Canadian Confederation

From Academic Kids

Canadian Confederation, or the Confederation of Canada, was the process that ultimately brought together a union among the provinces, colonies and territories of British North America to form the Dominion of Canada, a Dominion of the British Empire, which today is the federal nation state called Canada.


Colonial organization

Before 1867, British North America was a collection of six separate colonies: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, the Province of Canada (now Quebec and Ontario), Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and British Columbia. Only the first three listed here joined Confederation at first, but all did eventually, the last being Newfoundland in 1949. (The remainder of modern-day Canada was made up of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory, which were owned by the Hudson's Bay Company and ceded to Canada in 1870, and the Arctic Islands, which were under direct British control and became part of Canada in 1880.)

Early projects

Missing image
Lord Durham

The idea of a legislative union of all British colonies in America goes back to at least 1754, when the Albany Congress was held, preceding the Continental Congress of 1774. At least twelve other projects followed.

The idea was revived in 1839 by Lord Durham in his Report on the Affairs of British North America. A federation project was proposed to John A. Roebuck before Durham's mission to Canada.

In 1857, Joseph-Charles Taché proposed a federation in the Courrier du Canada.

In 1858, Alexander Tilloch Galt, George-Étienne Cartier and John Ross travelled to Great Britain to present the British Parliament with a project for federation of the British colonies. The proposal was received by the London authorities with polite indifference. By 1864, it was clear that continued governance of the Province of Canada under the terms of the 1840 Act of Union had become impracticable. Therefore, a Great Coalition of parties formed in order to reform the political system.

British North America Act, 1867

Confederation was accomplished when Queen Victoria gave royal assent to the British North America Act (BNA Act) on March 29, 1867. That act, which united the Province of Canada with the colonies of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, came into effect on July 1 that year. The act dissolved the Act of Union (1840) which had previously established the union of Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Separate provinces were re-established under their current names of Ontario and Quebec. July 1 is now celebrated as Canada Day.

Prime Minister of United Canada John A. Macdonald and others encouraged Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to come to talks on creating self-government in the form of one united Dominion. Some of the political leaders of the maritime colonies worried about being dominated by the population centres of Ontario and Quebec through the electoral system proposed for a central government.

The Fathers of Confederation elected to name the new country the Dominion of Canada, after rejecting kingdom and confederation, among other options. The term Dominion originates from Psalm 72:8 and was suggested by Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley.

The original "confederation" gathering was by delegates of the four Atlantic region colonies at Charlottetown in September 1864. On behalf of Canada, MacDonald asked that delegates from that colony be allowed to attend. During the conference, MacDonald suggested a union of all British colonies in North America.

At a second conference in Quebec City in October, further details were worked out. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia requested completion of a railway, the Intercolonial, to connect them with Quebec. At this point, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland opted to stay out of the proposed union. A further conference was held in London, England in December 1866. Queen Victoria proclaimed the new dominion on July 1, 1867, although without overseas telegraphy, the news took a few days to arrive in Canada. Dominion elections were held in August and September to elect the first Parliament, and the four new provinces' governments recommended the 72 individuals (24 each for Quebec and Ontario, 12 each for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) who would sit in the Senate.

While the BNA Act gave Canada more autonomy than it had before, it was far from full independence from the United Kingdom. Foreign policy remained in British hands, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council remained Canada's highest court of appeal, and the constitution could only be amended in Britain. Gradually, Canada gained more autonomy, and in 1931, obtained almost full autonomy within the British Commonwealth with the Statute of Westminster. Because the provinces of Canada were unable to agree on a constitutional amendment formula for the BNA Act, the document remained in London. In 1982, the BNA Act was patriated when Queen Elizabeth II gave her royal assent to the Canada Act 1982. In Canada, the Canadian constitution is named the Constitution Act, 1982. It includes the BNA Act, which was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867.

Confederation as a political term of art

The term Confederation is now often used to describe Canada in an abstract way, "The Fathers of Confederation" itself being one such usage. Provinces and territories that became part of Canada after 1867 are also said to have joined Confederation (but not the Confederation). However, the term usually refers more concretely to the political process that united the colonies in the 1860s; it is also used to divide Canadian history into pre-Confederation and post-Confederation (post-Confederation being a living term that includes the present day).

There were several factors that influenced Confederation both causes from internal sources and pressures from external sources.

Internal causes that influenced Confederation:

  • political deadlock resulting from the current political structure
  • demographic pressure
  • economic nationalism and the promise of economic development

External pressures that influenced confederation:

  • the U.S. Manifest destiny, the constant threat of intervention from the states
  • the U.S. Civil war, British actions and American reactions
  • the Fenian raids
  • the creation of a new British colonial policy, Britain no longer wanted to maintain troops in its colonies.

Fathers of Confederation

Meeting at Quebec City
Meeting at Quebec City

Confederation was first agreed upon at the Charlottetown Conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1864, although Prince Edward Island did not actually join Confederation until 1873. The specifics were then mostly determined at the Quebec Conference in Quebec City later in 1864, and at a final London Conference in 1866. The following lists the participants in the conferences and their attendance at each stage. They are known as the Fathers of Confederation.

There were 36 original Fathers of Confederation. Harry Bernard, who was the Recording Secretary at the Charlottetown conference, is considered by some to be a Father of Confederation. The later "Fathers" who brought the other provinces into Confederation after 1867 (such as Joey Smallwood) are also referred to as "Fathers of Confederation." There is also a modern trend, by no means universally supported, to regard Louis Riel as a Father of Confederation for his role in bringing Manitoba into confederation following the Red River Rebellion of 18691870, despite his having been executed for treason following the North-West Rebellion of 1885.

Table of participation

Participant Province Charlottetown Quebec London
Sir Adams George Archibald Nova Scotia Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y
George Brown Ontario Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
Sir Alexander Campbell Ontario Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
Sir Frederick Bowker T. Carter Newfoundland Template:N Template:Y Template:N
Sir George-Étienne Cartier Quebec Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y
Edward Barron Chandler New Brunswick Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
Jean-Charles Chapais Nova Scotia Template:N Template:Y Template:N
James Cockburn Ontario Template:N Template:Y Template:N
George Coles Prince Edward Island Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
Robert B. Dickey Nova Scotia Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
Charles Fisher New Brunswick Template:N Template:Y Template:Y
Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt Quebec Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y
John Hamilton Gray Prince Edward Island Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
John Hamilton Gray New Brunswick Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
Thomas Heath Haviland Prince Edward Island Template:N Template:Y Template:N
William Alexander Henry Nova Scotia Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y
Sir William Pearce Howland Ontario Template:N Template:N Template:Y
John Mercer Johnson New Brunswick Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
Sir Hector-Louis Langevin Quebec Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y
Andrew Archibald Macdonald Prince Edward Island Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
Sir John A. Macdonald Ontario Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y
Jonathan McCully Nova Scotia Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y
William McDougall Ontario Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y
Thomas D'Arcy McGee Quebec Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
Peter Mitchell New Brunswick Template:N Template:Y Template:Y
Sir Oliver Mowat Ontario Template:N Template:Y Template:N
Edward Palmer Prince Edward Island Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
William Henry Pope Prince Edward Island Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
John William Ritchie Quebec Template:N Template:N Template:Y
Sir Ambrose Shea Newfoundland Template:N Template:Y Template:N
William H. Steeves New Brunswick Template:Y Template:Y Template:N
Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché Quebec Template:N Template:Y Template:N
Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley New Brunswick Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y
Sir Charles Tupper Nova Scotia Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y
Edward Whelan Prince Edward Island Template:N Template:Y Template:N
Robert Duncan Wilmot New Brunswick Template:N Template:N Template:Y

Joining Confederation

See also: History of Canada

Manitoba was established July 15, 1870, by act of Parliament, originally as a very small area not even the width of current day Manitoba. British Columbia joined Canada July 20, 1871, by act of Parliament (and encouraged to join by Sir John A. MacDonald's promise of a railway within 10 years). Prince Edward Island joined July 1, 1873 (and, as part of the terms of union, was guaranteed a ferry link, a term which was deleted upon completion of the Confederation Bridge in 1997). Alberta and Saskatchewan were established September 1, 1905, by acts of Parliament. Newfoundland joined on March 31, 1949, also with a ferry link guaranteed.

Canada acquired Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company and the British-claimed Northwestern Territory in 1869, and took ownership in May 1870, merging them and naming them the Northwest Territories. In 1880, the British assigned all North American Arctic islands to Canada, right up to Ellesmere Island. From this vast swath of territory were created three provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta) and two territories (Yukon and Nunavut), and two extensions each to Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.

Here is a list of the order in which the provinces and territories entered Canada. (Territories are italicized.) At formal events, representatives of the provinces and territories take precedence according to this list (except that provinces always come before territories). For provinces that entered on the same date, the order of precedence is based on the province's population at the time it entered Confederation.

Order Date Name
1 1867 Template:ON
5 1870 Template:MB*
7 1871 Template:BC-List
8 1873 Template:PE
9 1898 Template:YT*
10 1905 Template:SK*
12 1949 Template:NL
13 1999 Template:NU*


*Manitoba, the Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nunavut were created out of the Northwest Territories; the remaining provinces joined Canada as separate and previously independent colonies.

External links

nl:Canadese Confederatie pl:Konfederacja Kanady zh:加拿大的同盟


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