What Was the Canadian Confederation?

Three Conferences That Created the Dominion of Canada

Confederation Fathers
The Fathers of Confederation meeting in London to frame the British North America Act, setting up the Dominion of Canada.

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About 150 years ago the three British colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island were considering the possibilities of joining together as a Maritime Union, and a meeting was set in Charlottetown, PEI for September 1, 1864. John A. Macdonald, then Premier of the Province of Canada (formerly Lower Canada, now Quebec, and Upper Canada, now southern Ontario) asked if representatives from the Province of Canada could also attend the meeting.

The Province of Canada contingent showed up on the SS Queen Victoria, which was well supplied with champagne. That week Charlottetown was also hosting the first real circus Prince Edward Island had seen in twenty years, so accommodation for the last-minute Conference delegates was a bit short. Many stayed and continued discussions on board ship.

The Conference lasted for eight days, and the topic rather quickly switched from creating a Maritime Union to building a cross-continent nation. The discussions continued through formal meetings, grand balls, and banquets and there was general approval for the idea of Confederation. The delegates agreed to meet again in Quebec City that October and then in London, United Kingdom to continue to work on the details.

In 2014, Prince Edward Island commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference with celebrations all year long, across the entire province. The PEI 2014 Theme Song, Forever Strong, captures the mood.

The Quebec Conference of 1864

In October 1864, all the delegates who had been present at the earlier Charlottetown Conference attended the conference in Quebec City, which simplified getting an agreement. The delegates worked out many of the details of what the system and structure of government for the new nation would be like, and how powers would be shared between provinces and the federal government. By the end of the Quebec Conference, 72 resolutions (called the "Quebec resolutions") were adopted and became a substantial part of the British North America Act.

The London Conference of 1866

After the Quebec Conference, the Province of Canada approved the union. In 1866 New Brunswick and Nova Scotia also passed resolutions for a union. Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland still refused to join. (Prince Edward Island joined in 1873 and Newfoundland joined in 1949.) Towards the end of 1866, delegates from the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia approved the 72 resolutions, which then became the "London resolutions." In January 1867 work began on drafting the British North America Act. Canada East would be called Quebec. Canada West would be called Ontario. It was finally agreed that the country would be named the Dominion of Canada, and not the Kingdom of Canada. The bill got through the British House of Lords and the House of Commons quickly, and received Royal Assent on March 29, 1867, with July 1, 1867, the date of the union.

Fathers of Confederation

It's confusing to try and figure out who the Canadian Fathers of Confederation were. They are generally considered to be the 36 men representing the British colonies in North America who attended at least one of these three major conferences on Canadian confederation.

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Munroe, Susan. "What Was the Canadian Confederation?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/canadian-conferences-on-confederation-510085. Munroe, Susan. (2020, August 28). What Was the Canadian Confederation? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/canadian-conferences-on-confederation-510085 Munroe, Susan. "What Was the Canadian Confederation?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/canadian-conferences-on-confederation-510085 (accessed May 28, 2023).