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The Fathers of Confederation

The Fathers of Confederation by Robert Harris, 1884

Canadians have honoured Sir John A MacDonald for a very long time. However, statues of John A. MacDonald are being put in storage and one, perhaps more, has been vandalized. He was a father of Confederation, if not the Father of Confederation. So, what happened?

Macdonald, Sir John (NFB/National Archives of Canada) (Photo credit: Britannica)

First, as we have seen in earlier posts, when Canada grew westward, the White population settled on land they had appropriated from Amerindians on the basis of “conquest,” a disgraceful leftover from the “age of discovery.” Moreover, as we have also seen in earlier posts, Rupert’s Land, which Canada bought from the Hudson’s Bay Company, did not include settled land, such as the Red River Settlement, bought by the Earl of Selkirk, and lands inhabited by Amerindians.


As for Quebec, it seems it was drawn into a Confederation that also excluded it. John A. Macdonald was an Orangeman, a fraternity that was inimical to Catholics and the French. The people of Quebec could not be educated in French outside Quebec. Waves of immigrants arrived who would live in provinces other than Quebec and be educated in English. We have already discussed the school question.

This situation prevailed until Lester B. Pearson, a Nobel Laureate and the Prime Minister of Canada, established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism to investigate language grievances. Co-chairing the commission were Davidson Hunton and André Laurendeau. André Laurendeau died of an aneurysm on 1st June 1968. The work of the Commission culminated in the Official Languages Act which passed into law in 1969, a year after Pierre Elliott Trudeau was elected Prime Minister of Canada. (See Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, wiki2.org.)

However, recognition occurred 102 years after Confederation (1867) when English had become the language spoken outside Quebec. The French had been in North America since 1534.


In short, what of such concepts as nationhood and the rights afforded conquerors and, first and foremost, what of Canada’s Confederation? If Confederation demanded that the children of Francophones be educated in English, outside Quebec, their children were likely to be Anglophones. So, what of Quebec nationalism. Separatism is usually associated with Quebecers, but it isn’t altogether québécois. Not if the children of French Canadians had to be educated in English outside Quebec and not if immigrants to Canada were sent to English-speaking communities.

Sir George-Étienne Cartier was pleased that Quebec would remain Quebec. The population of Quebec would retain its “code civil,” its language, its religion, and its culture while belonging to a strong partnership. He may have been afraid.

However, Canada has a new constitution, the Constitution Act of 1982, which Quebec has not signed.

Love to everyone 💕

Sir Ernest MacMillan, Two Skteches on French Canadian Airs

© Micheline Walker
14 September 2020