Provinces and territories

Acts establishing the provinces and territories of the Canadian Federation

In 1867, three colonies in British North America, Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, united to form a "Federal Union" called Canada. In the course of time, all the other British possessions in North America joined or were integrated into the Canadian federation, under circumstances specific to each. Today, Canada includes ten provinces and three territories.

Most of the acts that established the provinces and territories of the Canadian federation, are acts of the British Parliament, as the federal union in 1867 did not mark Canada's independence from Great Britain. Canada's becoming an independent state was a gradual process. Among the main stages in this evolution are: 1) ratification by the British Parliament of the Statute of Westminster, 1931, which conferred on Canada full authority over its own foreign policy, and 2) ratification, again by the British Parliament, of the Canada Act, 1982*, which notably provided for the "repatriation" of the Constitution, thus granting Canada its political independence. Since 1982, all of Canada's constitutional acts have emanated from the Canadian Parliament.

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1867: British North America Act, 1867

Act of the British Parliament (one of Canada's constitutional acts) responding to the express desire of the legislative assemblies of three colonies - the Province of Canada (comprising Canada East and Canada West), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick - to establish a "Federal Union" consisting of four provinces: Ontario (Canada West), Quebec (Canada East), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Section 146 of the British North America Act, 1867 allowed for the possibility of the other British possessions in North America - the colonies (Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, British Columbia), the lands of the Hudson's Bay Company (Rupert's Land), and the vast territories on the northwestern edge of the continent (the North-Western Territory) - being admitted into the federal union by order of the British Crown on addresses from the Parliament of Canada and, in the case of colonies, from their respective legislative assembly.

In 1982, the British North America Act, 1867 was given the name Constitution Act, 1867.

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1870: Manitoba Act

Act of the Parliament of Canada (one of Canada's constitutional laws) which organized a part of the Northwest Territories (the current region of Winnipeg) as a province to be called Manitoba. In 1871, an act of the British Parliament, the British North America Act, 1871, confirmed among other things the power of the Parliament of Canada to establish provinces in territories not included in the provinces and to make provision for administration and government in those territories.

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1870: Order of Her Majesty in Council admitting Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory into the Union

At the request of the Parliament of Canada, this order in council of the British Crown (one of Canada's constitutional laws) sanctioned the annexation of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory to Canada. The aggregate of these territories would from then on be called the Northwest Territories.

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1871: Order of Her Majesty in Council admitting British Columbia into the Union

At the request of the Parliament of Canada and of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, this order in council of the British Crown (one of Canada's constitutional laws) approved the admission of this colony into the Canadian federal union as a province.

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1873: Order of Her Majesty in Council admitting Prince Edward Island into the Union

At the request of the Parliament of Canada and of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island, this order of the British Crown (one of Canada's constitutional laws) sanctioned the admission of this colony into the Canadian federal union as a province.

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1898: Yukon Territory Act

This act of the Parliament of Canada organized the western part of the Northwest Territories, north of the 60th parallel, into the Yukon Territory.

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1905: Saskatchewan Act and Alberta Act

Acts of the Parliament of Canada (two of Canada's constitutional laws) organizing most of the part of the Northwest Territories south of the 60th parallel into two new provinces called Saskatchewan and Alberta.

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1949: British North America Act, 1949

Following two referenda in the colony of Newfoundland (which had not had a legislative assembly since 1934) and an address from the Parliament of Canada, the British Parliament approved the union of the oldest British possession in North America with the Canadian federal union, as a province retaining the name of Newfoundland. This law is one of Canada's constitutional laws.

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1993: Nunavut Act

Act of the Parliament of Canada organizing the eastern part of the Northwest Territories into the Territory of Nunavut. The Act came into effect in April 1999.

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* Note: The section of Canada Act, 1982 [1982, c. 11 (U.K.)] which effects what is commonly called the "repatriation" of the Canadian Constitution can be found at Endnote 80 Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982.

Difference between Canadian provinces and territories

The Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Nunavut are Canada's three territories. They are primarily North of 60º latitude. While they account for 40 % of Canada's land mass, they represent approximately 3 % of the Canadian population.

There is a clear constitutional distinction between provinces and territories. While provinces exercise constitutional powers in their own right, the territories exercise delegated powers under the authority of the Parliament of Canada.

Historically, this authority has meant that the North was largely governed by federal officials. However, over the past 40 years, major changes have occurred in the governance of the territories. Federal statutes have established a legislative assembly and executive council for each territory and province-like powers are increasingly being transferred or "devolved" to territorial governments by the Government of Canada. This process, known as "devolution", provides greater local decision-making and accountability.

Because of economic, social and demographic realities linked to their challenging geographical situation, a significant portion of the territories' financial resources comes from the federal government through a transfer program known as Territorial Formula Financing. This funding gives territorial residents access to a range of public services comparable to those offered by provincial governments, at comparable levels of taxation.

Other federations have territories whose administration is different from that of their other federated entities. Such is the case, for instance, in Australia and India.

Historical context

The territories prior to 1870

The territories prior to 1870
Source: Library and Archives Canada 

Shortly after Confederation in 1867, the Hudson's Bay Company agreed to sell Rupert's Land and the North Western Territory to Canada (1870) while Britain surrendered to Canada the Arctic Islands (1880) - some 36,500 islands which make up much of Northern Canada.

These new territories were thereafter known as the Northwest Territories. They had neither a legislative assembly nor an elected government and were administered directly by the Federal Government. For example, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), then known as the North West Mounted Police, was established in 1873 by an act of Parliament to maintain peace and order in the Northwest Territories.

Map of Canada in 1870

Canada, 1870
Source: Library and Archives Canada 

Over the years, parts of the Northwest Territories became provinces (Manitoba, 1871, Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1905) or were integrated into provinces (Manitoba in 1881,1912; Ontario, 1869, 1874, 1889, 1912; Québec, 1898, 1912).

In 1898, following the Gold Rush the Yukon was given a separate territorial administration. In 1999 Nunavut, whose population is more than 80 % Inuit, also became a separate territory with a separate territorial administration.

Information on provinces and territories
Provinces/Territories
2015 Population*
[Can : 35,851,800] (100%)
Premier
Government
Legislative
Assembly
Budget
Ontario
Capital: Toronto
Province since 1867
13,792,100
(38.5%)
Flag of Ontario
Coat of Arms of Ontario
Ontario Budget
Quebec
Capital: Quebec
Province since 1867
8,236,600
(23.0%)
Flag of Quebec
Coat of Arms of Quebec
Quebec Budget
Nova Scotia
Capital: Halifax
Province since 1867
943,000
(2.6%)
Flag of Nova Scotia
Coat of Arms of Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Budget
New Brunswick
Capital: Fredericton
Province since 1867
753,900
(2.1%)
Flag of New Brunswick
Coat of Arms of New Brunswick
New Brunswick Budget
Manitoba
Capital: Winnipeg
Province since 1870
1,293,400
(3.6%)
Flag of Manitoba
Coat of Arms of Manitoba
Manitoba  Budget
British Columbia
Capital: Victoria
Province since 1871
4,683,100
(13.1%)
Flag of British Columbia
Coat of Arms of British Columbia
BC  Budget
Prince Edward Island
Capital: Charlottetown
Province since 1873
146,400
(0.4%)
Flag of Prince Edward Island
Coat of Arms of Prince Edward Island
PEI  Budget
Saskatchewan
Capital: Regina
Province since 1905
1,133,600
(3.2%)
Flag of Saskatchewan
Coat of Arms of Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan Budget
Alberta
Capital: Edmonton
Province since 1905
4,196,500
(11.7%)
Flag of Alberta
Coat of Arms of Alberta
Alberta Budget
Newfoundland and Labrador
Capital: St.John's
Province since 1949
527,800
(1.5%)
Flag of Newfoundland and Labrador
Coat of Arms of Newfoundland and Labrador
NFLD  Budget
Northwest Territories
Capital: Yellowknife
Territory since 1870
44,100
(0.1%)
Flag of Northwest Territories
Coat of Arms of Northwest Territories
NWT  Budget
Yukon
Capital: Whitehorse
Territory since 1898
37,400
(0.1%)
Flag of Yukon
Coat of Arms of Yukon
Yukon Budget
Nunavut
Capital: Iqaluit
Territory since 1999
36,900
(0.1%)
Flag of Nunavut
Coat of Arms of Nunavut
Nunavut Budget

* Statistics Canada, 2015 Estimate (CANSIM table 051-0001)

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