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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XXX.—The Railway Era—To 1852


Political and commercial emancipation of Canada—Rapid progress caused by Reciprocity with the United States, Railway and Steamship enterprises, and Municipal Institutions-»1850. Postal reform-Northern Railway begun—Grand Trunk and Great Western Railways projected-Retirement of Robert Baldwin from the Ministry-Francis Hincks becomes Premier—His fiscal policy—1851. Municipal Loan Fund Act-1852.

From the year 1850, the British North American colonies may be said to have entered on a new era—to have reached their political manhood. The period of tutelage, of government from Downing Street, had passed away. The right to the management of their own local affairs was conceded by the Home authorities, and that of responsible government was vindicated in the colonies. The British Government reserved only the right of disallowing any acts of legislation opposed to imperial interests, and on the other hand assumed the burthen of colonial defence. Canada was thus one of the most lightly taxed and favourably situated countries in the world, and offered great inducements to the influx of capital and immigration, and soon entered upon a career of remarkable prosperity.

The colonies were permitted to trade freely with any part of the world, to import as they pleased, subject to a tariff fixed by themselves, and to develop home manufactures and j home enterprises as they saw fit. Commercial reciprocity with the United States caused an immense development of international trade, and largely increased the value of every acre of land, of every bushel of wheat, and of every head of cattle in the country.

This prosperity was further increased by the extraordinary development of Canadian railway enterprises, and the consequent opening up of new parts of the country and increased facilities for travel and transport throughout its entire extent. Facilities for trade were still further increased by the establishment of the transatlantic line of steamships. Quebec and Montreal were thus brought within speedy and regular communication with Great Britain, to the immense commercial advantage of those cities. The introduction and rapid extension of telegraphic communication also greatly facilitated the transaction of business.

The establishment of municipal institutions created an intelligent interest in the local management of public affairs, and stimulated a spirit of local enterprise and improvement. The legalizing of municipal loan funds, the formation of joint stock companies and expansion of banking institutions, promoted the introduction of capital and its profitable employment.

The secularization of the clergy reserves and the abolition of seigniorial tenure removed impediments to material prosperity and causes of popular discontent; the consolidation of the legal code simplified the administration of justice; and the thorough organization of the public school system and growth of newspaper and publishing enterprise contributed to the diffusion of general intelligence.

These important subjects must now be alluded to some-what more in detail.

In 1850, the seat- of government was transferred to Toronto. The magnificent system of internal navigation, by means of the Canadian lakes, rivers and canals, was increased in value by lighthouses and other improvements, and was soon to be largely supplemented by an extensive railway system. The first sod of the Northern Railway of Canada —the pioneer of Canadian railway enterprises, except a short section in Lower Canada—was turned amid imposing ceremonies by Lady Elgin. The Grand Trunk line, connecting the lakes with tide water, and the Great Western Railway, connecting at the Niagara and Detroit rivers with the railway systems of the United States, were regarded as of great practical utility.

The growing political influence of what might be called the extreme wing of the Reform party, popularly designated the "Clear Grits," from their supposed intense radicalism, led in 18by to a reorganization of the cabinet. Mr. Robert Baldwin retired from office, outvoted on a measure connected with the Court of Chancery. In the new cabinet were Dr. Rolph, the former rebel but now pardoned refugee, and Malcolm Cameron, and Mr. Hincks became premier by right of his predominant influence in the ministry, and entered upon that fiscal policy which at once so greatly aided the development of the country and increased its financial burdens.

In 1852, Quebec became the seat of government. During a busy session of three months, one hundred and ninety-three acts were duly passed. No less than twenty-eight of these had reference to railway matters—an evidence of the enthusiasm which had taken possession of the public mind on this subject.

Another piece of legislation introduced by Mr. Hincks, which largely increased the public indebtedness, was the establishment of the consolidated Municipal Loan Fund for Upper Canada. The intention, and to a certain degree the result, of this measure were beneficent. It enabled municipalities to obtain money for local improvements, roads, bridges, and railway construction, which proved of great and permanent value to the country. Encouraged by the facilities for raising money, however, some municipalities rushed into rash expenditure and incurred debts the burden of which, in consequence of their inability to meet their engagements, fell upon the Government. The expenditure under this scheme, and its extension to Lower Canada, soon increased the public debt by the amount of nearly ten millions. "

During this session, by the Parliamentary Representation Act, the number of members of the Assembly was raised from eighty-four to one hundred and thirty—sixty-five for each province—and the representation was more equitably distributed territorially.


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