One of the early, important steps towards Confederation took place at Kingston, Ontario, on July 26, 1849. It followed the rioting in Montreal over the Rebellion Losses Bill (see my April 25 post The Last Governor of Canada).
The Tories, who had opposed the Rebellion Losses Bill so violently, arranged to hold a convention at Kingston to discuss the ills of the country. The heavy losses caused by the rebellions in 1837 and 1838 now had to be paid for. Adding to the country’s financial difficulties was Britain’s adoption of free trade in 1846. Before free trade, Canadian wheat had paid a lower duty on entering Britain than wheat from the United States. As a result, the Americans were sending their wheat to Canada to be ground into flour, and then exporting it to Britain under the Canadian preference. This led to the creation of many flour mills in Canada and increased business for the shipping industry, transportation and longshoremen.
When Britain adopted free trade, the Canadian preference ended. The milling and shipping business was ruined and there was a depression with unemployment. Canadians were moving to the United States where conditions were better.
There were many dismal speeches at the Kingston convention. The Kingston Whig, correspondent reported a Scottish woman as saying: “I couldna hae conceived I had been sae truly miserable hadna I been telled it.”
It was at this meeting that the Tories drew up a manifesto urging annexation to the States. It was probably the strangest document ever signed by responsible people in Canada, including J. J. Abbott, who later became prime minister. He dismissed his action later by saying that it was “the outburst of a moment of petulance.” John A. Macdonald, then a young member of Parliament, refused to sign the document and said later: “Some of our fellows lost their heads.”
Sir John always minimized the negative side of the Kingston meeting and emphasized the positive. One of its achievements was the creation of the British American League, which reaffirmed the connection with Britain and advocated the confederation of all the British North American provinces. Even so, Sir John voted against Confederation at the meeting in Quebec in 1864 (see my June 22 post The Corruptionists You Say?)
The streams of politics are difficult to fathom!
If you would like to read more about this, I suggest a few sites. For instance, “Felix” put together an impressive site about Canada – take the time to look around there, you won’t be sorry. And you can never go wrong, really, when you go to the Canadian Encyclopedia. Finally, I will send you to Canada in the Making.
- The Corruptionists, You Say? (tkmorin.wordpress.com)
- 1867 competes with 1812, 1608 and 1982 as ‘founding’ dates in Canadian history (theprovince.com)