Alexander Gilbert was a Montreal journalist who toured the Maritime Provinces in 1867, with an interest in exploring anti-Confederation feelings there. The following is condensed and edited from his From Montreal to the Maritime Provinces and Back, first published in the Montreal Evening Telegram, and describes what he found in and around New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.
Arriving in this place again, where the feeling is very high, and the Anti-Confederates very numerous, there being not more than 30 Confederates in the town, out of a population of 2,000 inhabitants, I determined to remain for a few days, in order to find who the people were, and the occasion for so much bitterness of spirit. New Glasgow is a straggling village, of wretched appearance, the buildings being all of wood, and put up in the most economical manner, without the slightest regard to comfort. Every store keeper, it would appear, has done his best to have his store if possible by itself, and the consequence is a mixture of small little wooden buildings, of all shapes and sizes, planted side by side, and giving the town an uncomfortable straggling appearance. Sidewalks are looked upon with delightful contempt; and the middle of the street, be it wet or dry, is the fashionable promenade. In rainy weather the streets are very muddy, and there is no other help for it but to wade often more than ankle deep through the sublime composition. The inhabitants are all Highland Scotch, with few exceptions narrow-minded and bigoted—and everyone knows what a bigoted Scotchman is. Being a Highland Scotchman myself, I at once saw the people I had to deal with, and immediately made myself quite at home with them, after very nearly getting a sound thrashing in so doing, boldly telling them who I was, what was my mission, and what I thought of them. There are four churches in the town, two Anti-burger and two Presbyterian. An English church, and especially if there was an organ in it, would be looked upon as an innovation not to be tolerated. On entering the village I met a few Canadians from Upper Canada, and I was at once greeted with “This is the strangest place in the world. The people don’t know a thing, and hate Canadians, and are down on Confederation.” “Why so.” I asked. “That’s the thing they can’t tell you themselves. Just wait until you have conversed with them”. There is not such a thing as a reading-room, or a book-store in the village. The people have lived here until the railroad was built, shut out from even the world of Nova Scotia. The consequences of such a state of affairs are that the people are primitive in their ideas. At present they read but one side of the question, the other they have no desire to see. They have formed an opinion without discussing the merits of the question, and their opinion once formed, they are too proud and obstinate to alter it one jot, or be convinced. They have been told by Howe and his emissaries, and they are quite content to receive what they tell as truth. The people have heard some dreadful things of the Canadians, and, without the slightest hesitation, believe them as truths. Canadians they look upon as smart swindlers, without knowing anything about them; and Confederation as a grand scheme to rob them of their country, and of what we can produce far cheaper and better in Canada. I have conversed with the most respectable and best educated anti, as well as the most ragged specimen of a McDonald or a Fraser, so that I could make a decided statement. From their own remarks, I have no hesitation in arranging the following scale:--
Educated Anti—So from offended dignity, because the people were not consulted.
Less Educated Anti—Because the country will be ruined by taxation, whereby Canada will be enriched, and a railroad built that will flood their markets with Canadian produce.
Ignorant Anti—(a large majority)—Because they hate Canadians. They want to do with the States that they have always dealt with. They won’t stand Confederation, and will fight first, before they will annex themselves to a people they hate. (Howe will be captain of this squad, when he takes to arms, as he says he will.)
Throughout the parts of the country in every direction I visited, the feeling was the same, and the primitive, narrow-minded people the same. If the people of New Glasgow are so far behind the age, the country must be far more so. And their actions on the first of July, will prove such to be the case. While all honour was paid the day in Halifax, in many parts of the country the most bitter feeling prevailed, and everything was done by the people to display their hostility to the scheme.
In New Glasgow those who had flags flying in honor of the occasion, were requested to take them down, and upon refusing to do so, were treated to the most violent language. Many of the flags were cut down by the Antis. One Unionist gentleman, whose flag had been cut down, procured another, and hoisting it, plainly told them, the first man that attempted to touch it would be shot. It was left alone, and the Union Jack fluttered bravely the whole of that day.
Near New Glasgow the rails of the track were greased for some distance, in order, it is supposed, to prevent the train with excursionists, who were on their way to Halifax, to take part in the display, from reaching that City. But sand was sprinkled on the rails, and the train went on. It was an action of the small minds to entertain such a project.
Conversations—Railway Incidents, &c
I shall give a few instances of the conduct, not from any ill-nature or prejudice, but simply to convey to the people of Montreal and Canada a correct idea of the Anti-Confederates of Nova Scotia and the allies of the Anti-Unionists of Canada. The country people of Nova Scotia are isolated, and see or hear very little of their newly formed relations, the Canadians, as they call them. But to return to the doings, the foolish ventings of spite of the Antis on Confederation Day.
In Antigonish, a town some distance from New Glasgow, a Union Jack was taken down, torn in pieces, and an American flag hoisted in its stead. In another town—I don’t remember its name, but there were only three Unionists in it,—having expressed their opinions rather boldly, the Confederates were chased about, and at last took shelter in a house, where they hid all day. The feeling was very high evidently.
It is a well-known fact that Dr. Tupper was burnt in effigy at Yarmouth, and that the paper of the town not only boasted of it but regretted that it was not the person of the gentleman that was consigned to the flames.
These facts I would perhaps not have given had not a statement been made by an Anti through the press that my remarks in regard to the primitive ideas and actions of the Anti-Confederates, were not true. I submit the above to the public of Montreal, and ask if such would be the actions of an enlightened and intelligent community?
When the rails of the Nova Scotia Railroad were being laid through New Glasgow, certain officials of the town, high in office, expressed their determination to tear up the rails when they were put down. And accordingly as the workmen were in the act of laying them down, one evening the officials proceeded to where the track ran across a street in the town, and great were their efforts to lift up the rails and pitch them to one side. They succeeded with one or two when the foreman of the laborers came up and, after an argument, the construction continued.
Defeated and very warm the anti-Railroad leaders retired vowing vengeance against the road. This but illustrated the feeling of the people who were generally opposed to the building of the road that was to develop their country. The Canadians were right when they stated “they were a queer people.” To this day the whistle of the locomotive is considered a nuisance. Is it any wonder Confederation should be beyond their comprehension?
A conversation that occurred on the train, between a respectable farmer’s wife sitting beside me in the car, and another a seat or two further off, will be a good instance of the expansive views entertained by the country people of Anti-land in the nineteenth century, in regard to railways. I give it word for word. When near New Glasgow, the lady furthest away cried out in a very loud voice:
“This is a very speedy way of getting home, Mrs. McDonald.”
Mrs. McD.—“Aye, it is, but I prefer travelling in my own conveyance. Still it’s a very handy way of getting home.”
Unknown Lady.—“To be sure you have more of your way in your own conveyance, and can go at your own speed, but it is much speedier and more comfortable this way.”
Mrs. McD. (doubtfully.)—“Yes, no doubt.”
There was an ally for the opponents of Confederation in Canada for you. It is easy to account for the strength of Mr. Howe. He tells these people that Canada is bankrupt, that they only wish a connection for the purpose of gaining a better credit, and that the people of Nova Scotia have been sold body and bones for eighty cents a head. And they believe him. The secret of Mr. Howe’s influence is the credulity of the people.
Meeting an intelligent Anti, I asked him, “Will you tell me why are you an Anti?”
“Because we have been sold, forced into this connection without being consulted.”
“Neither were the people of Upper or Lower Canada consulted, and yet they are almost a unit on this question.”
“Well, they should have been asked…. We are going to turn out the men that sold us”
“Well, why your objection to Confederation”
“I don’t like it.”
Upon asking him why, he stated that they were not fairly represented, and, among other objections, stated the Government was a worthless one, &c., &c. Had he been consulted he would have been a Confederate. But he was wrong in his opinion of the Government. It was the best they had ever had, and had done more for the country than any before. But all this was forgotten, and a Government that had done so much for the country was not to be trusted with the passing of Confederation. This good Government at once became worthless because the people were not consulted on the question. Upon asking an Anti of the second class, his reasons for opposition, the following conversation ensued:--
“Yes, sir, I am Anti, because we are going to have no good out of the plan. You will build a railway to flood our market with your butter, cheese and produce, and undersell us; and we will be heavily taxed for the building of the road to ruin us.”
“Then you are opposed to the Intercolonial Railway, and the opening of your country?”
“No; we want the Railway, but we can have it without Confederation.”
“Oh, I see you want to derive all the benefit without paying for it. But if a railroad is to be built, you must pay your share. But what about the produce coming down in such quantities?”
“Why, you will flood us with cheese and butter, which you make better than we can, and our farmers will be ruined.”
“And so they deserve to be, if with such a splendid country they are too lazy or ignorant to make a better article. But I cannot understand how it will pay to send these articles such a distance to compete with a market on the spot; however, it will be all the better for the country, if such is the case; for your farmers will have to learn to make as good an article as we make in Canada, and you will have the better food.”
“But our farmers don’t know how.”
“Then we will send our Canadians to teach you how, or you can send a deputation to Canada; but they must pay their own expenses, and your farmers and their wives will take a lesson and learn to make as good butter and cheese as they send you; and if you are not able then on the spot to sell as cheaply and monopolize the market, you are not fit to live. The railroad once built, your ports open all the year round will be an outlet for the lumber, grain and produce of our immense country that at present finds an outlet at Portland. In fact you will be brought into contact with the world, and you may depend upon it, if access is easy, your country will be overrun by Canadians. I am only afraid when they see such a fine country they will stay here altogether.”
“That’s all very fine, but we are doing very well ourselves.”
“That’s very false. Since the abrogation of the Reciprocity Treaty your coal trade has been at a standstill, the thousands of miners are living on a prospect and half-pay. You offer opposition to the opening of your country, and are getting on in a one-horse way.”
“It suits us. I suppose we can do as we like.”
“Once upon a time you could, but not now; for if, as you say, you are to be overrun by Canadians, you will have to work hard, and I know you would rather be at a standstill. To save yourselves you will have to work hard also. Pleasant prospect, isn’t it?
“We don’t like Canadians, nor your government; you are too extravagant.”
“I know you don’t, but we like this fine country of yours, abounding in coal and minerals, the very things we want. And we will make a fine country of yours.”
“Oh! You needn’t tell me such humbug; you will never take coal from us, you can get it cheaper from the old country. The vessels bring it to you in ballast, and you get it from the States.
“I am glad to hear we are so plentifully supplied with what we want so badly. But your coal never came to us in any quantity. You never had enterprise enough to try the experiment, and you had a good market at the time, and didn’t care for another. But your dear American friends treated you very badly, and spoilt your market. Just send us as much coal as you can really send, and see if it won’t monopolise the market, and be a source of wealth to your country.”
“That’s all very fine, but I can’t see it!”
“Of course as an Anti you will think so. You want to be left alone in your narrow mindedness. You want us to build a railway for your benefit at our expense. You call a government and people extravagant, that you know nothing about, but have been told that they are so. And instead of rejoicing at the prospect of having a large trade opened with your neighbors, you try to raise every objection possible, and indulge in gloomy forebodings. You evidently prefer to deal with the United States, and would go down on your knees to them to renew the Reciprocity Treaty. And that after their conduct to you. Such a spirit will cause you to be despised by your Canadian friends. In your disloyalty, you are like the Rouge, Annexation and Anti-Confederate party of Canada, but they are more cunning than you are. Those are the men who are your allies in Canada.”
“We will deal with the people that have the best market.”
Anti Arguments of the Third Class
“I am Anti because the country has been sold.”
“But your men of wealth in Halifax with large fortunes are the most of them Confederates.”
“But Tupper and the rest are so because they will be bettered by it.”
“But your leader, Mr. Howe, was once a Confederate, and a very strong one. Was he not? You should find out his motives and policy for such a change. A short time ago he said Confederation was a grand thing. Today he says it is a curse, and goes so far as to say he will fight if necessary. Will you fight also?”
“Yes, sir, if it comes to that.”
“Then you and your leader will be rebels, that’s all.”
“Well we are not going to join people we hate. The Canadians are too smart for us.”
“You believe everything you are told, eh! Then you must believe the moon is made of green-cheese, because you have been told so. Go to Canada, and to Montreal and other cities. See the people, and then form an opinion of them. The enlightened people of Canada read both sides of the question, then form an opinion. You should do the same. It is very despicable to abuse a people you know nothing of.”
“Tuppcr had the cheek to tell the people at home that it was no use submitting the scheme to us, for we were not capable of dealing with it.”
“And Dr. Tupper was right if he did say so. You are fast proving the truth of his remark. He is your own countryman, and knows how to deal with you.”
It must not be thought that the above conversations are imaginary. Far from it; they really occurred, but at much greater length than can be given, and the language was more bitter. In giving vent to a bitter feeling, the language was in keeping.
Writing about life, citizenship, and Nova Scotia.