12 April

Upper Fort Garry

American Plans for Canada Upset by Civil War

It has to be speculation now, but it could be argued that Canada would not be an independent nation today if the American Civil War had not taken place. The fight began at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

In 1861, the Americans had a big foothold in western Canada and were looking for more. The most important trade route was via the railway that had been built to St. Paul, Minnesota. Six thousand Red River carts were employed in transporting Hudson's Bay Company goods between Fort Garry (Winnipeg) and St. Paul. They were supplying 152 shops, 3,000 traders and 100,000 Indian trappers.

Fort Garry was growing rapidly and dividing into political factions, "The American Party" and the "Canadian Party." Each side had newspapers to express its views, and hotels for headquarters. With Confederation looming as a possibility in the East, the States had agents working in Fort Garry to try to take over the West before Canada did. The intention was to establish the Canadian north-south boundary along longitude 90, at the western end of Lake Superior, just past Fort William and Port Arthur.

The United States was interested for several reasons. Its own good lands were being occupied rapidly, and the prairies provided room for expansion. Gold had been discovered in British Columbia, and it was thought that the area might provide a route to the goldfields. In any event, it was the United States' policy to take over all the Pacific coast up to Alaska. The Americans might have pursued this policy if they had not become involved in a war with Mexico. Rather than fight Britain too, they settled for a boundary along the forty-ninth parallel. 

The Americans might also have absorbed the Prairie Provinces, if they had not become involved in their own civil war in 1861. Four years later, Sir John A. Macdonald said about the Prairies: "The country is of no present value to Canada." Sir John's views changed when Confederation became a reality in 1867. He and his colleagues then saw the need for quick action to prevent the West from falling into American hands. The action was so quick that it caused the Riel uprising in 1870.


12 April

-1776    Thomas Frobisher was sent to build a fort on the Churchill River.

-1819    The Earl of Dalhousie was made Governor of Canada.

-1838    Samuel Lount and Peter Mathews were hanged in Toronto for taking part in the Upper Canada rebellion.

-1853    Five small railways amalgamated into the Grand Trunk Railway.

-1867    The British Government authorized a loan of 3,000,000 for Halifax and the St. Lawrence Railway.

-1876    The Canada Shipping Company was established by Montreal merchants.

-1917    Women were granted the right to vote in Ontario.