The colonies and territories of the British Empire in continental North America were referred to as British North America. An Act of the British Parliament called the British North America Act (July 1, 1867) formed the Dominion of Canada from the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. After the War of 1812, the Treaty of 1818 established the 49th parallel as the United States–British North America border from Rupert's Land west to the Rocky Mountains. British North America included Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Vancouver Island and British Columbia. With the passing of the British North America Act in 1867, Canada became a Dominion in the British Commonwealth. It remained a colony of Britain for many years.
The colonies were geographically, politically and economically separate from each other. The British Empire's colonial territories in America were formally known as British America and the British West Indies before the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and formed the United States of America. The term British North America described the remainder of Great Britain's continental American possessions.
British North America as a term was used informally in 1783 by the end of the American Revolution. The term British North America was uncommon before the Durham Report. Britain was tired of maintaining its colonies and the costs defending British North America, were burdens that British politicians did not approve.
British North America was also facing the outbreak of the American Civil War which was a threat to the safety of the colonies. Colonial politicians felt the best way to avoid being absorbed by the United States was to unite. After 1791, British North America took on outlines that it would carry into the Canadian federal union of 1867.
Canada's constitutional dependency upon Britain remained until Canadians from various provinces agreed on an internal procedure for amending the Canadian Constitution. This agreement was implemented when the British Parliament passed the Canada Act 1982 at the request of Parliament of Canada.
British North American society was not the same everywhere. Canada East was French-speaking and Roman Catholic. Canada West was English-speaking and Protestant. There were communities of people of African descent, especially in Nova Scotia and in the southern part of Canada West. First Nations people lived apart from European settlers.
Common to all of the colonies was:
First, there were distinct class divisions. People spoke, dressed, and acted differently depending on which class of society they belonged to.
Second, there was much movement of people into and out of settled areas. This was because people were constantly trying to improve their situation in life.