A history behind Confederation: How Canada has shaped into present day

The founding fathers of Confederation at the 1866 London Conferece / Library Archives of Canada

Canada as we know it today is a beautiful and culturally diverse country. As the second biggest country in the world, we are spoiled with 10 amazing provinces and three equally astonishing territories.

However, when Canada was formed back in 1867 we began with just four provinces. So, how did we end up where we are today?

In 1867, three British colonies, Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia formed to make one Dominion of Canada. The old Canada also split in half, forming Ontario and Quebec, which created a total of four provinces.

There were many reasons for Confederation for all four provinces. When Quebec and Ontario were fused together as “Canada”, they were actually Canada East and Canada West respectively. The two parties wanted to be able to have separate governments, and by splitting up, they could each have their own provincial government.

There were several other factors that influenced all of the colonies’ decisions to form together. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were promised that an inter-colony railroad would be built to make travelling and transport much easier.

There were also several external factors that led to the creation of the Dominion of Canada. For one, New Brunswick was terrified of the thought of the United States expanding North-East and taking over their land.

On top of this, the British colonies had lost their ability to trade freely within the United States. There was a Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty that allowed any products entering the United States to be exempt from taxes and tariffs. When Great Britain decided not to join the Americans in the Spanish war, the United States decided to void the treaty in an act of retaliation.

So, as of July 1, 1867, Canada officially became a Dominion and were now independent. What would happen over the next 150 years would help grow the country into what it is today.

In 1867, the land to the West of the newly born Canada was deemed “Rupert’s Land”. Going even further West, we had the Northwest Territories, and then another British Colony, British Columbia.

The land that was considered Rupert’s Land and the Northwest Territory was owned by Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1870, the company decided to sell their land to Canada. However, the Southern part of Rupert’s Land was occupied by the Metis, an Indigenous tribe. When they were forced to join Canada, they believed that the government would ruin the way they lived and they wouldn’t be able to have their own way of life.

So the Metis set out to form their own province. They were successful, and upon Confederation, they joined separate from the Northwest Territories. Their new province was named Manitoba, however, it was much smaller than it is today — at the time, it only covered around 160 square kilometres. Three years after initial Confederation, Canada existed as five provinces and one territory.

Just one year later, in 1871, British Columbia, the furthest British colony to the West joined Canada. Before joining, they made an agreement with Canada that a railroad be built across all of the land so that British Columbia had access to the Eastern parts of the country. There were several reasons for the joining of British Columbia.

One, they needed the economic stability and continuous development of Canada to help them pay back their large amounts of debt owed to Great Britain. Besides that, much like New Brunswick in the years prior to Confederation, there was a fear among the people of the colony that the United States would attempt to take over their land. As well, the people of the Western colony wanted to be able to elect their own leaders instead of the leaders being sworn in by Great Britain.

Back in 1867 when New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were debating on joining ways with Canada, there was actually a third party that was in on the discussions as well.

That third colony was Prince Edward Island, who ultimately passed on the opportunity to join Confederation in 1867, but joined instead in 1873. Canada was afraid that Prince Edward Island would join the United States, so instead, they extended their offer and asked the colony to join Confederation once again. This time, they agreed.

As a part of the agreement, Canada would help the Island out a lot financially. They purchased all of the land from Great Britain so that the residents on the Island would have a chance to purchase their own property, whereas before, they had to rent the land from Great Britain at astronomical costs.

Canada would also help pay back the debt that Prince Edward Island was in after they built a railroad with borrowed money from Great Britain. Lastly, Canada agreed that they would pay for a ferry that would go back and forth between Prince Edward Island and the land.

Now, just six years after Confederation began, we have most of what Canada is today. The size of the country wouldn’t get any bigger, just parts of the existing country would reshape and split up forming two new provinces and two new territories.

It would take another 25 years before we saw another change. In 1898, the Klondike gold rush would migrate an approximated 100,000 people from different parts of Canada and the United States to the Klondike region of the North-West region of Canada.

Because of the influx of Americans, Canada believed that the United States would view this as a reason to take control of that area. So in response, Canada split a portion of its Northwest Territory into what was to be known as Yukon — the second Northwestern territory.

Just seven years later in 1905, Canada would create two of its final three provinces — Saskatchewan and Alberta. The reasonings for dividing portions of the Northwest Territories and creating two new provinces was simple. The economy didn’t rely on just fur trading anymore — it now included other industries such as farming, mining and logging.

Because these new industries brought such a high volume of people in, Canada believed that these areas of high population deserved to have a government of their own. The newly created Saskatchewan and Alberta could now have their own provincial governments which they couldn’t have before because Canadian territories are not governed by the Constitutional Act, they have delegated power under the Parliament of Canada.

The final province would come around in 1949, 44 years after the latest additions. Newfoundland was still a colony of Great Britain up until this time, but because the cost of supporting them was so high, the British no longer wanted to rule the Island.

The people of Newfoundland had a vote on whether they would remain a part of Great Britain, or join their closer neighbours in Canada. By joining Canada, they would get increased funding to help build infrastructure such as roads and railways. Ultimately the choice was made to join Canada and the country was awarded their 10th and final province.

50 years later in 1999, the final division of land in Canada would take place that would lead to where we are today. This division of the Northwest Territories which formed Nunavut, had been in the works since the 1970s. It was then that the Inuit, an Indigenous tribe, were frustrated that the government of Canada made decisions for their people and took resources from their land without asking. The creation of Nunavut gave the Inuit the chance to have their own government where they could make their own decisions.

As we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, we celebrate the 150 years worth of decisions that got us to where we are today — 10 provinces and three territories.

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