Main Page Previous Index Next

Arrival of the Delegates

At the time of the Conference on Confederation, Charlottetown was a quiet, out-of-the-way place with very little outside entertainment for the local residents. However, in the autumn of 1864 two events of great magnitude were to take place in this humble town. Not only were some of the most prominent politicians from around the British North American colonies coming for a conference that would eventually result in the formation of a new nation, but the first circus in more than twenty years was performing in the capital.


A circus may not sound like a huge event to modern day society, but in 1864, in a small community, a person only had a chance to see a real live circus once or twice in a lifetime. The circus was in fact such a big affair in Charlottetown that it over-shadowed the Confederation Conference. When the delegates from out of province arrived, they found the locals preoccupied with the circus and the capital crowded with visitors who had travelled from afar for the show.

In Charlottetown, the Slaymaker and Nichols Circus was performing four days of shows, and people from all over the Island, and even from other Maritime provinces, came by whatever means necessary to see the show. Steamboat companies put together special charter rates to transport spectators to Charlottetown from port towns such as Summerside, Pictou, and Shediac. Other people came by carriage, wagon, private boat, or even walked to town.

The Slaymaker and Nichols circus drew huge crowds to Charlottetown to see Nichols ("the great principal trick rider"), Mlle Caroline ("maitresse de chevale"), Mlle Elizabeth ("premier equestrienne"), and J. Bart ("American humourist and world's own clown"). There were other attractions as well including acting dogs, trained monkeys, trick horses, and performing ponies.

Nova Scotians

The first delegate to arrive for the Charlottetown Conference was R.B. Dickey, the leader of the government of Nova Scotia, on the 30th of August. The next day the other members from Nova Scotia arrived unannounced in the capital and were shocked at their reception. There was not a single member of the P.E.I. government on the wharf and no means of transporting the delegates or their luggage to the over-crowded accommodations.

W.H. Pope

The fiasco of a reception was the result of the Island cabinet's decision that it wasn't necessary to have a government reception committee. Instead they chose to put W.H. Pope, the Provincial Secretary and ardent supporter of Confederation, in sole charge of receiving the delegates to the Conference. However, the poor reception can not be blamed on Pope who worked tirelessly in an attempt to produce a suitable welcome yet without help was hopelessly unable to complete the task to satisfaction. At the time of the Nova Scotians' arrival he happened to be away from his post for a brief moment.

New Brunswickers

Reception for the New Brunswickers was much more ceremonial than that for the Nova Scotians. Pope was prepared for their arrival and a welcoming party was on hand at the wharf as well as horse and carriages to transport the delegates to their lodgings. However, instead of being impressed with the warm welcome, the local newspapers only illustrated the glaring contrast between the two greetings.


The arrival of the Canadian contingent to the Conference was much more spectacular. In an effort to impress the local population, the Canadians arrived in their own ship the Queen Victoria, nicknamed the "Confederate Cruiser", and lay at anchor out in the harbour. They then proceeded to outfit themselves in their best dress and planned to launch their own small craft to reach the town.

Pope, unaware of the Canadians' intentions, was perplexed as to how to properly greet the delegates. Although it was entirely undignified, Pope decided the only way he could satisfactorily greet the guests was to row out to meet them. The only available craft were small flat-bottomed rowboats owned by local fisherman so Pope bravely swallowed his pride and rowed out to meet the distinguished gentlemen from Canada.

The Canadians, once ready, had themselves lowered in their ship's own boats into the harbour and were rowed to the wharf by four oarsmen in full uniform. Leading the two boats of delegates was Pope courageously rowing his boat "with a barrel of flour in the bow, and two jars of molasses in the stern."

Continue to next section: Schedule

Main PagePreviousIndexNext

The Fathers Archive Glossary Bibliography Links Team Members