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Debating Canada’s Future: A Night at Montreal’s Sohmer Park, 1892

Aaron Boyes

On July 1 2017, we, the people of Canada, will celebrate our country’s 150th birthday. Over the past several years federal, provincial, and municipal governments have been gearing up for this historic event by planning elaborate celebrations to mark the triumphs of our great nation. Yet this confidence and pride in Canada was not always evident. In fact, in the 1880s and 1890s, a mere twenty years after Confederation, there emerged serious discussions concerning the country’s political future. The country was stuck in a prolonged and seemingly unending economic depression despite numerous attempts to solve it. Linguistic strife, which had been decreasing in the first two decades after Confederation, once again became a national issue, thanks in large part to the execution of Louis Riel in 1885. On top of these issues, a unique and distinct Canadian nationalism was struggling to develop, which enabled regionalism to dominate Canadian identity. At the same time, Canada was faced with several international dilemmas with the United States, based largely on the rights of fishermen in and around Canadian waters. These internal and external pressures led some people to determine that Confederation was a failure.