This Week in History


Dream of a Nation

For the week of Monday August 31, 1998

On September 1 to 9 1864, 20 politicians met at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI), and set Canadian Confederation in motion. Elected leaders from four colonies of British North America met at Province House to discuss ideas for joining together. The provinces needed to promote defence and trade, and to finance an intercolonial railway. From this conference spread the dream of a great nation united from sea to sea!

Map of Canada at the time of Confederation

Map of Canada at the time of Confederation **

In 1864, Great Britain had five separate self-governing colonies or "provinces" in eastern North America: Newfoundland, PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the united province of Canada, which would soon be split into Ontario and Quebec. These provinces had little trade with each other, and their leaders hardly ever met. The Maritime leaders decided to have a conference to discuss some form of union, and cabinet ministers from the province of Canada asked to attend too. PEI insisted that it be held on the Island, so preparations at Province House, the local legislature, were made for the meeting. Some of the more famous delegates included John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, D'Arcy McGee, Samuel L. Tilley, Charles Tupper, and W.H. Pope.

Ball at Province House, 1864

Ball at Province House, 1864
© Parks Canada

During the Charlottetown Conference, speeches and debates were held, but a stream of social events did a lot to bring the delegates together. By the end of the week all agreed to meet again in Quebec in October. Many Canadian delegates went home by way of Halifax and Saint John, in order to learn more about their new partners. At the Quebec Conference the principles of a general union were hammered out, including a desire to bring in the Prairies and the Pacific coast.

The new Dominion of Canada was proclaimed on July 1, 1867 with four provinces -- Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Three other British colonies joined later -- British Columbia in 1871, PEI in 1873 and Newfoundland in 1949. In 1870 and 1880 Great Britain transferred enormous new territories. From these, the Canadian parliament created Manitoba (1870), Alberta and Saskatchewan (1905), the Yukon Territory (1898), the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut (1999).

The Birthplace of Confederation is commemorated at Province House in Charlottetown, PEI, which continues in use as the provincial legislature. Province House National Historic Site is also an outstanding example of the Palladian style of architecture in Canada.

**Map based on information taken from the GeoAccess Division Maps.

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