Provincial Matters

Provincial Matters

Inter-Canada Politics

As a young country, Canada at the time was still discovering what kind of country it would be. Meanwhile provinces and territories developed their own distinct cultures, values, and traditions. They contribute to a diversity of what being Canadian can mean, but also compete for political power and representation. 

The cartoons from the early 20th century show questions over Britain’s role, the distinct culture of French Canada, and the newly formed provinces in the West.

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

"Tossed the compromise. Sir Wilfrid:- "Gar! Baptiste, that brute is making me so nervous."

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

Relying on stereotypes, McConnell portrayed the struggle the Laurier government faced between Western autonomy and recognition of French-Canadian culture. 

Here the West is a wild, bucking bull, while the Quebecois is a small, woodsman-like man. Many people and cultures outside of white-Anglo Canadians were portrayed in an offensive and sometimes dehumanizing way.

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

“The next favor. ‘A flag to suit the minority.’”

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

Can you identify any symbols on the flag in this cartoon?

Tricolour flag of France
Tricolour flag of France
Union Jack flag of the United Kingdom and was Canada’s official flag until 1965
Union Jack flag of the United Kingdom and was Canada’s official flag until 1965
Fleur de lis is associated with France and French Canada
Fleur de lis is associated with France and French Canada
Maple leaf is originally a symbol of French Canada, became one for English Canada in the 19th Century
Maple leaf is originally a symbol of French Canada, became one for English Canada in the 19th Century

Role of Britain

As a former colony of Great Britain, many early 20th century Canadians still had strong British ties. Others however felt that Canada should strike out on its own. This struggle between who Canada was and who it could become played out in the cartoons from the era.

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

"Our King"

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

After the death of King Edward VII in 1910, English Canadians mourned the loss of their monarch. Here a young female figure representing Canada cries beside his casket.

As the monarch of Great Britain (now the United Kingdom), they are also the head of state in Canada. While now a largely ceremonial role, this cartoon shows how deeply connected many still to Great Britain.

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“Edward VII; Memorial Service, Parliament Buildings”

Pringle and Booth (Toronto). 1910.

Source: Toronto Public Libraries

Public funerals are largely reserved for Canada’s heads of state and government. In 1910, hundreds of mourners packed Queen’s Park in Toronto to grieve the loss of King Edward VII. Since then, there have been 4 British monarchs, including the longest serving British monarch of all time, Queen Elizabeth II.

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

"Invading General:- What are those two men doing up there by those Parliament Building ruins? Officer:- 'Two statesmen, General, arguing whether they shall contribute Dreadnoughts to Britain or build a Canadian Navy.'”

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

Sites of old ruins can evoke loss, death, or the passage of time. The ruins in this cartoon show all three. 

As the two politicians argue in the background about whether Canada should have its own Navy or support Britain’s, their worries have come true. An invading general and his officer have already arrived.

Quebec

After the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), France gave up the majority of their land in North America to the British. Since then, French Canadians have developed their own distinct culture, while fighting to maintain the French language and presence in Canada.

Anglo-Canadian cartoonists spread the idea of a plotting Quebec looking to make Canada French. At the same time often personifying the province and French Canadians as a small, brutish man. French Canadians did not fit into the ideal of Canadians the newspapers pushed – someone who was Protestant, English speaking, and pro-monarchy.

Unknown Artist. Circa 1914 to 1918.

“Quebec must not rule all Canada”

Unknown Artist. Circa 1914 to 1918.

Cartoonists were not exempt from holding Anti-Francophone beliefs dominant in Canadian newspapers. As World War One began, these beliefs came to the forefront with the introduction of conscription (a mandatory draft into the army).

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

"Invading General:- What are those two men doing up there by those Parliament Building ruins? Officer:- 'Two statesmen, General, arguing whether they shall contribute Dreadnoughts to Britain or build a Canadian Navy.'”

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.
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The West

In 1905, two new provinces were created out of the southern portion of the Northwest Territories: Alberta and Saskatechewan. Now with their own distinct boundaries, the new Albertans and Saskatchewanians struggled to retain their autonomy and combat the ire of the other provinces.

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

“He won’t be happy ‘till he gets it”

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

Alberta and Sakatchewan were just in their provincial infancy in the 1900s – quite literally in this cartoon. Ontario, however, still remained the dominant political force, controlling both the seats in government and the major newspapers of the day.

Imagine instead you were a newspaper cartoonist living in western Canada at this time, think of some ways you might change this cartoon.

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

"The West: If this is the best you fellows can do, give me back my Territorial buck-skins."

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

Have you ever put on clothes that didn’t fit or just did not feel like you? It can bring up feelings of shame, embarrassment, or laughter.

The man at the forefront in this cartoon is experiencing this as he’s stuffed into an ill-fitting “Western Autonomy Suit.” He knows the clothes do not fit him and instead asks for them to “give me back my Territorial buck-skins.”

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

"A bad change. Is the 'Provincial Rights Champion' of '96 now going to change swords?"

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

When Prime Minister Laurier could not appease Canadians with separating schools based on language, giving autonomy to the Western provinces, or increasing provincial rights, he turned to a new method. 

Taking up the sword of former Prime Minister Charles Tupper and wearing the outfit of an Ancient Roman warrior, it looks like Laurier is preparing for battle…

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

"Another interruption. Sir Wilfrid:- Now what does that old bull in the small pen want to start butting in for?"

Newton McConnell. Circa 1910.

Who is present in the cartoons is just as important as who is not. We see in these cartoons politicians and representations of provinces, like this cartoon here. 

Who is absent from these cartoons that would also be concerned with the growing boundary of Canada? If you could reimagine this cartoon from those perspectives, what would the caption say instead?