THE CONSTRUCTION OF A DOMINION
THE most optimistic traveller, making his way across British North America in the middle of the nineteenth century, could scarcely have foreseen a united nation taking shape in the northern half of the continent.
Eastward, blocking the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence lay the huge indented island of Newfoundland, whose fog- swept coasts attracted few but the fishermen and whose interior even today remains largely unbroken wilderness. As the centre of the Banks fishery, and hence an important training- ground for seamen, it had been an object of international rivalry from the days of the Cabots. Indeed, almost every important treaty made with France before 1814 contained a fishery clause, and not until 1904 did Anglo-French disputes over Newfoundland come to an end. Quarrels between Britain and the United States were to continue until 1910, and two years more elapsed before arbitration finally established the limits of British North American waters.
Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, Newfoundland had not been considered by British governments as a field for settlement. The Island had remained essentially 'a great English ship, moored near the banks, almost untouched by the political upheavals that had shaken the mainland. Theoretically, of course, the 'great ship' controlled the entrance to the interior of North America. The Strait of Belle Isle separating the northern tip from Labrador is only nine miles wide at the narrowest point, while Cabot Strait has a breadth of some sixty miles between Cape Ray and the extremity of Cape Breton Island. But so long as the Royal Navy held command of the seas, there was no need to turn the island into a fortified outpost, and for that reason Newfoundland had never become a close adjunct of the continent. Indeed, the significant fact in the Island's history was its constant aloofness from the mainland.
Meanwhile, during the long wars with France, the popu-