Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
February 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


"Dominion" of Canada


Dominion, the term adopted in 1867 to describe the status of Canada in the British Empire, and now used to describe also the status of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Newfoundland. The story is told that the adoption of the term was due to a suggestion of Sir Leonard Tilley. When the delegates from Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, were discussing in London, in December, 1866, the details of the British North America Act, some difference of opinion arose as to the proper term to be used to describe the new federation. Sir John Macdonald, the leading Canadian delegate, was in favour of styling it "the Kingdom of Canada "; but Lord Derby, the British foreign minister, was afraid that the word "Kingdom" would wound the tender susceptibilities of the people of the Great Republic to the south of Canada. The Canadians, on the other hand, were firm in rejecting the term "colony". The night of this debate, Sir Leonard Tilley, who was in the habit of reading a chapter of the Bible before retiring to rest, stumbled on the verse in the seventy-second Psalm which runs, "He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth." The next morning he suggested that the new federation should be called "the Dominion of Canada"; and this suggestion was adopted. Some doubt has been cast on this story, owing to the fact that it owes its currency to the second Lady Tilley, who married Sir Leonard only in 1867; and it should be observed that the term "dominion" is not new in colonial history, for the colony of Virginia was originally known as "the Old Dominion". But these objections are perhaps not strong enough to invalidate the story; and the probability is that it is true. In any case, it has obtained general credence; and the arms of the Dominion of Canada now bear, in allusion to this story, the legend A mari usque ad mare (From sea to sea).

Source: W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., p. 223.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College