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Province of Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

The Province of Canada existed between 1841 and 1867. The legislation that created the Province of Canada was called the Act of Union. The Province of Canada included parts of what are now Ontario, Quebec and Labrador. Before 1841, the region was made up of two British colonies. They were called Upper Canada and Lower Canada. When Britain created the Province of Canada, it combined these two colonies into one. In the new colony, Upper Canada became known as Canada West. Lower Canada was known as Canada East. The people in Canada West were mostly English. The people in Canada East were mostly French.

(This article is a plain-language summary about the Province of Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Province of Canada.)

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Lower Canada

Lower Canada was a British colony from 1791 to 1840. Its geographical boundaries comprised the southern portion of present-day Quebec. In 1791, Britain divided the Province of Quebec into Upper Canada and Lower Canada. (See: Constitutional Act 1791.) Britain had followed a similar policy of territorial division twice before. Prince Edward Island was detached from Nova Scotia in 1769. The provinces of Cape Breton and New Brunswick were created in 1784 in response to the wave of Loyalist immigration (which also occurred in Quebec). In 1841, Upper Canada and Lower Canada were renamed Canada West and Canada East, respectively. They were united as the single colony of the Province of Canada.

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Nova Scotia and Confederation

Nova Scotia was one of the four founding provinces of Canada. It joined New Brunswick,  Ontario and Quebec in Confederation on 1 July 1867. However, this was mainly because Confederation delivered the Intercolonial Railway to the Maritimes, and because of the efforts of Sir Charles Tupper. His government passed approval for Confederation in the colonial legislature despite popular opposition. (See Confederation’s Opponents.) Confederation was met with mass protests in the colony. Joseph Howe led a two-year effort to repeal the union. (See Repeal Movement.) But Howe finally decided he could do more to help his province by working inside the federal government. He joined the federal Cabinet in 1869.

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Constitutional Act 1791

The Constitutional Act of 1791 was an Act of the British Parliament creating Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Although it was a first step towards Canadian Confederation, its rigid colonial structures also set the stage for rebellion in the two Canadas.

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Emilien Dufresne (Primary Source)

Emilien Dufresne was a solider with the Royal 22e Régiment during the Second World War. He was one of 14,000 Canadian soldiers who stormed Juno Beach on 6 June 1944. Learn Dufresne’s story of being taken prisoner by the Germans, forcefully put to work in a sugar factory, and how he was liberated.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

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The American Response to the Canadian Rebellions of 1837–38

By December 1837 and January 1838, rebels from Upper and Lower Canada had suffered heavy defeats at the hands of British and Loyalist forces. (See: Rebellion in Lower Canada; Rebellion in Upper Canada.) They fled to the United States to seek financial and military assistance. The American public was aware that there had been armed conflicts in the Canadas. Many were even initially supportive. However, the presence of Canadian rebels on American soil forced many to question American involvement. The growing tensions with Great Britain over the Caroline Affair complicated matters. The creation of the Republic of Texas and the fight over the abolition of slavery were also factors. In January 1838, US President Martin Van Buren took steps to ensure America’s neutrality in the Canadian rebellions.

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Charlottetown Conference

The Charlottetown Conference set Confederation in motion. It was held from 1–9 September 1864 in Charlottetown, with additional meetings the following week in Halifax, Saint John and Fredericton. The conference was organized by delegates from New BrunswickNova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to discuss the union of their three provinces. They were persuaded by a contingent from the Province of Canada, who were not originally on the guest list, to work toward the union of all the British North American colonies. The Charlottetown Conference was followed by the Quebec Conference (10–27 October 1864) and the London Conference (December 1866–March 1867). They culminated in Confederation on 1 July 1867.

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Newfoundland and Labrador and Confederation

Attempts to bring Newfoundland into Confederation in the 1860s and 1890s were met with lukewarm interest in the colony. In 1934, Newfoundland was in bankruptcy during the Great Depression. It suspended responsible government and accepted an unelected Commission Government directed by Britain. In a 1948 referendum, Newfoundlanders were given the choice to either continue with the Commission Government, join Canada, or seek a return to responsible government as an independent dominion. The independence option won the first vote. But the Confederation option won a run-off vote with 52.3 per cent support. The British and Canadian parliaments approved of the union. Newfoundland became Canada’s 10th province on 31 March 1949. In 2001, the province’s name was officially changed to Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Battle of Queenston Heights

The Battle of Queenston Heights was fought during the War of 1812 on 13 October 1812. One of the most famous battles of the war, the Battle of Queenston Heights was the struggle for a portion of the Niagara escarpment overlooking Queenston, where more than 1,000 American soldiers crossed into Upper Canada. Part of the American force reached the top, circled the British artillery position and forced the British from the Heights. General Isaac Brock, one of the most respected British military leaders of his day, was killed leading a counter-attack. Mohawk chiefs John Norton and John Brant and about 80 Haudenosaunee and Delaware warriors held back the Americans for hours — long enough for reinforcements to arrive so that the British could retain the crucial outpost.

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Constitution Act, 1982

The Constitution Act, 1982 enshrined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution, and completed the unfinished business of Canadian independence — allowing Canadians to amend their own Constitution without requiring approval from Britain.

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Paardeberg Day

The Battle of Paardeberg was the first time men in Canadian uniform, fighting in a Canadian unit, made war overseas. It also inspired one of the first remembrance ceremonies in Canada: from 1900 until the end of the First World War, Canadians gathered not on November 11, but on February 27 — Paardeberg Day — to commemorate the country’s war dead and its achievements in South Africa (see also Remembrance Day in Canada).

Editorial

Editorial: William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion in Upper Canada

At 8:00 p.m. on Monday, 4 December 1837, William Lyon Mackenzie set out by horse down Yonge Street to scout the route for his attack on Toronto. At the top of Gallows Hill (below St. Clair Ave.) he met Tory alderman John Powell, himself on patrol from the city. Mackenzie and his men took Powell prisoner. “Do you have a gun?” Mackenzie asked Powell. “No,” Powell replied. Mackenzie took his word as a gentleman and sent him back toward the rebel headquarters at Montgomery’s Tavern.

Editorial

Editorial: Baldwin, LaFontaine and Responsible Government

The BaldwinLaFontaine government of 1848 has been called the “great ministry.” In addition to establishing responsible government, it had an incomparable record of legislation. It established a public school system and finalized the founding of the University of Toronto. It set up municipal governments and pacified French-Canadian nationalism after a period of unrest. Responsible government did not transform Canada overnight into a fully developed democracy. But it was an important milestone along the road to political autonomy. Most importantly, it provided an opportunity for French Canadians to find a means for their survival through the British Constitution. The partnership and friendship between Baldwin and LaFontaine were brilliant examples of collaboration that have been all too rare in Canadian history.

Editorial

Editorial: The Charlottetown Conference of 1864 and the Persuasive Power of Champagne

On Monday, 29 August 1864, eight of 12 cabinet members from the government of the Province of Canadaboarded the steamer Queen Victoria in Quebec City. They had heard that representatives of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEIwere meeting in Charlottetown to discuss a union of the Maritime colonies. (See Charlottetown Conference.) The Canadian officials hoped to crash the party. Their government was gripped in deadlock. Even old enemies such as John A. Macdonald and George Brownagreed that a new political arrangement was needed. As the Queen Victoria made its way slowly down the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Canadians frantically worked on their pitch.