Free Issue! Try Saltscapes Magazine before you buy. Download Now

The 1864 Charlottetown Conference

The “Confederation contingent” boarding the SS Queen Victoria in on August 29, 1864 in Quebec—en route to Charlottetown, PEI—consisted of eight politicians: John A. Macdonald, George-Etienne Cartier and Alexander Galt, George Brown and William McDougall, Thomas McGee, Alexander Campbell and Hector-Louis Langevin, also known as “the Canadians.” Little did they know their arrival would be a non event.

Delegates from the Legislatures of Canada, gathering on the steps of Prince Edward Island's Government House for the Charlottetown Conference.

The ship steamed into Charlottetown Harbour around noon on September 1. However, unbeknownst to the party on board, the Slaymaker and Nichols Circus was performing in Charlottetown and the attention of every soul, including the press, was turned to acting dogs, trick ponies, monkeys, and a double trapeze under a huge tent. So it was that the Queen Victoria sailed into port without fanfare. In fact, PEI’s provincial secretary, W. H. Pope, had all he could do to round up a fisherman willing to row him out to the ship to meet the distinguished delegation. They made way back to port on a bum-boat (a flat bottom boat) that carried a barrel of flour in the bow and two jars of molasses in the stern.

To add insult to injury, much like Mary and Joseph, the entourage found no room at the inn, as the city was full of circus-goers and no one had the wit to make accommodations for the delegates. Most of the politicians spent their nights back aboard the ship.

And so it was that the historic meetings that followed (which also included politicians from the rest of the Maritimes) became known as the Charlottetown Conference. On the last day of the conference, September 7, the notion of Confederation was endorsed.

The next evening was the scene of a massive banquet at the Colonial Building. After feasting in the council chamber, everyone gathered in the Legislative Assembly to dance the night away at the grand ball. Spirits were high; around 2am, tongues let loose and speeches began. At 5am some of the politicians were still practicing their oratory skills.

The next day, the delegates from the Charlottetown Conference set sail to Nova Scotia. During the course of a week they held sessions in Halifax, Saint John and Fredericton. By the time they disbanded the “Fathers of Confederation” had agreed to meet in Quebec the following month to map out a detailed plan for union. The rest, as they say, is history.

Other Stories You May Enjoy

Charlottetown’s Lucy de Jong serves up the tasty Dutch puff pastries known as poffertjes;

Island Food – European Style

They call it the diamond of Spain,” says Carl Lloyd, referring to the Galicia region in northwest Spain, where he and his wife, Rhonda, lived for four years. “They’ve caught up with the 21st...

Magic Moments at Mactaquac

A ton of fun and a great bonding experience - all in one place. Last fall, just before returning to his diesel mechanics course in Vancouver, my 23-year-old son decided he wanted to spend his last...
The evening tour aboard the Top Notch features a lobster dinner aboard the boat

Taking Lobster Dinner up a Notch

“Come aboard!” Captain Mark Jenkins calls from his lobster boat, the Top Notch, which is tied up at the Prince Street wharf in downtown Charlottetown. Eight of us make our way down the ramp, where...