Fathers of Confederation

[One of Cartier’s earliest surviving speeches, delivered to a political rally when he was just 28, foreshadows with remarkable precision the political nationality he would advocate at Confederation. Addressing himself to French-Canadian, English, Irish and Scots alike, Cartier tells the crowd they can seek constitutional rights together, and that diversity will be a “social and political benefit” to Canada. As Cartier said, “Canada was very fortunate to have in its midst two peoples owing much of their origin to the two great nations that are at the forefront of civilization, the French and the English, that the languages of these two great peoples were spoken without distinction and could easily be learned in this country, that this held huge benefits for the inhabitants of Canada.” This little-known speech, and the power of its ideals, are at the heart of the invention of Canada.]

Mr. Cartier, in seconding the last resolution submitted for adoption by the assembly, said he had to apologize for not being able to express the emotions that were moving him at that moment, due to an ailment impairing his ability to speak. Nonetheless, he said he found consolation in knowing the assembly would lose nothing by not hearing his voice, which could only be very weak and of little value, following the sublime and eminently patriotic words of the orators who preceded him.

However, he could not refrain from expressing a thought that came to him in contemplating the majestic assembly he was addressing, where French Canadian, English, Irish and Scottish members were gathered, without distinction of race or origin. In this place, he said he found clear refutation to the false political doctrine, impiety and blasphemy, if he might put it that way, which had long been and was still being preached, by men who are blinded by ignorance, malice and prejudice. By those who say it is impossible to find in this province men of French Canadian and British origin gathered in the same place to seek and obtain constitutional rights; that a war of races exists among them; that men pretending to be journalists, but whose principles and ideas are narrow when speaking of the two populations who live in this province, say it is a political misfortune that they are of different extractions, and that this is holding up the country’s prosperity.

Mr. Cartier said he saw this as a social and political benefit, rather than as a political misfortune, and that we should bless Providence. He said that Canada was very fortunate to have in its midst two peoples owing much of their origin to the two great nations that are at the forefront of civilization, the French and the English, that the languages of these two great peoples were spoken without distinction and could easily be learned in this country, that this held huge benefits for the inhabitants of Canada who drew their political, philosophical, historical and literary knowledge and culture from two different sources and languages, and that the mind could only benefit from this tremendously through the exercise of comparison.

He noted that inhabitants of this country who were of British extraction had nothing to fear from their French Canadian fellow subjects, who did not want exclusive rights and were ready, and had always been ready, to help and support any administration that treated them with justice and impartiality.

No doubt, he said, the address to Sir Charles Metcalfe, submitted to this assembly for adoption, will make a strong impression on this illustrious figure, and that he will be persuaded, while saluting his happy arrival among us, that in all government and administrative measures based on justice and the equality of rights, he will find among our French Canadian compatriots, as in all others, British hearts in the full meaning of the term who only wish for the happiness and prosperity of the country.

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.