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The merging of East and West Canada into a single federation was no easy feat. The history of animosity and warfare between the British and the French, and their resolution in treaties and territorial concessions presaged the formation of a country that remains emotionally divided today.
The War of Spanish Succession and consequent signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 began the demise of French influence in Canada, as major and economically-important regions -- the Hudson Bay territory and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick -- were ceded to Great Britain under the terms of the treaty. Newfoundland was officially recognized as British territory and French settlers were transferred to Cape Breton.. As British influence and interests spread across the expanse of Canadian North America, though, political divisions regarding the huge territory's relationship to the British Crown and continuing cultural divisions between and French- and English-speaking Canadians remained obstacles to political unity. For two hundred years following the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, Canadian politics remained embroiled in debates regarding its status relative to Great Britain and its identification as a nation.
The concept of British North America, which come to fruition in the 1860s, with the signing of the British North America Act on July 1, 1867 and the formal establishment of the Dominion of Canada, remained a contentious issue for pro-British and French partisans alike. In the meantime, the question of control over what became known as Canada West remained alive, with the fate of lucrative fur trapping and trading rights hanging in the balance. Which brings the discussion John A. MacDonald (1815-1891) Canada's first prime minister. MacDonald advocated the gradual territorial expansion of the dominion and the requisite construction of rail lines extending the length of the territory as a means of facilitating the movement of goods as well as solidifying Canadian sovereignty over the western expanse. Fear of U.S. expansionism remained a concern and consolidation of his hold on the west was a high priority.
Support for incorporating Canada West into the confederation was not unanimous. MacDonald lacked the level of influence in the west he enjoyed in the east. His political rival, George Brown, understood that the west's agrarian economy was considerably weaker than the industrializing east. The west's ability to transport goods to the east and points beyond was hostage to the east's control of the railways. Population growth in the west created demand for greater political representation in Parliament, despite the equal status the two halves enjoyed in the 1840 Act of Union. Brown's influence was also held in check by MacDonald's alliance with George-Etienne Cartier and his Parti Bleu, whose French heritage and language were anathema to Brown's and his allies. Also, the west's large agricultural sector had oriented itself toward the United States, which alarmed MacDonald.
The division was Cartier and MacDonald on one side, both geographically and politically, and Brown on the other. Brown would ultimately capitulate in order to retain his standing as a national figure. As Canada West asserted itself within Canada's political structure, and with the east fearful of U.S. encroachments, Brown leveraged his participation in national politics to secure greater control over the North-Western Territory.
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