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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.)

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.

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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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Quebec Conference, 1864

From 10–27 October 1864, politicians from the five British North American colonies gathered in Quebec City to continue discussing their unification into a single country. These discussions began at the Charlottetown Conference the previous month. The most important issues decided in Quebec City were the structure of Parliament and the distribution of powers between the federal and provincial governments. The broad decisions from the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences were made into 72 resolutions, known as the Quebec Resolutions. These formed the basis of Confederation and of Canada’s Constitution.

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Canada East

In 1841, Britain united the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada. This was in response to the violent rebellions of 1837–38. The Durham Report (1839) laid out the guidelines to create the new colony with the Act of Union in 1840. The Province of Canada was made up of Canada West (formerly Upper Canada) and Canada East (formerly Lower Canada). The two regions were governed jointly until Confederation in 1867. Canada West then became Ontario and Canada East became Quebec.

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Ontario

Ontario is a Canadian province bounded by Manitoba to the west, Hudson Bay to the north, Québec to the east, and New York, the Great Lakes, Michigan and Minnesota to the south. The province was founded on parts of the traditional territories of the Ojibwa, Odawa, Potawatomi, Algonquin, Mississauga, Haudenosaunee, Neutral, Wendat, Cree, Oji-Cree and Métis. The land is now governed by 46 treaties, including the Upper Canada, Williams and Robinson treaties, as well as Treaties 3, 5 and 9. As of the 2016 census, Ontario had 13,448,494 residents, making it the most populous province or territory in Canada. Ontario was one of the founding members of Confederation, along with New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Québec, in 1867. The capital city of Ontario is Toronto. Doug Ford is the province’s current premier, leading a majority Progressive Conservative government.

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Alberta

Alberta, the westernmost of Canada's three Prairie provinces, shares many physical features with its neighbours to the east, Saskatchewan and  Manitoba. The Rocky Mountains form the southern portion of Alberta's western boundary with British Columbia. Alberta was named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. The province is home to the country’s largest deposits of oil and natural gas.

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British Columbia

British Columbia is Canada's most westerly province, and is a mountainous area whose population is mainly clustered in its southwestern corner. BC is Canada’s third-largest province after Québec and Ontario, making up 10 per cent of Canada’s land surface. British Columbia is a land of diversity and contrast within small areas. Coastal landscapes, characterized by high, snow-covered mountains rising above narrow fjords and inlets, contrast with the broad forested upland of the central interior and the plains of the northeast. The intense "Britishness" of earlier times is referred to in the province's name, which originated with Queen Victoria and was officially proclaimed in 1858.

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Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is Canada’s second-smallest province (following Prince Edward Island) and is located on the southeastern coast of the country. The province includes Cape Breton, a large island northeast of the mainland. The name Nova Scotia is Latin for “New Scotland,” reflecting the origins of some of the early settlers. Given its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, Nova Scotia’s economy is largely influenced by the sea, and its harbours have served as military bases during many wars.

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Durham Report

In 1838, the British politician Lord Durham was sent to British North America to investigate the causes of the rebellions of 1837–38 in the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada. Durham's famous Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839) led to a series of reforms and changes. These included uniting the two Canadas into a single colony, the Province of Canada, in 1841. (See also: Act of Union.) The report also paved the way for responsible government. This was a critical step in the development of Canadian democracy. The report played an important role in the evolution of Canada’s political independence from Britain.

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Canada West

In 1841, Britain united the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada. This was in response to the violent rebellions of 1837–38. The Durham Report (1839) laid out the guidelines to create the new colony with the Act of Union in 1840. The Province of Canada was made up of Canada West (formerly Upper Canada) and Canada East (formerly Lower Canada). The two regions were governed jointly until Confederation in 1867. Canada West then became Ontario and Canada East became Quebec.

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Rebellions of 1837–38

In 1837 and 1838, insurgents in Upper and Lower Canada led rebellions against the Crown and the political status quo. The revolt in Lower Canada was more serious and violent than the rebellion in Upper Canada. However, both events inspired the pivotal Durham Report. It led to the Act of Union, which merged the two colonies into the Province of Canada. It also resulted in the introduction of responsible government. These were critical events on the road to Canadian nationhood.

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New Brunswick

New Brunswick is one of three provinces collectively known as the "Maritimes." Joined to Nova Scotia by the narrow Chignecto Isthmus and separated from Prince Edward Island by the Northumberland Strait, New Brunswick forms the land bridge linking this region to continental North America. It is bounded in the north by Québec and in the west by the US (Maine). In 1784, the British divided Nova Scotia at the Chignecto Isthmus, naming the west and north portion New Brunswick after the German duchy of Brunswick-Lunenburg. New Brunswick is now the only officially bilingual province in Canada.

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Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island is Canada's smallest province, making up just 0.1 per cent of Canada’s total land area. It is situated in the Gulf of St Lawrence and separated from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick by the Northumberland Strait. PEI was known to its earliest settlers, the Mi’kmaq as Abegweit, meaning "cradle in the waves,” and was described by Jacques Cartier in 1534 as "the fairest land that may possibly be seen." PEI's deep red soil has always been its most striking feature and, together with the sea, the mainstay of the population since the early 18th century.

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Rebellion in Upper Canada

The 1837 rebellion in Upper Canada was a less violent, more limited affair than the uprising earlier that year in Lower Canada. However, its leaders, including William Lyon Mackenzie, were equally serious in their demands. They wanted democratic reform and an end to the rule of a privileged oligarchy. The rebellion itself failed, but its very failure helped pave the way for moderate and careful political change in British North America. This included the union of Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada and the eventual introduction of responsible government.

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Robinson Treaties of 1850

In September 1850, the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) of the Upper Great Lakes signed two separate but interconnected treaties: the Robinson-Superior Treaty (RST) and Robinson-Huron Treaty (RHT). These agreements provided the Province of Canada (Canada East and Canada West, the future Quebec and Ontario) access to the north shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior for settlement and mineral extraction. In exchange, the Indigenous peoples in the region gained recognition of hunting and fishing rights, an annuity (annual payment), and a reservation from the surrender of specific lands for each signatory community. Interpretation of the Robinson treaties have had a legal and socioeconomic impact on Indigenous and settler communities, and they established precedents for the subsequent Numbered Treaties.