The vision of Robert Baldwin

I am reading a biography of Robert Baldwin, one of Canada’s founding fathers. He played an important role in our history, I am very interested in that history, yet I find the book tedious. History is fascinating, yet too many historians write in a way that turns people off so that they never learn to understand what happened.

In any case, in the 1840’s the British Colonial Office decided to unite the colonies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) under one local government. The did not foresee the consequences. Robert Baldwin in Upper Canada and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine in Lower Canada joined forces to form the Reform Party and won an electoral victory over the entrenched order that had been content to function as agents of Britain.

Baldwin and Lafontaine insisted that decisions affecting the United Canada must be made by the elected parliament of Canada, not by colonial officials. And they succeeded in establishing responsible government in Canada. This is a vital part of our history. Canada as a self-governing nation did not begin in 1867, it began in 1848 when the colonial office gave in to the determination of Baldwin and Lafontaine as leaders of the elected majority in Canada’s parliament.

Robert Baldwin never learned French, but he sent his children to schools where they would learn the language. He saw that a partnership of English and French Canadians was necessary for the future of Canada. Robert did not want to see Canada tormented by ethnic and religious strife such as troubled Ireland, from which the Baldwin family had come. Biculturalism, based on respect, equality and language rights, would make Canada a unique nation, different from both Britain and the USA.

I am a Canadian born, son of a Canadian; the grandson of a man who made Canada his home when it was a howling wilderness. I am proud of my birth, proud of the independence and industry of my fore-fathers, who placed me in the position in which I stand. And I wish to see that national feeling more generally appreciated from Sandwich to Gaspé. – Robert Baldwin

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