The Charlottetown Conference was held in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island for representatives from the colonies of British North America to discuss Canadian Confederation. The conference took place between September 1 through 7, 1864.
The conference was originally planned as a meeting of representatives from the Maritime colonies: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Newfoundland agreed with the movement, but was not notified in time to take part in the proceedings. Britain encouraged a Maritime Union between these colonies, hoping that they would then become less economically and politically dependent on the Crown, and provide for greater economic and military power for the region in light of the American Civil War. However, another colony, the Province of Canada, comprising present-day Ontario and Quebec, heard news of the planned conference and asked that the agenda be expanded to discuss a union that would also include them. In August 1864 Newfoundland also asked to be allowed to join the conference.
Coincidentally there was a circus in Charlottetown during the conference, and it was much more interesting to the majority of the population. There was no one working at the public wharf at the foot of Great George Street when the Canadian delegates arrived on the steamship SS Victoria, so Prince Edward Island representative William Henry Pope had to handle receptions by himself, including rowing out to greet the new arrivals. The Canadian delegates stayed each night on board the SS Queen Victoria, as circus-goers and the Maritime delegates had taken up the accommodations in town.
The majority of the conference took place at the colony's legislative building, Province House, although some social functions were held at Government House, the home of the colony's Lieutenant Governor.
The conference began on Thursday September 1 with a banquet for the delegates. Parties and banquets were held each night after the day's discussions had ended, except for Sunday September 4, when they did not meet. The representatives from the Province of Canada dominated the conference, overshadowing the concerns of the Maritimes, and laying out foundations for the union that benefited them the most. Four of the first five days were spent outlining the Canadian position, and the Maritime representatives did not discuss their own plans until September 6 and 7. One Canadian delegate, George Brown, spent two days discussing the details of the proposed constitution, which would keep Canada within the British Empire.
Most of the Maritimes were convinced that a wider union including the Province of Canada would also be beneficial to them; Prince Edward Island was unsure, however, and very much against confederation. The delegates also believed that union could be achieved within a few years, rather than in an undefined period in the future as they had originally planned.
The conference concluded on Wednesday September 7, but the representatives agreed to meet again the next month in Quebec City (see Quebec Conference). A ball was also held on September 8, after which the delegates returned home.
Prince Edward Island
Province of Canada
Hewitt Bernard was the recording secretary at the conference, at the request of John A. Macdonald.
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