Despatch from Lieutenant-General J. Michel to the Earl of Carnarvon (13 December 1866)

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Date: 1866-12-13
By: J. Michel
Citation: Despatch from Lieutenant-General J. Michel to the Earl of Carnarvon (13 December 1866) in UK, Parliament, Correspondence respecting the Proposed Union of the British North American Provinces (London: George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1867).
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COPY of a DESPATCH from Lieut-General Sir J. MICHEL to the Right Hon. the Earl of CARNARVON

(No.8.) Montreal, December 13, 1866
(Received December 28, 1866.)
(Answered, No. 12. January 7, 1867, page 51.)


I HAVE the honour to transmit herewith a letter addressed to your Lordship by the Honourable A. A. Doron, together with a memorial on the subject of the Confederation of the British North American Colonies, signed by himself and by other members of the Provincial Parliament.

I have, &c.

(Signed) J. MICHEL

The Right Hon. the Earl of Carnarvon, I have, &c.
&c. &c. &c.

Enclosure in No.27.
To the Right Honourable the Early CARNARVON, Principal Secretary for the Colonies.

Montreal, December 12, 1866,


I HAVE had the honour of receiving a letter dated the 23rd of November, written by your Lordships discretion, acknowledging the receipt of a communication respecting the proposed Confederation of the British North American Provinces, addressed to your Lordship by 20 Lower Canadain Representatives.

I now beg leave to enclose a duplicate of that communication, which was forwarded in the first instance without the intermediation of the Governor, in order to place your Lordship in possession at the earliest possible moment of considerations believed to be important on a subject of great interest, not only to Canada but also to the other Provinces and to the empire, under the impression (erroneous), i am now informed it was not of a character to bring it necessarily within the operation of the rule to which your Lordship has directed my attention.

I have, &c.
(Signed) A. A. DORION.

Sub-Enclosure in No.27.
To the Right Honourable the Earl of CARNARVON, Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State
for the Colonies.


As it has been announced that Delegates from the Canadian Government will shortly proceed to England to confer with Her Majestys imperial advisers respecting the proposed Confederation of the British North American Provinces with the view of urgin legislation on the subject at the next Session of the Imperial Parliament, we deem it our duty as representatives in Parliament of 20 populous constituencies in Lower Canada, to submit to your Lordship some considerations which we venture to hope will not be thought wholly underservince of attention by those with whom rests the responsibility of deciding whether these important subjects is to be regarded al already ripe for final legislation, or might to await the further development and more authentic expression of popular opinion in the Provinces. Numbering nearly a third of the representatives of Lower Canada, we are convinced that on this subject we reflect the opinions of a majority of Her people.

We assume that Her Majesty’s Government, adhering to the wise policy which for a quarter of a century has been productive of the most beneficent results, the policy on conceding to Colonies possessing representative institutions all the right of local self-government, including the right to remodel to suit their varying circumstances those institutions themselves, has no desire to impose this scheme of Confederation on the Provinces from motives of imperial policy. Indeed we can discern no imperial object consistent with a desire to preserve the […] between the Colonies and the mother country that would be prompted by a Federal Union of these Provinces accomplished without […] consent or contrary to the known wishes of their people. If it should appear that the people of this Province, so far from having consented to the sweeping changes in their institutions and in their relations to the other Provinces and to the Empire contemplated by this scheme of Confederation, have never had an opportunity of pronouncing a decision upon the question, a proper regard for their rights and every principle of sound statesmanship would seem to require the postponement of the final determination of the Imperial Government. If the measure be a good one and the people are really in favour of it, no injurious consequence can flow from the delay of a year during which the public sentiment in regard to it can be tested in the usual constitutional manner, while if it be carried now without this precaution and it should subsequently be found to be unacceptable to the majority of the people in in any of the Provinces, an event which we believe is certain to occur in Lower Canada — and agitation for its repeal or for other constitutional changes would inevitably arise — inaugurating an era of instability and discontent prejudicial in the last degree to every interest in the Provinces, and exceedingly irksome to the statesmen of the Empire.

We have intimated the people of this Province have never had an opportunity to express their approval or disapproval of the proposed Confederation, and in support of this statement we now proceed to trace the steps by which the question has been brought to its present position.

From time to time, during the last 20 years the union of these Provinces has been advocated by public men and public writers of more or less prominence, both in the Colonies and in the mother country, but no practical step looking to its accomplishment was taken the public men of Canada, acting under Ministerial responsibility, until 1859. Early in that year Messrs. Cartier, Ross, and Galt, while in England on public business, addressed a despatch to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in which they recommended a Federal Union of all the British NOrth American Provinces as a means of reconciling the conflicting claims of Upper and Lower Canada respecting the basis of representation under the existing Union. The question discussed in this despatch was not, however, submitted to Parliament in any […] form on the return of the signers to Canada, nor during the whole term of office, extending to 1862. Of the administration to which they belonged. Mr. John A. Macdonald, then as now the leader of the Conservative party in Upper Canada, and the leading mind of the Administration, was in declared opposition to the principle of Federation, whether applied to all the Provinces or to Canada alone down to the ministerial crisis of June 1861. Mr. Brown. The leader of the Liberal party in Upper Canada, though favouring the adoption of a Federal Union between Upper and Lower Canada, if representation based on populated were not conceded to Upper Canada, was opposed to a Federal Union of all the Provinces. In Lower Canada the members of both political parties with here and there individual exceptions, rejected all propositions looking to immediate union, either Legislative or Federative, with the Maritime Provinces. Indeed the publication of the despatch already referred to […] a condemnation of the project, so prompt, so general, and so decided, that from 1859 down to the ministerial crisis in June 1861 the question of a union of all the Provinces had no influence on the politics of the country, was rarely mentioned in Parliament or discussed in public journals, and was not at all in issue, either at the general election of 1861 or that of 1863. In the latter year the present Parliament was elected. Neither in Upper nor in Lower Canada did the constitutional system to which the people had become strongly attached. True there were some difficult political problems to be solved, but they were certain to find a solution without resorting to organic changes by the exercise of ordinary patience on the part of the people and of even common place statesmanship of the part of their leaders. True, too, there had been errors, and perhaps worse than errors, of administration, and extravagant — even profligate — expenditure: but theses evils are incident to every form of government, while under representative institutions, the people have the remedy in their own hands, a remedy which the people of Canada would undoubtedly have applied with great toughness if they had not been diverted from their purpose by the extraordinary movement to change their whole system of government which we shall presently have occasion to explain. The election of 1863 turned mainly on the questions of a practical character we have just referred to. The result gave to the LIberal ministry of the day, whose most pressing task was the restoration of the finances from the great disorder into which they had been thrown […] predecessors, only a narrow majority, so narrow indeed that, finding themselves unable to command the Parliamentary support required to carry comprehensive measures of financial and administrative reform, they resigned early in the session of 186`. Their opponents returned to office. There was no pretence of a constitutional difficulty: no necessity for constitutional changes was alleged. A simple change of administration took place. A few weeks later a debate arose in Committee of Supply touching the acts of ministers when previously in office. This led to a resolution condemning specifically one of their acts being offered by the opposition. On the motion for going into Committee of Supply on the 11th June 1861 it was moved in amendment. That a humble address be presented to his Excellency the “Governor General. Representing that in June 1859 an advance of $100,000 was made from the public “chest without the authority of Parliament for the redemption of bonds for a like amount of the city of Montreal. Which bonds were redeemable by the Grand Trunk Railway Company : threat by the terms of the Order in Council of the 1st June 1859 the Receiver General was authorized to redeem the said bonds on account of the city of Montreal, and to hold the same till the amount so advanced ($100,000). With interest at six percent, be repaid to the Government by the city of Montreal subject to the condition that the said city do immediately levy the necessary rate to meet their indebtedness under the Municipal Loan Fund Act, and that the amount so advanced be repaid within three months : that the city of Montreal [……] the condition of paying its in elatedness under the Municipal Loan Fund Act, the bonds in question were delivered by the Receiver General to the City Treasurer on the 14th September […], whereby all claim against the city of Montreal was relinquished : that under the instruction of the then Minister of Finance, conveyed in a letter dated London, [..] December 1859, addressed to Mr. Betlienstein of the Receiver General’s Department, the amount of the said advance was transferred to the debit of the financial agents of the Proncince in London, who deny that they ever consented to become liable therefore : and that in view of the facts above recited this House would be failing in its duty if it did not express uts disapprobation of an unauthorized advance of a large amount of public money and on the subsequent departure from the conditions of the Order in Council under which the advance was made.” This resolution was regarded by ministers as one of want of confidence, and was carried by a majority of two. The resolution and the […] upon it had reference solely to administrative act coing appropriately under the review of Parliament, and a parliamentary condemnation of the minister was the result.

A crisis of seven days duration followed this vote, Ministers advised his Excellency the Governor General to dissolve the House. This advice his Excellency, after considerable delay, and it is believed with some hesitation, in not reluctance, finally accepted. Misiters, however, were obviously unwilling to resort to a dissolution on the issue raided by the resolution just quoted, as the elections must have turned wholly on the merits of their previous administration of the finances, in respect to which there was a strong and wide-spread feeling of dissatisfaction. To avert an appeal to the country on so inconvenient an issue, and to evade at the same time the consequences of the pointend condemnation just pronounced by Parliament, negotiations for an Upper Canadian coalition were opened with Mr. Brown, a leading member of the Upper Canada opposition. These negotiations resulted in the accession to office of Mr. Brown and two of his friends, no change being made in the personnel of the Lower Canadain section of the Administration. This rehabilitation of a defeated and condemned Administration was accomplished by means of an agreement that the consent of the Maritime Provinces to a Federal Union of all the Provinces should be sought during the Parliamentary recess, and that, failing to obtain such consent before the re-assembling of Parliament in the January following, a plan of a Federal Union, applicable to Canada alone, should then be brought forward.

Thus was formed a coalition between men who had been for years in violent political and personal hostility, for the purpose of carrying either a measure to which both parties had been previously opposed or in the not improbable event of its failure, another measure to which one of the parties had been even more strenuously opposed. The project of a Federal Union of Canada alone had, from its interception, been denounced by Messi’s, Macdonald and Cartier in the language of derision and scorn. Now, however, to gain the support of a section of their opponents, and thereby obviate a dissolution which they clearly foresaw would result result in disastrous defeat by their party and in the approval by the country of condemnation of themselves jus pronounced by Parliament, these gentlemen adopted they project as their own, and were prepared to carry it, as they not propose to carry the Scheme of Confederation, without consulting the people, if only the assent of a Parliament, elected without and reference to organic changed, could be obtained.

It is proper that we should now refer to proceedings which are sometimes alleged to have exerted an important, but which we believe to had no appreciable influence on the course of events. We allude to the appointment of a committee of the House of Assembly on motion of Mr. Brown in the Session of 1862 to inquire into the subjects embraced in the despatch of Messrs. Cartier, Galt, and Ross to the Colonial Minister of 1859., and to report on that Committee which was in the following words : –”The Committee have held eight meetings, and have endeavoured to find some solution for “existing difficulties likely to receive the assent of both sections of the Province. A strong feeling “was found to exist among the members of the Committee in favour of changes in the direction of a “Federative system applied either to Canada alone or to the whole of the British North American Provinces, and such progress has been made as to warrant the Committee in recommending that the “subject be again referred to a Committee at the next Session of Parliament”. This report was not acted upon by the House, and was regarded by every one as being, what it in fact describes itself to be, a mere prelude to further impurity and ample discussion. But faintly even as this report points to the possible adoption of a “Federative Stemet,” it was opposed in Committee by John A. Macdonald, then as now the leader of the House, but who is not striving to impose a “Federative System” on his countrymen, without ascertaining, in the only way known to our Constitution, whether they share his present views or adhere to those uniformly expressed down to the crisis of June 1861.

The Canadian Cabinet having been reconstruction din the manner and for the purposes we have described, it was thought to be necessary, as preliminary to negotiations with the Maritime Provinces for their union with Canada, to secure the defeat, or at least the postponement, of the project of a Legislative union between Nova scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, the initial steps towards which had with the sanction of Her Majesty’s Government been taken by the Governments and Legislatures of the three Provinces. In this the Canadian Ministers were successful. We think it is to be regretted that a different course was not pursued, for the union of these three small Provinces, two of them contiguous to each other, and the third separated from the mainland by a narrow strait, with conditions, would seem a natural and desirable arrangement, wither with or without reference to their ultimate union with Canada: while in view of the later event, the previous consolidation of the smaller Provinces would obviate many difficulties and render possible the adoption of a less complicated and costly system of government that would be necessary if they should enter the proposed Confederation as separate Provinces. Our Ministers, however, in their haste to achieve in a few weeks what, to be well done, should be the work of years, ignored these obvious considerations and […] the representatives of the three Provinces assembles at Charlottetown in September 1864 to abandon the object for which they had been appointed until a conference of delegates from all the Provinces could be held to consider the question of a general union.

A motive for the extraordinary course pursued by the Canadian Government may perhaps be deduced from the confisition on which Mr. Brown became a member of it. He stipulated, it will be remembered, that failing to obtain the assent of the Maritime Provinces to a general scheme of union before the next meeting of the Canadian Parliament, the Government should then be bound to submit a measure providing a Federative System for Canada alone, a project which has always been extremely obnoxious to Mr. Brown’s Conservative colleagues. Though they had pledged themselves to bring it forward in a certain contingency, they were naturally anxious that the contingency should not arise. Hence the […] with which something that could be represented as implying the assent of the Maritime Provinces to Confederation was sought, and hence also the motive, though a very inadequate one, for thwarting the movement which had made such hopeful progress for the union of the Maritime Provinces.

Delegates from all the provinces appointed by their several Governments, thought without previous parliamentary authority, assembled at Quebec in October 1864, and the result of some days deliberation with closed doors was what is known as the Quebec scheme embodied in a series of 72 resolutions, 16254.

These resolutions when approved by the several Provincial Legislatures were to form the basis of an Act of the Imperial Parliament, superseding the present constitutions of all the Provinces. The Canadian Parliament met in the following January, and was asked by the Government to adopt an address to Her Majesty, praying for the passage of an Imperial Act founded on the resolutions of the Quebec conference, without having considered those resolutions in committee, or passing upon them seriatin in any way. This course was objected to, but fruitlessly, as being wholly at variance with established parliamentary usage both in England and in this country, and the more effectively to shut out all consideration of details the precious question was moved by the Government. While the debate on this address was in progress many numerously attended public meetings were held in Lower Canada, and petitions praying that the scheme of Confederation might not be adopted without a constitutional appeal to the people were pouring into Parliament when the result of the general election in New Brunswick became known. As the popular verdict in that Province was overwhelmingly averse to the scheme, there seemed to be no probability of its consummation during the term of the present Canadian Parliament, and the popular agitation in Lower Canada consequently ceased. Notwithstanding the emphatic rejection of the scheme by the people of New Brunswick the Canadian minister pressed the question to a vote and though there was a large majority of the whole house in favour of the address, a strong minority of Lower Canadian representatives voted against it.

The actual Lower Canadian vote on the main question was 37 to 25, while on subsequent motions, respecting an appeal to the people, several of the members composing this majority voted with the minority. THe minority would undoubtedly have been swollen to a majority but for the extra parliamentary promises of special favours to particular interests, made by Government to the representatives of those interests, to induce them to vote for the Government Scheme. To show that this grave assertion is not lightly hazarded, we propose to state some facts which are, we believe, without parallel in British or Colonial parliamentary history.

Considerable uneasiness was felt by the English speaking minority in Lower Canada, respecting their possible position made under the proposed Confederation, involving, as it did in respect to an important class of questions, their political separation from the people of their own race in Upper Canada. This messiness was shared by their Representatives of Parliament, and it became necessary to remove it in order to secure their votes for the Scheme. On the 2nd of March, while the debate on Confederation was in progress, several of these gentlemen communicated with Mr. Galt, whom they regarded as their representative in the Cabinet, touching the guarantees which they desired the pledge of the Government to have incorporated in the local constitution for Lower Canada, a subject not then under the consideration of Parliament, and which was only to be submitted for consideration at the next Session. On the 7th of Match, three days before the vote was taken, Mr. Galt addressed a letter to these gentlemen, in reply to a letter from them dated the 2nd of Match, promising on the part of the Government:–

1. That there should be a provision in the Local Constitution, that no change in the limits of constituencies, now returning English-speaking members should be made without the consent of two-thirds of the representatives of such constituencies present.

2. That there should be no change in the limits of municipalities in the countries so represented, except under the General Municipal Law of Lower Canada.

3. Various changes in the Education Laws of Lower Canada, in the interest of the Protestant minority.

4. The assent of Government to purchase, by county or township municipalities, or unconceded Crown lands within their limits.

These promises were, it is presumed, considered satisfactory by the members of the Assembly, to whom they were addressed, since all of them who were present voted for the Government Scheme: while, if their votes had been cast on the other side, as it is fair to assume they would have been but for these pledges, privately and secretly given (thus given instead of publicly in Parliament, lest other interests should take the alarm or enact other concessions), that scheme would have been rejected by a majority of the Representatives of Lower Canada. This […] episode has been followed by consequences not less curious. During the late Session of Parliament, the Government abandoned a measure intended to fulfil the most important of these pledges, that relating to the School Laws of Lower Canada. Mr. Galt thereupon resigned, declaring at the same time with strange inconsistency, that his colleagues were right in abandoning the measure, although they, equally with himself, were pledged to carry it as an integral part of their Confederation policy, which we have shown would have broken down at a critical moment but for this very pledge.

The Government of New Brunswick, with a just appreciation of the rights of the constituent body, dissolved Parliament, before inviting its concurrence in the resolution of the Quebec conference, The result, as we have already stated, was the return of an overwhelming majority opposed to the Scheme. IN the spring of the present year another dissolution of the Parliament of New Brunswick took place. A Government favourable to confederation had just previously been formed, and, as it is asserted, by the […] use of the influence of the Crown, and still more by representing the issue as one in which the loyalty of the people was concerned, they succeeded in securing the election of a majority favourable to the general principle of confederation. The Quebec Scheme, however, was not accepted by the people of New Brunswick in this election, for nearly all the Government candidates, including the members of the Government themselves, found it necessary to […] their dissent from that Scheme or from some of its leading features. When the new Parliament assembled, ministers did not venture to submit for concurrence or even as the basis of an act of union, the Quebec resolutions, but continued themselves to moving an address to Her Majesty, […] in the most general terms.

The Government of Nova Scotia did not dissolve Parliament, nor in the Session of 1865 did they ask to […] the Quebec resolutions. In the Session of 1866 an address to Her Majesty was adopted, expressing in general terms a desire for a federal union of the Provinces, but carefully avoiding the slightest endorsement of the Quebec scheme. It is well known that this course was pursued, because no proposition […], even in general terms, an approval of that scheme would have received the support of a majority of the House of Assembly.

Prince Edward Island expressly and unequivocally rejected the Quebec Scheme, and has not thus far evinced a desire or willingness to form part of a general Confederation on any terms : and in Newfoundland, though a general election has taken place since the Quebec conference was held, the resolutions of that conference have not been approved by the Legislature: and no steps similar to those taken in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, looking to a union on other terms, have been adopted. It may be assumed, therefore, that it is not proposed to embrace the Insular Provinces in any plan of confederation ot be submitted to the Imperial Parliament at its next session. And we may consider the question as affecting, for the present at least, only the Provinces of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

What then is the present position of the question> The Governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have sent Delegates to England to urge forward a union, but on teams different from those agreed to by the Quebec Conference. The Canadian Government is about to dispatch Delegates to England to obtain an Act of Union, embodying the very terms agreed to by the Quebec Conference. The members of the Canadian Government are bought by repeated and explicitly pledges, given from their places in Parliament, to see that the provisions of any Act of Union assented to by them shall be in strict conformity with Quebec resolutions. The members of the Governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, on the other hand, are pledged to obtain essential modifications of the Quebec Scheme, before the Union is consummated with their consent. If an Act be passed adhering strictly to the terms of the Quebec resolutions, is there not some danger that in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick disappointment, arising out of violated confidence, may speedily develop into aggravated forms of discontent? On the other hand, if the Act does not adhere closely to the terms of the Quebec resolutions, is there not an equal danger that the people of Canada, smarting under a sense of broken faith, will be from the very start dissatisfied with their new form of Government? The conflicting aims and pledges of the several Provincial Governments, who agree only in desiring some kind of union, but differ widely with regard to the conditions of that union, show conclusively, we respectfully urge, the extreme implicit of deeming with subject at all at the approaching Session of the Imperial Parliament. The present Parliament of Canada expires next summer: that of Nova Scotia expires next spring. We would say, let general elections in both Provinces take place at the regular periods fixed by the law. These elections will necessarily turn on the question of Confederation. The desirableness of confederation, and the conditions on which it would be acceptable, if thoughts to be desirable, would be fully discussed, and the result would be the election of Parliaments, representing the settled convictions and the matured purposes of the people. The decisions of Parliaments, elected under these circumstances, if favourable to confederation, would go far towards ensuring the success of a system, which at best can only be regarded as an experiment, which if tried at all, ought only to be tried under the most favourable conditions: while if they were adverse to confederation, that fact alone would demonstrate the wisdom of the delay for which we plead.

We have endeavoured to show that the initiation tf this project of confederation, all the subsequent steps taken to promote it, are to be reacted to the party or personal exigencies of Canadian politicians, and not to a spontaneous or general desire among the people for fundamental changes in their political institutions, or in their political relations, We have endeavoured to show that in none of the Provincial Parliaments have the details of the project been considered in the sense in which the chances of a Bill are considered that in Canada and Nova Scotia the people have not had an opportunity of pronouncing upon either the principle or the […] : and that in New Brunswick, where an election was recently held, the people cannot be said to have assented to the Quebec Scheme, which is the only definite plan of union now under consideration.

If these positions cannot be successfully assailed the argument for delay would seem to be unanswerable whatever may be thought of the general question of confederation, ro of the particular scheme agree to by the Quebec conference.

We believe that confederation in any form un unsuited to the present circumstances of the Provinces : and that there are defects so radical, and inconsistencies so glaring in the Quebec plan, that it could never be brought into successful operation, even if it should be found possible to reduce it, in tis integrity, to the form of a coherent Act of Parliament, in harmony with the spirit of the British institutions and British legislation. We refrain, however, from troubling your Lordship with any lengthened observations, either on the general question or on the particular scheme. We assume that the single aim of Her Majesty’s Government will be to give effect to the well-understood and clearly expressed wishes of the people of the Provinces. We have striven to show that no adequate expression of their wishes respecting confederation has been given, and that the whole subject ought consequently be remitted back to them. IN that event our appropriate sphere for the discussion of it would be here. We limit ourselves, therefore, to an earnest plan against precipitancy on a subject that concerns the highest and most enduring interest of our country, against an irreversible conclusion being drawn from erroneous or unauthenticated premises. A plea in short for delay.

We seek delay, not to frustrate the purposes of a majority of our countrymen, but to prevent their being surprised against their will or without their consent, into a political change, which, however [..]. And oppressive to them it might prove, could not be reversed without such agitation as every well-wisher of his country must desire to invert.

We have. &c,.

A.A. DORION, Member for the Co. of Hochelaga, late Attorney-General for Lower Canada.
L.H. HOLTON. M.P.P. for Chateauguay, late Minister of Finance
J. THIBAUDEAU M.P.P. for Quebec Centre, late President of the Council
L.S. HUNTINGTON, M.P.P. for Shefford, late Solicitor-General for Lower Canada.
M. LAFRAMBOISE M.P.P. for Bagot, late Commissioner of Public Works.
F. BOURASSA  M.P.P. for St. John’s.
J.B.E. DORION  M.P.P. for Drummond and Arthabaska.
L.B. CARON M.P.P. for […]
L. LARRECHE-VIGER, M.P.P. for Terrebonne.
JAS. O’HALLORAN, Q.C. […] for Missisquoi.
MOI. FORTIER, M.P.P. for Yanaska.
J.B. POULIOT, M.P.P. for Temiscouata.
A.H. PAQUET, M.P.P. for Berthier.
F. GEOFFRION M.P.P. for Vercheres.
JOS. PERRAULT, M.P.P. for Richelieu.
A. GAGNON, M.P.P. for Charlevoix.
SINTE COCPAL, M.P.P. for Napierville.
CHAS. LAJOIE  M.P.P. for St. Maurice.
M. HOUDE, M.P.P. for Maskinonge.

Montreal, October 1866.

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