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La Confédération

Although it is quite long and somewhat repetitive, I am publishing this post. In Confédération, Le Vent du Nord ensemble tells that French-speaking Canada was created three times.
1) New France was defeated.
2) Patriots were exiled after the Rebellions of 1837-1838.
3) Confederation isolated Quebec.
However, it is difficult to say to what extent being confined to a single province harmed French-speaking Canadians. What I know for certain is that English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians are two compatible populations.


On 1st July 1867, four provinces of Canada federated: Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. These provinces were suffering attacks by the Fenians, an Irish brotherhood whose mission was to free Ireland. Fenians lived in the United States, but some lived in Canada. Moreover, the United States purchased Alaska on 30 March 1867, three months before Confederation. Canadians feared annexation which led to the purchase of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company and a motivation to bring British Columbia into Confederation. On 20 July 1871, after being promised a transcontinental railroad, British Columbia entered Confederation. Canada would stretch from sea to sea. (See Maps of Canada.)


  • a continuation of the “Great Ministry”
  • a new Canada

Confederation, however, was not a continuation of the ‘Great Ministry‘ formed by Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine. The Great Ministry unified Ontario and Quebec, or the Province of Canada. It was a bilingual and bicultural Canada where French-speaking and English-speaking citizens were equals. Such was the Canada Métis leader Louis Riel envisaged. He therefore “halted the Canadian land surveys on 11 October 1869.” (See Louis Riel, The Canadian Encyclopedia.) The arrival of Orangemen at the Red River Settlement was premature and could be described as a landrush. The purchase of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company had yet to be finalized. In addition, no policy governing the allocation of land would exist until the Dominion Lands Act was passed. It received Royal assent on 14 April 1872. (See Dominion Lands Act, The Canadian Encyclopedia.) 

The Act of Union

Confederation would not reflect the “Great Ministry.” It would instead be consistent with John George Lambton, Lord Durham‘s recommendations. After investigating the Rebellions of 1837-1838, Lord Durham recommended the union of Upper Canada and Lower Canada. The Act of Union was passed in Britain in July 1840 and in Canada on 10th February 1841. Upper Canada and Lower Canada would constitute the Province of Canada.

Lord Durham expected that, in a Province of Canada, English-speaking Canadians would soon outnumber and absorb the French-speaking minority. The Act of Union was passed in Britain in July 1840 and in Canada on 10th February 1841, but it was followed by the “Great Ministry” In 1848, Canada obtained the responsible government it sought in 1837-1838.

Lord Durham also recommended that the language of the Assembly be English. The languages of the Assembly would remain French and English. When Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine, the first Prime Minister of the Province of Canada, addressed the Assembly, he spoke French shortly and then switched to English. He set a precedent.

The Terms of Confederation

Confederation marginalized Quebec. Under the terms of Confederation, the British North America Act, 1867, the children of French-speaking families could not be educated in French outside Quebec. In public schools, the language of instruction was English. The assimilation of French-speaking Canadians had been Lord Durham’s intent when he proposed a united Canada, the Province of Canada. So, as immigrants arrived in Canada, their children attended English-language schools. John A Macdonald (10 or 11 January 1815 – 6 June 1891) was an Orangeman and the Orange Order was anti-French and anti-Catholic. (See Orange Order, The Canadian Encylopedia.)

By 1864, the ‘great ministry’ seemed a memory. It was replaced by the great coalition of Canada, the government that would usher in Confederation. George-Étienne Cartier, the premier of Canada East, had good reasons to lead Quebec into Confederation. Confederation offered a secure environment, but Quebec would not be an equal partner. Outside Quebec, the children of French-speaking Canadians would be educated in English, unless they attended private schools, which was another problematic. So, bilingualism and biculturalism played itself out as la question des écoles,[1] the school question, i. e. publicly funded French-language schools outside Quebec. Therefore, John A Macdonald was Prime Minister of Canada after Canadian Confederation, a Confederation that was not bilingual and bicultural, except in Quebec.

“Macdonald has come under criticism for his role in the Chinese Head Tax and federal policies towards indigenous peoples, including his actions during the North-West Rebellion that resulted in Riel’s execution, and the development of the residential school system designed to assimilate Indigenous children.” (See John A Macdonald, Wikipedia.)


Maps of Canada (15 October 2020)
About Confederation, cont’d (6 October 2020)
About Confederation (15 September 2020)
Sir Wilfrid Laurier: the Conciliator (15 July 2020)

[1] Comeault, G.-L. (1979). La question des écoles du Manitoba — Un nouvel
éclairage. Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française, 33(1), 3–23.


Love to everyone 💕

Sir John A Macdonald (Britannica)

© Micheline Walker
20 April 2021