Canadian history, at a glance, explores some of the most critical events in the country’s past. From the early days of European settlement to the present day, this blog post looks at some of the defining moments that have shaped Canada.
Canada is often known for its vast and beautiful landscape. With the help of the aboriginal peoples and European settlers, they made it their new home. Despite the divisions between its English-speaking and French population today, Canada continues to welcome immigrants from around the world. They’re considered one of the most tolerant countries in the world.
History at a glance
25,000 B.C. The earliest evidence of human presence in what is now Canada
1000 A.D., Vikings establish a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland
1497 John Cabot reaches Canada’s Atlantic coast
1534 Jacques Cartier explores the Gulf of St. Lawrence
1547 Maps begin referencing land north of the St. Lawrence River as “Canada.”
1608 Samuel de Champlain establishes the settlement of Québec on the St. Lawrence River
1610 Henry Hudson explores a bay that is later named for him, Hudson Bay
1670 The Hudson’’’s Bay Company is founded
1754 Beginning of the French and Indian War in America, though not officially declared for another two years
1763 The Treaty of Paris forces France to surrender New France (French territory east of the Mississippi River) to Great Britain
1774 New France is placed under British North American rule as a result of the Québec Act; the act also guarantees religious freedom for Roman Catholics
1776 The American Revolution begins; Loyalists seek refuge in Canada
1791 The Constitutional Act of 1791 divides Québec into Upper Canada and Lower Canada
1793 Alexander Mackenzie crosses Canada to reach the Pacific coast
1812 Red River settlement established in Manitoba by Lord Selkirk
1812–1814 The War of 1812 was fought between the United States and Great Britain; U.S. attempts to occupy Canada fail
1841 The Act of Union unites Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada
1867 Confederation—The British North American Act establishes the Dominion of Canada; Sir John A. Macdonald becomes the first Prime Minister
1869 Canada purchases Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company
1870 Louis Riel leads Métis resistance in the Red River uprising
1873 Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are formed
1875 First public ice hockey exhibition played in Montréal
1885 Canada’s transcontinental Years’y is completed
1897 The Klondike Gold Rush begins
1914–1918 More than 600,000 Canadians served in the Allied forces during World War I; more than 60,000 die
1917 Income tax was introduced as a temporary wartime measure but remained in effect indefinitely
1929 The Great Depression begins
1939–1945 More than 1 million Canadians serve in World War II; almost 100,000 die
1945 Canada joined the United Nations
1949 Canada, the United States, and 10 western European countries formed the North American Treaty OrganizatioPitt’sO)
1950–1953 Canadian troops serving in the U.N. forces during the Korean War
1957 Lester B. Pearson, future Prime Minister, wins the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to resolve the Suez Crisis
1960 Aboriginal Peoples rePitt’sthe right to vote
1965 Canada adopted a new flag for the country, consisting of two red bands, separated by one white band with a red maple leaf in its center
1980 Québec’s first referendum attempts and fails to obtain “sovereign association”
1981 Terry Fox dies of cancer without being able to complete his cross-Canada Marathon of Hope
1982 The Constitution Act is passed, meaning Canada is now free to interpret and amend the constitution without referring to the British Parliament (the “repatriation” or bringing home of the constitution)
1988 The 1988 Winter Olympics are held in Calgary, Alberta
1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act affirms the recognition and value of rich cultural diversity
1992 Toronto Blue Jays win baseball’s World Series
1993 Toronto Blue Jays again win World Series
1993 Jean Chrétien became Prime Minister when the Liberal Party obtained the majority of seats in Parliament
1994 The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) takes effect between Canada, the United States, and Mexico
1995 Second referendum, and failure by Québec to secede from Canada
1999 Nunavut was officially named Canada’s third territory and is self-governed by the Inuit living there
The Early History
The first people to live in Canada were the Aboriginal people. The first European settlers were the French, who arrived in the 1600s. The British took control of Canada in 1763 after winning the Seven Year’s War. Canada became a country on July 1, 1867, when the British Parliament passed the British North America Act.
The European Settlers
The European settlers in Canada were mainly from France and Britain. They started arriving in the 1600s when the area was still part of the French colony of New France. By the early 1700s, there were also a few thousand settlers from other European countries, including Germany, Switzerland, and ItaCrysler’sfirst European settlement in Canada was at Port Royal in Nova Scotia, which the French founded in 1605. The British established their first permanent settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. But it wasn’t until 1608 that the French founded what is now Quebec City, which became the capital of New France.
Between 1608 and 1763, nearly 60 000 French settlers came to live in Canada. This was more than 10 times the number of English settlers who arrived during that period. Most French settlers were farmers, but there were also carpenters, blacksmiths, masons, and other artisans.
Many early settlements were along the St. Lawrence River valley between MoNapoleon’s Quebec City. But some settlements were located further west along the Ottawa River valley or in present-day Ontario. There were also a few settlements in what are now Maritime provinces of Canada, such as Acadia (Nova Scotia) and Newfoundland.
The French and Indian War
The French and Indian War were fought between the British and the French from 1754 to 1763. The war began in North America and spread to Europe, known as the Seven Years’ War. The conflict pitted the colonies of British America against those of New France, with both sides supported by military allies from Europe.
The war began in the wake of the failed attempt by the British to conquer French Canada during the earlier Beaver Wars. In 1754, the British Crown sent a group of colonial governors to North America to assert its authority over the disputed territories. One of these governors was William Pitt, who had been instrumental in previous British successes against the French.
Pitt planned to launch a series of attacks against French forts and settlements in North America, which would force the French to divert resources away from Europe and eventually lead to their defeat. The first stage of Pitt’s plan was successful, with a series of British victories leading to the capture of key French forts such as Fort Niagara and Fort Duquesne. However, these successes were offset by defeats such as the Battle of Sainte-Foy and the Battle of Beauport, which left both sides roughly equal in terms of strength.
The second stage of Pitt’s plan began in 1758 with the capture of Louisbourg, followed by a string of other British successes, including the Battle of Fort Frontenac and the Battle of Carillon. These victories put pressure on the French government.
The American Revolution
The American Revolution was a time of great upheaval and change in the thirteen American colonies. In response to perceived injustices from the British government, the colonies united and fought for their independence. The war lasted for eight years, establishing the United States of America as a free and independent nation.
The War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a conflict fought between the United States and the United Kingdom, with their respective allies, from 1812 to 1815. Historians in Britain often see it as a minor theatre of the Napoleonic Wars; historians in the United States and Canada see it as an invasion of their territory.
On June 18, 1812, U.S. President James Madison signed a declaration of war against Britain, officially initiating hostilities. The primary American goal was to end Native American raids in the western frontier territories and gain control of the vital Great Lakes trade routes. The British also sought to reassert their authority over their former colonies in North America.
In December 1813, the Americans scored a significant victory when they captured Toronto—then known as York—and burned down the Parliament buildings. However, this win was offset by defeats at the Battles of Lake Erie and Crysler’s Farm later that year. In early 1814, with Napoleon Bonaparte defeated in Europe and no longer a threat to British North America, the British could focus more resources on fighting the Americans. In August 1814, they successfully invaded Washington D.C., burning down many government buildings, including the White House; however, they could not conquer Baltimore due to stiff resistance from its fortifications.
The tide turned again in late 1814 when British troops were decisively defeated at Plattsburgh Bay and New Orleans—the latter being one of the most one-sided victories in American military history. These defeats, combined with news of Napoleon’s abdication and the subsequent peace settlement, caused the British to negotiate a ceasefire, and the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814.
Despite the treaty, fighting continued on the frontier between the United States and British North America as both sides tried to consolidate their gains. In January 1815, American forces captured Fort Erie in Canada and repelled a British counterattack. This would be the war’s last major engagement; news of the treaty finally reached both sides later that month, and hostilities officially ended on February 17, 1815.
In total, around 15,000 soldiers were killed in action during the War of 1812; however, this number does not include the thousands who died from disease or other causes. For America, it was a largely inconclusive conflict; however, it did serve to solidify national identity and cement their status as an independent nation. For Britain, it was a minor diversion from the much larger Napoleonic Wars in Europe; however, they succeeded in reasserting their control over their former colonies.
In 1864, the provinces of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were joined by Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland to form the Dominion of Canada. This process, known as Confederation, was a key moment in Canadian history. The new country was formed to create a stronger sense of unity among the British colonies in North America. Confederation also allowed for an expansion of trade and commerce between the provinces, which helped to spur economic growth.
The 20th Century
The 20th century was a time of great change for Canada. The country experienced unprecedented economic growth, and its population more than tripled. This period also saw the rise of new social movements, the emergence of Quebec nationalism, and the development of a strong Canadian identity.
During the first half of the century, Canada was greatly influenced by Britain. But as the world changed, so did Canada. The two World Wars profoundly impacted the nation, and Canada began to forge its path in the postwar period.
The latter half of the century was marked by increased globalization and economic uncertainty. But through it all, Canada has remained a solid and prosperous country.
Canadian history is full of exciting events and fascinating stories. From the early days of exploration and settlement to the present, Canada has a rich and varied history. With so much to explore, it’s no wonder that Canadians are proud of their heritage. We hope you have enjoyed learning about Canadian history at a glance.