Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I - The Independent Republic of Manitoba(h)

In keeping with our history of the Western Canadian provinces, let's move on to the Prairies' red-headed stepchild, Manitoba.

Remember this sad little square province from yesterday's post?

Manitoba officially became a province in 1870, although little is rarely mentioned of its hilariously-failed attempt at declaring itself an independent nation a few years earlier in 1867, the same year that Canada was officially recognized as a country by Great Britain.

It all started with Thomas Spence, a Scottish lawyer born in 1832 who came to Canada in 1862 to help British engineers build forts in Quebec. Why they needed a lawyer is not mentioned in the history books; perhaps workplace injuries and lawsuits were common on the frontier. In 1867 he moved to the village of Portage la Prairie in Manitoba and opened a general store.

The village was actually part of land owned by the Hudson's Bay Company, and had no official government, laws or taxation. Spence saw dollar signs all over the opportunity and wrote to Queen Victoria asking for the area's recognition as an independent state. When no response was received (surprise, surprise), Spence for some reason took that as a "Yes" and the Independent Republic of New Caledonia was born.

Those are not the eyes of a man who should be running a country, but they are definitely the eyes of a man who writes crazy-ass letters to the Queen.

Quickly changing its name to the Republic of Manitobah after a local lake, the new nation had ill-defined borders and a population of roughly four hundred. Spence and his council set out to collect taxes from the Hudson's Bay traders, but needless to say, that didn't go over well. A local shoemaker named MacPherson was arrested by the new "government" for libel when he publicly (and probably accurately) argued that the tax money was going to liquor for Spence and his council.

In the Spring of 1868, the Colonial Office in London sent Spence a letter politely informing him that his country did not exist and he did not have the power to raise taxes or arrest people. Man, I would have loved to be a part of the team that wrote that letter. I wonder how many times they had to scratch out the word "dumbass?" With public support turning against Spence in the MacPherson "trial," the dreams of a new and Independent Manitobah quickly collapsed before the end of 1868.

In a fun follow-up, Thomas Spence was briefly arrested by another crazy Canadian rebel and idealist, Louis Riel, in 1870 before ultimately serving on Riel's provisional government team when Manitoba officially became a province of Canada. I don't know what's better: that Riel chose his representatives from among criminal dissidents, or that Spence just really wanted to be in Manitoba's government in any way possible.

I guess if you can't beat'em, join'em.

And to be fair, Louis Riel was waaaaay crazier than Spence.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.

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