Canada Buys Rupert's Land
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Canada Buys Rupert's Land
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Canada Buys Rupert's Land

As the Dominion of Canada was taking its first steps, its political leaders were eyeing a vast area of land to the west of the new nation.
The government of John A. Macdonald purchased almost eight million square kilometers of land from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1869.  The area was almost 30 times the size of Great Britain. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
The government of John A. Macdonald purchased almost eight million square kilometers of land from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1869. The area was almost 30 times the size of Great Britain. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

An enormous territory called Rupert's Land was up for sale. It encompassed almost eight million square kilometers, including most of the prairies, and parts of what are now northern Quebec, northern Ontario, and Nunavut. The once powerful Hudson's Bay Company controlled the area. But the British fur trade giant had been in decline for years and it was now preparing to sell Rupert's Land.

The Americans, who had just paid Russia $7.2 million for Alaska in 1867, were looking for other properties to expand the Republic and eyed the territory.

But Canada saw Rupert's Land as the natural extension of its new nation which included Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec.

George Brown, editor of The Globe and a Father of Confederation, described it as "the vast and fertile territory which is our birthright - and which no power on earth can prevent us occupying."
Rupert's Land
Rupert's Land

The Hudson's Bay Company was prepared to sell to the Americans who would pay top dollar, but the British government made it clear it wanted the territory to be sold to Canada.

On March 20, 1869, the Hudson's Bay Company reluctantly, under pressure from Great Britain, sold Rupert's Land to the Government of Canada for $1.5 million. The sale involved roughly a quarter of the continent, a staggering amount of land, but it failed to take into account the existing residents - mainly Indians and Mtis.

This fact was not lost on Prime Minister John A. Macdonald.

"No explanation it appears has been made of the arrangement by which the country is to be handed over," Macdonald told political ally George-Etienne Cartier. "All these poor people know is that Canada has bought the country from the Hudson's Bay Company and that they are handed over like a flock of sheep to us."

But Macdonald would discover that expanding a nation was more complex than just buying real estate. The people of the new territory would show that they had no intention of being shepherded quietly into a union with Canada.

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