The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
John Grubber is a Sudbury history teacher, author and illustrator.
As Canada Day approaches, and our 150th birthday as a country in 2017, it is important that we think not just of celebrations, national values, ideals and mythic nation-building, but of the very real economic and political reasons we came together in the 1860s.
It’s not quite Game of Thrones, but there is plenty of intrigue in the ‘boring’ topic of Confederation.
We commonly know the names of many of the players, led by Sir John A. Macdonald, that argued, debated, fought and compromised to bring us together as a nation, but we rarely consider the conditions that made such a bond necessary or urgent.
Looking at a map, we are an illogical country huge, spanning a continent, a huge range of terrain and when the first group of far-flung colonies united in 1867, largely filled with unexplored lands. We shouldn’t have been able to stay together, given the vast differences, but it was the determination of those who met in Charlottetown and Quebec in the 1860s that we would work out our differences and thrive.
As Canadians, we need to more than enjoy the time off at Canada Day. We need to understand the deep differences between us and our neighbour to the south.
We need to know and celebrate the fact that we, as a nation, were born of compromise, not confrontation, although an air of tension and looming menace did hang over the discussions.
Some people in the Canadian colonies had long wanted to unite, but there was no real need to until the American Civil War in the 1860s. Without that event as a catalyst, our history may have been very different indeed. Historians generally think of six main reasons factors leading to Confederation:
— Threat of American invasion – The end of the American Civil War in 1865 made Canada nervous; some attacks on the Northern states had used Canada as a base. When the Southern secessionist slave states lost, the Northern states began to plan revenge against places that had helped the South – including Canada. There were several hundred thousand experienced soldiers available in the Union Army and there was great fear that they would march on Canada to conquer it, finishing the job the American Revolution began almost a century later, driving the British out of North America altogether.
— Manifest Destiny – Some Americans believed then and now, that they should control all of North America – including Canada. They told their politicians that it was time to annex Canada and liberate its populace from British ‘tyranny’. It did not help that there were many new settlers in Canada that were American by birth.
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