Canadian Confederation, or the Confederation of Canada, was the process that ultimately brought together a union among the provinces, colonies and territories of British North America to form a Dominion of the British Empire, which today is a federal nation state simply known as Canada.
Before 1867, British North America was a collection of six separate colonies: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, the Province of Canada (now Quebec and Ontario), Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and British Columbia. Only the first three listed here joined Confederation at first, but all did eventually, the last being Newfoundland in 1949. (The remainder of modern-day Canada was made up of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory, which were owned by the Hudson's Bay Company and ceded to Canada in 1870, and the Arctic Islands, which were under direct British control and became part of Canada in 1880.)
The idea of a legislative union of all British colonies in America goes back to at least 1764, when judge William Smith of the colony of New York proposed it. At least 12 other projects followed afterwards.
The idea was revived in 1839 by Lord Durham in his Report on the Affairs of British North America. A federation project would have been proposed to John A. Roebuck before Durham's mission to Canada.
In 1857, Joseph-Charles Taché proposes a federation project in the Courrier du Canada.
In 1858, Alexander Tilloch Galt, George-Étienne Cartier and John Ross travelled to Great Britain to present the British Parliament with a federation project for the British colonies. The proposal had been received by the London authorities with polite indifference.
British North America Act, 1867
Confederation was accomplished when Queen Victoria gave royal assent to the British North America Act on March 29, 1867. That act, which united the Province of Canada with the colonies of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, came into effect on July 1 that year. The act dissolved the Act of Union (1840) which had previously established the union of Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Separate provinces were re-established under their current names of Ontario and Quebec. July 1 is now celebrated as Canada Day.
While the BNA Act gave Canada more autonomy than it had before, it was far from full independence from the United Kingdom. Foreign policy remained in British hands, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council remained Canada's highest court of appeal, and the constitution could only be amended in Britain. Gradually, Canada gained more autonomy, and in 1931, obtained almost full autonomy within the British Commonwealth with the Statute of Westminster. Because the provinces of Canada were unable to agree on a constitutional amendment formula for the BNA Act, the document remained in London. In 1982, the BNA Act was patriated when Queen Elizabeth II gave her royal assent to the Canada Act 1982. In Canada, the Canadian constitution is named the Constitution Act, 1982. It includes the BNA Act, which was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867.
- Constitution Acts of Canada (http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/const/index.html)
The Fathers of Confederation elected to name the new country the Dominion of Canada, after rejecting kingdom and confederation, among other options. One could have created the Dominion of Borealia (from the Latin for north), analogous to the naming of Australia (from the Latin for south).
In light of the evolution of Canada, the term confederation is today perceived as mostly a ruse by Prime Minister of United Canada John A. Macdonald and others to encourage French Canada and the maritime colonies to come to the talks. The political leaders of the maritime colonies worried about being dominated by the population centres of Central Canada and like French Canada did not want a strong central government. Macdonald had no intention, however, of actually making Canada a confederation and was willing to have many of the colonies remain outside a political union rather than weaken his proposed central government. Canada thus became a federation, but certainly not a confederation, such as Switzerland or the first American confederal republic.
In Quebec, the idea that the new confederal Canada was a pact between two founding peoples dominated the political discourse for almost a century (1867 to 1960s).
Confederation as a political term of art
The term Confederation is now often used to describe Canada in an abstract way--"The Fathers of Confederation" itself is one such usage. Provinces and territories that became part of Canada after 1867 are also said to have joined Confederation (but not the Confederation). However, the term usually refers more concretely to the political process that united the colonies in the 1860s; it is also used to divide Canadian history into pre-Confederation and post-Confederation (post-Confederation being a living term that includes the present day).
Fathers of Confederation
Confederation was first agreed upon at the Charlottetown Conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1864, although Prince Edward Island did not actually join Confederation until 1873. The specifics were then mostly determined at the Quebec Conference in Quebec City later in 1864, and at a final London Conference in 1866. The following lists the participants in the conferences and their attendance at each stage. They are known as the Fathers of Confederation.
There were 36 original Fathers of Confederation. Harry Bernard, who was the Recording Secretary at the Charlottetown conference, is considered by some to be a Father of Confederation. The later "Fathers" who brought the other provinces into Confederation after 1867 (such as Joey Smallwood) are also referred to as "Fathers of Confederation."
Table of participation
Process of members joining the Canadian Confederation
Here is a list of the order in which the provinces and territories entered Canada. (Territories are italicized.)
Note - * - Manitoba, the Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nunavut were created out of the Northwest Territories, the remaining provinces joined Canada as separate and previously independent colonies.
See also: History of Canada
- National Library Confederation Information (http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/2/18/index-e.html)
- Fathers of Confederation (http://crl.library.ns.ca/fathers.htm)