This Week in History


“From Sea to Sea” at Last!

For the week of Monday July 19, 2010

On July 20, 1871, people gathered in Victoria, British Columbia (B.C.), to burn Roman candles and celebrate the entrance of B.C., Canada’s 6th province, into Confederation. Bells were rung at midnight to usher in a new beginning for a province that was burdened with debt and political tension. With the addition of B.C., the Dominion of Canada spanned from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, giving truth to Canada’s motto, “from sea to sea.”

John Robson
© Library and Archives Canada / C-036107

Initially a British colony, B.C. was created when the British government joined the mainland with Vancouver Island in 1866. As B.C. battled with a recession and increasing debt, Amor De Cosmos and John Robson, two prominent politicians who owned B.C. newspaper companies, agitated for responsible government and union with Canada.

In 1868, De Cosmos created the Confederation League with these two goals in mind. However, some obstacles lay in the League’s way. Rupert’s Land and the Northwest Territory (making up most of the prairies, Ontario and Quebec, and a portion of the modern Northwest Territories and Nunavut) geographically separated B.C. from the rest of Canada. Therefore, until this area entered Confederation, the distance between B.C. and Canada was too great. Complicating matters further, unelected officials refused to support union with Canada or responsible government, fearing that it would endanger their jobs.

"The last spike being driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway on November 7, 1885."
© Alexander Ross / Library and Archives Canada / C-003693
An obstacle was removed in 1869 when the Canadian government purchased Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory from the Hudson’s Bay Company. The appointment of Confederation supporter Anthony Musgrave to the position of Governor of B.C. furthered the confederate cause. When “The Great Confederation Debates” were held in 1870, delegates discussed the terms by which B.C. would agree to a union with Canada. Clause 15 of the conditions stipulated that B.C. would be run without responsible government after Confederation. In an attempt to subvert the clause, Robson sent a journalist to Ottawa during negotiations to lobby against the clause. The journalist was successful, and the Canadian government decided that B.C. would have responsible government – unelected officials lost their jobs but were granted pensions. Canada also agreed to absorb B.C.’s debt and build the Canadian Pacific Railway to link the West with the East.

For founding influential newspaper companies in B.C. and for their roles as Premiers, John Robson and Amor De Cosmos were designated as National Historic Persons in 1938. In 1975, Anthony Musgrave was designated as a National Historic Person for his role in leading B.C. into Confederation.

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