Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, 8th Parl, 4th Sess (6 September 1865)


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Date: 1865-09-06
By: Province of Canada (Parliament), Morning Chronicle
Citation: “Provincial Parliament. Legislative Assembly. Wednesday, September 6th” [Quebec] Morning Chronicle (7 September 1865).
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PROVINCIAL PARLIAMENT

LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

Wednesday, September 6

Settlement of Public Lands


Thomas McConkey [Simcoe North]
moved that the House go into Committee of the Whole on the following resolution:

1. That in the opinion of this House, the free grant of public Lands of the Province to actual settlers of such lands (under such regulations he might be deemed advisable as to terms of settlement) would prove highly beneficial and tend very much to induce emigration to our shores, and to the early and rapid development of the resources of this country.

2. That with a view to encourage actual settlers now in possession of Crown Lands, in the recently organized districts of this Province, it is advisable that a remission of fifty per cent be made in the prices of such lands, and that a similar amount be refunded to actual settlers as may have paid for their lands in full.

3. That it is advisable that the Government should, with all convenient speed resume, and throw into market all lands held for purpose of speculation by absentees, upon which no improvements have been made, and upon which one or two instalments only have been paid; such class of lands while being vastly increased in value by the labor of the actual settler, tend to retard the improvement of the locality in which they are situated, and the country generally.

4. That relief ought to be afforded to a large number of persons in the comparatively new counties in Upper Canada who purchased lands from the Government in the inflated years of 1855 and 1856 at prices far beyond their intrinsic value, such relief to be by a re-valuation of such lands, as wild lands, and the sale confirmed art the reduced price to the occupant thereof, if rightfully in possession.

That the adoption of the principles of the foregoing resolutions in relation to the Crown Lands of the Province, would contribute largely to the increase of a healthy and industrious class of emigrants to this Province from the United Kingdom and other countries of Europe and to a great extent put an end to the immigration from this country of our vigorous and hardy youth, who now seek to obtain homes in the far west of the neighboring republic, where they can be obtained at present with much greater facility than in this Province.

Thomas McConkey [Simcoe North]—The hon. gentleman, in introducing his motion, commented at considerable length upon the present system, and the necessity which existed for a complete reform and revision of the same.

James Cowan [Waterloo South] was sorry to see this important subject attract such little attention at present. The cheapening of land in the country would do more to increase its prosperity than anything else. Until the lands were sold at cost price we could not expect to attract here any considerable emigration. He thought the Government should adopt judicious measures as speedily as possible for the opening up and settlement of our public lands.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary] concurred in the truth of the remark that the House at this late period of the session was not in a temper to discuss the question in the manner it deserved. It had been stated by the Attorney General West [John A. Macdonald] that we hoped to prorogue early next week; and after the full discussion on the matter in the Upper House, and the observations of the Hon. Commissioner of Crown Lands [Alexander Campbell], on behalf of the Government, it seemed a useless expenditure of time to attempt to go over the same ground again.

He (Mr. M) quite sympathised with the sentiments of the mover of the resolutions on this subject. There were a great many opinions as to the best way of settling up the wild lands of the Province. We had tried several modes—free grants, the giving away of lands for meritorious services to the country on the part of those who had fought its battles, and the offering of land at a low rate of purchases. The tendency, had, however, been, of late to reduce the price of lands to the very lowest point; and when we considered the cost to the public of surveys, construction of roads, of other public works, and of the maintenance of the Crown Lands Department itself—for we could not give lands away except through a department of some kind, or at some expense—he thought that when all this was considered, it would be agreed that it was but right to charge something for the land, and that some good results had been obtained.

From this time, however, the whole amount of the crown lands revenue would be absorbed in the expenses of survey and management. If the Legislature were prepared to make the present settlers, in addition to having paid for their own lands, pay still more towards the survey and opening up of lands for strangers arriving into the country, we had better adopt it at once. He had great doubt as to whether it would be fair or just to those who had labored and paid for their lands. The hon. member proposed to reimburse those who had paid extravagant prices for their land the portion beyond their fair value. Well, he was not the Finance Minister, and this was a financial question. If he properly considered this point, and how many millions of dollars would have to be spent to carry out this scheme, he would, doubtless, hesitate un recommending it.

There was no doubt that the best lands were in the hands of the settlers and speculators. We knew very well there were great difficulties to be encountered by the settlers on Crown lands. He (Mr. M.) quite sympathised with the policy recommended by the mover—that of reducing the price of the land recently surveyed was, in fact, a timber country in the Ottawa and Huron districts—and was not generally fit for agricultural settlement. There were, however, tracts here and there adopted to settlement. All the expressions of opinion on thus subject would have due weight, and he trusted that, as soon as it could be done, the Government would effect ameliorations and improvements of the nature advocated.

There were, however, many considerations to be regarded, including the rights of present owners of land in the Province. As to the subject of speculation in lands, many of those who had brought lands during the land excitement at inflated prices were farmers and others who had intended to settle them themselves or give them to their children, but who had not been able to carry out their intentions. They held land, but could not be called speculators. To reconsider the rights and claims of parties called speculators would entail an amount of work, trouble and expense beyond reason. The things done under the system prevailing hitherto must remain.

The land policy of past Governments had been, in many respects a wrong one. There was no question that in handing over very large tracts of land to the Canada, British American land and other companies at very lower prices, and allowing them to hold those lands for years, and compel actual settlers to pay very large prices therefor, imprudent acts were committed. We could not, however, rectify this wrong in a day. All we could do was to adopt the policy which the present wants of the country indicated to be the best.

He had expressed his opinion that we ought to advance in the direction advocated, and reduce the price of the land to a sum that would barely cover the cost of survey and management. When that was done he believed that all a Government could do, or ought to do, in addition to the construction of roads and making of surveys, would be done.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary]—There were mistaken ideas to the settlement of the wild lands. It was not generally the emigrant who went into the bush and began clearing the forest; but those who penetrated into the wilderness were the sons of the old farmers, and emigrants, and others who had lived in the country some years, gone through a course of preparation, and learnt the various operations necessary in cleaning and settling the lands.

Thomas McConkey [Simcoe North]—For what purpose, then, have we Ministers of Emigration and Agriculture?

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary] said the Government had other duties to perform. Emigrants were wanted for all that, there being plenty of labor for them of a kind they were qualified to perform; but the work they were fit for was not in the direction pointed out. A few emigrants had lived in the country some time and learnt the business of farming here, and acquired a little money; they would go along the new roads and begin farming for themselves. Great misfortune had overtaken some of the emigrants, including Germans and Norwegians, who had settled on the long roads, through the free grants; they had got into a poor district, and being far removed from the old settlements, without money or special training for farming here, they suffered great distress and were glad to escape from the country, which they did with the aid of friends in the Western States.

As long as the great prairies of the West offered the same facilities and advantages to emigrants form the old world who had a taste for that kind of land, as at present, they would not penetrate into our northern forests and clear them up. It was by the young men of our own population, who were capable of settling the wild lands that they would be colonized, if the Government performed its duty in the way he pointed out.

Any notion that, by giving away money or land, we should attract a great influx of emigrants and then settle them, untrained, upon the land really unfit for settlement must, if carried out, end in failure. He thought that, after the full discussion that had taken place in the Upper House, on this subject, and after the Hon. Mr. Macpherson had withdrawn his resolutions, similar to those before us, satisfied with the indications of policy given by the hon. Commissioner of Crown Lands [Alexander Campbell], the member for North Simcoe (Mr. McConkey), would content himself with having expressed his views without pressing them upon the House.

Hope Mackenzie [Oxford North] thought that the only way to have our wild lands settled was to initiate some great public works, which would attract emigrants and others hither. The Ottawa Canada would be such a work. He wished to ask the Provincial Secretary [William McDougall] whether it was the intention of the Government to bring into the market the available portion of the Manitoulin Island land, and whether they had yet fixed the price?

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary] said that the claim or title of the Indians to a portion of the land was extinguished, under a treaty, and some three or four townships were surveyed. An arrangement was made at the time of the treaty that the Indians on the surrendered portion should have a year to make selections of other lands to which they were entitled. The time had now, probably, elapsed, and he presumed the Indians had made their selections. The price of the lands had not been settled; and the revenue deprived from them belonged to the Indian Fund, and had been treated in a somewhat different way from Crown lands. He desired to place as high a price upon them as could be obtained to realize all possible for the benefit of the Indians.

Hope Mackenzie [Oxford North had heard the Government had fixed the price at $1 an acre. He had hoped that a higher price would be fixed.

Thomas Parker [Wellington North] thanked his hon. friend for North Simcoe for bringing this matter forward. Notwithstanding the apparent apathy which attended the discussion in this House, there was a very strong feeling of its importance throughout the country. There was one portion of the policy of the Government from which he differed, inasmuch as it seemed to have the tendency to promote the settlement of the country, instead of allowing the lands to be locked up in the possession of speculators.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary] said that the legal opinion, after duly considering the question, was to the effect that the Government could not resume the lands in question until the time for payment had expired.

In relation to Alonzo Wright [Ottawa County]

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary] said that if the policy enunciated in another branch of the Legislature were adopted, of course settlers’ licenses would not be issued.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Alonzo Wright [Ottawa County] said that he believed, from his own experience, that the regulations in respect to the point he alluded to were eminently fair, and he trusted they would not be altered.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Alonzo Wright [Ottawa County]—The hon. gentleman concluded by bearing testimony to the energy and perseverance of settlers who came direct from the old country.

Matthew Cameron [Ontario North] would like to know how the Government intended to act towards actual settlers who happened to be somewhat behind-hand in the payment of their instalments? The case of some of those person was one of great hardship, and he thought the matter deserved serious consideration. Commenting upon the explanations of the Hon. Provincial Secretary [William McDougall] and the exceptions taken thereto by some hon. gentleman opposite, the hon. member went on to say that it was absurd to say that speculators could be actually prevented from purchasing. All that could be done would be to carry out more strictly the regulations on the subject which we had in force, or to render the rules relative to forfeiture more distinct.

William Powell [Carleton] said he questioned very much whether the resolutions or the discussion arising thereon would have any good practical effect. He thought they would rather tend to unsettle the whole subject more particularly with regard to are rears. But the fact was that his hon. friend the member for North Simcoe (Mr. McConkey) as well as his hon. colleague in the other branch of the Legislature, appeared to be troubled with “settler on the brain,” and he questioned much whether it would not be judicious for the Hon. Minister of Agriculture [Thomas D’Arcy McGee], in his bill on contagious diseases, to introduce a clause to prevent the spread of this particular ailment, which had made its way from one House to the other. Coming to the merits of the subject, however, he was free to confess that our system was wrong. Our Commissioners of Crown Lands [Alexander Campbell] were men who would compare favorable in ability with the public men of any other country. The great defect, however, was that their time and talents appeared to be frittered away on small questions of disputed rights to lots or something of that kind—matters which should be referred to some judicial officer for decision, instead of occupying the Commissioner, whose attention ought to be directed to the general land policy of the country.

Arthur Rankin [Essex] spoke at considerable length on the bill. He objected to the sweeping attacks made upon speculators, and urged that those who were this charged with having retarded the progress of the country had, in reality, done much to promote its prosperity. He fully concurred in the opinion of hon. Members that this was a most important question and should receive attention. Alluding to the policy which had been indicated, he was of opinion that an uniform price for lands should be adopted. There should also be some change so as to enable the purchaser to get his patent at once. There was one point upon which he desired to lay particular stress, and that the distinction which was made in price between lands for agricultural purposes and mining lands—the price of the latter being five times that of the former. He did not see that there was any reason for such distinction. It was irrational in the extreme, and could not possibly be defended by any course of logic. Why should the man who undertook to develope the resources of the country be made to pay five times as much as any other person? After spending a large sum, he might, perhaps, find that his labors were fruitless. Was it not most unfair that the man who undertook a risk of this kind with a view of working the natural riches of the country, should be made to pay an unreasonable rate? If a distinction were made, it should, he thought, be made in favor of the purchaser for mining purposes.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Robert Bell [Russell] said he desired particularly to draw attention to one point—namely, the wide-spread feeling of dissatisfaction which, it was evident, existed in reference to the management of our public lands. It was not for him to say whether this was caused by the system—it sufficed for us to know that such a feeling existed ought to be sufficient to induce us to devote our attention to it.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Robert Bell [Russell]—From his own personal knowledge, he could say that the system was far from satisfactory and very far from beneficial. He found it to be so both East and West, and he knew that a feeling of disappointment existed. It was a cause of regret that such should be the case, as it was important that the land-grant department should possess the full and entire confidence of the public.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Robert Bell [Russell]—It should be in the very highest state of efficiency. It was, he believed, in connexion with the latter point what complaint was principally made. It was right, therefore, that attention should be directed to the matter, and that it should receive due consideration. After a candid expression of opinion from every hon. member, the Government would be in a better position to shape its course on this important subject.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee [Montreal West, Minister of Agriculture and Statistics] said he had no objection to the first and last of the resolutions submitted, but the second and fourth were open to the objection urged by the member for Carleton, that they would entail a refunding of 50 per cent of the price of lands already paid for, and purchased at more than their value during the years of speculation and inflation. He thought the latter mentioned two could not be carried into practical effect. With the general propositions of the first and second he should heartily concur, and he lived in the hope of seeing these principles part of the policy of the country, and that before long. The only thing he objected to in the last resolution was the assertion of opinion in the last line as to the effect that our vigorous and hardy youth were now seeking to obtain in the far West, what could be had with greater facility than in Canada. He thought that if the Parliament of Canada were to say to the people in Europe about to seek for homes un the New World, they could easier and better obtain them in another country, not under our Government or regulations, that we would pass a severe verdict of condemnation on ourselves, and warn persons not to come to this part of America.

He laid down this broad proposition—that, taking all in all, there was no home an emigrant could make in the far west of the United States which had more advantages at present than a home he could make in this country, even under our present land system, defective as it was. The attractions to the United States were large of course; for a market of 30,000,000. But what was all this talk about prairie country? He admitted the backwood country of Canada were most difficult to pioneer. But one of the greatest wants of the emigrant in the prairie country was wood. He had no wood at all, neither for fuel, nor fencing, and had to import it from a distance. A prairie country had its disadvantages as well as its advantages. It had its swamp fever and malaria and annual diseases not known in Canada.

An Hon. Member—They have no water either.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee [Montreal West, Minister of Agriculture and Statistics]—After they raised all those exuberant crops were so much talked about, what had they to do in many places? Why actually to make fuel of their corn, in consequence of their remoteness from any great water communication by which to send their produce to the sea. Those were some of the drawbacks to the prairie lands. He entirely dissented from, and was sorry to hear the sentiment uttered by the Hon. Provincial Secretary [William McDougall], that the emigrant was unfit for the work of pioneer.

William McDougall [Lanark North, Provincial Secretary]—It is a fact.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee [Montreal West, Minister of Agriculture and Statistics] said it was not the fact. If you took all the United Empire Loyalists into account, and all the migrants that came from Scotland and other countries from 1791, it would be found that a very large portion of the transatlantic men succeeded as farmers, as well as those from the other side of Niagara.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee [Montreal West, Minister of Agriculture and Statistics]—He had found, in the new lands of Iowa and Wisconsin, Irish and German emigrants farming successfully alongside of native American pioneers. One might see as many per cent of the foreigners, as of the natives, succeeding in these settlements; because they were used to hardships at home, and could withstanding them and deprivations better than the well-fed sons of the American farmers. He would state why we had not maintained our former large percentage of European emigration. During the last four years of the American war emigration to the States was made a recruiting business, every adult male getting $400, and his passage paid to America.

Well, the Legislature of the United States in 1861 passed the Homestead Act. This was certainly an attraction, and he thought that if we were to compete successfully with them for the emigrants arriving in America, we must pass some similar act as an attraction to the industrial classes. Besides, the old contract system was resorted to persons contracted to send out emigrants to the States, whose labor was pledged for the payment of their passage. This resulted in sending large numbers to the American shores. To show the jealousy of the United States in matters of immigration, he might state that Commissioners of Emigration at New York had refused permission to the Canadian Government to station an agent in that city to direct emigrants for Canada to this country. The United States Government refused to grant any privileges in this matter pending the war.

With reference to the statement of the hon. member for Cornwall [John Sandfield Macdonald], about a falling off in emigration during his (Mr. McGee’s) tenure of office this year, the fact was that up to the 1st of September, 1865, two thousand more emigrants had arrived here from the British Isles than in the same period of last year. He was bound to say that he did not believe the larger number of the emigrants intended to remain in this Province; the destination of 9,000 out of the 16,000 who had arrived had been ascertained, that of the remainder not having been so was not learned through some unexplained reason.

The 9,000 were nearly divided into two equal parts; 4,157 were destined for the United States, and 4,921 for different parts of Canada. With regard to the question of Confederation, he did believe the passing of that measure would largely increase the number of persons coming to our shore. It would give us a name and reputation abroad. When we have a large field for our industry, and various and diversified employments for our people, with one Government making and administering the law on those subjects affecting the welfare of the settler, we would have the full emigrant-ship coming to our shores, and British North America would be a popular name in Britain to attract its people to our shores.

He trusted that Confederation would open a new era of large attractive public works to be constructed East and West, and the capital of which to be extended over the future which it would benefit as well as us. We should liberalize our legislation and property superintend our administration of affairs and leave no stone unturned to increase our population, remembering that for peace or for war the best barrier for a free State was more men—a large population living by their own industry and discharging honestly the duties of the country whether in peace or war.

Some Hon. MembersCheers.

Frederick Haultain [Peterborough] said that some of the peculiar views of the Hon. Provincial Secretary [William McDougall], on the subject of settlement, with which he (Col. Haultain) differed, had been most ably controverted by the Hon. Minister of Agriculture [Thomas D’Arcy McGee]. He did not believe that our lands for settlement were exhausted or that settlers could not find a home in our midst. They suffered hardships incidental to their position no doubt, but the hardships decreased in severity every year; but he would venture to say that their position was much better than that of the corresponding class in the mother-country. The hon. gentleman went on to argue that it was of the first importance that we should have good military roads—macadamized roads of the very best order—inasmuch as they would serve the purpose of opening up the country as well, and at the same time give immediate employment to emigrants coming here to settle.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

James Dickson [Huron & Bruce] said that our system in relation to public lands was extremely bad, and this Government, though a strong Government, were no better in this respect than their predecessors.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

James Dickson [Huron & Bruce]—The hon. gentleman went on to relate his own experiences of the difficulty of settlement for many years past. The Hon. Provincial Secretary [William McDougall] was wrong in deprecating the amount of work done towards the prosperity of the country by settlers from the old country. He could speak for the country of Huron, and he knew that if its development had been left the native population it would not have made such progress as it had made.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

James Dickson [Huron & Bruce]—An unfavorable comparison between emigrants and natives should not have been made by the Hon. Provincial Secretary [William McDougall], inasmuch as North Lanark had, he believed, been to a great extent settled by Paisley weavers.

Some Hon. Members—Hear hear, and laughter.

James Dickson [Huron & Bruce]—The hon. gentleman went on in detail to denounce the system in force respecting the Crown Lands in the extremity, as being very defective.

It being about six o’clock—

Thomas McConkey [Simcoe North] said that as he understood this matter could not come up after recess, he was therefore not desirous of pressing it just now.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

An Hon. Member—It cannot come up at half-past seven.

Christopher Dunkin [Brome]—There is no occasion however to drop the resolution.

It being six o’clock, the Speaker left the Chair, putting an end to the discussion.

The Legislative Assembly stopped for dinner recess.

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