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The Fathers of Confederation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The above is an 1885 photo of Robert Harris’s 1884 painting, Conference at Quebec in 1864, to settle the basics of a union of the British North American Provinces, also known as the Fathers of Confederation. The original painting was destroyed in the 1916 Parliament Buildings Centre Block fire. The scene is an amalgamation of the Charlottetown and Quebec City conference sites and attendees. (Wikipedia)

Territorial Evolution of Canada http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_evolution_of_Canada 
Dates Provinces and Territories Entered Canadian Confederation

I have been reading about the Conferences that took place between 1864 and 1867, leading to Confederation, and I believe you may find this little post useful. There were differences and I would not be in the least surprised to learn that Ontario breathed a sigh of relief when it parted ways with Quebec. Yet discussions were conducted with a view to ensure that no conflict such as the American Civil War would tear Canada apart, which meant

  • that provincial imperatives would be respected;
  • but that Canada would constitute a solid entity, and
  • that it would develop an identity.

Let us look at the three conferences that preceded the BNA Act of 1867.   

  • Charlottetown (September 1864),
  • Quebec (October 1864),
  • London, England (December 1866).

The Conferences

Charlottetown Conference, September 1864 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charlottetown Conference, September 1864

We have already read a little about the Charlottetown Conference of 1864. The Province of Canada was not invited to that particularly conference. However, upon hearing that the leaders of Britain’s Maritime colonies were meeting in Charlottetown, the Province of Canada asked to be represented.

The Maritime Colonies, the current Maritime Provinces, were convening so they could discuss how to gain greater economic and military independence from the Crown. But, having learned that this conference would take place, the Province of Canada asked to join the Maritime colonies in the hope a union would include the Province of Canada.

Newfoundland was not represented at the conference because it had been invited too late. But the Charlottetown Conference, which took place between 1st September and 9 September 1864, became the first meeting of the Fathers of Confederation. Participants are listed under Wikipedia’s Charlottetown Conference entry.

  • Prince Edward Island was not interested in joining a union that would include the Province of Canada.
  • As for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, in particular, they expressed considerable reticence at the idea of entering into a union with the Province of Canada. See Joseph Howe’s (13 December 1804 – 1st June 1873) The Botheration Scheme in the Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 11 January 1865. However, all parties agreed to meet a month later in Quebec City.
  • George Monro Grant, C.M.G. (22 December 1835 – 10 May 1902) a “Canadian church minister, writer, and political activist” from Stellarton, Nova Scotia, was dreaming of a country that would extend from Ocean to Ocean. He was a good orator and very persuasive.

Quebec Conference, October 1864

A second conference, the Quebec Conference, was held in Quebec City in October 1864, a month after the Charlottetown Conference. There was a total of sixteen delegates from the provinces that had participated in the Charlottetown conference. As for Newfoundland, it sent two observers. Yet delegates started drafting the Seventy-two Resolutions that would transform the various British colonies north of the 49th parallel into a country, the Dominion of Canada.

The Quebec conference started on 10 October and ended on 27 October. By then, the provinces had agreed on a division of powers which, as I noted above, would avoid the kind of conflict that had and still divided the United States : the Civil War.

Sir George-Étienne Cartier, 1st Baronet, promoted the establishment of a Civil Code, based in part on the Napoleonic Code of 1804, for Canada east. The Quebec Civil Code has been amended several times, but experts tell me Quebec’s Code civil is quite an achievement. Cartier also promoted compulsory primary education. Sir Albert James Smith, PC, KCMG, QC (12 March 1822 – 30 June 1883) and Nova Scotian Joseph Howe led the opposition for their respective provinces.

The Seventy-two Resolutions or Quebec Resolutions

At the end of the Conference a proposed structure for the government was written out in the form of the ‘Seventy-two Resolutions,’ also called the Quebec Resolutions, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick agreed to join the Province of Canada.

At the Charlottetown (September 1864) and Quebec Conferences (October 1864), the Fenians (extremist Irish nationalists) had not conducted raids in Canada yet. But by December of 1866, they had attacked New Brunswick and the Province of Canada and were singing:

We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war,
And we’re going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore,
Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue,
And we’ll go and capture Canada, for we’ve nothing else to do.
“Fenian soldier’s song”

The London Conference

A third conference, which began in December 1866, took place in London, England, hence its name: London Conference. Sixteen delegates from the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick gathered with officials in Britain and drafted the British North America Act, 1867. That conference was mostly “a continuation of the Quebec Conference held earlier about the ‘Seventy-two Resolutions’.”


Education was a central issue in the discussions. But by the end of the Conference, it was agreed that Ontario and Quebec would have separate school systems. For both the  Province of Quebec and the Province of Ontario, the division of the United Province of Canada into two provinces was a benefit of Confederation. These provinces were inhabited by compatible but distinct societies that had been Lower and Upper Canada. The two Canadas were joined in 1840, by virtue of the Act of Union.


However, defence had become a major issue. The Fenian raids were beginning to compromise the territorial integrity of the future Dominion of Canada. The Fenians were Irish extremists who despised the British and for whom the end justified the means: revolution, if need be. Their first raid was the Campobello Island Raid of 1866 and their second, the Niagara Raid. The British fought the Fenians at Ridgeway and Fort Erie in 1866. The same year, the Fenians also raided Pidgeon Hill (1866)

The Fenian Raids
1 Campobello Island Raid (1866) New Brunswick
2 Niagara Raid (Battles of Ridgeway and Fort Erie) (1866) (today’s Ontario)
3 Pigeon Hill Raid (1866)
4 Mississquoi County Raid (1870) (today’s Quebec)
5 Pembina Raid (1871)
6 Agitation in Pacific Northwest


On 1st July 1867, Queen Victoria assented to the bill that created the Dominion of Canada which formed four provinces and would soon attract provinces located west of the current province of Ontario.


« À Saint-Malô, beau port de mer », Alcan Quartet
Sir Ernest MacMillan

Battle of Ridgeway (Fenian Raid)

© Micheline Walker
26 May 2012