On today’s date in 1858, George-Étienne Cartier adopted Confederation as a major part of his Liberal-Conservative party platform.
Last year, in the lead-up to 2017—the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation—the Royal Canadian Mint struck a one-ounce silver coin with a face value of $20. Designed by Canadian artist William Lazos, the coin features a portrait of Cartier set within the centre of the reverse side in a circular engraved frame.
Cartier is presented directly facing the viewer, gazing toward the left of the image. In the background behind him is part of the façade of Province House in Charlottetown, in which the 1864 Charlottetown Conference took place. The image of this structure is inspired by 19th-century engravings. The engraved circle framing this inner portrait is finely decorated with stylized maple leaves of varying sizes flanking its left and right sides.
A French-Canadian lawyer, Cartier was one of the most important political figures of Confederation and a key influencer of French-Canadian support for Canadian union. Following the Upper and Lower Canada Rebellions of 1837 and 1838, Britain adopted the Act of Union, which united the two regions of the British North American colony into a single province; however, ongoing ideological and cultural differences in the fledgling Province of Canada brought instability. The challenges of governing in these trying times led a number of influential politicians to attempt to find the consensus necessary to make British North America tenable; allow it to share internal industry and resources; and address the ever-present threat of U.S. invasion. Many representatives of this coalition, known as the Great Coalition of 1864, would soon participate in the Charlottetown Conference, setting Confederation in motion.
Having entered political office in 1848 as a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Union parliament and later Canada East provincial secretary, Cartier co-premiered the Province of Canada with John A. Macdonald from 1857-62. Cartier was an early and ardent supporter of the notion of Canadian Confederation, and along with Macdonald, he became one of the key figures to lead the colonies’ definition of the terms of union.
With Confederation in 1867, Cartier joined Macdonald’s government as Canada’s first Minister of Militia and Defence. In the decade that followed, he played a key role in bringing western Canada into Confederation, drafting both the Manitoba Act and British Columbia Act. He was also pivotal in laying the legislative framework for the Canadian Pacific Railway, which would be a major force in uniting Canada from sea to sea.
With a mintage of 8,500 pieces, the Mint’s 99.99 per cent silver Cartier coin has a weight of 31.39 grams and a 38-mm diameter.