Canada: The Story of Us

Episode 5: Expansion (1858 - 1899)

In the lead up to Confederation, Canada faces the threat of American expansionism. Determined that Canada will remain independent and free, a generation of risk-takers, gold miners, cowboys and railway builders will rise to the challenge.

In an effort to remain free and independent, Canada expands its borders.

American-born cowboy John Ware helped drive the first herd of cattle from the U.S. to Alberta, marking the start of Alberta's ranching industry. (Canada: The Story of Us)

In the lead up to Confederation, Canada faces the threat of American expansionism and a decreased interest by the British in maintainintg the colony. Determined that Canada will remain independent and free, a generation of risk takers, gold miners, cowboys and railway builders will rise to the challenge. But not everyone is happy with this expansion.


James Douglas defends the border on the West Coast (1858)

James Douglas, the son of a Scottish planter and a Creole Bajan woman, born in what is now Guyana, signs on to the North West Company at the age of 16. When the company merges with the Hudson's Bay Company, Douglas moves quickly up the ranks of the organization. He eventually became the Hudson's Bay Company's Chief Factor of New Caledonia, effectively putting him in charge of much of what is now British Columbia.

In 1851, he is named Governor of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island. He works hard to maintain the colony's territory against American expansionism. That job gets harder when gold is discovered in the Fraser and Thompson rivers, sending a stream of American prospectors north. He reacts quickly to the sudden gold rush, securing the land north of the 49th parallel as British land. His swift action gets him named Governor of the new Crown Colony of British Columbia, shaping modern Canada in the process.

Louis Riel and Big Bear take on the Federal Government (1869-1885)

In 1869, the railway survey across Canada encounters resistance in the west from the Métis nation, led by Louis Riel. The Métis feel their place in the new nation of Canada has not been properly negotiated. In 1884, the railway encounters more resistance from the Plains Cree under the leadership of Big Bear, a fearless negotiator who seeks to secure the survival of his people in the face of Canadian expansion. Big Bear and Riel team up to take on Sir John A. Macdonald's government. Riel declares himself leader of the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan. Ultimately, their uprisings are crushed by the powerful government forces, but Big Bear and Louis Riel live on as powerful symbols of resistance to all Canadians.

Bringing the cattle industry to Alberta (1881)

In 1881, businessman Frederick Stimson's wishes to establish a cattle ranch in Alberta. He purchases land in the Rocky Mountains foothills for what will become the Bar U Ranch. The only problem: he doesn't actually have any cattle.

He needs skilled cowboys to drive the cattle from southern Idaho and fill the ranch. One of these cowboys is John Ware, an African-American born into slavery who, through hard work and a natural gift, has become one of the best horsemen in the American West. Ware and his team of cowboys overcome great challenges to move the 3,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles to the Bar U Ranch. It is this first great cattle drive that helps establish the cattle industry in Canada's west and John Ware gains an important place in Canada's story as a result.

The railway crosses the Rockies (1882-85)

The last great push of the railway across Canada encounters resistance of a geographic sort: the Rocky Mountains. It will take great engineering prowess and sacrifice to overcome this obstacle. Chief engineer James Ross struggles to find a way to mitigate the Rocky Mountains and deliver a method of safe passage over the Kicking Horse Pass.

Entrepreneur Yip Sang recruits and oversees the Chinese labour that is so essential to the railway's completion. For many of these workers, building the railway will cost them their lives.

Keeping order in the Yukon (1898-99)

The Klondike gold rush brings an influx of American prospectors into the Yukon. They encounter a uniquely Canadian style of justice in the form of Sam Steele, an ex-soldier and the North-West Mounted Police officer in charge of the region.

Martha Black and her brother George travel to seek their own fortune in the Klondike, passing through the deadly Chilkoot Pass only to face disappointment on their arrival. Martha turns adversity into opportunity and becomes an important figure in the Klondike as a land owner; she eventually becomes the second woman elected to Canada's Parliament.

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