Canadian Confederation

Canadian Confederation (French: Confédération canadienne) was the process by which three British North American provinces, the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, were united into one federation called the Dominion of Canada, on July 1, 1867.[1][2] Upon Confederation, Canada consisted of four provinces: Ontario and Quebec, which had been split out from the Province of Canada, and the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.[3] Over the years since Confederation, Canada has seen numerous territorial changes and expansions, resulting in the current number of ten provinces and three territories.


Canada is a federation[4] and not a confederate association of sovereign states, which is what "confederation" means in contemporary political theory. It is nevertheless often considered to be among the world's more decentralized federations.[5] The use of the term confederation arose in the Province of Canada to refer to proposals beginning in the 1850s to federate all of the British North American colonies, as opposed to only Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec). To contemporaries of Confederation, the con- prefix indicated a strengthening of the centrist principle compared to the American federation.[6]

In this Canadian context, confederation here describes the political process that united the colonies in the 1860s, events related to that process, and the subsequent incorporation of other colonies and territories.[7] The term is now often used to describe Canada in an abstract way, such as in "the Fathers of Confederation". Provinces and territories that became part of Canada after 1867 are also said to have joined, or entered into, confederation (but not the Confederation).[8] The term is also used to divide Canadian history into pre-Confederation (i.e. pre-1867) and post-Confederation (i.e. post-1867) periods.[9]


Colonial organization

All the former colonies and territories that became involved in the Canadian Confederation on July 1, 1867, were initially part of New France, and were once ruled by France.[10] Nova Scotia was granted in 1621 to Sir William Alexander under charter by James I.[10] This claim overlapped the French claims to Acadia, and although the Scottish colony of Nova Scotia was short-lived, for political reasons, the conflicting imperial interests of France and the 18th century Great Britain led to a long and bitter struggle for control. The British acquired present-day mainland Nova Scotia by the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 and the Acadian population was expelled by the British in 1755. They renamed Acadia "Nova Scotia", which included present-day New Brunswick.[10] The rest of New France was acquired by the British as the result of its defeat of New France in the Seven Years' War, which ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763. From 1763 to 1791, most of New France became the Province of Quebec.[10] However, in 1769 the present-day Prince Edward Island, which had been part of Acadia, was renamed "St John's Island" and organized as a separate colony.[11] It was renamed "Prince Edward Island" in 1798 in honour of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn.[11]

The first English attempt at settlement on that part of the continent that would become modern Canada had been in Newfoundland which would not join Confederation until 1949.[12] The Society of Merchant Venturers of Bristol began to settle Newfoundland and Labrador at Cuper's Cove as far back as 1610, and Newfoundland had also been the subject of a French colonial enterprise.[13]

In the wake of the American Revolution, an estimated 50,000 United Empire Loyalists fled to British North America.[10] The British created the separate province of New Brunswick in 1784 for the Loyalists who settled in the western part of Nova Scotia.[14] While Nova Scotia (including New Brunswick) received slightly more than half of this influx, many Loyalists also settled in the Province of Quebec, which by the Constitutional Act 1791 was separated into a predominantly English Upper Canada and a predominantly French Lower Canada.[15] The War of 1812 and Treaty of 1818 established the 49th parallel as the border with the United States from the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains in Western Canada.[16]

Canadian Territory at Confederation

Following the Rebellions of 1837, Lord Durham in his Durham Report, recommended Upper and Lower Canada be joined as the Province of Canada and the new province should have a responsible government.[17] As a result of Durham's report, the British Parliament passed the Act of Union 1840, and the Province of Canada was formed in 1841.[18] The new province was divided into two parts: Canada West (the former Upper Canada) and Canada East (the former Lower Canada).[18] Governor General Lord Elgin granted ministerial responsibility in 1848, first to Nova Scotia and then to Canada. In the following years, the British would extend responsible government to Prince Edward Island (1851), New Brunswick (1854), and Newfoundland (1855).[19]

The area which constitutes modern-day British Columbia is the remnants of the Hudson's Bay Company's Columbia District and New Caledonia District following the Oregon Treaty. Before joining Canada in 1871, British Columbia consisted of the separate Colony of British Columbia (formed in 1858, in an area where the Crown had granted a monopoly to the Hudson's Bay Company), and the Colony of Vancouver Island (formed in 1849) constituting a separate crown colony until it was united with the colony of British Columbia in 1866.[20]

The remainder of modern-day Canada was made up of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory (both of which were controlled by the Hudson's Bay Company and sold to Canada in 1870) and the Arctic Islands, which were under direct British control and became a part of Canada in 1880.[21]

Early attempts

The idea of unification was presented in 1839 by Lord Durham in his Report on the Affairs of British North America,[22] which resulted in the Act of Union 1840. Beginning in 1857, Joseph-Charles Taché proposed a federation in a series of 33 articles published in the Courrier du Canada.[23]

In 1859, Alexander Tilloch Galt, George-Étienne Cartier and John Ross travelled to Great Britain to present the British Parliament with a project for confederation 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.[24]

Influences leading to Confederation

Several factors influenced Confederation, both caused from internal sources and pressures from external sources.[25][26][27]

Internal causes that influenced Confederation
  • political deadlock resulting from the current political structure in the Province of Canada
  • demographic pressure (population expansion)
  • economic nationalism and the promise of economic development
  • distrust between English Protestants and French Catholics in the Province of Canada[28]
  • lack of an inter-colony railroad which would improve trade, military movement, and transportation in general [29]
External pressures that influenced Confederation
  • cancellation of the Canadian–American Reciprocity Treaty (a free trade policy whereby products were allowed into the United States without taxes or tariffs starting in 1854, which was then considered to be beneficial for Canada), in 1865 by the United States, partly as revenge against Great Britain for unofficial support of the South in the American Civil War
  • the U.S. doctrine of "manifest destiny", the possible threat of invasion from the U.S.—Canadians had fended off American invasions during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812—increased by the Alaska Purchase of March 30, 1867, which was supported on the floor of the U.S. Senate (by Charles Sumner, among others) precisely in terms of taking over the remainder of North America from the British
  • the American Civil War, which horrified Canadians and drove many away from any thought of republicanism, along with British actions during the war, and American reactions to Canada[30]
  • the Fenian raids
  • the Little Englander philosophy, whereby Britain no longer wanted to maintain troops in its colonies.
  • The St. Albans Raid[31] led to distrust with the United States, increasing the desire for stronger border security which Confederation would bring.
  • political pressure from British financiers who had invested money in the loss-making Grand Trunk Railway
  • The Trent Affair

Ideological origins and philosophical dimensions

Map of the Eastern British Provinces in North America at the time of Canadian Confederation, 1867.

There is extensive scholarly debate on the role of political ideas in Canadian Confederation. Traditionally, historians regarded Canadian Confederation an exercise in political pragmatism that was essentially non-ideological. In the 1960s, historian Peter Waite derided the references to political philosophers in the legislative debates on Confederation as "hot air". In Waite's view, Confederation was driven by pragmatic brokerage politics and competing interest groups.[32]

In 1987, political scientist Peter J. Smith challenged the view Canadian Confederation was non-ideological. Smith argued Confederation was motivated by new political ideologies as much as the American and French Revolutions and Canadian Confederation was driven by a Court Party ideology. Smith traces the origins of this ideology to eighteenth and nineteenth-century Britain, where political life was polarized between defenders of classical republican values of the Country Party and proponents of a new pro-capitalist ideology of the Court Party, which believed in centralizing political power. In British North America in the late 1860s, the Court Party tradition was represented by the supporters of Confederation, whereas the anti-capitalist and agrarian Country Party tradition was embodied by the Anti-Confederates.[33]

In a 2000 journal article, historian Ian McKay argued Canadian Confederation was motivated by the ideology of liberalism and the belief in the supremacy of individual rights. McKay described Confederation as part of the classical liberal project of creating a "liberal order" in northern North America.[34] Many Canadian historians have adopted McKay's liberal order framework as a paradigm for understanding Canadian history.[35]

In 2008, historian Andrew Smith advanced a very different view of Confederation's ideological origins. He argues that in the four original Canadian provinces, the politics of taxation were a central issue in the debate about Confederation. Taxation was also central to the debate in Newfoundland, the tax-averse colony that rejected it. Smith argued Confederation was supported by many colonists who were sympathetic to a relatively interventionist, or statist, approach to capitalist development. Most classical liberals, who believed in free trade and low taxes, opposed Confederation because they feared it would result in Big Government. The struggle over Confederation involved a battle between a staunch individualist economic philosophy and a comparatively collectivist view of the state's proper role in the economy. According to Smith, the victory of the statist supporters of Confederation over their anti-statist opponents prepared the way for John A. Macdonald's government to enact the protectionist National Policy and to subsidize major infrastructure projects such as the Intercolonial and Pacific Railways.[36]

In 2007, political scientist Janet Ajzenstat connected Canadian Confederation to the individualist ideology of John Locke. She argued that the union of the British North American colonies was motivated by a desire to protect individual rights, especially the rights to life, liberty, and property. She contends the Fathers of Confederation were motivated by the values of the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She argues their intellectual debts to Locke are most evident when one looks at the 1865 debates in the Province of Canada's legislature on whether or not union with the other British North American colonies would be desirable.[37]

Charlottetown Conference

In the spring of 1864, New Brunswick premier Samuel Leonard Tilley, Nova Scotia premier Charles Tupper, and Prince Edward Island premier John Hamilton Gray were contemplating the idea of a Maritime Union which would join their three colonies together.[38]

Delegates of the Charlottetown Conference on the steps of Government House, September 1864

The government of the Province of Canada surprised the Maritime governments by asking if the Province of Canada could be included in the negotiations. The request was channelled through the Governor-General, Monck, to London and accepted by the Colonial Office.[39] After several years of legislative paralysis in the Province of Canada caused by the need to maintain a double legislative majority (a majority of both the Canada East and Canada West delegates in the Province of Canada's legislature), Macdonald had led his Liberal-Conservative Party into the Great Coalition with Cartier's Parti bleu and George Brown's Clear Grits.[40] Macdonald, Cartier, and Brown felt union with the other British colonies might be a way to solve the political problems of the Province of Canada.[40]

The Charlottetown Conference began on September 1, 1864. Since the agenda for the meeting had already been set, the delegation from the Province of Canada was initially not an official part of the Conference. The issue of Maritime Union was deferred and the Canadians were formally allowed to join and address the Conference.[41]

No minutes from the Charlottetown Conference survive, but we do know Cartier and Macdonald presented arguments in favour of a union of the three colonies;[42] Alexander Tilloch Galt presented the Province of Canada's proposals on the financial arrangements of such a union;[42] and George Brown presented a proposal for what form a united government might take.[43] The Canadian delegation's proposal for the governmental system involved:

  1. preservation of ties with Great Britain;
  2. residual jurisdiction left to a central authority;
  3. a bicameral system including a Lower House with representation by population (rep by pop) and an Upper House with representation based on regional, rather than provincial, equality;
  4. responsible government at the federal and provincial levels;
  5. the appointment of a Canadian governor general by the British Crown.

Other proposals attractive to the politicians from the Maritime colonies were:

  1. assumption of provincial debt by the central government;[44]
  2. revenues from the central government apportioned to the provinces on the basis of population;[44]
  3. the building of an intercolonial railway to link Montreal and Halifax, giving Canada access to an ice-free winter port and the Maritimes easy access to Canada and Rupert's Land.[45]

By September 7, 1864, the delegates from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island gave a positive answer to the Canadian delegation, expressing the view the federation of all of the provinces was considered desirable if the terms of union could be made satisfactory[46] and the question of Maritime Union was waived.[43]

After the Conference adjourned on September 9, there were further meetings between delegates held at Halifax, Saint John, and Fredericton.[47][48] These meetings evinced enough interest that the delegates decided to hold a second Conference.

Thomas D'Arcy McGee in 1868

Delegates' reactions

One of the most important purposes of the Charlottetown Conference was the introduction of Canadians to the leaders from the Maritime Provinces and vice versa. At this point, there was no railway link from Quebec City to Halifax, and the people of each region had little to do with one another. Thomas D'Arcy McGee was one of the few Canadian delegates who had been to the Maritimes, when he had gone down earlier that summer with a trade mission of Canadian businessmen, journalists and politicians.[48]

George Brown remarked in a letter to his wife Anne that at a party given by the premier of PEI, Colonel John Hamilton Gray, he met a woman who had never been off the island in her entire life. Nevertheless, he found Prince Edward Islanders to be "amazingly civilized".[46]

Reaction to the Charlottetown Conference varied among the different newspapers. In the Maritimes, there was concern that the smooth Canadians with their sparkling champagne and charming speeches were outsmarting the delegates of the smaller provinces. "From all accounts it looks as if these [Canadian] gentlemen had it all their own way; ... and that, what with their arguments and what with their blandishments, (they gave a champagne lunch on board the Victoria where Mr. McGee's wit sparkled brightly as the wine), they carried the Lower Province delegates a little off their feet."[49]

The delegates from the Quebec conference considered if the resolutions would be better suited for acceptance if a popular vote were held on them. However, due to the divide amongst religious groups and general mistrust between areas in Canada, they believed that such a vote would be defeated. Thus, they went ahead with the resolutions on their own volition.[50]

Quebec Conference

After returning home from the Charlottetown Conference, Macdonald asked Viscount Monck, the Governor-General of the Province of Canada to invite delegates from the three Maritime provinces and Newfoundland to a conference with United Canada delegates. At the opening of the conference, a total of 33 delegates were included from the British North American Colonies, including Newfoundland, which had not participated in prior meetings.[51] Monck obliged and the Conference went ahead at Quebec City in October 1864.

Delegates at the Quebec Conference, October 1864

The Conference began on October 10, 1864, on the site of present-day Montmorency Park.[52] The Conference elected Étienne-Paschal Taché as its chairman, but it was dominated by Macdonald. Despite differences in the positions of some of the delegates on some issues, the Quebec Conference, following so swiftly on the success of the Charlottetown Conference, was infused with a determinative sense of purpose and nationalism.[53] For the Reformers of Canada West, led by George Brown, the end of what they perceived as French-Canadian interference in local affairs was in sight.[54] For Maritimers such as Tupper of Nova Scotia or Tilley of New Brunswick, horizons were suddenly broadened to take in much larger possibilities for trade and growth.[54]

On the issue of the Senate, the Maritime Provinces pressed for as much equality as possible. With the addition of Newfoundland to the Conference, the other three Maritime colonies did not wish to see the strength of their provinces in the upper chamber diluted by simply adding Newfoundland to the Atlantic category.[55] It was the matter of the Senate that threatened to derail the entire proceedings.[56] It was Macdonald who came up with the acceptable compromise of giving Newfoundland four senators of its own when it joined.[56]

The delegates from the Maritimes also raised an issue with respect to the level of government—federal or provincial—that would be given the powers not otherwise specifically defined. Macdonald, who was aiming for the strongest central government possible, insisted this was to be the central government, and in this, he was supported by, among others, Tupper.[57]

At the end of the Conference, it adopted the Seventy-two Resolutions which would form the basis of a scheduled future conference. The Conference adjourned on October 27.

Prince Edward Island emerged disappointed from the Quebec Conference. It did not receive support for a guarantee of six members in the proposed House of Commons, and was denied an appropriation of $200,000 it felt had been offered at Charlottetown to assist in buying out the holdings of absentee landlords.[58]

"Never was there such an opportunity as now for the birth of a nation" proclaimed a pamphlet written by S. E. Dawson and reprinted in a Quebec City newspaper during the Conference.[56]

Again, reaction to the Quebec Conference varied depending on the political views of the critic.

Constitutional scheme discussed in London

George Brown was the first to carry the constitutional proposals to the British Government in London in December 1864, where it gave "a most gracious answer to our constitutional scheme."[59] He also met with William Gladstone, who was then chancellor of the Exchequer and later prime minister, "who agreed in almost everything."[59] In April 1865, Brown, Macdonald, Cartier and Galt met with the Imperial Government where "The project of a federal union of the colonies was highly approved of by the Imperial authorities."[60]

London Conference

Queen Victoria granted royal assent to the British North America Act on March 29, 1867

Following the Quebec Conference, the Province of Canada's legislature passed a bill approving the union. The union proved more controversial in the Maritime provinces, however, and it was not until 1866 that New Brunswick and Nova Scotia passed union resolutions, while Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland continued to opt against joining.

In December 1866, sixteen delegates from the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia travelled to London, where the 4th Earl of Carnarvon presented each to Queen Victoria in private audience,[61] as well as holding court for their wives and daughters.[62] At meetings held at the Westminster Palace Hotel, the delegates reviewed and approved the 72 resolutions; although Charles Tupper had promised anti-union forces in Nova Scotia he would push for amendments, he was unsuccessful in getting any passed. Now known as the London Resolutions, the conference's decisions were forwarded to the Colonial Office.

After breaking for Christmas, the delegates reconvened in January 1867 and began drafting the British North America Act. The 4th Earl of Carnarvon continued to have a central role in drafting the act at Highclere Castle alongside the first prime minister of Canada Macdonald, Cartier and Galt, who signed the visitor book in 1866.[63] After suggestions of 'Franklin' and 'Guelfenland',[61] they agreed the new country should be called Canada, Canada East should be renamed Quebec and Canada West should be renamed Ontario.[64] There was, however, heated debate about how the new country should be designated. Ultimately, the delegates elected to call the new country the Dominion of Canada, after "kingdom" and "confederation", among other options, were rejected. The term dominion was allegedly suggested by Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley.[65]

The delegates had completed their draft of the British North America Act by February 1867. The act was presented to Queen Victoria on February 11, 1867. The bill was introduced in the House of Lords the next day. The bill was quickly approved by the House of Lords, and then also quickly approved by the British House of Commons. (The Conservative Lord Derby was prime minister of the United Kingdom at the time.) The act received royal assent on March 29, 1867, and set July 1, 1867, as the date for union.[66]

British North America Acts

Proclamation of Canadian Confederation

Confederation was accomplished when the Queen gave royal assent to the British North America Act (BNA Act) on March 29, 1867, followed by a royal proclamation stating: "We do ordain, declare, and command that on and after the First day of July, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty-seven, the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, shall form and be One Dominion, under the name of Canada."[67] 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 replaced the Act of Union 1840 which had unified Upper Canada and Lower Canada into the united Province of Canada. Separate provinces were re-established under their current names of Ontario and Quebec. July 1 is now celebrated as a public holiday, Canada Day, the country's official National Day.

The form of the country's government was influenced by the American republic to the south. Noting the flaws perceived in the American system, the Fathers of Confederation opted to retain a monarchical form of government. Macdonald, speaking in 1865 about the proposals for the upcoming Confederation of Canada, said:

By adhering to the monarchical principle we avoid one defect inherent in the Constitution of the United States. By the election of the president by a majority and for a short period, he never is the sovereign and chief of the nation. He is never looked up to by the whole people as the head and front of the nation. He is at best but the successful leader of a party. This defect is all the greater on account of the practice of reelection. During his first term of office he is employed in taking steps to secure his own reelection and for his party a continuance of power. We avoid this by adhering to the monarchical principle—the sovereign whom you respect and love. I believe that it is of the utmost importance to have that principle recognized so that we shall have a sovereign who is placed above the region of party—to whom all parties look up; who is not elevated by the action of one party nor depressed by the action of another; who is the common head and sovereign of all.[68]

The form of government chosen is regarded as having created a federation that is a kingdom in its own right.[69][70][71] Macdonald had spoken of "founding a great British monarchy" and wanted the newly created country to be called the "Kingdom of Canada".[72] Although it had its monarch in London, the Colonial Office opposed as "premature" and "pretentious" the term "kingdom", as it was felt it might antagonize the United States. The term dominion was chosen to indicate Canada's status as a self-governing polity of the British Empire, the first time it was used in reference to a country.

While the BNA Act eventually resulted in Canada having more autonomy than it had before, it was far from full independence from the United Kingdom. According to the Supreme Court of Canada, Canadian "sovereignty was acquired in the period between its separate signature of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and the Statute of Westminster, 1931" long after Confederation in 1867.[73] Defence of British North America became a Canadian responsibility.[74] Foreign policy remained in British hands, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council remained Canada's highest court of appeal, and the constitution could be amended only 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 federal and provincial governments were unable to agree on a constitutional amending formula, this power remained with the British Parliament. In 1982, the constitution was patriated when Elizabeth II gave her royal assent to the Canada Act 1982. The Constitution of Canada is made up of a number of codified acts and uncodified traditions; one of the principal documents is the Constitution Act, 1982, which renamed the BNA Act 1867 to Constitution Act, 1867.[75][76]

The act also detailed how power would be distributed at both the provincial and federal levels. Two of the most important sections were 91 and 92. Section 91 gave Parliament jurisdiction over banking, interest rates, criminal law, the postal system, and the armed forces. Section 92 gave the provinces jurisdiction over property, contracts and torts, local works, and general business. However, sometimes Parliament and Provincial law may interfere with each other, in this case federal law would prevail.[77]


John A. Macdonald became the first prime minister of 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.[78]

The Anti-Confederation Party won 18 out of 19 federal Nova Scotia seats in September 1867, and in the Nova Scotia provincial election of 1868, 36 out of 38 seats in the legislature. For seven years, William Annand and Joseph Howe led the ultimately unsuccessful fight to convince British imperial authorities to release Nova Scotia from Confederation. The government was vocally against Confederation, contending it was no more than the annexation of the province to the pre-existing province of Canada.[79]

Prior to the coming into effect of the Constitution Act, 1867 there had been some concern regarding a potential "legislative vacuum" that would occur over the 15-month period between the prorogation of the Province of Canada's final Parliament in August 1866 and the opening of the now Dominion of Canada's first Parliament in November 1867. To prevent this, the Constitution Act, 1867 provided for "continuance of existing laws" from the three colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick until new laws could be established in the Dominion.[80] Thus, the "Dominion's financial systems, structures and actors were able to operate under the provisions of the old Province of Canada Acts" following confederation, and many institutions and organizations were continued and assumed "the same responsibilities for the new federal government that it had held as a provincial organization".[81]

Fathers of Confederation

1885 photo of Robert Harris' 1884 painting, Conference at Quebec in 1864, to settle the basics of a union of the British North American Provinces, also known as The Fathers of Confederation. The original painting was destroyed in the 1916 Parliament Buildings Centre Block fire. The scene is an amalgamation of the Charlottetown and Quebec City conference sites and attendees.

The original Fathers of Confederation are those delegates who attended any of the conferences held at Charlottetown and Quebec in 1864, or in London, United Kingdom, in 1866, leading to Confederation.[82]

There were 36 original Fathers of Confederation. Hewitt Bernard, who was the recording secretary at the Charlottetown Conference, is considered by some to be a Father of Confederation.[83] The later "Fathers" who brought the other provinces into Confederation after 1867 are also referred to as "Fathers of Confederation". In this way, Amor De Cosmos who was instrumental both in bringing democracy to British Columbia and in bringing his province into Confederation, is considered by many to be a Father of Confederation.[84] As well, Joey Smallwood referred to himself as "the Last Father of Confederation", because he helped lead Newfoundland into Confederation in 1949.[85]

Joining Confederation

After the initial BNA Act in 1867, Manitoba was established by an act of the Canadian Parliament on July 15, 1870, originally as an area of land much smaller than the current province.[86] British Columbia joined Canada July 20, 1871, by an Imperial order-in-council enacted under the authority of the British North America Act.[87][88][89] The order-in-council incorporated the Terms of Union negotiated by the governments of Canada and British Columbia, including a commitment by the federal government to build a railway connecting British Columbia to the railway system of Canada within 10 years of union.[90] Prince Edward Island (PEI) joined July 1, 1873, also by an Imperial order-in-council.[91] One reason for joining was financial: PEI's economy was performing poorly and union would bring monetary benefits that would assist the province in avoiding bankruptcy.[92] One of the Prince Edward Island Terms of Union was a guarantee by the federal government to operate a ferry link, a term deleted upon completion of the Confederation Bridge in 1997.[87] Alberta and Saskatchewan were established September 1, 1905, by acts of the Canadian Parliament. Newfoundland joined on March 31, 1949, by an act of the Imperial Parliament, also with a ferry link guaranteed.[87][93]

The Crown acquired Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1869 (though final payment to the Hudson's Bay Company did not occur until 1870), and then transferred jurisdiction to the Dominion on July 15, 1870, merging them and naming them North-West Territories.[94] In 1880, the British assigned all North American Arctic islands to Canada, right up to Ellesmere Island.[95] From this vast swath of territory were created three provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta) and two territories (Yukon Territory and North-West Territories, now Yukon and Northwest Territories), and two extensions each to Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba. Later, the third territory of Nunavut was carved from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999.[96] The Yukon territory was formed during the Klondike gold rush. People from all around Canada and the United States flocked to the area due to rumours of an easy way to get rich. The Canadian government sought to regulate this migration and tax gold findings, whether American or Canadian.[92]

Below is a list of Canadian provinces and territories in the order in which they entered Confederation; territories are italicized. At formal events, representatives of the provinces and territories take precedence according to this ordering, except that provinces always precede territories. For provinces that entered on the same date, the order of precedence is based on the provinces' populations at the time they entered Confederation.

July 1, 1867  OntarioCanada West region of the Province of Canada[N 1]
 QuebecCanada East region of the Province of Canada[N 1]
 Nova ScotiaProvince of Nova Scotia
 New BrunswickProvince of New Brunswick
July 15, 1870  Manitobapart of Rupert's Land[N 2][N 1]
 Northwest Territoriesall of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory except for the part which became Manitoba[N 2]
July 20, 1871  British ColumbiaUnited Colony of British Columbia
July 1, 1873  Prince Edward IslandColony of Prince Edward Island
June 13, 1898  Yukon Territory[N 3]part of the Northwest Territories[N 2]
September 1, 1905  Saskatchewanpart of the Northwest Territories
 Albertapart of the Northwest Territories
March 31, 1949  Newfoundland[N 4]Dominion of Newfoundland
April 1, 1999  Nunavutpart of the Northwest Territories
  1. Later received additional land from the Northwest Territories.
  2. In 1870 the Hudson's Bay Company-controlled Rupert's Land and North-Western Territory were transferred to the Dominion of Canada. Most of these lands were formed into a new territory named Northwest Territories, but the region around Fort Garry was simultaneously established as the province of Manitoba by the Manitoba Act of 1870.
  3. Renamed Yukon in 2003. (Library and Archives Canada. "Yukon Territory name change to Yukon" (PDF). Retrieved July 14, 2009.)
  4. Renamed Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001.


The term Confederation has entered into Canadian parlance both as a metaphor for the country and for the historical events that created it. It has therefore become one of the most common names for Canadian landmarks. Examples include Mount Confederation, Confederation Square, Confederation Building, Confederation Park, Confederation Station, Confederation Heights, Confederation Bridge, and so on. This is similar to the American practices of naming things "Union" and likewise the Australians with "Federation".

Indigenous communities were absent or ignored in the process of Canadian confederation.[97] As a result of Confederation, the Government of Canada assumed the responsibility of the British Crown in treaty dealings with the First Nations. One result of this was the Indian Act of 1873, which has governed relations ever since. Canada was no longer a colony of the United Kingdom, but Canadian Confederation continued the conditions of colonialism  including resource grabbing, broken treaties, forced assimilation, culture loss, ecological destruction, heteropatriarchy, and intergenerational trauma inflicted by the hegemony of the Canadian state  on Indigenous nations that had been self-governing.[98][99][100][101]

As the 20th century progressed, attention to the conditions of Indigenous peoples in Canada increased, which included the granting of full voting rights. Prior to 1960, Status Indians were generally not eligible to vote in federal elections[102] unless they gave up their status under the Indian Act.[92] The Diefenbaker government amended the Canada Elections Act to remove those restrictions and recognise full voting rights for Status Indians in federal elections, effective July 1, 1960.[103] Treaty rights were enshrined in the Canadian Constitution in 1982.[104][105] Recognizing the principle of aboriginal title, a process of land claims settlements is ongoing to settle un-extinguished aboriginal title between the federal government and various bands. Created to resolve the effects and after-effects of the residential school system, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was struck to identify further measures to improve conditions.

Confederation timeline

Confederation timeline: 1863 to 1867
1863 to 1864
July–September 1863Lieutenant Governor Gordon encourages Maritime unionArthur Gordon, newly appointed British lieutenant governor of New Brunswick, encourages Samuel Leonard Tilley, premier of New Brunswick, and Charles Tupper, premier of Nova Scotia, to consider the possibility of a union of the three Maritime provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island[106]
March 28, 1864Nova Scotia resolution for Maritime union conferencePremier Tupper introduces resolution in Nova Scotia House of Assembly to appoint delegates to a conference of the three Maritime provinces to consider the possibility of Maritime union; union only to occur if approved by statutes passed by each of the three provinces and the Queen; resolution passes with all-party support[107][108]
April 9, 1864New Brunswick resolution for Maritime union conferencePremier Tilley introduces resolution in New Brunswick House of Assembly to appoint delegates to a conference of the three Maritime provinces to consider the possibility of Maritime union; union only to occur if approved by statutes passed by each of the three provinces and the Queen; resolution passes with all-party support[109][110]
April 18, 1864Prince Edward Island resolution for Maritime union conferenceJohn Hamilton Gray, premier of Prince Edward Island, introduces resolution in Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island to appoint delegates to a conference of the three Maritime provinces to consider the possibility of Maritime union; no further action to be taken until report of the Conference be laid before the Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly; resolution passes on party lines[111][112]
June 14, 1864Report on constitutional reform in Province of CanadaGeorge Brown, member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, presents committee report addressing flaws in the constitutional system of the Province of Canada; report favours a federal system of government, either for the two sections of the Province of Canada alone, or for a union of the British North American provinces[113][114]
June 14, 1864Government of the Province of Canada fallsThe same day Brown presents the report, the government falls on a non-confidence motion; stark illustration of the political instability of the Province of Canada; second government to fall in 1864, after only two and a half months in office[115]
June 14–16, 1864Brown initiates discussions with John A. MacdonaldPolitical overtures by Brown to John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and Alexander T. Galt to seek constitutional changes; Macdonald responds; Brown favours federal constitution for Province of Canada; Macdonald, Cartier and Galt propose seeking union of all eastern British North American provinces[116]
June 17–30, 1864Great Coalition formedCoalition government of Liberal-Conservatives from Canada West (led by Macdonald); Reformers from Canada West (led by Brown); Bleus from Canada East (led by Cartier); and Liberal-Conservatives from Canada East (led by Galt); Coalition agrees to pursue union of eastern British North American provinces; failing that, will seek a federal constitution for the Province of Canada[117]
June 30, 1864Canadians ask to attend conference on Maritime UnionGovernor General Monck sends letters to the Maritime lieutenant governors, requesting that the Province of Canada be permitted to send a delegation to the upcoming conference on Maritime union[118]
September 1–9, 1864Charlottetown Conference, Charlottetown, Prince Edward IslandMeeting of delegates from Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; no real discussion of Maritime union; Province of Canada proposal for a union of the British North American provinces gains general support; Conference delegates agree to continue discussions at Quebec; Maritime Union shelved[119][120]
October 10–27, 1864Quebec Conference, Quebec City, Province of CanadaDelegates from Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland meet in Quebec to discuss the Confederation proposal in more detail; Conference passes the Quebec Resolutions, which outline a detailed proposal for Confederation of the British North American provinces[121][122][123]
October 19, 1864St. Albans RaidGroup of Confederate soldiers travel to Canada and conduct a cross-border raid to St. Albans, Vermont; captured by Canadian authorities; judge in Montreal rejects extradition application and releases them; episode creates considerable tension with the United States government
October—December 1864Cabinet crisis in Prince Edward IslandPrince Edward Island cabinet splits over the Quebec Resolutions and Confederation; Attorney General Edward Palmer, delegate to both the conferences, challenges the proposals; Premier Gray, who supports Confederation, resigns[124]
January 7–9, 1865New premier in Prince Edward IslandJames Colledge Pope, opposed to Confederation, becomes premier of Prince Edward Island[125]
February 3, 1865Confederation Debates begin in Province of CanadaLengthy debates begin in the Parliament of the Province of Canada on the merits of the Confederation project[126]
February 6, 1865Confederation discussed in NewfoundlandNewfoundland premier Hugh Hoyles states in debates that Confederation would not be rushed through the Legislative Assembly[127]
February–March 1865New Brunswick electionPro-Confederation government of Premier Tilley defeated by Anti-Confederation group; Anti-Confederation leader, Albert James Smith, becomes premier[128]
February 20, 1865Confederation Debates in Province of CanadaQuebec Resolutions approved by Legislative Council by vote of 45 to 15[129]
March 2, 1865Confederation discussed in Prince Edward IslandPremier Pope states in the Legislative Assembly that any Confederation plan would be put to the voters, and that his government does not support Confederation[130]
March 6, 1865Newfoundland postpones decisionPremier Hoyles proposes to the Legislative Assembly that no decision be taken on the Quebec Resolutions until after the upcoming Newfoundland election[131]
March 10, 1865Conclusion of Confederation Debates in Province of CanadaQuebec resolutions approved by Legislative Assembly by vote of 91 to 33[132]
March 24–31, 1865Confederation debates in Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward IslandPremier J.C. Pope leads the Anti-Confederation position in the debates; his brother, William Henry Pope, leads the Pro-Confederation position; Assembly rejects Confederation by vote of 23 to 5[133]
April 10, 1865Maritime union raised again in Nova ScotiaConsiderable opposition to Confederation in Nova Scotia; Premier Tupper introduces motion for re-consideration of Maritime union as a stopgap measure[134]
May 1865Canadian delegation to BritainMacdonald, Cartier, Galt and Brown travel to Britain to discuss defence of the Province of Canada, now that the US Civil Was is over; no firm commitment from British government[135]
June 24, 1865Pressure from BritainThe Colonial Secretary, Edward Cardwell, sends a dispatch to the three Maritime provinces, urging them to accept Confederation to aid imperial defence[136]
July 1865Britain urges ConfederationAnti-Confederation premier Smith of New Brunswick and William Annand, a member of the Anti-Confederation group in the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia, travel separately to London to express dissatisfaction with the Confederation proposal; they each meet with Cardwell, the Colonial Secretary; Cardwell advises them that the British government strongly favours Confederation along the lines of the Quebec Resolutions, and will do everything in its power to achieve Confederation[137]
November 6, 1865York byelection, New BrunswickVacancy in the New Brunswick Assembly forces Anti-Confederation government to call by-election in York riding; Charles Fisher, former premier, delegate to Quebec, and strong supporter of Confederation, wins by-election[138]
November 7, 1865Newfoundland electionThe leaders of the two parties in the Newfoundland election, Frederick Carter and Ambrose Shea, had both been delegates to Quebec and support Confederation; Carter wins the election, but overall, the majority of the members of the Assembly do not support Confederation[139]
February 20, 1866Newfoundland postpones decisionIn first session after the 1865 election, the Newfoundland Legislative Assembly votes to delay any decision on Confederation[140]
March 12, 1866Governor General Monck intervenesMonck sends a telegram to Lieutenant Governor Williams, suggesting that Williams make overtures to leader of the Anti-Confederates[141]
March 13, 1866Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia suggests conferenceLieutenant Governor Williams summons Annand, leader of the Anti-Confederates in the Assembly, and suggests that Annand propose a new conference, in London, under the supervision of the Imperial government[142]
April 4, 1866Anti-Confederation proposal for London ConferenceWilliam Miller, a leading Anti-Confederate in the Nova Scotia Assembly, proposes that there be another conference, in London[143]
April 6, 1866Legislative Council of New Brunswick supports ConfederationThe Legislative Council of New Brunswick votes in favour of Confederation and the Quebec Resolutions[144][145]
April 10, 1866Nova Scotia proposal for London ConferencePremier Tupper introduces resolution stating that Confederation is desirable, and therefore the Assembly authorises the lieutenant governor "to appoint delegates to arrange with the Imperial Government a scheme of union which will effectually ensure just provision for the rights and interest of this Province..."[146][147]
April 12–13, 1866Resignation of Anti-Confederation government of New BrunswickPremier Smith and his government resign as a result of Lieutenant Governor Gordon accepting the resolution of the Legislative Council, approving of Confederation; Lieutenant Governor Gordon appoints Peter Mitchell, a supporter of Confederation and delegate to the Quebec Conference, as premier[148]
April 17, 1866Tupper's resolution passesNova Scotia Assembly passes Tupper's resolution proposing a conference in London, by a vote of 31 to 19[149][150]
May 7–8, 1866Prince Edward Island rejects ConfederationFurther debate in the Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly; clear rejection of Confederation[151]
May–June 1866New Brunswick electionLieutenant Governor Gordon dissolves the Assembly on advice of the new government; Pro-Confederation group wins elections, with majority of 33 seats compared to 8 seats for Anti-Confederation group[152]
June 30, 1866New Brunswick supports London ConferenceThe New Brunswick Legislative Assembly passes a Resolution to appoint delegates for the London Conference to discuss the union of the colonies, under the auspices of the Imperial government, "upon such terms as will secure the just rights and interests of New Brunswick", including a guarantee for the inter-colonial railway[153]
1866Last session of Parliament of Province of CanadaLegislative Assembly of Province of Canada passes resolutions setting out proposed constitutions for Ontario and Quebec[154]
December 4–23, 1866London Conference beginsDelegates from Province of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick meet in London to review and revise the Quebec Resolutions; revisions include guarantee of the inter-colonial railway and strengthening provisions for denominational and separate schools[155]
December 24, 1866London Conference concludesDelegates unanimously approve modified resolutions; Macdonald transmits them to the new Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon, for consideration[156]
January–February 1867Drafting of the billCommittee of the delegates begin the drafting process to implement the London Resolutions; extensive consultations with Lord Carnarvon and British drafter; bill goes through several drafts[157]
February–March, 1867Bill passed by British ParliamentLord Carnarvon introduces the British North America Act, 1867 in the House of Lords; Lord Monck speaks in support; Cardwell, now in opposition, speaks in support in the Commons; bill proceeds through the Lords and the Commons without incident[158]
March 29, 1867Queen Victoria grants Royal AssentBritish North America Act, 1867 enacted as Imperial statute
July 1, 1867Proclamation of British North America Act, 1867Canada is created
July 1, 1867Macdonald appointed first prime minister of CanadaGovernor General Monck appoints Macdonald as first prime minister of Canada; Macdonald then sets up the first federal government, appointing the federal Cabinet and the lieutenant governors of the four provinces.[159]
July 1, 1867Continuation of New Brunswick governmentPremier Mitchell continues in office as the first post-Confederation premier of New Brunswick
July 4, 1867Continuation of Nova Scotia governmentLieutenant Governor Williams appoints Hiram Blanchard as first post-Confederation premier of Nova Scotia, after Premier Tupper resigns to stand for election to the federal House of Commons
July 15, 1867Creation of first Quebec governmentLieutenant Governor Belleau appoints Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau as first premier of Quebec
July 16, 1867Creation of first Ontario governmentLieutenant Governor Stisted appoints John Sandfield Macdonald as first premier of Ontario
August–September 1867First elections under the British North America Act, 1867Elections for federal Parliament, Legislative Assemblies of Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia (no election in New Brunswick since there had been an election the previous year)

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    Further reading

    • Careless, J.M.C. "George Brown and Confederation," Manitoba Historical Society Transactions, Series 3, Number 26, 1969–70 online
    • Creighton, Donald Grant. The road to confederation: The emergence of Canada, 1863–1867 (1965) a standard history
    • Creighton, Donald Grant. The young politician. Vol. 1 (1952) vol 1 of biography of Macdonald
    • Gwyn, Richard. John A: The Man Who Made Us (2008) vol 1 of biography of Macdonald
    • Knox, Bruce A. "Conservative Imperialism 1858–1874: Bulwer Lytton, Lord Carnarvon, and Canadian Confederation." International History Review (1984) 6#3 pp: 333–357.
    • Martin, Ged. Britain and the origins of Canadian confederation, 1837–67 (UBC Press, 1995).
    • Martin, Ged, ed. The Causes of Canadian confederation (Acadiensis Press, 1990).
    • Moore, Christopher. 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal (McClelland & Stewart, 2011)
    • Morton, William Lewis. The critical years: the union of British North America, 1857–1873 (McClelland & Stewart, 1964) a standard history
    • Smith, Andrew. British Businessmen and Canadian Confederation Constitution-Making in an Era of Anglo-Globalization (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2008)
    • Smith, Andrew. "Toryism, Classical Liberalism, and Capitalism: The Politics of Taxation and the Struggle for Canadian Confederation." Canadian Historical Review 89#1 (2008): 1–25.
    • Smith, Jennifer. "Canadian confederation and the influence of American federalism." Canadian Journal of Political Science 21#3 (1988): 443–464.
    • Smith, Peter J. "The Ideological Origins of Canadian Confederation". Canadian Journal of Political Science 1987. 20#1 pp : 3–29.
    • Vronsky, Peter. Ridgeway: The American Fenian Invasion and the 1866 Battle That Made Canada (Penguin Canada, 2011)
    • Waite, Peter B. The life and times of Confederation, 1864–1867: politics, newspapers, and the union of British North America (Robin Brass Studio, 2001).
    • White, Walter Leroy, and W. C. Soderlund. Canadian Confederation: A Decision-making Analysis (McGill-Queen's Press-MQUP, 1979)
    • Wilson, David A. Thomas D'Arcy McGee: The Extreme Moderate, 1857–1868. Vol. 2 (McGill-Queen's Press-MQUP, 2011)

    Provinces and regions

    • Bailey, Alfred G. "The basis and persistence of opposition to confederation in New Brunswick." Canadian Historical Review 23#4 (1942): 374–397.
    • Bailey, Alfred G. "Railways and the Confederation Issue in New Brunswick, 1863–1865." Canadian Historical Review 21#4 (1940): 367–383.
    • Bolger, Francis. "Prince Edward Island and Confederation" CCHA, Report, 28 (1961) pp: 25–30 online
    • Bonenfant, Jean-Charles. The French Canadians and the birth of Confederation (Canadian Historical Association, 1966)
    • Buckner, Phillip. "CHR Dialogue: The Maritimes and Confederation: A Reassessment." Canadian Historical Review 71#1 (1990) pp: 1–45.
    • Hiller, James. Confederation Defeated: The Newfoundland Election of 1869 (Newfoundland Historical Society, 1976)
    • Pryke, Kenneth G. Nova Scotia and Confederation, 1864–74 (1979)
    • Shelton, W. George, ed. British Columbia and Confederation (1967)
    • Silver, Arthur I. The French-Canadian idea of confederation, 1864–1900 (University of Toronto Press, 1997)
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    Primary sources

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