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History of Canada

Updated on February 12, 2012

Stone Age ancestors of today's Indians arrived in Canada from across the Bering Strait about 20,000-30,000 years ago.

They gradually spread, becoming cropraisers in the east, fishermen on the west coast, hunters in the forests and nomads on the plains. By AD 1600, Indians and Eskimos numbered about 200,000.

Norse settlers of Greenland probably knew Newfoundland by the 11th century.

By 1481, men from Bristol, England, were fishing the rich cod banks off the island. John Cabot, a Bristol man, gave Newfoundland its name in 1497.

In 1535 the Frenchman Jacques Cartier reached Montreal Island. However, permanent European settlement of Canada began only after Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City in 1608. This and later settlements in New France survived wars with the Indians and the British. In 1663, Louis XIV declared Quebec a French province.

Beaver fur, much in demand by hatters in Europe, drew the French up the eastern rivers to trade with Huron and Algonquin Indians. At the same time, the British settled in present-day Nova Scotia. In 1610 the English explorer Henry Hudson discovered the bay later named after him.

The Hudson's Bay Company, an association of merchant adventurers, was formed in 1670 to exploit the wealth of the unexplored territories around the bay.

They saw the possibilities of a chain of trading posts with outlets to the sea.

Inevitably, conflict arose between the French and British when European wars spread to the colonies. The French and British destroyed each other's settlements, each side recruiting Indian tribes as allies.

The British navy raided French coastal forts. French troops attacked British garrisons and trading posts. The issue was finally settled in the Seven Years' War, which began in 1756.

In 1759, on the Plains of Abraham, General James Wolfe's men routed a French army under the Marquis de Momcalm and seized Quebec. New France was eventually ceded to the British by the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

The uneasy peace that followed was soon shattered by the American War of Independence. The CanasJian colonies remained loyal to Britain/ and fought off threats to Quebec and Halifax, but Momreal fell temporarily to the American colonists in 1775.

When the war ended in 1776, Britain and the newly formed USA agreed on a boundary between their territories. The treaty ceded Ohio to the USA, and some 40,000 pro-British 'Empire Loyalists' emigrated to British Canada from south of the border. Many of them settled in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario, establ ishing what has remained a British culture, while Quebec has stayed predominantly French.

Only a generation after the War of Independence, fighting flared up again.

The British navy disrupted American shipping in an effort to enforce its blockade of Napoleon's France in 1812. British and Canadian troops captured Detroit, the Americans burned what is now Toronto, and the British burned the White House in Washington. However, a negotiated peace in 1814 left things as they were before the war.

Canada settled down to a period of peace and expansion. The Hudson's Bay Company pushed westwards, setting up a colony on the Red River.

The major growth of population came in 1852-95. Some 1,320,000 English, French, Scots, Welsh and other European nationals flocked in, mainly to the St Lawrence Lowland, where the river and Great Lakes were a major transport artery. The population doubled in 1851-91 (and again in 1901-31). The period was marked by social unrest and territorial wrangles with the USA over the Pacific boundary.

Inside Canada, conflict arose because of the determination of the French Canadians to retain their language, culture, laws and Roman Catholic religion.

These and other problems, such as the economic integration of the provinces through transport policies and the efficient use and conservation of natural resources, were placed in the hands of the federal government in Ottawa when the Dominion of Canada was created in 1867. It was a confederation of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and its first prime minister was Sir John Macdonald.

Macdonald built the foundations of a nation from sea to sea. By 1873 Manitoba, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island had joined the confederation.

The great Klondike gold rush of 1897 helped to open up the Yukon. Two more provinces, Saskatchewan and Alberta, were formed in 1905.

In 1931 the Statute of Westminster established Canada as a sovereign state within the Commonwealth. Britain relinquished its part in Canadian defense and foreign policy. Canada's nine provinces and two territories were joined by a tenth province, Newfoundland, in 1949.

In the First World War Canada sent more than 600,000 men out of a total population of less than 8 million to fight in France. Canadians again hurried to the Allied side in September 1939.

Since the Second World War Canada has held a responsible position in world affairs under statesmen such as Mackenzie King, Louis St Laurent, John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson.

Places of Interest

A highlight of the west coast is the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. The city has an English atmosphere and a number of old colonial buildings. Across the Strait of Georgia is the modern city of Vancouver, with its attractive Stanley Park. From here excursions can be taken to the wild Fraser River.

Further inland are the majestic Rocky Mountains; Jasper National Park is a particularly scenic area. Across the prairies is Calgary, best known for its annual Stampede - a time of rodeos, livestock parades and exhibitions.

Niagara Falls and the Great Lakes fringe the province of Ontario. Toronto, the province's capital, is the site of Canada's most famous landmark - the 477 meter high CN Tower.

The tower, completed in 1975 at a cost of $52 million, became the highest freestanding structure in the world at the time (it's now the fifth).

Ottawa, the nation's capital, is dominated by its three huge Victorian Gothic parliament buildings. In nearby Montreal, Old Montreal - a 40 hectare area which has been preserved and restored - is full of historic interest from the early days of French settlement in the region.

In Quebec, Canada's oldest city, places of interest include the Basilica of Notre Dame (begun in 1647) and National Battlefields Park, which commemorates the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

Saint John, New Brunswick, is the site of the spectacular Reversing Fails - a place where water seethes and boils as one of the world's highest tides sweeps up a narrow river gorge. And further east again is the port of Halifax - capital of Nova Scotia.


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