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The Province of Canada or the United Province of Canada was a British colony in North America from 1841 to 1867. Its formation reflected recommendations made by John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham in the Report on the Affairs of British North America following the Rebellions of 1837.

The Province of Canada ceased to exist at Canadian Confederation on July 1, 1867, when it was redivided into the modern Canadianmarker provinces of Ontariomarker and Quebecmarker.


Before 1841, the territory roughly corresponding to Southern Ontario in Canada belonged to the British colony of the Province of Upper Canada, while the southern portion of Quebec and the Labrador region of Newfoundland and Labradormarker belonged to the colony of the Province of Lower Canada. Upper Canada was primarily anglophone, whereas Lower Canada was francophone. The Act of Union , passed July 23, 1840, by the British parliament and proclaimed by the Crown on February 10, 1841, merged the two colonies by abolishing the legislatures of Upper and Lower Canada and replacing them with a single legislative assembly.

While this new legislature maintained equal representation for both of the former colonies, the democratic nature of Lower Canada's elections was fundamentally flawed. Despite the francophone majority in Lower Canada, most of the power was concentrated on the anglophone minority, who exploited the lack of a secret ballot to intimidate the electorate.

The area that had previously comprised Upper Canada was designated "Canada West", while the area that had comprised Lower Canada was designated "Canada East". The Province of Canada ceased to exist when the British North America Act passed by the British Parliament was proclaimed July 1, 1867.


The location of the capital city of the Province of Canada changed six times in its 26-year history. The first capital was in Kingstonmarker. The capital moved from Montrealmarker to Torontomarker in 1849 when rioters, spurred by a series of incendiary articles published in The Gazette, protested the Rebellion Losses Bill and burned down Montreal's parliament buildings. In 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the permanent capital of the Province of Canada, initiating construction of Canada's current parliament buildingsmarker. The first stage of this construction was completed in 1865, just in time to host the final session of the last parliament of the Province of Canada before Confederation.


Responsible Government

The Act of Union (1840) made no provision for responsible government (i.e., government responsible to the elected legislature instead of the colonial office); in fact, it explicitly gave the governor general of the province the authority to reject any bill passed by the elected assembly. Early governors general of the province were closely involved in political affairs, maintaining a right to make Executive Council and other appointments without the input of the legislative assembly . The secret ballot had not yet been introduced, so the democratic nature of this colony was fundamentally flawed.

However, in 1848 Governor General James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, appointed a cabinet nominated by the majority party of the Legislative Assembly, the Baldwin-Lafontaine coalition that had won elections in January. Lord Elgin upheld the principles of responsible government by not repealing the Rebellion Losses Bill, which was highly unpopular with some English-speaking Tories who favoured imperial over majority rule.

Legislative deadlock

As Canada East and Canada West each held 42 seats in the Legislative Assembly, there was legislative deadlock between English (mainly from Canada West) and French (mainly from Canada East). Initially, the majority of the province was French, which demanded "rep-by-pop" (representation by population), which the anglophones opposed.

Once the English population, rapidly growing through immigration, exceeded the French, the English demanded rep-by-pop. In the end, the legislative deadlock between English and French led to a movement for a federal union which resulted in the broader Canadian Confederation in 1867.


Amongst its accomplishments, the United Province of Canada negotiated the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 with the United Statesmarker, built the Grand Trunk Railway, improved the educational system in Canada West under Egerton Ryerson, reinstated French as an official language of the legislature and the courts, codified the Civil Code of Lower Canada in 1866, and abolished the seigneurial system in Canada East.

Municipal reform in Canada West was another important achievement. Originally, local government in Canada West operated mainly at the district level, until 1849, when a system based on counties was introduced. In 1841, elected district councils were introduced; prior to that time, officials were appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor.

Exploration of Western Canada and Rupert's Land with a view to annexation and settlement was a priority of Canada West politicians in the 1850s leading to the Palliser Expedition and the Red River Exploring Expedition of Henry Youle Hind.


Year Population (Lower) Canada East Population (Upper) Canada West
1841 n/a 455,688
1844 697,084 n/a
1848 765,797-786,693 estimates 725,879
1851-52 890,261 952,004
1860-61 1,111,566 1,396,091

See also

Political history

Political structure

Further reading

  • Careless, J. M. S. The union of the Canadas : the growth of Canadian institutions, 1841-1857. (Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, c1967.) ISBN 0771019122.
  • Cornell, Paul G. The great coalition, June 1864. (Ottawa : Canadian Historical Association, 1966.)
  • Dent, John Charles, 1841-1888. The last forty years : the Union of 1841 to Confederation ; abridged and with an introduction by Donald Swainson. (Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, c1972.)
  • Knight, David B. Choosing Canada's capital : conflict resolution in a parliamentary system. 2nd ed. (Ottawa : Carleton University Press, 1991). xix, 398 p. ISBN 0886291488.
  • Messamore, Barbara Jane. Canada's governors general, 1847-1878 : biography and constitutional evolution. (Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c2006.
  • Morton, W. L. (William Lewis). The critical years : the union of British North America, 1857-1873. (Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, c1964.)
  • The Pre-Confederation premiers : Ontario government leaders, 1841-1867; edited by J. M. S. Careless. (Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1980.)
  • Ryerson, Stanley B. Unequal union : roots of crisis in the Canadas, 1815-1873. (Toronto : Progress Books, 1975, c1973.) A Marxist assessment.

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