In the 1860s the British colonies were facing many different kinds of problems. One solution for all of these was for the colonies to come together to form one country. These are the problems that led to Confederation:
The Province of Canada contained the most people and was later made into the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The government of the Province of Canada did not run smoothly because the English-speaking and French-speaking halves had different ideas about how things should be run. Leaders from both parts of the province decided that joining the other colonies might help solve their own political problems.
In order for their economies to do well, the colonies needed to be able to sell their goods to other markets. At this time there were very few places that they could sell to. One solution was to bring all the colonies together. In this way they could more easily sell their goods to each other.
Since America had fought Britain to gain its independence the relationship between British North America and the United States had never been stable. The relationship became even worse when Britain supported the South in the American Civil War. The North won the war and was angry at Britain for helping the South. Many Americans wanted to take over all of what is now Canada.
Meanwhile, Britain didn’t want to have to pay for the cost of defending its colonies. It decided to encourage the colonies to join together, because the United States would be less likely to attack Canada if it were a self-governing country rather than separate colonies of Britain. The fear of the United States helped to strengthen the call for Confederation.
On The Road to Confederation
The original impetus for confederation of some kind came from the Maritime Provinces. Leaders from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island had already thought about joining together in a Maritime union and were planning a conference. The politicians from the Province of Canada asked if they could come to the meeting to propose a larger union of all the British North American colonies. The Maritime colonies agreed to let them attend, and all the leaders met at Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. This was the first of the three conferences that led to Confederation in 1867. Things went surprisingly well in Charlottetown. Sir John A MacDonald and George Etienne Cartier made a powerful argument for the amalgamation of the Canadas with the Maritimes. All agreed to meet again to discuss Confederation. The next conference was at Quebec City.
The Quebec Conference, October 1864
During this conference the leaders had to work out how the new country would be run. The decisions they came to were called the Quebec Resolutions. Although Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland both took part, after the conference they both decided not to join Confederation at that time.
The London Conference, December 1866-January 1867
This was the last conference, and it took place in London, England. Leaders from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada had to take the rough draft of the Quebec Resolutions and come up with a final agreement. The document they created was called the British North America Act. Once British Parliament approved it, Confederation could go ahead.
July 1, 1867
On this date Canada became a country with four provinces. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia hardly changed, but the Province of Canada was split into two new provinces: Ontario and Quebec. It would take more than a century to add the other six provinces and three territories that today make up Canada. This site is the story of how each province and territory came to be part of Canada.
The Father’s of Confederation
The Fathers of Confederation were the architects of the plan that resulted in the proposal that brought the individual British American colonies together under a Federalist system. To be considered a father of Confederation they had to have attended at least one of the three conferences leading to confederation—Charlottetown, Quebec and London. Some of the most notable of the Fathers of Confederation are described here:
Alexander Tilloch Galt
Galt Represented the English business class that controlled the economy of Quebec. He entered politics in a by-election in 1853 and remained in office until 187.His efforts to obtain government subsidies for business ventures, particularly railroads, brought him closer to the Conservatives. In 1858, Galt accepted the position of finance minister in the government formed by John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier.
As a member of the government, Alexander Tilloch Galt pressed for a federal union of the British North American colonies that would end the awkward political structure of the day and allow Ontario and Québec to regain their separate legislatures (see Provincial Government). Galt attended the Québec Conference in 1864 and was part of the Canadian delegations sent to England in 1865 and 1866 to negotiate the final terms of the British North America Act, 1867. After Confederation, Galt joined the first federal Cabinet as minister of finance but resigned before year’s end when the government rejected his recommendation to provide $500,000 in financial assistance to a struggling bank, which then failed
Premier of Nova Scotia, by 1860, Tupper supported a union of all the colonies of British North America. Believing that immediate union of all the colonies was impossible, in 1864, he proposed a Maritime Union. However, representatives of the Province of Canada asked to be allowed to attend the meeting in Charlottetown scheduled to discuss Maritime Union in order to present a proposal for a wider union, and the Charlottetown Conference thus became the first of the three conferences that secured Canadian Confederation. Tupper also represented Nova Scotia at the other two conferences, the Quebec Conference (1864) and the London Conference of 1866.
He held multiple cabinet positions under Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald as well as High Commissioner to London. After Macdonald’s death Tupper was invited to become Prime Minister in May of 189t6 but his new government was defeated by the Wilfrid Laurier Liberals. Tupper returned to Britain where he died in 1915.
Scottish-born George Brown was the founder of the Toronto Globe, now the Globe and Mail. As a journalist he opposed slavery in the US and opposed Toryism in Ontario. He objected to the forced union of Upper and Lower Canada. He was elected to that legislature in 1851 where he fought for greater autonomy for Canada West. After leaving politics for a while Brown returned to the parliament in 1863 as member for South Oxford. Here he explored conciliatory means to achieve reform of the Union. In 1864, he chaired an all-party parliamentary committee on that subject, which ultimately recommended a federation to overcome the sectionalism that had brought political deadlock. On the same day that a last, ineffectual Conservative ministry broke down, Brown offered to support a new government ready to pursue constitutional changes. In consequence, he joined with his chief Conservative rivals John A. Macdonald, Alexander Tilloch Galt and George-Étienne Cartier, to form a coalition that would seek a federal union of all the British provinces or, failing that, of the Canadas.
Through this strong new coalition, stemming from Brown’s crucial initiative, the movement to Confederation surged ahead. He played a major role at the Charlottetown Conference and the Québec Conference, which formulated the plan; he was first to carry it to the British government in December 1864, and spoke compellingly for it in the 1865 Confederation debates in the Canadian Assembly.
Thomas Darcy McGee
Initially a fierce Irish patriot, Thomas D’Arcy McGee was elected to Canada’s legislative assembly as one of three representatives for Montréal. In public life, as in his writing, McGee became a staunch supporter of the cause of Canadian nationhood. Through the remaining decade of his life, McGee’s political stances reflected his growing conservatism and respect for British Parliamentary democracy. Initially, he worked with the short-lived Reform government of George Brown, and later in the moderate Reform government of John Sandfield Macdonald. But he defected to the Conservatives in 1861 to endorse a bill for separate Catholic schools, and eventually joined John A. Macdonald’s government as minister of agriculture, immigration and statistics.
In 1864, he helped organized a diplomatic tour of the Maritime colonies for delegates from the Province of Canada. His stump speeches in favour of British North American union on this tour supported his reputation as the most eloquent public speaker of his cohort (two of his most famous speeches on Confederation were subsequently published). He attended both the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences in 1864 after confederation McGee was excluded from the first Macdonald cabinet. His parliamentary career was short-lived as he was the victim of an assassin’s bullet in 1868.
George Etienne Carter
He had been ‘Cartier the rebel’ during the Rebellion of Lower Canada and with a price on his head he had fled for the border. Pardoned by the English, Cartier came home and was elected to the legislature when Canada East and Canada West joined to form the union of Canada. While ever on guard to defend the rights of the French-speaking Canadians, Cartier had no intention of “standing behind the crumbling walls of the past.” He also had dreams for his country for he had helped to build it. At Charlottetown following Macdonald, Cartier spoke. The French no less than the English wished to be part of a nation, he said. They wished for a door on the sea, a way to the west, a shared greatness. They wished for a life to be lived by all in common. They were prepared to build, to sacrifice, to take enormous risks while always remaining themselves. “If the plan (Confederation) seems to us to safeguard Lower Canada’s special interests, its religion and its nationality, we’ll give it our support; if not we’ll fight it with all our strength.” A powerful voice for nation building, Cartier played the primary role in bringing Manitoba and British Columbia into Confederation, and negotiated the purchase of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory from the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Born in Gagetown New Brunswick of United Empire Loyalist stock, Tilley entered politics and 1854 became provincial secretary in New Brunswick’s first responsible cabinet. The office included the Finance portfolio. From 1861 he was also premier. In 1865 he called an election in which the primary issue was Confederation but he was defeated. Tilley’s argument for union received a boost when Fenians raided various points on the New Brunswick border and his party swept back into office. Tilley attended both the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences. He was also present at the Westminster conference which resulted in the British North America Act. Canada was designated a ‘dominion’ as a result of Tilley, the New Brunswick premier. Most of the Fathers of Confederation wanted to call their new creation the Kingdom of Canada. Tilley served in Macdonald’s federal cabinet as minister of finance. He was described as statesman of ability, a gentleman in the best sense of the term.
Sir John A Macdonald
Glasgow-born John A Macdonald emigrated to Canada and became a lawyer. In 1844 (at age 29) he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada to represent Kingston.
His obvious intelligence and ability brought him his first Cabinet post as receiver general in 1847 in the administration of W.H. Draper, which was defeated in the general election that year.
Macdonald remained in Opposition until the election of 1854, after which he was involved in the creation of a new political alliance, the Liberal-Conservative Party. This new party brought together the Conservatives with an already existing alliance between Upper Canadian Reformers and the French Canadian majority political bloc, the Bleus.
Once returned to office, Macdonald assumed the prestigious post of attorney general of Upper Canada. On the retirement of Conservative leader Sir Allan Macnab (which he helped to engineer in 1856), Macdonald succeeded him as joint-premier of the Province of Canada with George-Étienne Cartier 1857–62.Convinced that the British North American colonies must unite, Macdonald, spent the next three years negotiating with opposing members of his party and with hesitating sister provinces and the mother country. At the historic Charlottetown conference, John A. Macdonald and George-Etienne Cartier set out the arguments in favour of Confederation and the general terms of the Canadian proposal. By the time the conference ended Macdonald and Cartier had presented such a convincing case the Maritime delegates abandoned their talks of Maritime union and before the conference adjourned on Sept. 7 the delegates agreed to meet again on Oct. 10 at Quebec City to work out final details of British North American federation.
Macdonald drafted many of the resolutions presented to the Quebec Conference. At the Westminster conference in London in December 1866 the Quebec Resolutions were the basis for the new constitution. A British official wrote: “Macdonald was the ruling genius and spokesman and I was greatly struck with his powers of management and adroitness.”
In 1867 John A. Macdonald became the first prime minister of the new Dominion of Canada. As prime minister from 1867-73 and again from 1878-91 he accomplished Canada’s expansion to the Pacific and the building of the transcontinental railway.