The history of country's name - aboriginal roots
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.
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. 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.
Canada’s original inhabitants
Centuries before Europeans began to settle in North America, explorers who came here found thriving First Nations and Inuit societies with their own beliefs, a way of life and rich history.
When the first European explorers came to Canada they found all regions occupied by native peoples they called “Indians,” thinking they had reached the East Indies. The native people lived off the land, some by hunting and gathering, others by raising crops.
The Huron-Wendat of the Great Lakes Region, like the Iroquois, were farmers and hunters. The Cree and Dene of the Northwest were hunter-gatherers. The Sioux were nomadic, following the bison (buffalo) herd. The Inuit lived off Arctic wildlife. West Coast natives preserved fish by drying and smoking. Warfare was common among Aboriginal groups as they competed for land, resources, and prestige.
The arrival of European traders, missionaries, soldiers, and colonists changed the native way of life forever. Large numbers of Aboriginals died of European diseases to which they lacked immunity. However, Aboriginals and Europeans formed strong economic, religious and military bonds in the first 200 years of coexistence which laid the foundations of Canada.
The indigenous population at the time of the first European settlements is estimated to have been between 200,000 and two million. As a consequence of European colonization, the population of Canada's indigenous peoples declined by forty to eighty percent, and several First Nations, such as the Beothuk, disappeared.
Although not without conflict, European Canadians' early interactions with First Nations and Inuit populations were relatively peaceful. First Nations and Métis peoples played a critical part in the development of European colonies in Canada, particularly for their role in assisting European voyageurs in the exploration of the continent during the North American fur trade. From the late 18th century, European Canadians encouraged indigenous peoples to assimilate into their own culture.
Indigenous peoples in present-day Canada include the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, the last being a mixed-blood people who originated in the mid-17th century when First Nations and Inuit people married European settlers.
The first known attempt at European colonization began when Norsemen settled briefly at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland around 1000 AD. No further European exploration occurred until 1497 when Italian seafarer John Cabot explored and claimed Canada's Atlantic coast in the name of King Henry VII of England. In 1534, French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the Gulf of Saint Lawrence where, on July 24, he planted a 10-meter (33 ft) cross bearing the words "Long Live the King of France" and took possession of the territory New France in the name of King Francis I.
In 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, by the royal prerogative of Queen Elizabeth I, founded St. John's, Newfoundland, as the first North American English colony. French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived in 1603 and established the first permanent European settlements at Port Royal (in 1605) and Quebec City (in 1608). Among the colonists of New France, Canadiens extensively settled the Saint Lawrence River valley and Acadians settled the present-day Maritimes, while fur traders and Catholic missionaries explored the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and the Mississippi watershed to Louisiana. The Beaver Wars broke out in the mid-17th century over control of the North American fur trade.
The English established additional settlements in Newfoundland, beginning in 1610 and the Thirteen Colonies to the south were founded soon after. A series of four wars erupted in colonial North America between 1689 and 1763.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 established First Nation treaty rights, created the Province of Quebec out of New France, and annexed Cape Breton Island to Nova Scotia. St. John's Island (now Prince Edward Island) became a separate colony in 1769.
After the successful American War of Independence, the 1783 Treaty of Paris recognized the independence of the newly formed United States and set the terms of peace, ceding British North American territories south of the Great Lakes to the new country. The American war of independence also caused a large out-migration of Loyalists the settlers who had fought against American independence. Many moved to Canada, particularly Atlantic Canada, where their arrival changed the demographic distribution of the existing territories. New Brunswick was in turn split from Nova Scotia as part of a reorganization of Loyalist settlements in the Maritimes which led to the incorporation of Saint John, New Brunswick to become Canada's first city. To accommodate the influx of English-speaking Loyalists in Central Canada, the Constitutional Act of 1791 divided the province of Canada into French-speaking Lower Canada (later Quebec) and English-speaking Upper Canada (later Ontario), granting each its own elected legislative assembly.
The Canadas were the main front in the War of 1812 between the United States and the United Kingdom. Peace came in 1815; no boundaries were changed. Immigration resumed at a higher level, with over 960,000 arrivals from Britain between 1815 and 1850.
The new Dominion of Canada
Today, Canada is made up of 10 provinces and three territories.
However, when the British North America Act, 1867, (now the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982) created the new Dominion of Canada, there were only four provinces – Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.
The Northwest Territories and Manitoba
The year 1870 – three years after Confederation – brought multiple historic changes to land ownership, including:
Canada’s purchase of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company, which had been granted a charter to the area by the British government exactly two centuries earlier. Rupert's Land spanned all land drained by rivers flowing into Hudson Bay – roughly 40% of present-day Canada. The selling price was 300,000 pounds sterling.
Britain’s transfer of the North-Western Territory to Canada. Previously, the Hudson’s Bay Company had an exclusive license to trade in this area, which stretched west to the colony of British Columbia and north to the Arctic Circle. When it was discovered in the mid-1800s that the Prairies had enormous farming potential, the British government refused to renew the company’s license. With the Hudson's Bay Company out of the area, Britain was free to turn it over to Canada.
The combination of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory to form the Northwest Territories, followed by the creation of the Province of Manitoba from a small part of this area.
British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Yukon
Subsequent years brought more changes to Canada’s territorial boundaries:
In 1871, British Columbia joined the union with the promise of a railway to link it to the rest of the country.
In 1873, Prince Edward Island, which had previously declined an offer to join Confederation, became Canada's seventh province.
Yukon, which had been a district of the Northwest Territories since 1895, became a separate territory in 1898.
Saskatchewan and Alberta
Meanwhile, Canada was opening up its west, just as its neighbor to the south had done before. Migrants from eastern Canada and immigrants from Europe and the United States began to fill the Prairies, which were still part of the Northwest Territories. Then, in 1905, the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were created, completing the map of Western Canada.
Newfoundland and Nunavut
After great debate and two referenda, the people of Newfoundland voted to join Confederation in 1949, creating Canada’s tenth province.
On April 1, 1999, Nunavut was created from the eastern part of the Northwest Territories, covering 1.9 million square kilometers of Canada’s Eastern Arctic.
Early 20th century
Because Britain still maintained control of Canada's foreign affairs under the Constitution Act, 1867, its declaration of war in 1914 automatically brought Canada into World War I. Volunteers sent to the Western Front later became part of the Canadian Corps, which played a substantial role in the Battle of Vimy Ridge and other major engagements of the war. Out of approximately 625,000 Canadians who served in World War I, some 60,000 were killed and another 172,000 were wounded.
The Great Depression in Canada during the early 1930s saw an economic downturn, leading to hardship across the country. On the advice of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, war with Germany was declared effective September 10, 1939, by King George VI, seven days after the United Kingdom. The delay underscored Canada's independence.
The first Canadian Army units arrived in Britain in December 1939. In all, over a million Canadians served in the armed forces during World War II and approximately 42,000 were killed and another 55,000 were wounded.
The Canadian economy boomed during the war as its industries manufactured military materiel for Canada, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union. Despite another Conscription Crisis in Quebec in 1944, Canada finished the war with a large army and strong economy.
Canada’s Head of State
In today's constitutional monarchy, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada and Canada's Head of State. She is the personal embodiment of the Crown in Canada.
In Canada’s system of government, the power to govern is vested in the Crown but is entrusted to the government to exercise on behalf and in the interest of the people. The Crown reminds the government of the day that the source of the power to govern rests elsewhere and that it is only given to them for a limited duration.