Lord Dufferin’s Speech in Winnipeg, 1877
Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1966, Volume 11, Number 2
Given at the City Hall on the last day of his visit to Manitoba.
From its geographical position and its peculiar characteristics, Manitoba may be regarded as the keystone of that mighty arch of sister provinces which spans the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. [*] It was here that Canada, emerging from her woods and forests, first gazed upon her rolling prairies and unexplored North-West, and learned, as by an unexpected revelation, that her historical territories of the Canadas, her eastern seaboards of New Brunswick, Labrador and Nova Scotia, her Laurentian lakes and valleys, lowlands and pastures, though themselves more extensive than half-a-dozen European kingdoms, were but the vestibules and ante-chambers to that till the undreamed-of Dominion, whose illimitable dimensions confound the arithmetic of the surveyors and the verification of the explorer. It was hence that, counting her past achievements as but the preface and prelude to her future exertions and expanding destinies, she took a fresh departure, received the afflatus of a more important inspiration, and felt herself no longer a mere settler along the banks of a single river, but the owner of half a continent, and in the magnitude of her possession, in the wealth of her resources, in the sinews of her material might, the peer of any power on the earth. In a recent remarkably witty speech, the Marquis of Salisbury alluded to the geographical misconceptions often engendered by the smallness of the maps upon which the figure of the world is depicted. To this cause is probably to be attributed the inadequate opinion of well-educated persons of the extent of Her Majesty’s North American possessions.
Perhaps the best way of correcting such a universal misapprehension would be a summary of the rivers which flow through them, for we know that a poor man cannot afford to live in a big house, so a small country cannot support a big river. Now, to an Englishman or a Frenchman, the Severn or the Thames, the Seine or the Rhone, would appear considerable streams, but in the Ottawa a mere affluent of the St Lawrence, an affluent, moreover, which reaches the parent stream six hundred miles from its mouth, we have a river nearly five hundred and fifty miles long, and three or four times as big as any of them. But even after having ascended the St. Lawrence itself to Lake Ontario, and pursued it across Lake Huron, St. Clair, and Lake Superior, to Thunder Bay, a distance of one thousand five hundred miles, where are we? In the estimation of the person who has made the journey, at the end of all things - but to us who know better, scarcely at the commencement of the great fluvial system of the Dominion; for, from that spot, that is to say, from Thunder Bay, we are able at once to ship our astonished traveller on to the Kaministiquia, a river of some hundred miles long.
Thence almost in a straight line, we launch him upon Lake Shebandowan and Rainy Lake and River, a magnificent stream three hundred yards broad and a couple of hundred miles long, down whose tranquil bosom he floats into the Lake of the Woods, where he finds himself on a sheet of water which though diminutive as compared with the inland seas he has left behind him, will probably be found sufficiently extended to render him fearfully seasick during his voyage across it.
For the last eighty miles of his voyage, however, he will be con-soled by sailing through a succession of land-locked channels, the beauty of whose scenery, while it resembles, certainly excels the far-famed Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence. From this lacustrine paradise of sylvan beauty we are able at once to transfer our friend to the Winnipeg, a river whose existence, in the very heart and centre of the continent, is in itself one of Nature’s most delightful miracles, so beautiful and varied are its rocky banks, its tufted islands; so broad, so deep, so fervid is the volume of its waters, the extent of their lake-like expansions, and the tremendous power of their rapids.
At last, let us suppose we have landed our protege at the town of Winnipeg, the half-way house of the continent, the capital of the Prairie province, and, I trust, the future "umbilicus" of the Dominion - having had so much of water, having now reached the home of the buffalo - like the extenuated Falstaff, he naturally "babbles of green fields," and careers in imagination over the primeval grasses of the prairie.
Not at all. Escorted by Mr. Mayor and the town council, we take him down to your quay, and ask him which he will ascend first, the Red River or the Assiniboine; two streams, the one, five hundred miles long, the other, four hundred and eighty, which so happily mingle their waters within your city limits.
After having given him a preliminary canter on these respective rivers, we take him off to Lake Winnipeg, an inland sea three hundred miles long and upwards of sixty broad, during the navigation of which for many a weary hour he will find himself out of sight of land, and probably a good deal more indisposed than ever he was on the Lake of the Woods or even the Atlantic.
At the north-west angle of Lake Winnipeg he hits upon the mouth of the Saskatchewan, the gateway to the North-West, and the starting point to another one thousand five hundred miles of navigable water, flowing near by due east and west between its alluvial banks. Having now reached the foot of the Rocky Mountains, our "Ancient Mariner", for by this time he will be quite entitled to such an appellation, knowing that water cannot run uphill, feels certain his aquatic experiences are concluded. He was never more mistaken.
We immediately launch him upon the Athabaska and Mackenzie Rivers, and start him on a longer trip than he has yet undertaken, the navigation of the Mackenzie River alone exceeding two thousand five hundred miles. If he survives this last experience, we wind up his peregrinations by a concluding voyage down the Fraser River; or, if he prefers it, the Thompson River, to Victoria, in Vancouver, whence, having previously provided him with a first-class ticket for that purpose, he will probably prefer getting home via the Canadian Pacific.
Now, in this enumeration, those who are acquainted with the country are aware that, for the sake of brevity, I have omitted thousands of miles of other lakes and rivers which water various regions of the North-West, the Qu’Appelle River, Belly River, Lake Manitoba, the Winnipegosis, Shoal Lake, etc., etc., along which I might have dragged, and finally exterminated, our way-worn guest. But the sketch I have given is more than sufficient for my purpose; and when it is further remembered that the most of these streams flow for their entire length through alluvial plains of the richest description, where year after year wheat can be raised without manure, or any sensible diminution in its yield, and where the soil everywhere presents the appearance of a highly cultivated suburban kitchen garden in England, enough has been said to display the agricultural richness of the territories I have referred to, and the capabilities they possess of affording happy and prosperous homes to millions of the human race.
You have been blessed with an abundant harvest, and soon, I trust, will a railway come to carry to those who need it the surplus of your produce, now, as my own eyes have witnessed, imprisoned in your storehouses for want of the means of transport. May the expanding finances of the country soon place the Government in a position to gratify your just and natural expectations.
* NOTE: Although Lord Dufferin is credited with originating the term "Keystone Province" it is interesting to note that in an editorial of the Nor’Wester, 22 January 1869, the following phrase appears: "... we must ... show that this vast country ... is physically, the keystone of the Dominion Arch to the Pacific ..." For the full text of this editorial see Manitoba Pageant, Autumn 1965.
Page revised: 18 July 2009