Canada formed against all odds

Richard Gwyn speaks of Confederation and Charlottetown's part in it during Saturday lecture

Maureen Coulter
Published on June 1, 2014

Journalist and historian Richard Gwyn speaks to an audience in Memorial Hall Saturday. He spoke on Confederation.

©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

Best-selling author Richard Gwyn says Canada had humble beginnings but has become one of the most successful countries in the world.

In celebration of the 150 years since the Charlottetown Conference that helped pave the way for Confederation, Gwyn gave a talk at the Confederation Centre of the Arts Saturday.

Gwyn has written several political history books, two of which explore the life and times of the first prime minister of Canada, John A. Macdonald.

Gwyn says Canada became one of the top 10 countries in the world against all odds. “(The public) didn’t think that Canada had the stuff to be a nation,” Gwyn told the more than 150 people who attended Saturday's event.

What distinguished Macdonald was he believed there was only one way for Canada to become a nation and that was for it to stretch out all the way from sea to sea, Gwyn said.

“Canada today is probably, not probably — certainly, absolutely, inarguably — one of the most successful countries in the world.”

Fraser McCallum, communications manager at the Confederation Centre of the Arts and co-manager of the Confederation Players Program, said Gwyn brought home Charlottetown's importance in Canada's founding.

“I thought he did a good job of instilling pride in us as Islanders and as Canadians in the role that Charlottetown played in the great, magnificent scheme.”

Before hearing Gwyn’s speech, McCallum didn’t realize there was such a momentous weight to the coalition that came together before Charlottetown between Macdonald and his political opponent George Brown.

“One of the most interesting things about it, that Mr. Gwyn underscored, was the dislike and severe animosity between George Brown and John A. Macdonald who were able to overcome, as he put it, the greatest political and personal differences in Canadian political history for the better good of the country.”

Peter Meincke lives in Ottawa and is the president of the Ottawa branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society, which arranged Gwyn's Island talk.

“I thought it was a really inspiring speech in terms emphasizing so strongly the important role that PEI has played," Meincke told The Guardian after the lecture.

Meincke lived on P.E.I. for 23 years and was the second president at the University of Prince Edward Island from 1978-85. He retired and moved to Ottawa to be closer to his family.

Meincke has read some of Gwyn’s books and is a fan of his. He was pleased to be able to hear the author speak Saturday.

“So often you hear people tearing down everything but here he was saying the fact that Canada survived was a wonderful thing.”