New Brunswick’s role in Confederation held a significant amount of weight in the formation of Canada. New Brunswick was both the epicenter for the beginning of serious talks of Confederation, as well as the province that was given a chance to vote on the subject.
In the mid-1800s New Brunswick was experiencing a period of economic prosperity. The recently signed Reciprocity Treaty provided incentives for cross-border trade, and the lumbering and shipbuilding industries were also flourishing.
Security, however, was an issue for New Brunswick at the time. British North America did not have its own military, and whenever conflict would arise British Regulars would need to be brought in. This not only mean that response times were slow, but it also meant that Britain was funding virtually all military operations in what was a self-governing British territory. Events like the Trent Affair and the Chesapeake Incident would amplify these concerns.
|Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon|
(Provincial Archives of New Brunswick,
Maritime Union seemed like a logical solution to the issue. The unification of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island into a single province, was favoured by many of the local politicians as well as the young Lieutenant Governor Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon.
A month before the first Confederation conference in Charlottetown (PEI), a delegation of politicians and journalists from the United Province of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) landed in Fredericton for an informal visit. Extravagant speeches were given, lavish balls were thrown, and upon their departure the Canadians were given an informal invite to sit in on the Charlottetown Conference.
The Charlottetown Conference, initially organized to promote Maritime Union, took place in early September. Within the first few days of discussions, the delegation from the United Province of Canada was given a chance to take the floor and pitch the idea of a Confederation. From that point on, until the end of the conference, Confederation was the sole topic of conversation. The Charlottetown conference was also known for its extravagant balls that would often bleed into the following morning.
|Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley|
(Bibliothèque et Archives
nationales du Québec,
Resolutions in hand, Premier Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley (of Gagetown) returned to New Brunswick, but was faced with strong opposition, led by Sir Albert James Smith (of Dorchester). A tough election battle ensued the following year, with such heavily contested issues causing an uproar as the path of the Intercolonial Railway and New Brunswick’s autonomy.
|Sir Albert James Smith|
(New Brunswick Museum,
Smith’s inability to renew the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States, combined with military threats by Irish militants (the Fenians) in Maine, placed a nail in Smith’s Anti-Confederation movement. In 1866, Sir Albert James Smith handed in his resignation (upon Lieutenant Governor Gordon’s insistence), prompting another provincial election on the issue of Confederation. Winning by an insurmountable landslide, the Confederation movement, led by Peter Mitchell of Miramichi, took 33 of 41 available seats.
(New Brunswick Museum,
NB Heritage Week 2017 web site.