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Charlottetown and Québec Conferences of 1864

The Charlottetown and Québec conferences of 1864 were pivotal meetings that brought together influential political leaders of British North America and laid the groundwork for Canada’s Confederation on July 1, 1867.

The Charlottetown Conference in September 1864 gave birth to the idea of a confederation of provinces; delegates from Prince Edward Island, the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick built relationships and established basic principles for a union. They agreed to meet again to discuss the legislative structure of a political union. The Québec Conference in October 1864 resulted in the 72 Resolutions that provided the foundation for the British North America Act. A third and final meeting took place in London, England two years later.

The first of these meetings, the Charlottetown Conference, took place from September 1 to 9, 1864, in the Legislative Council Chamber of the Colonial Building. Today, this building is known as Province House. Political leaders from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island had initially planned to discuss the possibility of a Maritime union and were requested to include delegates from the Province of Canada who were interested in exploring a broader political union.  

The Charlottetown meetings set the tone for future discussions. The Maritime delegates began their meeting by agreeing to put aside the concept of a regional alliance in order to pursue the idea of a union with Canada. The eight Canadian delegates arrived prepared with what they believed was a workable plan for the terms of union. The 23 delegates debated issues concerning the financial arrangements between the provinces, the respective powers of the central and regional governments, and an elected versus appointed Upper House. Although the conference produced neither a formal record of proceedings nor official resolutions, delegates agreed on fundamental principles. This meeting laid the groundwork for many of the elements of the future British North America Act including a federal system with Upper and Lower Houses. All the delegates agreed to meet again in a few weeks to continue discussions.

On October 10, not long after the closing of the Charlottetown meeting, the Québec Conference opened with a total of 33 delegates representing the original provinces plus two representatives from Newfoundland. The meetings were held in the legislature building in Québec City. This building was destroyed by fire in 1883. By the end of 16 days of debate, the delegates had developed a document that would eventually provide the legislative basis for the new country. Known as the 72 Resolutions, or the Québec Resolutions, these points set out in writing the principles discussed in Charlottetown. Some issues, such as the regional distribution of seats in the Upper House (the Senate) and specifics relating to finances, created schisms between the provinces and led the legislatures of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland to withdraw from the process.

A final meeting, the London Conference, provided the final opportunity for the Fathers of Confederation to refine the 72 Resolutions and shape them into a statute considered by the British Parliament. A small group convened in London in December 1866 consisting of representatives from the Province of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The final bill was ready for the House of Lords by February and moved relatively easily through the parliamentary system. Queen Victoria signed the document, known as the British North America Act, at the end of March, setting the stage for Confederation on July 1, 1867.

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Title of the Image: Charlottetown Conference, P.E.I., September 11, 1864.
Source of the Image:  Collections Canada, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3192471

Image Titled: Charlottetown Conference, P.E.I., September 11, 1864.
Copyright:  Collections Canada, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3192471

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