Laying the Cornerstone of a Great State

Queen Victoria, the first monarch to reside at...
Queen Victoria, the first monarch to reside at Buckingham Palace, moved into the newly completed palace upon her accession in 1837. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On February 26, 1867, the House of Lords passed the British North American Act (B.N.A.) establishing the Dominion of Canada. The bill still had to go to the House of Commons, but there was no doubt that it would be passed.

The name “Dominion” of Canada came about in an interesting way. John A. Macdonald had wanted “Kingdom” of Canada, but Prime Minister, the Earl of Derby, objected to a colony having a title that would make it equal to Britain. His son, Lord Stanley, who was Secretary for Foreign Affairs, also objected because the United States might not like having a kingdom on its border!

Premier Tilley of New Brunswick finally solved the problem. He read the Bible every morning, and Psalm 72 seemed to leap from its pages:

“He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.”

What more proper description could there be of Canada? His suggestion that the name of the new nation should be “Dominion of Canada” was approved by Queen Victoria and all the delegates.

When Colonial Secretary Lord Carnarvon presented the British North American Act for its second reading, he said, “We are laying the cornerstone of a great state, perhaps one which at a future day may even overshadow this country. But, come what may, we shall rejoice that we showed neither indifference to their wishes nor jealousy of their aspirations.”

The day after the Act passed the Lords, Macdonald, Cartier, Galt, Tilley and Tupper, the senior members of the delegation, went to Buckingham Palace for an audience with Queen Victoria. They wore blue court uniforms which would have caused some commotion in their own towns. After all, they were only two colonial lawyers, two businessmen, and one country doctor. They reported later that the Queen looked sad. She was wearing black, still mourning her husband, Prince Albert, who had died five years before. She approved the Act in a few words, and then John A. Macdonald said, “We have desired in this measure to declare in the most solemn and emphatic manner our resolve to be under the sovereignty of Your Majesty and your family forever.” Then the delegates backed out of the room.

Want to read more about the B.N.A.? You can visit Human Rights of Canada, a historical perspective; Government of Canada’s Justice Laws website; the Canadian Museum of Civilization.



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