Canadians in the Making: A Social History of Canada

By Arthur R. M. Lower | Go to book overview

18: The period of Confederation

IN THE YEAR OF CONFEDERATION, 1867, one man's long life still spanned back to the end of the American Revolution, the destruction of the first British Empire and the beginning of the second American experiment. During that time, not long as history goes, an immense amount of work had been done in the isolated northern wilderness. Clearings had been made, the clearings had been expanded into the open countryside, roads had been built, houses had been built, towns and cities had been built: all this mainly on a basis of hand labour. It was immensely more than had been accomplished in New France in its whole history and almost as much as in the thirteen colonies prior to the Revolution. British Americans of those days, like ourselves, were always comparing themselves to the Americans, to their own disadvantage, and while the colonial condition had hampered energy and acted like a brake, nevertheless they perhaps did not have to feel as inferior as they did. After all, it was a thousand miles from the sea to the St. Clair river: this river penetration inland was like an arrow's flight, whereas the thirteen colonies had attacked the wilderness on a wide front and at many points.

The conditions of the accomplishment had been onerous enough to leave their permanent mark on the British North American. Climate was hard, communications difficult, soil in many districts poor or non-existent, and next door the heathen raged. All this meant unsureness, prosaicness, a taciturnity easily running into pessimism, a conservatism not common south of the border. Many of these qualities remain: Canadians are not as optimistic, as volatile, as imaginative, as experimental, as assertive, as egotistic or as energetic as are Americans. Those among them who have possessed such qualities have often become Americans.

When one considers the lions in the path, the wonder is that Canadians have ever been able to form a big country of their own, still less something that is slowly becoming visible as a

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