The official age of Canada is counted from 1861, the year of Confederation, when three British North-American regions came together to create the Dominion of Canada. Using this calculation, Canada turned 161 years old in 2022.
However, the history of Canada goes back before 1861.
The first people to arrive in the place we call Canada today came from Siberia through the Bering Land Bridge approximately 14,000 years ago. They were known as the indigenous population.
The European settlements started to enter the area near the 16th century. At that time, the estimates of the indigenous population vary extensively according to different sources. It ranged from 200,000 to 2 million according to Michael R. Haines and Richard H. Steckel in ‘A Population History of North America’.
After the first European colonies settled there during the 16th century, the indigenous population decreased drastically by forty to eighty percent due to the spread of new infectious diseases. The indigenous population did not have the immunity to fight off foreign diseases, including influenza, measles, and smallpox. This decrease in the indigenous population continued over three centuries.
French Colonies in Canada
Europeans started exploring and settling in Canada, following the industrial and agricultural revolutions in Western Europe.
The French were amongst the first European explorers to enter Canada. Jacques Cartier, a French Mariner, landed on the Gaspé Peninsula in 1534 and claimed the area for France. Then, colonies under the name of New France were established to leverage political, military, and economic benefits.
Starting with just 28 companions, the population of French settlers in Canada grew to 3,215 people in 1666. By 1759, the colonies of New France covered Quebec, Montreal, and Trois-Rivières. Its population kept on growing due to the high fertility rate, low death rate, and increasing immigration.
English Colonies in Canada
The first Englishman to enter Canada was Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583. He discovered St. John’s Newfoundland under the command of Queen Elizabeth 1. It was the first North American English seasonal camp. Later in 1610, the English created new settlements in Newfoundland, including thirteen colonies to the South.
Conflict between Britain and France in Canada
Canada has been a ground of contest between Britain and France, two of Europe’s great powers.
Numerous wars broke out in North America between 1698 and 1763. British rule had taken over Mainland Nova Scotia in 1713, following the Treaty of Utrecht. Later in 1763, after the Seven Years War, British rule conquered most of New France.
In 1812, the land of Canada was at the forefront of the war between the United Kingdom and the United States of America. However, their war did not bring any changes in boundaries due to the declaration of peace in 1815.
Large numbers of immigrants kept coming from Britain between 1815 and 1850. These immigrants consisted of Irish refugees seeking relief from famines and Scots seeking relief from the displacement by Highland Clearances. However, 25 to 33 percent of European refugees died due to infectious diseases.
The Canadian Confederation
In the 1860s, talks about a United British North America gained popularity. The idea of a confederation had already emerged due to the fears of annexation or domination by the United States. The intensity of this idea increased after American Civil War from 1861 to 1865.
The majority in British North America was appalled by the Civil War’s bloodshed and instability. They believed that the war resulted from the United States’ weak central government.
The British North American colonies were prompted to think about the importance of a strong central authority for them too. They also believed that Britain would not defend them in the case of a possible American annexation.
The British North American Act of 1867
The mid 19th century saw several constitutional conferences, decisions, and reforms. At the start of 1864, the colonial politicians responsible for bringing Canada into existence met in a series of conferences in Charlottetown, Quebec City, and London in England to come to a conclusion. The British North America Act was a product of these meetings.
The British North American Act went into effect on 1st July 1867 and officially established the Dominion of Canada and the foundation of its governance. This Act brought together the three separate provinces of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Moreover, it divided Canada into two separate provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
The key points of this act are as follows:
- It laid down the structure of the government of Canada. The Executive Power was set down concerning the Governor-General and the Privy Council. However, there was no mention of a Prime Minister or a Cabinet.
- The two legislative bodies included the Senate, called the Upper House, and the House of Commons, called the Lower House. The act outlined their creation, constitution, and authority.
- The executive and legislative powers of the government were set.
- It declared a clear division of powers between the federal and the provincial government.
- The legal system was defined.
When was Canada Founded?
The Canadian Confederation was officially created on 1st July 1867 through the British North American Act. The four initial provinces included: Ontario, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and New Brunswick. 1st July is known as Canada Day or the date of the creation of the Dominion.
Six more provinces and three territories joined the Confederation of Canada between 1870 and 1999.
|Year||Province / Territory|
|1873||Prince Edward Island|
|1949||Newfoundland and Labrador|
What Was Canada Called before Canada?
The land of Canada was known by different names in the past.
- The first person to use the word Canada was Jacques Cartier, the French mariner. He used this word in the 16thcentury for the area that is called Quebec City today. It comes from the word Kanata in the language of Huron-Iroquois, literally meaning a village or a settlement.
- After the settlement of French colonies, the area along the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes was popularly known as New France from 1534 to 1763.
- Following the British conquests of New France, people often used the name Quebec instead of Canada.
- The name Canada was revived after the British divided the Quebec province into Upper and Lower Canada in 1791. The parts were again renamed East and West Canada in 1841.
- When the British North America Act was passed in 1867, the confederation of four provinces was created, known as the Dominion of Canada.