5 November

Sir David Lewis Macpherson (1818-1896)

Scandal Topples Tories

November 5, 1873, was one of the blackest days in the life of Sir John A. Macdonald. He was charged with having accepted bribes in connection with the award of the Pacific Railway contract, and his government was forced to resign.

Two important groups had been trying to win the contract. One was led by a friend of Macdonald’s, David L. Macpherson of Toronto, who had the backing of the GrandTrunk Railway. The other group was led by Montreal financier Sir Hugh Allan, who had strong backing from a number of railway promoters and financiers in the States.

If Macdonald had had his way the contract would have gone to Macpherson. Cartier, who was solicitor for the Grand Trunk Railway, would also have used his influence in Macpherson's favour. Allan took vigorous steps to deal with this situation. He was so successful in undermining Cartier's support in his own constituency in the election campaign of August, 1872, that Cartier had to agree to support Allan. Allan also paid out $350,000 for campaign funds to ensure the re-election of the Conservatives. Macdonald made the mistake of sending Allan a telegram asking for $10,000.

Allan was awarded the contract after the return of the Conservatives, on condition that he dropped his American associates. George McMullen, representing the disgruntled Americans, released to the press correspondence indicating that Allan's company was financed by Americans who had advanced large sums of money to Macdonald, Cartier, and others so that they would get the charter. McMullen also made available a copy of Macdonald's telegram to Allan.

A Royal Commission was appointed, and agreed that the Government had received and used money from Allan. On the night of November 4 there was a vote of confidence in the Government—if it were defeated, the Government would have to resign. Everything depended on Sir John's old colleague, Donald Smith, who had been rushed from Fort Carlton to vote; he was a Conservative and it looked as though the Government might ride out the storm. Instead Smith announced that he could not conscientiously vote for the Government. Macdonald jumped to his feet and roared that he "could lick that man Smith quicker than hell could frizzle a feather." The Macdonald government had to resign.


5 November

-1653    A peace treaty between the French and the Iroquois was signed at Quebec.

-1814    American forces destroyed their own base at Fort Erie, Ontario.

-1889    The Province of Quebec paid the Jesuits $400,000 and the Protestant Board of Education $80,000 under the Jesuit Estate Act.

-1917    The use of grain was prohibited in the manufacture of liquor during the war.

-1956    Major-General E.L.M. Burns of Canada was made commander of the United Nations International Force.

-1963    Seafarers International Union leader Hal Banks was charged with conspiracy.