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Canada 150

In celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary, Richard Blackwell takes a look back at some of the country's most memorable moments in the month of May

Chicago workers strike for an eight-hour day

May 1, 1867 – The Globe reported on unrest in Chicago, where the labour movement was lobbying for an eight-hour day, a change from the exhausting 10 or 12 hours most people were expected to work. New state legislation mandated a shorter work day, but the law had loopholes and was ignored by employers. On the first of May, a general strike broke out, shutting down Chicago's economy. The militia intervened and the strike collapsed after a week. The Globe, which was against the eight-hour day, accused the protest's leaders of intimidation and violence: "Armed with clubs, brick-bats, stones and pistols, they went around and drove away from the shops, elevators and timber yards all who attended to work." Protests continued for years, although it was decades before the eight-hour day became standard for workers in the United States and elsewhere. Richard Blackwell

Globe admonishes Nova Scotia anti-confederates

May 8, 1867 – With less than two months to go until the creation of Canada, a growing anti-Confederation movement had emerged in Nova Scotia. It was led by former premier Joseph Howe, above, who felt the union didn't have the support of the people. The Globe expressed its concerns: "It is deeply to be deplored that men who had earned the admiration of the people of British America by long years of able and patriotic public service, should allow the passing disappointment of the hour to betray them into the unseemly attitude they now hold." Confederation is a "settled matter" and should be given a fair trial, the paper added. Still, in the fall of 1867, anti-confederates won the vast majority of Nova Scotia's seats in federal and provincial elections. But their attempts to secede failed when Britain vetoed the idea. Howe eventually capitulated and joined the federal cabinet. Richard Blackwell

Jefferson Davis heads to Montreal

May 15, 1867 – Jefferson Davis served as president of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865, until the collapse of the confederacy with the end of the Civil War. Captured by Northern troops, he was jailed for two years in Fort Monroe in Virginia, then released in mid-May, 1867, after posting bail of $100,000 (U.S.). He travelled by steamer to New York, then headed to Montreal, where his family was living. Canada had welcomed many Confederate supporters, and Davis was treated as a celebrity, despite his association with slavery and the disastrous effort to make the U.S. South independent. The Globe described Davis as "the redoubtable chieftain of the late rebellion," but also decried his "violent arrogance." Black Americans, who Davis had wished to consign to perpetual bondage," now stood on a "better political footing than he and his active coadjutors in the rebellion," the paper noted. – Richard Blackwell

D'Arcy McGee's manifesto for Canada

May 22, 1867

– In 1867, Thomas


McGee was a cabinet minister in the legislative assembly of


Canada. He had lent his intellectual and oratorical weight to the creation of the new country, and in May he wrote an open letter to his Montreal constituents outlining his vision. It was reprinted on the front page of The Globe. McGee saw "public works on a large scale" as a key to Canada's economic growth, noting the importance of past projects such as the Welland Canal and Montreal's Victoria bridge. He favoured a standing army over a volunteer force, and pleaded for minority education rights. Over all, he saw the potential for a great nation with a population of 12 million by the start of the 20


century; one in which "sectional antagonisms" would dissolve "like the ice-shove in the St. Lawrence before the magic breath of spring." McGee was assassinated in Ottawa less than a year later, and his timeline for Canada's ambitions proved overoptimistic.

Richard Blackwell

Canada fears more Fenian incursions

May 29, 1867 – The Fenians, Irish nationalists living in the United States, thought an armed takeover of Canada would give them leverage in negotiating Irish independence from Britain. In 1866, Fenian troops had staged cross-border raids in New Brunswick, Canada East and Canada West, but by 1867, things were quiet. Still, there was an air of apprehension and at the end of May, The Globe reprinted a report from the New York Herald of "alleged gigantic preparations" for another invasion. The Herald report suggested large quantities of armaments were being manufactured in New York – enough to supply 100,000 men for six months. The Fenians were recruiting in Boston and Chicago, the story said, and arms were being stockpiled near the border. The Globe wasn't worried. In a note accompanying the reprint, Globe editors called the report sensationalistic. "We know the Fenians are capable of great folly, but not as great we fancy as the Herald would have its readers believe." – Richard Blackwell

Canada 150: More from The Globe and Mail