Canadian History

The first Canadian settlers traversed the Bering Straits from Asia. The Inuit’s settled in the North and hunted whales, walruses, caribou and seals to survive. On the central plains buffalo were the main sources of sustenance whilst on the west coast deer, bear and beaver were all essential provisions. Eastern dwellers had crops of maize and beans as staples.

The first Europeans to breach Canada, albeit briefly, were the Vikings. Leif Eriksson landed in 1001/1002 and named his discovery Vinland but left without establishing a Viking settlement.

There was no further European interest in Canada until the close of the 15th century when King Henry VII of England solicited the services of Italian Jean Cabot for an expedition to Newfoundland. Cabot crossed the Atlantic and laid claim to the rich fishing waters along the Canadian coast.

Two expeditions to Canada were launched during the 1530’s by Frenchman Jacques Cartier but no permanent European settlements were established in the country for a further seventy years.

The first European settlements are attributed to another Frenchman, Samuel de Champlain, who founded Port Royal in Acadia (Nova Scotia) in 1604 and Quebec in 1608.  By 1642 the French had proceeded to found Montreal and name their Canadian colony New France. Towards the close of the 17th century the population of New France had reached 10,000. Within another fifty years it had grown to almost 50,000.

The French settlers rapidly began utilising the land and trading items with the natives. Although early French missionaries (like the Jesuits) did attempt to convert Canadian natives to Christianity they found little success. In fact, they were far more successful in giving the natives smallpox and other European diseases.

During this period English interest in Canada was on the increase. Henry Hudson discovered and named Hudson Bay in 1610 whilst in 1631 Thomas James laid claim to the area now known as James Bay. The English even occupied Quebec for a short time, capturing it in 1629 and then returning it to the French in 1632.

The Hudson Bay Company was created in 1670 and quickly gained exclusive trade rights with Hudson Bay occupants.

Not to be outdone by the French, the English also traded native skins and furs for European diseases.

Although the rivalry never really abated, at the commencement of the 18th century France was forced to cede Nova Scotia to the newly formed Great Britain and recognise British control of Hudson Bay and Newfoundland after the War of the Spanish Succession.

This uneasy peace wasn’t to last. By 1756 tensions between the two nations erupted and the fight for Canadian control developed into the Seven Years War.

The British made a series of gains, taking the French fortress Louisbourge before General Wolfe launched a decisive campaign and captured the city of Quebec. Montreal fell to the British in 1760 and after three more years of conflict the French were forced to surrender their Canadian territories entirely to Britain and seal the deal with the Treaty of Paris.

The British then faced a thorny issue, what should they do with the French Canadians? In a canny move they created the 1774 Quebec Act which allowed the French Canadians to continue practicing their own Roman Catholic religion. The British also upheld the French desire to retain French Civil Law, allowing it to coexist with British criminal law.

Only a year after these resolutions were made Canada’s neighbour, America, began a revolution against the British. There was hope amongst the Americans that the French Canadians would join their cause. When they failed to do so America invaded Canada, capturing Montreal by November 1775. Despite this initial success an attempt at taking Quebec failed and America made a hasty retreat.

Once the American Revolution ended those citizens who retained their loyalty to Britain needed somewhere to go. Roughly 40,000 displaced Americans migrated to Canada at this time.

Throughout these years of upheaval exploration continued and many areas of Canada acquired names from intrepid individuals like George Vancouver and Alexander Mackenzie.

A second attempt at invading Canada was made by America in 1812 during the American War but it was promptly rebuffed.

By the 19th century an influx of British migrants caused the Canadian population to swell and a ship building industry to flourish, but it also became apparent that the majority of Canadians were dissatisfied with the way in which the country was managed. French and English speaking Canadians finally united over the issue of instating a more democratic form of government.

By 1837 rebellion was in the air and Louis Joseph Papineau led a short lived French Canadian uprising. Another uprising in the same year was also crushed in its infancy. Despite these skirmishes a democratic government was not to be established in Canada for another 30 years.

In 1867 Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were federated as the Domain of Canada and the nation acquired both a central government and a new capital, Ottawa, from which to run it. Sir John Macdonald became the first Canadian Prime Minister.

By the early 20th century both the Canadian population and economy were in a rapid state of expansion. This was aided by the continued growth of rail networks and the migration of a host of Eastern Europeans to Canada. Agriculture began to dominate huge areas of the landscape, manufacturing became big business and gold was discovered in the Klondike district of the Yukon.

Canadian development continued despite the nation losing more than 60,000 men as a result of the First World War. The country continued to be prosperous until the global depression of the1930’s saw a serious reduction in exports and an unprecedented rise in unemployment.

Although the government implemented relief measures the situation did not improve until the declaration of the Second World War in 1939.

Although 45,000 Canadians lost their lives during this conflict the Canadian population continued to grow. Southern and Eastern Europeans desperate to escape the War torn deprivations of Europe made Canada their new home. Consequently the population rose by two million between 1951 and 1961, and then South Asian immigrants began to join the ranks.

Although the Canadian economy remained buoyant during the decades immediately following the Second World War circumstances began to falter in the 1970’s.

By the 1980’s Canada had entered a deep recession and unemployment was rife once again. This situation was repeated barely a decade later.

Towards the close of the twentieth century North West Territories was split in two and the new territory of Nunavut was created.

Canada now has a population of 34 million!