“Great Fun…”—A Letter from the Honourable George Brown

The slow process of Canadian Confederation largely progressed by way of debates and conferences— a series of delicate negotiations, deliberations and compromises. The hard work of the politicians paid off after the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, which resulted in a general agreement and a commitment to hammer out more details at a further conference a month later in Quebec City.

But it wasn’t all long hours of serious toil.

The Honourable George Brown, journalist and former member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, was one of the most famous delegates to the Charlottetown Conference. Ever since he himself had been converted to the idea of Canadian Confederation, Brown had been deeply involved in the negotiating process. He detailed his engagement with the councils, debates and conferences of Confederation in his correspondence with his wife, Anne. Sometimes, as in the case of the Charlottetown Conference, Brown’s letters are the only record we have of the proceedings, since no official minutes were taken at Charlottetown.

A black-and-white photograph of a man sitting at a desk, holding a letter.

George Brown, ca. 1880 (MIKAN 3213216)

In a letter dated September 13, 1864, Brown describes the voyage to Charlottetown aboard the SS Queen Victoria as “great fun . . . having fine weather, a broad awning to recline under, excellent stories of all kinds, an unexceptionable cook, lots of books, chessboards, backgammon and so forth.”

In the same letter, Brown describes the meal offered by the delegates’ host as a “grand Dejeuner à la fourchette—oysters, lobster and Champagne, along with other island luxuries.”

A reproduction of a personal letter outlining daily activities including conference proceedings and social engagements.

Letter from George Brown to his wife, Anne, dated September 13, 1864, (MIKAN 104699 or Héritage)

Brown’s descriptions of games and fun underline the importance of the social aspect of the conference, which was just as much about building relationships as about coming to formal terms.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of men standing in front of a building.

Convention at Charlottetown, PEI. Delegates from the Legislatures of Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island to take into consideration the Union of the British North American Colonies (MIKAN 3192471)

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds many of George Brown’s papers, including letters relating to the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences. These latter documents represent some of the most important items in LAC’s collection relating to the delegates’ experience on the road to confederation.

For example, Brown’s letters provide the only known confirmation of pro-Confederation presentations made at Charlottetown by Sir John A. MacDonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier.

With the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation on the horizon, Brown’s letters constitute one of many important LAC collections providing insight into how our nationhood was achieved. The letters have been digitized and are available online through the Héritage website. Please be sure to check them out!

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