Read CHAPTER I of The Dominion in 1983, free online book, by Ralph Centennius, on

“Before the curing of a strong disease,
“Even in the instant of repair and health,
“The fit is strongest; evils that take leave,
“On their departure most of all show evil.”

King John, Act III.

In the present advanced and happy times it is instructive to take a retrospective glance at the days of our forefathers of the nineteenth century, and to meditate upon the political struggles and events of the past hundred years, that by so doing we may gain a clear insight into the causes which have led to the present wonderful developments. We, in the year of Grace 1983, are too apt to take for granted all the blessings of moral, political and physical science which we enjoy, and to pass over without due consideration the great efforts of our ancestors, which have made our present happy condition possible.

Let us try to contrast the Dominion of to-day with the Dominion of 1883. To begin with population. Our population at the last census in 1981, was just over 93,000,000. A hundred years ago a scant 5,000,000 represented this great Canadian nation, which has since so mightily increased and proved itself such a beneficent factor in human affairs. Seven provinces and some sparsely peopled and only partially explored territories formed all that the world then knew as Canada. To-day have we not fifteen provinces for the most part thickly peopled, and long since fully explored to the shores of the Arctic Ocean?

In the present days of political serenity it is hard to realize the animosity and extreme bitterness of the past century. The two parties into which men formerly divided themselves, viewed each other as enemies, and each party opposed on principle whatever measures the other proposed. From a careful study of the principal journals of the time, fyled(sp.) at Ottawa, we gather that the party, self-styled “Reformers,” frequently opposed progressive measures, and even attempted to hinder the construction of railroads, while the other party called “Conservatives” considered railroads as the best means of opening up the enormous tracts of country then lying untrodden by man, and useless to civilization. Such are certainly the inferences to be drawn from the records at our command, though it is hard to believe in opposition to railroads or to advancement in any form in these days, when new channels of communication and new industries are viewed with favor by the whole nation. Each party seems strangely to have belied its title, for the Reformers, after the confederation of the provinces in 1867, endeavored with singular perverseness to frustrate or retard reform and improvement of all kinds, while the Conservatives did not desire to preserve things in the old ruts and grooves, but strove hard for beneficial advancement of every sort.

In 1883 the United States was one of the leading nations of the world. With a population of over 50,000,000, and an almost illimitable extent of territory still open for settlement by the fugitives from troubled Europe; with exhaustless wealth, developed and undeveloped, it seemed reasonable to suppose that a nation so placed should be able to attain the foremost position and be able to keep it. Such appears to have been the opinion of most foreigners, and also of some of our Canadians of the period, for the wealth, apparent power and prestige of the United States caused many of our weak-kneed ancestors to lose heart in their own country, and in fits of disloyal dejection to fancy there could be no progress except in union with the States. Stout hearts, however, ultimately gained the day, and we in the twentieth century are reaping the benefits won for the country by the valor of our great-grandfathers.

The troubled times through which the youthful Dominion passed from 1885 to 1888 constitute one of the greatest crises through which any nation ever passed successfully. Canada, with her confederated provinces and large territories loosely held together, with her scattered population chiefly grouped in Ontario and Quebec, with her infant manufactures and scarcely-touched mineral resources, was the home, nevertheless, of as prosperous and promising a young nation as the world ever saw; and had it not been for the timid portion of her population just mentioned, a great deal of trouble might have been saved. But out of evil came good. The Americans for years had been too careless about receiving upon their shores all the firebrands and irreconcileables from European cities, and the consequence was that these undesirable gentry increased in numbers, and the infection of their opinions spread. American politics were as corrupt as they could be. Bribery and the robbery of public funds were unblushingly resorted to. A low moral tone with regard to such matters, combined with utter recklessness in speculation and a furious haste to get rich by any means, fair or foul, were, sad to say, prominent characteristics in the American nation in many other respects so great. To counteract these evils, which were great enough to have ruined any European state in a couple of years, there was, however, the marvellous prodigality of nature a bounteousness and richness in the yield of the soil and the depths of the earth hardly equalled in any other part of the world, and in consequence princely fortunes were accumulated in an incredibly short space of time. Millionaires abounded, and monopolists, compared with whom Croesus was poor, flourished. But bitter poverty and starvation also flourished, especially in the large cities, bringing in their train the usual discontent and hatred of the established order of things. Yet these old-fashioned evils were scarcely noticed in the general magnificent prosperity of the country. The short-sighted statesmen of the time delighted to look only on the bright side of things, and to them the very exuberance of the prosperity seemed to condone, if not to justify, the nefarious practices which obtained in high places. No wonder that among our Canadians, hardly 5,000,000 all told, there were some who were weak enough to be dazzled at the wealth and success of their brilliant go-ahead neighbours, more than 50,000,000 strong. Among those who lost heart in Canada, it began to be a settled conviction that it was “the destiny of Canada to be absorbed in the States.”

This was the state of things in 1885. Conservative statesmen pointed to the general progress of our country, to unprecedented immigration from Europe, increased agricultural products and manufactures, and to many other convincing proofs of solid advancement. But facts were of no avail in dealing with Reformers habitually, and on principle despondent. The sanguine buoyancy and plucky hopefulness indispensable to true statesmanship did not animate them to any extent. Unhappily events over which no statesman could then have control overtook Canada, while as yet things bounded along gaily in the States, and the sons of despair seemed to have some ground for their pusillanimity. The harvest of 1885 was deficient, and agriculture was in consequence depressed: a slight panic in the Spring was succeeded by a great one in the Fall. Heavy failures followed. A feeling of uneasiness was caused at the same time by great social and political changes which were going on in the mother country, and were threatening to assume the proportions of a revolution. The unparalleled prosperity of the States caused the Americans never backward in blowing their own trumpet to assume an attitude of overweening confidence in themselves, and to brag offensively of what they considered to be their duty to mankind, namely, to convert all the world by force if necessary to republican principles. Such was the commencement of the great crisis in the history of the young Canadian nation a crisis through which, if our sturdy forefathers had not pulled successfully, would have led to our gradual obliteration as a nation. All honor then to the great men to whom, under Providence, our preservation is due!

In 1886 commenced the reign of terror in Europe, that terrible period of mingled war and revolution, during which thrones were hurled down and dynasties swept away like chaff in a gale. The face of Europe was changed. Whole provinces were blackened and devastated by fire and sword. During the three years in which the terror was at its height it is calculated that at least four millions of men bearing arms, the flower of each land, must have fallen. Great Britain was frequently on the very brink of war, but was almost miraculously kept from actually taking part. And most providential it was that Britain was not drawn into the tumult, for home troubles and defensive measures required all the attention of the nation. These stirring events, of course, had their effect on this side of the Atlantic. Canada was affected detrimentally by losing for a time the prestige consequent on being backed up by British ironclads and regiments, every available soldier and every vessel of war being required for the protection of British interests nearer home.

The harvest again in 1886 was below the average. Trade and finance had not recovered from the shock of the previous year. The outlook was certainly gloomy.

A Conservative government, with Sir –­ –­, as Premier, was in power at Ottawa. Sir –­ and his government were, however, in great straits, owing to the prevailing depression throughout the Dominion, for the hard times were seized upon by the opponents of the government as a means whereby to thwart and distract the ministers, and stir up discontent among the people. The States were pointed to by the Reformers as the only country in the world where security and prosperity co-existed. British connection was held up to scorn as a tie whose supposed advantages had proved worthless. A less able or a less determined ministry would have collapsed under the strain. The winter of 1886-7 was very severe, and discontent began to be noisy and aggressive. To make matters worse, a Fenian organization was going on in the States with the avowed object of invading Canada in the coming Spring. The heads of the movement were well-known politicians of a low order, having considerable funds at their command, and much influence in certain quarters. Their emissaries were known to be working all over Canada, freely distributing American gold and holding secret meetings. The position of affairs was one of increasing gravity owing to the connivance of the American authorities and the powerlessness of the Home Government. So matters progressed until the spring of 1887, when the situation became one of extreme tension. The Conservatives were taunted with having ruined the country financially and with pursuing a “Jingo” policy certain to end in bloodshed. Reformers “stumped” the country, calling on their excited audiences to march to Ottawa and compel the Premier and his infatuated followers to resign. Annexation was openly advocated as the only sensible way to be relieved from the overwhelming surrounding difficulties.

A ray of hope to buoy up the sorely-tried loyalists appeared, when Canadians who had been domiciled in all parts of the States returned to defend their native land on hearing of the great danger she was undoubtedly in. Having lived many years under the shadow of the Stars and Stripes, they knew well enough all that it amounted to; the glamour of accumulated successes had not turned their heads for they had had opportunities of observing the sinister influences at work in American affairs, beneath the attractive exterior. Quebec rallied to a man, and the latent military strength of the province was developed under efficient leaders to a formidable degree. Invaders would have met with a warm reception in this quarter. Manitoba and the whole North-west were up and ready, prepared to fight, more to preserve their own independence, however, than the integrity of the Dominion, as there was then considerable difference in sentiment between the North-west and the Eastern Provinces. The Manitobans, too, though the Irish element had become very strong, did not intend to succumb to Fenian raiders, however well organized and backed up. The weakest points were the Maritime Provinces, Ontario and British Columbia; not that the feeling in British Columbia was not loyal to the Dominion, but that some 30,000 rowdies who had assembled and organized in San Francisco were preparing for a descent upon her poorly fortified ports. Now was the turning point in the destinies of the country. If the ministers at Ottawa had not stood firmly to their guns, all our subsequent career, instead of being the golden century of magnificent progress and peace that it has been, would have been linked with all the turbulence and the alternate advance and retrogression of the States.

A general election for the Dominion had been timed to take place in the beginning of June, and the day was looked forward to by all the noisy demagogues of Ontario as the day when the blood-thirsty Tories were to be hurled from power by the people in righteous wrath, and the country saved from the horrors of war. According to these garrulous parties, Ontario, the wealthiest and most populous Province of the seven, was to welcome the invaders, bidding them enter Canadian territory in the name of the people, and plant the Stars and Stripes wherever they halted. Bloodshed would thus be avoided, and everyone would soon come round to the new order of things and take to it naturally. Quebec might perhaps object, “but what did a few handfuls of Frenchmen matter anyway.”

On the day before the election, one party was full of boisterous, bragging insolence; the other, still steadfast, firmly clinging to what seemed a forlorn hope. Before the ending of another day all was changed a complete transformation scene had taken place.

When the morning journals on the election day appeared, their news from the United States was such a terrible chapter of accidents as has rarely fallen to the lot of journals to publish in one day. The President had been shot at in New York by an unemployed foreign artisan, the night before, while leaving a mansion on Fifth Avenue. Troubles between labor and capital, which had been brewing for some time, had broken out in several manufacturing centres, and were threatening to spread to all large cities. The money market was showing signs of considerable derangement. Fearful storms and floods were chronicled from all parts; while last, but not least, three transports which had embarked the greater part of the “army,” at San Francisco, that was to have “delivered” British Columbia, had foundered in a hurricane only two miles out, dragging all the poor deluded fellows to a watery grave. The same day brought good news from the old world. Ireland’s great statesman had won for Britain a wonderful diplomatic triumph in the East, which added to the Empire, without a drop of blood being shed, territories extending from the confines of British India to the Mediterranean. All the leading men in Europe (so the despatch read) were astonished at the exhibition of so much moral force in the Old Country after they had been imagining the Empire as about to go to pieces under the recent terrible strain. Other good news which had its effect here was that for Ireland there had at last been found men who understood her wants, and what was better, whom she herself understood, so that she considered herself as having just embarked upon a new career of glory as an integral and indispensable part of the Empire.

The effect of all this information on the electors of Canada was very marked. The demagogues who elevated themselves upon barrels or waggons and buggies to spout their frothy nonsense to the public, could get but few listeners, though only twenty-four hours ago applauding crowds would have assembled. Their hold on the people was gone; every one was reading the papers or discussing the startling news. Many men who the day before were noisily advocating everything disloyal and rebellious, were silent and thoughtful. Men who had remained loyal to Canada all through quickly seized the occasion and appealed to the people to stand firm to the Dominion, pointing out the uncertainty of affairs in the States and contrasting them with the vitality and power of the Old Country, doubly powerful now that Ireland had obtained perfect satisfaction and was contented. The election resulted in a complete triumph for the government, and was a most satisfactory vindication of their policy. The ranks of the Opposition were broken up and their forces demoralized. Not a word was heard about annexation that night unless in scorn.

The heart of the young nation was stirred to its very depths during the next two months, while a most sublime period in our history was being passed through. The would-be invaders of Canada were determined not to be baulked in their enterprise, the movement having gone too far to collapse suddenly, and perhaps the leaders had not sufficient foresight to see that the troubles rising in the States must necessarily get worse before they were better, and take several years to subside; perhaps they did not realize fully the new unanimity of public feeling in Canada. Anyhow the activity of their preparations did not lessen, but rather increased, and the commencement of offensive operations was postponed so that they might be more complete. Disloyalty was no longer popular in Ontario or in any other province, in fact among all who had been disaffected a reaction and revulsion of feeling set in, in favor of intense loyalty to the Dominion, and a most felicitous union was effected between the Conservatives and Reformers. The common danger brought all parties together, forgetful of old prejudices, and the old bitter hatred grew less and less until its final extinction. Henceforth there was but one party with but one object in view the welfare of the Dominion.

Every able-bodied man in Canada between the ages of 20 and 45 was under drill, and the country was fully prepared and fully expecting to undertake the invaders without outside assistance, but Great Britain being in no danger now in Europe, despatched 12,000 men to Canada, and with her recovered prestige was enabled to remonstrate forcibly with the Washington Government concerning American connivance. The British remonstrances had the desired effect, for the American authorities promptly arrested the leaders of the “army of deliverance,” though by so doing they aroused the animosity of many of their own supporters. The “army” then speedily fell away and all danger was over. Of course the benefit to Canada of having had the national feeling so deeply stirred was incalculable, for all classes of men in all the provinces had been animated by the profoundest sentiments and the strongest determination possible, and it was the opinion of leading military men of the time that the Canadians under arms, though outnumbered trebly by the intending invaders, would have held their own gallantly and have come off victorious.

The excitement aroused by these stirring occurrences began to quiet down towards the approaching Fall, when the Canadian ship of state was again under full sail, heading for the waters of prosperity. Since then our political history has been so intimately connected with great inventions and discoveries, that a narration of one without a description of the other is scarcely possible.