The Charlottetown Conference of 1864 produced the Confederation ofCanada, although its organizers’ goal was to unite just three Maritime provinces with a total population of 700,000.
The hard work, intelligence and debating behind this achievement belong in politics, economics, philosophy, language and history. But the guests with their own agenda who invited themselves to the party had a lot of fun too.
Those at it were the coalition of Canada East and Canada West (now Ontario and Quebec), New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Each had its own responsible government, two-chamber legislature, elected officials, lieutenant governor, coinage, stamps and customs duties.
These lighter tidbits are quoted from P.B. Waite’s booklet The Charlottetown Conference, published by the Canadian Historical Association (1963) and accessible on Library & Archives Canada’s website:
1. The ‘trade’ delegation – 100 Canadians (23 press people, 18 legislators and 27 others) were invited by the St. John, NB, Board of Trade to make a social visit to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in August, 1864.
“… few Maritimers even knew what a Canadian looked like. And Canadian ignorance of the Maritimes was proverbial.”
2. A governing crisis stressed the Canadian coalition in June. They sent a message asking permission to attend a conference on Maritime union that was coming up. They would like to make proposals for a British North American federal union.
The conference was set to take place on September 1st in Charlottetown, PEI.
This gave the ‘trade’ delegation’s social visit a subtle political purpose too.
3. Getting to know each other –“(The delegation) arrived first at St. John on the steamer from Portland, ME … They were greeted at the wharf — to their amazement — by a huge crowd of about 10,000 people.”
“A fearsome round of entertainment followed. Saturday night, August 6, the Saint John Board of Trade gave an official dinner for the Canadians, the menu of which staggers the imagination of lesser mortals of the twentieth century: a monumental progress through twelve full courses.”
“Monday the Canadians set off up the Saint John river by steamer. That day was a beautiful one, the heat softened by a summer breeze, and the river magnificent with its sumptuous meadows and luminous hills. A military band on board the steamer played airs, and the French Canadians, some quarter of the Canadian party, sang paddling songs in their inimitable style, swinging imaginary paddles on either side of invisible canoes….On their way to Halifax by train from Windsor, NS, the delegates were greeted at Half-Way House by a bunting that read, “Vive les Canadiens“.
“The best party was at the site of Queen Victoria’s father’s house on Bedford Basin, where both McGee of Canada and Howe of Nova Scotia joined in the festivities with a warmth as yet untrammelled by political complications and where sport and speeches, made free with wine, were deftly mingled on a superb August afternoon.”
4. The self-invited expedition:
“On Monday, August 29 … the Canadian government steamer Queen Victoria sailed from Quebec for Charlottetown. Two-thirds of the Canadian government were aboard, carrying … far-reaching proposals for Confederation.”
5. Days of hard work, fun and success –
(Sept. 1) “The Charlottetown conference was … to discuss Maritime union, so the Canadians were there unofficially (but) within an hour the Canadians were officially invited in”
“That evening the Lieutenant Governor of Prince Edward Island … gave the first formal dinner of the conference to as many of the twenty-three delegates as he could conveniently receive.”
(Sept. 2) “… when the session was over, they all went to W.H. Pope’s house for a grand buffet luncheon … oysters, lobsters and other Island delicacies, all well lubricated with champagne. That evening was a beautiful moonlit one.”
9. (Sept. 3) “… it was to the Queen Victoria .. that the Charlottetown Conference adjourned for lunch … The Canadians had a strong belief then … in the efficaciousness of good food and plenty of wine to make a party — or a conference — go. The Queen Victoria had come down with cases of champagne in her hold, and there was no stint in their use. At four lunch began. The conference work was over for the week-end, things had gone superbly well and the luncheon rapidly developed a good deal of abandon. Champagne flowed like water, and union talk with it. The occasion took hold of everyone. Champagne and union!”
There was a lot more to come at another conference in Quebec City in October (picture above) but it all worked out rather well.
Happy Birthday, Canada!