This Week in History


A Patriote and Father of Confederation is Born

For the week of Monday September 1, 2014

On September 6, 1814, great Canadian statesman and Father of Confederation, Sir George-Étienne Cartier was born in Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, Quebec.

A painting of Sir George-Étienne Cartier
© Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1948-100-1
Cartier was a lawyer, but his involvement in the French-Canadian Patriotes political movement and the 1837 Rebellion resulted in his exile from Canada. He returned in 1838 and continued practicing law until 1848, when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada.

Cartier distinguished himself in the Assembly with his oratory skills and fiery temperament. He became the Attorney General and eventually Premier of the Province of Canada from 1858 to 1862. His lifelong partnership with John A. Macdonald of Canada West helped them work towards confederation.

Cartier presented an early plan for union to British authorities in 1858, but confederation seemed unattainable. Then in September 1864, Canadian and Maritime politicians met in Charlottetown, P.E.I., to discuss uniting British North American colonies. Initially conceived to explore a Maritime union, Cartier and Macdonald convinced the delegates to consider a broader union. The delegates met a month later for further discussions in Quebec City, at that time the capital of the Province of Canada. There, they drafted The 72 Resolutions, which would become the basis for the Canadian Constitution.

At the conferences and in Canada’s Parliament, Cartier advocated for what he felt most important: the creation of an inter-colonial railway and provincial control of local social and economic concerns such as education. His insistence that French-Canadian society would be preserved through a federal union reassured les “Canadiens” (French-Canadians) who were wary of Confederation.

The Fathers of Confederation
© George P. Roberts / Library and Archives Canada / C-000733

Cartier and other Fathers of Confederation spent the winter of 1866-67 in London, England, finalizing the resolutions before presenting them to the British Parliament and Queen Victoria for approval. On July 1, 1867, the Dominion of Canada was born!

After Confederation, Cartier served as an active member of the government as the Minister of Militia. He introduced a bill for the Canadian Pacific Railway, negotiated the transfer of the Northwest Territories to Canada, and ensured that Manitoba and British Columbia joined Canada. He died on May 20, 1873.

For his immense contribution to the development of Canada Sir George-Étienne Cartier was designated a national historic person. Cartier’s Montréal residence is now the Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site. Sir John A. Macdonald was also designated a national historic person.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences of 1864. For more on Sir George-Étienne Cartier, see Lightning Striker. For more on Sir John A. Macdonald and Confederation, please read: Birthday of Canada's First Prime Minister, Dream of a Nation and Canada’s First Election in the This Week in History archives and the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences of 1864 webpages.

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