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The Prairie Provinces
Chapter XIV. The Organization of the North-West Territories


At the time the British North America Act was framed, the extension of the boundaries of the Dominion of Canada to the Pacific coast was evidently kept in view. A section of the Act made provision for the “admission of Rupert’s Land and the North-West Territories into the Union on such terms and conditions as the Queen thinks fit to approve.” Soon after the passing of the Act steps were taken by the Dominion Government to get control of the vast territory lying between Ontario and British Columbia, and to provide for a form of government, and the establishment of institutions similar to those of the other provinces. In an address forwarded to Her Majesty the wish was expressed that Rupert’s Land and the North-West Territories should be added to the Dominion of Canada and that authority should be granted to the Parliament of Canada to pass laws for their future welfare.

The part known as Rupert’s Land, roughly described as the “territory watered by streams flowing into Hudson’s Bay,” had been, since 1670, under the control of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the Company had been given almost absolute power respecting its government and control.

With characteristic energy the Company had extended the boundaries beyond this territory and had established trading-posts in many places farther

west. In order to get the rights and privileges, which were enjoyed, out of the hands of the Company, the Rupert’s Land Act was passed.

This Act outlined the conditions upon which the powers hitherto possessed by the Company, other than their trading privileges, should be transferred to the Parliament of Canada. By terms mutually agreed upon, the Company gave up all its rights of government and in return was given a money grant of £300,000 and in addition a large amount of land.

The Dominion Parliament kept in view the admission of the vast areas lying between Ontario and British Columbia, and made provision for their government by passing an act in 1869 which provided for the appointment of a lieutenant governor, who, acting under such instructions as he received from the Governor General in Council, might be empowered to make such laws and ordinances as were necessary for the good government of the people. The lieutenant governor was to be aided by a council of not more than fifteen, nor less than seven, persons to be appointed by the Governor in Council. In the administration of affairs their powers were to be, from time to time, as defined by such Orders in Council as should be passed by the government at Ottawa. In 1870 the Territories became a part of the Dominion of Canada. Provision was made by the Dominion Government for the temporary administration of the North-West Territories, as the yet unorganized portion was called, by the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, assisted by a council of eleven members, whose appointment rested with the Dominion authorities. From this time until the establishment of the provinces such legislation as was passed by the Dominion Parliament applied to the Territories as to the other parts of Canada.

Nothing was done in the Territories respecting local self-government until 1872, when Lieutenant Governor Morris of Manitoba was granted a commission to act as Lieutenant Governor, and was given a council of eleven members to assist him in his administration.

In 1875 was passed the North-West Territories Act, which provided for the Miller organization of the Territories by the appointment of the first resident Lieutenant Governor, the Hon. David Laird, who was given a council of five persons to assist him in the administration of affairs. The council was given certain defined powers and such other powers as might from time to time be conferred by Order in Council.

All laws and ordinances which were in force in the Territories were to continue unless repealed by the Dominion Government. Provision was made for the establishment of electoral districts and of a legislative assembly as soon as the number of elected members of the council should reach twenty-one. Provision was also made for direct taxation for local purposes and for the establishment of municipalities in the electoral districts.

Pending the erection of the government buildings at Battleford, the first legislative session of the council of the Territories was held in 1877 at Livingstone on the Swan River. Battleford was the chosen seat of government, and here the sessions of the Council were held in 1878, 1879 and 1881. The members of the council were Hugh Richardson, Esq., afterwards the Hon. Mr. Justice Richardson, Matthew Ryan, Esq., and Lieutenant Colonel J. F. McLeod, C.M.G., afterwards the Hon. Mr. Justice McLeod. In 1882, a large portion of the North-West Territories was again divided into four provisional districts for administrative purposes, namely, Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Athabaska.

Prior to the advent of the railway in 1882, there were only a few sparse settlements in widely separated portions of this vast country. At that time the principal settlements were at Fort Qu’Appelle, Prince Albert, St. Laurent on the south branch of the Saskatchewan, Battleford and Edmonton, with small settlements around some of the Hudson’s Bay and North-West Mounted Police posts, such as Macleod, Calgary, Carlton and Fort Saskatchewan.

The rapid construction of the Canadian Pacific railroad and, subsequently, the rapid increase in settlement of the country near the railway made necessary a change in the location of the seat of government. In 1882 Regina was selected as the capital, and the sessions of the Legislative Assembly have been held there regularly since 1883.

To show the rapidity with which settlement followed the construction of the railroad, it may be stated that while in 1881 only one elected member sat at the meetings of the Council, namely, the member for Lorne (Prince Albert), in 1883, at the first session held at Regina, six districts were represented. These were Lorne, Edmonton, Broadview, Qu’Appelle, Regina and Moose Jaw. In 1883 the North-West Council consisted of twelve members, six of whom were appointed and six elected; and in 1884 of seven appointed and eight elected members. The number of elected members gradually increased until 1888, when the Parliament of Canada passed an act which replaced the Council of the Territories by a Legislative Assembly composed of twenty-two members elected by the people.

At the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly in 1888 all the ordinances of the Territories were revised and consolidated. Prom the Assembly the Lieutenant Governor chose four members as an advisory council in matters of finance. An unwise restriction by the Lieutenant Governor of the right of the council to control the expenditure cf money led to the resignation of .the members in the following year. As in the older provinces, the battle for responsible government was begun. The struggle, however, was of short duration, for in 1891 the Dominion Parliament granted to the executive the privileges it demanded. The number of members in the Assembly was from time to time increased by subsequent legislation, until finally there were thirty-five members. The powers granted to the Assembly by the Dominion Parliament were likewise increased, and at the time of the formation of the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta they were in nearly every respect equal to those of the other provinces.


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