By 1868 Thomas D'Arcy McGee seemed to have come full circle in his political ways. In the spring of 1857, after a tumultuous career as an Ireland separatist newspaper editor, McGee moved to Montreal. He was elected to the Parliament of the province of Canada in 1858 and quickly found himself in the thick of Confederation debates. He became a loyal follower of his drinking partner, Sir John A. Macdonald, as his oratorical skills blossomed during the Quebec and Charlottetown Confederation conferences. It was only natural that he entered the new Parliament of the Dominion of Canada.
Another group of alienated Irishmen came to prominence in North America at the same time: the Fenians, intent on establishing an independent Irish homeland. McGee visited Ireland in 1865 and spoke out against the Fenians and it was not long after that death threats began.
The First Legislature of the Parliament of Canada was less than eight months into a first session when McGee rose to address the Nova Scotian complaints with Confederation. In 1868, the provincial legislature had gone so far as to pass a motion to sever from the union, threatening annexation with the United States.
McGee's last speech was given on a Monday night, April 6, 1868. The previous evening, after supper at a friend's house, he had fallen asleep on a sofa in the library and brusquely awoke from a nightmare, holding his head in his hands and visibly shaken. "I dreamt I fell into the boiling abyss of the Niagara," he told his startled hosts.
The next night, McGee settled into his seat in the Chamber. The provincial legislature of Nova Scotia had, in 1868, passed a motion to sever from the union. Their members of the Dominion Parliament menaced annexation with the United States. On this night of debate, the 18 anti-confederate Nova Scotia members of the Dominion Parliament were rising one after the other to denounce Confederation. After a few hours of listening patiently, McGee rose and was recognized by the Speaker.
Mr. Thomas McGee (Montreal-West): The Honorable member came from the hustings as a "fair trial man" -- pledged at his election to give the new system a fair trial -- and how is he fulfilling that pledge? He is seeking for subjects of irritation, and not finding it advisable openly to oppose the principles of Union here, loses no opportunity to strike below the belt -- to deal a stab in the dark -- and it is time now that the mask should be torn from his face.
It is a pity that our Nova Scotia friends have not yet been able to make up their minds to give the scheme of union a fair trial -- that they have not been contented to watch its natural evolution in its appointed orbit unchecked by any stumbling block of their placing. For their own sakes -- for the sake of their ancient and renowned loyalty of their province -- I regret the choice they have chosen.
Any allegations of the existence of any quarrel between Nova Scotia and Canada are totally groundless. The quarrel, if any quarrel there be, rests between Nova Scotia and the British Empire, from whose power the Act of Union alone deserves its authority. And I think, Sir, without any disrespect to that Province, that in any controversy with the British Empire, even the most patriotic Nova Scotian will admit himself overmatched.
The representatives of Nova Scotia will find all parties in this House united in the desire of doing justice to their province. The union is not to be consolidated by any temporary conciliating concessions to evanescent popular prejudice -- not by any momentary humoring, in this direction or in that, of some particular local or sectional phase of public opinion -- but by our constant, earnest and unremitting care of the commercial welfare and progress of the province.
And besides this attention and practical consideration, we need, above everything else, the healing influence of time. It is not only the lime, and the sand, and the hair, and the mortar, but the time which has been taken to temper it. And if time be so necessary an element in so rudimentary a process as the mixing of mortar, of how much greater importance must it be in the work of consolidating Confederation.
Time will mellow and refine all points of contrast that seem so harsh today. Time will come to the aid of the pervading principles of impartial justice, which happily permeates the whole land. And I do not despair, with the assistance of time, of seeing by and by the honorable member himself converted into the heartiest supporter of union within these walls, willing and anxious to permeate the system which he will find to work so advantageously for his own province, and adopting the position of that of the true and patriotic statesman.
We will wear out Nova Scotia's hostility by the unfailing exercise and exhibition of a high-minded spirit of fair play. It has been said that the interests of Canada are diametrically opposed to the interests of Nova Scotia, but I ask which of the parties to the partnership has most interests in its successful conduct, or has most to fear from the failure which the misfortunes or the losses of any of its members must occasion.
Would it not be we who have embarked the largest share of the capital of the Confederation? Our friends, sir, need have no fear but that Confederation ever be administered with serene and even justice.
To its whole history, from its earliest inception to its final triumphant consummation, no stigma can be attached, no stain attributed. Its single aim from the beginning has been to consolidate the extent of British North America with the utmost regard to the independent powers and privileges of each Province and I, sir, who have been, and who am still, its warm and earnest advocate, speak here not as the representative of any race, or of any province, but as thoroughly and as emphatically a Canadian, ready and bound to recognize the claims, if any, of my Canadian fellow subjects, from the farthest east to the farthest west, equally as those of my nearest neighbor, or of the friend who proposed me on the hustings.
It was almost midnight. The House adjourned shortly after McGee's plea. He left the House in the company of Robert Macfarlane, member for Perth. Macfarlane recalls that McGee was in good spirits. After all, the next day he was leaving for Montreal to be with his wife and children, his birthday only days away.
He bid his friend good night at the corner of Metcalfe and Sparks Streets and then walked to the Toronto House residence at 30 Sparks, where he removed his glove, tucked his cane under his arm and stooped to find the keyhole. The cold nuzzle of a metal gun was placed on his neck and immediately discharged. He fell, fatally wounded. The landlady hearing the sudden crack of gunfire, rushed out. McGee tried to stand and fell again. He was bleeding profusely and would lose his pulse in minutes.
Prime Minister JOhn A. Macdonald had retired for the night when tremendous pounding began upon his front door. Advised of the shooting, he rushed to Sparks Street where he helped bring the body into the residence. His friend was dead.
A massive manhunt began almost immediately, Fenian activists being the prime suspects. The next day, Parliament resumed briefly and passed a resolution putting McGee's wife and children under the care of the state. A funeral procession was held along Sparks and Sussex to the Cathedral for service after which the body was put on a special train bound for Montreal. It would be the only assassination of a member of the Canadian Parliament.