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The London Conference

The London Conference
December 1866 - March 1867

Painting: The Fathers of Confederation at the London Conference, 1866


The Fathers of Confederation at the London Conference, 1866.

Once New Brunswick and Nova Scotia had passed union resolutions in 1866 (the Province of Canada -- later Ontario and Quebec -- had already done so), it was time to meet to draft the text of the British North America Act ( It was agreed that this meeting would take place in London. The Maritime delegates left for England on July 21, but for various reasons the Canadian delegation's arrival was delayed until late November. The conference was much smaller than those at Charlottetown or Québec had been, consisting of sixteen members in all (from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada).

After preliminary discussions, meetings officially began on December 4; they took place at the Westminster Palace Hotel in London. Business commenced with a thorough review of the Québec Resolutions to ensure that the wording of each was satisfactory. Despite Charles Tupper's promises to anti-union factions in Nova Scotia, he was unable to introduce amendments to the agreement at this time. Once the review was completed in late December, the "London Resolutions" were sent to the Colonial Office. Following the Christmas holiday, a committee of the delegates used the Resolutions to draft a proposed bill; copies were printed, and the delegates met with British officials in order to finalize the text.

Choosing "Canada" as the new country's name was relatively easy, as was the choice of "Ontario" and "Quebec" for the two halves of the Province of Canada. However, difficulties arose in choosing a designation. The delegates wished it to be a kingdom; the British feared that such a title would anger the United States, and denied the request. An alternative, "Dominion," was suggested by Samuel Leonard Tilley, from a line in Psalm 72 of the Bible: "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth."

In addition to drafting the British North America Act, the Conference had to cope with the presence of an anti-union delegation from Nova Scotia, led by Joseph Howe, which was bent on overturning any union agreement. Charles Tupper was occupied in countering each submission Howe made to the Colonial Office and the two men conducted a debate through pamphlets and letters.

The delegates had a completed text for the bill by the first week of February 1867. It was submitted to the Queen on February 11, and read in the House of Lords for the first time the following day. Proceedings were relatively uneventful: the bill passed through its first, second, and third readings in the House of Lords during the month of February. The three readings in the House of Commons were also swift, completed within two weeks with very little debate. The British North America Act received the Royal Assent on March 29, 1867.

Caricature: "Confederation! The much-fathered youngster."


"Confederation! The much-fathered youngster" (left to right: George Brown, Sir Francis Hincks, William McDougall, Sir John A. Macdonald).

Once the Act was passed, the delegates returned home to prepare for union, which was scheduled to take place on July 1. Delegates from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had to hold their final legislative sessions, in order to make last-minute changes to their constitutions. There also remained the task of selecting members for the new Cabinet and Senate.

Social activities did not have the same prominence in London that they did at the other conferences, although some delegates did make excursions to other European countries, and visits to relatives and friends. For the most prominent of the delegates, there was also a royal audience. The major social event of the conference, however, was probably the marriage of John A. Macdonald and Agnes Bernard on February 16, 1867.


Creighton, Donald.  --  John A. Macdonald : the young politician, the old chieftain.  --  Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1998.  --  524, 630 p.

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.

Waite, P. B.  --  The life and times of Confederation, 1864-1867 : politics, newspapers, and the union of British North America.  --  2nd ed., with corrections.  --  Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1962.  --  379 p.

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