The formation of Canada in 1867 helped bring Northern Ontario into the country, but not right away.
That’s right, Northern Ontario was not part of Canada on July 1, 1867, when it became a nation. But then why let these details spoil a good party.
Northern Ontario, Northern Quebec, Manitoba, much of Saskatchewan, Nunavut and parts of the Northwest Territories were part of Rupert’s Land, a vast track of territory immediately North of Canada in 1867.
Rupert’s Land was named after the cousin of King Charles II way back in 1670, but was in effect owned by one single British company, the Hudson Bay Company.
In 1868, Rupert’s Land, was purchased by Canada for $1.5 million. Britain also transferred jurisdiction for the western half of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon to Canada.
The significance of Canada’s absorption of Rupert’s Land cannot be understated. It brought Northern Ontario into the fold. It also had significant economic and settlement impacts.
Some of the major mining discoveries happened on these lands, and with that settlers moved north to populate the area to build the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railroad, to work in the mines, in the forestry sector, and to provide public services, such as health and education; and stores, banks and other services to meet everyday needs.
Some of the largest mining developments in Northern Ontario occurred in the former Rupert’s Land: Larder Lake (1906) the Porcupine (1909) and Kirkland Lake (1911) gold camps, the Red Lake, Ontario, Gold Rush (1926), Kidd Creek Mine, Timmins, Ontario (1964).
The Victor Mine (2007) in Northwestern Ontario and the vast future potential of the Ring of Fire are also located there.
Sale of Rupert’s Land to Canada
In 1867, the United States had purchased Alaska from Russia for about $7 million. The Hudson’s Bay Company had been negotiating with the US for the sale of Rupert’s Land, and could have sold for a handsome price, but for Britain interceded and directed the sale to Canada for approximately $1.5 million.
The U.S. Civil War had ended two years prior in 1865, and a large standing army of the victorious Northern states was still mobilized, and many in Canada and Britain feared that the US would march across the Great Lakes and the 49th parallel to take over Canada and Rupert’s Land, in accordance to their belief in their “manifest destiny” to rule all North America.
In the rush to secure Rupert’s Land for Canada, rights and guarantees given to Canada’s First Nations by Britain, in the Proclamation of 1763, shortly after they defeated the French to control vast areas of North America, were not always adhered to in the numerous treaties signed between First Nations and Ontario.
Indigenous Rights stem from 1763
Recent Supreme Court of Canada challenges, have declared that these traditional Indigenous Rights must be enforced as assured under the Proclamation of 1763, and the treaties signed after must guarantee the commitment to their traditional lands, and the right to prior consultations.
Despite this, the exploitation of the newly acquired Rupert’s Land, including Northern Ontario proceeded relatively peacefully in Canada. By comparison American gold rushes in California in 1849, Colorado (1859) and elsewhere were marked by episodes of lawlessness and violence.
In those two gold rushes and others, gangs of prospectors drove American Indians off their territorial lands by force, and often with the complicity of the US military and governing authorities.
Boundary dispute with Manitoba
Provincial administrations over the newly acquired lands got off to a rocky start. Manitoba, which had been formed in 1870 as result of Louis Riel’s Red River Rebellion vied with Ontario for the boundary a dispute that wasn’t resolved until 1889 in Ontario’s favour. The North East part of Rupert’s Land became part of Ontario at the time.
But the final boundary of Northern Ontario was not settled until 1912, when the large lands from North West Ontario became part of the province of Ontario.
Despite all this historical details and footnotes 2017 was celebrated and toasted in Northern Ontario and the other former lands of Rupert’s Land as if it really had been 150 years since they became Canada – that’s not historically accurate.
Happy 150th Canada!
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