This Week in History


Sir Charles Tupper Fights for Confederation

For the week of Monday, June 30, 2014

On July 2, 1821, Sir Charles Tupper, Father of Confederation and sixth Prime Minister of Canada, was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia.

Portrait of Sir Charles Tupper
© Library and Archives Canada / R12555-1 / e006608846

At 19, Charles Tupper went to Scotland to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Three years later, he returned to Amherst and established a medical practice. He married Frances Morse, whose family connections brought him into politics and, in 1855, he was elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. Only two years later, he became premier of the colony!

In the legislature, Tupper advocated religious equality between Catholics and Protestants, a provincial school system, and the construction of a railway to connect the province’s towns.

Nova Scotia was still a British colony back then, as were all of today’s provinces. Tupper felt that a union of the Maritime colonies and the United Canadas (also known as the Province of Canada, now Ontario and Québec) would help Nova Scotia to grow and prosper. It would also prevent Nova Scotia from being absorbed into the United States.

Tupper helped organize the Charlottetown and Québec conferences, where delegates from the Maritime colonies and the Province of Canada agreed to unite, and created the 72 Resolutions that became the basis for Confederation.

Composite of Sir Charles Tupper in the Province House, Nova Scotia
© Heaps, Leo / Library and Archives Canada / PA-126381

Many Nova Scotians worried that their concerns would not be heard in the larger union. However, Tupper was able to convince the legislature that Confederation was a good idea. After stepping down as the last premier of the colony of Nova Scotia, he was elected to the federal House of Commons in 1867.

Tupper served in various federal cabinet posts and as Canada’s high commissioner in London, and was named a baronet in 1888. Sir Charles became Prime Minister of Canada for 68 days in 1896. Wilfred Laurier’s Liberals won the election later that year. Tupper led the Conservatives in Opposition until 1900, when he stepped down after another electoral defeat. He moved to England, where he died on October 30, 1915, at the age of 94.

Sir Charles Tupper is a person of national historical significance for his contribution towards Confederation. Province House in Charlottetown and Montmorency Park in Québec, where the delegates met to discuss Confederation, are National Historic Sites.

To learn more about Confederation and other prime ministers please read: Dream of a Nation, Birthday of Canada's First Prime Minister, If These Walls Could Speak..., Charles Fox Bennett: A Figure of Controversy, and A Scandal Exposed in the This Week in History Archives.

Date Modified: