home | 18-19th centuries index

CANADA, 1851 to 1900 (1 of 7)

previous | next

Canada, 1851 to 1900

1851-61 | 1861 to Confederation and Dominion in 1867 | Canada to 1873 | Expansion, Indian treaties and Sitting Bull, 1874-81 | Transcontinental Railway, to 1885 | North-West Rebellion | Economy, Class and Population increases, 1881-1900


In 1851 Canada was still British North America and divided into separate British colonies. It was growing. In 1852 the University of Trinity College opened in Toronto, aligned with the Anglican Church, compared to Harvard University in Massachusetts, established sixteen years before and aligned with Congregationalist and Unitarian clergy.

Also in 1852 a stock exchange opened in Toronto. A group of Toronto businessmen had met with the intention of forming an association of brokers, and from this date on an increasing supply of financial instruments such as railway bonds and mining stocks were created, taking capital development away from the financial markets in London, England.

In 1852 the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada had a line between Montreal and Toronto, and in 1853 the company purchased the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad from Montreal to the Quebec–Vermont border.

In the 1850s slaves were escaping via the underground railway into Canada, and freed blacks were joining the migration. Following them were slave hunters, across the US border to towns such as Chatham, population around 3,500, 44 miles east and a little north of Detroit.

In Chatham was Mary Ann Shadd, in her early thirties and the daughter of free-born blacks from the state of Delaware. There she worked on her newspaper, advocating equality and integration, and she taught school. Chatham was half-black, half-white, and Shadd saw opportunity for blacks. She wrote:

In Canada as in recently settled countries, there is much to do, and comparatively few for the work... If a coloured man understands his business, he receives the public patronage the same as a white man. note80

Slave hunters who crossed the border into Canada searched churches where liberated slaves were expected to congregate. The First Baptist Church in Chatham by the pulpit was a trap door that led to the basement and a window to nearby woods.

In 1857, Queen Victoria named Ottawa as the capital of the colony then called the Province of Canada – today the province called Ontario. The following year the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush started in the far west of Canada, in what today is called British Columbia – the westernmost of Canada's provinces. Men were pouring into the area from northern California.

By 1861 Canada had a population of around 3 million, up from less than 100,000 in 1812. The new immigrants were mainly from Britain. They constructed their own homes, cultivated new farms and built new towns.

The official 1851 census regarding the Ontario area had Negroes numbering 4,669, and the 1861 census had their number at 11,223. How many of these were escaped slaves is unknown. The total number of slaves having escaped from the South between 1830 and 1860 is estimated to have been around 30,000. Some of those who escaped stayed in the North, and some who made it to Canada returned to the North. At any rate, the total Negro population in the Ontario area in 1861 has been estimated at 4 percent of the area's total population. note81

British public opinion, meanwhile, was growing tired of spending money on Canada, especially for the defense of Canada's long border with the United States – a border difficult to defend. The British wanted Canadians to share more of the expenses – an issue that had led to the American Revolution. The consolidation of Canada into a single political unit, a confederation, would enhance governing and give more responsibility to the Canadians, and this was coming. In 1861 the U.S. Civil War erupted and this would encourage the creation of a politically united Canada.

Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.