Canadian History 101

Quebec CityPhoto: Peter Helm

Following the arrival of the Inuits and the Vikings, Canadian history was largely dominated by English-French rivalry. Nova Scotia, Montreal and Quebec all had major parts to play; meanwhile, Yukon was home to the Gold Rush and Alberta was Canada's own version of the Wild West - all providing countless interesting historic sites to visit by RV.

  • The first people in the area now known as Canada crossed the Bering Straits from Asia.
  • The first Europeans to reach Canada were the Vikings in around 986AD, confirmed by archaeological evidence in Newfoundland. They didn’t stay long, however, due to conflicts with the natives.
  • After the Vikings, Canada was forgotten until the end of the 15th century when the English king Henry VII sent an Italian named Jean Cabot on an expedition across the Atlantic to Newfoundland.
  • In 1534, Frenchman Jacques Cartier planted a cross on the Gaspé Peninsula and named the country Canada, from the Huron and Iroquois word "Kanata" meaning "village". As a result French-English rivalry dominated Canadian history until 1763.
  • However no permanent European settlements were made in Canada until the early 17th century when a Frenchman named Samuel de Champlain founded Port Royal in Acadia (now called Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia). In 1608 de Champlain founded Quebec. (The name Quebec is believed to be an Algonquin word meaning a narrow part of a river). In 1642 the French founded Montreal. The new colony in Canada was called New France. By 1685 the population of New France was about 10,000. By 1740 it was 48,000.
  • The English, in a bid to reinforce their land claims under Cabot's discoveries, attacked Port Royal in 1614 and captured Quebec in1629.
  • The French regained Quebec in 1632, and meanwhile the French settlers traded with the natives for furs and farmed the land. Unfortunately they also brought European diseases like smallpox, to which the natives had no resistance.
  • The French colony came near extinction - when the long series of wars between Britain and France broke out in Europe, they were mirrored in North America by the French and Indian Wars.
  • After the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713) France was forced to give British control of Hudson Bay, Nova Scotiaa and Newfoundland.
  • During the Seven Years War (1756-1763) the two nations fought for control of Canada.
  • The Peace of Utrecht (1713) gave Britain Acadia, the Hudson Bay area, and Newfoundland. The French built additional forts in the west (such as Detroit and Niagara). The climactic battle of the entire struggle took place in 1759, and finally in 1763 the French surrendered all their territories in Canada to Britain by the Treaty of Paris.
  • The British went easy on the French Canadians and the Quebec Act of 1774 allowed the French Canadians to practice their own religion (Roman Catholicism) and were also allowed to keep French civil law alongside British criminal law.
  • After the American Revolutionary War about 40,000 Americans who were still loyal to Britain migrated from the newly independent country to Canada.
  • then in 1791 the British parliament passed another act, which divided the Lawrence River Valley into two parts, Upper and Lower Canada.
  • Meanwhile in the early 19th century the population of Canada grew rapidly with many migrants from Britain.
  • Canada finally gained democratic government in 1867 when Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were federated as the Dominion of Canada. Canada then had a strong central government, which ruled from Ottawa, the new capital. The first prime minister of Canada was Sir John Macdonald
  • The Canadian economy was also greatly boosted by the spread of railways. A transcontinental railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway, was completed in 1885.
  • Many Britons migrated to Canada and in the early 20th century many Eastern Europeans also did. Vast areas of land were turned over to farming, and manufacturing industries boomed.
  • Meanwhile in 1896 gold was found in the Klondike district of the Yukon and a gold rush ensued.
  • More than 60,000 Canadians died in the First World War, and over 45,000 in WWII.
  • Canada suffered from several economic ups and downs over the last century but has recovered and today is a prosperous nation.
  • In 1999 North West Territories was divided into two and a new territory called Nunavut was created.
  • Today the population of Canada is around 33 million.

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