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

“But Heaven hath a hand in these events.”
Richard II, Act V.

The state of society in the nineteenth century would have but few attractions for us of the twentieth, were we able to return along the vista of a hundred years. Our manners and customs are so vastly different from those of our great-grandfathers that we should feel out of place indeed had we to go back, even for a short time, to their uncouth and imperfect ways. Their extraordinarily complex method of governing themselves, and their intricate political machinery would be very distressing to us, and are calculated to make one think that a keen pleasure in governing or in being overgoverned not a special aptitude or genius for governing must have been very common among them. From the alarming blunders made in directing public affairs, and from the manner in which beneficial measures were opposed by the party out of office, it appears quite certain that the instincts of true statesmanship did not animate all classes then as now. Nevertheless our forefathers went into the work of governing themselves and each other with a great deal of vim. They had no well drawn out formulae to work upon as we have, but they went at things in a sort of rule-of-thumb, rough-and-ready style, and when one party had dragged the country into the mire, the other dragged it out again. It was customary for the party that was out of office to say that the party that was in was corrupt and venal that every man of it was a liar, was a thief, was taking bribes, would soon be kicked out, etc. Then the party that was in had to say that the party that was out should look to its own sins and remember that everyone of its men when they were in proved himself incapable, insensible to every feeling of shame, with no susceptibilities except in his pocket, corrupt in every fibre, being justly rewarded when hurled from office by an indignant people, etc., etc. The wonder is that the country ever got governed at all, but it seems that all public men who had any fixed and sensible ideas and wished to see them carried out, had to make themselves callous, pachydermatous, hardened against this offensive mud-slinging. Of course politics did not elevate the man, nor the man politics, while things went on thus. A general demoralization and lowering of the tone of public opinion naturally resulted, which did not improve till the stirring events of the summer of 1887 brought men to their senses again. The number of members sent to Parliament was something so enormous, that it seems as if the people must have had a perfect mania for being represented. Nowadays we get along splendidly with only fifteen members (one for each Province) and a speaker. Formerly several hundred was not thought too many, and before the constitution was revised in 1935, there were actually over seven hundred representatives assembled at Ottawa every year. Perhaps this was all right under the circumstances, as there did not then exist any organization for training men for Parliamentary duties, or selecting them for candidature such as now exists; so there was safety in numbers, though the floods of talk must at times have been overwhelming. Besides the Central Parliament at Ottawa, there was a Local Parliament to every Province, and in some Provinces two Houses. It seems a mystery to us, now, how any measure could be got through in less than twelve months, but our forefathers apparently took pleasure in interminable harangues and oceans of verbosity, and prominent men contrived to make themselves heard above the universal clatter of tongues, so that good measures got pushed through somehow to the satisfaction of a much-enduring public. Nowadays our fifteen members put by as much work in two days as would have kept an old Parliament talking for two years. Provincial Parliaments, with their crowds of M.P.P’s, were abolished in 1935, and it was then also that the number of members at Ottawa was reduced from the absurd total of 750 to 15, and the round million or so which they cost the country saved. Members are not now paid; the honor of the position is sufficient emolument. When these and other changes were made, the expenses of government were enormously reduced, so much so, that after ten years, that is in 1945, taxes were abolished altogether, and from that time forward not a cent of taxation has been put upon the people. The revenue is now obtained in this way. Up to 1935 the revenue of the country stood at something over $150,000,000. When the constitution was changed the expenses of government were lessened to $50,000,000. It was then agreed that for ten years longer the revenue should remain at $150,000,000 (people were prosperous and willing enough to have contributed double), so that every year of the ten $100,000,000 might be invested. Thus at the end of ten years the Government possessed a capital of $1,000,000,000, and the interest of this constitutes our present revenue. If any great public works are being carried out, and more money is required, the municipalities are appealed to, and public meetings are held. All the great cities then vie with each other in presenting the Government with large sums. How the poor over-burdened tax-payer of 1883 would have rejoiced in all this!

Another great blessing to us is that war has ceased all the world over. It became, at last, too destructive to be indulged in at all. During the last great European war in 1932, while three emperors, two kings and several princes were parleying together, a monster oxyhydrogen shell exploded near them and created fearful havoc. All the royal personages were blown to atoms, as were also many of their attendants. Their armies hardly had a chance of getting near each other, so fearful was the execution of the shells. Since then the world has been free from war, and, but for gathering clouds in Asia, would seem likely to remain so. Anyhow, we in Canada, have not the shadow of a standing army, nor a single keel to represent a navy. We are too well occupied to wish to be aggressive, and no power except the United States could ever attack us, and even if Americans coveted our possessions they are not likely to resort to such an old-fashioned expedient as warfare to gain them. They could only annex us by so improving their constitution, as to make it plainly very much superior to ours. If they ever do this (and as yet there are no signs of it) there might be some chance of a union. At present the chances are all the other way. The only sort of union that is quite likely to come about is the joining by the Americans of the United Empire, or Confederation of all English-speaking nations, with which we have been connected for some years. The seat of the Imperial Government has hitherto been London, but British influence has made such strides in the East that there is every probability of another city being chosen for the capital, and of the seat of Government being made more central. Should one of the now restored ancient cities of the East become the metropolis of this glorious Imperial Confederation, the United States would certainly come into the Confederation, as great numbers of Americans have already migrated to the Orient.

A word on the changes which have come over the East will not be inappropriate, lest we should be tempted to boast too much of the progress of Canada. Ever since the conquest of Egypt by the British, as long ago as 1882, Anglo-Saxon institutions have been gaining ground from the Nile to the Euphrates, and from the Euphrates to the Indus. Soon after the great stroke of diplomacy in 1887, by which Great Britain practically became ruler of all this vast territory, the railroad was introduced, and before many years had passed the railroad system of Europe was linked with that of India. The pent-up riches of the fertile Euphrates valley thenceforth began to find channels of commerce, and to be distributed through less fertile regions. The ancient historic cities of these lands, Damascus especially, began at once to increase. Jerusalem, as soon as the Turk departed and the Anglo-Saxon entered, was purified, cleansed, and finally rebuilt. Great numbers of Jews from all parts of the world then returned and gave the city the benefit of their wealth, but all the commerce of the East keeps in the hands of Britons and Americans. English is, therefore, the chief language spoken from Beyrout to Bombay.

There is, however, a great cloud hanging over the East which causes dismay to thinking men, and threatens to mar the general prosperity of all the lands. Great as has been the increase of the Anglo-Saxon race, the numbers of the Sclavonic race have kept pace. The Sclavs, unfortunately, retain much of their old brutish disposition and ferocity in the midst of all the civilizing influences of modern times, so that statesmen foresee an inevitable collision in the not distant future between the Sclav and the Anglo-Saxon. It is disheartening in these days of splendid progress, when we had hoped that war was for ever banished from the world, to find that humanity has yet to endure the old horrors once more. How fearful these horrors will be, and how great the destruction of life, it is hardly possible to conceive, so terrible are the forces at man’s command nowadays, if he uses them simply for destructive purposes. The Sclav has spread from South-Eastern Europe and multiplied greatly in Asia, till his boundaries are coterminous with British territory, and it is his inveterate aggressive disposition which causes all the gloomy forebodings. Before we return to our own happy Canada, let us glance at Africa, the “dark continent” of the last century. Civilization has long penetrated to the upper waters of the Nile, and to the great fresh water lakes which rival our Huron and Superior. The beautiful country in which the mighty Congo and the Nile take their rise, is all open to the world’s commerce, and highways now exist stretching from Alexandria through these magnificent regions to the Transvaal and the Cape. Madagascar, fair, fertile and wealthy, has developed, under Anglo-Saxon influence, her wonderful latent resources for all men’s good. In addition to mineral treasures she had wealth to bestow in the shape of healing plants, whose benefits were greater to suffering humanity than tons of gold and silver. The botanical gardens at New Westminster, and the conservatories at Churchill, are greatly indebted to the flora of Madagascar. But let us now return to Canada and continue our contrasts.

Much of the success of our modern social movements has been due to the exertions of the noble Society of Benefactors. The members of this Society, as we well know, are now mostly men of independent means. Their chief idea is to bring together and combine social forces for the public good, which were formerly wasted. The Society has already existed for two generations, so that our rising generation is reaping the full benefit of its exertions. It is chiefly to these exertions that the improved tone of public opinion is due, and the general, moral and intellectual elevation of the present day are largely owing to the same cause. In the old benighted times before 1900 much wealth and ability were, for want of organization, allowed to run almost to waste as far as the general good of society was concerned. Men of means led aimless lives, squandering their riches in foreign cities, or staying at home to accumulate more and more, forgetting, or never considering what a powerful means of ameliorating the condition of their fellow creatures was within their reach. It was not only the lower classes that needed improvement, but the whole mass of society in all its aims, ideas and pursuits. Improvement on this large scale would never have been accomplished by the elaborate theorising and much preaching of the nineteenth century. Action, bold and fearless action, was wanted, and until men were found with minds entirely free from morbid theories, but full of the courage of their new convictions, the world had to wait in tantalizing suspense for improvement, always hoping that each new scientific discovery would enlighten mankind in the desired direction, but always doomed to be disappointed and to see humanity growing either more savage or physically weaker, simultaneously with each phase of enlightenment. These things are perhaps truer of society in Europe, and in some of the States, than in our young Dominion, where everything was necessarily in a somewhat inchoate condition. Yet had it not been for the great men who providentially appeared in our midst our history, our manners and customs, our whole career as a nation would simply have been a repetition of European civilization with all its defects, failures and vices. Statistics of the period show that neither in the States nor in Canada, amidst all the surrounding newness, had there arisen any new social condition peculiar to this continent which remedied to any extent the evils rampant in old countries. Lunatic asylums, in ghastly sarcasm on a self-styled intellectual age, reared their colossal façades and enclosed their thousands of human wrecks. Huge prisons had to be built in every large town. Hospitals were frequently crowded with victims of foul diseases. Great cities abounded with filthy lanes, alleys, and dwellings like dens of wild beasts. Epidemic diseases occurred from brutal disregard of sanitary measures. Murder and suicide were rife. Horrible accidents from preventible causes occurred daily. Great fires were continually destroying valuable city property, and ruinous monetary panics happened every few years. And all this in an age that prided itself on being advanced! An age that produced the telephone, but crowded up lunatic asylums! That cabled messages all round the world, but filled its prisons to the doors! That named the metals in the sun, but could not cleanse its cities! An age, in fact, that was but one remove from the unmitigated barbarism of medieval times! How marvellous is the change wrought by a hundred years! We have not been shocked by a murder in Canada for more than fifty years, nor has a suicide been heard of for a very long period. Epidemic diseases belong to the past. The sewage question, that source of vexation to the municipalities of old, has been scientifically settled to the saving of enormous sums of money, and to the permanent benefit of the community’s health. Malignant scourges, like consumption, epilepsy, cancer, etc., are never heard of except in less favored countries. There is but one prison to a province, and that is sometimes empty. Our cities are all fire-proof, and the night air is never startled now by the hideous jangling of fire-bells, arousing the citizens from sleep to view the destruction of their city. So rational and interesting has daily life become, that mind and body are constantly in healthy occupation; the fearful nervous hurry of old times, that broke down so many minds and bodies, having died out, to give way to a robust force of character which accomplishes much more with half the fuss. Of course, advantages such as these, did not spring upon society all at once; they have come about by comparatively slow degrees.

The first president of the Society of Benefactors, who died some years ago at an advanced age, was the man who started the new order of things. When he commenced to give the world the benefit of his views, he met with a good deal of opposition and ridicule, being told that the world was going on all right and was improving all the time, and that if people would only stop preaching and set to work at doing a little more, things would get better more quickly. He could not be convinced, however, that society had any grounds for its satisfaction, but he took the hint about preaching and stopped his lectures, which he had been giving all through the country. He then set to work at organization, and as he had inherited ample means from a millionaire father, he commenced under good auspices. He went into his work with great eagerness, gathering together all sorts of people, who held views similar to his own, though usually in a vague unpractical way, and formed his first committee of a bishop, celebrated for his enlightened opinions, two physicians, two lawyers, several wealthy merchants, and several working men who were good speakers and had influence among their fellows. His capacity for organization was great, and his success in gaining over to his side young men of means, remarkable. From the very beginning the committee never lacked money. Though they were actuated by purely philanthropic motives, it was one of their first principles never to sink large sums of money in any undertaking that would not pay its own expenses ultimately. There was, therefore, a healthy business-like tone about whatever they did, that distinguished their efforts from many well-intentioned, but sickly, undertakings of the same day, which one after another came to grief, doing nearly as much harm as good. One of their first works was to buy up lots and dwellings in the worst districts of Toronto, where miserable shanties and hovels stood in fetid slums, as foul as any in London or Glasgow. The hovels and shanties were then torn down, and respectable dwellings erected in their stead. The unfortunate wretches, the victims of drink, crime, or thriftlessness, who inhabited such places, were not turned away to seek a fouler footing elsewhere, but were taken in hand by the working-men on the committee, and were started afresh in life with every encouragement. They were generally permanently rescued from degradation, but if some fell back their children were saved, and so the next generation was spared a family of criminals. Montreal was next visited and the same thing done there; attention was then turned to Quebec and Winnipeg. Successful attempts were afterwards made to control the liquor traffic, not by sudden prohibition, which always increased the evil, but by common sense methods, necessarily somewhat slow, but sure. When the Society had been at work ten years, there was a very perceptible diminution in the amount of crime and smaller offences in all their spheres of action. Police forces could be decreased, and a prison here and there closed. This had a tendency to lessen the rates, so the taxpayer became touched in his tenderest part his pocket. His heart and his conscience then immediately softened toward the Society’s work, though years of preaching and the existence of all abominable evils close to his door had failed to move him. When this point had been reached, the Society began to be looked upon as one of the great remedial agents of the age, and work was much easier. One evil after another was grappled with, and in time subdued. Scientific researches were set on foot in hygiene, medicine, and every subject from which the community at large could derive benefit, till in twenty years time so much general improvement had been effected that Canada’s ways of doing things came to be quoted in other countries as a precedent. Our cities were the best built, best drained, cleanest and healthiest, and our city populations the most orderly and most enlightened. The Society’s roll of members now included a great number of eminent men, and their operations were extended over the whole Dominion, and works of all kinds were carried on simultaneously in all parts. Outside the Society, it had become quite fashionable for all classes to take the most eager interest in everything concerning the public welfare, so the Dominion continued to prosper and advance with wonderful rapidity. Thus it happened that we came to take the lead among nations and have been able to keep foremost ever since, though with our 93,000,000 we are not by any means the largest nation.

The improved hygienic conditions under which we live have had the effect of very largely increasing the population. Our forefathers in their wisdom spent large sums of money in attracting immigrants to our shores, but it did not occur to them to increase the population by preventing people from dying. Very few persons die now, except from old age, and the tremendous and almost incredible mortality of old times among infants is stopped, consequently the death rate is very low, and the excess of births over deaths very great. There are only three doctors to each large city, and they are subsidised by government or the town councils, because there are not enough sick people from whom they could make a living as of yore. The good health of the public is also in some measure due to the fact of our scientific men having been able, since a few years past, to gain a good deal of control over the weather. By means of captive balloons, currents of electricity between the higher atmosphere and the earth are kept passing regularly. By other electrical contrivances as well as these, rain can now be nearly always made to come at night and can be prevented from falling during the day. Hurricanes and desolating storms are also held very much under control.

Our contrasts are now drawing to a close. Enough has been said to make it plain to the slowest intellect among us, what is gained by having been born in the twentieth century, instead of in the nineteenth, and by being born a Canadian, instead of to any other land. There can hardly be to-day such a woeful creature as a Canadian who does not realise and is not proud of the grandeur of his heritage. Our race, owing to the splendid hygienic and social conditions that have been dilated upon, is one of the healthiest and strongest on the face of the earth. We are not demoralized or effeminated by the luxury and abundance which are ours, but elevated rather, and strengthened by the very magnificence and opulence of our circumstances, and by the perfect freedom, under healthful restraint, which we enjoy through the community’s strong, vigorous, moral and intellectual tone.

As there is nothing more wonderful about the present age, or more characteristic of the times, than our mode of travelling, these few pages shall be concluded with a plan of a very simple journey, a journey which can be strongly recommended to all who are wishing for change of scene and are somewhat bewildered in choosing a route among the innumerable places in the world which have claims on their attention. We will imagine that a party of twenty has been made up, and that the start is from Halifax, the direction eastward, and the destination Constantinople. The car which is timed to start at 7 a.m., is standing at rest on the sloping side, while the passengers, say fifty in number, are taking their seats in the luxurious chamber within. The first stop is at Sydney, Cape Breton, and the car is pointed accurately in that direction. At three minutes to 7 the engineers and conductor come on board; the former to place the powerful oxyhydrogen charge in the great breech-loading tube, the latter to close the doors against ingress or egress. Precisely at 7 the signal is given. A furious and powerful hissing is then heard, as well as a momentary scraping of the car on its runners. In another second she is high in the air, and already Halifax has nearly receded from the engineer’s sight. The rate of a mile in three seconds is kept up till Sydney rapidly appears in view. In the next few seconds the engineer exerts his skill and the car lands gracefully on the slide, still in brisk motion. After a little scraping and crunching on the runners, she pulls up at the station platform at the bottom of the decline, ten minutes only after leaving Halifax. The next spring is made to St. John’s, Newfoundland, which is reached in fourteen minutes. Here a few minutes are taken up in pointing the car accurately for Galway. Great caution is necessary, and very delicate and beautiful instruments are employed. When all are on board again and ready for the supermarine voyage, the engineer loads up with a much more powerful charge than before. He prepares at the start for a speed of a mile in three seconds, then, when fairly out over the sea, a stronger electric current is applied to the huge charge, and a speed of a mile, or even more, a second is obtained. This fearful velocity is not permitted overland, for fear of collisions, as car routes cross each other. But no routes cross over the sea between St. John’s and Galway, nor is the Galway car allowed to leave till the St. John’s car has arrived, and vice versa, therefore the highest speed attainable is permitted. Before land again looms in view, speed is much slackened, and now the engineer requires all his experience and his utmost skill. The high winds across the ocean may have caused his car to deviate slightly from its path, so as soon as land appears the deviation has to be corrected, and only two or three seconds remain in which to correct it. However, the engineer is equal to his task, and the car is now in the same manner as before, brought to a stand in Galway at 6 minutes to 8, just 30 minutes out from St. John’s and 54 from Halifax. At 8 o’clock Dublin is reached, next comes Holyhead, and then London at 8.20. Here passengers for the South of Europe change cars. As the car for the South does not start till 8.30, there is time for a hasty glance at the enormous central depot just arrived at one of the wonders of the world. Cars are coming in every minute punctually on time from all parts of the country and the world. The arrival slide is here shaped like the inside or concavity of a shallow cone, two miles in diameter, with the edge rather more than 150 feet from the ground. In the centre, where the cars stop, is a hydraulic elevator, by which they are immediately let down below to make room for the next arrival. The passengers are then disembarked without hurry. Those who are to continue their journey then go on board their right car and are again started on time. The departure slide is like a lower storey of the arrival one. It is immediately beneath it, but its grade is not quite parallel. Near the centre, where the cars start, the upper slide is twenty-five feet above the lower one, but at the edge, a mile distant, in consequence of the difference in grade, there is fifty feet between them. The path of the cars before they emerge from the departure slide, is between the supports of the upper one, yet the supports are so placed that the cars can be pointed before starting for all the principal routes. There is a through car to Constantinople, and in it the twenty passengers from Halifax take their seats. At 8.30 the first spring is made, and Paris is reached in 10 minutes. Another spring, and in 10 minutes more Strasbourg appears. Then successively: Munich in 8 minutes, Vienna in 10, Belgrade in 15, and lastly Constantinople in 20, or at 9.43, that is just one hour and thirteen minutes from leaving London, and two hours and 43 minutes from Halifax. It is still early in the day well that is where a surprise awaits the traveller who has not considered that he has been journeying eastward through more than ninety degrees of longitude, so that instead of being a quarter to ten in the morning, it is a good six hours later, or just about four in the afternoon. Two out of the twenty Haligonians are on business only, and intend to return the same night; the other eighteen, after seeing the lions of Constantinople intend visiting Jerusalem, the Persian Gulf, Bombay, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Pekin, and Yokohama, staying a day or two in each city. The car services on this route have been in existence a good many years and are well organized. From Yokohama a long flight over the Pacific will be taken and Canadian soil again struck at Victoria. We will not follow the eighteen travellers in their eight or ten days sight-seeing, but will return to the two Haligonians at Constantinople, who have got through their business in a few hours, and must go back to Halifax at once. They start for London at 10 p.m., Constantinople time, arriving there in one hour and thirteen minutes over the route they traversed in the morning. They change cars, and in ten minutes are off again via Holyhead, Dublin, Galway, St. John’s and Sydney, C. B., for Halifax, where they arrive in one hour and 20 minutes from London, or forty-three minutes after midnight by Constantinople time, but more than six hours earlier, or about 6.30 in the evening by Halifax time. They have therefore got ahead of the sun in his apparent journey round the world, for he had set for at least two hours when they started from Constantinople, but they caught up with him when over the Atlantic, and to the engineer it appeared as if he were rising in the west. This is a daily experience of travellers going west, which never fails at first to create great surprise. Our two voyagers are now safe back, at the port from which they set out a little less than twelve hours before. They are quite accustomed to such travelling, and have done nothing but what thousands are doing daily. But what would have been thought, if such a journey had been described a hundred years ago, in 1883? And how will the world travel a hundred years hence, in 2083? It is hard to say, or even to imagine. Yet inventive skill is unceasingly active, and in all probability speed will eventually be still further accelerated.

And now our task of contrasting Canada in 1983 with Canada in 1883 is concluded, and surely in this epitome of the works of a century there is food for reflection for the inventor, the statesman, the moralist and the philanthropist. All, when pondering on the gradual, but sure improvement that has come about in their respective paths, can take heart and nerve themselves for renewed effort, or be induced to stand firm till success comes to reward their courage. No man can despair who ponders on the position of the Dominion in 1983.