- When Europeans explored Canada they found all regions occupied by native peoples they called Indians, because the first explorers
thought they had reached the East Indies. The native people lived off the land, some by hunting and gathering, others by raising crops.
The First Europeans - The Vikings from Iceland who colonized Greenland 1,000 years ago also reached Labrador
and the island of Newfoundland. The remains of their settlement, l’Anse aux Meadows, are a World Heritage site. European exploration
began in earnest in 1497 with the expedition of John Cabot, who was the first to draw a map of Canada’s East Coast. Between 1534 and 1542, Jacques Cartier made
three voyages across the Atlantic, claiming the
land for King Francis I of France. Cartier heard
two captured guides speak the Iroquoian word
kanata, meaning “village.” By the 1550s, the
name of Canada began appearing on maps.
Royal New France - In 1604, the first European settlement north of
Florida was established by French explorers
Pierre de Monts and Samuel de Champlain, first
on St. Croix Island (in present-day Maine), then at
Port-Royal, in Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia).
In 1608 Champlain built a fortress at what is now
Struggle for a continent -In 1670, King Charles II of England granted the
Hudson’s Bay Company exclusive trading rights
over the watershed draining into Hudson Bay.
For the next 100 years the Company competed
with Montreal-based traders. The skilled and
courageous men who travelled by canoe were
called voyageurs and coureurs des bois, and
formed strong alliances with First Nations. English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard,
dating from the early 1600s, eventually became
richer and more populous than New France. In
the 1700s France and Great Britain battled for
control of North America. In 1759, the British
defeated the French in the Battle of the Plains
of Abraham at Québec City — marking the end
of France’s empire in America.
The province of Quebec - Following the war, Great Britain renamed the
colony the “Province of Quebec.” The Frenchspeaking Catholic people, known as habitants
or Canadiens, strove to preserve their way of life
in the English-speaking, Protestant-ruled British
The Beginnings of Democracy - Democratic institutions developed gradually and peacefully. The first representative assembly was
elected in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1758. Prince Edward Island followed in 1773, New Brunswick in 1785.
The Constitutional Act of 1791 divided the Province of Quebec into Upper Canada (later Ontario), which
was mainly Loyalist, Protestant and English-speaking, and Lower Canada (later Quebec), heavily Catholic
Abolition of slavery - Slavery has existed all over the world, from Asia,
Africa and the Middle East to the Americas. The
first movement to abolish the transatlantic slave
trade emerged in the British Parliament in the late
1700s. In 1793, Upper Canada, led by Lieutenant
Governor John Graves Simcoe, a Loyalist military
officer, became the first province in the Empire
to move toward abolition. In 1807, the British
Parliament prohibited the buying and selling of
slaves, and in 1833 abolished slavery throughout
the Empire. Thousands of slaves escaped from
the United States, followed “the North Star” and
settled in Canada via the Underground Railroad,
a Christian anti-slavery network.
The War of 1812: The Fight for Canada - After the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), the Royal Navy ruled the
waves. The British Empire, which included Canada, fought to resist Bonaparte’s bid to dominate Europe.
This led to American resentment at British interference with their shipping. Believing it would be easy to
conquer Canada, the United States launched an invasion in June 1812. The Americans were mistaken.
Canadian volunteers and First Nations, including Shawnee led by Chief Tecumseh, supported British
soldiers in Canada’s defence. In July, Major-General Sir Isaac Brock captured Detroit but was killed while
defending against an American attack at Queenston Heights, near Niagara Falls, a battle the Americans
lost. In 1813, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles de Salaberry and 460 soldiers, mostly French Canadiens,
turned back 4,000 American invaders at Châteauguay, south of Montreal. In 1813 the Americans
burned Government House and the Parliament Buildings in York (now Toronto). In retaliation in 1814,
Major-General Robert Ross led an expedition from Nova Scotia that burned down the White House and
other public buildings in Washington, D.C. Ross died in battle soon afterwards and was buried in Halifax
with full military honours.
Confederation - From 1864 to 1867, representatives of Nova
Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of
Canada, with British support, worked together to
establish a new country. These men are known
as the Fathers of Confederation. They created two
levels of government: federal and provincial. The
old Province of Canada was split into two new
provinces: Ontario and Quebec, which, together
with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, formed the
new country called the Dominion of Canada. Each
province would elect its own legislature and have
control of such areas as education and health.
The British Parliament passed the British North
America Act in 1867. The Dominion of Canada
was officially born on July 1, 1867. Until 1982,
July 1 was celebrated as “Dominion Day” to
commemorate the day that Canada became a
self-governing Dominion. Today it is officially
known as Canada Day
The First World War - When Germany attacked Belgium and France in
1914 and Britain declared war, Ottawa formed the
Canadian Expeditionary Force (later the Canadian
Corps). More than 600,000 Canadians served in
the war, most of them volunteers, out of a total
population of eight million. In 1918, under the command of General Sir Arthur
Currie, Canada’s greatest soldier, the Canadian
Corps advanced alongside the French and
British Empire troops in the last hundred days.
These included the victorious Battle of Amiens
on August 8, 1918–which the Germans called
“the black day of the German Army”–followed
by Arras, Canal du Nord, Cambrai and Mons.
With Germany and Austria’s surrender, the war
ended in the Armistice on November 11, 1918. In
total 60,000 Canadians were killed and 170,000
wounded. The war strengthened both national
and imperial pride, particularly in English
Women get the vote - At the time of Confederation, the vote was
limited to property-owning adult white males.
This was common in most democratic countries
at the time. The effort by women to achieve the
right to vote is known as the women’s suffrage
movement. Its founder in Canada was Dr. Emily
Stowe, the first Canadian woman to practise
medicine in Canada. In 1916, Manitoba became
the first province to grant voting rights to women.
In 1917, thanks to the leadership of women such
as Dr. Stowe and other suffragettes, the federal
government of Sir Robert Borden gave women
the right to vote in federal elections — first to
nurses at the battle front, then to women who
were related to men in active wartime service.
In 1918, most Canadian female citizens aged 21
and over were granted the right to vote in federal
elections. In 1921 Agnes Macphail, a farmer and
teacher, became the first woman MP. Due to the
work of Thérèse Casgrain and others, Quebec
granted women the vote in 1940.
Between the wars - After the First World War, the British Empire
evolved into a free association of states known
as the British Commonwealth of Nations. Canada
remains a leading member of the Commonwealth
to this day, together with other successor states
of the Empire such as India, Australia, New
Zealand, and several African and Caribbean
The “Roaring Twenties” were boom times,
with prosperity for businesses and low
unemployment. The stock market crash of 1929,
however, led to the Great Depression or the “Dirty
Thirties.” Unemployment reached 27% in 1933
and many businesses were wiped out. Farmers
in Western Canada were hit hardest by low grain
prices and a terrible drought.
There was growing demand for the government to
create a social safety net with minimum wages,
a standard work week and programs such as
unemployment insurance. The Bank of Canada,
a central bank to manage the money supply
and bring stability to the financial system, was
created in 1934. Immigration dropped and many
refugees were turned away, including Jews trying
to flee Nazi Germany in 1939.
The Second World War - The Second World War began in 1939 when Adolf
Hitler, the National Socialist (Nazi) dictator of
Germany, invaded Poland and conquered much
of Europe. Canada joined with its democratic
allies in the fight to defeat tyranny by force of
More than one million Canadians and
Newfoundlanders (Newfoundland was a separate
British entity) served in the Second World War,
out of a population of 11.5 million. This was a
high proportion and of these, 44,000 were killed.
The Canadians fought bravely and suffered
losses in the unsuccessful defence of Hong
Kong (1941) from attack by Imperial Japan, and
in a failed raid on Nazi-controlled Dieppe on the
coast of France (1942).