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A Timeline of Canada's Constitutional Evolution

An activity for use with the Canada in the Making site

Student Guide

The history of the written Canadian Constitution has been a process that could be described as being evolutionary. Sometimes, dramatic events have spurred changes in legislation, which have in turn shaped future events. Ultimately, this led to the Constitution that Canadians enjoy today. This activity will give you the opportunity to analyze primary sources (original historical texts). You will make a presentation of your findings and contribute to a time line of documents and events.

The first part of this activity is to create a timeline of important documents. Though there have been many constitutional amendments over the years, some documents stand out. You will be using the following documents available through the Canada in the Making site or other sites:

1. The Articles of Capitulation, Montreal, 1760
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/constitution/constitution5_e.html
2. The Royal Proclamation, 1763:
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/constitution/constitution6_e.html
3. The Québec Act, 1774:
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/constitution/constitution7_e.html
4. The Constitutional Act, 1791:
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/constitution/constitution8_e.html
5. The Union Act, 1840:
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/constitution/constitution11_e.html
6. The British North America Act, 1867:
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/constitution/constitution13_e.html
7. The Statute of Westminister, 1931:
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/constitution/constitution15_e.html
8. The Constitution Act, 1982:
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/constitution/constitution16_e.html
9. The Meech Lake Accord of 1987 and the Charlottetown Accord of 1992:
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/constitution/constitution16_e.html

For each of these documents, you will need to research and present information all of the following, if applicable:

  • The major issue or events addressed by the document.
    What events led to this document? Briefly describe them. For example, did the framers intend to establish the rule of law over a captured territory, or did they seek to unify the British North American provinces into one nation?

  • Where does it fit in the movement toward the democracy we have now?
    The general evolution of Canadian democracy has gone as follows:

    • Conquest, military rule

    • Government by governor and select few

    • Elected assemblies created

    • Development of the "Family Compact" and "Château Clique"

    • Responsible government won

    • Confederation; division of power into federal and provincial spheres

    • Gradual movement to autonomy from Britain

    • Patriation of the Canadian Constitution and the creation of the
      Canadian Charter of Rights

  • In addition, there have been two forces acting in the Canadian federal system:

    • A push to greater power for central government

    • A push for greater power in the provinces

    For documents written in 1867 and after, comment on whether the document and events leading to it favored provincial power, federal power, or neither.

  • How did this document affect the status of Lower Canada/Canada East/Québec and the rights of French Canadians in Canada?

  • Was there anything that might offend certain parts of the country in this document?
    Note what they are, and why they would be offensive.

  • What do you think was the effect of each document for

    • Canadian unity?

    • Aboriginal rights?

    • Individual rights?

Discuss all answers with your group. Put your answers on a sheet of paper and create a timeline that looks something like this:

[image source: timeline.gif
alt tag: Example of Timeline]

Your work may be presented in point form or as paragraphs. The use of illustrations is encouraged.


Note on Sources

Primary sources
Primary sources represent the most authentic resources that historians can draw upon. The documents that you will be using below may be digitized, but are still considered primary sources. Try to use the sources available on the "Canada's Constitutional History" portion of the Canada in the Making Web site to strengthen your arguments.

For tips on how to use primary sources, go to the "Using Primary Sources in Your Work" page.
URL: http://www.canadian.org/citm/guide/essay_e.html

Secondary sources
Secondary sources are works that interpret or analyze an historical event or phenomenon. Generally the author is at least one step removed from the event. Although not as authentic as primary sources, secondary sources are still valuable.

Possible Sources of Information Online

Note: It is important to choose sources that are produced by reputable institutions or individuals. Such information is more likely to give you a balanced, neutral view and be prepared or reviewed by experts.

The Written and Unwritten Constitution

Canada in the Making: The Written and Unwritten Constitution
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/specifique/written/written_e.html

Representative Government

Canada in the Making: Representative Government
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/specifique/representatif/representatif_e.html

Responsible Government

Canada in the Making: Responsible Government
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/specifique/responsable/responsable_e.html

General

Canada in the Making: Canada's Constitutional History
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/constitution1_e.html

The Canadian Encyclopedia
URL: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com

National Archives of Canada: Canada's Constitutional Evolution
URL: http://www.archives.ca/05/051103_f.html (French)
URL: http://www.archives.ca/05/051103_e.html (English)

Solon Law Archives: Canadian Constitutional Documents
URL: http://www.solon.org/Constitutions/Canada/

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