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Canadian Confederation ( ) was the process by which the federal Dominion of Canadamarker was formed, officially beginning on July 1, 1867, with the new provinces of Ontariomarker and Quebecmarker (until then together comprising the Province of Canada) along with two other British colonies, New Brunswickmarker and Nova Scotiamarker, which also became provinces.


Canada is a federal state and not a confederate association of sovereign states, the usual meaning of Confederation.

Canada is often considered to be among the world's most decentralized federations.

In a Canadian context Confederation generally describes the political process that united the colonies in the 1860s and related events, and the subsequent incorporation of other colonies and territories. 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, or entered into, Confederation (but not the Confederation). Confederation is, loosely translated, a confederation of colonies.

The term is also used to divide Canadian history into pre-Confederation (i.e. pre-1867) and post-Confederation (i.e. post-1867) periods, the latter of which includes current events.

History and process

Colonial organization

All the colonies that became involved in the Canadian Confederation in 1867 were initially part of New France and were once ruled by France. The British Empire’s first attempt at settlement in what would become Canada in 1867 was Nova Scotiamarker, granted to Sir William Alexander under charter in 1621 by James VI. These claims overlapped the French claims to Acadia, and although the Scottish colony was short-lived and unsuccessful, the conflicting imperial interests of France and Great Britain led to a long and bitter struggle for control. Present day mainland Nova Scotia was finally acquired by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht and the Acadian population was eventually expelled by the British in 1755. The British called Acadia Nova Scotiamarker, and it included present-day New Brunswickmarker. The rest of New France was acquired by the British Empire by the Treaty of Paris , which ended the Seven Years' War. Most of New France became the Province of Quebec. In 1769, present-day Prince Edward Islandmarker, which had been a part of Acadia, was renamed “St John’s Island” and organized as a separate colony (it was renamed PEI in 1798 in honour of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn). Newfoundland, which would not join Confederation until 1949, had been an English colonymarker as far back as 1610, and had also been subject of a French colonial enterprise.

In the wake of the American Revolution, approximately 60,000 United Empire Loyalists fled to British North America. The British created the separate colony of New Brunswick in 1784 for Loyalists who settled in the western part of Nova Scotia. While Nova Scotia (including New Brunswick) received slightly more than half, many of the Loyalists also settled in the Province of Quebec, which in 1791 was separated into a predominantly-English Upper Canada and a predominantly-French Lower Canada by the Constitutional Act of 1791. The War of 1812 and subsequent Treaty of 1818 established the 49th parallel as the border with the United States from the Great Lakesmarker to the Rocky Mountains in Western Canada.

Following the Rebellions of 1837, Lord Durham in his famous Durham Report, recommended that Upper Canada and Lower Canada should be joined to form the Province of Canada and that the new province should have a responsible government. As a result of Durham’s report, the British Parliamentmarker passed the Act of Union 1840, and the Province of Canada was formed in 1841. The new province was divided into two parts: Canada West (the former Upper Canada) and Canada East (the former Lower Canada). Ministerial responsibility was finally granted by Governor General Lord Elgin 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).

The area which constitutes modern-day British Columbiamarker is the remnants of the Hudson's Bay Company's Columbia District and New Caledonia District following the Oregon Treaty. Prior to joining Canada in 1871, B.C. consisted of the separate Colony of British Columbia (formed in 1858, in an area where the Crown had previously 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.

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 Islandsmarker, which were under direct British control and became a part of Canada in 1880.

Early projects

George-Étienne Cartier
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. These, however, did not include the colonies that were located in the territory of present-day Canada.

The idea was revived in 1839 by Lord Durham in his Report on the Affairs of British North America.

Beginning in 1857, Joseph-Charles Taché proposed a federation in a series of 33 articles published in the Courrier du Canada.

In 1859, Alexander Tilloch Galt, George-Étienne Cartier and John Ross travelled to Great Britainmarker to present the British Parliament with a project for confederation of the British colonies. The proposal was received by the Londonmarker 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.

Internal and external influences leading to Confederation

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

Internal causes that influenced Confederation:
  • cancelation of the Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty (a free trade policy whereby products were allowed into 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 a revenge against Great Britain for unofficial support of the American Civil War
  • political deadlock resulting from the current political structure
  • demographic pressure
  • economic nationalism and the promise of economic development

External pressures that influenced Confederation:

The Charlottetown Conference, September 1–9, 1864

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.

The Premier of the Province of Canada John A. Macdonald surprised the Atlantic premiers 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. 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 George-Étienne Cartier’s Parti bleu and George Brown’s Clear Grits. Macdonald, Cartier, and Brown felt that union with the other British colonies might be a way to solve the political problems of the Province of Canada.

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.

No minutes from the Charlottetown Conference survive, but we do know that George-Étienne Cartier and John A. Macdonald presented arguments in favour of a union of the four colonies; Alexander Tilloch Galt presented the Province of Canada’s proposals on the financial arrangements of such a union; and that George Brown presented a proposal for what form a united government might take. 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 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;
  2. revenues from the central government apportioned to the provinces on the basis of population;
  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.

By Wednesday 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 that the federation of all of the provinces was considered desirable if the terms of union could be made satisfactory and the question of Maritime Union was waived.

After the Conference adjourned on September 9, there were further meetings between delegates held at Halifaxmarker, Saint Johnmarker, and Frederictonmarker. These meetings evinced enough interest that it was decided to hold a second Conference.

Delegates Reactions to their Colleagues and the Other Provinces

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. 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.

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".

Press and Popular Reaction

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 thir own way...and that, what with their arguments and what with their blandishments, (they gave a chmpagne 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."

The Quebec Conference, October 10–27, 1864

After returning home from the Charlottetown Conference, John A. 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. Monck obliged and the Conference went ahead at Quebec Citymarker in October 1864.

The Conference began on October 10, 1864, on the site of the present-day Château Frontenacmarker. 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. For the Reformers of Canada West, led by George Brown, the end what they perceived as French-Canadian interference in local affairs was in sight. 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.

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. It was the matter of the Senate that threatened to derail the entire proceedings. It was Macdonald who came up with the acceptable compromise of giving Newfoundland four senators of its own when it joined.

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 that this was to be the central government, and in this he was supported by, among others, Tupper.

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 that it felt had been offered at Charlottetown to assist in buying out the holdings of absentee landlords.

Press and Popular Reaction

"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.

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

The London Conference, December 1866–March 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. (At this point, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland opted against union.)

Sixteen delegates from the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia traveled to London in December 1866. At meetings held at the Westminster Palace Hotel, the delegates reviewed the Seventy-two Resolutions. Although Charles Tupper had promised anti-union forces in Nova Scotia that he would push for amendments, he was unsuccessful in getting amendments passed. The Conference approved the 72 Resolutions, which now became the “London Resolutions” and passed them on to the Colonial Office.

After breaking for Christmas, the delegates reconvened in January 1867 and began drafting the British North America Act. They easily agreed that the new country should be called “Canada”, that Canada East should be renamed “Quebec” and that Canada West should be renamed “Ontario.” 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 for various reasons. The term "dominion" originates from Psalm 72:8 (KJV) and was (allegedly) suggested by Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley.

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 Lordsmarker the next day. The bill was quickly approved by the House of Lords, and then also quickly approved by the British House of Commonsmarker. (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.

British North America Act, 1867

Proclamation of Canadian Confederation
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 replaced the Act of Union which had previously 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 Canada Day.

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

The form of government chosen is regarded as having created a federation that is a kingdom in its own right. John A. Macdonald had spoken of "founding a great British monarchy" and wanted the newly created country to be called the "Kingdom of Canada." 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 colony of the British Empire, the first time it was used in reference to a country.

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 Councilmarker 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 provinces of Canada were unable to agree on a constitutional amending formula, this power remained with the British Parliament. In 1982, the constitution was patriated when Queen 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.

Aftermath of Confederation, July 1, 1867

Dominion elections were held in August and September to elect the first Parliamentmarker, 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 .

The Anti-Confederation Party won 18 out of 19 federal seats in September 1867, and in the Nova Scotia provincial election of 1868, 36 out of 38 seats in the provincial 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 that it was no more than the annexation of the province to the pre-existing province of Canada.

Fathers of Confederation

The following lists the participants in the Charlottetown, Quebec, and London Conferences and their attendance at each stage. They are known as the Fathers of Confederation.

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. 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. As well, Joey Smallwood is popularly referred to as "the Last Father of Confederation", because he led Newfoundland into Confederation in 1949.

More controversially, there is also a movement to have Louis Riel accepted as a Father of Confederation for his role in bringing Manitobamarker into Confederation following the Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870, even though Riel was later executed for treason following the North-West Rebellion of 1885.

Table of participation

Participant Province (Current) Charlottetown Quebec City London
Sir Adams George Archibald Nova Scotia
Sir George Brown Ontario
Sir Alexander Campbell Ontario
Sir Frederick Carter Newfoundland
Sir George-Étienne Cartier Quebec
Sir Edward Barron Chandler New Brunswick
Sir Jean-Charles Chapais Quebec
Sir James Cockburn Ontario
George Coles Prince Edward Island
Robert B. Dickey Nova Scotia
Charles Fisher New Brunswick
Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt Quebec
Sir John Hamilton Gray Prince Edward Island
Sir John Hamilton Gray New Brunswick
Sir Thomas Heath Haviland Prince Edward Island
William Alexander Henry Nova Scotia
Sir William Pearce Howland Ontario
John Mercer Johnson New Brunswick
Sir Hector-Louis Langevin Quebec
Andrew Archibald Macdonald Prince Edward Island
Sir John A. Macdonald Ontario
Jonathan McCully Nova Scotia
William McDougall Ontario
Thomas D'Arcy McGee Quebec
Peter Mitchell New Brunswick
Sir Oliver Mowat Ontario
Edward Palmer Prince Edward Island
William Henry Pope Prince Edward Island
John William Ritchie Nova Scotia
Sir Ambrose Shea Newfoundland
William H. Steeves New Brunswick
Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché Quebec
Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley New Brunswick
Sir Charles Tupper Nova Scotia
Edward Whelan Prince Edward Island
Robert Duncan Wilmot New Brunswick

Joining Confederation

See also: History of Canada
After the initial Act of Union in 1867, Manitobamarker was established by an Act of Parliament on July 15, 1870, originally as an area much smaller than the current province. British Columbiamarker 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 Bridgemarker in 1997). Albertamarker and Saskatchewanmarker were established September 1, 1905, by Acts of Parliament. Newfoundland joined on March 31, 1949, also with a ferry link guaranteed.

The Dominion acquired Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company and the North-Western Territory from the Crown in 1869, and took ownership on December 1 of that year, merging them and naming them North-West Territoriesmarker (though final payment to the Hudson's Bay Company did not occur until 1870). In 1880, the British assigned all North American Arctic islands to Canada, right up to Ellesmere Islandmarker. From this vast swath of territory were created three provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta) and two territories (Yukonmarker and North-West Territoriesmarker), and two extensions each to Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba. Later, the third territory of Nunavutmarker was carved from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999.

List of provinces and territories in order of entering Confederation

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.

Order Date Name
1 July 1, 1867 Ontariomarker
Nova Scotiamarker
New Brunswickmarker
5 July 15, 1870 Manitobamarker* |- | ''[[Image:Flag of the Northwest Territories.svg|30px]] [[Northwest Territories]]'' |- | 7 | July 20, 1871 | [[Image:Flag of British Columbia.svg|30px]] [[British Columbia]] |- | 8 | July 1, 1873 | [[Image:Flag of Prince Edward Island.svg|30px]] [[Prince Edward Island]] |- | 9 | June 13, 1898 | ''[[Image:Flag of Yukon.svg|30px]] [[Yukon]]''* |- | rowspan = "2" | 10 | rowspan = "2" | September 1, 1905 | [[Image:Flag of Saskatchewan.svg|30px]] [[Saskatchewan]]* |- | [[Image:Flag of Alberta.svg|30px]] [[Alberta]]* |- | 12 | March 31, 1949 | [[Image:Flag of Newfoundland and Labrador.svg|30px]] [[Newfoundland and Labrador|Newfoundland]] (later renamed [[Newfoundland and Labrador]]) |- | 13 | April 1, 1999 | ''[[Image:Flag of Nunavut.svg|30px]] [[Nunavut]]''* |} * 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 Garrymarker was simultaneously established as the province of Manitoba by the Manitoba Act of 1870. Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec later received additional land from the Northwest Territories, and Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nunavut were later created out of the Northwest Territories. The remaining provinces joined Canada as separate and previously independent colonies.


  1. Collaborative Federalism in an era of globalization"
  2. P.B. Waite, The Life and Times of Confederation, 3rd ed., Toronto: Robin Brass Studio Inc., p. 40
  3. Waite, p. 44
  4. Waite, p. 56
  5. Richard Gwyn, John A: The Man Who Made Us, Vol I,
  6. Waite, p. 83
  7. Gwyn, p. 304
  8. Waite, p. 87
  9. Waite, p. 85
  10. Gwyn, p. 307
  11. Gwyn, p. 305
  12. Waite, p. 88
  13. Gwyn, p. 306
  14. Gwy, p. 306
  15. cited in Gwyn, p. 305
  16. Fredericton Head Quarters, of September 14, 1864, cited in Waite, p. 90
  17. Waite, p. 98
  18. Waite, p. 99
  19. Waite, p. 100
  20. Gwyn p. 317
  21. Gwyn, p. 317
  22. Waite, p. 105
  23. Waite, p. 107
  24. Gwyn, p.317
  25. The Crown in Canada
  26. Farthing, John; Freedom Wears a Crown; Toronto, 1957


  • LACmarker. " Canadian Confederation", in the Web site of Library and Archives Canada, 2006-01-09 (ISSN 1713-868X) [includes a [ bibliography]
  • Quebec and London Conferences. Report of resolutions adopted at a conference of delegates from the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, and the colonies of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island ..., London: s.n., 1867? ( online) [Resolutions of the Quebec Conference of October 10, 1864, and those of the London Conference of December 4, 1866, side by side]
  • Nova Scotia. House of Assembly (1867). Debate on the union of the provinces in the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia, March 16th, 18th, and 19th, 1867, S.l.: s.n., 65 p. ( online)
  • Joseph Howe, William Annand, and Hugh McDonald (1867). Letter addressed to the Earl of Carnarvon by Mr. Joseph Howe, Mr. William Annand, and Mr. Hugh McDonald stating their objections to the proposed scheme of union of the British North American provinces, London: G.E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode, 33 p. ( online)
  • Parliament of the Province of Canada (1865). Parliamentary debates on the subject of the Confederation of the British North American Provinces : 3rd Session, 8th Provincial Parliament of Canada, Quebec: Hunter, Rose & Co., 1032 p. ( online)

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