New Brunswick was for millennia home of the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet. From the early 1600s to the mid-1700s, the Mi’kmaq, France and Britain fought for control of the territory, with Britain achieving dominance after the Treaty of Paris (1763) and making the land part of Nova Scotia.
It became the separate colony of New Brunswick in 1784, and received responsible government in 1854. By the 1860s, New Brunswick had a population of 270,000 people. It had a strong economy based on timber and related industries, like shipbuilding.
In 1864, its legislature passed a resolution of interest in forming a single Maritime colony with Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Lieutenant-Governor Arthur Hamilton Gordon pursued the idea of a Maritime Union and helped organize a conference in Charlottetown to discuss it. Representatives of the Province of Canada asked for an invitation and came to the meeting.
The September 1864 Charlottetown Conference grew into a large gathering of 23 delegates, who discussed a federal union of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. Joining the redesigned nation of Canada would bring greater security against possible American expansionism, a wider domestic market to sell to, and a national railway to improve access to the wider market.
Cautious voices like the Saint John Morning Telegraph expressed support for Confederation but warned “that so far as New Brunswick is concerned the people have given the subject very slender consideration.”
Discontent spread after the conditions for Confederation — including the allotment of Parliamentary seats — were published following the October 1864 Québec Conference (see the 72 Resolutions). Acadians and other ethnic minorities were also skeptical of the project. And merchants worried that Confederation would bring tougher trade competition and higher taxes.
Premier Samuel Tilley, who supported Confederation, found a majority of the New Brunswick legislature had swung against it, led by Albert Smith. Voters backed Smith with a big victory in a snap 1865 election, tossing out Tilley’s government.
The Fenian Raids then pushed the pendulum in the opposite direction. In 1866, a group of pro-Irish American Civil War veterans attacked Campobello Island in New Brunswick — these so-called Fenians hoped they could capture Canadian territory to use as a staging area for an invasion of Ireland. Although the attack was unsuccessful, it fuelled New Brunswick's sense of insecurity, and increased support for Confederation.
Another election was held in 1866, and this time Tilley’s pro-Confederation party won. The legislature soon voted 38 to 1 in favour of Confederation.
It may have been Tilley who suggested the formal name of the Dominion of Canada, based on a passage in Psalms reading, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.”
Parades and Protests
New Brunswick became part of Canada on 1 July 1867. The celebrations in the province included a 21-gun salute and public parades. However, anti-Confederation groups got into fist fights at a Saint John march and opponents lowered their flags to half-mast as a silent protest.
Confederation brought the Intercolonial Railway through New Brunswick by 1876, connecting it to the rest of the new country. Tilley joined John A. Macdonald’s federal Cabinet. He is considered one of the Fathers of Confederation for the province, along with E.B. Chandler, J. H. Gray, J.M. Johnson, W.H. Steeves, Charles Fisher, Peter Mitchell and Robert Wilmot.