Tag Archives: Pacific

This Week in Canadian History – November Week 4

Sandford Fleming supervised construction of th...

Sandford Fleming supervised construction of the Eastern Line of the NSR in 1867. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most remarkable men in Canadian history was Sir Sandford Fleming. His name is mentioned in connection with the good-will tour of the Maritimes which took place in 1864, before the Charlottetown meeting paved the way for Confederation (visit my post of August 2: Even on a Sunday! ).

Sandford Fleming left Scotland for Canada as a young man and first came into the limelight by rushing into the burning Parliament Building in Montreal in 1849, and rescuing a portrait of Queen Victoria.  The building had been set on fire by a mob protesting against the signing of the Rebellion Losses Bill (visit my post of April 25“The Last Governor of Canada”).  He was in the news again two years later, when he designed the first Canadian stamp, the famous three-penny “Beaver” issued on April 23, 1851.  

Fleming studied engineering and surveying in Toronto and became chief engineer of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway in 1857.  Then the Government engaged him to survey the route of the Intercolonial Railway from Rivière du Loup to Quebec.  This was a very important assignment because the agreement of the Maritimes to Confederation could only be won by a promise to build this railway.  Sandford Fleming was chief engineer during the construction.

When British Columbia came into confederation in 1871, one of the conditions was that a railway to the Pacific coast should be constructed.  Once again, the task of finding the best route was entrusted to Fleming.  Finding a way through the Rockies was most difficult problem, and with 800 men working under him, Fleming surveyed Yellowhead Pass, now used by the C.N.R., and Kicking Horse, Eagle, and Rogers Passes used by the C.P.R.

While all this was going on Fleming became an expert on time.  Canadians are accustomed to hearing radio and television programs advertised in terms of “standard time.”  Canada is divided into seven time zones, beginning with Newfoundland Standard Time in the east.  This is half an hour ahead of Atlantic Standard, and then the other zones are one hour apart: Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific and Yukon.

Standard time was the invention of Sandford Fleming and was adopted by Canada on November 18, 1883.  The rest of the world adopted his system in 1884 at an international conference in Washington.

If you would like to read more about today’s post, I suggest the Atlas of Alberta Railways, and the Canadian Railway Museum for an interesting page called “Time Tamed“, and the Canadian Encyclopedia, as well as the Canada Free Press.


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The Police Arrived Just In Time

English: Poet and author Robert W. Service, so...

English: Poet and author Robert W. Service, sometimes referred to as “the Bard of the Yukon”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Canada lost Pacific coast access to the Yukon in the boundary decision of 1905 (see my March 25 post: Boundary Established).  Canada might have lost the entire Yukon during the 1897 gold rush  if Minister of the Interior Sir Clifford Sifton and the Northwest Mounted Police had not taken prompt action.

During the gold rush the boundary question had not been decided, so Canadians were able to reach the Yukon through Skagway and Dyea.  When the prospectors reached the Yukon they had to buy licences costing $10, and the annual renewal fee went as high as $100 for a time.  They also had to pay royalties on the gold they obtained, and one man could stake only one claim in the Klondike.  American prospectors had to pay 35 per cent import duty on goods they brought with them.  They were very angry about the taxes and restrictions, but Canada pointed out that it was costing $390,000 a year to keep law and order in the Yukon.  The Mounties did keep law and order in their usual remarkable manner.  No one was allowed to carry a gun, gambling establishments were closed on Sundays, and criminals were sent out of the country.

The position of the Yukon boundary was so unsettled that Sir Clifford Sifton decided to look into it himself.  He travelled from Ottawa with a group of officials and landed at Skagway on October 9, 1897.  One of the members of the party was Major Walsh of the Northwest Mounted Police who had kept Chief Sitting Bull in check (see my May 6 post: Custer’s Last Stand’s” Sequel).  Major Walsh set up posts in the Lake Bennett-Lake Tagish area, and Sifton ordered another detachment of Mounties under Major Steele to police the entrances at the summits of the passes.  This was done in February 1898.

The police arrived just in time because the United States was planning to send troops into the Yukon.  If the Americans had gone in to police the area, it is likely that they would have remained and the Yukon would have been lost to Canada.

To read more on today’s post, I suggest going to the Skagway Stories blog and look around while you’re there – great stories!

“This is the law of the Yukon, that
only the Strong shall thrive;
That surely the Weak shall perish,
and only the Fit survive.
Dissolute, damned and despairful,
crippled and palsied and slain,
This is the Will of the Yukon; –
Lo, how she makes it plain!”
– Robert W. Service, 1907

“I am the land that listens, I am the land that broods; Steeped in eternal beauty, crystalline waters and woods. Long have I waited lonely, shunned as a thing accurst, Monstrous, moody, pathetic, the last of the lands and the first.” –  Robert W. Service, 1907


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“I Am Canadian!”

Sandford Fleming supervised construction of th...

Sandford Fleming supervised construction of the Eastern Line of the NSR in 1867. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On my post of August 2: (Even on a Sunday!), the story was told about the Canadian goodwill tour of the Maritimes organized by D’Arcy McGee and Sandford Fleming in 1864.  Several days were spent in Saint John, banqueting and speech-making.  Then the delegates set out for Halifax.

Halifax was greatly different from Saint John; it had been a British military and naval base for more than 100 years.  Here, there was great formality, and class distinction: the larger homes had servants’ quarters at the rear, with separate entrances; smart landaus and four-wheel coaches were driven along the streets by liveried coachmen.  Scarlet-coated British soldiers and blue-jacketed sailors of the Royal Navy lent colour to the scene.  When night came, the lamp-lighters turned up the gas jets in their square glass cages along the streets.  All night long, the watch patrolled the street calling out the hour:  “Three o’clock and all’s well!”

The Canadians stayed in Halifax for six days.  One of the happiest times was a “hodgepodge and chowder party” at the Royal Halifax Yacht Club on August 13.  There were kilted pipers and Highland dancers.  The afternoon was hot, so the delegates took off their black broadcloth coats and stove-pipe hats.  Bearded senators and members of the legislature played leap-frog on the lawn!

Before the visit ended and the delegates returned to Canada, many warm friendships had been made.  Joseph Howe, soon to oppose Confederation strongly, made a speech in which he said:  “I am not one of those who thank God I am a Nova Scotian merely, for I am a Canadian as well .. I have looked across the broad continent and studied the mode by which it could be consolidated … and why should union not be brought about?  Is it because we wish to live and die in our insignificance?”

In one of his speeches, Howe also made a prediction:  “I believe that many in this room will live to hear the whistle of the steam-engine in the passes of the Rocky Mountains and to make the journey to the Pacific in five or six days.”  It seemed incredible, but it came true.  Howe did not live to make that trip, but many of his peers did.

To learn more about these events, I suggest going to the Library and Archives Canada, and then the University of Manitoba‘s “Thomas D’Arcy McGee and Confederation in the Maritimes by RICHMOND L. GRANNAN.


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Message On a Rock

Inscription at the end of the Alexander Macken...

Inscription at the end of the Alexander Mackenzie’s Canada crossing located at / latd>90 (dms format) in latd<-90 (dms format) in latm<0 (dms format) in lats<0 (dms format) in longm<0 (dms format) in longs<0 (dms format) in (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


On July 22, 1793, Alexander Mackenzie painted a message on a large rock at Bella Coola, British Columbia: “Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand, seven hundred and ninety-three.” It marked the end of one of the most remarkable journeys in Canadian, or any other, history.

Mackenzie set out in search of the Pacific on May 9, 1793, after special training in navigation and astronomy in England. Mackenzie wrote later that words failed to express the anxiety, suffering, and dangers of the journey across 500 miles of mountains. From the beginning, he and his companions were often fortunate to escape being dashed to pieces in the turbulent waters of the Peace and Fraser rivers.

Mackenzie went down the Fraser as far as Alexandria, but the Native Indians there told him that he would not be able to continue. So the expedition went back 60 miles until it reached the junction of what is now the Blackwater River. After they had worked their way up the Blackwater, Mackenzie decided they should try to get to the Pacific on foot. Each man carried a gun and a 90-pound pack. The canoe and the rest of their supplies were hidden.

The expedition walked westward for two weeks. Each night Mackenzie had to sleep next to the Native Indian guide to prevent him from sneaking away. Finally they came to a Native Indian camp on the Bella Coola River. Here they traded goods for boats dug out of logs and continued down the river, passing through forests whose trees were bigger than any they had ever seen!

By July 20, they found themselves paddling through salt water. Two days later they saw the waters of the Pacific. Mackenzie’s quadrant told I’m that they were at Latitude 59° 20′ 48″ N. he inscribed his famous message on the rock using a paint made from the vermilion he had brought for the Native Indians.

The small party had not been there long when a party of obviously hostile Indians approached and made signs that they had been fired on by white men. It had probably happened when some of Captain Vancouver‘s men had explored that part of the coast. Mackenzie and his men retreated quickly despite their jubilation.

If you want to read more about this, I suggest first going to Bella Coola Arts & Culture, and then History .com. After that, there is, and Canada finally, I suggest visiting Canadian Military History Gateway


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His First View of the Rockies!

Canada's First Lady Susan Agnes Macdonald, wif...

Canada’s First Lady Susan Agnes Macdonald, wife of Sir John A. Macdonald (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


On this day in 1886, Sir John and Lady Macdonald were crossing Canada on the new C.P.R. transcontinental.   It was the first time the great architect of Canada had been west of Ontario!

Sir John and Lady Macdonald began their trip on July 11.  It must have been an amazing experience for the Prime Minister, then seventy-one years old, to see the West for the first time.  Although his son Hugh, by his first marriage, lived at Winnipeg, Sir John had never been out there.  On the trip west, Sir John and his wife spent three days in Winnipeg with him.

They continued across the prairies and stopped at Regina for a week-end with  Governor Dewdney.  It was less than a year after the hanging of Riel in the  Regina jail, an issue that was to plague Sir John for the rest of his career.  When the train stopped at Gleichen, Alberta, the old Indian leader Crowfoot was introduced.  He was wearing his oldest clothes, a sign of mourning for his nephew Poundmaker, who had died after being put in prison for his part in the Northwest Rebellion.

Sir John and Lady Macdonald really saw the Rockies!  They rode on what was called the “buffer bar” or “cowcatcher” of the engine while they were going through Kicking Horse Pass.   Vancouver had been burned to the ground only a few weeks before they arrived, so the Macdonalds went over to Victoria.  Strangely enough, Sir John had been a member of Parliament for the capital of British Columbia, although he had never see it.  He was given a seat there when he was defeated in his own constituency in Kingston in 1878.

This was Sir John’s first view of the Pacific!  He and Lady Macdonald enjoyed two weeks rest at Driard House, and then the Prime Minister drove the last spike of the railway between Esquimalt and Nanaimo.  The ceremony took place at Shawinigan lake.

Without being critical of Sir John, it might have been a good thing for Canada if he had gone west with Hugh in 1870, or even before the Northwest Rebellion in 1885.  Circumstances made such  a trip almost impossible before it actually took place.

To read more about the C.P.R., I suggest the Canadian Encyclopedia for an article and many links.



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Vancouver Bombed!

National Defence Headquarters Original text: &...

National Defence Headquarters Original text: “They actually don’t look so bad from this angle.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Canada fought in both World Wars and suffered heavy casualties, Canadian territory came under shell-fire only once.  On June 20, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced off Estevan Point, Vancouver Island, and hurled about thirty 5.5″ shells at the wireless station and lighthouse.  Little damage was caused and there were no casualties.

Until the United States came into the war on December 8, 1941, Adolph Hitler would not allow the German navy to operate off Canadian shores.  He felt that such attacks would do more harm than good by alienating opinion in the United States.  Early in 1942, however, a German submarine fired torpedoes at the entrance to St. John’s harbour, Newfoundland.  Other German submarines operated in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and sank twenty-two ships.  This caused much alarm among the local population, who demanded that Army units be sent to guard the coasts.  National Defence Headquarters felt that it would be poor policy to allow a few U-boats to tie up a large number of troops, and raised a Reserve Army in the Gaspé Peninsula in September, 1942. It was commanded by Brigadier G. P. Vanier, the late Governor-General of Canada.

The attack on Estevan Point in June 1942 had no significance, but it was followed by a campaign that worried military leaders a great deal more.  Between November 1944 and April 1945, the Japanese released about 9,000 unmanned balloons from the island of Honshu.  They usually carried one high explosive bomb, and four incendiaries.  The idea was that they would float across the Pacific on the prevailing winds, and the bombs would be released by an automatic device.   It is believed that only 300 of the 9,000 bombs reached North America, and 90 of them landed in Canada, as far east as Manitoba.  The only casualties were a mother and five children who were killed when they tampered with a bomb that had landed in Oregon.

The greatest fear was that the Japanese might use the balloons for chemical or biological warfare.  Fortunately, no such efforts were made, and Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945, after being hit by the far more terrible atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Michelle Heumann has just sent me two incredible, very interesting links. The first is the Newfoundland & Labrador Heritage and the Nova Scotia Herald, both of which write about the October 13, 1942 German attack on Canada’s Caribou. A must read!! Thanks Michelle Heumann!

I imagine a lot of you want to read more about this, so I have a few places to help you with that. There’s Wikipedia, of course, who has one page on Estevan Point and Japanese Submarine. Then there is a great piece at CBC Digital Archives. A great site I just found is History, which has photos, and a lot more! Another site I just found is A Museum After Dark – it isn’t totally about today’s post, but enough; after that, I suggest looking around, as it’s an interesting site.


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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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