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December 31

The impossibly difficult task of choosing a permanent capital for the United Province of Canada had taken seventeen years, a ridiculously long period during which Toronto, Kingston, Quebec and Montreal (respectively, paired as West and East) had all served as the centre of a perambulating system of Government. And yet in a strange way that gap of uncertainty had opened the door to a startlingly imaginative choice - even if it was initially constrained by contemporary communications technology.

31st December, 1857 - the Queen's ChoiceFar-sighted people worried about the political maturity of national leaders; after all, how could you build a new country when it wasn't even possible to agree on a capital city? They were deeply alarmed that Canadian politicians had repeatedly asked Queen Victoria to make the choice for them; although thankfully on the third and final attempt the so-called "Queen's Choice" was actually pre-determined by a selection process to the Executive Branch of the Government that had been established by the Prime Minister John A. McDonald. During those lengthy deliberations it had become perfectly clear that the active participation of local representatives was an absolute pre-requisite to the building of a national consensus; only that development could supersede the central authority of British colonial power.

Also quite obviously the outcome had to be an imaginative choice because previous attempts to arrive at a consensus had ended in deadlock, the short-listed options were:

  • One of the four pre-existing capitals namely Toronto, Quebec, Montreal or Kingston
  • Rotating the capital either between all four, or an East/West pair say Montreal and Toronto
  • The small frontier town of Ottawa being located approximately midway between those four also in a back country surrounded by dense forest far from the American border and situated on a cliff face would make it more defensible from attack.
  • Distributing Government functions across multiple cities
Luckily McDonald was a visionary who looked far beyond the United Province of Canada; he dreamt of a continent-wide Confederation of Canada that would not only embrace national divisions, but also set-up the country as a great power on the world stage. Ultimately this imperative eliminated all five cities being either too inconsequential or too closely associated with English and French interests; and lets face it choosing a logging town because it was easy to defend was downright small-minded.

Within the next fourteen years British Columbia joined the confederation and Manitoba was created out of the North-West Territory. As these developing events were to have it the fourth choice was truly inspired because after 1871 the model was extensible to Vancouver and Winnipeg. Instead of super-sized provincial capitals arguing over power-sharing, McDonald's choice was future-proofed because it set-up a new kind of Confederation that would launch Canada into the twentieth century and beyond.

Note from Wikipedia ~ the government already owned the land that would eventually become Parliament Hill which they thought would be an ideal location for building the Parliament Buildings. Ottawa was the only settlement of any substantial size that was already located directly on the border of French populated former Lower Canada and English populated former Upper Canada thus additionally making the selection an important political compromise.[40] Queen Victoria made her 'Queen's choice' very quickly just before welcoming in the New Year.