Historical overview of Canada

Canada is a nation of multiculturalism and many cultures. Indigenous peoples had inhabited Canada for thousands of years and traveled through North America in ancient times before Europeans arrived. In the late 18th century, British colonialism in North America began with colonies along the Atlantic coast. Learn more about Canada’s history in a nutshell in the post below.

Canadian History at a Glance

25,000 B.C.Evidence of earliest human presence in what is now Canada
1000 A.D.The Vikings set up a settlement in Newfoundland
1497John Cabot reaches Canada’s Atlantic coast
1534Jacques Cartier explores the Gulf of St. Lawrence
1547Maps begin showing references to land north of the St. Lawrence River as “Canada.”
1608Samuel de Champlain establishes the settlement of Québec on the St. Lawrence River
1610Henry Hudson explores a bay that is later named for him, Hudson Bay
1670The Hudson’s Bay Company is founded
1754Beginning of the French and Indian War in America, though not officially declared for another two years
1763The Treaty of Paris forces France to surrender New France (French territory east of the Mississippi River) to Great Britain
1774New France was placed under British North American rule as a result of the Québec Act; the act also guaranteed religious freedom for Roman Catholics
1776The American Revolution begins; Loyalists seek refuge in Canada
1791The Constitutional Act of 1791 divides Québec into Upper Canada and Lower Canada
1793Alexander Mackenzie crosses Canada to reach the Pacific coast
1812Red River settlement was established in Manitoba by Lord Selkirk
1812–1814The War of 1812 was fought between the United States and Great Britain; the U.S. attempts to occupy Canada fail
1841The Act of Union unites Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada
1867Confederation – The British North American Act establishes the Dominion of Canada; Sir John A. Macdonald becomes the first Prime Minister
1869Canada purchases Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company
1870Louis Riel leads Métis resistance in the Red River uprising
1873Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are formed
1875The first public ice hockey exhibition played in Montréal
1885Canada’s transcontinental railway is completed
1897The Klondike Gold Rush begins
1914–1918More than 600,000 Canadians served in the Allied forces during World War I; more than 60,000 die
1917Income tax was introduced as a temporary wartime measure but remained in effect indefinitely
1929The Great Depression begins
1939–1945More than 1 million Canadians serve in World War II; almost 100,000 die
1945Canada joins the United Nations
1949Canada, the United States, and 10 western European countries form the North American Treaty Organization (NATO)
1950–1953Canadian troops serving in the U.N. forces during the Korean War
1957Lester B. Pearson, future Prime Minister, wins the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to resolve the Suez Crisis
1960Aboriginal Peoples receive the right to vote
1965Canada 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
1980Québec’s first referendum attempts and fails to obtain “sovereign association.”
1981Terry Fox dies of cancer without being able to complete his cross-Canada Marathon of Hope
1982The 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)
1988The 1988 Winter Olympics are held in Calgary, Alberta
1988Canadian Multiculturalism Act affirms the recognition and value of rich cultural diversity
1992Toronto Blue Jays win baseball’s World Series
1993Toronto Blue Jays again win World Series
1993Jean Chrétien became Prime Minister when the Liberal Party obtained the majority of seats in Parliament
1994The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) takes effect between Canada, the United States, and Mexico
1995A second referendum and failure by Québec to secede from Canada
1999Nunavut has been officially named Canada’s third territory and is self-governed by the Inuit living there
2001Census records a population of approximately 31 million people in Canada.
History at a Glance