From Confederation to WWI

Watch film: Canada, A People's History

Notes on film viewed

An unprecedented age of prosperity and massive immigration transform Canada at the turn of the 20th century. Canada's first francophone leader, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, leads a country marked by Prairie boom times and massive industrialization. Those who shape the new society include peasants from Eastern Europe, in search of free land; socialists who try to mobilize an emerging urban working class; and campaigners for temperance and women's suffrage. The dizzying pace of change also brings ethnic intolerance and racism, particularly against Asian immigrants. As well, growing tensions over Canada's role in the British Empire, foreshadow divisive times to come as the First World War looms on the horizon.

"Let me tell you, my fellow Canadians, that all the signs point this way, that the twentieth century shall be the century of Canada ... Canada shall be the star towards which all men who love progress and freedom shall come." - Wilfrid Laurier
All things seemed possible for the young country when Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier spoke these heady words in 1904. Canada had embarked on an unprecedented era of prosperity, supported by the development of the Canadian West, the construction of the railway, and burgeoning industrialization.
A few years earlier, the Klondike Gold Rush had symbolically ushered in an age of prosperity for Canada. Gold was discovered in the Klondike River in the Yukon in the summer of 1896. The following year, thousands of would-be prospectors rushed to the Canadian wilderness to seek their fortunes.
Riches of wheat
Other people found riches in the golden wheat of the prairies. By the beginning of the 20th century, the discovery of a new variety of climate-resistant wheat, as well as mechanization of agriculture, contributed to thriving wheat harvests. Strong demand in the United States, Britain and Europe, made wheat Canada's main export. From 1896 to 1911, annual exports of wheat went from 8 million to 75 million bushels, which made the Prairies the breadbasket of the British Empire.
In 1897, Canada's Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton implemented an immigration policy that encouraged millions of Europeans to settle in the West and cultivate the agricultural gold.
The development of the West encouraged the federal government to take on the construction of a second transcontinental railroad in order to better serve this vast territory. Railroad construction became, at the beginning of the 20th century, the most important sector of investment. It stimulated in turn, the operation of iron and coal mines, heavy industry and the deployment of other transportation networks on the ground and in the water.
Industrial age
At the turn of the century, the industrial age enveloped. Natural resources such as wheat still anchored the country’s economy but now manufactured goods were in big demand. Factories sprung up to produce such goods as rubber products, leather goods and farm machinery.
As the demand for manufactured goods increased so did the size of Canada’s working class. From sea to sea, Canadian cities developed at a frantic rate. More of the population left the countryside to settle in cities, with the hopes of finding factory work. Residential and commercial construction was increasing, new roads were being laid out, and tramway and streetcar networks were developed.
Technological innovations
New technology was also front and centre in Canada’s age of prosperity. Two innovations emerged from Cape Breton in the first decade of the century. Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi sent the first wireless transmission across the Atlantic and Alexander Graham Bell launched the first manned-flight in the British Empire.
In Ontario, politician Adam Beck created the largest hydro-electric company in the world in 1906. The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario helped ignite an industrial boom in the province, providing cheap and available electricity for everyone.
It was people like Beck, who helped define the Canada of the new century. A country where it seemed all people had a chance to make their dreams could true. At the time it was hard to deny "that the twentieth century shall be the century of Canada."


At the start of the 20th century, Canada was a young country trying to define itself at home and on the world stage.
Spirit of compromise
Dominating the political scene was Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, Canada first francophone leader. He was a charming, shrewd politician who believed he could smooth over Canada's many divisive issues with a spirit of diplomacy. Laurier had opposed Confederation as a young man but now he was the greatest advocate of a united Canada.
Nicknamed the "Great Conciliator," Laurier led the country from 1896 to 1911. He rarely strayed from the middle ground in dealing with issues that ranged from the Manitoba School Crisis to the question of free trade with the United States.
French and English divide
But even Laurier's spirit of diplomacy was sorely tested when it came to French and English relations. During this era, a young French Canadian politician named Henri Bourassa emerged as the prime minister’s greatest adversary.
Bourassa came to embody a new French nationalism, which maintained that French culture should be on equal footing with English culture throughout the country. He also believed Canada should be as independent from Britain as possible.
Ties to Britain
Canada's relationship with the mother country was a key issue during Laurier's tenure. In 1899, young Canadian men marched off to war in South Africa in aid of Britain. And a few years later, Britain came calling again for assistance prompting the creation of the Canadian navy.
Canada's support of Britain imbued a sense of pride and confidence in English Canada. But in French Canada, the ties to Britain underscored Quebec’s feelings of isolation from the rest of the country.
In 1910, Henri Bourassa quit politics, founded the newspaper Le Devoir and led a fierce struggle against Laurier's naval bill, blaming him for Canada's involvement in all imperialist wars to come.
In 1911, the reign of the "Great Conciliator" ended. Laurier had been unable to mend the great divide but Canada's identity was stronger. French Canada and English Canada had starting to find their own voices – although not the united one that Laurier had sought.
At the turn of the 20th century, Canada needed people.
These were boom times in the Dominion. Canadian wheat was in great demand around the world and the country’s immense prairies needed tilling. At the same time, the Canada's flourishing industries demanded a huge labour force.
Britain and United States were the traditional sources of immigrants to English-speaking Canada but now their numbers weren’t enough. So Canada cast its net wider.
European newcomers
In 1896, the man in charge of immigration, Clifford Sifton, set about luring non-English speaking people from across Europe. In particular, East Europeans fit Sifton's image of the sturdy peasant farmer.
The rapid increase in Canada's western population prompted the creation of two new provinces in 1905: Alberta and Saskatchewan. More than half of the immigrants settled on the Prairies while thousands of others chose to settle in Quebec and Ontario.
In Quebec, and particularly in Montreal, Jewish and Italian communities put down roots in large numbers between 1900 and 1930.
Shattered dreams
For some immigrants, the Canadian dream was more like a nightmare. On the prairies life was hard and newcomers often lived in poverty. Many had to work away from the farm – in mining, railway building, lumbering – to make ends meet. Europeans who settled in the cities encountered slum-like conditions and were the target of resentment from other Canadians.
In British Columbia, Chinese immigrants were treated with more resentment than the European newcomers. First brought over to Canada to provide cheap labour for railway construction, Chinese Canadians encountered extreme prejudice and eventually violence as they tried to make a new life in Canada.
Despite the hardships, the world kept coming to Canada's doorstep. More than a million immigrants arrived between 1896 and 1905. And the newcomers made their mark. In a few short years, the look of Canada changed; a cultural mosaic had emerged.

At the turn of the 20th century, Canadian men and women demanded social, political and economic change as the country underwent the greatest transformation in its history.
Poverty and exploitation
In the cities, business was booming but social injustice accompanied rising industrialization. There were few protections for the poor. Child labour was tolerated and adults earned low wages and endured exploitation in the workplace. In 1900, the average pay was 13 cents an hour. A pound of butter cost 20 cents.
Canadian cities exploded in growth. Between 1891 and 1911, Montreal’s population more than doubled to 528,000. Other cities followed suit. But cities were ill prepared for the flood of new residents. Sanitation, housing, public health and education were grossly inadequate. In 1904, Toronto had almost no vacant houses and many dwellings were crowded with numerous families.
Many workers lived in slum-like conditions in the over-crowded cities. There was scant medical help available and alcoholism flourished as men turned to the bottle to escape their dismal existence.
The gap between the rich and the poor became immense and about 100 people controlled two-thirds of Canada’s economy. Most of the wealthy lived in the Square Mile, an elite section of Montreal. Their lives were dominated by elaborate costume balls and visiting royalty while just down the road their workers struggled to survive.
Call for change
As conditions deteriorated for the working-class, the calls for change came from two main fronts; trade unions and Christian groups.
Since the late 1800s, some church leaders sought to combine religious teaching with social justice. The emerging "social gospel" mobilized Christian-based groups to help the poor and destitute.
In Winnipeg, a Methodist minister named James Shaver Woodsworth believed it was his duty to improve the lives of immigrants and not just preach to them. Woodsworth became the best known of the social reform-minded ministers in Canada.
Women's voices
The powerful Women’s Christian Temperance Union pushed for better working conditions for women and the ban of alcohol in society. Women realized they needed to gain political influence to achieve their ends; They wanted the right to vote.
Nellie McClung emerged as a key leader of the women’s rights movement. She used her wit and eloquence to battle deeply embedded views on a woman’s place in society. She was instrumental in earning women the right to vote in Manitoba, the first province to grant the franchise.
Rise of Unions
Trade unions also became an important tool for change during the early 1900s. National unions began to gain strength in Canada as workers increasingly turned to them for help in the workplace.
But the struggle to unionize workers was long and hard. The decade saw many bitter strikes as workers fought against the powerful owners.



Watch film Brave New Beginnings 1900 - 1929


The late 1800s was a time of harsh living and working conditions. It was life on the edge of a precipice. Every family member often works 10 hours a day, six days a week in the factory. The women are paid half as much as the men, children far less than that. There is no unemployment insurance, no pensions, no health and safety protection, and no minimum wage. This episode reveals how labour unions emerged in Canada as workers began to organize for greater protection in the workplace. From the creation of benevolent societies and craft unions, the institution of the 1872 Trade Union Act under John A. MacDonald,, and the establishment of national and regional labour organizations, Brave Beginnings charts the first successes of unions. This episode also depicts the challenges: the 1880s revolt by the Knights of Labour, coal miners strikes in Cape Breton and Vancouver Island, and the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919. Brave Beginnings examines how the concept of solidarity grew between groups of workers across the country when there was still no legal right to collective bargaining. It also documents the beginnings of labour's political influence at the ballot box. By the late 1920s, workers had made some gains. The Long March for social justice had begun, but there were many miles yet to go.

Answer the following questions while watching the above film.

  1. Prime Minister Laurier said: "The 20th Century .
  2. Low for workers, kept the production costs .
  3. 100 Young women died in a fire because their supervisor the .
  4. What would happen if an 8 year old child refused to work?
  5. What were the first unions called?
  6. The Knights of Labour strike was broken at the factory.
  7. Mackenzie King brought in a law in 1907, that required days cooling off period.
  8. Gompen wants respect for worker but only workers.
  9. Canadians were in unions.
  10. Unskilled workers took to the .
  11. Wobblies from the first union welcomed workers.
  12. In 19 Construction Camp workers strike ended with hired and striking workers were sent to .
  13. In the war, huge were made by industrialists while prices went .
  14. Canadians joined unions during the war.
  15. Most of the ,000 Canadians killed in the war came from class.
  16. What was the new union which combined all of the other unions?
  17. May 19 Winnipeg General Strike involved workers.
  18. What did the police try to do to the strikers?
  19. Why is June 21 called Bloody Saturday?
  20. What does Mackenzie King help Rockefeller fix in Colorado?
  21. What percentage of Canadian working families hovered on poverty? %
  22. List 3 things the Massey-Harris company provided the workers .