The Charlottetown Conference, September 1-9, 1864

In the spring of 1864, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were contemplating the possibility of Maritime Union. Resolutions had been passed in their legislatures to appoint delegates to a conference on the matter, but no further plans were made until the Province of Canada heard of the proposed conference. The Province had problems of its own, springing from the legislative union of Canada East and Canada West. Members of the combined legislature requested permission to attend the meeting of the colonies, in order to raise the larger subject of British North American union, something they saw as a solution to their difficulties.

The Maritime colonies had therefore to plan a conference for the Canadians to attend, and to appoint their own delegates. It was decided, after much deliberation, to hold the meetings in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, beginning on September 1, 1864. Representatives were appointed from the Province of Canada as well as from the three Maritime colonies that had originally discussed union. Newfoundland asked belatedly (on August 18th) if it might attend, but by then there was not enough time left to organize a delegation.

First to arrive in Charlottetown was Robert Dickey of Nova Scotia, on August 30th. His four fellow delegates, led by Charles Tupper, arrived by steamer on the afternoon of August 31 and New Brunswick's delegates followed late in the evening of the same day. Sharing the city's spotlight with the first circus to visit the island in over twenty years, the conference delegates had no small trouble finding accommodations in an already crowded city. The Canadians finally arrived by steamer on the morning of September 1. Since many Island government officials were busy with last-minute preparations, one of the delegates was sent on a rowboat to greet the visitors.

Official proceedings began on the afternoon of September 1, with the appointment of officers. As the Conference was following parliamentary protocol, the Canadians were at this point only observers. They made their presentations regarding union the next day, when invited to do so by the Maritime delegates. Once their presentations began, talk of Maritime Union vanished from the conference agenda. The proceedings were closed, and so there exists little or no public record of what was said during these meetings. However, it is known that George-Étienne Cartier and John A. Macdonald presented the arguments in favour of union, that Alexander Galt discussed the possible financial arrangements, and that George Brown suggested the form that a united government might take. There was also an article outlining the proceedings, attributed to Jonathan McCully, which appeared in the Halifax Morning Chronicle on September 10, 1864.

The Conference was not all business. Indeed, the various social events held throughout the proceedings were as important for the delegates as the formal discussions, establishing camaraderie and a common sense of purpose. Activities included the famous oyster and champagne lunch aboard the Canadians' ship, luncheons at the homes of local delegates and officials, seaside excursions, and a grand ball at the legislative building. George Brown's letter to his wife, written during the Conference, provides a vivid description of these events.

The meetings at Charlottetown were adjourned on September 9, 1864, but the delegates continued with meetings in Halifax, Saint John, and Fredericton. It was decided that the idea of British North American union had enough merit to warrant further discussion, and formal planning. With this in mind, a second conference was scheduled to begin October 10, 1864 at Québec City.


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  • Creighton, Donald. -- The road to Confederation : the emergence of Canada, 1863-1867. -- Toronto : Macmillan of Canada, 1964. -- 489 p.
  • Moore, Christopher. -- 1867 : how the Fathers made a deal. -- Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, Canada, 1997. -- 279 p.
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