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What is the history of Canada?

People, Pictures, Old Postcards and Stories From the Past

Explore Canada. Discover its history. Learn about the people who lived there through stories, old newspaper articles, pictures and genealogy.
"The name “Canada” likely comes from the Huron-Iroquois word “kanata,” meaning “village” or “settlement.” In 1535, two Aboriginal youths told French explorer Jacques Cartier about the route to kanata; they were actually referring to the village of Stadacona, the site of the present-day City of Québec. For lack of another name, Cartier used the word “Canada” to describe not only the village, but the entire area controlled by its chief, Donnacona.

The name was soon applied to a much larger area; maps in 1547 designated everything north of the St. Lawrence River as Canada. Cartier also called the St. Lawrence River the “rivière du Canada,” a name used until the early 1600s. By 1616, although the entire region was known as New France, the area along the great river of Canada and the Gulf of St. Lawrence was still called Canada.

Soon explorers and fur traders opened up territory to the west and to the south, and the area known as Canada grew. In the early 1700s, the name referred to all French lands in what is now the American Midwest and as far south as present-day Louisiana.

The first use of Canada as an official name came in 1791, when the Province of Quebec was divided into the colonies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada. In 1841, the two colonies were united under one name, the Province of Canada."
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  • 1534 - June 9 - Jacques Cartier Sailed Up the St. Lawrence River
    When French navigator Jacques Cartier left France by boat in April 1534, the king ordered him to find gold, spices (which were valuable at that...Read MORE...

  • 1535 - French explorer, Jacques Cartier, gave Canada its name when he mistook the Aboriginal word Kannata, meaning a collection of huts, for the name of the country.
    France’s earliest attempt to stake a claim in the new world occurred in 1534 when French sailor Jacques Cartier arrived in Chaleur Bay off the Gaspé...Read MORE...

  • 1576 - Martin Frobisher of England makes the first of three attempts to find a Northwest Passage, sailing as far as Hudson Strait. What he thought was gold discovered on his journey was later proven worthless.

  • During the sixteenth century, following the discovery of the rich fishing banks off Newfoundland France became the first European nation active in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence.
    In 1604, France created a permanent settlement there, laying the foundations of a country that would develop its own culture, a blend of French...Read MORE...

  • 1610 - Etienne Brûlé goes to live among the Huron and eventually becomes the first European to see Lakes Ontario, Huron and Superior. Henry Hudson explores Hudson Bay in spite of a mutinous crew.

  • 1627 - Seigneurial system introduced by King Louis XIV of France, forbade settlement in New France by anyone other than Roman Catholics. (
    The Compagnie des Cent-Associés owned all the land and had the right to grant estates to seigneurs under the feudal laws of France. Many such grants...Read MORE...

  • In 1627, there were fewer than one hundred Europeans living in Québec.
    That year the Compagnie des Cent-Associés was created by Cardinal Richelieu to capitalize on the growing fur trade and colonize and manage the area....Read MORE...

  • 1634-40 - The Huron nation is reduced by half from European diseases (smallpox epidemic, 1639).

  • Between 1634 and August 1663, while the colony was governed by the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, about 262 women of marriageable age (Filles à marier) were recruited
    by individuals or by private religious groups who paid their travel expenses and provided for their lodging until they were married.
    But individual...

  • Around 1637, to encourage French immigrants to settle in the St. Lawrence Valley, then known as ‘Canada’, the king implemented the seigneurial system, by distributing large tracts of land to settlement agents called ‘seigneurs’.
    These agents had to subdivide the tracts of land into lots or censives each measuring approximately three arpents of frontage by 30 arpents in depth...Read MORE...

  • 1641 - Beginning of French and Iroquois Wars
    Also known as the Beaver Wars.

    Encouraged and armed by their Dutch and English trading partners, the Iroquois sought to expand their territory and ...Read MORE...

  • 1648-49 The Iroquois disperse the Huron nation.

  • 1666 Census - Altogether the white population of Canada, including the settlers and laborers arriving during the summer of 1665, numbered only 3215. Yet the colony had been in existence for fifty-seven years!
    2034 males and 1181 females.

    The married people numbered 1109, and there were 528 families.

    Elderly people were but few in number, 95 only...

  • 1670 - The Hudson's Bay Company is founded by royal charter and, underwritten by a group of English merchants, is granted trade rights over Rupert's Land -- i.e., all territory draining into Hudson Bay (May 2).

  • Beginning in 1670, tenants under the seigneurial system were required to remit a tithe to the Church.
    The tithe, equal to a twenty-sixth of the wheat crop, was used to maintain the religious buildings and property that the tenants used, such as the...Read MORE...

  • 1672 - Comte de Frontenac becomes governor general of New France, later quarrelling frequently with the intendant and the bishop.

  • 1673 - Frontenac sends Marquette and Jolliet to explore the Missippi.

  • 1686 - De Troyes and D'Iberville capture three English posts on James Bay (June-July).

  • 1763 - France cedes its North American posessions to Britain by the Treaty of Paris, ending the Seven Years War (French and Indian War). Quebec City French-speaking Catholics were now under the rule of Protestant Britain.
    In 1763, England was convinced, mistakenly, that it was inheriting a French society but the new colonial authorities did not fully understand the...Read MORE...

  • At the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775, American rebels invade Canada
    but despite the efforts of rebel spies to entice Quebec to join the revolution, les Canadiens refuse to take up arms against British rule, and the...Read MORE...

  • 1790--Population of Canada : 161,311.

  • 1791 - The Constitutional Act divides Québec into Upper and Lower Canada
    The Constitutional Act of 1791 was an Act of the British Parliament creating Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Although it was a first step towards...Read MORE...

  • 1800 - Population of Canada (Upper and Lower) (British Empire) - 300,000

  • 1812 - War of 1812 - second invasion of Canada by Americans (
    At the outbreak of hostilities, the U.S. Army was a poorly equipped force of fewer than 7,000 men, many of them "complete amateurs with virtually no...Read MORE...

  • When the next American invaders arrive in 1812, they are fought to a stand-still at the battles of Queenston Heights, Chateauguay and Lundy's Lane, setting boundaries that remain today.

    Canada: A People's History ( history/)

  • 1818 - Canada's border is defined as the 49th Parallel from Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains.

  • By 1830, the struggle for democratic government in the colonies of British North America has reached fever pitch.
    As the colonies grow in wealth and population, a generation of charismatic reformers -- Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia, Louis-Joseph Papineau in Lower...Read MORE...

  • 1836 - Opening of the first railway in Canada from La Prairie to St. Jean, Quebec
    On July 21, 1836, cheers filled the air as a wood-burning steam locomotive chugged out of La Prairie, Quebec, pulling the first train on the first...Read MORE...

  • 1837 - After an unsuccessful rebellion, the leaders escape to the U.S.
    Along with a general feeling that the government was not democratic, the failure of the executive committee to maintain the confidence of the elected ...Read MORE...

  • 1838 - Levels of illiteracy among the French-speaking people were about 73% in 1838 but reached 88% in the countryside.
    This reflected not only inconsistencies in the provision of schooling in Lower Canada and a lack of interest by government but also habitant...Read MORE...

  • 1841 - February 11 – Act of Union - The two colonies of The Canadas are merged into the United Province of Canada.

  • 1842 - August 9 – The Webster–Ashburton Treaty is signed, establishing the United States–Canada border east of the Rocky Mountains. (Wikipedia)
    Webster–Ashburton Treaty, (1842), treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain establishing the northeastern boundary of the U.S. and providing for...Read MORE...

  • 1847 - Canada overwhelmed with over 100,000 immigrants escaping Irish Potato Famine, many suffered from typhus, 1700 deaths occurred

  • 1849 - The boundary of the 49th Parallel is extended to the Pacific Ocean. An Act of Amnesty provides for W.L. Mackenzie's return from exile in the U.S.

  • Despite diversification of the rural economy, more than 80% of French Canadians were employed in farming in 1850. 2010/ 10/ seigneurial-system-and-settlement.html

  • 1852-53 - The Grand Trunk Railway receives its charter.

  • 1854 - The French seigneurial system of land tenancy is finally abolished in Canada East

  • 1857 - Ottawa chosen by Queen Victoria as the capital of the united colony of Canada

  • 1858 - The Halifax-Truro line begins rail service. Chinese immigrants from California arrive in British Columbia, attracted by the Fraser River Gold Rush.

  • 1864 - Quebec Conference of 1864 held to discuss Canadian Confederation which will lead to the creation of the Dominion of Canada.

  • 1866 - The Fenians, a group of radical Irish-Americans organized in New York in 1859 to oppose British presence in Ireland, begin a series of raids on Canadian territory
    in the hopes of diverting British troops from the homeland. The most serious of these was the Battle of Ridgeway (June 2), which lent a special...Read MORE...

  • 1867 - Canada becomes a sovereign nation by an act of the British Parliament (the British North America Act). Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick are united as the Dominion of Canada. Sir John A. Macdonald becomes the first prime minister

  • News 1868 - Jefferson Davis and wife have gone to Canada, there to await the next call for his trial.

    St Joseph Herald
    Saint Joseph, Michigan
    April 18, 1868

  • 1868 - The forest fires in Canada are driving out bears from their retreats.

    St Joseph Herald
    Saint Joseph, Michigan
    September 5, 1868

  • News 1869 - A Christmas goose, sent to two prisoners in a Canada jail, was stuffed with files and steel saws. The appreciated the stuffing.

    St Joseph Herald
    Saint Joseph, Michigan
    January 30, 1869

  • Canada blunders catastrophically in seeking to take over the west without the consent of its inhabitants, especially the Métis of Red River and their leader, the charismatic, troubled Louis Riel.
    The resistance of 1869-70 lays the groundwork for Manitoba to join Canada, but it also sets the stage for decades of conflict over the rights of...Read MORE...

  • The 1870s and 1880s are a time of trial for the young Dominion of Canada.
    The country's first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, faces economic depression in the fast-growing factories of the east and a new revolt in the...Read MORE...

  • 1873
    The Dominion of Canada
    A Federal Union of Provinces and Territories, comprising all the British possessions in North America, except the Island of...Read MORE...

  • 1880-84 - The Canadian Pacific Railway recruits thousands of underpaid Chinese Labourers.

  • 1885 - November 7 - Canadian Pacific railroad completed (Montreal to Vancouver)
    The last spike of the transcontinental railway is put in place in the Eagle Pass, B.C. (Nov. 7).
    November 7, 1885

  • News 1887 - June 23 – The Rocky Mountains Park Act becomes law in Canada, creating that nation's first national park, Banff National Park.
    June 23, 1887

  • 1889 - The first Canadian troops sent overseas participate in the Boer War in South Africa (Oct. 30).

  • Massive waves of immigration, a headlong economic boom with the growth of prairie agriculture and urban industry transform Canada between 1896 and 1915.
    Those who shape the new society include peasants from Eastern Europe, in search of free land; socialists who try to mobilize an emerging urban...Read MORE...

  • 1900 - Population of Canada - 5,301,000

  • Canada
    MONTREAL - Rue Ste. Catherine Quest. (St. Catherine Street West.)
  • Canada
    Rue De La Fabrique, Quebec
  • 1903 - Canada loses the Alaska boundary dispute when British tribunal representative Lord Alverstone sides with the U.S. (Oct. 20).

  • 1907 - The Quebec Bridge, under construction, collapses

  • Canada's heavy military role in World War I (60,000 dead in a population of 8 million) transforms its society, its politics and its place in the world.
    The horror, bravery and sacrifice of trench warfare are evoked in Canada's great battles: Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Courcelette and...Read MORE...

  • 1917 - Canadian Government enforced conscription, rioting occurred
    August 29 – WWI: The Military Service Act is passed in the Canadian House of Commons, giving the Government of Canada the right to conscript men into ...Read MORE...

  • 1917 - Income tax is introduced in Canada as a temporary wartime measure.

  • 1918 - Women win the right to vote in Canadian federal elections. All provinces follow suit by 1922 except Quebec, which does not give women the right to vote in provincial elections until 1940.

  • 1920 - Canada joins the League of Nations at its inception.

  • Canada
    St. Mary's R.C. Church, Calgary, Alta.
  • Canada
    Chatham-Kent, Ontario, Canada
    Collegiate Institute
  • 1928 - The Supreme Court of Canada rules that the BNA Act does not define women as "persons" and are therefore not eligible to hold public office.

  • 1929 - The British Privy Council reverses the Supreme Court decision of 1928, and women are legally declared "persons" (Oct. 18). The Great Depression begins. the Workers' Unity League is formed.

  • The return to stability in the mid-1920s lasts only briefly as the crash of 1929 plunges the country into economic chaos.

    Canada: A People's History ( history/)

  • Canada's economy collapses during the 1930s, creating a prolonged political and social crisis.
    In the context of the Dust Bowl, the relief camps and the Regina Riot, political leaders such as William Aberhart, Maurice Duplessis, and Mitchell...Read MORE...

  • 1931 - The Statute of Westminster (Dec. 11) authorizes the Balfour Report (1926), granting Canada full legislative authority in both internal and external affairs. The Governor General becomes a representative of the Crown.

  • 1934 - The Bank of Canada is formed.

  • 1934 - The Bank of Canada is formed.

  • 1936 - Canadian government began printing bilingual currency

  • 1939 - Canada began participation in World War II
    Canada declares war on Germany (Sept. 10) after remaining neutral for a week following the British declaration. Premier Duplessis opposes Québec's...Read MORE...

  • 1939 - Québec adopts the motto Je me souviens (I remember)

  • Canada comes of age in the anguish of World War II, with soldiers on the beaches at Dieppe and women in the industrial work force back home.
    The country's military role and the domestic social and political consequences of the war are traced through poignant stories of Canadians on both...Read MORE...

  • 1942 - About 22000 Canadians of Japanese descent are stripped of non- portable possessions, interned and evacuated as security risks (Feb. 26).

  • 1945 - Canada joins the United Nations (June 26).

  • The end of World War II signals the end of fifteen years of social, political and economic upheaval.
    The post-war baby boom and government economic and social policies give rise to unprecedented prosperity and growth for Canadian communities....Read MORE...

  • 1950 - Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and P.E.I. signed agreement to build Trans-Canada highway

  • 1952 - Radio-Canada (television station) begins broadcasting

  • 1963 - Voting age in Canada lowered from 21 to 18 years

  • 1965 - Canada adopts the maple leaf flag
    Queen Elizabeth II officially recognizes the new Canadian flag. (The old Red Ensign was never actually authorized as the national flag, although it...Read MORE...

  • 1969 - The Union Nationale government of Jean-Jacques Bertrand passes Bill 63 which confirms the status quo on the language of instruction in the public schools (Parents can choose English or French).

  • 1971 - Trans-Canada highway completed

  • 1972 - 200,000 public service workers struck, largest strike in Canadian history

  • 1976 - The death penalty is abolished (July 14) in Canada.

  • 1977 - Highway signs are changed to the metric system in Canada (Sept. 6).

  • 1977 - On August 26, the Quebec Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) becomes law. The exodus of unilingual English speaking workers and businessmen, started with the economic boom of Toronto and the West, accelerates.
    Over the next decade, more than 300,000 English-speaking Canadians leave the province. Most settled in Ontario. An equally high number of Canadians...Read MORE...

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