Charlottetown Conference

Charlottetown Conference
Delegates of the Charlottetown Conference on the steps of Government House.

The Charlottetown Conference was held in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island for representatives from the colonies of British North America to discuss Canadian Confederation. The conference took place between 1–9 September 1864.

The conference was originally planned as a meeting between representatives from the Maritime colonies only: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Newfoundland was thought to have no interest in a union, so they were not invited. Britain encouraged a Maritime Union between these colonies, hoping that they would then become less economically and politically dependent on the Crown, as well as provide for greater economic and military power for the region in light of the ongoing American Civil War. However another colony, the Province of Canada (modern Ontario and Quebec), heard news of the planned conference and asked that the agenda be expanded to discuss a union that would also include them. Newfoundland also requested to be able to attend the conference in August 1864, but by then it was too late to change the plans.

Coincidentally there was a circus in Charlottetown at the same time, which was much more interesting to the majority of the population. There was no one working at the public wharf at the foot of Great George Street when the Canadian delegates arrived on the steamship SS Victoria, so Prince Edward Island representative William Henry Pope had to handle receptions by himself, including rowing out to greet the new arrivals. The Canadian delegates stayed each night on board the SS Queen Victoria as the circus and the Maritime delegates had taken up most of the accommodations in town.



Province House, Charlottetown

The majority of the conference took place at the colony's legislative building, Province House, although some social functions were held at Government House, the home of the colony's Lieutenant Governor.

The conference began on Thursday, September 1 with a banquet for all of the delegates. Parties and banquets were in fact held each night after the day's discussions had ended (except for Sunday, September 4, when they did not meet). The representatives from the Province of Canada dominated the conference, overshadowing the concerns of the Maritimes, and laying out the foundations for the union that benefitted them the most. Four of the first five days (excluding Sunday) were spent outlining the Canadian position; the Maritime representatives did not discuss their own plans until September 6 and September 7. Canadian delegate George Brown spent two days discussing the details of the proposed constitution, which would keep Canada within the British Empire, but would not include any of the problems[citation needed] which had led to the American Civil War, which was still raging at the time in the United States.

Most of the Maritimes were convinced that a wider union including the Province of Canada would also be beneficial to them; Prince Edward Island was unsure, however, and very much against confederation. They also believed that this union could be achieved within a few years, rather than in an undefined period in the future as they had originally planned. The conference concluded on Wednesday, September 7, but the representatives agreed to meet again the next month in Quebec City (see Quebec Conference). A ball was also held on September 8, after which, the delegates returned home.



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