Chapter 6: Canadian Confederation
The 1860s were a period of immense transformation for British North America. By the end of the decade the various colonies, with the exception of Newfoundland, would have become one new Country. However this process was not a simple process, still it marked a major step forward for both Canada and Canadians as well as the British Empire as a whole.
Canada at the start of the 1860s
At the start of the 1860s British North America was divided between numerous different colonies. You had the United Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Prince Rupert Land, Alaska, the arctic territories and the colony of Columbia.
While the process of Confederation is said to have started in the 1860s, the process of binding the colonies of British North America can easily stated to have begun after the American Revolution. From fighting together in the war of 1812 to more recently as rail companies worked to lay track to cross the borders of the colonies. More and more it looked like British North America was going to be united.
In regards to the matters of literacy, the annual reports to the colonial office reported over two thirds of the population was regarded as literate, or to be specific 67.7%. Most of the illiteracy coming from recent immigrants as well as the various first people of Canada.
The colony of Lower Canada was united with Upper Canada but as Confederation began to be underway it would split off to form the province of Quebec. At the start of the 1860s, the interior of Lower Canada had seen extensive immigration from Britain. There was concern among many within Montreal and Quebec City that their french culture and religion might disappear. To that end various policies were enacted to help support the Catholic Church and their french culture. These policies would be strengthened following confederation.
As mentioned above, Upper Canada was united with Lower Canada in the United Province of Canada. During the 1850s a number of reforms were underway that had drawn a divide between Upper and Lower Canada. The biggest being around state and church. Since the Family Compact lost power following the Durham Report, the Colony was interested in a number of reforms and one of them was separation of church in state. This was exemplified by the secularization of King’s College.
It should be noted that one of the other reasons for the decision for secularization in Upper Canada were the recent immigrants from Britain as a number of Presbyterians and Methodists had immigrated to Canada. Many of them resented the influence that the Anglican Church and supported policy to remove the influence of the Anglican Church.
The Maritime Colonies
The city of Halifax had experienced some quite a bit of prestige when it was able to take the America’s Cup trophy after the British lost it to the Americans. The America’s Cup is a sailing competition between Yacht clubs. This was one of the many examples of the pride in the shipbuilding industry.
From fishing to shipbuilding, the sea was integral to these colonies. As industrialization began to be introduced to British North America, these colonies remained tied to the sea but adapted to the changing times. The new steamers and Ironclad ships that had begun to transform the Royal Navy were starting to be built in these provinces. Coal from cape Breton Island became integral not just in the new ships but also to the development of Canada as a whole.
In 1864 the various Maritime colonies began to plan for a conference between themselves to chart a path to the future. The British government in London was looking at a way at decreasing the expenses that the colonies were costing the crown. Moreover, they believed that responsible government in the region could help protect British Interests in light of the American Civil War. However, the colony of Canada would hear about this conference and decide that they too wanted to partake in it. Thus the Charlottetown Conference was planned to include representatives from most of Eastern British North America to occur for about a week and a half starting on September the 1st.
They could not have picked worse timing. For you see, a circus was in town at the same time, which was arguable more interesting to the locals then the economic conference. Thus the city of Charlottetown was crowded with visitors for the circus and for the conference. This lead to rather humorous incidents like the fact that all the hotels and accommodations were taken, forcing the Canadian delegates to stay aboard their own ship; as well as the fact no one was at the wharf during their arrival forcing William Henry Pope to personally row out and meet them as well as handle the new arrivals.
The inclusion of Canada, naturally overshadowed the rest of the colonies. One Canadian delegate, George Brown, spent two days discussing the details of the proposed constitution, which would keep Canada within the British Empire. However despite that the Conference was undoubtedly a success. As the various colonies began to plan for even greater cooperation between them the following month of Quebec.
A month after the Charlottetown Conference was the Quebec Conference. In contrast to the Charlottetown Conference which was more about the general outline of a plan for the union, the Quebec Conference was focused on hashing out the details of what this new country would look like. It established that Ottawa would be the capital of the new country. The government was modeled on the British Government with a House of Commons and upper House called the Legislative Assembly, which would later be renamed to Canadian Senate.
In terms of money, it was decided to have a national currency, the Canadian Pound, that would be linked to the British Pound, to help provide for some economic stability; as this was coming on the heels of the Americans cancelling a free trade agreement. It was also thought that by working to tie the economies of the new country and the British Government that it might help in the negotiations. The Conference also established that while no new colonial money would be minted, they would still be accepted as legal tender at least for the first decade.
The principal issue was over the scope and power of the central government. John A. Macdonald favored a strong central government. However, George-Étienne Cartier as well as delegates from the Maritime colonies favored a more weaker central government to protect both the francophone and Maritime interests from being dominated by what would become Ontario.
A balance was reached in which powers were to be divided between a central Parliament and provincial legislatures, creating a federal union where the interests of regions and minority populations could be defended. The provinces would have control over education, language and municipalities. The national government's powers would include control over currency, international trade and the criminal law. Some areas, such as immigration, would be shared, and both levels of government could raise taxes.
The London Conference
With the details of what the new country would look like, then came the more difficult challenge of convincing the British Government. Thus by 1866 a bill was drafted however during the year Prime Minister John Russell who favored confederation was defeated in an election. This put the matter of the Bill in uncertainty..
In late 1866, the delegates from British North America arrived in London to discuss the matter of British North America. John A. Macdonald would be the leader of the delegation. The other delegates from British North America believed that they sought to secure an array of improvements to the Quebec Resolutions. The most contentious had to do with educational clauses. For example, Roman Catholic bishops in the Maritimes, notably Archbishop Thomas Connolly of Halifax, sought guarantees for Roman Catholic separate schools. In addition, Alexander Galt wanted protection for the rights of the English minority in Québec. And Samuel L. Tilley and Charles Tupper pressed for increased federal subsidies for the Maritimes.
The issue was that the various delegates could not agree on how bidding these new additions should be. Some stated that new additions had to be secured before they could sanction Confederation. While others stated the opposite. MacDonald decided to take the middle road and said that both were right but within definite limits. By late December, they had the newly named London Resolutions ready for submission to the Colonial Office, and later, to Parliament.
The biggest and most divisive issue was the matter of the name. Macdonald strongly favored the term Kingdom to firmly fixate the status of monarchy to the new country. However the colonial office regarded this as premature and pretentious, moreover the was some legal concern if Canada would be of equal to England or Scotland or even the United Kingdom as a whole.
In the end a compromise was made. The title of the new country would be the Kingdom of Canada, however the status would be solidified as below that of the United Kingdom. This secondary status would be titled Dominion to help avoid any issues.
The new Kingdom
[the Flag of the new Kingdom of Canada]
In the various Maritime Colonies, the decision to join Canada, was not a popular one at first. There was a great deal of concern that the region would lose out to the bigger provinces. Thus formed several parties that have been regarded by history as the ‘anti-confederation party’. The anti-confederation was made up of both Liberals and Conservative. They wanted the same status as Newfoundland which remained a separate colony from Canada. There was some threats that they would secede from Canada, however the British government informed them in no certain terms that was off the table.
John A. Macdonald who had overseen the process of Confederation that brought together the various colonies into one nation would be elected as the first Prime Minister in 1867. Though as mentioned above that election also saw a number of anti-confederation parties winning in the Maritimes. Though by 1870 they had fallen apart and the liberal and conservative members would join up with the liberal and conservative party respectively.
The decision to create the Kingdom of Canada would have massive ramifications for the rest of the Empire down the road. Many within Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and more began to look at Canada as a model for gaining responsible government while remaining connected to Britain.
The buying of Prince Rupert Land
[The Kingdom of Canada in 1870]
Almost immediately after becoming a country, the first step was to expand exponentially. The Hudson Bay Company which had been administering Prince Rupert Land, as well as the colonies of Alaska and Columbia was facing financial difficulties. It turned out running all that land was not that profitable. To that end they began to look to sell the land.
The new Canadian government decided that they would take on the expense of buying the land in 1868. This was influenced by the British government who were greatly concerned that the Hudson Bay Company would sell Prince Rupert Land to the Americans. The HBC was able to retain 20% of the arable land for their own usage.
After the sale of land to Canada, it would exponentially increase the size of the country. From Alaska to the Columbia river and from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean was now under the control of the new Kingdom of Canada. The HBC itself found that it was greatly in their benefit to get rid of the problem of running the land; for after selling the land they started to turn a profit, it did not hurt that it worked with the new Canadian government to help with immigrating to the interior.