Canada: Historical Overview                                             


For more in depth history of Canada navigate your way through different time periods here (scroll to Canada and click the down arrow to start)!


  • 50,000 — 17,000 years ago: Falling sea levels allowed people to move across the Bering land bridge that joined Siberia to North West North America (now Alaska).
  • Around 16,000 years ago: The glaciers began melting, allowing people to move south and east into (now) Canada.
  • 1001: The earliest known documented European exploration in Canada is described in the Icelandic Sagas, which recount the attempted Norse colonization of the Americas. The sagas refer to Leif Ericson (image) landing in three places, the first two being Helluland (possibly Baffin Island) and Markland (possibly Labrador). Following Leif's voyage, several Norsemen groups attempted to colonize the new land. However they were driven out by the local indigenous peoples. Archaeological evidence of a Norse (Viking) settlement was found in L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. It was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1978.
  • 1498: John Cabot sailed to the New World in 1498 CE under the British Crown. 
  • 1534: Jacques Cartier (image) planted a cross in the Gaspé Peninsula and claimed the land in the name of Francis I of France. It was to become the first province of New France.
  • 1605: Under Samuel de Champlain, the new St. Croix settlement was moved to Port Royal (today's Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia). It would be one of France's most successful New World colonies and came to be known as Acadia.
  • 1608: Champlain founded of Québec City that became the capital of New France.
  • 1670: While the French were well established in large parts of eastern Canada, Britain had control over the Thirteen Colonies to the south (now the US); and laid claim (in 1670, via the Hudson's Bay Company) to Hudson Bay (image), and its drainage basin (known as Rupert's Land), as well as settlements in Newfoundland. The British colonies were rapidly expanding, while the French fur traders and explorers were extended thinly.
  • 17th and 18th Centuries: Britain and France repeatedly went to war and made their colonial empires into battlefields.
  • 1713: The colony of Acadia reached a population of about 5,000.

  • 1755: The British ordered the Acadians expelled from their lands, an event called the Expulsion of the Acadians (le Grand Dérangement), causing some 12,000 Acadians to be shipped to destinations throughout Britain's North American holdings and later even to France, Québec and the French Caribbean. Many of the Acadians settled in southern Louisiana, creating the Cajun (from Acadian) culture.
  • 1759 + 1760: Canada was an important battlefield in the Seven Years' War, during which Great Britain gained control of Québec City and Montréal after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (1759), and the Battle of the Thousand Islands (1760).
  • 1773: With the end of the Seven Years' War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763), France ceded almost all of its territory in mainland North America.
  • 1774: The new British rulers left alone much of the religious, political, and social culture of the French-speaking habitants, guaranteeing the right of the Canadiens to practice the Catholic faith and to the use of French civil law (now Québec law) through the Québec Act.
  • 1812: The War of 1812 was fought between the U.S. and the British with the British North American colonies being used as pawns. The war on the border with the U.S. was characterized by a series of multiple failed invasions and fiascos on both sides. Neither side saw any land gains or losses; the only people who really lost were the Natives who fought for the British and lost their military power, their lands in the U.S., and their access to prime fur trade areas.
  • 1867: On July 1st, the Dominion of Canada was formed.

  • 1917: The Canadian Forces and civilian participation in the First World War helped to foster a sense of British-Canadian nationhood. The highpoints of Canadian military achievement during WWI came at the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, and later, what became known as "Canada's Hundred Days".
  • 1939: Canada's involvement in the Second World War began when Canada declared war on Nazi Germany on September 10th—one week after the United Kingdom. Of a population of approximately 11.5 million, 1.1 million Canadians served in the armed forces in the Second World War.
  • 1945-1960: Prosperity returned to Canada during the Second World War and continued. With consecutive liberal governments, national policies increasingly turned to social welfare, with the development of Canadian universal health care, Canadian old-age pensions, and Canadian veterans' pensions.
  • 1960’s: In the 1960s, what became known as the Quiet Revolution took place in Québec, overthrowing the old establishment which centered around the Roman Catholic church and lead to modernizing of the economy and society.
  • 1970: Québécois nationalists demanded independence and tensions rose. Violence erupted during the October Crisis.
  • 1976: The Parti québécois was elected in Québec, with a nationalist vision that included securing French linguistic rights in the province and the pursuit of sovereignty.
  • 1980: A referendum was put to the people of Québec with regards to the question of sovereignty-association. It was turned down by 59% of the voters.
  • 1990: The Oka Crisis land dispute began between the Mohawk nation and the town of Oka, (QC). The dispute was the first of a number of conflicts between First Nations and the Canadian government in the late 20th century.
  • 1995: A second referendum took place in Québec to decide about secession from Canada. It was defeated by a very narrow margin of 49.42% "No" to 50.58% "Yes".
  • Present Day: Canada is a land of vast distances and rich natural resources. It has economically and technologically developed in parallel with the U.S.. Canada faces the political challenges of meeting public demands for improvements in health care and education services, as well as responding to the concerns of the predominantly francophone province of Québec. Canada also aims to develop its diverse energy resources while maintaining its commitment to the environment.