Canada’s Heritage

Canadian history extends back to the first evidence of people, about 26,500 years ago in the Yukon. The descendents of these First Peoples are now known as Aboriginals or Indigenous Peoples, specifically Metis, Inuit, and First Nations.

Europeans came to the region as early as 1000 A.D.; remains of a Viking village are still present on the northernmost tip of what is now Newfoundland. But the most famous explorers didn’t arrive until 400 years later. John Cabot claimed a vast area for England in 1497, and then died at sea two years later. In 1534, Jacques Cartier explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, which he claimed for France. His encounters with the aboriginal people produced mixed results: some trading, some shooting, and the eventual capture of Chief Donnacona of the Iroquois and nine others of his people, whom he took back to France where all but one died.

Cartier was followed by Samuel de Champlain in 1603, who established the first European settlements at Port Royal and Quebec City. French fur traders and pioneers proceeded to settle in several areas of present-day Canada as well as farther south. Soon, the French and Iroquois Wars broke out as the natives attempted to take some control of the fur trade between European and Great Lakes tribes, and expand their territory. The ensuing series of conflicts, which pitted the Iroquois Confederation against Algonquian-speaking tribes, are still known as the bloodiest and most brutal in North American history. The wars began to ebb as the Iroquois lost their Dutch partners and the French worked to turn the Iroquois from enemies into allies against the encroaching English settlers.

English settlers established outposts in Newfoundland in addition to their Thirteen Colonies in present-day United States. The English and French fought for control of western and interior territories in the vast expanse of North America in a series of conflicts called the Intercolonial Wars, known as the French and Indian Wars in the United States. In 1713, Nova Scotia was ceded to Britain, and in 1763, the huge territory of New France came under British rule as well. That same year, the Royal Proclamation carved Quebec out of New France and limited the rights of French Canadians. However, to avert the brewing conflict, the Quebec Act of 1774 expanded Quebec territory to include the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, and allowed French language, religion and civil law to be reintroduced.

In 1783, Canada recognized American Independence and ceded the Great Lakes to the United States, and nearly 50,000 Loyalists fled to Canada. To accommodate the influx, the region was divided into English-speaking Lower Canada and French-speaking Upper Canada. Finally in 1867, the Confederation was created, which called for “one dominion in the name of Canada.”