The Charlottetown Conference
Province House National Historic Site
In September 1864, Province House was the scene of the first conference on colonial union. Delegates from the colonies of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) met in the legislative council chamber to begin discussions, which led to confederation in 1867.
Proposals for colonial union had occasionally surfaced for many years. Richard John Uniacke of Nova Scotia and the Cabinet of United Canada had each suggested it, but the idea had met with little enthusiasm and no action. When the Maritime colonies agreed that their own union should be subject of a conference, Canada seized the opportunity and the governor wrote to ask if the Canadians might attend. The Maritimes set a date, September 1, 1864; the Canadians were invited to make their presentation, and the rest is history.
Unfortunately, there is no formal record of what was said during the Charlottetown meetings. What we know has been gathered from private sources, such as letters written home by delegates. We do know that there was agreement on the need for a detailed discussion of a potential union. We know that the Maritime delegates put aside their own poorly-supported ideas of Maritime Union, while the Canadians could see solutions to their own problems in a larger union.
Without doubt, external factors encouraged the consideration of a general union, fears of what the United States might do when their Civil War was over were in every mind. All were aware of Britain's growing desire that the North American colonies should look after themselves.
Charlottetown Conference delegates at Fanningbank, Lieutenant Governor's residence.
The spirit of goodwill engendered by powerful politicians meeting each other on a matter of such attractive common interest was enhanced by the sincere and lavish hospitality that met them at every turn. Lunches on the Canadian steamer, Queen Victoria, home entertaining by the Island hosts and a culminating banquet by the City of Charlottetown kept the delegates in a euphoric mood. They enthusiastically journeyed on to Halifax and agreed to meet again in Quebec.
At the October 1864 conference in Quebec, which also included delegates from Newfoundland, the groundwork was laid for the 72 resolutions that would become the framework for the British North America Act.
To ratify the proposals, the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and United Canada sent their official delegates to London, England in 1866. Once again, there was agreement and the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the British North American Act, effective July 1, 1867. It established the Dominion of Canada with its own federal system of government under the British Crown and included the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. In subsequent years, the Dominion grew to include: Manitoba and Northwest Territories (1870), British Columbia (1871), Prince Edward Island (1873), Yukon (1898), Alberta and Saskatchewan (1905), Newfoundland (1949), and Nunavut (1999).
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