Tag Archives: 1846

Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!

Fishermen catching salmon on the Columbia Rive...

Fishermen catching salmon on the Columbia River using a seine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


On June 15, 1846, Britain and the United States signed the Oregon Boundary Treaty.  There was a good deal of give and take in the Treaty, which extended the frontier along the 49th parallel, dipping south on the Pacific to give Britain all of Vancouver Island.

Britain had hoped to make the Columbia River “the St. Lawrence of the Pacific.”  The Hudson’s Bay Company had pioneered the area and it had also been claimed by explorers Vancouver, Thompson and Broughton.  An amazing mistake by a Royal Naval officer in 1813 may have cost Britain this territory.

the Americans hoped not only to acquire the Pacific coast to the 49th  parallel, but all the way to Alaska.  They were ready to go to war, if necessary.  In 1844, the Democratic Party slogan was, “fifty-four forty or fight,” and fifty-four meant the boundary of Alaska.  The Democrats won the election.  President Polk said in his inaugural address that Britain had no rights to territory on the Pacific.  Britain, however, took a firm stand and American Secretary of State Buchanan (who later became president) warned Polk that there would be war if he pushed the matter too far.  War with Mexico was imminent and it would be dangerous for the States to be fighting Britain at the same time.

Under these conditions, the Oregon Boundary was signed.  The negotiations for Britain were carried out by Lord Aberdeen, the Foreign Secretary.  His firmness in the matter was not undermined by the opinions of his brother, Captain Gordon of the Royal Navy, who had been sent to survey the region.  Captain Gordon wrote to Lord Alberdeen that he would not give one barren hill of Scotland for what he had seen of the Pacific.  The country was worthless because neither salmon nor trout would rise to the fly!  Captain Gordon was obviously using the wrong kind of fly!

To learn more about the Oregon Boundary Treaty, I would suggest going to, and then the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, then after that X Timeline. Lastly, I would suggest a visit to the Internet Archives to read Treaty between Her Majesty and the United States of America for the settlement of the Oregon boundary : signed at Washington, June 15, 1846 (1846).


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Lady Franklin’s Rock

English: Graves of the dead crewman from the 1...

English: Graves of the dead crewman from the 1845 Franklin Northwest Passage expedition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are few more dramatic stories in Canadian history than the account of Sir John Franklin‘s death in the Arctic on June 11, 1847.  His expedition to discover the Northwest Passage sailed from Britain in May, 1845.  His ships, the Terror and Erebus, were last seen at the entrance to Lancaster Sound in July.  It took fourteen years of searching by many expeditions before it was learned what had happened.  A record was found in a cairn at Point Victory giving the history of the expedition until April 25, 1848.

After spending the winter of 1845-1846 at Beechey Island, North Devon, the expedition reached the west side of Cornwallis Island and followed a route that had been especially assigned before Franklin had left Britain.  He navigated Peel and Franklin Straits southward, but had been stopped by ice coming down McClintock Channel.  The ships were ice-bound on September 12, 1846.  Franklin died the following June.  By that time, the death toll of the expedition was 9 officers and 15 men of the total of 129 who had sailed from Britain.

The survivors stayed in the Erebus and Terror until April 22, 1848, when it was decided to trek overland to Back’s Fish River.  Not a single man survived.  Eskimos saw them trying to make their way over the ice, but said they died as they walked.

At one stage of Franklin’s career, he had been Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania, where British convicts were sent.  When he was lost, the colony gave Lady Franklin £7,000 to finance a search.  She not only sent out expeditions but went on one herself.  It tried to get to the Arctic by going up the Fraser River from the Pacific, but was stopped at what is now known as “Lady Franklin’s Rock.”

The record found at Point Victory included the information that Franklin had discovered a channel leading south along the west of North Somerset, discovered by Parry in 1819.  Franklin knew he could reach the Bering Sea through it, the long-sought Northwest Passage. Discovery of the Passage, however, was officially credited to Captain McClure who charted it when searching for Franklin in 1850.  His was only one of forty expeditions sent during the fourteen-year search.

Some of you will certainly want to learn more than what’s in this post, so I can suggest a few sites. You can begin with Sir John Franklin Was Here – it’s a real treat! Then, there’s The Canadian Encyclopedia  for a complete look at Franklin’s life and legacy. Another very interesting site, I suggest visiting Elisha Kent Kane Historical Society written by Russell A. Potter, Ph.D.. I found another good article at Canadian Geographic. Of course, another source that you can always depend on is CBC!


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The Effect Was Magical!

English: Canadian Northern Railway train stati...

There have been a number of exciting booms in Canada: gold, real estate, miniature golf and hula hoops.  In the middle of the nineteenth century, it was railways.

In an effort to stimulate railway building, the government guaranteed interest of not over six per cent on any issue of bonds for half the cost of any railway of 75 miles or more.  The effect was magical.  Railways sprang up everywhere, starting at one spot and ending nowhere — perhaps in a bush!  One of them was the Cobourg-Rice Lake, Plank Road and Ferry Company, which was incorporated on June 9, 1846.

The way to make money was to form a company to build a railway and then borrow from the government.  The directors would keep enough shares for control of the company and sell the rest to the public.  Contracts for the building of the railway would more than be awarded to companies in which the railway directors held shares.

It was easy to sell shares to the public because most people believed the railways would make great profits.  Instead, most of them went bankrupt and had to be bailed out by various governments.

Even so, the boom continued well into World War I.  Two of the most spectacular railway barons were William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, both of whom received knighthoods.  Mackenzie was a small town teacher who also kept a store.  Mann was supposed to enter the ministry, but instead became a lumber camp foreman and construction boss.  He could beat most lumberjacks with one hand tied behind his back.

In 1896, Mackenzie and Mann had a railway about 130 miles long, running between Gladstone, Manitoba, and Lake Winnipegosis.   They built the Canadian Northern Railway from Quebec to the Pacific coast.  By 1914, they owned 10,000 miles of track, hotels, telegraph companies, a transatlantic steamship service, iron and coal mines, sawmills and fisheries.  They did this without investing a cent of their own money, except for their original 130-mile railway costs!

The Canadian Northern eventually went bankrupt and was merged with the Grand Trunk, to form the present Canadian National Railways, the largest in the world.  Mackenzie and Mann did not go bankrupt.  They made fortunes.

Amazing times!  To read more about today’s post, I suggest Charles Cooper’s Railway Pages. Next, there’s a 34-page document at Canadian Railway Observations, but I assure you, it is far from being dry – I enjoyed it.


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The U.S. Might Have Owned 1/2 of B.C.!

Contour of Vancouver Island with Regional Dist...

Contour of Vancouver Island with Regional Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Washington Irving, author of Rip van Winkle, had not been asleep at the switch, the United States might own half of Vancouver Island!

In 1790, Britain and Spain nearly went to war over an incident at Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Spain backed down, paid reparations and agreed to share Vancouver Island equally with Britain. Britain regained possession of Nootka officially on March 23, 1795.

In 1819, the United States bought Florida from Spain. The deal included all Spanish territory west of the Mississippi and north of latitude 42. Washington Irving was American ambassador to Spain at the time. He was supposed to have made a thorough search of documents in Madrid to find out exactly what territory was involved. Somehow, he missed the agreement giving Spain equal rights to Vancouver Island.

Fortunately for Britain and Canada, the Americans did not find out about this until years after the Oregon Boundary Treaty had been signed in 1846. It established the present boundary between Canada and the United States, dipping to give Canada all of Vancouver Island.

Another strange feature about the story was that Washington Irving was greatly interested in the romance of fur trading in Canada. He had visited the famous “Beaver Club” in Montreal, where the great fur traders gathered. He also wrote a story about Fort Astoria on the Pacific coast, when it was involved in the rivalry among the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Northwest Company and John Jacob Astor.

If it seems far-fetched that the States might own half of Vancouver Island, look at a map of the southern tip of the mainland of British Columbia. The strict boundary of the 29th parallel leaves Point Roberts as part of the States although for all practical purposes it is Canadian.

It is always a joke for residents of Greater Vancouver to go to the United States by entering the few square miles that form Point Roberts.

For an interesting biography of Washington Irving, go to, and there’s another one at Wikipedia.


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A Sure Indication

Dingman #1 Derrick Replica

Dingman #1 Derrick Replica (Photo credit: Hschuyt)

If you would like to find an oil well (and who wouldn’t?), a vast part of Canada is still waiting to be explored. Here’s a tip to help you look for it. Petroleum is found in sedimentary rocks, underground, and Canada has about one million square miles do sedimentary basins, about one-quarter of the land area. Four-fifths of this is in western Canada, and includes the southwest corner of Manitoba, two-thirds of Saskatchewan, nearly all of Alberta, and a wide strip down the Mackenzie River to the Arctic. There is oil in British Columbia, Ontario and the Maritimes!

It might be said that Alberta’s oil boom began on November 20, 1946, when the famous Leduc well was spudded in. It began producing on February 13, 1892, however, the Edmonton Bulletin had reported indications of oil at St. Albert.

The story said: “Whether or not the tar is a sure indication of a profitable petroleum field, there is no doubt of the genuineness of the find, and as little doubt that it is not confined to that single locality.”

Alberta’s first producing oil field was the Turner Valley, and one of its pioneer was W. S. Herron. He noticed gas seepage near Sheep Creek and bought 700 acres of land in the area. His attempts to raise development money from Calgary businessmen were unsuccessful until he devised a spectacular sales plan. He persuaded William Elder and A. W. Dingman to visitation place where there was gas seepage, touched a match to a rock fissure, and the pulled out a pan in which he fried eggs over the flame! Elder and Dingman were so impressed that they bought more than a half-interest in Herron’s holdings and spudded in a well at Sheep Creek in January 1913.

Until this time, Calgary Stock Exchange had occupied a corner in a local butcher shop. Now so many people wanted to buy shares that the cash drawers were not large enough, and the money had to be kept in waste paper baskets!

The boom lasted only a few months, owing to the outbreak of World War I but fortunes were made and lost on the Calgary Stock Exchange.



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On October 22, 1846, the first telegraph company was formed to serve Toronto, Hamilton, and Niagara.

To read more about telegraphs, visit Unameseca’s website at

Can You Hear Me Now?


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