Canada and Ontario at 150

Throughout Canada’s Sesquicentennial Year of 2017, I will publish articles about Canada at Confederation (July 1, 1867), and at 50 year old (1917) as well as in Centennial Year (1967). We are a country with a history as interesting and varied as our geography.

Three years after the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 gave John A. MacDonald and George Etienne Cartier a mandate to seek independence for Canada from the UK, the provinces of Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec), also known as Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario), added the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia from the British colonies to form the brand-new Dominion of Canada with the proclamation of the British North America Act of 1867. Canada came into being on July 1, 1867, originally called Dominion Day, and in recent years (more correctly) Canada Day.

Many mature Canadians remember the six National Hockey League franchises that survived the pre-World War II shakeout as the Original SixIn the same way, one can think of the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as the Original Four in Confederation.

Entry into Canada of provinces and territories

Province Date of Entry
Ontario July 1, 1867
Quebec July 1, 1867
New Brunswick July 1, 1867
Nova Scotia July 1, 1867
Manitoba July 15, 1870
Northwest Territories July 15, 1870
British Columbia July 20, 1871
Prince Edward Island July 1, 1873
Yukon June 13, 1898
 Alberta September 1, 1905
Saskatchewan September 1, 1905
Newfoundland & Labrador March 31, 1949
Nunavut April 1, 1999
Red Ensign Flag

The “Red Ensign” came into widespread use in the 1890s, and was Canada’s official flag until the maple leaf flag was adopted on February 15, 1965.

It actually took about 30 years for the first uniquely (in a British Empire fashion) Canadian flag to become the nation-wide standard, prior to which the country’s accepted flag was the British Union Jack. Like much of the then-British Empire and later British Commonwealth, the Union Jack formed the upper-left quarter of the flag. The field was a deep red, and the Canadian coat of arms was centered on the right. Indeed, the present-day provincial flags of Ontario and Manitoba retain this standard. It would take a detail-oriented eye to separate the old Canadian Red Ensign from today’s Ontario and Manitoba provincial flags.

Canada’s population was 3.5 million people at Confederation, fewer than Metro Toronto plus Peel Region today. In the 1871 census, Ontario reported a population of 1.6 million; Quebec 1.2 million; Nova Scotia 388,000 and New Brunswick 286,000. Manitoba entered Confederation with a population of just 25,000, and British Columbia had just more than 36,000 when it became part of Canada. Prince Edward Island’s population when it became part of Canada was 94,000. Today, it is just more than a third greater than that. When the Northwest Territories became a part of Canada, it held 48,000 souls, a legacy, in part, of the late 19th century gold rush.