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.
James Leo (Jim) Egan, gay activist, writer, politician, environmental activist (born 14 September 1921 in Toronto, ON; died 9 March 2000 in Courtenay, BC). Egan was the first person to publish long articles written from a gay point of view in Canada. He was also one of the first openly gay politicians to serve in Canada. Egan is best remembered for a court challenge he and his partner, Jack Nesbit, launched against the spousal allowance benefit under the Old Age Security Act in 1988. In the subsequent Egan v. Canada decision (1995), the Supreme Court ruled that sexual orientation is a protected ground of discrimination in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — a monumental finding in support of LGBTQ2 rights in Canada.
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.
Thunderchild (also known as Peyasiw-Awasis or Kapitikow, Cree for “one who makes the sound”), Plains Cree chief (born 1849, likely along the South Saskatchewan River; died 29 June 1927 on the Thunderchild Reserve in Saskatchewan). Chief Thunderchild was a signatory to Treaty 6 in 1879. He was a strong defender of treaty rights and Indigenous land as well as traditional Cree lifeways. Thunderchild supported the right of every reserve on the Canadian Plains to have its own school.
Thanadelthur (Chipewyan for “marten shake”), peace negotiator, guide, teacher, interpreter (born c. 1697 likely in present-day northern MB; died 5 February 1717 at York Factory, MB). Known as the Ambassadress of Peace, Thanadelthur negotiated peace between the Chipewyan (Denesuline) and Cree peoples during the early fur trade. She was also instrumental in creating ties between the Chipewyan people and the Hudson’s Bay Company, as well as expanding the fur trade in today’s Churchill, Manitoba region.
Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil libertarian (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). Viola Desmond built a career and business as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. It is, however, the story of her courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination that provided inspiration to a later generation of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In December 2016, it was announced that Desmond would be the first Canadian woman depicted on the face of a Canadian banknote — the $10 note in a series of bills released in 2018.1
Agnes Campbell Macphail, politician, reformer (born 24 March 1890 in Proton Township, Grey County, ON; died 13 February 1954 in Toronto, ON). Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1921–40) and was one of the first two women elected to the Ontario legislature (1943–45, 1948–51).
Shawnadithit (also known as Nance or Nancy April), the last Beothuk (born circa 1800-6 in what is now NL; died 6 June 1829 in St. John’s, NL). Shawnadithit’s record of Beothuk culture continues to shape modern understandings of her people. In 2007, the federal government announced the unveiling of a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque recognizing Shawnadithit’s importance to Canadian history.
John Neilson, newspaperman, publisher, editor, politician (born 17 July 1776 in Balmaghie, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland; died 1 February 1848 in Québec City, Canada East). A staunch moderate, John Neilson supported a greater balance of power in the colony. Sympathetic to French-Canadians, he was a deputy with the Parti canadien in the Legislative Assembly – which later became the Parti patriote – and broke away when the party radicalized in the 1830s. Though he opposed the party’s republican and nationalist policies, Neilson continued to fight for French-Canadians, heavily condemning the Union of the Canadas in 1841.