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Partners in Confederation

For the week of Monday October 6, 2014

On October 10, 1864, the Québec Conference officially opened with 33 delegates from British North American colonies ready to plan for Confederation.

Rex Woods, The Fathers of Confederation, a reproduction of Robert Harris’ earlier work
© House of Commons Collection, Ottawa

The Charlottetown Conference, hosted a month earlier in Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), had been the first serious discussion of Confederation among all the colonies. Delegates supported union if they could establish favorable conditions at Québec in the form of written resolutions.

Attendees gathered in the Parliament building in Québec, with 12 representatives from the United Province of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec), seven from New Brunswick, seven from P.E.I., five from Nova Scotia and two from Newfoundland. They debated different aspects of the future country’s constitution and drafted those decisions into the 72 Resolutions.

With the American Civil War raging to the south, delegates unanimously agreed to follow the British rather than American model. However, other questions stirred objections. Issues that Islanders thought had been decided in their favour at Charlottetown were now called into question by the other delegations. Attendees from P.E.I. felt their number of representatives in the House of Commons and the Senate was insufficient. Moreover, they expected the federal government to help buy land from absentee landowners – a claim which the other delegates now denied. In order to keep the Conference moving, delegates often made compromises, leaving the ultimate decisions to the provincial legislatures that would choose whether or not to follow through with Confederation.

Parliament of the Province of Canada in Québec, where the Conference was held
©The Illustrated London News/ Library and Archives Canada / C-006631

The resolutions were hotly debated throughout the colonies. In the end, Newfoundland and P.E.I. rejected the project, but the United Province of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia chose to move ahead and sent delegates to the London Conference held in England in 1866-67. There they transformed the 72 Resolutions into the British North America Act, which formed the constitution of the Dominion of Canada, proclaimed on July 1, 1867.

The Fathers of Confederation, among them Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, Sir Charles Tupper, Col. John Hamilton Gray and Sir Ambrose Shea, are all designated as national historic persons. While the legislature that housed the meetings burned in 1883, its location, Montmorency Park is a National Historic Site and lies within the Fortifications of Québec National Historic Site.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences of 1864. To learn more about the events and people involved in Confederation, please read the following stories in the This Week in History archives: Sir Charles Tupper Fights for Confederation, Until we meet again, A Patriote and Father of Confederation is Born, Canada’s First Election and Prince Edward Island’s Confederation Campaigner Defeated.

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