Nova Scotia entered Confederation reluctantly. Through thousands of years of independent Mi’kmaq rule, and then European settlement beginning in the early 1600s, the people of the area had always had a strong sense of independence. In 1848, Nova Scotia became the first colony in British North America (BNA) to achieve responsible government, a form of democratic self-rule.
By the 1860s, the coastal settlements of the colony were flourishing, thanks to shipbuilding, fishing, farming and trade. But Nova Scotia faced a crossroads: should it join the proposed Dominion of Canada, or should it remain a separate British colony?
Joseph Howe, a journalist and politician, had led the drive for responsible government and now opposed joining Canada. He believed Nova Scotia would become a neglected member of a larger country, but would flourish on its own. He also argued that the 331,000 people of the colony should decide the matter.
Howe emphasized Nova Scotia’s geographic and cultural distance from Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Québec). “Did anybody ever propose to unite Scotland with Poland or Hungary?” He asked in the Halifax Chronicle. “Inland countries 800 miles off in the very heart of Europe.” To Howe, the situation in British North America was similar.
Many Nova Scotians in prosperous shipping, shipbuilding and farming communities saw little benefit in uniting with the other BNA colonies. Most felt closer family and economic ties to the New England states than to distant Canada West and Canada East.
Tupper and Confederation
Despite popular opposition, the Nova Scotia delegations to the 1864 Charlottetown and Québec Conferences committed to making the colony part of Confederation. Joining the new country, advocates said, would provide greater security against possible American expansionism, a wider domestic market for Nova Scotia trade goods, and financial help for the construction of a national railway, linking the Atlantic colonies to Ontario and Québec.
Two years later, Premier Charles Tupper, who had led the Nova Scotia delegates, used his government's majority in the colonial legislature — at the end of his electoral mandate — to pass the terms of Confederation agreed to in Québec.
When Nova Scotia officially became a Canadian province in 1867, two newspapers summed up the opposing views:
“The days of isolation and dwarf-hood are past; henceforth we are a united people, and the greatness of each goes to swell the greatness of the whole,” declared the British Colonist.
“Died! Last night at 12 o’clock, the free and enlightened Province of Nova Scotia,” mourned the Morning Chronicle.
Although Tupper had forced through Confederation, the citizens who could vote rejected it. In the joint 1867 provincial and federal election, Howe’s Anti-Confederation League and others opposed to the union won 36 out of 38 seats in the provincial legislature, and 18 of 19 seats federally – Tupper being the only supporter of Confederation elected to the new federal Parliament.Led by Howe, anti-Confederation Nova Scotians fought unsuccessfully for two years to repeal the union.
In 1868, Tupper and Howe worked out a common way forward. Howe, having failed in every avenue to take Nova Scotia out of Canada, decided he could do more to help his province by working from inside the federal government. In 1869, at the invitation of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, Howe joined the federal Cabinet. He would later play an important role in bringing Manitoba into Confederation.
Fathers of Confederation
Nova Scotia’s Fathers of Confederation — those men who attended one or more of the Charlottetown, Québec and London Conferences — include Tupper, along with Adams G. Archibald, R.B. Dickey, W.A. Henry and Jonathan McCully.