A Semi-Autonomous Defence (1871-1898)

Canada’s Geopolitical Situation in 1871

In the course of the 19th century the Western world, and Europe in particular, was wracked by profound geopolitical upheavals. Indeed, this period saw the gradual disintegration of the great empires and their replacement by a multitude of nation-states. This tide of nationalism quickened after 1871. In that year, Italy and Germany had just completed their drives for unification, so that Western Europe already resembled the Europe we know today. Matters were quite different, however, in Central and Eastern Europe. Apart from Greece and the three tiny principalities of Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, this vast area inhabited by a host of ethnic groups seeking political independence was still being shared among the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian empires.

Also evident in 1871 was a revival of interest in exploration and discovery; Europeans left their stations scattered around the coast of Africa and raced to the interior. This colonial expansionist drive, linked to the rising tide of nationalism, generated new conflicts and rekindled old ones.

In North America, the mutual unification of the territories of the United States and Canada continued. Colorado would join the American union in 1876; North and South Dakota, Montana and Washington in 1889; Idaho and Wyoming the following year; Utah in 1896; Oklahoma in 1907; and Arizona and New Mexico in 1912. In Canada, meanwhile, the vast expanses of the Northwest Territories had still not been organized. Manitoba was acquired from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1870, though representing only a minuscule portion of its possessions, to become the fifth province. In 1871 it was the turn of British Columbia to join the Canadian Confederation. While on the one hand England was gradually relaxing its hold over its North American colonies, on the other hand an emerging Canada was slowly crystallizing from sea to sea.