Cartier and McDougall to Granville
Westminster Palace Hotel
30th December 1868
My Lord,
In connexion with the conversation we had the honor to have with your Lordship a few days since, on the subject of the Island of San Juan, we now beg, in accordance with the suggestion of Your Lordship, to submit our observations on the subject in the form of a written communication and in our Character of Representatives of the Canadian Government.
Your Lordship is aware that the 146th Section of the "British North America Act, 1867" makes provision for the admission into the Dominion of Canada of New Foundland, Prince Edward Island & British Columbia, and also of Rupert's land, and the North Western Territory. We are happy to inform Your Lordship that a large majority of the PeopleManuscript image of British Columbia appear to be anxious for an immediate Union with Canada. With the assent of the Imperial Government that Union may soon be accomplished, and therefore the Dominion of Canada has presently & prospectively a deep interest in the Settlement of the Boundary Question, involving the title to the Island of San Juan in the Gulf of Georgia. We notice that the President of the United States in his last Message announces that the title to that Island is one of the three questions now pending for settlement between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States. We avail ourselves of the present opportunity toManuscript image represent to Your Lordship, that in our humble opinion, it is of vital importance to British Columbia, and prospectively to all British North America, that an Island which commands the passage by Sea to the principal Cities, ports and Harbours of Her Majesty's possessions on the Pacific Coast, should not be surrendered to a Foreign Power.
We think it is clear that the Treaty of 1846 which establishes the boundary "through the Channel which separates the Continent from Vancouver Island," intended by these words, the Channel nearest the Continent; the only one then generally known and used by navigators. It is the first Channel, and therefore preeminently the one which "Separates" the Continent from Vancouver Island. The American Government, by contending for the third Channel, or that which is farthest from the Continent, (the very existence of which appears to have been unknown to the British Commissioners) show to the world that their object is not to secure possession of a few rocky islets in the Gulf of no commercialManuscript image or agricultural value, but of the important military position of San Juan, where they may build a fortress that would lock up the Straits of Fuca and overawe British Columbia as effectively as Fort Montgomery, built on Canadian Territory, which was surrendered to the United States by the Treaty of 1842, now locks up Lake Champlain and threatens by its proximity and magnitude, the Chief City of the New Dominion.
Our experience of past diplomacy in the settlement of Boundaries in North America, where the disposition on the one side to concede, and on the other to encroach, was always present and always resulted disastrously to Canada, admonishes us that a similar disposition and similar results may be feared in the future. A territorial compromise in British ColumbiaManuscript image may be deemed by some, of little moment in the settlement of the other questions now pending between the two Governments, but we respectfully submit that every resource of diplomacy, and every argument derived from the practice and policy of coterminous nations, from the geographical position and maritime requirements of the respective Countries in the Gulf, as well as from the language of the Treaty, should be exhausted before a strategic position is given up, which future generations of loyal Subjects may have occasion to regret, as bitterly and as unavailingly, as the people of New Brunswick, Quebec and all Canada now regret the unfortunate Concessions of the "Ashburton Treaty."
We crave your Lordship's pardon if we have pressed our views too strongly on what may be thought rather an Imperial than a Canadian question. We do not doubt that the importance of the issue is alreadyManuscript image sufficiently impressed upon your Lordship's mind, but we cannot help feeling, when we look at the Map of Canada, and observe that on our eastern frontier the State of Maine, by a recent Treaty, has been thrust, like a wedge, between the Provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec, intercepting direct communications, and covering some 8,000,000 of Acres, previously regarded as British Territory, and occupied by thousands of British Subjects; and that, in the west, through ignorance of the natural features of the Country in 1773, and under a spirit of Concession in 1818, a vast territory was surrendered, the boundary carried so far north, that Communication between Canada and the great Vallies and plains of the North Western Territory is through a region of lakes and mountains, instead of a level plain; we say, we cannot help feeling, when we recall these unhappy, and as we now find, costlyManuscript image blunders of the past, that we are only discharging a solemn duty when we add our earnest warning to the arguments your Lordship, as Secretary of State for the Colonies, will use to prevent a similar, and in some respects, a worse blunder, in reference to our position on the Pacific Coast.
We have the honour, my lord of [illegible] ourselves
Your Lordship's
Most obedient
and humble Servants
George Et. Cartier
Wm McDougall
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Mr Dealtry
Disputed right of possession to the Island of San Juan.
I pass this on thro' you—for tho' it more immediately concerns B. Columbia, it also does the Dominion of Canada as to the future.
The question is a F.O. one, to whom a copy [of] this sh be sent.
CC 2/1 69
Manuscript image
WD 2nd Jany
Manuscript image
It is a matter on which Lord Granville will probably know what the F.O. is doing or intending.
Request to be informed what answer shd be given to Mr G. Cartier.
FR 4/1
G 5/1
Other documents included in the file
Manuscript image
Rogers to Under-Secretary of State, Foreign Office, 13 January 1869, forwarding copy of letter and asking "what answer should be returned to this representation" (one draft and three final copies included).
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
I have added a few words to avoid any appearance of indifference to Canadian interests.
Other documents included in the file
Manuscript image
Three copies of a letter set, the first one from Cartier and McDougall to Granville, 30 December 1868, and the second one from Rogers to Under Secretary of State Foregin Office, 13 January 1869.