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Travel Guide 2   >   Canada   >   History


Canadian History

According to Inuit and First Nations tradition, Canada has been inhabited since the dawn of the time. However, the archaeological evidence discovered to date suggests circa 24,500 BC for the earliest people in Yukon, and 7,500 BC for southern Ontario.

The earliest contact with Europe, is believed to have occured around 1000 AD when Vikings from Greenland are known to have reached, and built a small settlement at, L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, although they only stayed their for a relatively short period. It is uncertain if this settlement is Leif Erikson's legendary "Vinland", or was perhaps a stopping point on the way to Vinland.

The next Europeans to reach Canada were Basque cod fishermen and whalers, who arrived in the area in the late 15th century, and who established a number of fishing outposts in Labrador and Newfoundland. In 1497, John Cabot landed in Canada (probably Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island), and claimed the area for King Henry VII of England. Portuguese and Spanish expeditions are also known to have also explored the region, but it was the French who were the first to move inland and to set up permanent colonies (beginning in 1534). Soon afterwards, the British also began to establish colonies in Newfoundland, southern Nova Scotia and the Hudson Bay area.

In 1608, the French established Quebec City, and it became capital of the colony of New France (French: Nouvelle France). Although the colony was successful at trading, especially the fur trade, the population of New France remained low (just 60,000 in 1759), because of low immigration, little support from the mother country, and constant wars with the Iroquois (who were supported by the British in an attempt to weaken the French).

Britain and France went to war several times in the 18th century, and many battles were fought in Canada. The British usually had the upper hand in the fighting in Canada, because of their superior navy, greater financial resources, and the fact that they controlled territory both to the North (in the Hudson Bay) and to the South (in the 13 Colonies) of the French-controlled areas. As a result in 1763, following the Seven Years' War (known in the United States as the "French and Indian War"), France ceded nearly all its remaining territory in North America to Britain.

The first half of the 19th century was no easy ride for British rule in Canada. In the War of 1812, an attempted US invasion was thwarted, and rebellions against the colonial government took place in 1837. Following these rebellions, a British government report, the Durham Report, recommended responsible government be granted, and the union of Upper and Lower Canada. The union was achieved in 1840, and in 1867 a Canadian federation was formed, the Dominion of Canada.

During 1840s, agreement was reached with the United States to place the border at the 49th parallel, thus paving the way for Canada's westward expansion. Colonies were founded in British Columbia and Vancouver Island in 1848 and 1849 respectively (the two colonies were united in 1866). Manitoba joined the Dominion of Canada in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, and Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1905.

Canada participated in both World Wars on the Allied side. In World War I, Canada was legally at war as soon as Britain declared war. By World War II, the legal position had changed - the 1931 Statute of Westminister granted Canada effective independence (although some Constitutional ties with Britain remained), and Canada made a separate declaration of war on Germany, a week after Britain.

After World War II, Canada expanded once again when Newfoundland joined the country (Newfoundland was previously a British colony) after a closely fought referendum. Canada became a key member of the western alliance, joining NATO, sending troops to fight in the Korean War (1950 to 1953), and participating in a joint air defense system with the United States (NORAD).

Since the 1960s, Quebec has played an increasingly important role in Canadian politics, although not without controversy (including some demands for independence), and even violence. The main result of these changes has been increased recognition of the distinct and unique culture of French Canada. Another constitutional change, one that took place in 1982, was "Patriation", the removal of the remaining powers that the British parliament had to legislate for Canada.

Here are some books about the history of Canada:

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