1864-67: The Dominion of Canada & Other Quebec Curios

Part of “The Road to Canada”, 1864-1899

Discussions for a confederation started in Charlottetown, when the Maritime colonies proposed their own union. After a series of governments swinging back and forth, the Province of Canada, composed of Canada West (formerly Upper Canada) and Canada East (formerly Lower Canada) joined in as well. Charlottetown served as a first draft of the articles that would govern a united colony. In October of 1864, the delegates for this cause would gather in Québec City to iron out some more difficulties—and indeed, there were many.

The Maritime provinces that had proposed the idea of Confederation—Nova Scotia and New Brunswick—were hesitant about a centralised government, an idea held in great esteem with one of the co-premiers of Canada, John A. Macdonald. Macdonald saw centralised government as a way to evade the problem that plagued the United States, that of a central government that had fewer powers, leaving a large amount of discretion to its states, a discretion that led in part to the American Civil War. In order for the Maritime provinces to concede to any form of Confederation, Macdonald and the people who supported him would have to form a compromise in the form of a central federal government with the addition of provincial governments within each individual territory.

Languages and education were also hot button topics. The French-Canadians, worried that their language would eventually disappear due to assimilation, lobbied for the protection of the French language and culture, convinced that the distinct French-Canadian majority in Canada East needed powers over things such as languages and religion. The Catholic priests lobbied for control over education, a battle that persisted until the very last days as the law went to Britain. Topics that are still of issue today such as representation by population were discussed and eventually rejected and places that were in conversations for potential Confederation, such as Prince Edward Island, left disappointed at the Québec Conference would have received very few delegates in proportion to their population.

Indigenous peoples were not formal delegates to any of the conferences, but “Indian Affairs” were eventually given to the federal side of the government. The conferences also did not include any women in their proceedings, yet the women brought to the conferences, wives and daughters of the delegates such as Anne Brown (George Brown’s wife), kept detailed diaries and letters on the proceedings of and with their husbands in and out of the conference rooms.

The ultimate Mother of Confederation, the British monarch Queen Victoria, approved the articles of law that the British Parliament passed. Delegates such as Macdonald and Cartier were present in London at the time, at an event called the London Conference, which would prove to be their last steps to bring the law that they had written and revised during the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences to the British parliament. The British North America Act became law on July 1, 1867. The Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia officially became the Dominion of Canada.