Civilizing the West: The Galts and the Development of Western Canada

Civilizing the West: The Galts and the Development of Western Canada

Civilizing the West: The Galts and the Development of Western Canada

Civilizing the West: The Galts and the Development of Western Canada

Excerpt

A mere five years after George Stephenson opened the world's first railway in England, enthusiasts began to propose schemes for a railway to span British North America from coast to coast. These visionaries, to be sure, based their plans only on superficial reading rather than on sound geographic and economic studies. Yet, because Stephenson's invention promised an efficient means of transportation into the western interior of the British possessions, it kindled in many minds an interest in the fertile soil resource of the territories. Throughout the following decades, plans for transcontinental railways, as a preliminary step to colonization, were periodically revived and reshelved. Also, businessmen from the Canadas increasingly supported such schemes as an answer to their provinces' need for agricultural and commercial expansion. In the late 1850s, after two government inquiries and two scientific expeditions pronounced that much of the plains was suitable for agricultural settlement, the calls for western development and railways grew more strident.

The growing popularity of the Northwest coincided with a remarkable convergence of several strands in European and American thought. By the mid-nineteenth century, the old belief that man was master over nature had culminated in the view that this mastery implied domination and exploitation. The consequent loss of respect for nature coincided with the completion of the steam phase of the industrial revolution, the period that created . . .

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