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The Acquisition of Rupert’s Land

Before confederation in 1867, John A. MACDONALD was “not much concerned” with the vast territory to the west of the Province of Canada that was under the jurisdiction of the Hudson’s Bay Company [see From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)]:

“In 1865 he was to state in a letter to Edward William Watkin, the former Grand Trunk president who had examined the question of confederation for the Colonial Office, that he was ‘quite willing personally to leave that whole country a wilderness for the next fifty years.’”


But Macdonald’s opinions changed. When the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians in 1867, Canadians feared they would attempt to take over Rupert’s Land; its acquisition thus became an important objective for the government. George-Étienne CARTIER, Macdonald’s principal lieutenant, and William McDOUGALL, the minister of public works, were among the strongest advocates of the new dominion’s extension westward:

“[McDougall] appealed to the past, including the United States’ successful territorial expansion and Canada’s peaceful negotiations with its native peoples, and to scientistic assessments of the west, including reports from the expeditions of John Palliser* and Henry Youle Hind on the fertility of the land. McDougall attributed to this plan the force of natural law: ‘If we did not expand,’ he warned, ‘we must contract.’”


Cartier and McDougall travelled to London in 1868 to negotiate a deal for Rupert’s Land [see Relations with Native Peoples and the Métis]:

“[In April 1869] the British government made the [Hudson’s Bay Company] a proposal by which it would receive £300,000 for its territory and retain one-twentieth of the fertile belt. The shareholders accepted the offer, and Cartier returned to Canada in triumph, his negotiations having added more than a quarter of North America to the territory of Canada.”


For more information on the acquisition of Rupert’s Land, please consult the following biographies.

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