After serving as the fifth Premier of Nova Scotia from 1864 to 1867, Charles Tupper was elected to the new Parliament of Canada as the Member for Cumberland. He served as a Member for 34 years until 1901. In the Government of Canada he held the following positions: President of the Queen’s Privy Council, (1870-1872); Minister of Inland Revenue, (1872-1873); Minister of Customs (1873-1874); Minister of Public Works (1878-1879); Minister of Railways and Canals, (1879-1884); Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, (1883-1895); Minister of Finance, (1887-1888); Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, (1888-1895); Prime Minister of Canada (1886); Leader of the Opposition, (1896-1900).
Charles Tupper was not just a successful politician. He was a statesman in the true sense of that word. He championed equal rights all his life and equal treatment of all creeds and denominations. Not only in Nova Scotia, but later as Prime Minister when he supported the French language school crisis in Manitoba. That stance cost him the election and the position as Prime Minister. The principle was more important than his fate. Later the Privy Council of the United Kingdom (at the time the highest court for Canada) confirmed that Tupper’s position had been the right and correct one. Another example is his pioneering work for equal access to public education. As a doctor, he also had a national vision which he put into effect. He organized and founded the Medical Association of Canada and served as it’s first President.
He constantly promoted the expansion of Canada as Minister of the Crown in the MacDonald administration. He assisted greatly in bringing Prince Edward Island into Confederation. He played a major role in the purchase of vast lands of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which made expansion westward possible leading eventually to the creation of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
No one believed more in the necessity to build a railroad to the Pacific Coast than Charles Tupper. He worked tirelessly on that front. In 1881, he personally visited the colony of British Columbia. At that time there was only one house in what eventually became the city of Vancouver. Yet Tupper foresaw and predicted a great metropolis.
That same year, while Canadian High Commissioner in London, as well as Minister of Railways and Canals of Canada, the dream of a national railroad was in trouble. The Canadian Pacific Railway Company had encountered unforeseen problems and expenses and faced imminent financial collapse. Tupper rushed back from London and persuaded his party and Parliament to give the company a loan of 30 million dollars for four years at four percent. This is an example of the reason Charles Tupper is referred to as “the man behind the National Policy”. Building that railway and connecting the country from coast to coast was indeed a major accomplishment. Tupper himself, in one of his speeches, observed that 4 million citizens of Canada accomplished what it took 40 million Americans to do - build a railway to the Pacific.
Of course we must not forget to mention strong support for the building of a canal across the isthmus of Chignecto. When the prospect of a ship railway appeared and looked feasible, he supported that with all his might. It did not come to pass, and is a long story for another time, but not due to any lack of support from Charles Tupper.
Charles Tupper was first knighted in 1868 and was named a Baronet of the United Kingdom in 1888 in recognition of his service to the Empire. After he retired from the Canadian Parliament, he and his wife moved to England where he lived until his death in 1915. He often visited Canada, however, because he had children and grandchildren from coast to coast.
In England he continued his public service. He sat on the executive committee of the British Empire League,which also allowed him to promote closer economic ties and the welfare of Canada in general. As an emissary of the British Crown he travelled to various capital cities of Europe. For his service to the Empire he was made a knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in November 1907.
It is worthy of note that many of the so-called “Fathers of Confederation” were born in England, Ireland or Scotland. Charles Tupper’s family had been in Nova Scotia for many generations.
He showed his love of Canada, his native Province and hometown when, in 1913, at the age of 92, he engaged in a final farewell journey by train across the country he helped to build. By this time, he was “Canada’s Grand Old Man”. He had outlived all his contemporaries. His last stop was in Amherst. The town celebrated for a whole week. The Canadian Prime Minister (Robert Borden) attended, as well as public figures from far and wide. Thousands of school children gathered and cheered, each waving a small Union Jack. Just two years later, on Oct.30, 1915, he died in England.
His body was brought to Halifax for burial next to his wife. The city and Province gave him the greatest state funeral of its time. The funeral procession was over a mile long, which included some 5,000 troops.
Many schools, public buildings and even a mountain in the Rockies have been named after Sir Charles.
As we celebrate 150 years of Confederation, it is most appropriate that we honour his memory with pride and gratitude and recognize his rightful place in the history of our country.
Morris Haugg is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel.