The BNA Act

The BNA Act

British North America was composed of the British colonies that were in North America after 1783. The British North America Act created Canada and came into effect on July 1, 1867.

This act or statute was the first in a series that formed the core of the constitution of Canada. Most of these statutes were enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Later, some were enacted by the Parliament of Canada. In 1982, the Canadian Parliament repealed some of the acts and renamed and amended – or changed – the rest of them. The Canadian versions of these acts now make up the Constitution of Canada.

The original BNA Act established Canada as a federation of provinces. It stated which powers belonged to the federal government and which powers belonged to the provinces. The federal government was responsible for national defence and economic development. The provincial governments were responsible for health, education, and social welfare.

In addition, the BNA Act established the House of Commons, the Senate, the justice system, and the taxation system. The federal government received most of its taxation money from two sources: customs duties and excise (alcohol and tobacco) duties. (There was no federal income tax system until 1917, when it was established to provide money for World War I.) The provinces received most of their money from selling licences and permits.

The BNA Act laid out the procedure for other British North American colonies and territories to join Canada, as well. When British Columbia joined Canada in 1871, section 91 of the act mentioned that the federal government had the power “to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Canada” in all areas that were not designated as provincial responsibilities.

Unlike today, Canada was not fully independent in 1867. The United Kingdom still had legislative control, which means it had the power to make laws. It also controlled Canada’s policies – or behaviour – towards other countries. In fact, Canada did not even have any foreign embassies until 1926, when it established an embassy in Washington, D.C.

Between 1949 and 1982, Canada slowly gained the power to make its own changes to its constitution. The Canada Act of 1982 finally patriated our constitution and gave us full control of all our laws or statutes. Instead of the BNA Act, we now have the Constitution Act.


1867 – The original provinces of Canada: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick

1870 – Manitoba, Northwest Territories

1871 – British Columbia

1873 – Prince Edward Island

1898 – Yukon Territory

1905 – Alberta, Saskatchewan

1949 – Newfoundland and Labrador

1999 – Nunavut



  1. Add details to this chronology:


  • 1867:







  • 1870:


  • 1871:


  • 1873:


  • 1898:


  • 1905:


  • 1926:


  • 1949:


  • 1982:



  • 1999:




  1. Add details regarding each government’s areas of power:
  2. Federal government






  1. Provincial government







  1. Watch some online videos about the BNA Act.
  2. Write a summary of what you learned and why it is important to remember.


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