Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site

Did You Know That...

Thanks to George-Étienne Cartier, the Quebec Stalwart of the Grand Coalition, the Confederation Was Brought Into Existence
Black and white picture of John A. Macdonald sitting at a desk
Sir John A. Macdonald, 1868
© National Archives of Canada / C-6513, 1868

Surely the greatest contribution of Cartier to his country was the entry of Canada East (Quebec) into the Confederation. Following the rebellions in 1837/1838 and the Durham Report, Upper and Lower Canada were merged into a single colony. However, by the end of the 1850s, the Act of Union was no longer attuned to the new realities of the colony. Great Britain had gradually begun to loosen its ties to the North American colonies. The United States was becoming more and more powerful, and represented a threat to Canada. In addition, the Union of the Canadas experienced a series of serious economic and political hardships. Ten different governments came and went in as many years. The stablest of these governments was formed by John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier.

In 1864, George Brown, leader of the Clear Grits in Canada West (Ontario), proposed an alliance with the Conservatives of Macdonald and Cartier for the purpose of advancing the project of a Canadian confederation. In 1867, following a series of discussions and conferences (at Charlottetown and Quebec), the alliance known as the Grand Coalition succeeded in forging the agreement which gave birth to the Confederation. Macdonald became the first Prime Minister of Canada, and Cartier the Minister of Militia and Defence, a position he would hold until his death in 1873. From this time onwards, the new federal government convened in Ottawa.