he returned them, giving them at the same time judicial decentralisation and diminished costs of suit. Thus it is that he has earned the respect and gratitude of his fellow citizens. It is the same as regards the inhabitants of the townships; in place of their ambiguous civil law he gave them a civil law applying to the whole of Lower Canada, the townships as well as the seigneuries,[253] and all are now unanimous in expressions of gratitude towards the honourable Attorney-General for extricating them from the judicial chaos in which they were involved. Pleaders, advocates, and in fact the whole country deposited their complaints in the honourable Attorney-General’s hands, and at the end of five years he has given them a civil code which will do honour to Lower Canada, honour to the three distinguished codification commissioners selected by the honourable Attorney-General, whose name it will transmit to posterity. Yes, his name is attached to that work and the attacks of the honourable member for Lotbinière will hardly prevent that name from going down to our descendants surrounded with the respect of all those who know the services he has rendered to his country. But the honourable Attorney-General for Lower Canada was not satisfied with these services. In the midst of a terrible crisis his country confided to him all its interests, all its rights, all its institutions, its nationality, its religion, in a word everything it held most dear. The honourable Attorney-General received the whole trust into his safe and faithful keeping, and when called upon to render an account he exhibited all these interests, rights, institutions, our nationality and religion, in fact everything that the people held dear, and restored them, guaranteed, protected and surrounded by every safeguard, in the confederation of the British North American provinces. He has been a faithful banker, and has not betrayed the trust reposed in him; he has honestly paid his debt; rich and poor, seigneurs and censitaires, advocates and pleaders, all have received their dues, and the banker is blessed from one end of the province to the other. The honourable member says that the honourable Attorney-General will have his reward. He is right; my honourable colleague will have his reward—his day will come as did that of the late Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine. When that eminent citizen held the position occupied to-day by the honourable Attorney-General, the opposition heaped upon him the same reproaches, the same insults, that are now offered to my honourable friend. He was accused of being a traitor to his country; it was broadly asserted that he was selling his fellow citizens, and that he was the enemy of his race. Nevertheless that defender of the rights and institutions of Lower Canada had but one ambition, namely, to secure for his fellow-countrymen the splendid position they have ever since occupied. He let the disaffected continue to assail him, and before descending into the tomb he had the happiness of seeing his patriotic efforts and the purity and nobleness of his intentions acknowledged; and when his mortal remains were carried to their last resting place all classes of his fellow citizens were eager in doing honour to that great man, and all united in blessing the memory of one who was no longer accused of being a traitor, but whose name was universally admitted to be deserving of a place among the very highest in parliamentary[254] history. It will be the same as regards the present honourable Attorney-General for Lower Canada. He will have his reward; his day will come, not in the sense of the honourable member for Lotbinière, who makes use of the expression as a menace, but by retaining that confidence of his fellow citizens which appears so completely incomprehensible to the honourable member for Lotbinière. That he should enjoy the confidence of his fellow citizens appears to me a thing perfectly natural and not by any means difficult to understand. During his whole life, like Sir Louis H. LaFontaine, the present honourable Attorney-General for Lower Canada has devoted himself to protecting and promoting the material and religious interests of his fellow countrymen, and he has now crowned his gigantic labours by the important share he has had in the framing of the new constitution, which is destined to govern one of the greatest empires in the world, a constitution beneath which all races and all religions will find protection and respect. He will have his reward, and like his predecessor his name will go down to posterity as one of the greatest benefactors of his country.” Langevin’s eloquent defence of his chief was loudly applauded by the Government supporters.

It was on March 11th, 1863, after a discussion of nearly five weeks, during the whole of which Cartier had stood in the breach against the determined attacks of his Lower Canadian antagonists, that a division was finally taken on the momentous question. The Government had taken the stand that the confederation project was in the nature of a treaty between the several provinces, that therefore it could not be changed or amended, but must be adopted or rejected in its entirety. All attempts of the Opposition to swerve the Government from its decision proved futile. Amendments moved by Dorion and others favouring the submission of the project to the people were voted down by a large majority. At the very close of the debate Holton presented a motion to the effect that any act founded on the resolutions of the Quebec Conference which might be passed by the Imperial Government should not go into operation until the parliament of Canada had an opportunity of considering its provisions. Dorion, supporting this motion, reminded the House that in 1856, when the Imperial parliament was asked to change the constitution of the Legislative Council, they passed a measure different from what had been asked for, inasmuch that, whilst Canada was empowered to make the Legislative Council elective, the clause of the Act of Union which declared that the basis of representation in a legislative assembly could not be changed without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members was struck out. “With that fact staring us in the face,” remarked Dorion, “what assurance have we to-day that the Imperial Government will not give us a legislative union with representation based upon population in place of a confederation?”


Dorion’s question drew forth a solemn declaration from Cartier. “In reply to what the honourable member for Hochelaga has just said,” declared the French-Canadian leader, “I shall merely tell honourable members of this House that they need not take alarm at the apprehensions and predictions of that honourable gentleman. I have already declared in my own name and on behalf of the Government that the delegates who go to England will accept from the Imperial Government no act but one based on the resolutions adopted by this House, and they will not bring back any other. I have pledged my word of honour and that of the Government to that effect, and I trust that my word of honour will have at least as much weight with this House and the country as the apprehensions of the honourable member for Hochelaga.” These solemn words were Cartier’s closing contribution to the great debate.

The measure had already been adopted by the Legislative Council by a vote of forty-five to fifteen, the dissidents including seven representatives from Lower Canada—Archambault, Bureau, Chaffers, Letellier de St. Just, Malhiot, Olivier and Proulx.

When the division was taken in the Assembly with the result that the project was approved by a vote of ninety-one to thirty-three, it was found that of the forty-nine members from Lower Canada who voted twenty-six had followed Cartier in support of the measure, whilst twenty had gone with Dorion against it. This historic division was as follows:

For confederation—Alleyn, Archambault, Ault, Beaubien, Bell, Bellerose, Blanchet, Bowman, Bown, Brosseau, Brown, Burwell, J. H. Cameron, Carling, Cartier, Cartwright, Cauchon, Chambers, Chapais, Cockburn, Cornellier, Cowan, Currier, de Boucherville, Denis, de Niverville, Dickson, Jos. Dufresne, Dunsford, Évanturel, Thos. Ferguson, Wm. Ferguson, Galt, Gaucher, Gaudet, Gibbs, Harwood, Hamilton, Higginson, Howland, Huot, Irvine, Jackson, F. Jones, D. F. Jones, Knight, Langevin, Le Boutillier, John A. Macdonald, Macfarlane, Alexander Mackenzie, H. F. Mackenzie, Magill, McConkey, McDougall, McGee, McGivern, McIntyre, McKellar, Morris, Morrison, Parker, Pope, Poulin, Poupore, Powell, Rankin, Raymond, Rémillard, Robitaille, Rose, J. J. Ross, J. S. Ross, W. Ross, Scoble, Shanley, J. S. Smith, Somerville, Stirton, Street, Sylvain, Thompson, Walsh, Webb, Wells, White, Wilson, Wood, Amos Wright, and Alonzo Wright—91.

Against confederation—Biggar, Bourassa, M. C. Cameron, Caron, Coupal, A. A. Dorion, J. B. E. Dorion, Duckett, A. Dufresne, Fortier, Gagnon, Geoffrion, Holton, Houde, Huntingdon, Joly, Labrèche-Viger, Laframboise, Gérin-Lajoie, John Sandfield Macdonald, D. A. Macdonald, J. Macdonald (Toronto West), O’Halloran, Pâquet, Perrault, Pinssoneault, Pouliot, Rymal, Scatcherd, Taschereau, Thibaudeau, Tremblay, and T. C. Wallbridge—33.


The result of the division was decisive. In face of the strongest and most determined opposition George-Étienne Cartier had succeeded in rallying a clear majority from his native province in favour of the measure. Under the circumstances it was a signal triumph for him. But his labours were not yet at an end.




The project of confederation based on the resolutions adopted by the delegates of all the British North American colonies at Quebec had been approved by the legislature of United Canada, but the hostility to the measure encountered in the Maritime Provinces, and the determined opposition offered in Lower Canada, rendered the success of the great design problematical. The Maritime Provinces appeared to be solidly arrayed against the measure. Prince Edward Island by a vote of its legislature in 1865, which was reaffirmed in 1866, had declined to join in the movement, and the Tilley Government in New Brunswick, risking a general election before the Quebec resolutions were submitted to the legislature, was overthrown. The first submission of the question to the popular vote had thus resulted disastrously. In Nova Scotia Joseph Howe was devoting his matchless eloquence to denunciations of the project. Howe’s course at this juncture would seem to be incomprehensible, as in 1861 he had secured the unanimous endorsement of the legislature in favour of the principle of confederation, and had visited Canada to awaken sentiment in favour of such a movement. “I am not one of those who thank God that I am a Nova Scotian merely, for I am a Canadian as well,” declared Howe, as late as August, 1864. “I have never thought I was a Nova Scotian,” he added, “but I have looked across the broad continent and the great territory which the Almighty has given us for an inheritance and studied the mode by which it could be consolidated, the mode by which it could be united, the mode by which it could be made strong and vigorous when the old flag still floats over the soil.” Howe’s later utterances ill fitted his previous declaration. Doubtless personal feeling in respect to his great antagonist, Charles Tupper, had something to do with his changed attitude. Tupper’s explanation is that when Howe found that many of those who had been amongst his rival’s strongest supporters were opposed to any idea of confederation, the temptation to get the better of his antagonist proved too much for him and Howe put himself at the head of the opposition[258] and used all his great powers to prevent confederation.[113] Equally ominous was the situation in Lower Canada, where the hostile sentiment against the project was being roused by an active campaign both on the hustings and in the press.

At this critical stage George-Étienne Cartier and the other Canadian leaders never wavered in their adherence to the measure and in their conviction of its ultimate success. Immediately following the prorogation of the Canadian legislature, it was decided that a delegation should go to England with the object of conferring with the Imperial Government upon the following subjects:

1. Upon the proposed confederation of the British North American provinces, and the means whereby it would be most speedily effected.

2. Upon the arrangement necessary for the defence of Canada in the event of war arising with the United States and the extent to which the same should be shared between Great Britain and Canada.

3. Upon the steps to be taken with reference to the Reciprocity Treaty and the rights conferred by it upon the United States.

4. Upon the arrangement necessary for the settlement of the North West Territories, and the Hudson’s Bay Company’s claim.

5. And generally upon the existing critical state of affairs by which Canada is most seriously affected.

This important mission was entrusted to a delegation of whom Cartier was one, the other members being John A. Macdonald, George Brown and A. T. Galt, all of whom were among the leading promoters of confederation. Cartier and Galt sailed from Boston together on the steamer Asia for Liverpool, on April 16th, being followed a few days later by Macdonald and Brown, who took passage from New York on board the steamer China. Arriving at Halifax on the night of April 14th on their way to Boston, Cartier and Galt were the recipients of a popular demonstration, being escorted by a great torch-light procession to Temperance Hall, where an address of welcome was presented by the Mayor to the Canadian statesmen. The former Prime Minister of New Brunswick, Samuel Leonard Tilley, who had only lately suffered defeat at the polls on the confederation issue, was present, and in an address predicted that New Brunswick would before long reverse its decision. On this occasion Cartier made a notable speech, showing his firm faith in the ultimate triumph of confederation. He expressed the disappointment that the people of Canada felt over the defeat of the measure in New Brunswick, but declared his belief that the check would prove only temporary. “It is with pride that I declare,” continued the Lower Canadian leader, “that the Canadian delegates were the first on the occasion[259] of the Charlottetown Conference to agitate the question of a greater union, and this union as decided upon at the Quebec Conference is the most just and the most equitable that could be adopted under the circumstances. This union protects all rights and all interests and is of a character to assure the prosperity of all the provinces. The success of this confederation is unprecedented, no matter what may be thought of the check sustained in New Brunswick. It is a characteristic of human enterprises to encounter many obstacles, before their full realisation. On learning of the defeat of our measure in New Brunswick the Canadian ministry deemed it their duty to prorogue parliament, and to send a delegation to England to settle the question of confederation, the question of defence, and also that of the Intercolonial Railway. All of these questions are of an imperial character, and as the question of defence concerns all the provinces, it is imperative that they should be united under the same government. Separated the provinces cannot defend themselves, while united they represent considerable strength and means of action. There is no doubt that the British Government regards the union of the provinces as being an absolute necessity. The delegates will insist on the construction of the Intercolonial as indispensable for the military protection of British North America.”

Cartier’s declarations made it clear that there was to be no relinquishment, as far as Canada was concerned, of the great design. Cartier and Galt arrived at Liverpool on April 23rd, and immediately proceeded to London, where they were soon joined by Macdonald and Brown. The Canadian delegates lost no time in endeavouring to accomplish the important mission with which they had been entrusted. Soon after their arrival they had a conference with a committee of the Imperial Cabinet, consisting of the Duke of Somerset, Earl de Grey and Ripon, Mr. Gladstone, and Mr. Cardwell, the Colonial Secretary. The result was that the Canadian delegates received assurances that Her Majesty’s Government would adopt every legitimate means for securing the early assent of the Maritime Provinces to confederation, and that an Imperial guarantee of a loan for the construction of the Intercolonial Railway would be forthcoming. Satisfactory assurances were also obtained regarding the question of defence, the acquisition of the North West Territories, and the renewal of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854.

During their stay in England the delegates were the recipients of many hospitalities. Cartier, both as the representative of the French-Canadian people and as one whose distinguished services were appreciated by British statesmen, was the object of special attention. At a great state ball Her Majesty Queen Victoria, in conversing with the Canadian delegates, addressed Cartier in French, stating that she had pleasant remembrances of his visit in 1858, when he was Her Majesty’s guest for[260] several days at Windsor Castle. The Prince of Wales also renewed his acquaintance with the former Prime Minister of Canada, who had welcomed him on his visit to the colony a few years before, and, at a dinner given by the Prince in honour of the Canadian delegates, the band by his express orders played nothing but Canadian airs. The delegates were also the recipients of hospitality from the Duke of Cambridge, Lord Palmerston, Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Cardwell, Lord Derby, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Carnarvon, Lord Shaftesbury, Sir Edmund Head, Mr. Watkin, M.P., President of the Grand Trunk Railway Company, the Duc and Duchesse d’Aumâle and the Comte de Paris, who were then sojourning in England. Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, distinguished both as a littérateur and diplomat, and who was Secretary of State for the Colonies when Cartier, Galt and Ross visited England in 1858 to press the project of confederation upon the Imperial authorities, entertained Cartier and Galt at a literary and artistic dinner, where they met such notables as Charles Dickens, Browning, the poet, and Foster, the historian. On special invitation of Lord Carnarvon, Cartier spent several days with him at his home, and was also the guest of Lord Salisbury at historic Hatfield. The French-Canadian statesman also accompanied John A. Macdonald to Oxford on the occasion of the latter receiving the degree of D.C.L. from the University. At Oxford Cartier made the acquaintance of the celebrated Dr. Pusey, one of the leaders of the Oxford movement, and later he attended the consecration, as Bishop of Westminster, of Mgr. Manning, another leader of the movement who had embraced the Roman Catholic faith. Cartier also took advantage of the occasion to pay a brief visit to Paris, where he met many of the notable men of the day.

During his stay in England Cartier made a notable speech on the occasion of a dinner given by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, at which he and Galt were the guests of honour. Speaking in the presence of many of the leading men of the British metropolis, Cartier declared that while the union inaugurated in 1841 had resulted in marked prosperity it was no longer sufficient. “We are accordingly seeking a system,” he added, “which will allow us to make even greater progress. We wish to form more intimate relations with the Maritime Provinces, with Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. We have frankly said to them that we possess in Canada two of the requisite elements for the establishment of a great nation, the people and the land, but that we lack another element which has made the greatness of England—the maritime element. We have told our friends that they are too restricted within their territories while we have need of ocean ports, and that by uniting we may become powerful and prosperous with the protection of the Mother country. We desire the adoption of confederation[261] not only to increase our prosperity and our strength, but also to be in a better position to participate in the defence of the British Empire. We very well realise that in case of an invasion we could not resist the enemy without help from the British army, but with the union of all the provinces, we will promise to take part in the defence of our country to the full extent of our strength. When we therefore speak of a confederation of the British North American colonies, we do not speak of a system tending to weaken the ties which bind these colonies to the Mother country, but a system calculated to develop, to the profit of all, the commerce of British America.”

Referring to a statement made by certain English newspapers that, Canada being so exposed to attacks, it would be better for the security of England to allow the colony to become independent or to join the United States, Cartier said: “We know in Canada that we can never be the cause of a war. War will never arise except by the will of the Imperial authorities. We also know that our country is vulnerable, but we would be willing that it should serve as a field of battle to avenge the honour of England. We do not desire to become independent, and much less to be annexed to the United States. We repel that idea with horror.... If the theory that a colony should be abandoned because it is a source of expense to the Mother country should prevail, it would be necessary, in order to be consistent, to abandon all the colonies. The British Empire would then be reduced to England, Scotland and Ireland, but I presume that nobody to-day desires to see such a result.”

Thus Cartier not only showed his supreme faith in what could be effected by a union of the British North American provinces, but gave a timely rebuke to those British statesmen who at that period showed such scant appreciation of the importance of the great overseas dominions.

With their mission crowned with success, the Canadian delegates prepared to return home. Galt and Brown sailed on June 17th, Cartier left on June 22nd, by the Moravian for Montreal, and Macdonald, who was the last to take his departure, sailed on the 24th of the month. Cartier reached Montreal on July 6th, Galt and Brown had already arrived home, and Macdonald joined his fellow delegates a few days later. After consultation it was decided that parliament should be summoned for August 8th, and on July 13th a proclamation was issued calling the members together for that date. Before the opening of the legislature two distinguished public men of Lower Canada, the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, and the former French-Canadian leader, Augustin-Norbert Morin, passed away within a few days of each other, after careers distinguished by the highest patriotism. Cartier attended the funeral of the two statesmen who had not only been his leaders and colleagues, but were also his warm personal friends. The[262] death of the Prime Minister, which occurred on Sunday, July 30th, threatened to result in political complications. A few days after the Premier’s death, Lord Monck sent for John A. Macdonald, and requested him, as senior member of the Ministry, to assume the position of First Minister, while Cartier would on the same principle become the leader of the Lower Canadian section of the Government. Macdonald having secured Cartier’s assent to the arrangement, saw George Brown, notified him of the proposal, and asked his assent. The leader of the Liberal wing of the coalition, however, took the ground that what was proposed would be an entire change of the situation. He was quite prepared, he said, to enter into arrangements for the continuance of the Government in the same position it occupied previous to the death of Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, but he claimed the proposal that had been made involved a grave departure from that position. The Government, Brown pointed out, had been a coalition of three political parties, each represented by an active party leader, but all acting under one chief, who had ceased to be actuated by strong party feelings or personal ambitions, and in whom the three sections of the coalition had confidence. Macdonald, Cartier and himself, Brown added, were on the contrary regarded as party leaders, with party feelings and aspirations, and to place any one of them in an attitude of superiority over the others, with the vast advantage of the premiership, would in the public mind lessen the security for good faith and seriously endanger the existence of the Government. Whichever of the three was so preferred, the act, Brown maintained, would amount to an abandonment of the coalition basis, and the reconstruction of the Government on ordinary party lines, under a party leader, unacceptable to a large portion of those on whose support the existence of the ministry depended. Macdonald’s contention on the other hand was that Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché was not, when the coalition was formed, selected as first Minister as a part of the agreement, that he had been previously and was then the head of the Conservative Government, and was accepted with all his Lower Canadian colleagues without change. Personally, Macdonald added, he had no feeling in the matter, and, if he had, he thought it his duty to set aside such feeling for the sake of carrying out the great scheme so happily commenced to a successful issue. He therefore, he said, would readily stand aside and waive his pretensions so that some other person than himself might be appointed to the premiership, and he thought Cartier should be that person, that after the death of Taché, Cartier beyond a doubt was the most influential man in his section of the country, and would be selected by the Lower Canadian supporters of the Government as their leader, that neither Brown nor himself could dictate to Lower Canada as to their selection of a leader, that the Premier must be according to usage the leader or senior member either from[263] Upper or Lower Canada, and that as he (Macdonald) had in consequence of the position taken by Brown, waived his own pretensions, it followed that Cartier should be appointed Prime Minister. Brown contended that this proposal would, like the others, be for the construction of a new Government, in a manner seriously affecting the security held by the Liberal party, and before saying anything to such a proposal, he desired to consult his Liberal colleagues in the Cabinet, McDougall and Howland.

Following this conversation Macdonald obtained Lord Monck’s permission to propose to Brown that Cartier, as being the leader of the ministerial majority of Lower Canada in parliament, should assume the position of Prime Minister, a proposal to which the Governor-General gave a ready assent. Lord Monck’s emphatic declaration to Macdonald was: “I could have no possible objection to Cartier as Prime Minister.” It was therefore proposed by Macdonald to Brown that Cartier should become the head of the coalition Government, in succession to Taché, to which suggestion Brown replied in writing that, after consultation with McDougall and Howland, they could only regard the proposal as one for the construction of a new Government, in a manner seriously affecting the security held by the Liberal party, that they could not assume the responsibility of either accepting or rejecting it without consultation with their political friends, which they were prepared to do without any delay. To this Macdonald replied on the following day that, after conferring with Cartier, they agreed that it would be highly inexpedient to wait for the result of such a consultation, that to prevent the possibility of the scheme for the confederation of British North America receiving any injury from the appearance of dissension amongst those who coalesced for the purpose of carrying it out, Cartier and himself, without admitting that there were any sufficient grounds for setting either of them aside, had agreed to propose that Sir Narcisse Belleau should assume the position of First Minister and Receiver-General. Brown’s answer to this was that while Sir Narcisse Belleau was not the one that he and his friends would have selected, as he was the selection of Cartier and Macdonald, and as Brown and his friends were equally anxious to prevent the scheme of confederation from receiving injury, they would offer no objection to the appointment. Sir Narcisse Belleau accordingly became the head of the coalition Government, the other members retaining their own portfolios, and a crisis was averted.

For the last time the legislature of United Canada assembled in the city of Quebec on August 8th, 1866. The Government’s strength was shown by the defeat on the following day of a motion of non-confidence by a vote of fifty-seven to twenty-nine. The report of the mission to England was presented to the House, and on August 15th Cartier made[264] a vigourous speech in reply to Holton and Dorion, who accused the ministers of hiding the truth in regard to the mission, which they claimed had been a failure. “The leaders of the Opposition,” said the Lower Canadian leader, “pretend that our mission to England has been a perfect fiasco. They are entirely mistaken. Let them regard the condition of things a year ago, and compare that condition with the present situation. In vain can they deny that great progress has been made in the interval. The Mother country has completely approved and sanctioned the project of a confederation. The enemies of this project hoped that the refusal of New Brunswick to acquiesce in it would lead England to declare itself hostile. They have been deceived. England gives the project its entire support. It must not be forgotten that the plan of confederation which it approved is that which was adopted after long deliberation by the Quebec Conference. The Opposition will have the dissatisfaction of seeing the Maritime Provinces adopting it before long. The Nova Scotia legislature has never declared against the idea of confederation. As to New Brunswick, there is at present a very energetic and decisive reaction in its favour. The Government has every reason to congratulate itself on the success of the mission to England. We are convinced that a confederation would increase our means of military defence, and in fact we have secured from England the assurance that the Mother country will employ for us, if required, all the resources within her power.”

Parliament, after sitting barely six weeks, was prorogued on September 18th, and the seat of government was removed during the month of October from the city of Quebec to Ottawa. Cartier’s arrival in what was to be the capital of the great Dominion was marked by an enthusiastic reception. He was welcomed by the Mayor and City Council, a reception was tendered him by the Institut Canadien Français, and he was the guest at a banquet given in his honour by a number of the leading citizens. In an address which he delivered the French-Canadian leader evinced his faith in the future of Ottawa, and of confederation, and foretold that the city would become the capital of a great Dominion extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific. “I will promise you,” he said, “that confederation will be effected, as surely as I can say that Ottawa is now in possession of the title of capital. . . . The future should inspire us with confidence. The parliament buildings standing on their eminence make a splendid impression on the stranger who contemplates them. They appear worthy of being the meeting place for the wise legislators of a country which will extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific.” When these words were uttered, it required supreme faith in the future to believe in such a prediction.

Before the close of 1865 there occurred an event of decided political importance—the retirement on December 21st of George Brown from[265] the coalition ministry, of which he had been one of the most conspicuous members. The ostensible reason for Brown’s withdrawal from the Government was a difference with the other members on the question of reciprocity with the United States, but the fact is that the Liberal leader had begun to chafe under the restrictions of his environment. Between Macdonald and Brown there had never been any love lost, and their relations were not improved by Brown’s refusal to accept Macdonald as First Minister on the death of Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché. A rupture between two men so diametrically different in temperament was sooner or later inevitable, and the reciprocity negotiations were the excuse for Brown’s resignation. Cartier did his utmost to prevent the rupture, to induce Brown to reconsider his determination and to remain in the Cabinet. The alliance between Brown and Cartier had, as has been seen, been a most important factor in the confederation movement. Brown had adhered to his part of the alliance with the utmost loyalty, and Cartier was desirous of seeing him continue as a member of the ministry. Despite marked differences in their political views and ideals, the two men had one trait in common, their frankness and independence of character. Had Brown remained in the Cabinet and continued to act in concert with Cartier, political developments might have been different from what they were. It has in fact been publicly stated by Sir Richard Cartwright, who was cognisant of all that was transpiring at this period, that he had the best of reasons for stating that in 1865 Cartier informed the Conservative members of parliament from Ontario that Brown had been so loyal and efficient an ally that he was not disposed to part with his services if he could help it. “Moreover, and this I can state on my own authority, and I had it from the highest possible quarter,” adds Sir Richard Cartwright, “that if Mr. Brown had remained in the Cabinet and had not voluntarily thrown his cards on the table, nothing could have prevented the initiation of confederation from having been entrusted to Mr. Brown and Sir George Cartier instead of to Sir John Macdonald.”[114] Cartier’s efforts to induce Brown to remain in the Government, however, proved unavailing, and the Liberal leader became once more a private member, continuing in that capacity to give the confederation measure the benefit of his powerful support both in and out of the House. Alexander Mackenzie, then rising to eminence in the Liberal ranks, was offered the vacant portfolio, but declined to accept it, and on January 3rd, 1866, Ferguson-Blair was sworn in as President of the Executive Council in succession to George Brown.

In the meantime the great scheme of confederation continued to make sure, though slow, progress. The hostility of the Maritime Provinces was gradually overcome. Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Charles[266] Tupper, then Prime Minister of Nova Scotia, the legislature of that province on April 17th, 1866, passed, by a vote of thirty-one to nineteen, a resolution authorising the appointment of delegates to arrange with the Imperial Government a scheme of union which would effectually insure just provision for the rights and interests of the province. The anti-confederation ministry in New Brunswick resigned in March of 1866, owing to a difference with the Lieutenant-Governor, and were succeeded by a ministry headed by Samuel Leonard Tilley, who scored a sweeping victory in the general election which followed. Tilley was determined that confederation should be effected and he bent all his great abilities and energies to that end. At the following session of the New Brunswick legislature a resolution in favour of the project was adopted by a vote of thirty-one to eight, it being stipulated that provision should be made for the immediate construction of the Intercolonial Railway.

The last session of the legislature of United Canada assembled at Ottawa on June 8th, 1866. During the debate on the address Dorion proposed an amendment to the effect that no measure providing for such a great change as confederation should be adopted until the people had an opportunity of passing upon it, but the amendment received the support of only nineteen members. The most important matter brought up during the session was a series of resolutions defining the constitutions of Upper and Lower Canada under confederation. In connection with the constitution of Lower Canada an animated discussion took place. Cartier had a great deal to do with the drawing up of this constitution, and to a large extent it reflected his ideas and sentiments. It aroused the opposition of Dorion, who objected strongly to a number of provisions, especially to the clause providing for a Legislative Council as well as a Legislative Assembly for the new province of Quebec. While the constitution of Upper Canada provided for only one chamber, under the proposed constitution of Lower Canada there were to be two chambers. Cartier, in a speech which was delivered on July 13th, warmly defended the proposed constitution. He declared at the outset in answer to Dorion that his desire was to establish wise and durable institutions for the province of Quebec. The constitution had been submitted only after long and careful deliberation. The Quebec leader proceeded to review the political developments of Lower Canada from 1791 onwards, and declared that it had been deemed expedient in framing the new constitution to have two chambers for the province, one appointed by the Crown and the other chosen by the people. The Quebec Conference, added Cartier, had wisely decided that each province should be left free to choose the form of government it desired. He defended the creation of an upper chamber on the ground that it would prove a salutary check[267] to the popular branch of the legislature. “In Lower Canada,” added Cartier, “we are Conservative Monarchists, and we desire to take means to prevent the popular chamber from ever over-turning the state. By the resolutions it is proposed to give Lower Canada sixty-five members while maintaining the present electoral divisions. Under the federal plan Lower Canada will always have this same number of members. It will in a way have the position of honour; it will serve as a pivot to the whole constitutional machinery. It is important that we should not lightly depart from this position.” The English minority in Quebec, Cartier also pointed out, had been protected by having sixteen counties guaranteed to it. To questions as to what inconvenience would result from having only a single chamber for the province, Cartier replied with this characteristic utterance: “Conservatives of a monarchical education, our duty is to surround our political institutions with everything that can contribute to their stability.” Cartier by this utterance showed the marked conservatism of his political ideals. Despite the opposition of Dorion and his supporters to the creation of an upper chamber, the resolutions were duly passed and were subsequently made part of the confederation arrangement. Cartier thus secured the political institution which he considered best suited for his native province, and the government of Quebec has since been conducted under a constitution which was largely the result of his efforts.

Before the close of the session of 1866 there was another change in the coalition ministry, owing to the withdrawal of A. T. Galt, who, having made pledges to the English minority of Quebec regarding educational privileges which the Government found it impossible to provide for, deemed it his duty to resign the office of Finance Minister and his seat in the Cabinet. He, however, continued to give his cordial support to the confederation project. That great measure, which must demand our chief attention, was nearing its consummation. Parliament having been prorogued, it was decided that another delegation from the Canadian Government should go to England to again press the adoption of the measure upon the Imperial authorities. The delegation consisted of John A. Macdonald, G. E. Cartier, A. T. Galt, W. P. Howland, William McDougall, and Hector Langevin. Cartier left Montreal on November 12th, and sailed two days later from Boston. A great concourse of citizens, headed by the Mayor, gathered at the station at Montreal, to wish him bon voyage and a successful mission. Arriving in London on November 25th, in company with John A. Macdonald and W. P. Howland, Cartier lost no time in preparing for the arduous duty before him. The Canadian delegates met in London the delegates from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, who had been in the metropolis for some time. On December 4th the representatives of the three provinces[268] assembled in the Westminster Palace Hotel, and then and there was organized the historic conference which resulted in the actual birth of the Dominion, and the members of which have an equal right with the members of the Quebec Conference to be known as Fathers of Confederation. Those in attendance at this memorable conference were:

From Canada—John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, A. T. Galt, W. P. Howland, William McDougall, and Hector L. Langevin.

From Nova Scotia—Charles Tupper, W. A. Henry, Adams G. Archibald, J. McCully, and J. W. Ritchie.

From New Brunswick—Samuel Leonard Tilley, Charles Fisher, Peter Mitchell, J. M. Johnson, and R. D. Wilmot.

On motion of Charles Tupper, seconded by Samuel Leonard Tilley, John A. Macdonald was chosen Chairman of the Conference. The delegates continued in session from day to day until December 24th, when a series of sixty-nine resolutions, based upon those of the Quebec Conference, the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia legislatures and those providing for the local governments of Upper and Lower Canada, were agreed upon and transmitted to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The sittings of the Conference were resumed early in January of 1867, when a series of draft bills were drawn up and revised by the Imperial law officers. A bill was submitted to the Imperial parliament in February, was passed by both Houses, and on March 29th, under the title of the British North America Act, it received the Royal assent. The delegates composing the Westminster Palace Hotel Conference were assisted in their work by the Governor-General, Lord Monck, and by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Carnarvon, both of whom displayed the greatest interest in the accomplishment of the great undertaking. What records there are of the Conference show how careful the delegates were in their work, and what scrupulous attention was paid to have everything as far as possible done in definite and legal form. There was no official record kept of this historic meeting, but a multitude of notes, drafts and memoranda were preserved by John A. Macdonald, and upon these Joseph Pope has based his account of the Conference in his “Memoirs of Sir John A. Macdonald”—an account to which I am indebted.

A number of amendments, most of them of a minor character, were made at the London Conference to the resolutions adopted at the Quebec Conference. One very important amendment dealt with the question of education and the rights of minorities. Fears had been expressed in some quarters that under the projected confederation the rights of the English Protestant minority in the Province of Quebec might be jeopardised. A. T. Galt, who represented the Quebec minority, resigned, as we have seen, from the Government because he was not satisfied[269] with the assurances given and he went to London to look after the interests of the minority in the negotiations between the Imperial Government and the delegates of the colonies on the articles of confederation. Galt demanded that not only the rights which the Protestant minority of Quebec possessed at the time, but those which they might acquire, should be protected under the new constitution. After careful deliberation it was decided by the delegates to accord the same guarantees to all minorities, Protestant or Catholic, in each of the provinces of Canada (Article 93 B.N.A. Act). The intention of the Fathers of Confederation, in that broad and tolerant spirit which characterised all their actions, was undoubtedly to safeguard the rights of minorities everywhere throughout the Dominion.[115]

George-Étienne Cartier’s rôle at the London Conference was none the less responsible than it was at the Quebec Conference, in fact if anything it was even more responsible. His opponents were still irreconcilable, and continued their opposition to the end. Dorion and the majority of the members who had opposed the project in the Canadian parliament, addressed an appeal to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in which they declared that the population of Lower Canada and of Nova Scotia had not had an opportunity of pronouncing on the scheme, and that confederation was not required by the actual condition of the provinces. They therefore demanded delay in order that the people might be consulted. The appeal was in vain, the Imperial authorities as well as the Canadian ministers being fully cognisant of the critical character of the situation and of the fact that the times called for union if British power on the North American continent was to be maintained. Largely as a result of Cartier’s support and co-operation, the confederation project had been advanced within measurable distance of complete success, but it remained for him to see that in the final draft the provisions which he had been successful in having adopted were fully and explicitly defined. For this purpose he had to weigh each section, measure its force and value in the face of all the criticism to which he had been subjected, and make sure that there was no right taken from those he was there[270] specially to protect, whilst the other provinces also got what they were entitled to by right and justice. Such a task required not only legal and constitutional knowledge, but also tact and statesmanship of a very high order. It was in fact Cartier’s greatest legal achievement, as very little fault, if any, has been found since with those articles of the constitution which particularly safeguarded the rights which it was Cartier’s special duty to have protected. In the rôle that he filled at the London Conference, George-Étienne Cartier was really an empire builder, a consummate lawmaker, and an acute interpreter of statutory law. The Dominion which has since developed is the best monument to his skill as a legal constructor.

An interesting historical question arises in connection with the London Conference. Was there an attempt made during its progress to change the basis of confederation from a federal to a legislative union? It has been repeatedly stated that such an attempt was made by John A. Macdonald and other delegates and that its accomplishment was only prevented by the resolute attitude of George-Étienne Cartier. The story seems to have had its origin in a statement made some time subsequent to the conference by Elzéar Gérin, editor of the Constitutional, a paper published at Three Rivers. “It was during the conference in London in 1866 and 1867 that the one who writes these lines saw the man (Cartier) at work,” wrote Gérin in the Constitutional, “and was able to gauge at close range the elevation of his political ideas, his ardent, sincere and profound patriotism and his incomparable activity. Cartier’s task at London was a difficult one. It is no longer divulging a secret to say that at the London Conference all the delegates from Upper Canada and the Maritime Provinces, and with them Galt, wanted a legislative union and wished Lord Carnarvon, then Minister for the Colonies, to accordingly draw up the act to be presented to parliament. Before such an imminent danger Cartier found means of redoubling his efforts. He would never agree that they should fail in the pledge given to his compatriots, who had been promised provincial autonomy; he never desired that they should thus be delivered bound hand and foot to the brutal majority of a legislative union. In face of the attempts of the other delegates Cartier even declared that he would advise the Prime Minister, Sir Narcisse Belleau, to dissolve the Cabinet sooner than to submit. Then confederation would have failed and all would have had to begin over again as in 1864. It was a hard extreme. Cartier preferred first to try and impress his ideas upon the most influential men of the Court and of parliament. He found means of being invited to nearly all of the aristocratic families of London, as well as to the homes of those of the middle classes who took an interest in political affairs. Every day he had three or four invitations to dinner, as well as for a lunch and for the evening.[271] He accepted them all, going to the houses to which he had been invited, making a pretence of eating, but finding means of conversing on the two great questions which preoccupied him—confederation and the rights of the Province of Quebec in that confederation. It was thus that he furnished to Lord Carnarvon the treaties and the articles which assured our rights in an incontestable manner, and the Minister for the Colonies relied upon those historical documents to justify the independence of the provinces. Those who have charged Cartier with having betrayed his compatriots have committed a great error and a great injustice. He was above the prejudices which accompanied differences of race and of religion, but he would never tolerate an injustice to his compatriots. Never was a character more of a stranger to that baseness which results in treason.”

This story has been repeated with different variations from time to time. It has even been stated that Cartier at one stage of the negotiations was so incensed that he told his fellow delegate, Hector Langevin, to get ready to sail for home; that he intended to withdraw from the conference and cable to the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Narcisse Belleau, to resign, thus dissolve the Cabinet and end all negotiations. I have been at considerable pains to ascertain what grounds there are for these statements. It is of course well known that John A. Macdonald was personally strongly in favour of a legislative union with a single parliament for the whole country in preference to a federal union such as advocated by Cartier. Some of the delegates, though they had agreed at the Quebec Conference to a federal union, apparently hoped that a legislative union would eventually result. Even such an astute politician as Galt, subsequent to the Quebec Conference, made this clear at a banquet given in Toronto to the delegates. “We may hope,” said Galt, “that, at no far distant day, we may become willing to enter into a legislative union instead of a federal union as now proposed. We would all have desired a legislative union and to see the power concentrated in the central government as it exists in England, spreading the ægis of its protection over all the institutions of the land, but we found it was impossible to do that at first, we found that there were difficulties in the way that could not be overcome.” The difficulties in the way to which Galt referred were of course the objections of Cartier, who persistently opposed any idea of legislative union.

It is, however, difficult to believe that John A. Macdonald, who, though he had frankly expressed his personal preference for a legislative union, had at the same time emphatically declared that such a system was impracticable, who had bent all his energies to having the project as approved at the Quebec Conference adopted in parliament, would at the eleventh hour have attempted to change the fundamental basis of the[272] whole project, knowing full well, as he must, the grave consequences that any such attempt would involve. I have the solemn assurances of the only surviving member of the London Conference that certainly no such attempt was made during the deliberations of the delegates. Sir Charles Tupper emphatically assures me that the proceedings at the Westminster Palace Hotel were marked by the utmost harmony throughout, that while there were some modifications of the Quebec resolutions no attempt was made to change the actual basis of the confederation scheme, and that there was no friction between the delegates. Nor was ever any hint given by Cartier’s French-Canadian colleagues at the London Conference that such an incident had taken place. Hon. Thomas Chapais, of Quebec, who is a son-in-law of the late Sir Hector Langevin, writes in answer to my enquiries on this point: “In answer to your enquiry I must say that Sir Hector Langevin in his conversations on confederation never said anything which would lead me to believe that an attempt took place in London to change the proposed federal into a legislative union. I think that if such a momentous incident had occurred he would have mentioned it or hinted at it occasionally, which he never did. My father (Hon. J. C. Chapais), who was a member of the Canadian Government at that time, though not present at the London Conference, would have been in a position to know something about a crisis of that nature, and he never intimated anything of the kind. It seems to me that there is no historical foundation for such a story, though, as you say, it has been often repeated.”

It would therefore appear that if any such move was contemplated it must have been outside of the conference. That Cartier himself was convinced that there was some danger of such a move on the part of some of his delegates is unquestionable from statements he subsequently made to relatives.[116] Certainly had any such move been made Cartier would have resisted it with all his force. He had from the very outset insisted upon a federal union as the sole means by which the interests of his compatriots could be safeguarded, while at the same time allowing the interests common to all the provinces to be regulated by a central government. That the constitution was based on the federal principle was due to the fact that Cartier’s political strength and prestige were such that he was in a position to insist upon the adoption of the federal system in opposition to those who would have preferred a legislative union.


During his sojourn in London on this occasion the French-Canadian leader was again the recipient of marked attention and numerous hospitalities, leading British statesmen vying with each other in doing him honour. He had personal audiences with the Prince of Wales, the Prince de la Tour d’Auvergne, French Ambassador to the Court of St. James and a grandson of Monsieur de Vaudreuil, the last French Governor of Canada, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Derby, Lord Carnarvon and Mr. Gladstone. An even higher distinction awaited him. He was granted a special audience at Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria, who spoke to him of the French-Canadians in the warmest terms, declaring that she was most sensible of their attachment and their loyalty. On January 9th Cartier and the other Canadian delegates were the guests of honour at a grand banquet given by the Canada Club, at which Lord Carnarvon, the Colonial Minister, who made the speech of the occasion, declared that the Imperial Government would do everything in its power to assure the success of confederation. Cartier was also a guest at a banquet given to Lord Monck by the city of Portsmouth, on January 30th, when, replying to the toast of the British American colonies, he expressed the hope that the Imperial parliament would sanction the project. “Those who read the American newspapers,” added Cartier, “must have seen that our project of union does not please them. And why? It is because in the United States it is understood that we are going to assure forever the stability of British domination.” He took occasion to remind his hearers that when the American colonies revolted the French-Canadians did not listen to the voice of Washington, who invited them to embrace the cause of the revolution, and that England therefore owed to them the conservation of Canada. Their number since then had increased, and their loyalty had not diminished.

When the confederation measure had been sanctioned by the Imperial parliament Cartier made a short visit to Rome, where he was received in special audience by Pope Pius IX, who warmly commended the labours of the Canadian statesman. Returning to London, Cartier made a brief stay and then embarked on board the Hibernian for home, reaching Quebec on May 16th. Cartier’s return to Canada after the accomplishment of his great work was in the nature of a triumphal progress. Thousands of his compatriots welcomed him at Quebec, and on the day following his arrival he left by special train for Montreal. At many points on the way, at Victoriaville, Arthabaska, Acton, and St. Hyacinthe, he was received with enthusiasm. When the train reached Montreal in the evening fully ten thousand people were waiting to acclaim him, and on alighting from the train he was the recipient of a great ovation. The Mayor of the city, Hon. Henry Starnes, presented him with an address, and amidst general enthusiasm Cartier was escorted to his home. It was with just pride that[274] in addressing his fellow countrymen on the occasion of his welcome home Cartier referred to the accomplishment of the great undertaking to the success of which he had contributed so materially. “Yes, gentlemen, as you have said,” he remarked in one of his addresses, “I return after accomplishing a great political act, after the complete and entire elaboration of a constitution. This act, this constitution, has as its result the union under the one government of the two Canadas, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and this union has as its object to make us a nation. We advance towards the highest destiny, the name of Canada extends over our frontiers, it includes to-day the Maritime Provinces. When my namesake, Jacques Cartier, placed his foot upon our soil and discovered that magnificent stretch of country which to-day forms the colonies of British North America, he gave the name of Canada not only to the two provinces which we inhabit, but also to the gulf provinces. To-day with confederation we have reverted to the frontiers fixed by Jacques Cartier. The confederation to-day includes all the country which was formerly known by the name of Canada. I say to-day, for at this hour a royal proclamation which fixes the day on which this act shall go into force has been issued, and we shall have it within a few days. Do not lose sight of the fact that with federal union we become the third maritime trading nation of the world. I mentioned this fact in Paris, and I may say that in France they take the greatest interest in this cradle of the French who so far from their old Mother country preserve intact the deposit of their traditions. Their sympathies honour us, and we should be proud of them. In France it is understood that confederation is the only means for the British North American colonies to escape annexation by the United States, and in the country of our forefathers they realise that it is to the interest of the rest of the world that the United States should not further extend its frontiers. That is why, apart from the ties of blood, Frenchmen follow with interest the progress of political events in that Canada which they regret they no longer possess. It greatly astonishes them that being of the same race as themselves we have been able to accomplish, as we have done, an act without parallel in history, that is to say, that we have been able to pass through a great political revolution without shedding a little of that blood of which they are so prodigal. For us this peaceful revolution has been easy, because a good understanding and good will have combined in its accomplishment. Confederation was a compromise, it still preserves to-day that character. You remember that it was said that it would be against the interests of Lower Canada, against the religion of Lower Canada. Even some of those who did not entertain that opinion said that they did not know what to expect from England, that a good constitution may have been elaborated at the Quebec Conference, but that the Imperial authorities might change it and alter it[275] to their own liking. Well, you know what happened. We went to England, and we were treated justly and generously. They had regard to all our representations; when we raised our voices they did not turn a deaf ear. On the contrary, they heard us with interest and listened to our demands. The Canadians, said the English Ministers, come to us with a finished constitution, the result of an entente cordiale between themselves, and after mature discussion of their interests and their needs. They are the best judges of what will be suitable to them. Do not change what they have done; sanction their confederation. Yes, that is the spirit in which England received our demand. We required her sanction; she gave it; without hesitation, without wishing to interfere in our work, and I wish to say that if there are men of broad views and of justice they are the statesmen of England. Now let me say to you that this good understanding which has presided over our efforts up to the present should henceforth continue. To you, my French-Canadian and Catholic compatriots, to you also, my English, Irish and Scotch compatriots, I say—do not be alarmed. The constitutional act which we have had approved in England safeguards the privileges and the rights of the minority as it does those of the majority. Under confederation the rights of all and of each will be amply protected. With the system of provincial government and a central power, individual interests as well as general interests will always find defenders and a rampart for defence. Everything depends on our patriotism, and without speaking of the other guarantees which the constitution affords us, that permits me to say that everything will go well.”

A few days subsequent to this notable address, on May 22nd, 1867, a Royal proclamation issued from Windsor Castle appointed July 1st as the date upon which the British North America Act should go into effect. The great design had at last been accomplished. All opposition had been brushed aside, though it cannot be denied that, viewing the question in a strictly constitutional aspect, there was justification for the contention of Dorion and other opponents of the project that the people should have been consulted before such a vital change was made in the constitutional system of the country. The coalition Government, strictly speaking, possessed no mandate from the people to effect what in the words of Cartier himself was nothing short of a revolution. It is a remarkable fact that the two most momentous constitutional changes in Canadian history, the union of the two Canadas in 1841 and the confederation of the British North American provinces in 1867, were effected without the people’s wishes being directly consulted. The union of Upper and Lower Canada was in fact diametrically opposed to the wishes of a large section of the people, and confederation, though the work of truly patriotic and far-seeing statesmen with supreme faith in their country’s future, aroused at[276] the time of its adoption little if any popular enthusiasm. Had it not been for the dominating influence of George-Étienne Cartier in Quebec and the powerful support of George Brown in Ontario, it would undoubtedly have been impossible to carry the measure to a successful consummation. It may, however, be said that the critical situation which faced the country at the time excused, if it did not wholly justify, the disregard of strictly constitutional procedure. The situation demanded prompt and decisive action if Canada’s political entity was to be maintained and the absorption of the country into the United States avoided. It has been truly said that at this time Great Britain had none of the feeling about her colonies that she has to-day, the free trade school was in the ascendant, and the general feeling was one of indifference to the colonies, coupled with a resolve to let them go if they so desired. Of the British statesmen of the time, Benjamin D’Israeli, the future Earl of Beaconsfield, was amongst the few who foresaw the great destiny before Canada, and who predicted that it would one day be the granary of the empire. More than once between 1860 and 1866 did Canada’s fate hang in the balance. When in 1861 Great Britain demanded that the Confederate agents, Mason and Slidell, who had been forcibly removed from the British steamer Trent on the high seas, should be restored, some of the Washington statesmen proposed to heal the rapidly widening breach between the North and the South by seizing Canada, evoking a strong national feeling and bringing on a conflict with Great Britain, in an effort to avert civil war. It was due to Lincoln alone that the decision to restore the two delegates was reached and trouble averted. The marked sympathy shown in England for the South during the American Civil War incensed many of the Northern statesmen, conspicuous amongst whom was Charles Sumner, who occupied the influential position of Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. It has been authoritatively stated that when the war closed it seemed to Sumner that the time had come for a final settlement and that settlement to him meant the acquisition of Canada. Sumner’s avowed policy was to refuse all arbitration with England as to the Alabama question and other grievances, and to take Canada as an indemnity, thereby closing as he believed the door to all future difficulties with Great Britain. Sumner’s idea was that the transfer would be peaceable, but with the greatest army of tried and veteran soldiers then existing, and with an equally powerful navy, he was quite prepared for a war, which in his judgment could have but one issue.[117] Arbitration instead of war was, however, the ultimate outcome. Certainly had the United States decided upon the acquisition of Canada before confederation was effected, the task might not have been a very difficult one, especially in view of the chaotic conditions that then prevailed.[277] Richard Cartwright, who was in the midst of the political movements of the period, has left it on record that stable government under the conditions then prevailing was, to use that statesman’s own words, absolutely impossible, as every ministry was at the mercy of any two or three knaves or faddists who happened for the time being to support them. Many of the oldest, the best and wisest of Canadian public men of the period, he adds, were at the time almost in despair, many expressed the opinion that the dissolution of the union was absolutely inevitable, and the dissolution of the union would in the opinion of many have been speedily succeeded by the absorption of Ontario and Quebec into the United States.

Fac-simile Autograph Letter From Sir Lomer Gouin, Prime Minister of Quebec


Not only was Canada enviously regarded by the neighbouring republic, but it was openly attacked by members of the Fenian organisation who made it the object of their bitter hatred against Great Britain. The Fenian raid upon the Niagara frontier in 1866, the fight at Ridgeway, and the series of petty invasions at other points, opened the eyes of the country to the danger by which it was threatened owing to the lack of unity and cohesiveness between the various sections. When the Fenians renewed their operations subsequent to confederation, the volunteers of the four united provinces stood to arms from Sarnia to Halifax as one man, ready to defend their common country, and the Fenians’ attempt ended in a miserable fiasco.

That George-Étienne Cartier was fully cognisant of the critical situation existing prior to confederation is perfectly clear from all his utterances. One of his chief reasons for so strongly supporting confederation was in fact that the threatened danger of annexation to the United States might be averted. Whilst the position of the separate British Northern American colonies was precarious, Cartier and the other Fathers of Confederation perceived that by a union their defensive position would be greatly strengthened and their wisdom was amply justified by the course of events. Had confederation not been effected at the time, the likelihood is that to-day there would have been no great British power on the American continent.

The advocates of confederation did not claim that the new constitution was perfect. On the contrary, as Cartier himself acknowledged, it was a compromise. It was frankly admitted by the leading promoters of the project that the result of their labours was necessarily the work of concession, that differences of race, language and religion had to be considered, that the rivalries of trade and commerce and the jealousies of diversified local interests had to be encountered, and that not one of the thirty-three framers of the constitution but had on some points to yield his opinion. Nor have all the objections raised by Dorion and other opponents of the measure proved to have been illusory. Though Dorion’s[278] predictions as to the calamitous results that would follow confederation have been falsified by the course of events, some of his arguments, notably in regard to the undemocratic constitution of the Senate and the probability of friction between that body and the popular chamber, have been justified. To do Dorion and other opponents of the measure justice, it must be said that once confederation was endorsed by the people, their loyalty accepted the changed conditions, and several of them rendered distinguished service to the new Dominion. Dorion, who survived his great antagonist eighteen years, was a member of the first Liberal administration of the Dominion, and died universally respected as Sir Antoine Aimé Dorion, chief justice of the Province of Quebec, only a few months before Sir John A. Macdonald passed to his rest. Joly lived to be Prime Minister of Quebec, a member of the Dominion Government, and Lieutenant-Governor of one of the great western provinces of that Confederation which he dreaded but which he survived to see exceed the most sanguine expectations of its advocates.

Though the new Canadian constitution, like all constitutions, had its imperfections, on the whole it has been found to work well. With the unfortunate experience of the United States before them as an example, the Fathers of Confederation avoided many of the dangers while retaining the advantage of the federal system, with the result, to use the words of an eminent Canadian jurist, that the Canadian constitution “offers the best hope for the future, for the advantage of the commonalty, both in wealth and in intelligence, and for the realisation of the prophetic apophthegm, all men are born free and equal.”[118] Fifty years of confederation have demonstrated the wisdom of the Fathers. The federal system devised by them has been found to meet all requirements of constitutional government, and its working has been attended with comparatively little friction. As has been truly said by a high constitutional authority, as far as adaptation to local conditions is concerned the federal system in Canada has been an unqualified success, and this success is a tribute to the men who governed as well as to those who framed the constitution.[119] That the federal system instead of a legislative union was adopted in the establishment of the Canadian confederation, as we have seen, was primarily due to Cartier’s efforts, and the wisdom of his action has been demonstrated by results. If for nothing else, George-Étienne Cartier would be entitled to lasting remembrance for having favoured the federal system which assured the success of confederation.

While it was not Cartier’s boast that the new constitution was perfect, what he did maintain was that it was founded on principles of equity and[279] justice, and it was his express hope that, if it ever became necessary to revise it, the purpose of its authors should be kept in view. “I hope,” he said, “that if within the next eighty years it becomes necessary to review the constitution, it will not be to restrict the principles of equity which constitute its basis, but rather to extend them and to aggrandise confederation.”

The supreme merit of George-Étienne Cartier is that, from the time the question was first pressed to the fore as a practical issue in Canadian politics, he strongly and persistently advocated confederation, that as Prime Minister of United Canada he was the first to make the question an administrative one and thus to bring it before the Imperial authorities, that thereafter he consistently advocated it both in and out of parliament, and that through his alliance with George Brown the practical realisation of the project was made possible. By insisting upon a federal instead of a legislative union, he not only safeguarded the rights and interests of his compatriots, but assured the success of confederation as a whole. Without Cartier it would undoubtedly have been impossible to secure the adhesion of Quebec to the union, and without Quebec confederation would have remained a splendid dream but nothing more. When confederation was decided upon by the delegates of the various provinces, Cartier, in the face of the strongest and most determined opposition, never wavered in his support, but pursued his course until the great design was accomplished. It was with pardonable pride that on the first Dominion Day George-Étienne Cartier emphasised the fact that it was he who as Prime Minister of United Canada first made confederation an administrative project and carried that project to the foot of the Throne.[120][280] The responsibility and risk assumed by Cartier in the confederation movement were greater than that of any of the other Fathers, and the credit attaching to his services is for that reason all the more.[121] Both Macdonald and Tupper have publicly testified that without Cartier confederation at the time would not have been possible, and history must do him the justice of recognising his pre-eminent services at the most memorable as well as the most critical period of Canadian history.

George-Étienne Cartier was of course only one of the principal founders of the Dominion. To attempt to apportion the respective merits of the great Fathers of Confederation would be an invidious task. Nor is it at all necessary. Though the services of each may have differed in kind, they were all directed to the one supreme object, and they must all be held in equal regard and honour by Canadians, John A. Macdonald for his conspicuous tact and devotion, his great qualities of leadership, his splendid statesmanship, and his supreme faith in the future of the Dominion; Alexander Tilloch Galt for his early and unflagging advocacy of union; George Brown for his powerful support and unselfish patriotism in a grave crisis in his country’s history; Thomas D’Arcy McGee for the warmth and eloquence of his advocacy; Charles Tupper for the manner in which he won the support of Nova Scotia against tremendous odds; and Samuel Leonard Tilley for the conspicuous ability and energy which he displayed in securing the adhesion of New Brunswick. In Harris’ painting of the “Fathers of Confederation”, which hangs on the walls of the Canadian Parliament, George-Étienne Cartier is appropriately placed in[281] the centre of the illustrious group, to the immediate right of the Chairman, Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, while standing next to Cartier is his great colleague, John A. Macdonald. There also are to be seen lifelike representations of the other great Fathers of Confederation, Galt, Brown, McGee, Tupper and Tilley, and of all the statesmen who composed the historic Quebec Conference, which laid the basis for the establishment of the great Dominion upon the sure foundations of equity and of justice.[122] It is a painting which should be a lasting stimulus in patriotism to all Canadians, reminding them, that whatever differences of race, language or creed there may be, the basic principle of confederation is mutual respect and equality.[123]




The first day of July, 1867, witnessed the birth of the great Dominion. Canada, to use Cartier’s own expression, had emerged from a simple province into the status of a nation, to the establishment of which the French-Canadian leader had very materially contributed. Cartier’s greatest work was accomplished, but his labours were not yet ended. Six more years of life remained to him, and they were to be like all his previous career years of strenuous effort and struggle, crowned by further great accomplishments.

Lord Monck was appointed Governor-General of the new Dominion, and entrusted John A. Macdonald with the formation of an administration. The accomplishment of this task was by no means easy, in fact it was attended by so many difficulties that Macdonald was on the point of relinquishing the undertaking and advising the Governor-General to send for George Brown, when the situation was saved by the patriotism and disinterestedness of Charles Tupper, who, it may with justice be said, had more to do with assuring the formation of the first Dominion administration than any other man. The chief difficulty arose over the proportional representation of the various provinces in the ministry, and here again Cartier stood firm in insisting that the interests of his native province should be safeguarded. He demanded that the Province of Quebec, owing to its importance in the confederation, should have three French-Canadian representatives in the ministry in addition to the representative of the English minority. Thomas D’Arcy McGee, it was generally conceded, owing to the eminent services he had rendered the cause of confederation, was entitled to a portfolio, but to have included him also would have made Quebec’s representation in the Cabinet five members. As the Ontario leaders insisted upon their province having one more member in the Cabinet than Quebec, the result would have been that the aggregate representation of the two provinces alone would have been eleven members. With the other provinces given proportional representation, the Cabinet would have been, as John A. Macdonald claimed, too large to be workable. Cartier, however, would not relinquish one iota of[283] what he justly claimed was due to his province. To have done so at the outset would have been fatal to the influence of his compatriots, as the number of Quebec representatives then decided upon would have been regarded as a permanency. The other members saw the justice of Cartier’s contention, but what way could be found out of the difficulty? It was Charles Tupper who offered the solution. The Nova Scotian leader saw Thomas D’Arcy McGee and informed him that he intended to waive his claims, at the same time suggesting that McGee should take a similar action, so as to permit of the successful formation of the Government. McGee, with equal disinterestedness, agreed to the suggestion, whereupon Tupper placed his portfolio at the disposal of Macdonald, suggesting that Edward Kenny of Nova Scotia should be appointed as the representative of the Irish Catholics of the Dominion. This arrangement removed all obstacles to the formation of the Cabinet, which was announced as follows:

Hon. John Alexander Macdonald, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Prime Minister.

Hon. George-Étienne Cartier, Minister of Militia and Defence.

Hon. Samuel Leonard Tilley, Minister of Customs.

Hon. Alexander Tilloch Galt, Minister of Finance.

Hon. William McDougall, Minister of Public Works.

Hon. William Pearce Howland, Minister of Inland Revenue.

Hon. Adams G. Archibald, Secretary of State for the Provinces.

Hon. A. J. Ferguson-Blair, President of the Privy Council.

Hon. Peter Mitchell, Minister of Marine and Fisheries.

Hon. Alexander Campbell, Postmaster-General.

Hon. J. C. Chapais, Minister of Agriculture.

Hon. H. L. Langevin, Secretary of State for Canada.

Hon. Edward Kenny, Receiver-General.

Of the thirteen members, five were from Ontario, four from Quebec, and two from each of the Maritime Provinces. Cartier’s French-Canadian colleagues in the Quebec representation were J. C. Chapais and Hector Langevin, who had been his colleagues at the Quebec Conference, while the English minority at Quebec had a distinguished representative in Galt, who had been so prominent in the confederation movement. Cartier took the portfolio of Minister of Militia and Defence of his own volition for a characteristic reason—because, as he himself declared to Charles Tupper, it was the most difficult of all. He held the portfolio until his death and as Minister of Militia and Defence rendered invaluable service to the country. On the morning of July 1st Lord Monck was sworn in as Governor-General of the new Dominion, and the members of the Cabinet took the oath of office on the same day.

The Governor-General’s first official act was to announce that, in order to mark the consummation of confederation, Her Majesty had been pleased to confer on John A. Macdonald the honour of Knight Commander of the Bath, while Cartier, Galt, Tilley, Tupper, Howland and[284] McDougall were created Companions of the Bath. Cartier, as well as Galt, declined to accept the honour offered them, the ground being taken by Cartier that as he was the recognised representative of the French-Canadians the conferring of an inferior title upon him would be regarded by his countrymen in the nature of a slight. That Cartier was right in the ground he took was generally acknowledged. Both he and Galt had been particularly prominent in promoting the great cause of confederation, and if it was desired to recognise their services by the conferring of a title the acknowledgment of those services should have been equal to that deservedly accorded to Macdonald. The incident was the cause of a rupture of the good feeling that had always existed between Macdonald and Cartier, but it was only temporary. Sir John A. Macdonald subsequently gave his explanation of the incident, disclaiming any responsibility in the matter. “On that day” (July 1st), said the Prime Minister, “Lord Monck informed me that I had been made a K.C.B. and that Messrs. Cartier, Galt, Tilley, Tupper, Howland and McDougall had been created C.B.’s in order to mark that important political event. No previous intimation had been given to any of us of Her Majesty’s intention. Messrs. Cartier and Galt, considering the recognition of their services inadequate, declined to receive the decoration. Considerable feeling was aroused in Lower Canada amongst the French-Canadians by what was looked upon as a slight to the representative man of their race and a motion on the subject was made in parliament. Lord Monck refused to give any information on the subject as being one of Imperial concern only, but in order to allay this feeling obtained permission from Her Majesty’s Government to offer Mr. Cartier a baronetcy if I did not object to it. I, of course, at once stated that I should be only too glad to see my colleague receive the honour. Mr. Galt was made a K.C.M.G. All these honours were conferred upon myself and the other gentlemen on account of the prominent part we had taken in carrying out the Imperial policy of confederation, and without any reference to us.”[124]

From this explanation the impression would be conveyed that it was on the initiative of Lord Monck that a baronetcy was conferred upon Cartier. This, however, is not the case. That happy solution of the unpleasantness was due to the tact of Charles Tupper, who was in London at the time, and who addressed the following historic letter to the Duke of Buckingham, Secretary of State for the Colonies:

Westminster Palace Hotel,
March 31st, 1868.

My Lord Duke,

Deeply impressed with the importance which attaches to everything calculated to strengthen the loyal devotion to the Crown, which I am proud to know pervades every portion of the Dominion of Canada, and well knowing the warm interest[285] which Your Grace feels towards that portion of the empire, I venture to solicit an official interview for the purpose of communicating my views upon the desirability of submitting to Her Majesty the propriety of conferring upon the Hon. Mr. Cartier, the Minister of Militia, as high a mark of the Royal favour as that bestowed upon Sir John A. Macdonald. Although I had the honour of proposing the latter gentleman as Chairman of the Conference of B.N.A. delegates, held here in 1866, I think it but right to inform Your Grace that but for the patriotic devotion of Mr. Cartier to the great project of confederation, and the courage with which in the face of great difficulties and dangers he pursued that policy to the end, the union could not have been accomplished. I rejoice that it was the Royal pleasure to confer deservedly a distinction so high upon Mr. Macdonald, but I regard it as a great misfortune that a million of Catholic Frenchmen, than whom Her Majesty has no subjects more loyally devoted to her throne and person in any portion of her empire, should feel that one of their own race and religion, whose standing was equally high in Canada, and whose claim to Royal favour was as great, should not have been deemed worthy of the same gracious consideration. It is also right that I should say to Your Grace that Mr. Cartier’s acceptance of an inferior distinction would undoubtedly have destroyed the great influence which he wields amongst his countrymen and impaired the power he is now able to exert so beneficially in the service of his sovereign. I may also add that the liberty I have taken in bringing this matter under the notice of Your Grace is inspired by no personal consideration and is entirely without the knowledge of Mr. Cartier.

I have the honour to remain,

Your Grace’s most obedient servant,
(Signed) Charles Tupper.

His Grace,
The Duke of Buckingham,
Sec’y of State for the Colonies.

Charles Tupper subsequently had an official interview with the Duke of Buckingham and strongly urged that Cartier’s great services should be adequately recognised. The result was as he wished. “After the conference at Prince Edward Island, Quebec and London,” says Sir Charles Tupper, in his autograph letter to me, “I came to the conclusion that the success of that great measure (confederation) required the hearty co-operation of John A. Macdonald and Cartier, and finding that the Imperial Government had given great offence by conferring a K.C.B. upon the former, I explained the position to the Duke of Buckingham, who agreed with me, and when he told me that no appointment could be made until another vacancy occurred in that order (K.C.B.), I suggested that a baronetcy would meet the case, and Her Majesty conferred it accordingly.” On the copy of his letter of March 31st, to the Duke of Buckingham, in my possession, there is the following note, under date of April 22nd, 1868: “The Duke showed me the message of Lord Monck announcing Mr. Cartier’s baronetcy at 1 p. m. today, April 22nd, 1868.”[125][286] George-Étienne Cartier’s services were thus through the intervention of Charles Tupper recognised by the Crown by the conferring of an even higher title than that accorded to John A. Macdonald, and thereafter he was known as Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Bart. His arms as officially described were—per fesse gules and or a fesse of the last, in chief an ermine proper, and in base five pallets of the first, the crest being an anchor in bend sinister sable proper, pendent therefrom by a gold chain, an escutcheon gules, charged with a fleur-de-lys or. The device that he chose was Franc Et Sans Dol—Frank Without Deceit.

That Cartier fully recognised that he was indebted to the intervention of his friend Charles Tupper for the high honour conferred upon him is shown by the following letter, which he shortly afterwards addressed to Dr. Tupper, who was still in London:

Executive Council Office,
Ottawa, Canada
Sunday, 16th May, 1868.

My dear Dr. Tupper,

I feel very thankful to you for your kind last, and for what you have written to the Duke at Buckingham and for what you have done respecting the baronetcy honour. Shortly after your letter to the Duke and your interview with him, the Duke telegraphed Lord Monck by the “cable” to offer me the baronetcy distinction, and to ascertain if I would accept it. It took some days before giving an answer to Lord Monck. It happened to be at the time poor McGee was assassinated. Finally I gave my answer of acceptance to Lord Monck, who telegraphed it to the Duke, and a few days afterwards came a cable telegram from the Duke to Lord Monck announcing that the Queen had conferred on me the baronetcy distinction and the C.B. on Langevin. It was announced in the House amidst great cheering and applause. I was not aware, nor Langevin, that the honours conferred respectively on each of us were the results of your having moved the Duke on the other side. As a matter of course Langevin and myself are under a great debt of gratitude to you. Before accepting the honour offered to me I conferred with Galt and Langevin, who both advised me to accept it. Allow me to state to you that it is regretful that the case of Galt was not favourably considered. I hope that before long justice will be done in his case. If ever you have an opportunity to approach that subject with the Duke do not fail to say a good word for Galt. There is a feeling that he is left behind in the most unfavourable position.

With regard to the militia measure, I am glad that it is so favourably appreciated in England. I will carry it. I had a few days ago a great parliamentary triumph on the “fortification questions.” I carried the appropriations of 1,100,000 pounds sterling for the fortifications by a vote of 102 against 51, that is, by a majority of 51. Every one was surprised at the result. A few days ago a very bad and injudicious vote was given in the House for the reduction of the Governor’s salary to $32,000. We (the ministry) opposed the reduction but without any effect. The members are at this moment seized with the reduction fever. Several of them had promised to their constituents at the last elections to vote for the reduction of the Governor’s salary, and they had to vote according to their promises. We intend to have the bill set aside by the Senate, and if the bill passes in the Senate it will have to be reserved for the sanction of Her Majesty. Then it will be the right and the proper policy of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to advise Her Majesty to withhold her sanction, and instead to send a well-considered despatch calling the attention of parliament to the wishes of Her[287] Majesty, as will be expressed in the despatch, and calling parliament to reconsider the question. I expect we owe to you the policy adopted with regard to the two dollars per annum respecting American fishery rights.

Excuse these hasty lines. I have not failed to convey to Mrs. Cartier your kind message. You have done well with regard to Howe. Our parliament will very likely be prorogued on the 20th instant. The most part of the Nova Scotia members have left. I have much pleasure in telling you that better feelings prevail in the minds of the Nova Scotia members with regard to the confederation. Their only difficulty is to allay the feelings which they have raised against us. These feelings cannot last very long. They will soon wear out.

Reiterating to you my thanks,

Believe me, my dear Doctor,
Your very sincere and devoted friend,

G. E. Cartier.

The Honourable Charles Tupper, London.

Another critical situation had now to be faced. Confederation, it is true, had been approved by the parliament of United Canada as well as by New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and had been sanctioned and legalised by the Imperial parliament. But the general body of the electors had not been consulted, and the time had arrived when an appeal to the people became imperative. It was decided that a general election for the House of Commons should take place in the early autumn. It was undoubtedly the most momentous contest in Canada’s political annals. Vast interests were at stake. What if the electors, as was possible, should repudiate the action of the Government, and show their disfavour of confederation? It would be nothing short of an appalling reverse fraught with the most disastrous consequences. That the Government fully realised the vital character of the contest was shown by the fact that it left nothing undone to assure success. Everywhere the advantages of confederation and the great interests at stake were fully presented to the electors, and appeals made to their patriotism to rally to the support of the new constitution. In Lower Canada, or the Province of Quebec, as it was now designated, a critical situation was threatened. Quebec was rightly regarded as the pivot of confederation, and an adverse decision in that province would undoubtedly have been fatal to the permanence of the new constitutional system. Cartier again held the key to the situation, and he threw himself into the contest with all his accustomed courage and optimism and with a determination to overcome all obstacles. He encountered the most stubborn opposition, though his opponents at the outset were divided as to the best course to pursue. Dorion, at a Liberal convention held shortly before the elections, expressed the opinion that it would be futile to make a fight against confederation, in view of the strong influences in its favour, especially the support of the clergy, and he advised his friends to leave the supporters of confederation a free field. The younger element of the Liberal party, however, was opposed to such a policy; the general feeling of the convention was in favour of opposition,[288] and Dorion bowed to the will of the majority. A stubborn contest followed. On every hustings throughout the province the people were urged to repudiate Cartier’s action, and to show their disapprobation of the confederation project. At this critical juncture the Roman Catholic bishops and clergy rendered a signal service to the cause of union. Practically all the Roman Catholic bishops of the province issued mandaments approving of confederation, the clergy generally favoured it, and by this united action on the part of the bishops and clergy Cartier’s triumph and the endorsement of confederation by the Province of Quebec were assured. Nor is it too much to say that Quebec’s endorsement of the project assured its complete success, as surely as a reverse in Quebec would have been fatal to the whole scheme.

At this election George-Étienne Cartier personally appealed to the people of Montreal East, whom he had so long represented in the old parliament, for an endorsement of his course and a renewal of their mandate. The contest was a memorable one. The French-Canadian leader was opposed by Médéric Lanctôt, a popular labour tribune, whose appeals were mainly directed to the working classes. Intense excitement and disorderly scenes marked the contest. On August 29th, the day of the nomination, a great meeting was held at which both candidates spoke. On this occasion Cartier was supported by the eloquent Chapleau, then a young lawyer, but destined to become one of the greatest political figures of the country. Chapleau had hardly begun to speak when a volley of stones was poured upon the platform and a scene of wild disorder ensued. It was only by the intervention of a force of police and a body of cavalry that order was restored and, escorted by several thousand electors, Cartier proceeded to his residence, where he denounced the tactics of his opponent. Open voting was then in vogue, and the balloting continued over several days amidst the most intense excitement. Despite all the efforts of his adversaries to compass his defeat, Cartier was triumphantly elected, receiving a decisive majority in every one of the three wards composing the electoral division. Not only was he elected to the new parliament of Canada, but he was also returned to represent the division in the legislature of Quebec, which was permissible under the system of dual representation which prevailed at the time. Cartier’s personal triumph was accompanied by an equally decisive triumph of his followers and of the cause of confederation. Out of the sixty-five seats in the Province of Quebec, only twelve were carried by the anti-confederates. The triumph of confederation was equally marked in Ontario and New Brunswick. In Ontario the Government had an overwhelming majority, only seventeen out of the eighty-five seats being carried by anti-confederates. In New Brunswick twelve seats out of fifteen went to the Government. In Nova Scotia alone did the cause of[289] confederation suffer a reverse. Largely owing to the opposition of Joseph Howe, that province pronounced almost unanimously against the project, out of the nineteen members returned, only one, Charles Tupper, being a supporter of the administration. The result of the election as a whole left no doubt of the feeling of the people, the Government having the support of nearly three-fourths of the new parliament.

George-Étienne Cartier’s labours during the period immediately following the establishment of confederation were mainly directed towards the consolidation of the Dominion and the strengthening of the national fabric. Four of the great provinces, Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, had been united, but it was the desire of Cartier, as it was of Macdonald and the other great Fathers of Confederation, to see the Dominion expand until it should extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a great maritime as well as land power, with the furthest east united to the furthest west by a trans-continental railway system. Cartier was steadfast in his efforts to secure the accomplishment of this vast design. That it might be accomplished it was necessary that the Maritime Provinces should be united to the two Canadas by a railway, that the great western territories, which were then in possession of the Hudson’s Bay Company, should be acquired for Canada, that the far western province of British Columbia should be brought into the Dominion, and that a trans-continental railway should be provided to connect the west with the east.

The project of an Intercolonial railway had engaged attention, especially in the Maritime Provinces, for many years, and had found strong supporters both in Upper and Lower Canada. As far back as 1848, under the joint auspices of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, surveys were made by Major Robinson and other Imperial officers of a number of proposed routes from Halifax to Quebec. Major Robinson, from a military point of view, gave the preference to the route which was most distant from the frontier between Canada and the United States. This route was not only the longest, but necessarily the most costly. Negotiations for an Imperial guarantee were continued over a number of years, portions of the lines were constructed, but it was not until 1867 that the construction of the road was assured by its being made part of the confederation measure. One of the resolutions adopted by the delegates at the London Conference provided that the road should be at once constructed, and an act passed by the Imperial parliament on April 12th, 1867, authorised the commissioners of the treasury to guarantee interest on a loan not exceeding three million pounds sterling for the construction of an Intercolonial railway between Halifax and the St. Lawrence. Cartier had been a strong supporter of the building of such a road, which he had advocated in spite of the determined opposition of Dorion, who was[290] strongly against it as involving what he deemed too vast an expenditure. In the first session of the Dominion parliament Dorion proposed that no action should be taken in regard to the determination of a route without the consent of parliament, but the Government took the ground that such a course would imperil the Imperial guarantee, which was made conditional upon the approval of the Colonial Minister. That the route ultimately adopted was the one chosen was due to Cartier; in fact a serious difference of opinion arose between him and some of his colleagues on this very question. John A. Macdonald and the majority of the Cabinet were in favour of the shorter and more direct route from Rivière du Loup to St. John, but Cartier in the interest of Quebec, which was vitally concerned in the choice of the route, favoured what was known as the northern or Robinson route by the Baie des Chaleurs, which was also the choice of the Imperial authorities for military reasons. Cartier’s object was to secure railway communication for the population of the Lower St. Lawrence, which was only possible by the choice of the Robinson route. In this stand he was strongly supported by Peter Mitchell, one of the New Brunswick ministers. The Quebec leader took a very firm stand on the question, absenting himself from Cabinet meetings after he had expressed his views, and practically threatening to resign unless the Robinson route was chosen. Finally Sir Sandford Fleming, who was called in consultation by Sir John A. Macdonald, decided both on military and commercial grounds in favour of the Robinson route and Cartier carried his point. An act providing for the construction of a railway was passed by the Dominion parliament, but it was not until 1876, three years after Cartier’s death, that the Intercolonial Railway was completed and opened.

The provision of adequate means for the defence of the national structure was a subject which engaged Cartier’s special attention as Minister of Militia and Defence, and the Militia Bill which he presented to parliament on March 31st, 1868, was undoubtedly one of the most important measures of his whole career. Cartier’s policy on defence was in its essence a truly national policy. His idea was that Canada should depend upon itself for protection in ordinary times, and for that reason he sought to strengthen the militia organisation and also to form the nucleus of a naval force for Canada. His ideas on the question of defence were fully outlined in the confederation debate, when, discussing the possible contingency of a war with the United States, he remarked: “When we are united the enemy will know that if he attacks any province, either Prince Edward Island or Canada, he will have to deal with the combined forces of the empire. . . . When we have organised a system of defence suitable for our mutual protection England will not fail us in case of need either in soldiers or in money.”


The care and attention which Cartier devoted to the militia measure are shown by the fact that the bill contained no less than one hundred and one clauses and covered the entire organisation of the system. Its provisions still form the basis of the militia system of the country. The measure in substance provided for an effective force of 40,000 men at an estimated yearly expenditure of $900,000. The scope of the measure may best be explained by reference to Cartier’s great speech in presenting it to parliament, a speech which occupied five hours in its delivery and which was undoubtedly one of the most striking and important of all his public addresses. At the outset he dwelt upon the importance of adequate defence to complete the great work of confederation. “I hope,” Cartier said, “that this project will be favourably received by the whole House. For some days it has been rumoured that like a bomb it will throw consternation into the opposition ranks. I do not have any such fear. My friend from Ottawa (Mr. Wright) said last night that the Minister of Militia was semper audax, always audacious. I will recall to him in this connection a quotation from Virgil—audaces fortuna juvat, fortune favours the brave. In proposing this measure I do not fear a check like the Militia bill of 1862 caused to my colleagues and to myself. I believe this measure is necessary to complete the great work of confederation. I have already observed under other circumstances that three indispensable elements constitute a nation—population, territory, and the sea. But the crown of the edifice—also indispensable—is military force. No people can lay claim to the title of a nation if it does not possess a military element—the means of defence. It goes without saying that the military organisation I demand has no offensive character. Besides our ambitions will have a vast field in the interior. Our new constitution permits us to extend our frontiers from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and to attain this end I desire as much as any one that we should draw as soon as possible into the confederation the North West Territory and British Columbia.”

In explaining the various provisions of his measure Cartier mentioned that he had carefully studied the militia laws of the various provinces, as well as a report by Col. McDougall, a Canadian officer, and of Col. Lysons, a British officer. The measure which he proposed, Cartier explained, provided for an effective force of 40,000 men, at an estimated yearly expenditure of $900,000. The militia would be divided into active and reserve, the active comprising volunteers, land militia and naval militia, and the reserve those not serving in the active militia. Under the bill the Dominion was divided into nine military districts, one for New Brunswick, one for Nova Scotia, three for the Province of Quebec, and four for the Province of Ontario. At the head of each district was to be placed an assistant adjutant-general, with a staff sufficient to see to the[292] carrying out of the law. Provision was also made for the organisation of the country into regimental divisions according to requirements. There would be no difficulty, Cartier maintained, under the measure, in securing an effective force of forty thousand men, and he estimated that in the whole Dominion there would be 700,000 men capable of bearing arms for the defence of their country. “It is an important fact that out of this number,” remarked Cartier, “there are at least 70,000 marines, of whom 40,000 or 50,000 are in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. If the maritime power of England is superior to that of France, it is due to the fact that the maritime population is more numerous amongst the English than amongst the French. Napoleon one day said that it was easy enough to construct warships, but the difficulty would be to man them. If the entire British marine perished to-day, the sailors employed in the merchant marine would be sufficient to man a new war fleet. The fact that our maritime population represents an effective force of 70,000 men is therefore of the greatest importance to us.

“I do not pretend by this bill,” added Cartier, “to organise a naval militia. That is a matter which is left to the Governor-General in Council. But the bill contains provisions suitable to encourage the creation of naval contingents.” With 700,000 men capable of bearing arms, without considering the support that would be forthcoming from England, Cartier maintained that in case of invasion Canada would be in an extremely strong position. The measure which he proposed would provide, he said, all the means of protection and defence, which had been lacking for some years, at a minimum of cost. “This law,” added Cartier, “will show strangers that we are determined to live under the protection of the British Crown.”

The reorganisation of the militia system under the measure proposed by George-Étienne Cartier as Minister of Militia and Defence was received with general satisfaction, it being recognised that the requisite means of defence were provided without an undue expenditure of money. On this occasion it was admitted by friends and opponents alike that Cartier had achieved a veritable triumph, not only in the manner in which he had met the needs of the country, but also in the masterly way in which the measure was drawn up and presented to parliament. The bill drew from Mr. Mackenzie, the leader of the Liberal party, the declaration that he and his friends would offer no opposition to the proposals, but that they would heartily second the Government. Richard Cartwright frankly declared that the rejection of the militia bill of 1862 was an unpatriotic action, the results of which had been prejudicial to the country. Liberals as well as Conservatives were therefore united in recognising the wisdom of Carder’s measure.

As Minister of Militia and Defence, George-Étienne Cartier unquestionably[293] rendered invaluable service to the Dominion. It was characteristic of him that he accepted the position because it was the most difficult one of all. “It may perhaps be asked why I took the direction of the Militia Department,” he said during his speech in introducing the Militia bill. “I would answer to that, that I have always liked to overcome difficulties, and that the Militia Department offers a great many. Now that I am at the head of the department, why should I not endeavour to fulfil the charge to the satisfaction of my fellow citizens? I do not despair of succeeding.” Whilst head of the department Cartier was always jealous both of the interests of Canada and of the Empire. He was not only a believer in having a strong militia organisation, but also in providing strong fortifications to guard the national structure. It was with this object in view that on May 1st, 1868, he proposed a measure providing for a loan not exceeding one million one hundred thousand pounds sterling, under the guarantee of the Imperial Government, to construct strong fortifications for the protection of Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton, London, and St. John, N.B. “The Imperial Government,” he remarked, in proposing this measure, “has always declared that all the resources of the Empire would be, if required, employed for the protection of Canada, but we should second it. Some have said that the fidelity and courage of the Canadians are the best ramparts that Her Majesty can have for the defence of this country. I readily admit that there is none better, but they are not sufficient. An army inferior in numbers cannot without fortified places long hold out against a hostile army. They should be able to rely on powerful works when it is a question of defending the national territory. I do not admit for an instant that fortifications are useless. They are useful, above all advantageous in a country like ours.” Though Cartier’s proposal was approved by parliament, the credit so obtained was never used for fortifications, as after the Imperial troops were withdrawn from Canada the idea was abandoned.

When on April 14th, 1869, a despatch from the Colonial Minister announced that the Imperial authorities intended to withdraw the British troops from Canada, Cartier as Minister of Militia and Defence promptly addressed a memorandum to the home Government, strongly protesting against such action, especially at a time when another Fenian invasion of the country seemed imminent. This note, though it did not result in changing the Imperial Government’s determination, had the effect of retarding the departure of a portion of the troops, which were kept in garrison. Gradually the militia system of the Dominion, of which Cartier’s measure was the basis, was worked out to its present condition of efficiency. The fact may here be emphasised that Cartier’s idea was to provide a purely defensive force, in other words that the safety of the national structure was to be provided for by a national policy without[294] any idea of fostering a spirit of militarism involving an enormous national expenditure. Consolidation of the Dominion and the adequate defence of the national fabric were the great objects in view. Cartier’s policy of national defence was summed up in a remark he made in 1871, when his new Militia act had been put into operation. “I said to an American general at Niagara,” remarked Cartier on that occasion, “that he saw there only one of our nine camps, that, whilst desiring to live on a footing of friendship with the United States, prudence counselled us not to live disarmed, that we furbished our arms hoping never to have to use them, and that our idea was simply to defend ourselves, and never to make conquests.”

It was not alone in securing progressive legislation that Cartier showed his interest in national defence. With his usual practical methods of administration, he personally supervised all the details of militia organisation. He conducted his department, in fact, as he would have conducted a great business, with method and system, and saw to the practical carrying out of the measures which he had provided under the Militia act. With this object in view he visited the various camps and conferred with the officers, upon whom he impressed the importance of thoroughness and efficiency. On June 17th, 1871, he arrived at Niagara to make an inspection of the first military camp held by virtue of the Militia act of 1868. On the following day, addressing the citizens of Niagara at a reception given in his honour, he made a striking speech on the importance of national defence. “It is with reason that you speak in the address that you have presented to me,” he said, “of the necessity of assuring our national preservation and peace. A country can never think of becoming great if it is not in a state to resist those enemies who threaten its existence. The Imperial Government is blamed for having withdrawn the troops from Canada with so much precipitation. But however blamable this act may be in the eyes of a great many, it should not prevent the parliament and people of Canada from organising and maintaining, according to the means and the resources of the country, a sufficient military force to make us respected.” On July 3rd of the same year Sir George Cartier, in company with Sir Hastings Doyle, visited the camp at Laprairie, and in addressing the volunteers warmly commended their patriotism and dwelt upon the importance of camps in promoting efficiency, at the same time expressing the hope that the Government would provide means to enable the camps to be continued. In the course of another speech which he made at a luncheon tendered him by the Rifle Association of Montreal on August 16th, 1871, he referred to the difficulties which he had had to encounter in connection with militia organisation. “Should I on account of the difficulties of the department have left it to take another?” he asked. “Certainly not. Friends said to me that[295] I was wrong and that I should have made a better choice. I reply that they were mistaken, that my decision was wise. The measures which it was necessary to adopt for the militia and fortifications were unpopular. I undertook to conquer these prejudices and I am proud to say that my efforts and my perseverance have been crowned with success.”

It was during the year 1869 that Cartier was called upon to take part in a rather delicate mission—no less a task than conciliating the great Nova Scotian, Joseph Howe, to the new order of things. Following the union of the four provinces Howe headed an agitation in Nova Scotia for repeal, and he was one of four delegates who went from that province to England to urge upon the Imperial authorities the repeal of the union. Charles Tupper was sent over by the Canadian Government to counteract the move, and largely owing to his vigorous efforts Howe’s move proved a failure. In the autumn of 1868 a delegation composed of Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir George Cartier, Charles Tupper and John Sandfield Macdonald went to Halifax, where they met Howe, and discussed matters fully with him. Better terms were promised to Nova Scotia and Howe agreed to join the Government as President of the Council. He was subsequently elected for Hants County largely through the efforts of his old antagonist, Charles Tupper. Howe’s action displeased many of his friends, but there is no doubt that under the circumstances his course was the only patriotic one.

That the Western territories now forming the magnificent provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta were acquired for the Dominion was largely due to negotiations which George-Étienne Cartier conducted in England in association with William McDougall with the Hudson’s Bay Company. On December 4th, 1867, McDougall introduced in parliament a series of resolutions in favour of the acquisition of the North West Territories and an address to the Queen based upon the resolutions was passed, praying her to unite the territories with Canada. Cartier in a speech that he made in the House in support of these resolutions showed his faith in the future of Western Canada and foretold the vast development which has since taken place in that great portion of the Dominion. He referred at the outset of his remarks to the large sums that had been paid by the United States for the acquisition of Alaska. “Are we going to be small and mean,” he asked, “when it is a question of a bagatelle of five or six millions of dollars to extend our Dominion as far as British Columbia? Since the United States have become a nation their policy has been one of aggrandisement by the acquisition of new territory. Now, when it is known in Europe that we have acquired such vast territories, which represent millions of acres of land, you will see a great stream of emigration directed towards this country.”

In accordance with the decision of parliament Cartier and McDougall[296] left for England on October 3rd, 1868, to negotiate for the acquisition of these vast territories. Arriving in London on October 12th, they at once had a conference with the members of the Imperial Government and also passed several days with the Colonial Minister, the Duke of Buckingham, at his residence. Shortly afterwards McDougall fell so seriously ill that the whole burden of the negotiations fell upon Cartier, who conducted them in a masterly manner. Complete success was on the point of being achieved when the D’Israeli Government sustained an unexpected defeat, with the result that all the negotiations had to be reopened. The Hudson’s Bay officials seemed disposed to drive a very stiff bargain, demanding no less than five million dollars for the cession of their rights. Finally as a result of prolonged negotiations the company agreed to transfer their exclusive rights to the North West Territories and Rupert’s Land in consideration of the sum of three hundred thousand pounds, the reservation of one-twentieth of the fertile belt, and a certain area adjacent to each of the company’s trading posts. Thus the vast and fertile plains of the North West, now constituting the granary of the empire, were, largely through Cartier’s exertion, acquired for the Dominion for a comparatively insignificant sum.

During his visit to London on this occasion Cartier attended many social functions, and at the inaugural dinner of the Royal Colonial Institute, where he was a guest of honour, he made one of the most notable speeches of his whole career. The existence of the Royal Colonial Institute, which has since become such an important organisation, practically dates from June 26th, 1868, when at a meeting held in London it was agreed to establish an institution above party considerations, where individuals from all portions of the empire might exchange expressions, and where information might be imparted to all enquirers. On March 10th, 1869, the inaugural dinner of the new organisation was held under the presidency of Viscount Bury, while there were in attendance the Prime Minister, Right Honourable William Ewart Gladstone, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Earl Granville, the United States ambassador, Reverdy Johnson, the Duke of Manchester, the Marquis of Normandy, the Earl of Albemarle, Lord Alfred Churchill, and many other illustrious men of the day, over two hundred guests being present. The speeches were of singular interest, particularly Mr. Gladstone’s review of the Colonial Office, in which he had served thirty-four years previously, and Sir George Cartier’s attempt to explain Canadian nationalism, and his challenge to the United States as to the position of Canada under representative rather than democratic institutions.

Mr. Gladstone, referring to the days when he had been at the Colonial Office, remarked that in every British colony there was a party called the British party, which he rejoiced to think had since become totally extinct.[297] When the United States Minister, Reverdy Johnson, in his address, attempted to be facetious by hinting that the colonies might find themselves transferred from the Union Jack to the Stars and Stripes, Lord Granville ironically retorted that the American Minister would feel that it was a little want of confidence on his part that made him unprepared at that moment to open negotiations for the cession of British Canada.

It was on this occasion that Gladstone paid Cartier a striking tribute. “I rejoice to see,” said the great British statesman, “that you have succeeded in securing the presence here this evening of representatives of the great British family, and that one of the principal branches of that family is represented by a man who seems to be a legion in himself, and who displays no less warm a sympathy particularly to the origin to which he traces his race and the traditions of his people, and who, superior to any of his predecessors, is eminently fitted to represent that spirit of fraternity which should unite the English-speaking nations throughout the world.”

Replying to the toast of the Colonial parliaments, Sir George-Étienne Cartier dwelt upon the successful accomplishment of confederation and the aims of those who had been identified with that great work.

“My Lord Bury, my Lords and Gentlemen,” said the French-Canadian leader, “I must say at the outset that it requires from me a certain amount of boldness to address you after the eloquent speeches which have been made, and particularly in the presence of the Premier of England, who stands in this country not merely as the premier in the political world, but who also stands as one of the foremost in eloquence and scholarship. As a matter of course, if you expect anything eloquent from me, I must tell you at once that you will be disappointed. At all events, I will do my utmost and I am sure you will excuse my shortcomings. My name is connected with this toast as relating to the Colonial parliaments. I regret very much that the selection fell on me to answer for the representative bodies, as applied and carried out in the colonies which have the happiness to be connected with the British Empire—with the Mother country. [Hear, hear.] With regard to us, when we formed our confederation, namely the Dominion of Canada, we were allowed by the liberality of the English parliament and the English Government to set our brains to work, in order to present our own scheme of representation to the English parliament for adoption. The constitution which we enjoy was enacted by us, though it is by virtue of an Imperial Act. It was not the initiation of the British parliament or of the British nation; we were allowed by the liberality of England to do it ourselves. [Cheers.] We came before the English Government, we came before the English parliament, we presented a system which was of course a representative system; and it is a great source, I will not say of[298] pride, but a great source of encouragement, to the public men who then took part in that great scheme that it was adopted by the English Government and by the British parliament without, I may say, a word of alteration. [Hear, hear.] We feel grateful for the freedom of action which was given to us on that occasion. When we had to consider what would be the representative institutions which ought to rule the great Dominion of Canada, we had, as a matter of course, to look into the past or the present history of nations which had enjoyed, or were enjoying, representative institutions. We came to the conclusion that a legislative body, to be useful, ought to represent the sense of rectitude of the nation, but not the passions of the nation. [Hear, hear.] Consequently we adopted a system of representative government which allowed to the representative elected a certain length of parliamentary life, in order to achieve great things. We did not like that the parliamentary trust should be a mere species of power to last for only one session, and then to have another election. We wanted that there should be a trust, in order that the electors themselves should show that they had confidence in those whom they elected; and then, that those who were elected should show, in return to those who had elected them, the realisation of their promises, made in honour, that they would legislate according to the interests and the welfare of the community at the time.

“Monsieur Guizot, I think, said on one occasion that ‘common sense rules the world in the long run.’ It is so, and consequently a parliament of small duration, an annual parliament of too short duration, can never do any great work. With regard to us, we do not find fault with our neighbours. We are good friends with our neighbours, and at this festive board, in the presence of the illustrious minister who represents that great nation [hear, hear]. I am glad to have this opportunity of telling him that with regard to him, and with regard to ourselves, we are as fully in exercise of our freedom as any one on the earth. Our Dominion, our confederation, is not formed on the democratic principle; the representative element is a part of it, but it is founded on a monarchical basis. Our neighbours have their confederation based entirely on the democratic principle; they have tried the experiment and it is a great success; but we have tried our system to some extent, and we expect that its trial will result in this—that so long as England shall be England, and so long as England shall enjoy the freedom and the advantage of a parliament, our political gravitation and our political affection will always be towards the Mother country. [Hear, hear.] In order that we may not lose sight of this fact, we have founded a great empire which will extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean; we intend that all that immense territory shall be well governed, and governed not merely on a selfish principle as applied to us, but in order to add to the power and to the prosperity of[299] the Mother country. [Hear, hear.] I am sure that there will never be any cause of difficulty between England and our friendly neighbours on account of ourselves. But it matters not; if that unfortunate day shall ever come, we in Canada are ready to accept our position. [Hear, hear.] We will accept the situation of the moment. But every one of us who understands the natural inclination of our neighbours, as well as of ourselves or of Englishmen, to enjoy peace is convinced that that unfortunate day will not come. If, however, it should come, we will be there. [Loud and continued cheers.]

“My lord, I have heard a great deal this evening with regard to the Anglo-Saxon race. I had the honour to be presented to Her Majesty when she graciously gave me an invitation, ten or twelve years ago, to go to Windsor, and Her Majesty was kind enough to interrogate me about the French-Canadians. The shortest definition which I could give (because you must always be brief to Royalty, and perhaps to this meeting) was, that the French-Canadians, as well as myself, were Englishmen speaking French. [Cheers.] They appreciate the work and the value of Saxon blood; and I cannot lose sight of the fact that there is an admixture of Norman blood with the best blood of England. I merely mention this to show that I am not in any way wounded by the admission, because I know a little of past history. With regard to ourselves, on the other side, the two races there are Frenchmen and Englishmen; we are Frenchmen, and the Frenchmen in Lower Canada have proved (or rather Englishmen speaking French) that we can carry out representative institutions. It is said, by our neighbours opposite here, that representative and free government cannot be carried out. If they looked to that French colony which a few years ago numbered only 45,000 and which now numbers 1,000,000, they would see that the carrying out of the representative system has been a success. I thank you, my Lords and gentlemen.”

Whilst they were in London Cartier and McDougall were also the guests of the Directors of the Great Western Railway of Canada at a banquet held at St. James’ Hall, which was attended by Lord Granville, the Colonial Secretary, Viscount Bury, Sir Edward Watkin, the president of the Grand Trunk Railway Company, and other notables. Lord Granville, in the course of a short address, observed that he had read in Lord Durham’s celebrated report that the French-Canadians would bide their time in silence, whilst awaiting the hour of vengeance, but judging from the amiable temper of their guest (Cartier) they must have greatly changed. Their laws of public instruction and religious corporations, Lord Granville observed, were such examples that the Mother country might copy them with advantage. He congratulated Cartier upon the brilliant future in store for the Dominion, declaring that it would become one of the greatest countries of the world. Cartier, in reply to the toast[300] of his health, gave expression to some rather striking and pertinent ideas. “I desire at the outset to thank the distinguished hosts who have invited me here,” said the French-Canadian leader. “In the second place I wish to assure them that the French-Canadian population is profoundly loyal and that it has no desire to throw itself into the republican vortex close by. It desires to remain faithful to the old monarchical flag of Great Britain, that flag which flies on every sea, that flag which tyranny has never been able to overthrow, the flag which symbolises true liberty. Canadians do not seek what certain people call political independence, for they are convinced if they desire to really become great they have only to continue that firm union with the Mother country in order to share in her power, her prestige and her glory. The Canadians desire to be a power upon the American continent, to make their influence felt on the Atlantic in the east and on the Pacific in the west, and to realise their hopes and ambitions, they are convinced that they must have the support and influence of Great Britain. I would therefore put on their guard those credulous people who might attach some importance to the arguments of Goldwin Smith and to those who form with him the anti-colonial school.”

On March 24th, following the successful accomplishment of their mission, the Canadian delegates had the honour of being specially invited to Windsor Castle, and of dining with Her Majesty Queen Victoria and the Royal family. Sir George Cartier was the guest of the Queen for several days on this occasion, and was the recipient of many other notable marks of honour. After an absence of close to five months from Canada, he embarked on board the North American on April 1st for home. Landing at Portland, he took the train for Montreal, and all along the way he was enthusiastically greeted. A great crowd of citizens welcomed him at Montreal, and he was presented with an address by Mayor Workman, in reply to which he referred to the importance of the acquisition by Canada of the North West Territories. “In a few months,” he said, “the Dominion of Canada will extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific. With four provinces united under confederation we are already strong, but it is necessary that we should not rest there. A nation, like an individual, should aspire to grow and become stronger.”

On May 28th following Sir George Cartier presented in the House of Commons a series of resolutions ratifying the arrangements concluded by the delegates in the name of Canada with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and they were carried by an overwhelming majority, the vote standing one hundred and twenty-one to fifteen. In supporting the resolution and defending the acquisition of the territories, Cartier with the eye of faith predicted the great future that awaited the Canadian West, the turning of the tide of emigration towards that rich district, the completion of[301] confederation by the admission of British Columbia, and the building of a great transcontinental highway, uniting the east to the west. “The British North America Act,” he exclaimed in a tone of justifiable pride, “will soon apply to a chain of provinces, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I hope we shall then no longer hear of annexation.”

The terms of acquisition having received the sanction of the Dominion parliament, an act was passed providing a territorial government for the district which was designated as “The North West Territories.” Under the act it was provided that the government of the territories should be under a Lieutenant-Governor with the assistance of a Council. Shortly afterwards William McDougall, who had been associated with Cartier in the negotiations for the acquisition of the territories, was appointed Lieutenant-Governor, and in the month of October he set out for Fort Garry, which was to be the seat of his government. He was destined never to reach it. The acquisition of the territory by Canada was received by the settlers with anything but favour. The Métis, to give the settlers their distinctive name, felt that they were being delivered over to an unknown power without their wishes having been consulted and that their rights and liberties were being endangered, and their fears were intensified when they witnessed Col. Denis’ engineers surveying and dividing their land even before the Queen’s proclamation announcing the addition of the Territory to Canada had been issued. McDougall, as one of those who had negotiated for the transfer of the district from the Hudson’s Bay Company, was personally regarded as to a large extent responsible for the existing conditions, and when, accompanied by his secretary, J. A. N. Provencher, a well-known French-Canadian journalist, the new Lieutenant-Governor arrived at the frontier, he was halted by a band of the settlers under Louis Riel, who was their recognised leader. Then followed in quick succession the first North West Rebellion, headed by Riel, the establishment of a provisional government, which was practically directed by Riel, the killing of Scott, the military expedition under Col. Garnet Wolseley, the flight of Riel and the termination of the short-lived revolt. It is not essential that these subjects should be here treated in detail, as Sir George-Étienne Cartier had only an indirect connection with them. It is true that prior to the breaking out of the revolt Bishop Taché had, when on his way to Rome to attend the Œcumenical Council, visited Ottawa and personally warned Cartier and other members of the Government that the Métis were greatly discontented over Col. Denis’ action, and that unless something were done there would likely be trouble. Cartier did not take the Bishop’s warning seriously and events showed that the distinguished prelate knew the feelings of his people better than those who were thousands of miles from the scene. When the rebellion had broken out the Bishop was hastily summoned back from Rome at[302] the instance of Cartier and he had much to do with the quieting of the people and preventing the rising from assuming formidable proportions. Abbé Thibault, Donald A. Smith, the future Lord Strathcona, and Col. de Salaberry, had previously tried their hands at pacification, but without result. The Métis in public meeting assembled adopted the Declaration of Rights, laying down conditions on which they would recognise the authority of Canada, and three delegates, Judge Black, Abbé Richot and Albert H. Scott, were despatched to Ottawa to negotiate with the Dominion Government. It was Sir George-Étienne Cartier who had most to do with these negotiations, which he conducted with rare tact and ability, maintaining his calmness in a period of intense popular excitement and passion even when the most violent attacks were levelled at him personally as well as at those of his own race and creed. The result of the negotiations was the decision of the Government to organise the new province of Manitoba, with free representative institutions, a measure in which Cartier played an important part.

It was on May 2nd, 1870, nearly four months before the troops under Wolseley entered Fort Garry, that a bill was introduced in the Commons of Canada by Sir John A. Macdonald, providing for the establishment and government of the Province of Manitoba. A few days afterwards the Prime Minister was stricken with an illness which at one time threatened to cut short the life of that great statesman, but fortunately for his country he was spared for many years of usefulness. As a result of Macdonald’s illness the task of piloting the bill through parliament devolved upon Cartier, and he performed the responsible duty in an exceptionally able manner. It has been said that it was Cartier’s object to make a French-Canadian province of Manitoba, that the new constitution was modelled largely on the constitution of Quebec, and that the inauguration of the first Government was entrusted to a French-Canadian, one of Cartier’s intimate friends, the late Senator Marc Girard. If such was Cartier’s ambition, it was for him a perfectly legitimate one. French-Canadians had been amongst the earliest pioneers of the Canadian West, and those hardy settlers had done much to open up the country to civilisation. Cartier saw his compatriots emigrating in large numbers to the neighbouring republic. Was it not a patriotic policy on his part to desire that instead of the country losing its people, if they desired to move they should go to the Canadian West? It is true that they did not fulfil his wish; the nearer and more civilised centres of the neighbouring republic furnished too strong an attraction, and the result was that Manitoba, instead of having an influx of French-Canadians, was peopled by foreigners from all parts of Europe and by people from the Western States. Those French-Canadian settlers who were in Manitoba at the time of its establishment as a province had, however, acquired certain rights, and it[303] was Cartier’s aim that those rights should be safeguarded. He had a clause accordingly inserted in the act specially intended to protect the minority in their educational rights. Under that clause it was expressly enacted that all schools, existing by law or practice previous to the union of Manitoba with the Dominion, would have the right to exist conjointly with other schools established thereafter and to share equally for their support in the distribution of public moneys. That Cartier’s object was not attained was not due to any lack of desire or effort on his part. He believed that all minorities should be amply protected under the constitution. That it was the intention both of Macdonald and of Cartier to protect the Roman Catholic minority of Manitoba is confirmed by Macdonald’s declaration to a member of the Manitoba legislature. “You ask me for advice as to the course you should take upon the vexed question of separate schools in your province. There is, it seems to me, but one course open to you. By the Manitoba Act, the provisions of the B.N.A. Act (Section 93) respecting laws passed for the protection of minorities in educational matters are made applicable to Manitoba and cannot be changed, for by the Imperial act confirming the establishment of the new provinces, 34 & 35 Vict. C. 28, Sect. 6, it is provided that it shall not be competent for the parliament of Canada to alter the provisions of the Manitoba Act in so far as it relates to the Province of Manitoba. Obviously, therefore, the separate schools system in Manitoba is beyond the reach of the legislature or of the Dominion parliament.”[126] Though the highest legal tribunal in the empire placed a different interpretation on the Manitoba Act, the intentions of Cartier and Macdonald are perfectly clear. “Manitoba is the key to the territories of the North West,” said Cartier, in introducing the measure. “There are beyond its boundaries vast regions out of which later may be created provinces, and it is necessary that its political machinery should be as perfect as possible. The Indian name which has been given it, and which is very euphonious, means ‘The God Who Speaks.’ Well, may the new province always speak to the inhabitants of the North West the language of reason, truth and justice.” With his remarkable vision George-Étienne Cartier foresaw the day when out of the vast western country would be constituted other great provinces to add to the strength and prosperity of the Dominion, and it was his hope that reason, truth and justice would be the guiding principles of their political life.

During the discussion on the bill creating the Province of Manitoba many attacks were levelled at Cartier, as a result of the North West troubles, but he met them all with composure. It was a period of intense excitement, when racial feeling ran high. The killing of Scott by the order of Riel had aroused much feeling in Ontario, whilst in Quebec[304] there was naturally marked sympathy for the Métis, and the unhappy spectacle was witnessed of province being arrayed against province. It was a time that called for calm statesmanship and moderation, and at this critical juncture Cartier displayed his usual practical common sense. He was not carried away by the excitement and passion of the hour. He regarded the situation with calmness, feeling assured that with time the sound common sense of the country would assert itself. From a secret memoir which he addressed to the Imperial Government on the North West situation at this time, we see that Cartier condemned the killing of Scott, while observing that in times of great popular excitement it was always difficult to foresee or to appreciate the acts of violence which were the consequence of it. As he very pointedly remarked, if Father Richot, one of the Métis delegates, went to Ontario at this time he would probably be lynched owing to the excited state of public feeling. At the same time Cartier was courageous enough in face of the popular clamour to expose the grievances of the Métis and to insist upon fair treatment for the original settlers of the territory. By the measure constituting the new province of Manitoba, one million four hundred thousand acres of land were reserved for the Métis. “Is it not just, and at the same time wise,” remarked Cartier, “to aid in the establishment of those who have contributed in such a notable measure to the prosperity of the Red River?”

The question as to whether an amnesty had been granted to the insurgents was one that aroused much discussion. There is no doubt that Bishop Taché before setting out from Ottawa for the North West, prior to the killing of Scott, was authorised by the Government to offer an amnesty for all past offences, and that in accordance with this authorisation, he recognised the provisional government and entered into negotiations with Riel, promising complete amnesty for all offences that had been committed. The killing of Scott had already taken place. The Métis delegates to Ottawa subsequently claimed that a general amnesty was promised by Cartier and other members of the ministry, but this was denied. Cartier himself was emphatic on this point, for, writing to Sir John A. Macdonald on February 15th, 1873, only a few months before his death, we find him saying, “No promise was made of an amnesty. Always bear in mind that throughout we stated that the amnesty was not a question for us but for the Queen.” Whatever might have been the merits of the questions at issue, we always find that throughout these troublous times George-Étienne Cartier did his utmost to restore peace and harmony between the conflicting elements at a time when the situation was full of grave peril to the state.

The passage of the Manitoba bill was followed by the organisation of the new Province of Manitoba, of which the Hon. A. G. Archibald,[305] who was a close personal friend of Cartier, was appointed the first Lieutenant-Governor. Archibald at first was adverse to accepting the appointment, but he did so at Cartier’s earnest request. It is an interesting historical fact that Col. Wolseley, afterwards Lord Wolseley, was an aspirant for this position, and that his appointment was prevented by Cartier. Donald A. Smith, afterwards Lord Strathcona, who had had a good deal to do with the negotiations in the North West, strongly urged Wolseley’s claims upon Sir John A. Macdonald, but Cartier put his veto upon the proposal, maintaining that the appointment of a military Governor under the circumstances would be a fatal political error. In this Cartier was undoubtedly right, but his action aroused the enmity of the British commander, who on his return to England, in relating his experiences in Blackwood’s Magazine, took occasion to abuse Cartier, whom he compared to Molière’s bourgeois gentilhomme. Sir John A. Macdonald, speaking years afterwards to DeCelles of this incident, when asked why Wolseley had gone out of his way to attack Cartier, replied: “For speaking his mind too freely. Whilst I was at Washington General Wolseley called upon Cartier to solicit the position of first Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba. My friend told him that this could not be done. General Wolseley assumed from Cartier’s answer that he disliked him, and hence his uncalled for attack on the then Minister of Militia. But the General must have found out afterwards that, had Cartier and the Government granted his request, they would have cut short his career. Returning to England after five years’ absence, he would have found himself a forgotten man, no more in touch with court influence, and would probably have been sent to some inferior command.”

Cartier, by preventing Wolseley from becoming Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, not only most likely prevented serious political complications in Canada, but undoubtedly rendered a service to the British commander, who became one of the world’s most noted soldiers and a Field Marshal of the Empire.

During this troublous period, when Sir George Cartier was acting Premier, a great furore was raised in Ontario by a report that he was favouring negotiations with the insurgents and that the new Lieutenant-Governor, Mr. Archibald, and Mgr. Taché were to be sent through United States territory with an act of clemency. Meetings of protest were held in Toronto and some very violent speeches made. Sir George Cartier was undoubtedly anxious to have the troubles in the North West put an end to as speedily and as peacefully as possible, but as a matter of fact the new Lieutenant-Governor proceeded West through Canadian territory, over what was known as the “snow road,” in the rear of the Wolseley expedition, reaching Fort Garry early in September, after Riel and his associates had left. A year later when Manitoba was threatened[306] with a Fenian invasion, the new Governor received material assistance from Riel, who refused to have anything to do with the Fenians, prevented the Métis from joining in the movement and organised them for the defence of the country.

To round out Confederation as Cartier and the other Fathers of Confederation desired it was necessary to secure the admission of the far western seaboard province of British Columbia. In the negotiations which resulted in the admission of that great province to the Dominion Cartier played the leading part, and it was he who on November 28th, 1871, presented to parliament the bill providing for the admission of British Columbia into Confederation. In introducing the resolution he explained that the terms agreed to were in the nature of a treaty, and must be accepted or rejected as a whole. Respecting the clause dealing with a proposed Pacific railway, he explained that the policy of the Government was to build such a road by means of private companies, to which would be granted a certain amount of land and in addition a small money subsidy. The length of the road he estimated at 2,500 miles, and it was proposed to grant to the company which undertook to build the railway some sixty-four million acres of land. It was with a feeling of pride that Cartier hailed the realisation of a united Canada, extending from ocean to ocean. “I cannot close my explanations,” he remarked, “without impressing on the honourable members the greatness of the work. This young Confederation is on a point of extending over the whole northern portion of the continent, and when we consider that it took our neighbours sixty years to extend to the Pacific, where will be found in the history of the world anything comparable to our marvellous prosperity? I have always maintained that a nation to be great must have maritime power. We possess maritime power in a high degree. Our union with the Maritime Provinces gives us a seaboard on the east, and now our union with British Columbia will give us a seaboard on the west.” The resolutions moved by Cartier providing for the admission of British Columbia into Confederation were, after a number of amendments had been voted down, adopted by a large majority, and with the admission of the far western province on July 20th, 1870, the dream of Cartier, of Macdonald, and of the other great Fathers of Confederation of a United Canada, extending from ocean to ocean, was realised.

One thing only was needed to bind the disjointed provinces firmly together—a great transcontinental railway. One of the terms upon which British Columbia agreed to enter Confederation was the construction of such a road, and Cartier was one of the strongest supporters of the proposal. It is related that the British Columbia delegates, during the negotiations with the Dominion Government, urged Cartier that a railway[307] should be built across the prairies to the foot of the Rockies, and that a colonization highway should be laid out from the foot of the Rockies to the coast. “No,” replied Cartier, “that will not do; ask for a railway the whole way and you will get it.” During the year 1871, it may be explained, two companies were organised, each having as its object the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. One of these companies, known as the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, was under the presidency of Sir Hugh Allan, and was essentially a Quebec company, while the other, which was designated the Inter-Oceanic Railway Company, had as its head Hon. David Macpherson, and was an Ontario company. Each company obtained a charter with similar terms, it being provided that the capital should be $10,000,000, and that the company should not be considered organised until $1,000,000 had been paid in. The Government, owing to intense rivalry between the two companies, found it difficult to deal with either, and it was accordingly decided to pass a general act, giving the Governor in Council power to treat with one or the other, or with the two companies amalgamated, or, failing, a satisfactory arrangement to grant a charter to a new company. Cartier took the deepest interest in what he regarded as a national undertaking, and had a great deal to do with the preparation of the proposed legislation. The incident is related that, when completed, the act which was to give birth to the Canadian Pacific enterprise was placed on a chair preparatory to being submitted to the House. A number of friends were chatting with Cartier about this important measure when, becoming enthusiastic, Cartier, pointing with animation to the chair, explained: “All in good time—here is an act which has an attraction for a man. There are ideas in it; a hundred victories over the opposition would please me less than a serious discussion on this bill I joyfully approve of.”

On April 26, 1872, Cartier, in moving the House into committee of the whole, to consider a series of resolutions providing for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, explained that the terms of the union with British Columbia required that the road should be commenced within two and completed within ten years. The Government, he added, asked to be empowered to enter into an agreement with a company to construct the road, or, if one company could not undertake the entire road, the Government would contract with several companies for the construction of different portions. As it was not to be expected that any company would undertake such an enterprise without assistance, the Government proposed to make a grant of 50,000,000 acres of lands in alternate blocks, 20 miles square on each side of the line—the alternate blocks being held for sale by the Government, and it was further proposed to make a cash subsidy of about $30,000,000. A bill founded upon the resolutions was introduced by Cartier and a prolonged discussion followed.[308] Opposition to the measure was offered by Alexander Mackenzie and other members on the ground that the powers proposed to be conferred upon the Government were extravagant and dangerous. Mackenzie expressed doubt that such a road could be constructed within the time specified, but Cartier, with his accustomed optimism, declared that he was perfectly confident that it could be. After passing through the various stages the bill received its third reading on June 1, and was adopted amidst the greatest enthusiasm. As the Speaker declared the bill adopted, Cartier jumped to his feet and, amidst loud cheers, gave utterance to the expression which has become historic, “All aboard for the West.” It was the last great triumph of his parliamentary career. Cartier himself apparently realised that his life’s work was practically accomplished, for it is related that, on returning to his office after the bill had become law, he drew from his desk a set of the laws which he had succeeded in having passed, added to them the Canadian Pacific measure, and sent the whole to be bound. Though it was not until some years later that the great undertaking was commenced, Cartier’s bill was the first legislative enactment recognising its necessity, and in this sense may be regarded as the inception of the enterprise. While Cartier himself did not live to see the completion of the undertaking which meant so much for Canada, it is one of his chief merits that he supported such a road from the outset, and that he foresaw and foretold its great future. “Before very long,” he declared, “the English traveller who lands at Halifax will be able within five or six days to cover half a continent inhabited by British subjects.” What Cartier foretold has been more than realised. The Canadian Pacific Railway Company has since become one of the greatest corporations in the world, operating not only a great transcontinental railway system and a chain of palatial hotels, but also possessing magnificent fleets on the Atlantic and the Pacific, with its vessels encircling the globe. Cartier, by his strenuous advocacy of the enterprise when faith in the possibilities of the Canadian West was at a discount, gave another evidence of his remarkable foresight and of his supreme faith in the future of the Dominion.[127]

I have now shown the important part played by George-Étienne Cartier in the securing of arrangements for the construction of the Intercolonial Railway, binding the Maritime Provinces to Canada, in the acquisition for the Dominion of the great Western territories, in the provision of measures for the adequate defence of the national structure, in the admission of British Columbia into Confederation, and in the initial steps for the construction of a transcontinental railway. It required[309] some time longer for the Dominion to attain its present proportions, but, thanks to the labours of Cartier and Macdonald, the work of consolidation was well advanced. Only a few months before Cartier’s death, Prince Edward Island having signified the desire to enter Confederation, a bill providing for its admission was passed by parliament. Thus, before his earthly labours were over, George-Étienne Cartier had the satisfaction of seeing the Dominion, which he had helped so greatly to found, forming a chain of united provinces bounded on the east by the Atlantic and on the west by the Pacific. His vision of a united Canada, extending from ocean to ocean, had been realised.




As has been the case with many other statesmen, George-Étienne Cartier experienced the vicissitudes as well as the triumphs of public life, and the closing period of his career was marked by reverses and a diminution of that great prestige which he had enjoyed for a long term of years. For nearly a quarter of a century he had been prominently before the public, and for the greater portion of that period he had been the undisputed leader of the mass of his compatriots. He had in the course of years surmounted all obstacles; he had carried to a successful consummation great and radical reforms, and he had seen his career crowned by the triumph of the confederation movement, in which he had been one of the most conspicuous figures. From 1867 until 1870 Cartier may be said to have been at the zenith of his success, and had he passed away at this time no shadow would have rested upon the lustre of his great fame. The last three years of his life were, as a matter of fact, in some respects the least noteworthy and glorious of his whole career. He whose path had been a long succession of triumphs was to taste the bitterness of defeat, and to see many who had been amongst his staunchest supporters transformed into opponents.

Cartier’s misfortunes at the close of his career were due to a variety of causes. It is given to few men to have an uninterrupted career of glory and success; the multitude is fickle, and the popular idol of to-day often becomes the martyr of to-morrow. It was so with Cartier. His success had occasioned jealousy and aroused opposition, not only amongst his political opponents, but even in the ranks of his own following. That his opponents should have sought out the weak links in his armour and used all their efforts to encompass the defeat of one who was in the way of their politica