The birth and torment of Miss Canada and Johnny Canuck, or the beginnings of the federation

Creating the country called Canada was a great achievement. Many cartoonists of the era personified the difficulties faced by the new country in the characters Miss Canada and Johnny Canuck, or Young Canada. Among the challenges were uniting in one nation people from many different worlds and traditions, linking a huge and virtually unsettled land mass, and affirming Canada's sovereignty in the face of an already powerful neighbour to the south.

Once Canada became a reality (1867), the country encountered other major challenges. The first was expanding its borders from coast to coast and integrating the vast territories of northern Quebec and Ontario as well as those stretching west to the Rockies. Intent on maintaining its presence in North America through its colony, Great Britain assisted Canada in acquiring Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory. And British Columbia's elite had to be convinced to join Confederation. By promising to build a transcontinental railway, government officials, led by John A. Macdonald (1815-1891), overcame the reluctance of both westerners and easterners who feared being swallowed up by Canada.

The fear of American expansionism, heightened by the U.S.'s purchase of Alaska (1867), was another reason for the urgent need to link and develop the immense land over which Canada dreamt of claiming dominion. Yet another was the need for business to get access to raw materials and establish national markets where Canadian products could circulate and find buyers.

While the need for these projects was great, so was the reluctance of Canadians to undertake them, particularly French Canadians. Confederation had created two levels of government, federal and provincial. Quebec therefore had institutions to deal with local issues, based on its customs and traditions, but French Canadians feared losing their influence in the big, new country where anglophones were the majority. For their part, the Maritime provinces, which were dependent on international trade and fishing, remained unconvinced that federal government policies intended to boost manufacturing and settle the West would help them. And what of those living in the North-Western Territory, the Métis and Aboriginals, who had been swept into the nation without even being consulted?

In a few more years Canada would stretch from sea to sea; by 1873, however, it already had seven provinces. While geographic expansion would mean the fulfillment of the nation-builders' dreams, political unity would prove more elusive.