Act of Union

Act of the British Parliament, passed July 1840 and proclaimed 10 February 1841, uniting UPPER CANADA and LOWER CANADA under one government. The reunification was a recommendation of the 1839 DURHAM REPORT, and the necessary legislation to establish the new PROVINCE OF CANADA was introduced in the British Commons in May 1839. In September, Charles Poulett Thomson (later Lord SYDENHAM) was sent as governor general to acquire Canadian consent, which he obtained from Lower Canada in November and from Upper Canada in December. The resolutions of both Canadian legislative bodies were fused by Lower Canada Chief Justice James Stuart early in 1840. After passage in the British Parliament, July 1840, the Act of Union was proclaimed on 10 February 1841 in Montréal.

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Canadian Constitutional History
Its main provisions were the establishment of a single parliament with equal representation from each constituent section; consolidation of debt; a permanent Civil List; banishment of the French language from official government use; and suspension of specific French Canadian institutions relating to education and civil law. The Act naturally aroused considerable opposition. In Upper Canada, the FAMILY COMPACT opposed union, and in Lower Canada religious and political leaders reacted against its anti-French measures.

In fact, the Act was unfair to Lower Canada with its larger population and smaller debt. However, both Canadas agreed to work within the Act, especially under the liberal influence of the united Reform Party led by Louis LAFONTAINE and Robert BALDWIN. Within 15 years many unjust clauses had been repealed, and prosperity and responsible government had modified many of the Act's financial and constitutional provisions.


Act of Union
First page (National Archives of Canada/MG40, E1).

Sydenham, Baron
Sydenham persuaded the legislature of Upper Canada to consent to a union with Lower Canada and framed the Constitution of the united province (courtesy Metropolitan Toronto Library).

Durham, Lord
Two nations warring in the bosom of a single state was Lord Durham's assessment of the relationship between Lower Canada's two linguistic communities (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-121846).

Author JACQUES MONET, S.J.

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