In Canada, our government is set up so that we as citizens vote every four years for someone who will represent us in the parliament in Ottawa and supposedly vote on decisions the way we would if we were in that position. Three hundred and thirty-eight people get to decide the future of this country. Now, do you have a voice, an opinion, reasons for thinking the way you do? Of course, you do. In general, do they talk about how John Appleseed of boring town, Canada feels? No. Now, if there are many people who feel the same sure you may just get in the newspaper! If you get 50 000 signatures, you may just even change something! But in general, do we hear about you? Nah, unless you’re a victim of some horrible crime, or save a crying baby, you’re about as important to the world as John Appleseed of uninteresting-vill USA is to you.
You know what they forget to mention, though? Canada is full of people like you and we’re the people that really make Canada what it is, and how it is. Nowadays, we have it pretty good. We get to vote, unions are a thing, and you can say whatever you like without the fear of being thrown in jail by the church. Life is good!
That was a long winded and drawn out way of saying that I’d like to learn about what life was like back around confederation, and more specifically, what the opinions were of the average “Canadian” on the prospects of joining up and becoming one nation. I find this interesting because, throughout our entire time of learning about the creation of our nation, we’ve learned about John A and the Tuppster, fancy and generally rich, people who were in a different situation than most other Canadians. At the end of this mess of syllables strewn together, I hope to understand some of the thoughts and opinions of the average Canadians and be able to understand what Confederation was to them. I believe this will help me understand confederation better and just be generally interesting information.
While looking for sources, I found it incredibly hard to locate something like I wanted since, as I said before, the life of regular people was not covered heavily by any media. I was stumped until I stumbled upon a book written based on the diary of Robert Sellar, a 19th-century journalist who lived in Toronto and knew people like George Brown but still lived most of his life in extreme poverty. You can find that book here. It is called “Voice of the Vanishing Minority: Robert Sellar and the Huntingdon Gleaner and written by Robert Hill.
This secondary source is very relevant because it is written directly based on a primary source. It mentions many hardships in Mr. Sellar’s life including sickness, an alcoholic brother, and the sudden death of his father. More interestingly, it talks about how Mr. Sellar was in fact very political and was a radical grit. “His interest in public affairs was stimulated by daily association with newspapers; his politics, judging from an article favoring dissolution of the Canadian union in 1860, were radical Grit.” Sellar, true to his inner journalist, was involved in many of the social and political issues that we learned about in class.
For example, the unease between the English (specifically the Irish) and the French was written about quite frequently. Sellar, being a first-generation Irish immigrant himself, was very proud of his roots and felt a strong bond to all other Irish around him. Stating that “the province must be Anglified!” Sellar was quite the pro-English settler.
My second source is a research paper written by William Baker on the life of Timothy Warren Anglin, yet another Irish immigrant to Canada. You can find that book here. Anglin was also a journalist and soon after his arrival to Canada in 1849 establish a newspaper in Saint John, New Brunswick. This newspaper was to be the voice of the maritime Irish community for a third of a century.
Similar to Mr. Sellar, Anglin had strong anti-confederation views and even ran against the maritime confederation powers that my role play character supported. “He became an opponent of the Confederation proposals and took a leading role in the Confederation elections in New Brunswick in 1865 and 1866.”
While “Anglin was hardly a figure of the first rank in British North American affairs”, he surely was more well-known than Sellar. He was wealthier, and probably better known in his community.
The most striking finding of my research was how strong the common national beliefs, opinions, and ways of life were among “Canadians”. At this point in history, all Canadians besides Native Americans were recent immigrants of some kind. They all had strong ties to their home countries and largely shared the same political and religious views. For example, both Sellar and Anglin were hard core anti-confederation and strongly catholic. They also both disliked the French and had strong ties to home and family. Communities were largely formed of people all from the same place of origin. This is a striking difference from the Canada of today where multiculturalism runs strong and diversity is a pride of our nation.
After writing this, I’d still like to know more concerning the separation of classes in society. Did the poor hate the rich? Envy them? How much interaction was there between classes? This would help paint a better picture of the Canada of old.