Ethnicity of the Founding Peoples of Canada: Hon. Thomas D’Arcy McGee (1865)


The Founding Peoples of Canada were not immigrants.  They had been born in British North America for several generations.  They were the architects and the natural heirs of their own local cultures and form of government.

Governor-General’s Award-winning historian, J.M.S. Careless, describes the founders of Canada:

“Whether ardent Loyalists or indifferent republicans, most of the English-speaking settlers in this period had been North Americans long established on the continent.”

The Founding Canadians were hardy pioneers who developed the northeast corner of the continent over cen­tur­ies.  And this is true whether they be­longed to British North America or had migrated here from the American states, where they were descended from the English. [[[???]]]

In other words, Canada’s British, American, and French-Canadian founders were “native” to North America in their own right.  They were not native to any­where else in 1867, and thus, they were not in the technical sense im­mi­grants.

In writing of the period from 1815 to 1850, Careless notes that the “flow of Amer­i­can settlement died away after 1815 for various reasons.”  “American immigration” he says, “had really ended with the Loyalist influx, and it had never reached Newfoundland.  Nor had it been large in French-speaking Lower Canada, whether Loyalist or not.”

Careless notes that after the war of 1812 — (when the Americans had tried to annex British North America)  anti-American sentiment, and laws dis­cour­ag­ing their further settlement reduced the Yankee influx to a trickle.

Meanwhile, the French Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Amer­i­can Revolutionary War, and fighting between France and Britain, all had ended.  Careless notes that in consequence:  “an era of peace followed in Europe, and a great tide of British emigration set in, to fall away only after 1850.”

Thus after 1815 came “a movement by sea, from Britain, of people new to North America.”  However, these were ideal for the established form of gov­ern­ment for Canada, the British parliamentary system, to which the newly arriving British were already attached.  This new British infusion, says Careless:

“not only greatly increased the population and speeded the development of British North America; they added new elements to its society and did much to mark it off further from the American republic.”

Careless underscores that the first four Provinces be credited with laying the cornerstones of the whole Confederation.  Their people, described below by Thomas D’Arcy McGee, had achieved the near-impossible task of in­tro­duc­ing a new form of western civilization into this hemisphere; and in an un­for­giv­ing northern environment.

The Doorstep of Confederation

Honorable Thomas D'Arcy McGee

Honorable Thomas D’Arcy McGee

Founding Father of Canada, the eloquent and sought-after orator, the Honorable Thomas D’Arcy McGee, confirms the historian.  In the Legislative Assembly of the Old Province of Canada, in the Debates on Confederation of Thursday, February 9th, 1865, McGee identifies the ethnicity of each of the founding colonies of Canada.

Segments in the Debates are rarely paragraphed, possibly to economize on printing paper.  I will insert paragraphs for ease of reading.

The Hon. Thomas D’Arcy McGee at pages 135-137:

Up to the last year there was no conjunction of circumstances favorable to the bringing about of this union, and probably if we suffer this opportunity to be wasted we shall never see again such a conjunction of circumstances as will enable us to agree, even so far, among ourselves.

By a most fortunate concurrence of circumstances -– by what I presume to call, speaking of events of this magnitude, a providential concurrence of circumstances -– the Government of Canada was so modified last spring as to enable it to deal fearlessly with this subject, at the very moment when the coast colonies, despairing of a Canadian union, were arranging a conference of their own for a union of their own.

Our Government embraced among its members from the western section the leaders of the former Ministry and former Opposition from that section. At the time it was formed it announced to this House that it was its intention as part of its policy to seek a conference with the lower colonies, and endeavor to bring about a general union.

This House formally gave the Government its confidence after the announcement of this policy, and although I have no desire to strain terms, it does appear to me that this House did commit itself to the principle of a union of the colonies if found practicable. That is my view, sir, of the relations of this House to the Government after it gave it expressly its confidence.

Other members of the House take another view of that matter, they do not think themselves committed even to the principle, and they certainly are not to the details of the scheme.  (Hear.)  After the Coalition was formed an incident occurred, which, though not of national importance, it would be most ungrateful of me to forget.  An intercolonial excursion was proposed and was rendered practicable through the public spirit of two gentlemen representing our great railway, of which so many hard things have been said that I feel it my duty to say this good thing -– I refer to the Honorable Mr. FERRIER and Mr. BRYDGES.  (Cheers.) 

Forty members of this House, twenty-five members of the other House, and forty gentlemen of the press and other professions, from Canada, joined in that excursion. So many Canadians had never seen so much of the Lower Provinces before, and the people of the Lower Provinces had never seen so many Canadians.

Our reception was beyond all description kind and cordial. The general sentiment of union was everywhere cheered to the echo, though I am sorry to find that some of those who cheered then, when it was but a general sentiment, seem to act very differently now, that it has become a ripened project, and I fear that they do not intend to act up to the words they then uttered. They may, perhaps, intend to do so, but they have a very odd way of going about it. (Laughter.)

Well, sir, this was in August; the Charlottetown Conference was called in September, the Quebec Conference in October, and the tour of the maritime delegates through Canada took place in November. Four months of the eight which have elapsed since we promised this House to deal with it have been almost wholly given up to this great enterprise. Let me bear my tribute, Mr. SPEAKER, now that I refer to the Conference, to the gentlemen from the Lower Provinces, who sat so many days in council with us under this roof. (Cheers.)

A very worthy citizen of Montreal, when I went up a day or two in advance of the Montreal banquet, asked me, with a curious sort of emphasis  – “What sort of people are they?” – meaning the maritime delegates.

I answered him then, as I repeat now, that they were, as a body, as able and accomplished a body as I thought any new country in the world could produce, -– and that some among them would compare not unfavorably in ability and information with some of the leading commoners of England.

As our Government included a representation both of the former Opposition, and the former Ministry, so their delegations were composed in about equal parts of the Opposition and Ministerial parties of their several provinces. A more hard-working set of men; men more tenacious of their own rights, yet more considerate for those of others; men of readier resources in debate; men of gentler manners; men more willing to bear and forbear, I never can hope to see together at one council table again.  (Cheers.)

But why need I dwell on this point? They were seen and heard in all our principal cities, and I am sure every Canadian who met them here was proud of them as fellow-subjects, and would be happy to feel that he could soon call them fellow-country men in fact as well as in name.  (Cheers.)  Sir, by this combination of great abilities -– by this coalition of leaders who never before acted together -– by this extraordinary armistice of party warfare, obtained in every colony at the same moment -– after all this labor and all this self-sacrifice -– after all former impediments had been most fortunately overcome -– the treaty was concluded and signed by us all -– and there it lies on your table.

The propositions contained in it have been objected to, and we were reminded the other evening by the honorable member for Chateauguay, that we are not a treaty-making power. Well, in reference to that objection, I believe the Imperial Government has in certain cases, such as the Reciprocity Treaty, conceded to these provinces the right of coaction; and in this case there is the Imperial Despatch of 1862 to Lord Mulgrave, Governor of Nova Scotia, distinctly authorizing the public men of the colonies to confer with each other on the subject of union, and writing them to submit the result of their conferences to the Imperial Government.  (Hear, hear.)  We assembled under authority of that despatch, and acted under the sanction it gave.

Everything we did was done in form and with propriety, and the result of our proceedings is the document that has been submitted to the Imperial Government as well as to this House, and which we speak of here as a treaty.

And that there may be no doubt about our position in regard to that document we say, question it you may, reject it you may, or accept it you may, but alter it you may not.  (Hear, hear.)  It is beyond your power, or our power, to alter it. There is not a sentence -– ay, or even a word -– you can alter without desiring to throw out the document. Alter it, and we know at once what you mean -– you thereby declare yourselves anti-unionists.  (Hear, hear.)

On this point, I repeat after all my hon. friends who have already spoken, for one party to alter a treaty, is, of course, to destroy it. Let us be frank with each other; you who do not like our work, nor do you like us who stand by it, clause by clause, line by line, and letter by letter. Oh! but this clause ought to run thus, and this other clause thus.

Does any hon. member seriously think that any treaty in the world between five separate provinces ever gave full and entire satisfaction on every point to every party? Does any hon. member seriously expect to have a constitutional act framed to his order, or my order, or any man’s order?  No, sir, I am sure no legislator at least since ANACHARSIS CLOOTZ was “Attorney General of the Human Race” ever expected such ideal perfection.  (Laughter.)

It may be said by some hon. gentleman that they admit the principle of this measure to be good, but that it should be dealt with as an ordinary parliamentary subject in the usual parliamentary manner, Mr. SPEAKER, this is not an ordinary parliamentary measure.

We do not legislate upon it -– we do not enact it, -– that is for a higher authority.

Suppose the Address adopted by this House to-morrow, is the act of this House final and conclusive?  No. It is for the Imperial Parliament to act upon it.  (Hear, hear.) It will be that body that will cause the several propositions to be moulded into a measure which will have the form of law, and these resolutions will probably be the ipsissima verba of the measure they will give us and the other provinces.

But some hon. gentlemen opposite say, that if there be defects in this measure they ought to be remedied now, and that the Government ought to be glad to have them pointed out. Yes, surely, if this were simply the act of the Parliament of Canada;  but it is not to be our act alone. It is an Address to the Throne, in the terms of which other colonies are to agree, and even if we were to make alterations in it, we cannot bind them to accept them.

If we were weak and wicked enough to alter a solemn agreement with the other provinces, the moment their representatives had turned their backs and gone home, what purpose would it serve except that of defeating the whole measure and throwing it as well as the country back again into chaos.  (Hear, hear.)

I admit, sir, as we have been told, that we ought to aim at perfection, but who has ever attained it, except perhaps the hon. member for Brome.  (Laughter.)

We, however, did strive and aim at the mark, and we think we made a tolerably good shot. The hon. member for Chateauguay will not be satisfied -– insatiate archer! -– unless we hit the bull’s eye.  (Laughter.)

My hon. friend is well read in political literature -– will he mention me one authority, from the first to the last, who ever held that human government ever was or could be anything more than what a modern sage called “an approximation to the right” and an ancient called “the possible best.”

Well, we believe we have here given to our countrymen of all the provinces the possible best -– that we have given it to them in the most imperative moment -– their representatives and ours have labored at it, letter and spirit, form and substance, until they found this basis of agreement, which we are all alike confident will not now, nor for many a day to come, be easily swept away.

Before I pass to another point, sir, permit me to pay my tribute of unfeigned respect to one of our Canadian colleagues in this work, who is no longer with us; I mean the present Vice-chancellor of Upper Canada (Hon. Mr. Mowat), who took a constant and honorable share in the preparation of this project.  (Cheers.)

The Founding Peoples of La Nouvelle France
French-Canadians in the British North American Colonies

Now, sir, I wish to say a few words in reference to what I call the social relations which I think ought to exist and will spring up between the people of the Lower Provinces and ourselves if there is a closer communication established between us, and also in reference to the social fitness of each of the parties to this proposed union.

And first, I will make a remark to some of the French Canadian gentlemen who are said to be opposed to our project, on French Canadian grounds only. I will remind them, I hope not improperly, that every one of the colonies we now propose to re-unite under one rule -– in which they shall have a potential voice -– were once before united, as New France.  (Cheers.) Newfoundland, the uttermost, was theirs, and one large section of its coast is still known as “the French shore”.

Cape Breton was theirs till the final fall of Louisburgh; Prince Edward Island was their Island of St. Jean, and Charlottetown was their Port Joli; in the heart of Nova Scotia was that fair Acadian land, where the roll of Longfellow’s noble hexameters may any day be heard in every wave that breaks upon the base of Cape Blomedon.  (Cheers.)

In the northern counties of New Brunswick, from the Miramichi to the Matapediac, they had their forts and farms, their churches and their festivals, before the English speech had ever once been heard between those rivers. Nor is that tenacious Norman and Breton race extinct in their old haunts and homes. I have heard one of the members for Cape Breton speak in high terms of that portion of his constituency, and I believe I am correct in saying that Mr. LE VISCONTE, the late Finance Minister of Nova Scotia, was, in the literal sense of the term, an Acadian. Mr. COZZANS, of New York, who wrote a very readable little book the other day about Nova Scotia, describes the French residents near the basin of Minas, and he says especially of the women, “they might have stepped out of Normandy a hundred years ago!”

In New Brunswick there is more than one county, especially in the north, where business, and law, and politics, require a knowledge of both French and English. A worthy friend of ours, Hon. Mr. MITCHELL, of Chatham, who was present at the earlier meetings of the Conference, owed his first election for one of these counties, because he was Pierre Michel, and could speak to his French constituents in their own language.

I will, with leave of the House, read on this interesting subject a passage from a very capital sketch of the French district of New Brunswick in 1863, by Lieutenant Governor Gordon [it is in GALSTON’S Vacation Tourist for 1864], and is exceedingly interesting throughout: -–

The French population, which forms so large a proportion among the inhabitants of the counties of Westmoreland, Kent and Gloucester, appears to me as contented as the habitants of Victoria, but hardly equally as well off. There was an air of comfort and bien-être about the large timber two-storied houses, painted a dark Indian red, standing among the trees, the numerous good horses, the well-tilled fields and sleek cattle, which is wanting on the sea coast.

We stopped after a pleasant drive, affording us good views of the beautiful peak //////o!//////// Green River Mountain, at the house of a Monsieur VIOLET, at the mouth of Grand River, which was to be our starting point. The whole aspect of the farm was that of the métairis in Normandy -– the outer doors of the house gaudily painted -– the panels of a different color from the frame -– the large, open, uncarpeted room, with its bare, shining floor -– the lasses at the spinning-wheel -– the French costume and appearance of Madame VIOLET and her sons and daughters, all carried me back to the other side of the Atlantic.

After a short conversation with the VIOLETS, we walked down to the bridge, where two log canoes, manned by Frenchmen -– three CYRS and a THIBAUDEAU -– were waiting for us, and pushed off from the shore. A turn in the river very speedily hid from us the bridge and farm, our empty carriage, and the friends who had accompanied us from Grand Falls standing on the bank, in the evening sunshine, waving us their farewells, and it was not without pleasure that we felt that the same turn which screened them from our view separated us for some time to come from civilized life.

It will be observed Governor GORDON speaks of four counties in the north of New Brunswick which still bear a marked French character. Well, gentlemen of French origin, we propose to restore these long-lost compatriots to your protection:  in the Federal Union, which will recognize equally both languages, they will naturally look to you; their petitions will come to you, and their representative will naturally be found allied with you.

Suppose those four New Brunswick counties are influenced by the French vote, and two in Nova Scotia, and one in Newfoundland, you will, should you need them, have them as sure allies to your own compact body, to aid your legitimate influence in the Federal councils.  (Cheers.)

The Founding Peoples of the Maritime Colonies

Canadian Descendants of the Irish

I shall proceed with my outline analysis of the maritime population, in order to establish the congruity and congeniality of our proposed union. In point of time, the next oldest element in that population is the Irish settlement of Ferryland, in Newfoundland, undertaken by Lord BALTIMORE and Lord FALKLAND (Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time), immediately after the restoration of King CHARLES I., soon after 1660.

Newfoundland still remains strongly Irish, as is natural, since it is the next parish to Ireland -– (laughter) -– and I think we saw a very excellent specimen of its Irish natives at our Conference, in Ambrose Shea.  (Cries of hear, hear.)

To me, I confess, it is particularly grateful to reflect that the only Irish colony, as it may be called, of our group, is to be included in the new arrangements.  (Hear.)

Canadian Descendants of the Scottish

Another main element in the Lower Province population is the Highland Scotch. Large tracts of Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton were granted after the Peace of Paris, to officers and men of FRAZER’s Highlanders and other Scottish regiments, which had distinguished themselves during the seven years’ war. If my hon. friend from Glengarry  (Mr. D. A. MACDONALD)  had been with us last September at Charlottetown, he would have met clansmen, whom he would have been proud to know, and who could have conversed with him in his own cherished Gaelic.

Mr. D. A. MACDONALD. -– They are all over the world. (Laughter.)

Hon. Mr. McGEE -– So much the better for the world. (Cheers.)  And I will tell him what I think is to their honor, that the Highlanders in all the provinces preserve faithfully the religion, as well as the language and traditions, of their fathers. The Catholic Bishop of Charlottetown is a McINTYRE; his Right Rev. brother of Arichat (Cape Breton) is a McKINNON; and in the list of the clergy, I find a constant succession of such names as McDONALD, McGILLIS, McGILLIVRAY, McLEOD, McKENZIE and CAMERON -– all “Anglo-Saxons” of course, and mixed up with them FOURNIERS, GAUVREAUS, PAQUETS and MARTELLS, whose origin is easy to discover.  (Cheers.)

The United Empire Loyalists (Americans
become British North Americans)

Another of the original elements of that population remains to be noticed -– the U. E. Loyalists, who founded New Brunswick, just as surely as they founded Upper Canada, for whom New Brunswick was made a separate province in 1794, as Upper Canada was for their relatives in 1791. Their descendants still flourish in the land, holding many positions of honor, and as a representative of the class, I shall only mention Judge WILMOT, who the other day declared in charging one of his grand juries, that if it were necessary to carry Confederation in New Brunswick, so impressed was he with the necessity of the measure to the very existence of British laws and British institutions, he was prepared to quit the bench for politics.  (Cheers.)

Notable Minorities of British North America

There are other elements also not to be overlooked. The thrifty Germans of Lunenberg, whose homes are the neatest upon the land, as their fleet is the tightest on the sea, and other smaller subdivisions; but I shall not prolong this analysis.

I may observe, however, that this population is almost universally a native population of three or four or more generations.

In New Brunswick, at the most there is about twelve per cent, of an immigrant people; in Nova Scotia, about eight; in the two islands, very much less. In the eye of the law we admit no disparity between natives and immigrants in this country; but it is to be considered that where men are born in the presence of the graves of their fathers, for even a few generations, the influence of that fact is great in enhancing their attachment to that soil.

I admit, for my part, as an immigrant, of no divided allegiance to Canada and her interests; but it would be untrue and paltry to deny a divided affection between the old country and the new. Kept within just bounds, such an affection is reasonable, is right and creditable to those who cherish it.  (Hear, hear.)

Why I refer to this broad fact which distinguishes the populations of all the four seaward provinces as much as it does Lower Canada herself, is, to show the fixity and stability of that population; to show that they are by birth British Americans; that they can nearly all, of every origin, use that proud phrase when they look daily from their doors, “this is my own, my native land.”  (Cheers.)

Let but that population and ours come together for a generation or two -– such are the elements that compose, such the conditions that surround it -– and their mutual descendants will hear with wonder, when the history of these present transactions are written, that this plan of union could ever have been seriously opposed by statesmen in Canada or elsewhere.  (Cheers.)  I am told, however, by one or two members of this House, and by exclusively-minded Canadians out of it that they cannot entertain any patriotic feeling about this union with New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, and that they cannot look with any interest at those colonies, with which we have had hitherto so little association. “What’s Hecuba to me, or I to Hecuba?”

Well, I answer to that, know them and my word for it, you will like them. I have been on seven or eight journeys there, and have seen much of the people, and the more I have seen of them, the more I respected and esteemed them.  (Hear, hear.)

I say, then, to these gentlemen, that if you want to feel any patriotism on the subject; if you want to stir up a common sentiment of affection between these people and ourselves, bring us all into closer relation together, and having the elements of a vigorous nationality with us, each will find something to like and respect in the other; mutual confidence and respect will follow, and a feeling of being engaged in a common cause for the good of a common nationality will grow up of itself without being forced by any man’s special advocacy.  (Hear, hear.)

The ////////thing////// who shuts up his heart against his kindred, his neighbors, and his fellow subjects, may be a very pretty fellow at a parish vestry, but do yon call such a forked-radish as that, a man?  (Laughter.)  Don’t so abuse the noblest word in the language.  (Hear, hear.)

Sir, there is one other argument for this union, or rather an illustration of its mutually advantageous character, which I draw from the physical geography and physical resources of the whole territory which it is proposed to unite; but before I draw the attention of the House to it, I may perhaps refer to a charge that probably will be made against me, that I am making what may appear to be a non-political speech.

If it be non-political in the sense of non-partisan, then I plead guilty to the charge; but I think that on some of the points to which I have alluded the country is desirous of being informed, and as many hon. gentlemen have not had time to make a tour of the country to the east of us, those who have had the opportunity of doing so cannot, I think, better subserve the interest of the community than by giving what appears to them a fair, just and truthful sketch of those provinces and their people, and thus informing those in Canada who have not had the opportunity of making observations for themselves on the spot.  (Hear, hear.)

It was remarked by the late Sir JOHN BEVERLEY ROBINSON, in his letter to Lord JOHN RUSSELL in 1839, that if the British Government had attempted to maintain the ancient boundaries of New France, in the treaty which acknowledged the United States, it would have been impossible to do so. Those boundaries extend to Ohio on the south, and included much of what is now called by our neighbours “the North-West.” There is great force, I think, in this observation.

But in relation to what I may call the ground-plan on which we propose to erect our constitutional edifice, its natural oneness is admirable to contemplate.

There is not one port or harbour of all the provinces now proposing to confederate, which cannot be reached from any other by all vessels, if not of too great draught, without ever once leaving our own waters.

From the head of Lake Superior the same craft may coast uninterruptedly, always within sight of our own shores nearly the distance of a voyage to England -– to St. John, Newfoundland.  (Cheers.)

We sometimes complain of our inland navigation, that we have it free but half the year round, but what it lacks at one season, it amply compensates by its vast capacity.  (Cheers.)

Last summer, when we visited Halifax in the Queen Victoria, which the good people of that blockade running stronghold mistook for a Confederate cruiser, we were the better part of a week steaming away, always in British American waters, within sight of the bold and beautiful coasts, which it was our privilege to call our own.  (Cheers.)

While we were thus following our river system to the open sea, I could not help often recurring to the vast extent of the whole. If any hon. gentleman who has never made, and who cannot find time to make, a journey through his own country, will only go to the library he will find an excellent substitute for such a voyage in KEITH JOHNSTON‘s Physical Atlas, a book that when one opens its leaves his brain opens with the book.  (Laughter.) He will find that our matchless St. Lawrence drains an area of 298,000 square miles, of which only 94,000 are occupied by the five great lakes taken together.

I shall not attempt to tread in the path of my two friends who sit next me (Hon. Messrs. GALT and BROWN) by exhibiting in any detail the prospects of mutual commercial advantages opened up by this union. I have prepared a statement on this subject, giving certain general results, -– which I do not present as complete, but only as proximately correct -– and which I now beg to read to the House: -–

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