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Aboriginals
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Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations
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Pionniers et Immigrants
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Lithograph: City of Ottawa, Canada West, ca. 1859 - NAC/ANC C-002813
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1850 - 1867:
On the Road to Confederation

Once responsible government had been won, there were a number of issues still affecting politics in the British North American colonies. One of the most contradictory and ironic was the desire to split the union of the Canadas again. French Canadian politicians resisted this at first, but the political debate that followed led to the birth of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, and its modern Constitution.

Topics in this section:

"Rep by pop"
Barriers to Expansion
Expensive Railways
Calls for a Federation
The American Civil War
Maritime Union and the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences
The Fenian Raids
The London Conference
Other Interesting or Important Documents

"Rep by Pop"
Due to heavy immigration, the population of English-speaking inhabitants of Canada West soon outstripped Canada East. Under the Act of Union, 1840, however, the seats in the house were evenly divided between Canada East and Canada West. This led to calls in Upper Canada for representation by population, or "rep by pop."

Barriers to Expansion
By the late 1850s, all the farmable land in Canada West had been sold. The next frontier lay west of Lake Superior, in the lands owned by the Hudson's Bay Company. Most in Canada East resisted the annexation of this land, as it would have changed the balance of the seats in the legislature.

Lithograph: Grand Trunk Railway of Canada Victoria Bridge over the River St. Lawrence at Montreal, 1860 - NAC/ANC C-005780
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Expensive Railways
The Grand Trunk Railway incurred enormous debts in the 1850s. By 1860, it was $72 million in debt, at a time when the average annual income (per capita) was around $200. Partly because of this experience, the Province of Canada pulled out of the negotiations for the Intercolonial Railway linking Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Canada.

Photograph: Alexander Galt, 1869 - NAC/ANC PA-013008
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Calls for a Federation
Starting in the 1850s calls for a federal union of all the British colonies in North America began to get stronger. It was seen by many, including the British, as a way to strengthen the colonies and to deal with the many problems that had arisen since the Act of Union in 1840. One of the leaders was John A. Macdonald, who led several coalition governments.

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Galt's Resolutions on Federation, 1858
(Calls for a federal union including the Maritime provinces and territories in the west.)

READ the summary
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Cartier, Ross and Galt to Lytton, 23rd October, 1858
(Propose a federal union.)

READ the summary
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Canadian Negotiations for Federation, 1864
(The Great Coalition is formed.)

READ the summary
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Papers relating to Confederation of British North American provinces
(Britain states commitment to Confederation and discusses matters of defence and lands held by the Hudson's Bay Company.)

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Did you know?

George-Étienne Cartier was co-premier with John A. Macdonald from 1858 to 1862. Macdonald is the most famous Father of Confederation, and received much of the credit for forming the new nation. When Macdonald became the first prime minister in 1867 (and became Sir John A. Macdonald), Cartier was his most senior minister.

The American Civil War
This caused problems for a railway that was seen as necessary for defence. The American Civil War had caused tension between Britain and the Northern States. The victory of the North in the Civil War increased British concerns, as it was expected to lead to a more aggressive government in the United States.

A federation of British North American colonies became more attractive to Britain. It was believed that such a federation would be stronger and, most importantly, provide for the cost of its own defence. Until then, Canada had steadfastly refused to pay anything for its own defence - apart from the poorly trained militia.


Did you know?

When Britain sent 14,000 troops as a precaution, they were forced to march 1100 kilometres in winter because the Intercolonial Railway was unfinished.

 

To learn more about the effect of the American Civil War on Confederation:


Photograph: Province House and Market Building, 1865 - NAC/ANC PA-126836
Copyright/Source

Maritime Union and the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences
Maritime Union was a popular idea with the New Brunswick governor, Arthur Gordon Hamilton, for the same reasons that Britain favoured a union of all the British North American colonies. In 1864, there were suggestions for a conference including New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. The idea interested Canadian politicians, and in September, 1864, they joined the Charlottetown Conference.

This conference was such a success that the Québec Conference followed it a month later. The Seventy-Two Resolutions drafted at the end of the conference formed the nucleus for the future Constitution of Canada. The resolutions:

  • Proposed limited central government balanced by provincial power.

  • Rejected the strict application of "rep by pop."

  • Called for a two-chamber parliament, including a senate and a house of commons.
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The Québec Resolutions, 1864

READ the summary
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To learn more about the Charlottetown Conference:

To learn more about the Québec Conference:

Photograph: The Pigeon Hill (Eccles Hill) camp of the 60th Battalion which played a major part in the Fenian Raid of 25 May 1870 - NAC/ANC C-033036
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The Fenian Invasions
Despite the success of the conferences, the proposed union was widely unpopular in the Maritime provinces. In 1866, however, activists in the Fenian Order invaded Canada with 1,000 men. Although these attacks did not seriously threaten the British North American colonies, they pushed the Maritime provinces to seek federation.


Did you know?

The Fenians were Irish-American immigrants who formed an order to support the independence of Ireland, which was then occupied by Britain. Canada, as a British colony, was seen as a legitimate target.

The London Conference
With the momentum in favour of a federation, the British invited delegates from each of the provinces to London to negotiate. Some opponents of federation also attended, but by early 1867, the British North America Act was ready.

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London Resolutions, 1866
(Repeat the Québec Resolutions of 1864, with small changes.)

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Mr. Joseph Howe, Mr. William Annand, and Mr. Hugh McDonald to the Earl of Carnarvon, January 19, 1867
(Lists objections to the proposed union of the British North American provinces.)

READ the summary
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To learn more about the London Conference:

To learn more about Confederation:


Photograph: Delegates who gathered at the Charlottetown Conference to consider the confederation of the British North American colonies, 1864 - NAC/ANC PA-091061
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Other Important or Interesting Documents

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