The 36 men traditionally regarded as the Fathers of Confederation were those who represented British North American colonies at one or more of the conferences that lead to Confederation on 1 July 1867, including the Charlottetown Conference (September 1864), the Québec Conference (October 1864) and the London Conference (1866–67).
Sir John Alexander Macdonald was the dominant creative mind which produced the British North America Act and the union of provinces which became Canada. As the first prime minister of Canada, he oversaw the expansion of the Dominion from sea to sea. His government dominated politics for a half century and set policy goals for future generations of political leaders.
In a country that frowns upon self-promotion, Canadians prefer modest heroes. This is true even when a hero’s fame lives on long after him, touches millions of people beyond the country’s borders and when his accomplishment has resulted in almost $700 million being raised for an important cause.
Ezekiel (Ezechiel) Hart, businessman, seigneur, militia officer, politician (born 15 May 1770 in Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada [Québec]; died 16 September 1843 in Trois-Rivières). A respected businessman and militia officer, Ezekiel Hart was the first Jewish person to be elected to public office in the British Empire. However, though he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada in 1807 and again 1808, he was expelled both times due to the argument that, as a Jew, he was unable to take the (Christian) oath of office. His sons played an important role in the Emancipation Act of 1832, which gave full political and civil rights to Jewish citizens of Lower Canada — about 25 years before the United Kingdom itself.
George Brown played an instrumental role in establishing Confederation. As leader of the Clear Grits (forerunner of the Liberal Party) in Canada West, he set aside political differences and allied with his Conservative rivals John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier in 1864, with whom he pitched Confederation to the Atlantic colonies at the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences. From 3 February to 13 March 1865, politicians in the Province of Canada debated the terms of Confederation, offering some of the most compelling defences and critiques of the union of British North American colonies. In the following speech, delivered before the legislature of the Province of Canada on 8 February 1865, Brown explains his reasons for supporting Confederation.
Mathieu Da Costa (depending on the language of the documents that mention his name, also known as “Mateus Da Costa,” “Mathieu de Coste,” “Matheus de Cost” and “een Swart genamd Matheu”), interpreter (dates and places of birth and death unknown). Da Costa is one of the most fascinating and elusive figures in the early history of Canada. Historians consider him the first Black person known to have visited Canada, probably in the company of Pierre Dugua de Mons and Samuel de Champlain. But many aspects of his life remain unclear or unknown.
Joseph-Israël Tarte, journalist and politician (born 11 January 1848 in Lanoraie, Canada East; died 18 December 1907 in Montréal, QC). A brilliant, caustic and often impulsive polemicist, Tarte was the owner and editor-in-chief of several newspapers throughout his career, including Le Canadien, L’Événement, La Patrie and the Quebec Daily Mercury, which he used to support various political factions and causes.
On 9 October 1867, in Spotted Island Harbour, Labrador, Captain William Jackman secured his vessel ahead of a vicious storm and went ashore to visit his old friend, John Holwell. Before the day ended, events transpired that earned Jackman a place in Newfoundland history — and legend.
Édouard-Raymond Fabre, bookseller, politician, mayor of Montréal 1849–51, Patriote (born 15 September 1799 in Montréal, Lower Canada; died 16 July 1854 in Montréal, Canada East). Known as the “first real bookseller in Lower Canada,” Fabre’s bookstore not only provided patrons with books and supplies, but it was also a meeting place for the Patriotes. A devoted Patriote himself, he played a major role in the creation of the Maison canadienne de commerce and la Banque du peuple as well as the survival of La Minerve and the Vindicator and Canadian Advertiser. Following the 1837–38 Rebellions, Fabre helped guarantee the return of political exiles to Lower Canada, including Louis-Joseph Papineau, and was the mayor of Montréal from 1849 to 1851.
Augustin-Norbert Morin, editor, lawyer, judge, politician, Patriote (born 13 October 1803 in Saint-Michel, Lower Canada; died 27 July 1865, Sainte-Adèle-de-Terrebonne, Canada East). Augustin-Norbert Morin studied law before he became one of the most important members of the Patriote movement; he founded La Minerve, drafted the 92 Resolutions, and acted as Louis-Joseph Papineau’s lieutenant in Québec City. After the rebellion, he was one of La Fontaine’s Reformers and on two occasions, first with Francis Hincks and then Allan Napier MacNab, led the government of the Province of Canada. Between 1859 and his death in 1865, he worked on the creation of the 1866 Civil Code of Lower Canada.
Sir Clifford Sifton, PC, KCMG, KC, lawyer, politician, businessman (born 10 March 1861 near Arva, Canada West; died 17 April 1929 in New York City, New York). One of the ablest politicians of his time, Sifton is best known for his aggressive promotion of immigration to settle the Prairie West.
Margret Benedictsson (née Jonsdottir), journalist, social activist, suffragist (born 16 March 1866 in Hrappsstadir, Iceland; died 13 December 1956 in Anacortes, Washington). Benedictsson brought her deeply held beliefs and interest in social change to Manitoba. Through her service to the Icelandic communities in Selkirk, Gimli, and Winnipeg, she championed women’s suffrage, education, improved working conditions, and human rights.
Ishbel Marie Marjoribanks Hamilton-Gordon, Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair, vice-regal consort, author, philanthropist and women’s rights advocate (born 14 March 1857 in London, United Kingdom; died 18 April 1939 in Aberdeen, United Kingdom). As Vice-Regal Consort to Governor General John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen, from 1893 until 1898, Lady Aberdeen organized the National Council of Women in Canada, became first sponsor of the Women’s Art Association of Canada and helped found the Victorian Order of Nurses. Lady Aberdeen was the first woman to address the House of Commons and the first woman to receive an honorary degree in Canada.