Canada celebrated its 155th year of confederation in 2022. We are familiar with Canada’s breathtaking natural beauty and gorgeous lakes and mountain ranges. To some extent, we also have a fair idea of the Canadian way of life and culture. But how many of us are aware of Canada’s colorful history? How old is Canada? How did the thriving country we see today as Canada come to be? Let’s answer these questions and find some fun facts about Canadian history.
1. How Old is Canada?
In 1867, on July 1, a federation of colonies in British North America came together to form the Dominion of Canada. The bill was called the British North America Act. These colonies were the Provinces of Canada (present-day Labrador, Quebec, and Ontario), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Officially, Canada’s first birthday was celebrated on July 1, 1867. Hence, Canada Day is celebrated on July 1 of every year. So, 2022 marked Canada being 155 years of age.
Since 1867, Canada has formed three territories and ten provinces. These are the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut among territories. Provinces are British Columbia, Manitoba, Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. Nunavut is the latest territory to join Canada’s confederation in 1999.
In the 1860s, the Canadian confederation started to form. The idea was fuelled by witnessing the war and bloodshed in the American Civil War that lasted from 1861 to 1865. The British North American colonies wanted a central authority that would be strong enough to prevent such disturbances and violence.
In 1867, British North American colonies started uniting, becoming their own country. But it wasn’t fully independent till the year 1982. Till then, Canada was still under the rule of Great Britain. The British Parliament could amend existing Canadian laws and create new ones if desired. On 25 March 1982, a bill was signed by the British Parliament declaring Canada a self-governing nation free from interference by external forces.
1.1. British North America Act
During 1864, reformists who brought various colonies of Canada together started holding meetings and conferences in London in England and Charlottetown in Quebec City to find a final answer to the unification once and for all. The result was the establishment of the British North America Act of 1867. The act shaped Canada as it is today.
The British North America Act started being considered on 1 July. The document set the ground rules for the Dominion of Canada and the core foundation of the country’s government. The act united Canada. It helped form one nation by joining the three separate provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. It also divided Quebec and Ontario as central Canada for more effective ways of development.
The important points to note in the British North America Act of 1867 are:
- The governing structure of Canada was put forward. The Executive Power included the Privy Council and the Governor General. At the time, no power was given to a Prime Minister.
- There were two Legislative councils. The House of Commons and the Senate. The document laid down their authority and constitution.
- Clear instructions were set to be followed by the provincial government and federal governments.
2. Canada Day
Canada Day, formerly known as Dominion Day, is a national holiday celebrated on July 1 of every year. The Canadian population celebrates Canada Day by proudly waving the Canadian flag and wearing and painting their faces in the national colors of red and white. Major celebrations occur near the parliament building in the capital province of Ottawa, Canada.
Canada Day celebrations also include raging concerts and delicious barbecues. Marching in various parades, family picnics, vibrant festivals, exciting sports activities, and spectacular fireworks are enjoyed by Canadians on this day.
2.1. Interesting Facts About Canada Day
2.1.1. Prime Minister
Sir John Alexander Macdonald was the first ever prime minister to serve Canada. He was in service to the country from 1867 to 1873 and from 1878 to 1891. Justin Trudeau has been the present Prime Minister of Canada since 2015.
2.1.2. National Anthem
In 1980, “O Canada” was officially adopted as the country’s national anthem. The national anthem was first performed in Quebec City in 1880. It was written in the French language originally and then translated into English.
Some of the traditional Canadian foods citizens enjoy today are Baklava, Poutine, Beaver Tails, Tim Hortons, Bloody Caesar, and more.
3. First People of Canada
The first settlers to arrive in Canada migrated from Siberia. Around 14,000 years ago, they crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia to arrive in Canada. They came to be known as the indigenous groups of Canada.
The First Nations people were spread throughout Canada and the United States of America. Groups such as the Blackfoot occupy Alberta in Canada and Idaho and Montana in the USA. In Triquet Island in British Columbia, ruins have been found of the First Nations people whose settlements dated back to the Ice Age. These civilizations are older than Peru’s Machu Picchu and Egypt’s Giza pyramids.
European explorers started establishing European settlements in the area during the 16th century. The total population of indigenous people today is still being calculated. Though, it is believed to be somewhere between 200,000 to 2 million.
European settlements proved to endanger the indigenous population in cruel ways. Infectious diseases began to spread throughout the indigenous children and adults. These were unknown diseases brought from foreign lands. At the time, the indigenous population did not have the immunity to counter them or the knowledge to beat them. Smallpox, measles, and influenza were among these diseases. These diseases proved to be deadly for these people. The indigenous population was reduced greatly. The decrease in population took place for over three centuries in Canada.
3.1. Indigenous Relations With Outsiders
Indigenous relations with European settlers were harmonious for a while when the European explorers had just arrived in the nation and inserted themselves into the lives of the aboriginal people. This was because the Europeans depended on the aboriginals for their knowledge of surviving the harsh weather conditions of the land. The First Nations people had access to the necessary technology and methods to survive the severe conditions.
The Europeans were entirely dependent on aboriginal canoes for transportation. They used the canoes for the fur trade and other ventures. The European explorers needed aboriginal inventions for their survival. They had to wear snowshoes and Inuit dresses to keep warm on the biting cold days.
For those who followed the ways of life of the aboriginals, such as a physician named John McCrea, life was easier to navigate. McCrea worked for Hudson’s Bay Company while cooperating with the First Nations people. He followed their instructions of wearing seal skins to get through the cold temperatures.
However, a few Europeans refused to recognize the indigenous ways and, as a result, ended up meeting undesirable ends. The Franklin Expedition led by John Franklin ended in a catastrophe due to his strict resistance to the advice of First Nations people.
There were some Europeans who were suffering from scurvy. They were being treated and taken care of by the indigenous people, who brewed a tea called spruce beer, which proved effective against the disease. However, the European settlers began to grow suspicious of the cure, which seemed magical to them, and executed the indigenous people who helped them in the name of witchcraft.
Although sour relations between indigenous people and colonizers persisted for a few years, at present, Canada is a leading example of how to treat the land’s aboriginal people. The Indian Act was revised in 1985 to discard the discrimination mentioned in the previous design. In 2008, Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, offered a formal apology to the First Nations people. The apology was for excluding indigenous children of Metis and Inuit from residential schools of their culture.
Canada has acknowledged and confronted parts of its history that were disagreeable and made amends to make them right.
4. Arrival of the French in Canada
Europeans, especially the French colonies, started taking over Canada after the revolutions involving industries and agriculture in western Europe. The French were among the primary colonizers of Canada.
Jacques Cartier was a French Mariner who arrived on the Gaspé Peninsula in 1534. He captured the area and declared it for France. After this, French colonies were set throughout the country under New France for military, economic, and political reasons.
The French population grew in Canada from 28 to 3,215 in 1666. Settlements under New France were concentrated in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, and Montreal regions. The French population increased because of growth in immigration, low death rates, and high fertility rates.
5. Arrival of the British in Canada
Sir Humphrey Gilbert was the first Britisher to set foot in Canada in 1583. Queen Elizabeth 1 had instructed him to explore Canada. He discovered St. John’s, Newfoundland, during this time. The region came to be the first English settlement in North America. In 1610, more colonies under British rule were set up, about thirteen colonies to the south of Canada.
6. France vs. Britain
With two of Europe’s great powers colonizing the same country, conflict was bound to arise. The years between 1698 to 1763 witnessed bloody wars in North America. The Britishers captured Mainland Nova Scotia in the year 1713. The Treaty of Utrecht followed this. Later the Seven Years War took place through which Britain gained most of New France in 1763.
The United States of America and the United Kingdom fought a war on the lands of Canada in the year 1812. Fortunately, peace was declared in 1815, and the war didn’t change official boundaries among the countries.
7. How did Canada Gain its Name?
The word Canada was given to the country by Jacques Cartier, the French explorer. The word was derived from the language of the Huron-Iroquois people. The word was known as Kanata, literally translating to a settlement or a village. Jacques Cartier used Canada to refer to the area which is known to us today as Quebec City.
During the French colonization from 1534 to 1763, the areas surrounding the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River became known as New France. But after Britain took over most of New France, the area started being called Quebec in place of Canada.
The name Canada was brought back in 1791 after the Britishers divided the province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada. Canada underwent more name changes and was renamed East and West Canada in 1841.
The British North America Act was passed in 1867. This brought about the confederation of four provinces in Canada. This was called the Dominion of Canada.
8. Geographical Age of Canada
Canada has beautiful snow-capped mountain ranges and magnificent lakes, which are more numerous than all the lakes in the world combined. These landscapes are so amazing; they feel freshly formed and brand new. But the Canadian land can be traced back millions of years when dinosaurs roamed the area.
At the Royal Tyrell Museum, Dr. Francois Therrien is the Curator of Palaeoecology. Based on her studies, she has elaborated that “Canada is made of several pieces of crust that have been glued together over billions of years. We have some of the oldest rocks on Earth in the Northwestern Territories and Nunavut that are up to 4 billion years old.” Canada has changed geographically from those times to Canada we see today.
Therrien explained that the Canadian Shield was created by collapsing pieces of crust and small continents about 4 billion years ago. More parts of Canada, such as the western prairies and the Rocky Mountains, have formed through collisions with continents and islands and ocean sedimentations about two and a half billion years ago. Present Day Canada fully formed about 65 million years ago.
9. Fossil History of Canada
Dr. Francois Therrien has also studied the fossils found in Canada. She demonstrates that interesting fossils of unicellular life forms, among the oldest living life forms in the world, have been discovered in the northern regions of Quebec. Their ages have been determined to be between 3 to 4 billion years old. This was before Canada was completely formed as a single country.
According to archeologists, Canada contains some of the oldest fossils in the world. They have found filaments and tiny tubes made of iron oxide known as hematite. According to Therrien, these microfossils are remains of bacteria that once used to live underwater in hydrothermal vents.
10. Facts about Canada’s Oldest and Firsts
10.1. Oldest Tree in Canada
Most of the oldest trees in Canada can be found in Vancouver, British Columbia. Some historic buildings are considered newborns compared to the ages of these trees.
A subalpine larch is the oldest tree in Canada. It is 1917 years old and can be found in Alberta in the northern Rockies near Kananaskis. The tree first made headlines in a paper in 1990 journaled by John Worrall at the University of British Columbia.
More record-breaking old trees from Vancouver Island include a Nootka Cypress, which is 1,636 years old, and a Douglas-fir, which is 1,350 years old.
10.2. Oldest Iceberg in Canada
When it comes to icebergs, The Maritimes of Canada is the perfect place to visit not only for the icebergs but for their special drink, the Iceberg Beer. Some of the world’s oldest icebergs can be found here.
The Iceberg Alley, stretching from Labrador to the island of Newfoundland, is the best place to view some of the oldest floating icebergs. These bergs are about 12,000 years old. They also come in different colors, from blinding white to gemstone blue.
10.3. Canada’s First National Historic Site
Fort Howe was established in 1777. In 1966, it came to be Canada’s first national historic site. It was during the American Revolution. The Britishers built it to protect themselves from attacks by the Americans. It was built to shield Saint John’s in New Brunswick from more raids by American soldiers.
The name was in honor of Sir William Howe, the British Army’s Commander in Chief. The fort was built with provisions for a hundred men and eight cannons.
James B. Harkin was the first Commissioner of National Parks in Canada. He aimed to turn the area into Fort Howe National Historic Park, which came true on 30 March 1914. But people were unhappy with its designation as they felt it was less valuable than other historical sites. Though with the help of historians, the fort was amended and rebuilt to its original glory and was made the first National Historic Site in 1966.
10.4. Canada’s First National Park
Banff National Park is Canada’s first national park, established in 1885. At the time of opening on 25 November, the park was first known as Banff Hot Springs Reserve. Its historical significance goes back 10,300 years, with the first recorded human activity.
Records of the First Nations people staying at the Rockies have been found. These include artwork, paintings, stories, and artifacts. These records go back to about thousand of years. For the past hundred years, the Rockies have been visited by people from all walks of life, such as mountaineers, business people, tourists, and artists, adding to the place’s culture.
11. Innovative Inventions Originating from Canada
Lacrosse has been around for a long time. The sport was first invented and played by the First Nations people hundreds of years ago. The telephone was invented by an American, Alexander Graham Bell, in 1874, but most of his work was completed in Canada.
Anthony Wilson Smith is the CEO of Historica Canada, a newsletter from Canada. He expressed his views on some of Canada’s curious inventions, such as the first UFO landing pad in the world in St. Paul in Alberta. It was established in 1967. More inventions originating from Canada include Basketball and egg cartons.
12. Political Achievements of Canada
Canada is a country that has learned from its mistakes and come out stronger and more open-minded than it ever was. The 20th century witnessed movements of inclusion from indigenous people, people of color, and women as they demanded their basic rights to be acknowledged.
Women finally won the right to vote in 1918. But even this privilege was only given to white women. Women of color were still discriminated against till much later, in 1922. The First Nations people only gained their right to vote in federal government elections on July 1, 1960.
On 25 June 1993, Kim Campbell became Canada’s first female prime minister. This was a major achievement in Canadian history and politics. Then in September 1999, the first female Governor General was appointed without connections and backing, and she was the first non-white Canadian to hold a vice-regal position. Her name was Adrienne Clarkson.
In 1795, the area of Ontario became the first area to ban owning and trading of enslaved people. This was way ahead of its time, as officially, the British Empire banned the practice of slavery in 1833. People who were enslaved before the ban were to be freed, and those who weren’t, their kids were automatically granted free citizenship. After the war, these people were given land and basic civil rights even before the rest of the world completely banned slavery.
Canada’s history is as rich as its culture and natural beauty. From the oldest fossils in Quebec to the oldest icebergs in Nova Scotia and the many firsts, the country is worth visiting for a historical tour.
A must-visit and must-explore are the indigenous cultures of Canada’s First Nations people. Their significance can be found throughout the lands of Canada in almost every province and territory.
Celebrate Canada Day with citizens as they enjoy it with pride and gusto. Visiting Canada is not only adventurous but also educational.