William Thomas Rochester Preston.

The life and times of Lord Strathcona, by W. T. R. Preston online

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in 1839, an< ^ was t ^ ie ^ rst ^ me an -d stone building
erected between Lake Superior and the western slopes
of the Rocky Mountains. Within the five acres sur-
rounded by these loop-holed stone walls and mediaeval
bastions, from which a shot had never been fired,
more than half a continent had been peacefully
governed. It was the great meeting-place of the



east, the west and the north. Representatives of
the Company from the Arctic Circle to the sunny
slopes of the Pacific, from the north of Hudson Bay
to country inhabited by the fierce tribes in the more
western of the United States, from the Lakes to the
heights of the Rockies, gathered once a year around
the hospitable board of the Deputy-Governor to
exchange long-pent-up confidences.

Here was the flotilla of boats with supplies for the
interior in exchange for furs brought to this point
by the trusted servants of the Company. Here, too,
would take place that distribution of letters, periodicals
and newspapers that told of the changes taking place
in the outside world, the coming and going of empires
and dynasties long after the events had taken place.
Representatives would settle the policy to be carried
out for another year in a few hours which it would
take statesmen months or years to decide under ordinary
red-tape conditions. The fashions in furs to be
adopted in Paris would be settled in much the same
expeditious manner. In those far-off days the curse
of civilization and its greed for gold had not blighted
their finer susceptibilities. It was the meeting-place
of the self-sacrificing and faithful, who, while serving
the Company, were holding an empire for unborn
generations. Their wants were few, their honesty
absolute, their loyalty unquestioned. Here, also,
was an outpost of science. While the Jesuit mission-
aries were at the same time trying to learn the secrets
of Nature controlling seismism and atmospheric
cataclysms in the Philippine Islands and throughout


the Indian Ocean, the officials of the Hudson's Bay
Company were collecting in their archives at the
mouth of the Red River records of the meteorological
and agricultural secrets of the " frozen north." To
realize the extent of these researches one must examine
the originals, as the writer has had an opportunity of
doing. Yet a singular difference in the methods
adopted by these two great inquiring agencies is
noticeable. The Jesuits lost no time in making their
discoveries known to the world, while the Hudson's
Bay Company records largely remained a secret until
their jurisdiction over the territory ceased.

The annexation of the Hudson's Bay Territory was
immediately followed by representation being accorded
to the new country in the Canadian Parliament. It
was perfectly natural that the first member to be elected
in 1871 should be the Vice-Governor of the Company,
Donald A. Smith. When he took his seat in the
House of Commons as a supporter of the Government
of the day, which was led by Sir John Macdonald,
he was heartily received by both political parties as
the representative of the New West. On all sides
it was recognized that his presence at Ottawa marked
a distinct advance in the aspirations of the young
Dominion. The Liberals welcomed Donald A. Smith,
not in his personal capacity as a supporter of the
administration, but as the representative of the
territory, the control of which by the Government
of Canada they had long advocated. But neither
side guessed in that typical western figure the
hidden power which was destined to mould the


history of the country to his own purposes, nor that
so many of their number, whether willing or not,
should be in his hands as the clay to the potter.
From this point may be dated a romantic career,
more interesting in all its details, and more far-reaching
in its results upon the commercial, social and political
life of the Dominion of Canada, than has been fur-
nished by any other individual in the history of the
British Colonies.

It has been suggested that a marked similarity exists
between the lives and characters of Donald A. Smith
and Cecil Rhodes at this point of their Parliamentary
careers. A careful survey of the situation, however,
shows no resemblance whatever in the early stages of the
public life of these two great Colonials. Cecil Rhodes
was dreaming of an Empire with no personal advantages
to himself, Donald A. Smith was dreaming of the
development of an Empire that might be turned to
his personal aggrandizement ; and as their dreams
developed into experience the ultimate ends each had
in view became still wider apart. Cecil Rhodes was a
born leader of men in parliamentary government :
Donald A. Smith was not, but he had no peer as a
shrewd manipulator of political leaders for his own
purposes. Cecil Rhodes always stood for the national
interests, personal considerations being secondary :
Donald A. Smith's personal interests were paramount.
The contests of the one were fought out in the
noontide glare of a public career : the other dis-
comfited his opponents in the evening shadows of
secret conferences, and behind carefully-guarded doors.


Donald A. Smith had successfully directed an army
of officials employed by the Hudson's Bay Company ;
he had controlled, as in the hollow of his hand, the
uncivilized Indians throughout a vast territory, and
had successfully used their labour for the profits of
his Company. The shrewdness sharpened by such
experiences was soon to become useful in a wider field.
Certain not altogether objectionable characteristics,
assimilated by contact with the red man, could be
used advantageously among the whites. He had
also learned to keep his own counsel.

Donald A. Smith had an intimate personal acquaint-
ance with the wonderful possibilities of that goodly
land lying between Fort Garry and the foot-hills of the
Rocky Mountains. The faint echoes of information
that had reached the outer world told but little of the
actual facts. It is safe to say that no living soul, taking
any interest whatever in the prospective development
of that country, had a tithe of the information that
the Canadian Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company
possessed. He was equally familiar with the fertility
of the great west of the United States. For many
years, on his journeyings to eastern Canada, he had
traversed the prairies to the south of the Company's
jurisdiction. He knew that the northern area was a
continuation of the same belt of fertility that was the
basis of the accumulating wealth of Chicago and
other western cities. Years before, he had heard the
muffled thunder of countless herds of buffalo from the
United States, forced by the advancing tide of western
settlement, wend their way up the valley of the Red


River to the Hudson's Bay Territory. He had seen
them increase and multiply in the area under his
control. He knew that as they had prospered in
the western states, and even to a greater extent in
British North America, so could be measured the
respective fertility of the two countries. He was well
aware that where buffalo thrive, cattle can feed by
the million, so that probably in this country wheat
would yield crops such as the world had never seen.
He was sufficiently reflective to know that the territory
over which he had held jurisdiction for so many years
was favoured by Nature with two hours' longer sun-
shine, during the wheat-maturing season, than any
other wheat-growing area in the world. The value
of each one of these considerations had not escaped
his shrewd calculations.

Donald A. Smith had seen railway enterprises in the
western states grow to enormous corporations in a
decade or two. Native shrewdness and his peculiar
knowledge suggested that what others had done in the
neighbouring republic he himself might accomplish in
Canada. A railway had already been projected and
partially constructed towards the Canadian border from
Minneapolis, but it had not realized its promoters' ex-
pectations, and the managers were discouraged. To
have that line completed, with some assistance from
personal friends, was now his object. Before this,
however, the idea of securing the control of a charter
for the construction of a Pacific Railway through
Canada had become a definite aim.

The means to accomplish this became the controlling


influence of every action of Donald A. Smith after he
had taken his seat in the House of Commons. But while
he was dreaming of a continental charter, a far-sighted
and enterprising countryman of his own was acting.
The general elections of 1872 were about to take
place. Sir Hugh Allan was then head of the great
steamship line that bore his name. As a young man
he had come to Canada long before steam was thought
of on the Atlantic. From small beginnings he had
expanded his business until his fleet had become a
possession that Canada was proud of. Industry and
integrity had marked his life in every particular, and
success had crowned his efforts. Within an inner
circle it was rumoured that he had previous confidential
experience in effecting arrangements with Canadian
Governments for mail subsidies for his steamship
line. At any rate he selected an opportune time to
enter into secret negotiations with the First Minister
for an arrangement to construct the Canadian Pacific
Railway. In these conferences Sir Hugh was accom-
panied by the late Mr. J. J. C. Abbott as his confi-
dential legal adviser. This was subsequently proved
by the production of the correspondence between
the contracting parties in the ensuing Parliamentary
inquiry. Mr. Abbott appeared again on the scene
seven years later with other parties in a similar
confidential capacity.

Sir John Macdonald, the Premier, was, as has already
been intimated, about to make an appeal to the elec-
torate for a renewal of confidence in the Government
which had been in office since Confederation. He was of


Scotch descent, his parents having arrived in Canada
early in the nineteenth century. He was brought up
in the humbler walks of life, and after going to the
village school, was apprenticed as a clerk to a lawyer.
A wealthy merchant at Kingston took a great fancy
to the bright young lad, who under his patronage
was introduced into politics ; from that period this
promising proteg6 devoted his time untiringly to
public affairs. A natural leader of men, he quickly
came to the front. Eventually, out-distancing all
competitors, he became the leader of his party and
the Premier of Canada. In personal appearance and
manner he had a strong resemblance to Lord Beacons-
field. His ruling passion was power not office for
the mere sake of office, but office for the sake of the
power it conferred. To attain power he risked every-
thing, with the inevitable result that the record
of aspirations and deeds solely in the interest of
his country, will not altogether clear his reputation
of blemishes. For a long time he was strongly
opposed to the Confederation of the provinces, but
finally joined in its advocacy, and effected a coalition
of the leaders of both political parties to carry it
through. Many of the prominent Liberals who
joined forces with him for the purpose of seeing that
great project carried, and by whose assistance he be-
came the first Prime Minister under Confederation,
separated themselves from him as soon as the Union
became an accomplished fact.

The House of Commons possessed a highly satis-
factory standard of public life at this time. There


were intellectual giants in the Canadian Parliament
in those early days of Confederation. The political
stream had not been sluggish in any of the provinces
for many years, and, as is always the case in times of
political disturbance, strong characters had come into
the political arena.

Better far than the evidence of intellectual power
was the fact that up to this time scarcely a reputation
had been associated with a minor political scandal,
and certainly no hint of personal corruption had been
suggested. The cankerworm, which was so soon to
eat its way into the body politic, had not as yet made
its appearance. No one but a madman would have
prophesied that ere ten years had passed, the whole
standard of public ethics would have changed. The
heat of battle in provincial politics was beginning to
be felt at Ottawa. The Federal Opposition (the
Liberals) had already captured the most important
of the provincial legislatures, and they had grown
in strength and influence in the Federal Parliament
until they had become a serious menace to Sir John
Macdonald's retention of office.

Sir Hugh Allan knew the Tory Leader's intense love
of power, and he also knew that he looked forward with
some misgivings to the pending appeal to the electors.
He therefore selected this occasion as auspicious to
open negotiations for an arrangement about the much
coveted Pacific Railway charter, with the avowed
object of carrying out the terms of the agreement
by which British Columbia had entered the Con-
federation the construction of a railway across the


continent within ten years. Sir Hugh Allan promised
Sir John Macdonald a subscription of $100,000
(20,000) to the party funds, if the Government would
give him and his friends the charter for the con-
struction of the line. The amount that was held
out as a bait to the First Minister was looked upon
as a large sum in those days. Sir Hugh pressed for
the introduction of the necessary legislation during
the last session of Parliament, before the elections.
Sir John at first considered this impossible, as it
would give the Liberals another subject upon which
to appeal to the country against him. He wanted
Sir Hugh to accept his assurance that, if successful
at the elections, he would enter into a satisfactory
arrangement then, introducing the necessary legisla-
tion at the first session of the new Parliament. Sir
Hugh practically replied, " It is now, or nothing."
Both the negotiating parties were Scotch, possessing
a full measure of the acumen of the race. Sir John
was a politician, and certainly in a matter of this kind
a pledge was as good as a bond, providing the elections
should be satisfactory. Sir Hugh was a business man
accustomed to have every contract in black and white
he did not care to part with his money without holding
security in the usual form.

After much hesitation Sir John Macdonald agreed
to the details of a definite arrangement by legislation
necessarily including (i) the incorporation of the
Canadian Pacific Railway Company, and (2) the ap-
proval of Parliament to a contract with the Company


for the construction and maintenance of the line.
These Bills were accordingly carried through Parliament
in 1872, immediately prior to the general elections,
after a strenuous fight against the proposals by the
Opposition. Donald A. Smith was one of the charter
members of the Company. He was asked to join the
Board of Directors because it was a convenience to Sir
Hugh Allan, and probably also to insure his support to
the measure in the House. In how far Sir Hugh
took the charter members of the Company into his
confidence about the promised subscription to the
election funds remains a mystery. Every precaution
was taken by Sir John Macdonald and Sir George
Cartier on the one hand, and Sir Hugh on the other,
to prevent their mutual confidences becoming known.
Nothing probably would ever have been revealed,
had not the Opposition developed unexpected strength
in the campaign, naturally increasing the anxiety about
the possible result, so that Sir John Macdonald and
Sir George Cartier, with a complete absence of their
usual shrewdness, both by letters and public tele-
grams, made several personal appeals to Sir Hugh for
further assistance. One of Sir John's telegrams said :
" Send another ten thousand. It is the last time of
asking." The amounts paid by Sir Hugh totalled
$350,000 (70,000). Sir John carried the country,
but the denouement that followed prove that in an
endeavour to secure an extension of power, this great
Canadian statesman had paid an awful price, leaving
a stain on his memory which time can never efface.


Reverting to party lines George Brown's break with the coalition
Parliament of talents Interest in Parliament The early days
in Ottawa Discovery of the Pacific scandal Investigation by

THE session of Parliament following the general elec-
tions of 1872 was historic in many ways. Party lines,
which had been largely obliterated by the action of the
leaders on both sides in Upper and Lower Canada in
order to bring about Confederation, were again clearly
denned. In the preceding session a number of mem-
bers, who, in pre-Confederation days, had been associ-
ated with the Liberal party, supported the Government
of Sir John Macdonald. This temporary truce had thus
proved more advantageous to the leader of the Govern-
ment than to the Hon. George Brown, the leader of
the Liberal party before Confederation. Mr. Brown
was the first Canadian statesmen to propose or ad-
vocate a Confederation or union of the scattered
provinces. He is more entitled to be called " The
Father of Confederation " than any of those who
afterwards took part in the conferences on this
question. " Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he
also reap " has not been exemplified in the popular

estimation of George Brown on the question of



Confederation, owing to a careless study of the
complicated events of that period. To others has
been largely given the credit that really belongs to
him. After the Act of Union became law George
Brown considered that he was no longer called upon
to co-operate with Sir John Macdonald in the admin-
istration of the affairs of the country. Their private
lives, personal habits and views of government were
too different to long permit of intimate association.
Brown resumed his old position as a political opponent
of Sir John Macdonald's Government, but several of
his influential supporters accepted portfolios in the
new coalition Cabinet. Brown was defeated in the
elections of 1867 and Alexander Mackenzie became
leader of the Liberal party. When the Parliament
of 1872 met, the Liberals who joined forces with Sir
John in 1867, and who had not in the meantime been
shelved by appointments to lieut.-governorships or to
the bench, were as staunch supporters of the Prime
Minister as his old and trusted followers.

Nevertheless, the political atmosphere had cleared.
Party lines were again distinct. The necessity of
party government in the Colonies is as clearly estab-
lished as in the mother-country. There probably
will be occasions in the history of government in
every democratic country when political coalitions
become a national necessity, but if such combinations
are forced upon Parliament to too great an extent
the tendency is more likely to be by concessions to a
minority in the ruling body than government by


majority administration by intrigue and cabal rather
than by clear-cut issues in the open. This was the
view taken by George Brown after the crisis that led
to Confederation had past. It is not surprising,
therefore, that in the Canadian Parliament of 1872
the Independents could be counted on the fingers
of one hand. The most notable of these were Richard
J. Cartwright, the promising son of an unbending
Tory, who was steadily drifting towards the Liberal
party, and Donald A. Smith, who claimed to be an
Independent, but whose sympathies were with the
Government of the day. There were also one or two
from the maritime provinces, where party lines in
Dominion politics were not so clearly defined as in
Upper and Lower Canada.

Upon the Treasury Benches there was a galaxy of
stars the greatest aggregation of political talent that
any Canadian Parliament has ever seen, with the ex-
ception of the Cabinet with which Sir Wilfrid Laurier
met Parliament a quarter of a century later. The leader
of the Opposition was supported by followers of equal
strength. Master minds from all the provinces were
gathered at Ottawa, and the two parties faced each
other in grim earnest. In the previous Parliament
the Opposition had fought a good fight, though handi-
capped by the fact that half a dozen former leading
associates sat on the right of the Speaker.

This was the scene that the writer, then scarcely
out of his teens, surveyed from the public gallery.
What attraction Parliament could have for a lad I must


allow some one else to explain. And yet for me it had
a strange fascination. Residing in Ottawa, then a back-
woods town, where were neither theatres nor music-
halls, and picture-palaces had not then been conceived,
all my spare evenings were spent in listening to the
debates. During the sessions the galleries of the
Senate and Commons alike were always well filled by
the general public. The accommodation was ample,
and admission not difficult. During the six sessions
which had been held at Ottawa friendly door-keepers
had always reserved " a special seat for the lad,"
and, more frequently than not, failed to ask for my
ticket. I seemed to have as much right in the gallery
as members to a seat on the floor of the House. There
was no senator or member whose name I did not know,
or in whom I did not take a personal interest.

In my boyhood's years the Hill upon which the
Parliament Buildings now stand had been the play-
ground of my school. I remember the horror with
which we discovered hundreds of men at work for the
first time digging up the ground for the foundations.
I had stood within a few feet of the Prince of Wales
when he laid the corner-stone in 1860, and about
which, in reply to His late Majesty's inquiries, I had
the honour of telling him forty-five years later. I had
watched with deep interest the magnificent pile grow
to completion, so, at last, when Parliament met, I
wanted to be the first in the gallery and the last to
leave it.

I had been a witness to the hearty welcome by an


unanimous House, when, as the representative of the
New West, Donald A. Smith had been introduced to
the Speaker ; and again, now more accustomed to
his surroundings a familiar and striking figure wearing
a grey top-hat only out of his possession in order to
conform to the rules of the House. It is no doubt a
wise provision of Providence that we are not allowed
to look into the future. If we could, perhaps, many
would not care to venture on life's perilous way.
Could I have lifted the veil, as I unconsciously turned
my attention to Donald A. Smith, I would have read
a strange romance. He was beyond middle life, I
was beginning. He was a millionaire, I was starting
to earn my own living. Within eight years I was
drifting into a prominent part of public life in strong
opposition to the ruling ambition of his life ; again,
five years later, a candidate for the House of Commons
in a constituency into which a liberal contribution,
to make sure of my defeat, was sent by his syndicate ;
as organizer of the Liberal party for many years
fighting political forces that were strengthened by
huge bulwarks of money from his syndicate, throughout
the vast territory extending from the foot of the
Rocky Mountains to the banks of the Ottawa river ;
and twenty-seven years after this historic session of
1872 I would have seen myself sitting in his library
in Grosvenor Square, becoming personally acquainted
for the first time. Both were occupying positions of
responsibility in the Canadian Government service,
and we calmly discussed the possible solution of a


problem that Cabinets had vainly tried for twenty
years to solve, whereby the stream of British and
Continental emigration might be diverted to the
western prairies of the Dominion.

In how far Donald A. Smith had any personal
knowledge about the secret agreement between Sir
Hugh Allan and the Government, no conclusive
evidence is available. He was one of the charter
members and also on the Board of Directors. There
is little doubt but that he found his place on the
Board more nominal than otherwise. The original
negotiations were between Sir Hugh and the Govern-
ment, the Company was Sir Hugh's, and he was
naturally the controlling factor. It is not unlikely

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Online LibraryWilliam Thomas Rochester PrestonThe life and times of Lord Strathcona, by W. T. R. Preston → online text (page 4 of 20)