Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, 8th Parl, 4th Sess (16 September 1865)

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Date: 1865-09-16
By: Province of Canada (Parliament), Morning Chronicle
Citation: “Provincial Parliament. Legislative Assembly. Saturday, Sept. 16th” [Quebec] Morning Chronicle (18 September 1865).
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Monday, September 16

Explanations on the North-West Question

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council] said that in rising to explain to the House the policy of the Administration in regard to the North-west Territory he was happy to believe that what he had to bring before it was a matter entirely free from party politics, and was a matter which deeply concerns the best interests of this country, and which we could approach without any feeling of partisanship, but with an earnest desire to come to that conclusion most promotive of the public interests. This question had been long before the country. When the hon. gentlemen stated that it was a question not so much affecting Lower Canada as Upper, they must have forgotten the connection long ago existing between the former and the North-west Territory, and the intimate intercourse so long carried on between them. It was true the Union of the North-west and Hudson’s Bay Companies, which resulted in the cutting off of the North-west trade from Montreal, had for some time caused this region to be greatly neglected and overlooked in Lower Canada, but the people of this section have had their attention directed to this matter of late, and have shown themselves alive to the importance of attracting the trade of the North-west back to this Province again.

His attention had long been directed to the Hudson’s Bay country, a deputation having gone thence to England twenty years ago to have the rule of the Company broken up and the country placed under popular government and opened up to settlement and civilization. The great difficulty such deputations experienced was to answer this question always put in England—If we do break up the Company, what shall we put in its place? With all its evils, said they, there is a certain amount of good government there, and the Company has succeeded to a certain extent in securing peace and harmony in the country, and before abolishing the present system we must see what we can out in its place.

Mr. Isbister, the leader of the first deputation, tried in every way to meet this objection. He said—If I can only get the Canadian Government to take up this matter, and say they will extend a settled civilized government to the country, I will be in a position to meet the demands of the English people. Mr. Isbister put himself in communication with him (Mr. Brown) about 1848, when he set about the consideration of the matter, and he soon obtained sufficient information respecting the country to convince him it was of great importance, not only in regard to its great mineral wealth, etc., but also as regards its capabilities of settlement and civilization. The question was brought before the people at the polls subsequently, and they expressed their desire that it should be taken up and dealt with by the Government. During the Morin-MacNab Administration, an exploring party under the command of Mr. Gladman, was sent to the Norwest Territory, to report upon its natural resources and so forth. He sent a report to Parliament, which appeared in the appendices to the Journals for 1858.

The report stated that, respecting the country between Lake Superior and the Red River and the Assiniboine region, that it appeared to be well adapted for agricultural operations—that, over a large portion of it, the temperature was nearly four degrees warmer than that of Toronto—that crops of Indian corn and other grains might be relied upon; that wheat, oats, barely, hops and vegetables, potatoes, and so forth, could be raised with facility; and that the character of the soil in the Assiniboine could not be surpassed. With regard to Saskatchewan—that it was navigable along the north and south course for nearly a thousand miles; that the extensive territory drained by this river was fit for settlement was proved by the success that attended farming, and by the fact that cattle were left to forage for themselves during the winter; that there was not a portion of territory on the globe so little broken by barren tracts; that, in short, there was not a better farming country in the world; that it was intersected by rivers and lakes innumerable, and enjoyed a good climate.

Another extract of the report gave eloquent description of the Red River country, which it spoke of as a paradise of fertility. An American exploring party, which reported to Congress in 1863, gave a most gratifying description of the same North-west territory, extending from Canada to the Rocky Mountains. The importance of the trade of this region could be judges from the fact the whole exports of that region, sent to St. Paul’s, Minnesota, for the last year, amounted to half a million dollars; if that be so, the whole exports of the country, from all points, must have amounted to about two millions.

Frederick Haultain [Peterborough]—Does the Hudson’s Bay Company not take advantage of the St. Paul’s route for its exports.

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council]—One year they did, but they do not generally. That American exploring party reported that the country, both as to minerals, agricultural capabilities, and the easy means of communications it possessed, was almost unrivalled. In 1857, the Hon. Mr. Cauchon, then Commissioner of Public Works, submitted an admirable report on this region. He brought out clearly the whole arguments, as to the rights of Canada, &c., showing the necessity of our taking possession of that country at the earliest possible moment, inasmuch as it belonged to us by right. That honorable gentleman urged that the propose course to purse would be to lay before the Imperial Government an expediency of annexing the Indian Territories to Canada, as by this means only could they continue to remain long in the possession of Great Britain; for colonized the must be by us, or the Americans would shortly colonize them for themselves.

He further argued, in his report, that where, in this North-west region, hundreds of thousands of cattle could sustain themselves all winter, man could likewise do so; and that, over a large portion, the climate was milder than the average climate of Upper Canada. He also shewed that the best communications over this country to the Pacific were through Canada. People asked what could we do with this great country. That was asked the United States with regard to the Western Territory over twelve years ago; but now look how settlers and commerce have spread backwards over the country in the direction of the Pacific. That hon. gentleman deserved great credit for the statesman-like ability and foresight he had shewn, in amassing these facts, in relation to the North-west Territory, and for the courage he had displayed in submitting this information to Parliament as early as 1857.

Afterwards, the attention of the people, having been very much concentrated upon this subject, the Canadian Government sent a deputation to England, consisting of Mr. Draper, to represent and protect the interests of Canada, in the enquiry then being made with regard to this region by a Committee of the House of Commons. In the same year, 1857, a Select Committee was appointed by our Parliament to enquire into the whole subject. We received a great deal of evidence, and reported on the 8th June, with regard to the rights of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the renewal of their charter, the character of the land, its climate, resources, and so forth. The report resembled pretty much those of the Hon. Mr. Cauchon and Mr. Gladman, and contained information procured from old servants of the Company, and they were well qualified to give it. In that year, also, a large number of petitions were presented on this question—including one from the inhabitants at Red River, praying to be connected with Canada, and asking our Government to negotiate with the Home Government for the annexation of their country to Canada. Then a sum of $20,000 was voted to open a road into that country. Hon. Mr. Cauchon’s report and the information obtained elsewhere, as to the rights of Canada to that country, had made such an impression that sum was freely granted for that purpose.

In 1858 the question was considered so important that it was alluded to in the Speech from the Throne, shewing that a great deal of attention had been drawn to this important question. Well, with respect to the claims of the Company, the Colonial Secretary, Mr. Labouchere, took the view that it would be impossible for the Imperial Government to raise the question of the rights of the Company to Rupert’s Land—that it would not be equitable to do so, and that if such should be done, it had best be done by others. He (Mr. Brown) thought, however, that it was the duty of the British Government to bring this claim of the proprietorship of the Company to an end. Well, a Committee of the House of Commons examined the whole subject in every way—Mr. Draper being present. They expressed a hope that such negociations might be made between the Imperial Government and the Hudson’s Bay Company as would result in the cession of the Red River and Saskatchewan Territory to Canada, it being shewn they were most convenient to us and the portions most fit for settlement.

The next step, with regard to the settlement of this question, was a resolution in the House, moved by Hon. Mr. Loranger, and seconded by Hon. Mr. Sicotte, on the 13th August, 1858, setting forth that, as the license of the Hudson’s Bay Company, was approaching its termination Canada had a right to claim the settlement of their northern and western boundaries, and these other questions between the Company and this Province. It was carried unanimously, as also an address to the Queen embodying the substance of the resolution. Now, what he (Mr. Brown) had stated would show that if ever there was a subject on which all parties in the House were unanimously pledged, it was to the early assumption and settlement of that whole country by Canada.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council]—The hon. gentleman then went on to read a report of the delegation to England in 1859 on this subject, and also extracts from the proceedings of the House, recognizing the importance of taking this vast country for the purpose of colonization, with a view to the establishment of a great British power on this continent, and also to trace the succeeding steps taken by our Parliament and Government in reference to this question down to 1863.

Next, during the Macdonald-Dorion Government, a report was made to the House claiming the settlement of the whole question in England, and arguing the rights of Canada to the whole territory owned and ceded by France.

The hon. gentleman now read Mr. Cardwell’s despatch, in reply to the above claim from the Canadian Government, in which he stated that the Imperial Government had been communicating with the Hudson’s Bay Company; that they had not come to a satisfactory conclusion, and expressing a wish that our Government should say what we were going to do in the matter. Our Government replied that we were willing to enter into negotiations, and suggested the termination, by the Imperial Government, of the Hudson’s Bay claim to the Territory, and also stating that if they would settle the matter, the Canadian Government would enter into negotiations on the cession to Canada of such portions as were fit for settlement; and recommending that England might erect the country into a British colony. He contended, then, that all our governments for years had been committed to this policy, and could not now escape from it. He would now try to show the present position of the case.

When in England, in 1863, he (Mr. Brown) was entrusted with the duty of communicating with the Imperial Government on the subject. He found a great deal of negotiation had been going on between the Duke of Newcastle, Mr. Cardwell and the Hudson’s Bay Company on the matter. He found, however, that it had got into a dangerous condition for us. Our Government had not apparently asserted, with sufficient decision, their desire to obtain control of the country. They had not placed their views so clearly on record as to prevent other negotiations being carried on apart from us. The consequence was the formation of a new Hudson’s Bay Company, with views very different from the former. For instance, they proposed to construct a telegraph line across the country, and obtain a large concession of land on each side. While committing themselves to that feature, they had only held out a prospect of the construction of a road.

The Imperial Government had also, to some extent, acquiesced in their proposals. On his representation, the negotiations of the Imperial Government with this Company on these matters were stopped; but if we had neglected the matter much longer the Company might have obtained all the concessions asked. He also found that the discovery of gold in the North-west was also attracting much attention in the rest of the world as well as in the United States, and considered it necessary that if we should obtain that country no time should be lost in negotiations therefor. The grounds he took in negotiating with the Colonial Office were exactly similar to those laid down in the Minute of Council drawn up by the Macdonald-Dorion Government. He desired first that Mr. Cardwell should obtain from the Hudson’s Bay Company a statement of their demand, and a map of the country they claimed. It was found to include the whole of the Saskatchewan and country westward of Lake Superior and the Red River—in fact all the North-west territory near the United States line, from which we were cut off by the intervening region.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay]—When did they make this claim?

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council]—In September 1864. As compared with the claim of the old Hudson’s Bay Company, it was perfectly ridiculous and groundless. The question arose what was to be done. The Imperial Government agreed with the Canadian that it was desirable this immense country should be thrown open to settlement and civilization, and were most anxious that everything that could be done should be done to further our views. They had little doubt that the proper party to undertake the settlement of that country was Canada. He believed they were averse to a Crown colony, and considered better that emigration should go gradually from this into that country. The question next was—should we take the step recommended by the Committee of the House of Commons, by merely acquiring a portion of the country, determine the line of the Hudson’s Bay Territory, confine the Company within the narrowest limits possible, and content ourselves with that portion lying nearest us, and best fit for settlement; or should we demand possession of the whole country, and bring to an end the whole territorial and trading claim of the country.

John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall]—Even the Hudson’s Bay itself?

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council]—Yes. He (Mr. Brown) pressed the latter project on the ground—“If you want to settle the whole of the country as early as possible, you ought to throw open to settlers all the advantages it afforded.” He said—“If you take away the fur trade form the people, you deprive them of a great source of wealth, and confine them to agriculture alone; but by leaving them the fur trade you will have trading-posts all through; the Indians will come down from the north; trade and communications will be kept up and you will have settlements all through the country.”

He found that views of the Imperial Government were those of Mr. Labouchère—that the claims of the Company should not be immediately swept away. They considered that negotiations should be entered into, to define what their legal rights were, feeling so impressed with their quasi-legal claims that they were of opinion some compensation should be given the Company for the surrender of the same. He said to the Imperial Government, immediately upon that, that the matter was for them not for us to settle; that it was an Imperial question, they having created that monopoly, and being consequently bound to determine it—that they could not expect us to pay money by rights they created, and which we never recognized and were not responsible for; that they ought to have the country opened up, and could not reasonably expect us to remove an encumbrance that they put upon it.

He said further: “You settle this question, and we will assume the onerous duties of settling up that country.” There was clearly a difficulty in their getting over that objection., It appeared to him that the true thing to aim at was to come to a speedy settlement of the question by means of a proper compromise; and to stipulate that if the Company were to remain there it should be as ordinary settlers—and that the people generally should enjoy the advantages of the fur trade. He also considered it likely that if we were to get the Saskatchewan, and Red River and other portions of the country in which settlements had been made, that something ought to be paid therefor in order that all claims should be liquidated and that in case we went on with the settlement of the country we should have hereafter no such trouble as we had in regard to the Clergy Reserves; and that the Company’s claim would not have to be again met and settled.

In fact he wanted no present compromises but a clear, plain settlement—that anything to be paid should be paid at once, and the whole thing disposed of for ever; and the Company stripped of all powers over the Territory. It would not have done, he thought, to leave the matter to a law-suit or arbitration. The latter might have given rise to an enormous price being fixed, and the former might have lasted twenty years, and in the meantime the Americans might have gone in and settled he country for themselves. Well, they were asked how much they wanted for the entire extinction of all their rights on this continent—trading rights and everything except their posts and other things necessary to carry on trade like other settlers. They replied they wanted five million dollars for the large portion of the country desirable and serviceable to us, apart from the portion devoted to the fur trade.

He (Mr. Brown) showed the Colonial Office how monstrous such a demand as this was on the part of a company that only gone into possession eighteen months before. It was clear, however, that if the country were worth anything at all to us, such a price would be an inconsiderable sum. This was the point to which the negotiations were brought while he was in England, and the early opening of Parliament obliged him to bring them to a conclusion at that time. It was quite clear to him, however, that if we were to have a speedy and satisfactory settlement all around, that the sum could not be very large, and that it would be better to compromise the difficulty by giving some sum—of course on reasonable and legal grounds—to put ourselves in immediate possession of the country, with all its advantages, than to allow it to remain in the hands of others for twenty years.

The present Government, on coming into office, determined to continue the negotiations in England, and saw that the settlement that would give us early possession of the country was one we should ask. The point of us was—How to put ourselves in the best position to get an early settlement of the question on reasonable terms. We applied to the Colonial Office for cession to Canada if all the rights of Great Britain in the North-west Territory, over the country east of the Rocky Mountains. We ask them to put us in the position with regard to it that they occupy. They answered, “Will you take it subject to the claims of the Hudson’s Bay Company?” We said yes, and they replied, “We will take upon ourselves to bring about a just settlement between you and the Company.”

Of course we could not take any action until the Imperial Parliament passed an act giving us the land and fixing the boundaries, &c. We propose to continue negotiations with the Company in order to a settlement, and say to them: “We want you to define your position; send in your claim, and we will have the matter arranged.” The House would see, he thought, that it was not at all desirable the Government should state what are now their views on this question. Our object is to effect the best bargain that can be made for the people of Canada.

He (Mr. Brown) always maintained that we were entitled to every foot of land the French held at the cession of 1763, and that we were in the position upon which they entered into the cession. People need not think we had agreed to buy that land from the Company, whether valuable or valueless, no matter what sum was to be given the whole thing was yet open. We could go on with a desire to recognize the Company’s rights, or with a desire to extinguish its right. We had recognized nothing by our action so far. We would go to the full discussion with a view to protect the interests of Canada, acquire the land and open it up to the settlement at the earliest possible moment; and if we found we could advantageously extinguish the rights of the Company entirely to exclusive trade or territorial possession of the land, we would do so. But the House might depend on it, that nothing would be done until the negotiations were submitted to Parliament, and its approval obtained.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall]—If the Company don’t consent, how are you going to force them? Is it by threats?

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council] said that the Government could not, becomingly, hold out threats to obtain the objects in view. But when the interests of the country demanded to be protected, we would not shrunk in any way from maintaining its rights.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council]—The policy of the Government was to obtain possession of the territory at the earliest possible moment, and in a manner most consistent with those just claims which the country had preferred for many years.

Frederick Haultain [Peterborough]—Are we, without delay, to open up negotiations with the Hudson’s Bay Company, in order to a settlement of the question?

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council]—Yes, certainly. The hon. gentleman went on to say that the action of Canada as respect those negotiations had obtained the full consent of the British Government. Some had contended that we should at once take possession of that portion of the country universally recognized as belonging to the Imperial Government, but our Government thought that we could do nothing in the way of settlement, &c., until next spring, and that it was wise, before taking any steps in the matter, that we should conclude the negotiations with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay]—Negotiators have not been appointed yet.

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council]—How could they? The papers were only signed the day we left England. We would lose no time in asking the Company to send in its bill, to ascertain how the claim stood. Nothing would be left undone to procure an immediate settlement. It is true the present Company’s demands were larger than those of the old Company, which had a much more moderate opinion of the value of their rights, but it would be seen that the rights of the old Company were liquidated when the new Company bought them out. They got certain property apart from territorial rights, and we thus knew the value they put on those territorial rights, which we did not know two years ago.

He believed the House and the country would perceive that Government had brought the negotiations to the most satisfactory point they could have done; and that the case was very much changed when we were the parties in possession, instead of being the parties standing outside, with no control of the country beyond us. We had now got the matter reduced to this—that the whole point of settlement was the rights of the Hudson’s Bay Company; what territory they really did obtain under the Company’s charter—and all the rest belongs to us.


In answer to John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall]


George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council] said—We were not compelled to buy the Company out, while we got all the land belonging to England whether we did or not. They did not claim the licenses Indian territories, nor the other large portion of British territory on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. The honorable gentleman here produced a map of the territory, explaining the portions they and England claimed respectively. He explained that a large portion of this territory was the country of the fur-bearing animals, which was thrown open to us by the cession by England. The country might congratulate itself on the near approach of a settlement of this North-west question, and the prospect of a large stream of colonists and commerce flowing through our land to the westward.

In answer to William McGiverin [Lincoln]

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council] said he thought the idea of the Company was to get us to pay them in cash the nominal value of their stock, and then give us up everything—or to give them a million sterling and cede to us their trading and territorial rights, retaining a portion of land around the settlements and on both sides of the telegraph line.

William McGiverin [Lincoln]—The value of that stock would be about one million and a half.

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council]—Yes, but ceding the telegraph line and all their stock and rights they would expect two millions sterling, a sum which he thought we could get. He thought were that paid them, we would find parties who, on certain concessions, getting trading posts, for instance, &c., would assume the whole of that amount. He thought, however, it would be better not to discuss that question now. He believed nothing could be done for the present except to obtain their claim or demand, make a bargain upon it and submit the whole to Parliament. That was decidedly the best way to procure a settlement fair and beneficial to the interests of this country.

Some Hon. MembersThe hon. gentleman resumed his seat amid cheers.

John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall] could not think the explanations just made were of that satisfactory kind which the country expected from the Government in this matter. He charged the Government with arriving at no definite conclusion, either on the North-west question or that of defence. With regard to the former he had not told us anything we did not know before. In fact the explanations were so vague and unpositive that they amounted to nothing. How were we to approach this question? And if we got the land, what were we to do with it? We would be like the fellow who drew the elephant and had it on his hands.

Some Hon. MembersLaughter.

The hon. gentleman concluded by denouncing the Government for want of a settled policy, and for failing to do anything definite in this matter.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] said that the speech which the House had just heard might be regarded as an historical essay on the question of the Hudson’s Bay Territory for the last ten years. As a statement, however, it could not be looked upon as anything else but most unsatisfactory. In fact there was no definite exposition of policy at all. He (Mr. Holton) would not affect to reply at any great length for there was really nothing to comment upon; but, at the same time, he must give the hon. gentleman (Mr. Brown) full credit for the very frank manner in which he had spoken. He only desired to call attention to one important point of the matter, in which he conceived the hon. gentleman had failed to give any explanation. It was this—how do the Government propose to arrive at, or define the limits of the territory claimed by the H.B. Company?

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council] said he had already stated that the Government intended to ask the Company to present their bill, as it were, and then we would negotiate with them.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] did not say but that the reasons given by the hon. gentleman were very good; but what did he say was that the Government had not stated any distinct policy on this very elementary point of the question.

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council]—We would first ask them to show their claim, and we would point out the unjustifiable character of such claims as we might consider unfounded. Of course evert care would be taken to see justice done and the rights of this Province asserted.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] said he was not finding fault—he was only showing that the Government had not done that which they professed to do.

George Brown [Oxford South, President Executive Council] said the Government intended to act without delay on the very liberal concessions made to us by the Imperial Government, subject to the Company’s rights.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] said his point was just this—that the Government had failed to redeem their promise of giving us either a policy of measure on this subject, and that they could not tell us how they were going to define the territorial rights of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and even, supposing they were prepared to deal with this matter, they had given us no idea of how long it would take them to do so.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary]—So long as the circumstances of the case require.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Francis Jones [Leeds & Grenville North]—The longer the better.

Some Hon. MembersLaughter.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] said the House had obtained from the Government no idea of how this territory was to be acquired, and no information as to what we were going to do with it if we got it—in fact we heard nothing we did not know before.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

After some further brief conversation, in which Messrs. Dunkin, Cartwright, McDougall and McGiverin took part, the matter dropped and the orders of the day were taken up.

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