Pacific Railway Scandal
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Pacific Railway Scandal

When Manitoba entered Confederation in 1870, British Columbia was still an isolated British colony on the West Coast. In March 1867, the United States had bought Alaska leaving British Columbia hemmed in by the Americans to the north and south, with the Rocky Mountains to the east.
William Smith later called Amor de Cosmos was a politician, journalist and one of the architects of B.C.'s entry into Confederation. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
William Smith later called Amor de Cosmos was a politician, journalist and one of the architects of B.C.'s entry into Confederation. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

The Americans had proposed that B.C. be given to them as settlement of claims against Britain arising from the Civil War but Britain had refused.

British Columbia felt isolated and detached, a colony still sparsely settled.

One man who argued for Confederation with Canada was Amor de Cosmos, a Nova Scotian who had come to Victoria on Vancouver Island in 1858 by way of California. De Cosmos, whose original name was William Smith, founded a newspaper, the British Colonist. In 1863, he was elected to the Vancouver assembly (the island and mainland B.C. were separate colonies until 1866) and became the Leader of the Opposition.
George-Etienne Cartier said Canada would build a railway to the Pacific if British Columbia joined confederation. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
George-Etienne Cartier said Canada would build a railway to the Pacific if British Columbia joined confederation. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

His support for joining Canada put Cosmos at odds with the colony's elite, who still preferred the British connection. But by 1869, the British government was taking an active role in prodding British Columbia toward union with Canada. The mainland colony's new governor, Sir Anthony Musgrave, was appointed with instructions to make Confederation happen.

In 1870, a delegation from British Columbia went to Ottawa to negotiate terms and made the modest yet wildly impractical demand that a wagon road be built from Lake Superior to the Pacific.

Ottawa's negotiator, George Étienne Cartier, surprised the B.C. group by offering them a railway instead. Construction would begin within two years and be completed in ten years. Cartier also agreed to take over the colony's considerable debt of almost $1.5 million and provide an annual subsidy of $216,000.

With little regard for the claims of the Indian nations, British Columbia entered Confederation in 1871. In the following year, Amor de Cosmos became Premier.

Now Canada was a nation that reached from sea to sea. Ahead was the monumental task of building a railway that ran across the continent.

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