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Did You Know... / Fathers of Confederation
The Prince Edward Island Legislature first met in private homes and taverns and, as a door keeper to the legislature remarked, this made for 'a damn queer Parliament'. In 1837 the lieutenant governor, Sir John Harvey, made plain to the legislature his alarm at the colony having no building for the safe custody of its public record. No one could disagree, and there was warm support for a vote of £5,000 to provide a legislative building to house the two branches of the legislature, as well as colonial offices.
Delayed by slow British confirmation of this proposal, action began in 1839 with a public design competition. The additional need for accommodation for the Supreme Court further delayed matters until the legislature voted another £5,000 in 1842.
The competition was won by the leading Island architect/builder, Issac Smith, who had been responsible for most of the Island's existing public buildings. Although Smith had no formal architectural training, his work stands the test of time and comparison.
Issac Smith's plans were for a three-storey stone structure of classic proportions and detail with a central portico and substantial columns. This was in keeping with 19th century interest in Greek and Roman styles for public buildings and was thought particularly suitable for a legislature.
When tenders for trades were accepted, it was found necessary to leave the Island only for stone, which was brought from Nova Scotia. Stone-masonry, brick-laying, carpentry, joinery, plastering, slating, painting, glazing, sheet metal working and excavating were all done by Islanders, proud that the new Colonial Building was indeed a local accomplishment.
The cornerstone was laid in May of 1843 - a band, a parade, and a speech by the lieutenant governor were some of the events marking the occasion.
The first session of the Prince Edward Island Legislature, held in the new Colonial Building in January 1847, marked the official opening of the structure. The small Island community had designed, built and furnished a major public building comparable to those in other British colonies in North America. The Colonial building represented the epitome of Island craftsmanship during the mid-19th century, a time of unprecedented prosperity and optimism.
The Birth of a Nation
Canada dates its birth from July 1, 1867 and its conception from September of 1864. The occasion was a conference to discuss the desirability of union of Britain's North American colonies. The place was Province House, in Charlottetown.
Proposals for colonial union had occasionally surfaced for many years. Richard John Uniacke of Nova Scotia and the Cabinet of United Canada had each suggested it, but the idea had met with little enthusiasm and no action. When the Maritimes colonies agreed that their own union should be subject of a conference, Canada seized the opportunity and her governor wrote to ask if the Canadians might attend. The Maritimes set a date, September 1, 1864; the Canadians were invited to make their presentation, and the rest is history.
Unfortunately, there is no formal record of what was said during the Charlottetown meetings. What we know has been gathered from private sources, such as letters written home by delegates. We do know that there was agreement on detailed discussion of the idea of union. We know that the Maritime delegates put aside their own poorly-supported ideas of Maritime Union, while the Canadians could see solutions to their own problems in a larger union.
Without doubt, external factors encouraged the consideration of a general union, fears of what the United States might do when their Civil War was over were in every mind. All were aware of Britain's growing desire that the North American colonies should look after themselves. yet, it seems clear that what united many delegates, not only in opinion but in spirit, was the grand idea of a new nation.
The spirit of goodwill engendered by powerful politicians meeting each other on a matter of such attractive common interest was enhanced by the sincere and lavish hospitality that met them at every turn. Lunches on the Canadian steamer, Queen Victoria, home entertaining by the Island hosts and a culminating banquet by the City of Charlottetown kept the delegates in a euphoric mood. They enthusiastically journeyed on to Halifax and agreed to meet again in Quebec.
Fathers of Confederation at Fanningbank, Lieutenant Governor's residence© Parks Canada, National Archives
At the October 1864 conference in Quebec, which also included delegates from Newfoundland, the groundwork was laid for the 72 resolutions that would become the framework for the British North American Act.
To ratify the proposals, the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and United Canada sent their official delegates to London, England in 1866. Once again, there was agreement and the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the British North American Act, effective July 1, 1867. It established the Dominion of Canada with its own federal system of government under the British Crown and included the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. In subsequent years, the Dominion grew to include; Manitoba and Northwest Territories (1870), British Columbia (1871), Prince Edward Island(1873), Yukon(1898), Alberta and Saskatchewan(1905) Newfoundland(1949), Nunavut(1999)
Province House Today
Province House© Parks Canada/ John Sylvester
An agreement was signed in 1973 between Parks Canada and the Province of Prince Edward Island. Under the terms of the agreement, Parks Canada and the Province agreed to operate the site cooperatively for a period of 99 years. The Park's primary role is to protect and interpret for all time this important site to Canadians. Also as part of the agreement a major restoration project was undertaken by Parks Canada to restore a portion of the building to the 1864 period.
The restoration took place between 1979 and 1983 at a cost of $3.5million. The work was painstaking in its detail and involved extensive research and many talented craftspeople working thousands of hours to complete this major project. Province House was officially proclaimed a National Historic Site on July 1, 1983.
Province House National Historic Site will be undergoing a renovation in advance of the 2014 celebrations that will mark the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference. These renovations will ensure that Province House National Historic Site continues to be maintained, appreciated and enjoyed by present and future generations of Canadians.
Province House continues to make history as it still houses the Legislative Assembly for the Province of Prince Edward Island and is the focal point for political decisions and debates. Cooperatively within the site, staff from Parks Canada and the Province of PEI work together in welcoming thousands of visitors annually.
Did you know that...
Interpretive tour of Province House© Parks Canada, John Sylvester
- in the mid the 19th-century, Frances Preedy, the housekeeper who lived in the basement of Province House with her family, earned as much money as some members of the Legislative Assembly.
- cows once roamed freely through Queen's Square on market day and were responsible for eating all the young trees planted on the first Arbour Day in the 1880s.
- in the Provincial Legislature, the ruling party sits at the left side of the Speaker. Could it be solely because the south side was warmer, or did the sunlight shining in the eyes of the opposition offer a bit of an edge?
List of the Fathers of Confederation
Note: This list includes the names of the Fathers of Confederation who attended the Charlottetown, Quebec and London Conferences.