Although John A. Macdonald said in 1865 that he did not think the Prairies were of any use to Canada, he changed his mind quickly after Confederation. The United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7,200,000. In those days some people called the deal “Seward’s folly,” because American Secretary of State Seward had negotiated it. They had to eat their words later on. The United States took about $100 million worth of gold out of Alaska, not to mention other assets. The U.S. was now looking at the Northwest. If Alaska could be picked up for $7.2 million, why not get the territory in between? Prime Minister Macdonald decided Canada should get there first.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported: “The opening by us of a North Pacific railroad seals the destiny of the British possessions west of Longitude 90 (the head of Lake Superior). They will become so American in interest and feeling … the question of annexation will be but a matter of time.”
James W. Taylor, American Treasury agent in St. Paul, wrote to the Hudson’s Bay Company offering $5 million for Rupert’s Land. He said, “I know that President Grant is anxious to make a treaty with England which transfers the country between Minnesota and Alaska to the United States in settlement of the Alabama controversy and as consideration for the establishment of reciprocal trade with Canada.”
Ottawa obtained secret copies of those documents, and immediately informed the Hudson’s Bay Company that it would have to sell its territory to Canada. The Government then created the Northwest Territories out of Rupert’s Land, to be administered by a lieutenant-governor and council. William H. McDougall was appointed lieutenant-governor on September 28, 1869, and left immediately for Fort Garry. The consequences of the hurried arrangements were severe and will be the subject of future stories.
The British Government put pressure on the Hudson’s Bay Company to surrender its territory to Canada, and the price was set at £300,000, equivalent then to $1.5 million. The money was supposed to be paid on October 1, but Canada was unable to raise a loan in London and the deal was delayed until December 1, 1869.
If you would like to read more about today’s post, I would suggest the Library and Archives Canada, and then I would suggest visiting Sarah StAngelo who has put together an interesting presentation. I also suggest the Dictionary of Canadian Biography to learn more about William McDougall.
“The opening of the prairie lands would drain away our youth and strength. I am perfectly willing personally to leave the whole country a wilderness for the next half century, but I fear if the English do not go in, the Yankees will, and with that apprehension, I would gladly see a crown colony established there.” – Sir John A. Macdoanld, 1865