Monday, January 20, 2020


The work of Baldwin and LaFontaine towards responsible government would do much to set the stage for the Canadian colonies to move towards Confederation. 

Another influence leading towards Confederation would come from south of the border. Legislators in Canada watched the conflagration of the Civil War with alarm, and realized their best alternative was to stand together or risk annexation. In the aftermath of that war, raids by Irish-American veterans, the so called Fenian Raids, only solidified the need to work together.

This is the musket of a Fenian Raider, taken by a Canadian militia officer at the Battle of Ridgeway near Niagara in 1866. The uniform is a Union uniform of the 1860s, typical, as most of the Fenians had served in the Union Army during the Civil War. The Fenian movement sought to use Canada as ransom to force the British to remove their presence from all of Ireland. The raids failed, but strengthened the resolve of Canadian politicians, regardless of political differences, to work for a common cause.

Three portraits of some of the Fathers of Confederation are here: John A. Macdonald, George Brown, and George-Etienne Cartier. These three men would be among the leading voices for Confederation; Macdonald would be the first prime minister of the country.

A group portrait of the Fathers of Confederation was taken during the Charlottetown Conference in 1864.

The most eloquent of the Fathers of Confederation was one of its more unusual stories. Thomas D'Arcy McGee had been a radical in his native Ireland. He ended up in Canada as a journalist and lawyer before moving into politics, changing his world view to appreciate the value of a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. A friend of Macdonald and a gifted writer and speaker, McGee was one of the strongest voices for union.

This is a portrait of McGee, painted by Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith in 1868.

McGee's shift in allegiances earned him enemies in the Fenian movement, and he was assassinated while coming home from a session of Parliament, shot at the entrance to his boarding house in Ottawa. His funeral in Montreal brought out the masses.

Shifting back to the First Nations again. It was long a habit of the Blackfoot peoples of the great plains to do what is called a winter count. This was done on an elk skin or a bison skin (in this case the first) each year, recording the most memorable event of the preceding year by a member of the tribe. This one is from the 19th century, featuring images spiraling out from the centre.


  1. I didn't know anything about the Baldwin and LaFontaine and the whole story …
    Thank you!

  2. Thank goodness we have a parliamentary democracy, where the Prime Minister has to daily face his critics in the House. While not perfect, it is far and away the best system of government, bar none.,

  3. @Iris: it is.

    @Ella: you're welcome.

    @Gattina: thank you.

    @Francisco: thanks.

    @David: that is true.

  4. Impressive history lesson, William !

  5. ... Canada can watch the conflagration of civil war to the south with alarm again.

  6. Hello, great exhibit. I like the skin with the winter count. Enjoy your day, wishing you a happy new week!

  7. I was thinking exactly the same as Tom ✨

  8. The drawings at that skin are really wonderful.

  9. Those elk skins are fascinating.

  10. Once again you've whetted my appetite to learn more about Canadian history...I'm aghast that none of this information had crossed my life before. Thank you so much.

  11. Really looking at all the old photos!

  12. The winter count is a beautiful artifact and so interesting.

  13. @Karl: thank you.

    @Canada: unfortunately.

    @Eileen: thanks.

    @Grace: me too.

    @Jan: they are.

    @Sharon: very much so.

    @Barbara: you're welcome.

    @Tanya: I do as well.

    @Marie: that it is.

  14. Thanks for the hostory lesson, there is so much new info to learn that I didn't know. Thank you, William.

  15. Wonderful historic exhibit and great photos ^_^

    Happy Moments to You,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  16. I am impressed by that winter count.

  17. I don't think we learned anything about the Fenians when I was in school. I like the winter coat idea a lot!

  18. Many conditions influenced our path to nation hood. I'd heard of Fenians and Fenian raids but didn't know what it was about.

  19. @Bill: you're welcome.

    @Carol: that it is.

    @Michelle: me too.

    @RedPat: the Fenian story was barely touched on.

    @Red: it's an element of history I find fascinating.

  20. I read today that US News & World Report has ranked Canada as second best country in the world (after Switzerland) based on a variety of factors. Confederation has obviously worked well.