"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.
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Age of Prosperity
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.
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.
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."