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Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations
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Photograph: Encampment on the Red River, Hind Expedition, 1857-58 - National Archives of Canada / C-004572
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Canada-U.S. Relations (1842 - 1903)

Throughout the mid-to-late 19th century, Canada had a topsy-turvy relationship with America. There were also threats of American expansionism into land on the prairie that the colonial or federal government wanted to occupy. A group of Irish invaders called the Fenians even used the United States as a springboard for attacks on the British colonies. These threats from America were one of the prime motivations many colonies had for joining Confederation.

During this period, there were also a few border disputes between the nations that helped lower Canadian sentiment towards America. This was in spite of the fact the two nations had engaged in free trade briefly and that some Americans were coming to Canada to settle.

Topics in this section:

The Ashburton-Webster Treaty, 1842
The Reciprocity Treaty, 1854 - 1866
The Palliser and Hind Expedition, 1857 -1860
The Fenian Threat, 1866 - 1871
American Immigration
The Alaska Boundary Dispute, 1903
Other Important or Interesting Documents

The Ashburton-Webster Treaty, 1842

Painting: A surveyor in the Maine - New Brunswick Boundary Commission party - National Archives of Canada / C-135031
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This treaty is sometimes also known as the Treaty of Washington. Several sources of friction going back to the Treaty of Paris, 1783 were removed as a result, as this treaty did two things in relation to British North America:

  • It set the British North America-U.S. boundary from Lake Huron to the Lake of the Woods region west of Lake Superior.

  • More controversially, it set the border between the two countries between Maine and New Brunswick. This settled a land and timber resources dispute.

The latter item was controversial, because it allowed Acadian settlements south of the Saint John River to slip into the United States. This was seen as a move Britain made to please the Americans they engaged in a bloodless standoff with in New England over the issue in 1839.

French settlements that remained in New Brunswick were allowed to retain their language and culture. However, Acadian settlements that slipped into the American side gradually became assimilated into American culture.

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Correspondence respecting the Commission for tracing the Boundary Line between Her Majesty's Possessions in North America and the United States, under the Treaty signed at Washington, August 9, 1842

 
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The Reciprocity Treaty, 1854 - 1866

In 1854, British North America and the United States signed a reciprocity treaty or "free trade agreement". This treaty was particularly beneficial for the Maritimes because it allowed fishermen from the Atlantic region of British North America to fish in American waters without many conditions placed on them. Also, agricultural goods, among other imported items, could be brought into Canada free of customs duties under the terms of this treaty. Naturally, this period became one of increased trade with the U.S.

However, the American government gave notice to Britain in 1865 that it wanted to end its involvement in the treaty. Its cancellation the following year was a major reason why many British North American colonies decided to pursue Confederation, since the merger would provide new trading partnerships.

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Memorandum on the fisheries question, 1870 (A description of what led up to, during and after the Reciprocity Treaty with regard to the fisheries.)

 
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The Palliser and Hind Expeditions, 1857 -1860

By 1855, the last remaining piece of wild land in Canada West (formerly Upper Canada) was sold for settlement. This allowed politicians to look to the prairies as a possible region to open up for immigrants. Starting in 1857, two explorers named John Palliser and Henry Youle Hind would set out on a "scientific expedition" to discover if this land was suitable for mass settlement.

However, Palliser's expedition had another purpose. It was to survey the 49th parallel as a possible western border between the U.S. and Canada. This was crucial as America created massive east-west Intercolonial railways during the 1860s, a move that some in British North America viewed as an attempt by the Americans to expand their territory into what was to become Canada.

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Narrative of Red River Expedition (Hind expedition), 1857, Vol. I

 
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Narrative of Red River Expedition, 1857 Vol. II

 
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Palliser Expedition notes, 1857 - 1860

 
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Papers calling for the removal of the (British) seat of government and the (United States) annexation movement, 1850

 
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The Fenian Threat, 1866 - 1871

 

Photograph: Portrait of Thomas D'Arcy McGee - National Archives of Canada / C-016749
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The Fenian movement began in the United Kingdom in 1857 to secure Irish independence from Britain. An American wing soon sprouted up, however, and by 1865 it had about 10,000 Civil War veterans signed up for duty and roughly $500,000 in reserve.

The goal of this American arm was to invade British North America to draw support for its cause.

In April 1866, the Fenians tried to invade New Brunswick. While they were successfully repelled, this invasion underscored to many the necessity for having a unified country that could easily stop cross-border invasions or rebellions.

While the Fenian threat did taper off somewhat after Confederation, three other notable events involving this group occurred:

  • In 1868, an alleged Fenian named James Patrick Whelan is said to have assassinated a somewhat unpopular Irish politician named Thomas D'Arcy McGee. (There were errors made in Whelan's trial that have led some historians to question his guilt in the matter.)

  • In 1870, two small Fenian raids were made on Québec.

  • In 1871, a group of Fenians attempted to enter Manitoba. They'd hoped to win the support of Louis Riel and the Métis, and draw attention to their cause by staging a rebellion. However, this group was stopped just before they reached the Canada-U.S. border by American authorities.

The creation of the North West Mounted Police in 1873 finally, more or less, put an end to the threat of Fenian attacks.

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An act to provide for the widow and children of the late honourable Thomas D'Arcy McGee, 22 May 1868

Acte pour autoriser Sa Majesté à secourir la veuve et les enfants de l'honorable Thomas D'Arcy McGee

READ the summary
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Correspondence regarding the recent Fenian aggression upon Canada, 1867?

 
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Documents relatifs aux incursion des rebelles sudistes sur la frontiére des États-Unis et à l'ivasion du Canada par les Féniens, 1869?

 
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The Poems of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, 1869

 
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American Immigration

Photograph: Covered wagons from the United States in Southern Alberta - National Archives of Canada / C-037957
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While the Canadian public generally didn't like Americans immigrating to western Canada, the federal government supported the movement of Americans into the country at times. This was because:

  • Americans were generally wealthier than European migrants, which meant they were usually more self-reliant.

  • America was closer for the purposes of bringing in skilled labour.

  • Americans in the northern states were already used to our climate and may have been aware of some Canadian customs.

While American immigration was fairly slow until the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890s, Canada attracted a few American labourers looking for seasonal or permanent jobs. Carpenters were needed to build houses. So were bridge builders and mechanics for work on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).

Cattlemen from the U.S. also moved northward for a time, thanks to available year-round grazing land in what's now southern Alberta.

 

Did you know?

In 1884, Britain was concerned about importing tainted beef livestock from areas of the United States through Canada. The affected cattle were feared to have a disease called contagious bovine pleuropneumonia - a slow-spreading illness affecting the lungs and joints. Unlike modern worries over the transmission of mad cow disease to humans, this disease was solely limited to cattle. It was a serious enough illness, though, that mass beef quarantines and slaughters were often ordered in the 1880s. This disease was finally eradicated in America by 1892.

 

There were high tariffs on items shipped from America to Canada after Confederation. This led some American companies to set up "branch plants" in Canada where manufacturing took place as a means of getting around these tax laws.

Religious groups like the Mormons were allowed generous plots of land, particularly just after the turn of the 20th century. This was because they were hardy and good at agriculture.

For the most part, though, American migration to the Prairies was fairly slow until about 1910. This was partly due to the fact that the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) had a 20-year monopoly on land extending south of its line from 1885. This meant that American rail companies couldn't hook up branch lines connecting to Canadian railway without paying outrageous sums of money to the CPR.

Most settlers, thus, would have to come to Canada through existing north-south rail service to Winnipeg. This was out of the way for most of those living in the western half of America. Also, the North West Rebellion of 1885 painted Canada's west in a negative light. Rumours circulated stateside about Canada's savage, untamed wilderness thanks to this skirmish.

The Alaska Boundary Dispute, 1903

 Map: Alaska Boundary Dispute, 1903
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A longstanding dispute between Canada and the United States about the border of Alaska shared with the Yukon Territory broke out in the late 19th century.

When Alaska was purchased by America from the Russians in 1867, the territory came with its boundaries fixed by a treaty dating back to 1825. This boundary included areas covered by deep fjords along Alaska southern coastline.

In 1897, a gold rush broke out in the Yukon Territory that attracted an influx of prospectors and would-be settlers. Since the quickest means of arriving in the Yukon was to come by steamship up the coast, travel to the region became complicated for Canadian citizens. Prospectors would have to stop in American territory and be approved for entry into that country before they could continue their journey into the Yukon. This made many Canadians afraid that the Americans were over-asserting their authority over who could enter the Yukon and, thus, Canada.

A 1903 tribunal featuring three Americans, two Canadians and a British chief justice named Lord Alverstone was formed to look into the matter. Rather than create a deadlock and anger America by siding with Canada, Alverstone suggested a compromise. He allowed the United States to keep most of the disputed land in exchange for four islands that would now belong to Canada.

Canada also received slightly more territory just beyond the coastal edge of the deep inland bays under this deal. However, Canada didn't get any land along the coast itself.

This made many Canadians at the time particularly angry, because they now felt Britain was asserting its treaty rights over Canada. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, however, admitted that there was little that Canada could do, since Britain still exerted a great deal of parliamentary and judicial power over the country. The Canadian government didn't act to appeal this decision either, probably because by 1903 the gold rush was over.

Did you know?

Robert Service famously wrote many poems and one novel about the Klondike Gold Rush. However, he didn't live in the Yukon until 1904, long after most prospectors had left.

 

Photograph: Mount Hood, Alaska, by moonlight - National Archives of Canada / C-028659
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Copy of a (British Columbia) report ... on the question of a boundary between Canada and Alaska, 1885

 
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Correspondence respecting the proceedings of the joint commission on the questions pending the United States and Canada, 1898 - 1899

 
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Memorandum on the boundary between Canada and Alaska, 1899

 
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Further Correspondence respecting the proceedings of the joint commission on the questions pending the United States and Canada, 1900

 
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For more information on the topics discussed here, please visit the Canadian Encyclopedia online.

 

Other Interesting or Important Documents:

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