Thursday, June 07, 2012

Epistle to Dumb Yanks - Part II - Atlantic Canada

I recommend read parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI and VII in sequence.

Let's dive right in - to the Atlantic Ocean, and the nearby landmass known as Atlantic Canada.

Atlantic Canada consists of the following four provinces: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island (PEI), Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. For your further education, you might be interested in knowing that Newfoundland did not become part of Canada until 1949, the same year I was born. (What can I say? It was a momentous year in world history.) Until then, it had remained a British Colony.

You can also surmise from the names of the remaining three Atlantic provinces that the link to Great Britain was very strong, viz: New Brunswick derives its name from the same King against whom you Yanks rebelled in 1776. So, to believe that New Brunswickers were clinging to the American border for protection at the time of the establishment of its principal towns and cities, is a bit rich, to say the least.

Nova Scotia, of course, means New Scotland and the Prince Edward, in Prince Edward Island, was the fourth son of George III, who your founders had rebelled against. Charlottetown, the town that was destined to become PEI's capital city, was the site of the famous conference in 1867, that resulted in the creation of the country called Canada. Again, hardly a hint that Prince Edward Islanders were the clingy sort in 1776 or any time thereafter.

[Just to throw in an interesting diversion into this history lesson, European occupation of PEI began with the French. It was part of the French colony known as Acadia. When the Brits took over, the Acadians were expelled. Many of them settled along the Mississippi River, in places like Saint Louis and New Orleans. Cajuns, anyone? The Cajuns gave you, and the world, some marvelous music and a to-die-for cuisine. (You can't beat Shrimp Jambalaya. Hmmm. I haven't made that in years. I've put an idea in my head.)]

In any case, the expulsion of the Acadians is a sad chapter in the history of the great European contest for hegemony in the Americas. But hey, as a history professor of mine once said, "history is just one damned thing after another."

A bit later on, PEI, along with other Atlantic provinces, Quebec's Eastern Townships and many, many places in Ontario, received throngs of United Empire Loyalists, as we call them in our history books. I don't know what you Yanks call them - traitors, perhaps.

In any case, under French hegemony, the Atlantic region became prominent in the great wars between European powers for control of the Eastern seaboard of North America, which the French eventually lost and the Brits won, until those pesky Yankee rebels got other ideas into their noggins. (You might want to do some background reading on Fortress Louisbourg, which dates back to 1713, or even, if you want maximum impact, to 1629, when the nearby small French settlement of Sainte Anne was founded. It's interesting to note that the Fur Trade was the lifeblood of that little village. Its proximity to the as yet non-existent USA was of no concern whatsoever. It was the Brits who were the main antagonists, as the great struggle for supremacy was still in full play.)

But anyway, the largest city in Canada's Atlantic region is Halifax, incorporated as a town in 1749, which, if you Dumb Yanks know anything at all, is before the USA even existed, about a quarter century before your rebellion, AND its named after a Brit. The town was also a magnet for United Empire Loyalists. When its population wasn't busy fighting Yanks, it spent a good deal of its time denuding the region of its substantial timber resources, converting trees into ships. Halifax remains today one of the busiest port cities in Canada, and the shipbuilding industry, a principal employer.

As such, its location was selected, at least in part, based on the depth of the water off its shores; nothing whatsoever to do with clinging to the USA, and everything to do with two of the regions primary industries, ship building and trans-Atlantic shipping and transportation, although the ships built more recently aren't made of timber. In any case, its population today is approaching 350,000 and its distance from the capital city of the closest American state (Bangor, Maine) is about 460 miles by road, not the 100 miles so often quoted by the Dumb Yanks. It should be noted, distances of that length were lot more prohibitive than they are today. Transportation in those days was either on the water or, if on land, by foot or draft-animal-pulled cart or carriage.

Halifax is, and has been, a major Canadian naval and airforce centre. Its role in WWII cannot be understated. It also figured prominently in the Titanic disaster.

Closer to Maine, but far less populous, are Fredericton, capital city of New Brunswick, with a population of 66,224 as of the latest census, and two other cities, Moncton (pop. 69,074) and St. John (pop. 70,063).

Fredericton was deliberately chosen as the capital because it was located inland, and thus less vulnerable to attack by the upstart rebel Yankees. Its origins go back to the time of New France, wherein it was the capital city of Acadia. It began its life in 1692, as a fortress erected by the French. Fredericton was the site of more than one violent conflict between British colonials (later Americans) and French colonials, in the already referenced grand European contest for hegemony in the Americas.

So once again, its proximity to what was to become the American border had little, if anything, to do with the site chosen for its location, in fact, quite the opposite.

As far as Moncton and St. John are concerned, Moncton is even further away from Yankee territory and began its European life as a French settlement in the 1670s, a century before the American Revolution, although there were some wealthy British colonials involved in its early days, including Benjamin Franklin, and attempts were made by the rebellious Yanks to persuade Nova Scotians and New Brunswickers to join the Revolution, an attempt which obviously failed.

St. John was the site of several conflicts involving Yanks, British loyalists and the French, between the 1600s and 1800s.

While these cities are hardy gigantic metropolises, there's no need, or reason, for anyone to believe Halifax or any other of Atlantic Canada's lessor populated cities cling close to the USA border for protection. Their location and founding were predicated on other considerations having mostly to do with European centred trade, transportation and conflict.

Canada was created in 1867 when Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick joined forces and became a single British colony. You can read up more on that here. Note that concerns about the American Civil War were on the minds of colonial Canada. Note also that fear of American annexation of British North America was among those concerns, a fear that figured prominently in the settlement patterns of what was to become the Prairie Provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Of course, Loyalists showed up in other parts of British North America, in places that eventually became part of Canada. I don't know for sure, but I suspect their attitudes towards the rebellious Yanks, account in large part for the long-standing anti-Americanism that is so prevalent in Central and Atlantic Canada. If one drives along the highways in Ontario, for instance, take note of the symbol on the highway signs. It's a crown, as in the type worn by British monarchs (or a Loyalist Coronet). But by mentioning Ontario, I'm getting ahead of myself. Next up will be La Belle Provence, Quebec, which is the location of some major population centres within 100 miles of the US border. But bear in mind that French Canada was born and died long before there was a country called the United States of America and most of her major cities are located along or even in (old Montreal, for example) the Saint Lawrence River.

(Note: Sorry. You'll have to wait until tomorrow for installment III, concerning Quebec's population distribution, but there's a hint in my previous paragraph and in Part I, just below this entry. It has to do with water.)

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