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Canada Contrives to Complete Confederation

Manitoba Pageant, April 1963, Volume 8, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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From History of Manitoba by Donald Gunn and Charles R. Tuttle, Ottawa 1880:

For a number of years the question had been agitated in Canada as to the right of the Hudson's Bay Company to the territory which it claimed as its own exclusive property; and a counter-claim was set up by the old Province of Canada, that at least a very large portion of the country claimed by the Company should properly be included within the boundaries of the Province of Canada, for the reason that it was French territory at the time of the Conquest of Canada, and as such had been transferred to England, and afterwards formed part of the old Province of Quebec.

Into the merits of this claim it is unnecessary to enter here; suffice it to say that the matter attracted a great deal of attention in the Parliament of the Province, and that, in 1857, a Commission was appointed to examine into and report upon the claims of Canada to this territory. This Commission made out what seemed a pretty fair claim; but the Hudson's Bay Company at that time was too powerful in England, and the claims of the Province were held in abeyance. The question, however, continued to be agitated; and when the terms of the British North America Act of 1867 were being settled, Article XI, sec. 146, provided that, "It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the advice of Her Majesty's most Honourable Privy Council, etc., on Address from the Houses of Parliament of Canada, to admit Rupert's Land and the North-West Territory, or either of them, into the Union on such terms and conditions in each case as are in the Address ex-pressed, and as the Queen thinks fit to approve, subject to the pro-visions of this Act".

In accordance with the terms of this section, the Hon. W. Macdougall, then Minister of Public Works, at the first session of the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada, introduced, on the fourth day of December, 1867, a series of Resolutions on which an Address was to be based, praying that Rupert's Land and the North-West Territories should be united to the Dominion.

The resolutions were as follows:

1. That it would promote the prosperity of the Canadian people and conduce to the advantage of the whole Empire, if the Dominion of Canada, constituted under the provisions of the British North America Act, 1867, were extended westward to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

2. That colonization of the lands of the Saskatchewan, Assiniboine and Red River districts, and the development of the mineral wealth which abounds in the regions of the North-West, and the extension of commercial intercourse through the British possessions in America from the Atlantic to the Pacific, are alike dependent upon the establishment of a stable Government for the maintenance of law and order in the North-West Territories.

3. That the welfare of the sparse and widely scattered population of British subjects of European origin, already inhabiting these remote and unorganized territories, would be materially enhanced by the formation therein of political institutions bearing analogy, as far as circumstances will admit, to those which exist in the several Provinces of this Dominion.

4. That the 146th section of the British North America Act, 1867, provides for the admission of Rupert's Land and the North-West Territory, or either of them, into union with Canada upon terms and conditions to be expressed in Addresses from the Houses of Parliament of this Dominion to Her Majesty, and which shall be approved of by the Queen in Council.

5. That it is accordingly expedient to address Her Majesty, that she would be graciously pleased, by and with the advice of Her Most Honorable Privy Council, to unite Rupert's Land and the North-West Territory with the Dominion of Canada, and to grant to the Parliament of Canada authority to legislate for their future welfare and good government.

6. That in the event of the Imperial Government agreeing to transfer to Canada the jurisdiction and control over this region, it would be expedient to provide that the legal rights of any corporation, company or individual within the same, will be respected: and that in case of difference of opinion as to the extent, nature or value of these rights, the same shall be submitted to judicial decision, or be determined by mutual agreement between the Government of Canada and the parties interested. Such agreement to have no effect or validity until first sanctioned by the Parliament of Canada.

7. That upon the transference of the territories in question to the Canadian Government, the claims of the Indian tribes to compensation for lands required for purposes of settlement, would be considered and settled in conformity with the equitable principles which have uniformly governed the Crown in its dealings with the aborigines.

8. That a select committee be appointed to draft an humble Address to Her Majesty on the subject of the foregoing Resolutions.

Hon. Mr. Macdougall opened the debate on the Resolutions, which continued about one week, in an able speech, in which he spoke of the importance of embracing the vast and fertile region within the bounds of the New Dominion; of the impetus that would be given to immigration by opening up this new country to settlers, and pointed out the necessity of a stable form of government being established before any large amount of immigration could be attracted to the territory. In summing up he said: "The position is this - First, that it is desirable that this country should be transferred from Imperial to Canadian authority. Second, that the control of that country ought to be in the hands of this Parliament, and under the direction of this legislature. Then, if the Company make any claim to any portion of the soil occupied by our servants, they will come into the Courts to make good their claim, and they will have the right, if the decision is adverse to them to appeal to the Privy Council."

The debate was participated in by over forty members of the House, very full and free explanations and expressions of opinions being made by both the supporters and opponents of the measure. The arguments in favor of acquiring the territory may be briefly summarized as follows: The necessity for a more extended field of colonization, experience having shown that thousands of immigrants yearly passed through Canada on their way to the United States, many of whom could be induced to remain if the Government had any suitable lands to offer them free, as the United States had; the importance of acquiring the territory to prevent its being absorbed by the United States, which had just acquired Russian America, and showed a disposition to annex the Red River Territory; the immense advantage to the whole country of having its territory extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and the moral obligation to provide for the settlers on the Red River a stable form of government, which they did not possess under the rule of the Hudson's Bay Company. It was denied that the Resolutions implied any acknowledgment of the claims of the Hudson's Bay Company, and the Minister of Public Works clearly explained the position of the Government on that point as follows: "In regard to the question of terms, the honourable gentleman had pretended that Government was prepared to recognize the right of the Hudson's Bay Company to demand a large sum of money from the people of this country. He denied there was such intention. From the beginning of the discussion down to the last hour, the Government of Canada had denied the legal claims of the Hudson's Bay Company to that portion of territory fit for settlement. They proposed to claim this country as being part of New France, as having been ceded to the English Government in 1760, and as having remained in that position from that time down to the present. As to Rupert's Land, that was an open point - they did not propose to settle that by these Resolutions - that would be left to the legal tribunals of Canada, and every British subject would have the right to appeal from these to the highest tribunals of the Mother Country."

But although there was much to say in favour of the measure, the Opposition found considerable to advance against it. It was urged that the Dominion had already enough territory, and was not in a position, financially, to warrant the acquirement of a tract of country - a large part of which was utterly worthless - involving the expenditure of a sum of money variously estimated by the speakers at from five to twenty millions of dollars; that the enlargement of the frontier of the Dominion by more than a thousand miles would be an increased source of weakness in the event of war, and would be apt to lead to complications with the United States, or to war between the Indians of the two countries; that the establishment of courts, a police force and other necessary machinery of government would involve a much larger outlay than there was any prospect of receiving an adequate return for; that the people of Red River country did not want annexation, and that it was highly impolitic to acquire a territory the only access to which at present was through the United States, and the expense of making a road to which on Canadian soil would be very great. With regard to the claims of the Hudson's Bay Company, some of the opponents of the Resolutions held that the Company had forfeited what title it ever had under the charter of 1670, by never having complied with its terms with reference to colonization and civilizing of the Indians, while others held that the charter never was valid, as it had been granted by Charles II without the consent of Parliament; that the Company had therefore no claim, and were not entitled to anything. Mr. Howe pointed out that the capital of the Hudson's Bay Company, which was only £1,000,000 five years ago, had been inflated to twice that amount as soon as it was known that Canada wanted the territory, and the inflated sum of ten millions of dollars was what the Government would be expected to pay; a sum altogether unreasonable, and more than the country could afford to pay.

On the motion to concur in the Resolutions as reported from the Committee of the Whole, Mr. Holton moved the following amendment: "That, according to the provisions of British North America Act, 1867, an Order in Council founded on an Address of the Canadian Parliament to the Queen, praying that Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory should be united to this Dominion on the terms and in such Address set forth, would have the full force and effect of an Imperial statute, and would bind this House to provide whatever sum of money might be required to extinguish the claims of the Hudson's Bay Company upon the said territory, and that to pledge irrevocably public funds to the payment of a large and indefinite sum for the extinction of vague and doubtful claims would be alike unwise on grounds of general policy and imprudent in view of the present financial position of the country: and that it is, therefore, inexpedient to adopt an Address under the 146th clause of the British North America Act of 1867 until the nature, extent and value of the claims with which the territories in question are burdened, shall be ascertained." After a short debate the amendment was put and lost on a division by a vote of 41 to 104. The Resolutions as introduced and amended by Mr. Macdougall were then adopted, and a select committee appointed to draw up an Address embodying them.

Page revised: 1 July 2009

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