Creighton on Canada

It had rained very heavily just before Brown arrived, and the cab that carried him from the riverside up Mountain Street to the Upper Town laboured through streets that seemed like filthy ditches, choked with a mixture of mud and powdered planks. It was much pleasanter in the Upper Town... [but] the air that May morning was chill, decidedly colder than it had been in Toronto, and as he drove along Brown noticed to his surprise that dirty dwindling patches of snow still lingered in corners and at the foot of walls.

That's D.G. Creighton describing George Brown coming into Quebec City in the mid-1800s.

Creighton's 1964 book The Road to Confederation, available through the public library system, is not his best known work. But it is a joy to read. He picks the story up with George Brown and John A. MacDonald, old political opponents, forging a temporary compromise in aid of the union of all the British colonies in North America. He moves it through agreements and broken agreements, a half-dozen elections, the American Civil War, and events across the ocean in London.

As proud Canadian, Creighton was pleased with confederation. He believed Canadian unity was a Good Thing, and his tale has its heroes and villains. The supporters of confederation are described as determined, skillful and willing to be flexible for the greater good. The opponents of confederation, in Creighton's eyes, are stubborn, devious and apt to be fickle. Yet, despite this plain bias, Creighton tells a clear, bold tale that repeatedly entertained and surprised me.

For example, I was surprised to learn that New Brunswick's Governor Gordon was originally an opponent of confederation. He preferred Maritime unity, and helped stall confederation until forcibly ordered by London to get the thing done. I was surprised to learn that we British North Americans cheered for the southern states during the Civil War. I was surprised to learn Saint John discussed confederation in no less than 6 daily newspapers. Small wonder The Road to Confederation kept me up late several nights running.

My learners bore my excited next-day ramblings about Canada's pre-history with patient charity. My family and friends mostly ignored me until I agreed to talk about something that had happen within the past 5 years. But you, dear colleagues, will surely understand and sympathize with my pleasure at Creighton's storytelling. And with my regret when the tale came to an end with the sunrise of our first Dominion Day, July 1, 1867:

At Saint John, New Brunswick, the streets were crowded with people before dawn. The shops and houses were ablaze with flags; great transparencies promised "success to the Confederacy" and "Bienvenue à la nouvelle Puissance".

[NOTE: this is a re-post from my Y!360, in honour of Canada Day]

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