Birthplace of Confederation: The 1864 Charlottetown Conference

Chtown Conference delegates posing on the steps of Government House
Charlottetown Conference delegates posing on the steps of Government House (Collections Canada)

On September 1, 1864, the meeting that led to Canadian Confederation convened in Prince Edward Island. PEI, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick had originally set the date to discuss the possibility of Maritime Union. When the Province of Canada (what is present-day Ontario and Quebec) asked to attend the meeting, the topic of Maritime Union became secondary to the grand matter of forming a nation.

Sir John A. MacDonaldDelegates arrived from August 30 through September 1 at the port of Charlottetown. Sir John A. Macdonald, the man who would become Canada’s first Prime Minster in a few short years, was among them.

The first circus to travel to Prince Edward Island in more than two decades also happened to be in town. The excitement created by the circus meant that few were on hand to celebrate the arrivals. More importantly, there were no accommodations available in Charlottetown in which to house the Canadian delegates.

As the Canadian delegates arrived, PEI’s Colonial Secretary William Henry (W.H.) Pope, was rowed out to the SS Queen Victoria to welcome them. In fact, it was aboard the SS Queen Victoria that most of the Canadian delegates found alternative accommodation during the Conference.

Over the next seven days the merits of Confederation would be discussed over formal meetings, grand balls and banquets. On September 8, the Charlottetown Conference was over, but for a ball that would last until early the next morning. Though further deliberation was required at conferences held in Quebec and London, the matter was settled – the concept of Confederation was approved.

In light of the work done and goodwill fostered at the Prince Edward Island meeting, the Dominion of Canada would become a reality on 1 July 1867 with the proclamation of the British North America Act.

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The Charlottetown Conference Delegates:
The Proclamation of Canadian Confederation

The Prince Edward Island Delegation

  • George Coles
  • John Hamilton Gray
  • Andrew Archibald Macdonald
  • Edward Palmer
  • William Henry Pope

The New Brunswick Delegation

  • Edward Barron Chandler
  • John Hamilton Gray
  • J.M. Johnson
  • W.H. Steeves
  • Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley

The Nova Scotia Delegation

  • Sir Adams George Archibald
  • R.B. Dickey
  • W.A. Henry
  • Jonathan McCully
  • Sir Charles Tupper

The Canadian Delegation

  • Sir John A. Macdonald
  • George Brown
  • Sir Alexander Campbell
  • Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt
  • Sir George-Étienne Cartier
  • Sir Hector-Louis Langevin
  • William McDougall
  • Thomas D’Arcy McGee
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