The Great Enterprise
Home Radio Television Curio.ca
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
The Great Enterprise
Road to Union
Header 3 Header 4 Header 5
History Home
The Charlottetown Conference
By the early 1860s, the British colonies of North America were considering the benefits of a union. The American Civil War had created a new military power and a renewed threat to the small, divided colonies to the north. And British public opinion had been in favour of reducing, if not eliminating government spending in North America, especially for defence.
In September 1864, British North American politicians met in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island to discuss the possibility of a union. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
In September 1864, British North American politicians met in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island to discuss the possibility of a union. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

In September 1864, the Atlantic provinces - Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland - organized a conference to discuss a union among themselves. Governor General Monck asked that the province of Canada be invited to their talks, "to ascertain whether the proposed Union might not be made to embrace the whole of British North American Provinces."

Canada's most prominent politicians journeyed down the St. Lawrence River on a 191-ton steamer, with $13,000 of champagne in its hold, to attend the conference in Prince Edward Island. Those on board included John A. Macdonald, and George Brown from Upper Canada and George-Étienne Cartier, Thomas D'Arcy McGee and Alexander Galt from Lower Canada. Each journeyed to Charlottetown with a different motive in mind.

Cartier felt that if he could persuade the Maritimes to join in a union, together their population would balance that of Upper Canada. In contrast, Brown wanted an end to what he considered French domination of English affairs - the end of a political stalemate. Macdonald was worried about American aggression and felt that the united British colonies, perhaps, could resist their powerful neighbour.
In the 1860s, John A. Macdonald was instrumental in creating the Dominion of Canada and became its first prime minister. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
In the 1860s, John A. Macdonald was instrumental in creating the Dominion of Canada and became its first prime minister. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

The group of eight cabinet ministers and three secretaries arrived in Charlottetown on the same day as Slaymaker's and Nichol's Olympic Circus, the first circus to visit the island in 20 years. The harbour was deserted with most of the town at the circus.

The delegates to the conference soon formed a different, political circus with a marathon of speeches, protests, lobster lunches, resolutions, picnics, alliances, flirtations and champagne balls.

On the first official day of the conference, Macdonald spoke at length about the benefits of a union of all of British North America. The next day, Galt - a businessman, finance minister, and railway promoter - presented a well-researched description of the financial workings of such a union. On the third day, George Brown discussed the legal structure. And on the fourth day, McGee praised the nationalist identity, one that he saw bolstered by a vivid Canadian literature.
Prominent politician George-Etienne Cartier was the leading spokesman for French Canada during Confederation negotiations. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
Prominent politician George-Etienne Cartier was the leading spokesman for French Canada during Confederation negotiations. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

The original intent of the conference to discuss a Maritime union was overwhelmed by talk of a larger union. In a matter of days the Maritimers and Canadians had persuaded each other to create a new federation.

The delegates were giddy with success and the celebration party continued in Halifax, Saint John and Fredericton. But the terms of the union remained to be worked out - a daunting political task. The delegates agreed to meet again in Quebec City the following month.

top of page

Back
The Great Coalition

Current Topic:
The Great Enterprise
Next
Maritime Opposition
Road to Union
The Charlottetown Conference
The Quebec Conference
Quebec Resolutions
St. Albans Raid
NEXT CHAPTER:
Campaign Against Confederation

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC