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Development of Canada in in the Early 20th Century

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Society and Manners

Canadians were still a large part of Britain in the early 20th century because the regulations were set by a small group of middle- and upper-class British, and they followed many British laws and customs, which had a very strict punishment for disobeying them.

A group called the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union which was created around 5 years after Canada’s Confederation was trying to convince Canadians to support a ban on alcohol and the right for women to vote, since they knew alcohol was an important factor for numerous issues in society and with women allowed to vote, they could persuade the Canadian government to fix the various problems like poverty, child labor and pollution.

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As there were many ethical and behavioral rules women has to follow, the middle-class women that were young and forming relationships with men was a very formal process watched over by their family, however as soon as marriage was announced, the women nearly lost all rights over their children and land, and likewise, divorce was a hard process. Legally, women were not considered persons unless they committed a crime, and a woman’s salary was her husband’s. If women were not working in the household generally before her marriage, they would be working as factory workers or servants.

Through Canada’s urbanization process, the literature began to be more emotional as many authors like Lucy Montgomery wrote the famous book Anne of Green Gables, a romantic setting in PEI and Stephen Leacock wrote a playful story about a life in a small town in Ontario named Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.

Famous artists such as Emily Carr wrote and painted in the styles of the West Coast Indigenous peoples. The people of Canada loved nature, and Canadians participated in many outdoor activities mostly year-round including cycling, rowing, and running. When the weather would get sunny and warm, people would visit the beach in “bathing costumes”, which would be modern day bathing suits, and when the temperature would dip, and white powder would start falling from the sky, Canadians would put on their winter jackets and have fun tobogganing and sledding down the snowy land.

Still A British Nation

Like most British colonies at the time, Canada had their own government. However, regarding disputes with other countries, Britain would get involved and often their decisions were not the best for the colony. There was an argument between the US and Canada over the Alaskan boundary between Yukon territory and British Columbia, especially over who owned the Lynn Canal fjord because in 1896, gold had been discovered in that waterway leading to Yukon. The prime minister at that time, Wilfred Laurier commented that “the great neighbor is determined… to get the best in any agreement”.

After the British were done fighting the Second Boer War in South Africa, they didn’t want to fight again so they let the US have the Lynn Canal. Numerous Canadian citizens were outraged at Britain’s decision, and they thought Britain just agreed to the US to be peaceful and not provoke another international war.

The majority of English-speaking Canadians disliked Britain’s decision, however they were glad to be part of the Britain and had the same vision of conquering more land for the British empire. These people were imperialists, people that support a country conquering and having authority over more colonies and countries.

On the other hand, Canadians that spoke French who were descendants from the French people that settled in “New France” called Canadiens, were often nationalists, and they had a firm connection with France. They thought Canada should be an independent country, and not relying on Britain to make decisions and control the Canadian government. When Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier sent soldiers to help Britain in the Boer War, a French-Canadian nationalist leader named Henri Bourassa resigned as a member in Cabinet to show his support for nationalism.

After an argument, the right for French Canadians to be taught in French in Catholic schools was taken away first in Manitoba, then Saskatchewan and Alberta followed. Henri Bourassa suggested that the French speaking Canadians might have no reason to stay in Canada if their rights were not respected, since Quebec people thought their right would be respected when Canada became a country during Confederation.

Canada’s Changing Population

As the prime minister of Canada, Wilfred Laurier and his government made a campaign to let people immigrate to Canada, so the country could be successful. The French Canadians didn’t like other immigrants since they would be outnumbered, and a majority of Canadians considered their race to be superior compared to others, and many immigrants were discriminated, including Ukrainians, Polish, Chinese, Japanese and other Asians. As more Asians began immigrating to BC and the fear of them competing with Canadians for work, the Canadian government created the Chinese Immigration Act in 1885 which made each Chinese immigrant pay a $50 head tax.

The government also put restrictions on the Aboriginal peoples by placing them in designated reserves, so that more land was available for the immigrants and settlers. In addition to that, they were forced to start farming like the Europeans had done, but on very poor quality soil and machinery which led to multiple crop failures and starvation.

The federal government also tried to assimilate the Indigenous people by sending their children to residential schools where they were taught the Canadian way of doing things and were punished for doing anything that was from their culture. The government was doing this purposely, so the Aboriginals would take on a European lifestyle.

Towns and cities were also growing rapidly from immigrants since it was a change from the farming life and there were many jobs due to more items being manufactured. In the early 1900s, cities had explosive populations growths, such as Winnipeg which had a population of 42,340 in 1901 and later in 1911 the population nearly tripled to 136,035.

However, city life wasn’t perfect, and while the rich lived happily ever after in their large homes, filled with hot running water and electricity, the poor had to endure child labor and long work hours for very little pay, no running water, a horrible sewer system, and numerous diseases made it a hard city life.

An Economy Transformed

Since being discovered and as a British colony, Canada was full of natural resources, such as minerals, wheat and timber and combined with the cheap shipping costs and the grand opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, the economy became very valuable.

Electricity became popular and hydroelectric power began powering factories across Canada, which helped factories produce more goods in less time, mainly for agriculture and farming. As more jobs started popping up, the popular goods we use and consume today, including Canada Dry ginger ale, Heinz ketchup, Palmolive dish and hand soap, and shredded wheat cereal were created. Telephones and automobiles, and even 5 cent chocolate bars began to be manufactured and sold.

Companies also benefitted from this industrialization process and there was little competition to prevent pries from skyrocketing and unsafe work conditions. The early forms of modern-day unions were created to provide support for the workers for higher wages and a safe work environment, and when the companies denied what the workers wanted, the employees went on a strike to protest their demands. Strikes could get violent so sometimes the police or military was called in to break up the strike.

Around 1910, multiple financial institutions failed and then as a result stocks crashed which put Canada into a recession where many workers were unemployed and demand for most items was low.

Resources and the Environment

Canada was thought to be an infinite supply of natural resources and the majority of Canadians in the early 1900s, environmental protection was not even considered. The first effects were noticed by BC residents after workers blasting rock for a new railway line in the Fraser Canyon caused a rockslide which blocked access to sockeye salmon spawning grounds, due to a massive increase to the river current. § The 20-30 million fish that were caught in the Fraser River before would be a thing of the past, and even though around 30 years later a fish ladder was built to let the sockeye salmon swim upstream to spawn, sockeye salmon harvests remained well below the 20-30 million mark.

The Aboriginal people that depended on the sockeye salmon fishing suffered from the lower numbers of salmon returning to spawn, even though numbers of the sockeye salmon eventually rose and commercial fishing companies were given ownership to that fishing area to offset the economic losses. This rockslide accident showed that humans can have a continuing unfavorable consequence on the environment, which was not previously thought about. The creation of Banff National Park in 1885 shows that the government does care about the environment and is working to ensure parts of Canada are preserved, and in 1914 Mount Revelstoke, Yoho, and Glacier were BC’s first 3 national parks. Right now, BC has approximately 1000 provincial parks that are protected under the law.

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