This Week in History


The Seventh Province

For the week of Monday July 1, 2002

On July 1, 1873, Prince Edward Island became the seventh province of Canada. After nearly a decade of resisting Confederation, the right circumstances occurred to encourage the Islanders to join the union.

James Colledge Pope

James Colledge Pope
© Library and Archives Canada

Beginning in 1864, the people of P.E.I. were set against joining a union of the British North American colonies. They valued their independent colonial status, for they had strong local patriotism. The island's small size and population would make them almost powerless in the proposed federation.

The Island government felt it could sustain the colony. At the end of 1867 they were hopeful about renewing reciprocity agreements with the United States. Canada tried to convince P.E.I. to join Confederation because reciprocity would hurt Canada's trade. The Island refused. The British government, however, also disapproved of reciprocity. Not wanting anything to hurt the new country, it interfered to prevent an agreement with the U.S. The Island government also asked the British government for loans in order to buy out absentee landlords. The British government denied the request, hoping it would push P.E.I. to join Canada.

In 1870, the Union Association of Prince Edward Island formed in Charlottetown to promote Confederation. J.C. Pope, a prominent member, wanted the Dominion government to construct a railroad and invest in public works to put the Island on equal footing with the rest of Canada. In 1872, however, the Island government decided it would build a railway itself. Unfortunately, there was a depression in trade and the government came close to bankruptcy. It could not afford to pay the railway contractors so construction stopped.

Lighthouse near Charlottetown Harbour

Lighthouse near Charlottetown Harbour
© Parks Canada / Barrett & Mackay / R.W. Henwood

Island politicians then began to consider Confederation. Premier Robert Haythorne and David Laird negotiated most of the terms with Canada in February 1873. J.C. Pope, however, finished the negotiations after becoming premier. The Islanders were satisfied with what they would receive: six seats in the House of Commons, four in the Senate, relief from the railway debt and completion of it, "continuous communication" with the mainland, and cash to buy out the remaining absentee landlords.

There were mixed reactions to P.E.I. joining Canada. The British government and Canada were pleased, but most Islanders felt sad. They had tried hard to maintain their independence, but the changing circumstances around them prevented this.

Prince Edward Island becomes a Province of Canada is now an event of national historic significance, and James Colledge Pope is a person of national historic significance.

For more information on the absentee landlords in Prince Edward Island see "The Small Under the Protection of the Great".

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