Confederation began with the union of three regions to create Canada. This happened on 1 July 1867. The three regions that joined together were the Province of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Today, the Province of Canada is known as Ontario and Quebec. Britain controlled each of these regions before 1867. When they joined together they became an independent country. Manitoba and the Northwest Territories were created in 1870. They became a part of Confederation at this time. The Northwest Territories gradually split into four provinces and territories known today. Yukon formed in 1898. Alberta and Saskatchewan formed in 1905. Nunavut formed in 1999. These provinces and territories have been a part of Confederation since their founding. British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871 and Prince Edward Island in 1873. The last province to join Canada was Newfoundland in 1949.
(This article is a plain-language summary of Confederation. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Confederation.)
Canada left the British Empire for many reasons. One main reason was protection from the United States. By the 1860s, Britain did not want to defend its North American colonies anymore. Many Canadians believed that they had to unite and form their own army. Canadians wanted to do this quickly. They worried that Americans would invade Canada and make it a part of the United States. Many Americans believed in “Manifest Destiny.” This is the idea that the US was going to control North America.
Three key leaders who helped create Canada were John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and George Brown. All three were from the Province of Canada. They wanted the Maritime Provinces to be a part of Confederation. The Maritime provinces were New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. In September 1864, Macdonald, Cartier and Brown travelled to a conference in Charlottetown, PEI. The purpose of the Charlottetown Conference was to discuss a union of the three Maritime provinces. But for the men from the Province of Canada, it was a chance to convince the Maritimes to join a larger Confederation. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia agreed. PEI said no.
Talks continued the next month in Quebec City. The decisions made at the Quebec Conference are called the 72 Resolutions. They stated that Canada would have one federal government as well as governments in each province. Power would be shared between these governments. The leaders agreed that Canada would have a House of Commons and a Senate. The members of the House of Commons would be elected and the senators would be appointed. The talks also led to the decision to build a railway in Quebec and the Maritimes. A railway was crucial to the politicians from the Maritimes. They believed it would help bring wealth to their region.
Indigenous peoples were not invited to either the conference. Despite this, the decisions made at these meetings had a big impact on them.
Leaders worked out the final terms of Confederation in London, England. The London Conference took place in December 1866. The result was the passage of the British North America Act. The BNA Act became law on 1 July 1867.