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Post-Confederation Canada (1867–1914)
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"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."
Post-Confederation Canada (1867–1914) is the history of a new nation from its formation to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Canada had a population of 3.5 million, residing in the large expanse from Cape Breton to just beyond the Great Lakes, usually within a hundred miles or so of the Canada–US border. One in three Canadians was French, and about 100,000 were aboriginal (First Nation, Inuit, Métis). It was a rural country composed of small farms. With a population of 115,000, Montreal was the largest city, followed by Toronto and Quebec at about 60,000. Pigs roamed the muddy streets of Ottawa, the small new national capital.
Besides subsistence agriculture, the economy was based on exports of lumber, fish and grain, and the import of investment capital from London and New York. Factories were small, except for those making farm implements. Overall the economy prospered in the first years of Confederation, but a world-wide depression 1873-1896 severely hurt the export economy, reduced the inflow of foreign capital, and reduced the flow of immigration. Economic growth of total GNP (in constant dollars) averaged only 2.4 percent per year, 1870 to 1896, then surged to 6.2 percent, 1897-1913. Part of that increase was due to population growth. The rate of growth of GNP per capita was 1.3% , 1870 to 1896, then surged to 2.6 percent, 1897-1913. The growth rate was respectable, but lower than that of the United States, and fueled a sense of disappointment that Confederation had not delivered on its promise of prosperity.
Politically, the Father of Confederation, John A. Macdonald (1815 – 1891) and his Conservative Party ("Tories") dominated national politics until his death (with one interruption). The Liberals ("Grits") under Wilfrid Laurier (1841-1919) were in power 1896 to 1911, and then were ousted in a campaign based on anti-Americanism by Robert Borden.Francophones had a distinct and traditionalistic culture, led by the landholders and the priests. The Anglophones took pride in their Britishness and in their refusal to be swallowed up by the United States. Baseball and lacrosse were favorite sports. Cultural facilities were limited. There were only two public libraries in the entire new country; half the adults in Quebec could not read. Hard drinking in all ranks was the norm; in fact, the new prime minister, John A. Macdonald, was sometimes drunk in public. Politically, the new nation was defined by its practicality, realism, and stoicism; it had little interest in theory or aesthetics. Much more important was loyalty to family, church, political party, and Queen Victoria. Historians later emphasized the iconic phrase "Peace, Order and Good Government" ("paix, ordre et bon gouvernement") as founding constitutional principles, but at the time it was rarely quoted.On the eve of the great war in 1914, the national population had reached 8.1 million. Most of the growth had taken place in the new western provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, while immigration from abroad reached 400,000 annually. The great national achievement was the building of transcontinental railways that opened the prairies to settlement. The rich new farmlands made Canada a major exporter of wheat. Issues of nationalism versus loyalty to the British Crown continued. So too did increasingly bitter disputes on language issues, especially the role of the French language outside Québec. Ethno-religious tensions flared between the Francophones and the Anglophones, between the Catholic Irish ("greens") and the Protestant Irish ("Orange"), and between the whites and the Asians on the West Coast.