Canada: An Appraisal of Its Needs and Resources

Canada: An Appraisal of Its Needs and Resources

Canada: An Appraisal of Its Needs and Resources

Canada: An Appraisal of Its Needs and Resources

Excerpt

There was once a railway line in New Brunswick that went by the impressive name of the "European and North American Railway." It ran between St. John and Shediac, a distance of 120 miles, and despite the strenuous efforts of its owners, got no further. In choosing this grandiose name, however, the promoters of this line were only reflecting the cavalier disregard for geography and the romantic dreams of wealth and continental conquest that characterized so much of the economic and political thinking of North America in the mid-nineteenth century. A continent, virtually empty, lay waiting to be won, beckoning with a promise and a challenge unique in history -- an opportunity to build a new empire in a new world. The tide of this continental enthusiasm was at the flood in the United States in the years before the Civil War, and the great waves flowed up into British North America, as they have always done, and engendered there similar dreams of empire. Upon the crest of one such wave, the provinces of British North America bound themselves together in 1867 into a new Confederation, with its own hopes of dominion a mari usque ad mare.

But reality is always more austere and contingent than hope, and nowhere could the divergence between them have been as great as in the new nation of Canada. As P. B. Waite, the historian of Confederation, has reminded us:

The reality of 1867 was frightening. It showed how naïve the dreams of te colonists were: Newfoundland, its population clinging precariously to a living wrested from the Labrador current and a hard land; Prince Edward Island, complacent, defiant, parochial; Nova Scotia, afloat on seven oceans, proud of herself and jealous of Canada; New Brunswick, half-American in politics and attitude; Quebec, determined to get every jot and tittle of privilege with . . .

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