OTD: George Brown joins ‘Great Coalition’

On today’s date in 1864, George Brown joined the “Great Coalition” with George-Étienne Cartier and John A. Macdonald in an attempt to move Canada towards Confederation.

It was Brown’s “decision to join the ‘Great Coalition’ with the Conservative Macdonald, his bitter personal enemy and political rival, that broke the impasse and launched the broader project, a federation of all the British North American provinces, on its way,” wrote columnist Andrew Coyne for the National Post in 2017.

“It was Brown who first championed, in the pages of the Globe, the idea of a federation of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, conjoined since 1841 as the single, though decidedly not united, province of Canada, as the solution to the impasse and instability that had enveloped its politics.”

More than a century later, on Aug. 21, 1968, Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) featured Brown on a multi-coloured five-cent stamp (Scott #484) printed by British American Bank Note Co. It depicts a portrait of Brown alongside the Prince Edward Island legislature and the front page of the Toronto Globe (known today as The Globe and Mail), of which Brown was founder and editor.

The stamp was set for release on Aug. 7, 1968, but its issue date was postponed until Aug. 21 because of the tumultuous relationship between the Canadian government and the postal unions that resulted in a strike.

George Brown was part of a coalition established to reform Canada’s political system.


In addition to his legacy in Canadian media, Brown is considered one of the Fathers of Confederation, helping the nation push past its differences with a coalition government. This Great Coalition was what spurred Canada East and Canada West into joining in 1864; the previous coalition government – the sixth attempt in as many years – had collapsed after only three months.

In order to properly reform Canada’s political system, a coalition was formed between Brown’s “Clear Grits,” Cartier’s “Parti bleu,” and Macdonald’s “Liberal-Conservatives.”

By June 22 of 1864, the coalition had officially formed, paving the way for the colonies’ eventual amalgamation in 1867 as part of Canadian Confederation. The coalition remained as the government of the Province of Canada until Confederation on July 1, 1867.

In the previous decade, Brown also helped found the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada, which fought to end slavery in Canada and abroad by raising money to feed, house and clothe destitute refugees.

After being shot by an employee at the Globe office in Toronto, Brown suffered what was described as a relatively minor injury (he was able to push the gun away before being show); however, his wound turned gangrenous, and he died seven weeks later on May 9, 1880.

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