20 May

British troops march to Quebec

Militia Bill Defeated

Someone should write a drama called "The Trent Affair" starring James Mason, because there was a "Trent Affair" and James Mason was a real character in it. Canada became involved to such an extent that the Macdonald-Cartier government was defeated on May 20, 1862.

During the American Civil War a British ship, the Trent, sailed from the United States. James Mason and John Slidell, southerners on t heir way to take up ambassadorial posts for the Confederates in Europe, were on board. A Northern warship stopped the Trent on the high seas and took them off. Britain was so angry there might have been war if the Prince Consort had not toned down a note sent to Washington by Prime Minister Palmerston.

In the event of war, Canada would have been attacked immediately by the Northern armies. Fortunately, President Lincoln felt that they had all they could do to defeat the South, and Mason and Slidell were freed.

Meanwhile Britain had rushed 14,000 troops to British North America. They landed in winter, and marched to Quebec on snowshoes. It must have been a comical sight—British soldiers trying to wade through Canadian drifts on snowshoes!

In the midst of the excitement, a bugaboo of many years raised its ugly head: conscription! The Macdonald-Cartier government called out the militia of 40,000 men. Many of them were farmers from Canada West (Ontario) and turned out with shotguns and pitchforks, confident that any Canadian could lick seven Americans!

The government proposed a militia bill providing for compulsory military service to raise an additional 30,000 men. Feelings ran high in French Canada. Why should they fight Britain's wars? In any case the danger was over.

When the militia bill came up for the vote on May 20, 1862, a bloc of French-Canadian members of the Macdonald-Cartier party voted against it. A new government was formed under John Sandfield Macdonald and Louis Victor Sicotte. It lasted for only one year, then Macdonald-Cartier were returned. Strangely enough, Cartier died in London, England, on May 20, exactly ten years after the defeat of the militia bill.


20 May

-1656    The Iroquois descended on the Island of Orleans and took eighty Hurons prisoners. The garrison at Quebec did not dare try to rescue them.

-1690    Fort Loyal (now Portland, Maine) was captured by the French and Indians from Nova Scotia.

-1776    The Americans were defeated at Quinze Chênes on the Ottawa River.

-1798    David Thompson arrived at Sault Ste. Marie after a long trip.

-1803    Chief Justice Osgoode in Montreal declared that slavery was inconsistent with the laws of Canada.

-1859    George Barston was elected mayor of Nanaimo, British Columbia. Only one vote was cast!

-1879    The Department of Railways and Canals was organized; Sir Charles Tupper was Minister.

-1959    Prime Minister Menzies of Australia visited Ottawa.