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History of Canada

The history of Canada and the United States are very similar to each other. Each is today an independent nation, but each achieved its independence by a completely different paths. Canada was by gradual constitutional change spread over many years, the United States was by the War of Independence.

Canada has been inhabited for thousands of years as both the First Nations and the Inuit have marked their spot in history as well.

The first European contact with North America is though to have been around 985 AD, when an Icelandic Norseman Leifur Eiriksson. He referred to this new land as Vinland and the first known Viking settlement was in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland.

The next European explorer acknowledged as landing in what is now Canada was an Italian named John Cabot who in 1497 sailed west from Bristol, England, intent on finding a new trade route to the Orient, but instead landed somewhere on the coast of North America (probably Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island) and claimed it for King Henry VII of England. Cabot was as confident as Columbus had been that a new seaway was now open to Asia. On a second voyage, the following year he explored the coast of North America, touching at various points from Baffin Island to Maryland.

The Cabot voyages gave evidence of immensely rich fishing waters of the Atlantic Coast, so almost every year after 1497 an international mixture of fishing vessels could be seen on the offshore fisheries southeast of Newfoundland and east of Nova Scotia.

Portuguese and Spanish explorers
also visited Canada, but it was the French who first began to explore further inland and set up colonies, beginning with Jacques Cartier in 1534. Under Samuel de Champlain, the first French settlement was made in 1605 at Port-Royal (today's Annapolis Royal), and in 1608 Quebec City was established, which became the capital of New France. The French claimed Canada as their own and 6,000 settlers arrived, settling along the St. Lawrence and in the Maritimes.

The first contact with the Europeans was disastrous for the first peoples. Explorers and traders brought European diseases, such as smallpox, which killed off entire villages. Relations varied between the settlers and the Natives. The French befriended several Algonquin nations, including the Huron peoples and nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy, and entered into a mutually beneficial trading relationship with them. Champlain aided the Huron’s in battles against the Iroquois Confederacy. As a result, the Iroquois became mortal enemies of the French and warfare between the two was unrelenting, especially as the British armed the Iroquois in an effort to weaken the French.

While the French were well established in Canada, Britain had control over the Thirteen Colonies to the south as well as control over Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and the Hudson Bay. The British, however, with greater financial power and a larger navy, were consistently in a better position to defend and expand their colonies than the French. The French government gave very little support to their colonists in New France and the colonists, for the most part, had to fend for themselves. Britain and France repeatedly went to war in the 17th and 18th centuries, and made their colonial empires into battlefields. Numerous naval battles were fought in the West Indies; the main land battles were fought in and around Canada.

After Queen Anne’s War, Nova Scotia and other Maritime provinces were ceded to the British by the Treaty of Utrecht. During the Seven Years’ War Great Britain gained control of Quebec City after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, and Montreal in 1760. With the end of the Seven Years’ War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763, France ceded almost all of its territory in North America. The new British rulers left alone much of the religious, political and social culture of the French-speaking citizens.

Meanwhile in 1812 the British colonies far to the east found themselves involved with the United States in a new war that threatened to end their existence under the English flag. The declaration of war announced by the United States in 1812 had several causes. Chief among these was Britain's insistence on its right to search American vessels for deserters from its own navy during the war against Napoleon. In addition, England had interfered with American trade with Europe. It was claimed too that the British in Canada had been inciting the Indians against the American settlements along the northwestern frontier.

The early hopes of the United States to drive the British entirely from North America were lost by a series of defeats at the hands of British regulars and Canadian militia forces. Fort Michilimackinac, at the entrance to Lake Michigan, was captured by the British soon after the outbreak of fighting and was not recaptured during the remainder of the war. An American attack across the Detroit border was not only forced back but, under the brilliant leadership of Gen. Isaac Brock, ably assisted by the Shawnee chieftain Tecumseh and his warriors was turned into a disastrous defeat. The army defending Detroit was forced to surrender, and the fort itself fell into British hands. Later the same year, the United States launched an attack on the Niagara frontier. Brock was killed early during the fighting at Queenston Heights, but the invasion was repulsed. There were  many battles where French Canadians fought along side their English-speaking countrymen also provided another opportunity for French Canadians to fight side by side with their English-speaking Canadians. The victorious outcome contributed a great deal to the growing national pride of Canadians in both Upper and Lower Canada.

Peace was finally signed between Great Britain and the United States on Christmas Eve in 1814, which finally ended the War of 1812. The terms of the treaty called for the restoration of forts and territories that had been captured by both countries. The future sentiments of the British colonies, however, had been made a little more certain. Strong feelings of national pride had been aroused among the people. All likelihood of a union between the United States and Canada had disappeared.

A less well received recommendation, however, was the amalgamation of Upper and Lower Canada in order to forcibly assimilate the French speaking population. The Canada’s were merged into a single, colony under the United Province of Canada, with the Act of Union in 1840.  Soon after that there was an agreement between the United States and Canada was agreed to the 49th parallel as this border separates the USA and Canada. From this the British government created the Pacific Coast colonies of British Columbia in 1848 and Vancouver Island in 1849; they were eventually united in 1866.

In 1866 representatives of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Canada’s came together in London for final discussions with the Colonial Office. Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island for the moment had withdrawn from the confederation talks. The London Conference led directly to the most important statute in Canadian constitutional history, the as on July 1, 1867, the British North America Act by the British Parliament, the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia became federation. It stated that others could join later. Each province was to have its own seat of government, its own lawmaking body, and its own lieutenant governor to represent the Crown. In addition, the act established a federal government at Ottawa, composed of a House of Commons (elected), a Senate (appointed for life), and a governor-general as the Crown's representative. It set forth the matters on which the provinces could make laws and listed those that were the special concern of the government at Ottawa. Any powers not listed were to belong to the federal government.

The first Parliament of the new Dominion met on Nov. 6, 1867, with Macdonald as prime minister. By the Deed of Surrender of 1869, Canada purchased the vast Northwest Territories from the Hudson's Bay Company. The company was permitted to retain trading rights in the area and a small percentage of the prairie lands.

With the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the new country expanded East, West and North, to assert its authority over a greater territory. A major means to achieve this was the foundation of the Northwest Mounted Police (now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) which patrolled the territories. Manitoba joined the Dominion in 1870 and British Columbia in 1871. Westward expansion encountered serious resistance from the region's Métis inhabitants. The Métis were the most numerous of these settlers in the Red River colony. Their leader, Louis Riel, defied the new governor sent out to take over possession of the territory from the Hudson's Bay Company. Riel seized Fort Garry, set up his own provisional government, and forwarded demands to Ottawa that the civil rights and the land rights of the people be protected. At this point Riel might easily have won a place in Canadian history as the father of Manitoba, but he committed the grave error of imprisoning some of the Ontario settlers who opposed him and of having one of them, Thomas Scott, executed. Soldiers under Col. (later Sir) Garnet Wolseley were sent to Fort Garry to bring law and order on authority from Ottawa. Riel allowed his provisional government to collapse and fled from the new province. The Red River Rebellion was ended but not the career of Riel.

In 1905, Saskatchewan and Alberta were admitted as provinces and thus with most of the provinces joined and with the Canadian Pacific Railway, Canada was officially coast to coast.

Canada entered World War I
when Germany's invasion of neutral Belgium in 1914 forged a unity of Canadian sentiment and a demand for participation in the war.

The first Canadian contingent, numbering 33,000, reached England soon after and it was in the thick of the fighting on the continent a few months later in the second battle of Ypres. By 1916 the Canadians had formed four divisions, with a fifth to provide reinforcements. The four divisions of the Canada Corps earned an outstanding reputation as a fighting force. More significant, however, was the fact that Canada was playing a respectable role on the world stage, a role that would soon help undo its colonial status.

Before the war ended in 1918, more than 619,000 officers and men had enlisted, including some 22,000 who had served in the British Royal Air Force. More than 60,000 Canadians were killed in action or died of wounds, a terribly heavy toll in relation to the country's population. Over 66 million shells were produced in Canadian factories. The gross national debt soared from 544 million dollars in 1914 to almost 2 1/2 billion dollars in 1919, most of the money being raised in Canada itself through public war loans. The Canadian forces at the outset were made up wholly of volunteers.

On the battlefronts in France and Belgium, Canadians of both nationality backgrounds made magnificent contributions to the final victory. They faced with heroism the first poison-gas attack in the history of warfare during the second battle of Ypres in 1915. Other engagements in which Canadian forces earned the admiration of all the Allies included the battles of Mount Sorrel (1916), the Somme (1916), and Vimy Ridge (1917). The victory of Passchendaele Ridge in the autumn of 1917 alone cost 16,000 Canadian casualties. In 1918 during the closing months of the war, Canadians again saw heavy action at Amiens, Cambrai, and Mons.

Canada's involvement in the Second World War began when Canada declared war on Germany on September 10, 1939, one week after Britain. Canadian forces were involved in the failed defense of Hong Kong, the Dieppe Raid in August 1942, the Allied invasion of Italy, and the Battle of Normandy. Of a population of approximately 11.5 million, 1.1 million Canadians served in the armed forces in the Second World War. By the end of the war, Canada had, temporarily at least, becomes a significant military power.

The losses in the war overseas were complemented by economic gains back home. War productivity effectively ended the Great Depression and greatly increased the labor force. Canadian workers produced raw materials, farm products, and manufactured goods needed to fight the war; and this was all done in a volume unprecedented in Canadian history. Industrialization was thus rapidly advanced, through both investments in capital and striking advances in technology, thus making Canada a temporary super power.

As the other super powers from the war continued to pour millions into national defense, Canada started turning its attention to national policies, which increasingly turned to social welfare, including hospital insurance, old-age pensions, and veterans' pensions.

Canada played an active role in the United Nations from the time of the organization's inception after the war. In 1949 Newfoundland joined the Confederation as the tenth province. In the same year Canada became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. When the United Nations took action to defend South Korea from invasion by North Korea, Canada contributed units from all three branches of its armed forces. During the hostilities (1950-53) approximately 27,000 Canadians saw service in the Far East.

On Feb. 15, 1965, Canada raised a red and white maple-leaf flag. It was adopted by Parliament in December 1964 and was Canada's first official national flag, as the Union Jack was no longer our national flag.

In the 1960s Quebec was the center of militant agitation to separate it from Canada and establish a French-speaking nation. In 1969 French and English were both declared the official languages of Canada. In 1970 terrorist acts by alleged separatists were climaxed by the kidnapping and murder of Quebec's minister of labor and immigration, Pierre Laporte. The federal government sent in troops and temporarily suspended civil liberties. In 1974 French became the official language of the province. A party pledged to Quebec separatism won the 1976 provincial election and passed several measures to strengthen the movement. Under a controversial law adopted in 1977, education in English-language schools was greatly restricted. The charter also changed English place-names and imposed French as the language of business, court judgments, laws, government regulations, and public institutions.

Although the separatist party retained power, a referendum to make the province an independent country was rejected by the Quebec voters in 1980. The Quebec government opposed the 1982 constitution, which included a provision for freedom of language in education, and unsuccessfully sought a veto over constitutional change. In 1984 the Supreme Court ruled against Quebec's schooling restrictions.

In 1987 the Meech Lake constitutional accord recognized Quebec as a "distinct society" and transferred extensive new powers to all the provinces. Quebec promised that it would accept the 1982 constitution if the accord was approved by all the rest of the provinces. The House of Commons ratified the Meech Lake accord on June 22, 1988, but the accord died on June 23, 1990, after Newfoundland and Manitoba withheld their support. A new set of constitutional proposals hammered out by a parliamentary committee was agreed upon in 1992. They called for decentralization of federal powers, an elected Senate, and special recognition of Quebec as a distinct society. In a referendum held in October 1992, Canadians decisively turned down the constitutional changes. Quebec voters narrowly rejected secession from Canada in a 1995 referendum, which passed by a very slim margin.

Since 1995 Quebec has seemed to forget about separation and think more about unity. Today, thanks to one of Canada’s best prime ministers in history (Jean Chrétien), Canada continues to rank on the top three best countries to live in the world and it’s a place where millions are proud to call home.








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