April is here at last. While that may mean some poor weather, try and see from Thomas Tusser’s perspective in the 16th century when he wrote: “Sweet April showers do spring May Flowers —” greenery and sun is just around the corner! But while we wait and the seasons change, let’s look at some history; the topic for this week, the marvelous country of Canada! Let’s dive right in!
You’ve probably heard of Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte or Winston Churchill before, right? These brilliant and highly impactful individuals are practically the faces of conventional history! But a great conundrum of historical preservation is the fact that so many brilliant and impactful people simply fade from mainstream awareness, or never even enter it at all.
I’d venture to say that having one’s name in a history book is not based on intelligence or virtue of character, but largely due to circumstantial collective changes. Of course the lives and sacrifices of every individual are not recorded, it’s the lucky few who become icons for the work of thousands.
So, following my little preamble, have you ever heard of Richard Squires? I definitely didn’t, and chances are you haven’t either! Regardless, he was on the minds of nearly everyone living in Newfoundland, Canada during the early 20th Century. He was their Napoleon, their Churchill, so-to-speak.
Squires was — at times — a brilliant man. After a promising childhood, he became a figurehead of progressive politics in Newfoundland, and in his adulthood he purchased a newspaper entitled the “Daily Star,” which only cemented his ambition to make a mark on the dominion. With the newspaper as a tool, he soon steered public opinion to favor his bills regarding issues such as fairer taxation policies and more universal contribution to the war effort. He was soon the center of attention of many voters across the region and his gaze was set on the chief of positions, prime minister.
Squire got what he sought, in 1919 he beat the dominant People’s Party, establishing himself as a force in Newfoundland politics. But like many, Squire became frustrated at the gradual arrival of his success. Perhaps due to fear of failure, a lack of confidence in his abilities, or some other internal struggle, Squires bent the rules to gain his power. In a massively publicized fiasco in 1923, Squires was forced to resign after being outed on charges of bribery. He had tripped on his sprint to success. A warrant soon went out for his arrest, he seemed to have been kicked out of politics. Now astoundingly, it seems that voters were either blind to the crimes committed by Squires, or simply viewed them as a scheme by the opposition parties; after all, he had been a successful politician in the pre-controversy years. Either way, Squires, a man convicted of bribery, was reelected in 1928 in the same party, to the same position.
Now, that leads to this week’s first event; on April 5, 1932, nearly a decade later, Newfoundland’s capital, “The Colonial Building” was captured by thousands of rioters.
The mob swelled as prime minister Squires continuously denied any fraud and refused any attempts to investigate his activities. Police tried to subdue the mob, encouraged by the administration to use force to take down the protestors — that never works out well. Fires burned, rooms were trashed, but most importantly, Squires snuck out the back door unharmed. He resigned once more the same day.
This story is simply bonkers! I mean, imagine electing a man who committed clear fraud, only to force him out through devastating rioting? The scary thing is, this almost sounds plausible in the modern day.The next event for this week takes a much different turn — probably for the best! On April 6, 1886, the beautiful city of Vancouver was founded! Well wait a moment, it wasn’t founded? It was incorporated? While the city was named after British officer George Vancouver, and has been an important trade hub in Western Canada, I’d like to focus more on what exactly incorporating a city looks like! And how does it differ from a founding?
Firstly, an incorporated city is any legally chartered city or town (used interchangeably). While rules for incorporation vary — with some countries requiring certain trends in population and road networks — generally any town or city can become incorporated once it plays an important role in trade and economy. This raises a strange point; towns can be incorporated in two ways, locally or federally; for instance, many New England and Eastern Canadian towns had self charters, or were essentially incorporated by the founding document of the town itself. This is different from national incorporation, which makes a city essentially join a network of provinces and city structures, known as municipalities. So, the founding of a town is when people originally arrive and populate the area, an incorporation is essentially the establishment of a legal network in that town.
In case it isn’t confusing enough, in Vancouver’s case, the city was incorporated as a city in the province of British Columbia, in the regional district of “Metro Vancouver.” This subdivision is then part of the “Greater Vancouver area,” which makes up a whole bunch of cities, or essentially an economic region. These countless municipalities and subdivisions make up the incorporated city of Vancouver, founded in 1886 shortly before the construction of the Trans-Canada railroad.
The last event for this week brings us back to the founding of the Canadian Confederation, in the mid 19th century. Did you know that Canadians have founding fathers too? They’re known as the Fathers of Confederation, and they fought to found a Canada united under limited British governance, advocating for a nation free to self rule and varying degrees of autonomy. These men were vital for the formation of modern Canada, and helped to transition a network of colonial territories into a singular nation.
But on April 7, 1868, one Thomas McGee, a Father of Confederation who was prominent in the founding of the confederation was shot dead. His funeral was attended by nearly the entirety of the city, making it one of the biggest in the country.
The culprit was Patrick J. Whelan, an Irish Republican Fenian, who detested the colonial restructuring conducted by McGee and confederationalists. The Fenians, originally a militant Irish-American group, were responsible for many incidents of violence, including the “Fenian Raids” which happened much throughout the 1860s. The jury convicted Whelan on the evidence that his gun was warm, and sentenced him to hanging in 1869.
The whole incident is shrouded in conspiracy and alternate theories, of course using the warm gun as evidence is dubious at best, and countless sympathizers to Whelan’s cause argue that the anti-Catholic sentiments of the time period led to an expedient execution without trial, regardless, the deed was done, Whelan was killed and the true motives or true killer is perhaps lost to time.
And that concludes This Week in History! Thank you for coming along for that venture into Canadian history and some other interesting aspects of historical research which are less often talked about! For some more history, I recommend the University of Toronto’s piece on Richard Squires, and one of the United Nations’ many articles on local government! See you next week!