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Canadian History and Government

canada, british, french, pacific, america, north and story

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CANADIAN HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT. The story of Canada's past has, in some respects, an interest and importance not always realized. From the standpoint of geographical exploration, not only is it full of picturesque and romantic detail, but it is the story of the opening up of a considerable fraction of the land surface of the earth; and from the standpoint of politics it is the story of a development without parallel in previous history. In that "galaxy of free nations" which has been well named the British Commonwealth of Nations, it was Canada that first achieved the status of a self-governing Dominion, that first reconciled colonial liberty with the imperial tie. The American Revolution, by means of which the 13 original British colonies in American gained their independence, broke up the Old British Empire; the Canadian Revolution—if one may apply that term to the long, gradual, and peaceful process by which Canada has won self-government— has not only not broken up the New British Empire, but has probably strengthened in a peculiar degree the vigorous racial bonds which bind it together.

The first Europeans to visit the shores of Canada were, so far as we know, the Northmen. These daring seafarers found their way to the northeast coast of North America, by way of Greenland, about the year 1000. Their visits, however, left no trace behind; and for practical purposes the discoverer of Canada was John Cabot, an Italian merchant—sailor in the service of the king, Henry VII of England, who sailed from Bristol and touched on what is now Canadian soil in 1497—a year before Columbus reached the mainland of North America farther south. Cabot, like Columbus, was in search of a sea-route to Asia; and when he did not find on the bleak coasts of North America the oriental silks and spices which he sought, he was bitterly disappointed. But though he did not find silks and spices, he found something no less profit able—the fish off the banks of Newfoundland. His son Sebastian, on his return to Europe, went so far as to report that the codfish were so numerous " they sumtymes stayed his shippes." As a result, fishermen from European ports began to come out to the Banks of Newfoundland and established a permanent link.

Once it became clear that America was not Asia, the aim of explorers came to be to find a way through that " Western Sea" which we call the Pacific Ocean.

In this search they followed, so far as Canada was concerned, two routes. The French strove to push through by way of the St. Lawrence valley and the Great Lakes; the English endeavored first to discover a " Northwest passage" by way of Hudson Straits and the Arctic Ocean. Both efforts were eventually crowned with success. In 1534a French mariner named Jacques Cartier pene trated up the St. Lawrence as far as Montreal. Two or three generations later, in 1615, Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec, reached Lake Huron. Thence French missionaries and fur-traders made their way into Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, and into the country beyond. Between 1658 and 1660 two French coureurs-de-bois, Radisson and Groseillers, penetrated as far west as the Mississippi and the Great Plains; and in 1682 La Salle followed the Mississippi to its mouth. Before French domination in Canada had come to an end, in 1763, two of the sons of an intrepid western fur trader named La Verendrye had actually sighted the foothills of the Rockies. When, therefore, Canada passed into British hands, there remained only one stage of the great process to be com pleted; and this was completed in 1793, when Alexander Mackenzie, a partner of the famous North-West Company, crossed the Rockies by the Peace River Pass and at last reached the Pacific.

Meanwhile, farther north, English sailors had been searching for the "Northwest passage." In 1610 Henry Hudson had penetrated into the inland ocean which still bears his name; and the servants of the Hudson's Bay Company, which was formed in 1670 to trade in the territories about Hudson Bay, made some attempts to push farther westward. It was not, however, until the modern age of Arctic exploration that any real progress was made. In 1854 Sir John Franklin, a British naval officer who had explored a good part of the Arctic coast of Canada, perished in the attempt to reach the Pacific by water; and in the search for him ships coming from the Pacific met ships from the Atlantic—thus demonstrating the existence of the Northwest passage. Not until 1906, however, was it that Ronk! Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, finally achieved the feat of bringing a ship all the way through from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

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