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
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
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.
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
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.