Province House National Historic Site, the location of the Charlottetown conference in September 1864. © Parks Canada
In the mid-1800s, British North America contained five provinces: Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada (Canada East and Canada West). Each had a separate legislature and governor and reported to the British Government with little interaction between the provinces. The Charlottetown Conference (September 1-9, 1864) was originally intended as a regional meeting for Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick representatives to discuss a Maritime union. However, Canada's representatives requested to be included and on the first day in Charlottetown convinced the others to consider a confederation of all British North America. The 23 delegates spent the next days focused on such weighty matters as government structure, division of power, and financial relations. The evenings were filled with banquets and balls, which provided the opportunity to discuss business in a more relaxed and friendly setting. At the end of the Charlottetown Conference, representatives had agreed that union should be pursued and decided to reconvene in a few weeks.
This second meeting, the Québec Conference (October 10-27), was attended by 33 delegates representing the original participating provinces plus two delegates from Newfoundland. As in Charlottetown, serious political debate was balanced by glamorous social events. The representatives expanded on the Charlottetown discussions, forming their conclusions into a series of resolutions known as The Québec Resolutions or the 72 Resolutions. These principles continue to define Canada today: a federal government system, an appointed upper chamber (Senate), an elected lower chamber, elected by proportional representation (House of Commons), and continuing ties to the British monarchy.
Delegates of the legislature of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, October 27 1864.© Public Domain, from the Library and Archives Canada / Jules I. Livernois.C-006350
The last resolution stated that delegates must receive support from their own governments before the unification process could continue. Politicians and citizens debated the resolutions, which were not welcomed equally across the colonies. Ultimately, only the legislatures of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada approved of union. Their representatives travelled to England in December 1866 for the final stage, the London Conference, where they finalized the details of confederation which included picking the country's new name: the "Dominion of Canada". All the work the delegates had done in Charlottetown and Québec was rewarded when, on 29 March 1867, Queen Victoria signed the British North America Act. The 36 men who attended any one of the three conferences are known today as the "Fathers of Confederation". Perhaps two of the most famous were the co-premiers of the Province of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier; Macdonald became Canada's first Prime Minister.