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Post-Confederation Period in Canadian History

Canadian history is generally divided into two periods – pre-confederation and post-confederation. Originally, this division is stipulated by the fact that essential changes have taken place after this beak point. The main tendencies, which featured the post-confederation period, were the centralization and expansion of the territories. These tendencies were encouraged by numerous factors linked with political, economic, and colonial issues. There is a strong necessity to mention that the most powerful factor is associated with colonies, as the territorial disputes between Great Britain and France were rather aggressive at that moment.

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To begin with, there is a strong necessity to emphasize that the July 1st, 1867, is often regarded as the culmination of numerous political efforts, dreams of lots of politicians, and the triumph of political compromise, which is regarded as one of the most essential achievements in the political sphere. As Francis Jones and Smith (1996) stated in the research, the time has come for the unification, and John AA Macdonald, George Cartier, George Brown, as well as other prominent politicians had recognized it. “This was the result of a statement in the Union of Canada’s, the Maritimes initiating a process towards region union, British colonial office support of colonial self-government and fear of growing American military power ad territorial ambitions. Canadian confederation was a story of peaceful, civilized political development with bountiful and substantial benefits for the new country and the mother country”.

The fact is that Canada is now regarded as the most decentralized confederation, nevertheless, the tendency for centralization and expansion of the territories. The British North American Act, which came into force on July 1, 1867, proclaimed that the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia became a federation with a monarch in its own right. Originally, this decision was one of the most powerful factors for the centralization of these territories, as several provinces and territories were united under the only head, and the term dominion was used for the definition of the position of Canada. This meant that Canada became the self-governing colony of the British Empire, thus, the centralization of the ruling forces in the only hands was within the British interests for simplifying the control and influence on the ruling person or body.

As for the matters of expansion, it is necessary to mention that the newly attached territories could not be granted independent governing, thus, the issues of centralization became even more actual for the preservation of statehood. According to Fracis Jones and Smith (1994), the following notion should be emphasized: “With the transfer of Rupert’s Land to the Dominion of Canada in 1869, the new country expanded west and north, to assert its authority over a much greater territory. The Red River Colony became the Province of Manitoba in 1870, following the quelling of a Métis rebellion. British Columbia joined Canada in 1871, on the promise of a transcontinental railway to the Pacific, and Prince Edward Island in 1873.” The only stumbling block in the process of expansion was British Columbia. There was a serious threat of leaving the Confederation by British Columbia, however, the expansion project resurrection had essentially decreased this threat. Later, the threat disappeared completely, as in 1885 the railway to this territory was finished. This building had several bases: on the one hand, the transportation link was essential for the control (consequently for further centralization of the country), on the other hand, the increasing amount of immigrants had to be settled, and the transportation net simplified this task. It should be also stated that the increasing amount of immigrants required new spaces and territories for being settled (Fracis Jones and Smith, 1996), thus, the expansion of the new territories appeared to be among the most vitally important issues.

Previous to the Confederation and the conferences, which defined the destiny of the future dominion the territories of contemporary Canada were divided by custom borders, Lower and Upper Canada, the Maritimes and British Columbia had different currency standards and all the relations were essentially complicated by customs barriers. These territories were even closer to Britain than to each other, however, their trade relations made them increasingly closer to the United States. In some measure, this closeness to the USA had played an essential role in the centralization of Canada. Fracis, Jones, and Smith (1996) state the following fact: “When the St. Lawrence ports of Quebec and Montreal were frozen in, news and even passengers traveled on the new United States railways across the eastern states from New York to the Canadian border. The newly invented magnetic telegraph, which was installed in Toronto in 1846, soon connected that city not only with Quebec but also with New York City and New Orleans in the United States.” This telegraph connection simplified the process of centralization, as rapid contact was essential for the quick response and remote control of the territories.

The Civil War in the USA was another factor that promoted centralization in Canada. From 1861 to 1865 most British colonies had been closely observing the occasions and the course of the American Civil War, after which the new, freshly united nation appeared on the world political map. This State was powerfully equipped with what were now surplus tools of war and, in the opinion of many, only too willing to use them against the neighboring colonies of Great Britain. The experience of creating a united and powerful appeared to be rather useful for the North American provinces and territories, which had not been previously sought for unification. As for the position of Britain, Fracis, Jones, and Smith (1994) stated the fact that the Empire sought the centralization of the dominion, nevertheless, sovereignty and independence were not encouraged. The following notion explains this statement: “Britain had almost gone to war against the North because the North’s blockade of Southern shipping interfered with Britain’s cotton trade. The absorption of the British colonies into the United States was again being called for by United States extremists who revived the old cry of “manifest destiny” of their republic. Lord Elgin had negotiated a ten-year trade treaty with the United States whereby tariffs were reduced on a reciprocal basis on many items. The resulting stimulation of trade was scheduled to cease in 1864 when the United States’ renewal of the treaty was withheld. The desirability of substituting increased intercolonial trade was recognized by everyone in Canada and the Maritimes.” The issues of trade are regarded to be the most crucial in the sphere of relations between the British Empire and dominion. The influence of the USA played an important role in the centralization of Canada and the unification of provinces (Quebec was the only province which did not support the ideas of unification), which was favorable for Britain, however, the trade relations and thus the control of the territories were essentially complicated, as Canada had another trade partner.

Even though the issues of centralization and expansion were crucial for the empowering of statehood and acquiring of sovereignty, the governments of Western and Eastern Canadas experienced essential difficulties in implementing the Act of Union. Western Canada had increased in population by that time; however, French-speaking East, which was still larger in population did not support the idea of unification. The act, in its turn, had proclaimed the equal representation of all the territories of the colony, while the French-speaking East was larger (by population) than the Western part. This situation had originated the continuous deadlock in Parliament, thus, there was no governmental power, which was able to secure a clear majority.

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The deadlock and the problems linked with it could not be overcome by four ministries for the period between 1861 and 1864. Only in 1864, the coalition was created. It was headed by the leader of Conservatives John A. Macdonald, and Liberal leader George Brown. They gave the promise of a more stable government and made an important step towards the centralization of the State. Fracis, Jones, and Smith (1996) stated the following fact: “Macdonald, with his trusted ally Georges-Etienne Cartier from Canada East, then achieved Brown’s promise of cooperation in the best interests of the country, nevertheless, Brown had long considered Macdonald and Cartier his political enemies. The coalition government wished to work out some form of federal union to entail the Maritime Provinces if they were willing. Provincial matters would be left to the individual provinces. Only subjects of concern to all the provinces would be dealt with by the federal government.” Thus, in the light of the fact that provinces and politicians chased various interests, the matters of centralization were seriously obscured, nevertheless, the will to act in the projection of the national interests had increased the likelihood of appearing a centralized and powerful State on the political map of the world.

On the other hand, there is no necessity to regard all the processes in the light of centralization or decentralization. Originally, the term Confederation means the association of the independent States, while in the case of Canada it should be regarded as the act of federating (Fracis Jones and Smith, 1996). The people, who designed the federating process, meant it to be centralized. Thus, John A. Macdonald would even have supported the idea of the legislative union. The delegates from Quebec, in their turn, pressed for the federal choice and did not support the ideas of centralization. The whole system of governing, and the compromise among the Fathers of Confederation, was designed in the centralized perspective. In this system, the federal government had to keep the territories and provinces under control through the opportunity to disallow their laws. Surely, the provinces resisted such ruling principles. In the light of this fact, Fracis Jones and Smith (1996) claim the following: “The federal government inherited the main fields of taxation and most of the public responsibilities then deemed important, including those of an economic nature. Since it affected two-thirds of public spending, it dominated the provinces, two-thirds of whose funding depended on federal subsidies.

The spring of 1864 became featured with the passing of the legislations for the unification and federalization of the State. Nevertheless, nothing was done in the direction of implementing the adopted decisions. The provinces of Canada announced their interests in the sphere of governing the country, and the decision to arrange a conference was adopted. However, despite the achieved compromise, all the delegates appeared to be unable to attend the conference. Thus, the governor of Nova Scotia got busy; Charlottetown was appointed as the place – Prince Edward Island would not attend otherwise – and 1 September 1864 the time.

Finally, it is necessary to mention that the tendencies for centralization and expansion were stipulated by the strong necessity to unite the separated provinces and territories. The factors which promoted these tendencies were numerous, nevertheless, there were serious reasons why centralization and expansion could not be successful. The reasons for were closely linked with the development of infrastructure, transportation network, implementation of innovative technologies like telegraph for more rapid control and response. The increased immigration and population growth increased the necessity of centralization, and solved the issues of expansion, as newcomers required new territories to dwell.

The reasons against are linked with the heterogeneousness of the population. Thus, French-speaking East did not wish to get united with the English-speaking West.


  1. R.D. Fracis, R. Jones and D.B. Smith: Destinies, Canadian History Since Confederation third efition. Harcourt Brace, 1996,
  2. R.D. Frances and D.B. Smith: Readings in Canadian History, Post Confederation, 4th edition, Harcourt Brace, 1994

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