Fathers of Confederation

[Cartier is given a hero’s welcome in Ottawa, greeted by crowds and receiving official congratulations from the Mayor and the President of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society. Cartier speaks of Confederation reuniting the lands which formerly comprised New France, and tells the Franco-Ontarian minority it has been placed on an equal footing with the majority, and has been reunited with other francophones throughout Canada. Cartier speaks of Confederation as a tree of many branches, and warns that rights are secured by hard work and mutual understanding, never through zealotry: “We, Franco-Ontarians, are one of those branches. It is up to us to understand this and to work for the common good. The patriot, of course, does not combat with a spirit of fanaticism. Though he safeguards what he loves, he wishes for his neighbour to be protected from attack just as he is. This tolerance, gentlemen, is essential, and it is through it that we associate ourselves to the great undertaking, for which our ambition rightfully claims a share of the honour.”]

Gentlemen,

You are too kind in welcoming me with such pomp, and I do not know how to express my appreciation for your eagerness to congratulate me on my happy return to the country.

You made reference to Confederation, which will transform British North American provinces into a new power, and give its population the rank of nation, administering its own affairs within the territorial boundaries of these formerly separate colonies.

Creation of this empire inaugurates an era of progress for us, of heretofore unknown national prosperity.

Our combined efforts will soon reveal the immense resources, the boundless natural wealth of these lands, which need only intelligent exploitation to astound neighbouring countries and spread well-being among us.

Ottawa is the fortunate capital of our new government, and I see it as the centre of the commercial activity that will be born from Confederation. While provinces in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence will mark the boundary of Confederation by the ocean, the Hudson Bay, Red River and British Columbian territories will be closer to us. Indeed, I hope we will welcome their entry into Confederation before long. And then our Canada will stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific, as when it was discovered on all sides by our fathers, the French race. We will restore its natural boundaries, which the events of history gradually decreased. From one ocean to the other, our common life will revive this corner of North America, and you, residents of Ottawa, will see wealth from these two worlds flow by your doors, as tremendous traffic carries it in both directions through the Ottawa Valley. You possess the natural route leading from the Saint Lawrence to lands in the interior. Allow progress to march a little further still, and your river, freed from all obstruction, will carry its vessels all the way to the Western countryside, and bring back its products which you will, in turn, trade with your fellow subjects in the East. That is what we mean by those words: Ottawa, “Capital of Confederation.” See what your future holds, organized as such. Naturally, you are still only at the beginning of your prosperity, since today’s capital will continue to grow even more rapidly than the young city did in the past.

Gentlemen of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, you have spoken about my attachment to all we hold dear as French Canadians. And on this, you are correct. But you have gone so far as to appoint me first among the members of my race. Honestly, I can only thank you for a title that is too flattering, because I don’t believe I deserve it. Your proposal touches me more than I can say; it is an extraordinary honour. I would not dare think myself first among my compatriots, but if the hard work and energy of a man can earn your respect, then I may be deserving of your esteem. Gentlemen, success in politics is like success in private life; it is to be earned through tireless work, unflagging perseverance, and courage in battle that doesn’t trip over obstacles. It is at that price, at that price alone, that we finally reach our goal. And my future line of conduct will remain what it was in the past.

For the good of my country, I am willing to strive again with the same diligence our various crises have asked from me in the past. You will always find me in the thick of things, inspired by the same spirit, and trusting in the friendship of my compatriots.

Gentlemen of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, you speak of your isolation from Lower Canada and see yourselves as a family detached from the nation. Although you are not here in a place of exile, you are among a population that is not completely similar to you. Your language and ways contrast with those of your surroundings. Yet your numbers and accomplishments say that you are now on an equal footing and live in harmony with the citizens of a different origin who make up the majority. Those facts speak highly in your favour and inspire the greatest confidence among the friends of our country. Let us not forget that one benefit of Confederation will be to put you in contact with Lower Canada, inside our federal Parliament, which, on the other side of its boundary, will extend a hand of friendship and protection to French groups throughout every province. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick will bring back members of our family that were previously separated from us. Under this regime, therefore, our alliance will be stronger than ever, allowing us to combine forces and lose nothing of our privileges.

Our future is in your hands, and it is up to the different centres of our nationality to understand this and to discharge their duties accordingly. Because let us remember that our duties also belong to the citizen. Confederation is a tree whose branches, while extending in many directions, are tied firmly to the main trunk. We, Franco-Ontarians, are one of those branches. It is up to us to understand this and to work for the common good. The patriot, of course, does not combat with a spirit of fanaticism. Though he safeguards what he loves, he wishes for his neighbour to be protected from attack just as he is. This tolerance, gentlemen, is essential, and it is through it that we associate ourselves to the great undertaking, for which our ambition rightfully claims a share of the honour. I am pleased to see that you understand the truth of this principle and that you are in perfect agreement with your other fellow citizens. It is important for us not to linger behind, and we must not allow ourselves to be surpassed; on that condition alone will we be able to preserve the rights our distinct nationality has acquired. We will enjoy those rights as long as we are worthy of them.

Mr. Mayor and Mr. Chairman of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, I have just returned from England where I witnessed one of the greatest accomplishments in modern history: the peaceful union of four British colonies, as you were able to gather by following debates in the English Parliament. I would add that my amazement reached its peak when I heard Her Majesty’s ministers express such liberal opinions and accept our decisions without revising them or attempting to change them. The spirit that motivates the statesman of our mother country has really changed. They were convinced we knew our own needs better than anyone, and that we should be free to govern our destinies, and that sanction from the British Parliament was only a formality. They granted our request and, moreover, gave us three million pounds sterling to make improvements to our new government. Was this not the friendliest political behaviour towards us? Was this not the most irrefutable proof given to us? This was a unique display we should be proud of: the two powerful parties that vie for power in England laid down their weapons to agree and act together as soon as our interests were at issue. I repeat it: the most complete good faith and the least possible antagonism presided over the accomplishment of this great undertaking.

Gentlemen, the weather is far too disagreeable for me to keep you here any longer. Please accept my sincere thanks for the reception you have given me and for alluding to my recent visit through Lower Canada. I would be very remiss in acknowledging your favours, if I did not have a redoubled desire to work for my country with all the courage and energy God gave me. Please accept my wishes for your happiness and prosperity. (Prolonged applause.)

Translated by Jean-Paul Murray, from the 1893 edition of Discours de Sir Georges Cartier, edited by Joseph Tassé, published by Senécal & Fils at Montreal.