September 13, 2010
Every time I spend ten dollars, I come face-to-face with Sir John A Macdonald, our first Prime Minister. As “the most famous of all Canadian leaders”, Sir John A. was a nation-builder, a man with many flaws who looked beyond himself and saw a great dream.
Recently we celebrated BC’s 150th Anniversary. Without Sir John A, there is no doubt in my mind that BC would have been lost to Canada. The vast majority of BC settlers were Americans drawn from San Francisco by the 1858 Gold Rush. John A’s promise of the Canadian Pacific Railway won over the hearts and mind of ambivalent BCers. This extravagant promise almost bankrupted Canada and nearly destroyed Sir John’s A. Macdonald’s political career. Imagine if the Federal Government in 2010 promised to send Canadian Astronauts to Jupiter by 2020! A railway all the way to BC was just as unthinkable in 1870. Some cynics joked that Canada was not a nation, but a railroad in search of a nation
John A was not only a nation-builder but also a bridge-builder. He commented: “We should accept as men and brothers all those who think alike of the future of the country, and wish to act alike for the good of the country, no matter what their antecedents may have been.” He saw Canadian Confederation as a spiritual marriage between francophones and anglophones. Unlike many of his fellow party members, John A could read French, understand it, and speak it reasonably well.” Sir John A commented: “God and nature have made the two Canadas one – let no factious men be allowed to put them asunder.”
After the tragic death of his first wife Isabella, he married Agnes Bernard, just before the national ‘marriage’ of the Dominion of Canada on July 1st, 1867. Agnes wrote in her diary: “I have found something worth living for – living in – my husband’s heart and love.” As a devout Anglican, Agnes had a significant impact on her husband’s life, causing him to cut back on his drinking and start attending church on Sunday. John A was deeply impressed by the Beatitudes, and made a practice of reading his bible every night before bedtime.
In 1888, during six weeks of Hunter-Crossley renewal meetings in Ottawa, Prime Minister Macdonald had a deep encounter with Jesus Christ. As one journalist put it, “When the well-known form of the Honorable Prime Minister arose in the centre of the church, many strong men bowed their heads and wept for joy.” After dining at the prime minister’s home several days later, Rev John Hunter confirmed that “Sir John is a changed man.”
May we all, like Sir John A. Macdonald, have the courage to change the things we can.
The Reverend Ed Hird, Rector
St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Mission in the Americas (Canada)
- previously published in the North Shore News
-award-winning author of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’
p.s. In order to obtain a copy of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.
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July 22, 2010
How often do we give thanks for Governor James Douglas, Father of BC? BC still bears the mark of Douglas’ vision. Douglas had little to work with in terms of men, money and materials; the only thing not lacking was Douglas’ determination. Governor Douglas prophetically said: ‘It is the bold, resolute, strong, self-reliant man, who fights his own way through every obstacle and wins the confidence and respect of his fellows. As with men, so it is with nations.’
Douglas had a vision of a great highway of commerce down the centre of the mainland colony. In little more than two years, he was to achieve what seems almost a miracle: a wagon road, eighteen feet wide and four hundred miles long, connecting the wealthy new gold fields of the Cariboo to the older coastal settlements
Douglas was born in Guyana. His mom Martha Ann Ritchie, originally from Barbados, was a free Creole whose family moved to Guyana for better employment in the late 1790’s. His father John Douglas, a Scottish merchant planter, took James and his brother to Scotland at age nine. James never saw his mom again, never returning to Guyana. After schooling, James moved at age sixteen to Canada and apprenticed with the Northwest Company, which eventually merged with the rival Hudson’s Bay Company. James spoke French so well that he was even able to lead Prayer Book worship services in French with the other voyageurs.
At Fort St. James he married Amelia Connolly, whose father was an Irish-French fur trader and whose mother was a Cree Chief’s daughter. The Douglas family moved to Fort Vancouver, Washington where James quickly became the Hudson Bay Company Chief Factor in 1839. While still at Fort Vancouver, he had set down in a notebook four tasks that he hoped to achieve. These were: “The moral renovation of this place; Abolition of slavery within our limits; Lay down a principle and act upon it with confidence; The building of a church of Christ in this place.”
As it became more obvious that everything below the 49th Parallel would become American territory, James Douglas was sent to Vancouver Island to relocate the Hudson’s Bay Fort. On March 14, 1843 Douglas founded the new capital Fort Victoria. In 1851 Douglas was appointed the second Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island.
When the1858 Gold rush struck BC, Douglas noted: “this country and Fraser’s River have gained an increase of 10,000 inhabitants within the last six weeks, and the tide of immigration continues to roll onward without any prospect of abatement.” Writing to Lord Stanley, Douglas predicted that ‘in the course of a few months there may be one hundred thousand people in the country.’
James Douglas preserved BC from absolute chaos during the 1858 Gold rush. With tens of thousands of American gold miners descending upon BC, James Douglas held back a avalanche that would have irrevocably swept BC out of any Canadian orbit. As historian Derek Pethick commented, “It is in the hour of crisis, when all but the bravest would have abandoned the unequal struggle, one man stood up and was counted. That man was James Douglas.” There is no doubt that Canada as we know it ‘from sea to shining sea’, would not exist today without Governor Douglas, one of the greatest of the Fathers of Confederation.
Governor Douglas had an outer exterior of implacability, but in his private family life he showed great depths of feeling. Upon the death of his daughter Cecilia, Douglas lamented: ‘She was the joy of my eyes, the light of my life; her ear was ever open to the calls of distress; the poor and afflicted never appealed to her in vain; they will miss her sympathizing heart and helping hand.’
Douglas deeply loved nature as seen in a letter to his daughter Martha: ‘The sweet little robin is pouring out his heart in melody, making the welkin ring with his morning song of praise and thanksgiving. Would that we were equally grateful to the Author of all good.” In giving advice to his son James, Douglas commented: “We are all poor frail creatures when left to ourselves; our sufficiency is of the Lord; we must look to him for strength and guidance in the hour of trial. His power is sufficient for us…”