Historical Documents

There are other documents that relate to Canada’s development as a country.  These include documents predating Confederation, which in many cases provided rules for governing or organising of Canada’s provinces and territories.  Some of the most important are the Charter of Hudson’s Bay (1670), the Royal Proclamation (1763) and the Quebec Act (1774).

The Charter of Hudson’s Bay (1670)

Granted by King Charles II of England, May 2nd, 1670, the Royal Charter gave an exclusive trading monopoly over the entire Hudson Bay drainage basin to “the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay.”

The Charter states that the Company was to control all lands whose rivers and streams drain into Hudson Bay – all told an area comprising over 1.5 million square miles, stretching from Labrador in the east as far west as the Canadian Rocky Mountains and well south of the present U.S/Canada border. It represented over 40% of modern day Canada.

The text of the Charter may be found here:

http://www.hbcheritage.ca/hbcheritage/collections/archival/charter/charter.asp

 

The Royal Proclamation (1763)

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was issued October 7, 1763, by King George III following Great Britain’s acquisition of French territory in North America after the end of the Seven Years’ War, which forbade all settlement past a line drawn along the Appalachian Mountains. The Royal Proclamation continues to be of legal importance to First Nations in Canada as well as indigenous peoples in the United States. It established the constitutional framework for the negotiation of treaties with the Aboriginal inhabitants of large sections of Canada, and it is referenced in section 25 of the Constitution Act, 1982. As such, it has been labelled an “Indian Magna Carta” or an “Indian Bill of Rights.” The Proclamation is also significant because it contributed to the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775 — as it legally defined the North American interior west of the Appalachian Mountains as a vast Aboriginal reserve, thus angering inhabitants of the Thirteen Colonies who desired western expansion.

The text of the Proclamation, as well as more detailed information on its provisions and origins may be found here:

https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1370355181092/1370355203645

 

The Québec Act (1774)

Following the British victory over France in the Seven Years’ War, the territories of France in northern North America, known as Canada, were ceded to Britain in the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The British renamed the territory Québec. The British Parliament passed the Quebec Act on October 7, 1774, in an effort to satisfy the people of Québec and to prevent them from joining the growing disaffection in the American colonies.

The Act enlarged the boundaries of the Province of Québec to include Labrador, the Ile d’Anticosti and the Iles de la Madeleine on the east, and the Aboriginal territory south of the Great Lakes between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers on the west. The colony was to be governed by a governor and a council consisting of 17 to 23 appointed councillors.  However, an elected assembly was not contemplated in the Act. Religious freedom was guaranteed for the colony’s Roman Catholic majority, and a simplified Test Oath, which omitted references to religion, enabled them to enter public office conscientiously.  The Act restored French civil law and British criminal law and provided for continued use of the seigneurial system.

The Québec Act is one of the “Intolerable Acts” that lead to dissent in the American colonies and to the creation of the Declaration of Rights and Grievances in 1774. While the other distinct parts of the Intolerable Acts were more unsettling to the Americans than the provisions in the Québec Act, the establishment of a nontraditional legal system was troubling, and the recognition of Roman Catholicism nipped at the fringes of American religious tolerance.

The text of the Québec Act may be found here:

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/quebec_act_1774.asp

 

Constitution Act (1791)

The Constitution Act of 1791 was an Act of the British Parliament creating Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Although it was a first step towards Canadian Confederation, its rigid colonial structures also set the stage for later rebellion in the two Canadas. The Act was also notable for a voting franchise that was inclusive by the standards of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, particularly as it included women in Lower Canada who owned property.

The Act was designed to effect a reorganization of British North America as a result of pressures imposed on the British colonial government as a result of the arrival of thousands of Loyalists seeking refuge after the American Revolution.  These new English-speaking arrivals chafed at living under the provisions of the Québec Act.  The result was a division of Québec into two new provinces of Upper and Lower Canada.

The bill had four main objectives:

■ to guarantee the same rights and privileges as were enjoyed by loyal subjects elsewhere in North America;

■ to ease the burden on the imperial treasury by granting colonial assemblies the right to levy taxes with which to pay for local civil and legal administration;

■ to create separate provincial legislatures;

■ and to maintain and strengthen the bonds of political dependency by remedying the constitutional weaknesses of previous colonial governments.

The Act also bolstered the authority and prestige of the royal governor by making him a true representative of the imperial power.  It also limited the powers of the elected colonial assemblies by creating independent legislative councils whose appointed members comprised an aristocratic body modelled on the House of Lords and devoted to the interests of the Crown.

By giving Upper Canada a provincial constitution and a separate existence, and by favouring British colonization there, Britain took the first steps on the path that led, ultimately, to the creation of the Canadian Confederation. At the same time, however, the Act’s failure to establish responsible government, and its distribution of financial powers in favour of the appointed councils, became important factors contributing to the political conflict of the early 19th century and, ultimately, the Rebellions of 1837.

The text of the Constitution Act (1791) may be found here:

http://www.solon.org/Constitutions/Canada/English/PreConfederation/ca_1791.html

Updated 24 January 2017 at 12 h 34 min.