Which Circus is in Town?

Delegates of the Charlottetown Conference on t...
Delegates of the Charlottetown Conference on the steps of Government House, September 1864. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Negotiations for the Confederation of the British North American colonies really got under way in 1864.  Canada‘s cradle was the Charlottetown Conference that began on September 1, and rocked to the sound of circus music!

Delegates from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia arrived at Charlottetown on August 31.  Their original purpose had been to meet with representatives of Prince Edward Island to discuss the possibility of forming a maritime union.  Newfoundland was not represented.  The Canadians asked for permission to attend the conference so that they could present a plan to join the Maritimes in a federal union, or Confederation.

When Premiers Tilley of New Brunswick and Tupper of Nova Scotia arrived at Charlottetown with their delegations, there was little room for them in the inns.  The islanders had flocked to Charlottetown to watch their first circus in twenty years.  Even the cabinet ministers were there, and the only official available to greet them was William Pope, Colonial Secretary.  He managed to find accommodation for them at the Mansion House Hotel, one of twenty inns in Charlottetown.  Then they went to the circus!

The Canadians, led by Macdonald, Cartier, Brown, Galt and McGee, sailed from Quebec on August 29.   They had a fine trip down the St. Lawrence, although they were awed by Brown’s habit of getting up early in the morning for a cold salt-water bath, and then having a brisk walk around the decks of the Queen Victoria.  They reached Charlottetown early in the morning of September 1, and once again only faithful William Pope was on hand.  He went out to the Queen Victoria in a small boat rowed by a fisherman.  Pope was sitting on an oyster barrel and when they drew alongside the chief steward asked them about the price of oysters!

The conference was held in the Council Chamber of Province House, and the scene has been preserved, with the actual tables and chairs used by the delegates still in place.  It began on the afternoon of September 1, and the visiting Canadians were invited to speak first.  Macdonald and Cartier outlined their plans during the first two days, and the meetings continued until September 7.  Then the conference adjourned to meet at Halifax three days later.

To learn more about the Charlottetown Conference, there are a few sites I recommend: There’s the Library and Archives Canada, and the Britannica Encyclopedia, as well as the Prince Edward Island 2014 (preparing for their 150th anniversary). All good places to start your journey.

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