first inhabitants of Canada were native Indian peoples,
primarily the Inuit (Eskimo). The Norse explorer Leif
Eriksson probably reached the shores of Canada (Labrador or
Nova Scotia) in 1000, but the history of the white man in
the country actually began in 1497, when John Cabot, an
Italian in the service of Henry VII of England, reached
Newfoundland or Nova Scotia. Canada was taken for France in
1534 by Jacques Cartier. The actual settlement of New
France, as it was then called, began in 1604 at Port Royal
in what is now Nova Scotia; in 1608, Quebec was founded.
France's colonization efforts were not very successful, but
French explorers by the end of the 17th century had
penetrated beyond the Great Lakes to the western prairies
and south along the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.
Meanwhile, the English Hudson's Bay Company had been
established in 1670. Because of the valuable fisheries and
fur trade, a conflict developed between the French and
English; in 1713, Newfoundland, Hudson Bay, and Nova Scotia
(Acadia) were lost to England. During the Seven Years' War
(1756–63), England extended its conquest, and the British
general James Wolfe won his famous victory over Gen. Louis
Montcalm outside Quebec on Sept. 13, 1759. The Treaty of
Paris in 1763 gave England control.
At that time the population of
Canada was almost entirely French, but in the next few
decades, thousands of British colonists emigrated to Canada
from the British Isles and from the American colonies. In
1849, the right of Canada to self-government was recognized.
By the British North America Act of 1867, the dominion of
Canada was created through the confederation of Upper and
Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. In 1869,
Canada purchased from the Hudson's Bay Company the vast
middle west (Rupert's Land) from which the provinces of
Manitoba (1870), Alberta (1905), and Saskatchewan (1905)
were later formed. In 1871, British Columbia joined the
dominion, and in 1873, Prince Edward Island followed. The
country was linked from coast to coast in 1885 by the
Canadian Pacific Railway.
During the formative years between
1866 and 1896, the Conservative Party, led by Sir John A.
Macdonald, governed the country, except during the years
1873–1878. In 1896 the Liberal Party took over and, under
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, an eminent French Canadian, ruled until
1911. By the Statute of Westminster in 1931 the British
dominions, including Canada, were formally declared to be
partner nations with Britain, “equal in status, in no way
subordinate to each other,” and bound together only by
allegiance to a common Crown.
Newfoundland became Canada's 10th
province on March 31, 1949, following a plebiscite. Canada
also includes three territories—the Yukon Territory, the
Northwest Territories, and the newest territory, Nunavut.
This new territory includes all of the Arctic north of the
mainland, Norway having recognized Canadian sovereignty over
the Sverdrup Islands in the Arctic in 1931.
The Liberal Party, led by William
Lyon Mackenzie King, dominated Canadian politics from 1921
until 1957, when it was succeeded by the Progressive
Conservatives. The Liberals, under the leadership of Lester
B. Pearson, returned to power in 1963. Pearson remained
prime minister until 1968, when he retired and was replaced
by a former law professor, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Trudeau
maintained Canada's defensive alliance with the United
States but began moving toward a more independent policy in
Trudeau's election was considered
in part a response to the most serious problem confronting
the country, the division between French- and
English-speaking Canadians, which had led to a separatist
movement in the predominantly French province of Quebec. In
1974, the provincial government, the Parti Québecois (PQ)
passed a law making French the official language of Quebec,
but in Dec. 1979, the law was voided by the Canadian Supreme
Court. In May 1980, Quebec held a referendum on whether the
province should seek independence from Canada; it was
defeated by 60% of the voters.
Resolving a dispute that had
occupied Trudeau since the beginning of his tenure, Queen
Elizabeth II signed the Constitution Act (also called the
Canada Act) in Ottawa on April 17, 1982, thereby cutting the
last legal tie between Canada and Britain. The constitution
retains Queen Elizabeth as queen of Canada and keeps
Canada's membership in the Commonwealth.
In the national election on Sept.
4, 1984, the Progressive Conservative Party scored an
overwhelming victory, fundamentally changing the country's
political landscape. The Conservatives, led by Brian
Mulroney, won the highest political majority in Canadian
history. The dominant foreign issue was a free-trade pact
with the U.S., a treaty bitterly opposed by the Liberal and
New Democratic Parties. The conflict led to elections in
Nov. 1988 that solidly reelected Mulroney and gave him a
mandate to proceed with the agreement.
The issue of separatist sentiments
in French-speaking Quebec flared up again in 1990 with the
failure of the Meech Lake Accord. The accord was designed to
ease the Quebecers' fear of losing their identity within the
English-speaking majority by giving Quebec constitutional
status as a “distinct society.” In an attempt to keep
Canada united, the three major political parties came to an
agreement in Feb. 1992 on constitutional reforms. Voters in
the Northwest Territories authorized the division of their
region in two, creating a homeland for Canadian Eskimos, the
Inuits, which in April 1999 became the territory of Nunavut.
Also in 1992, Canada announced its decision to withdraw its
combat units from NATO command. The economy continued to be
mired in a long recession that many blamed on the free-trade
agreement. A national referendum was held in Oct. 1992 on
the proposal to change the constitution to ensure greater
representation in Parliament for the more populous regions
and thereby the French-speaking Quebecers. The referendum,
however, was defeated.
Brian Mulroney's popularity
continued to decline, causing him to resign before the next
election. In June 1993 the governing Progressive
Conservative Party chose Defense Minister Kim Campbell as
its leader, making her the first female prime minister in
Canadian history. The national election in Oct. 1993
resulted in the reemergence of the Liberal Party and the
installation of Jean Chrétien as prime minister.
The Quebec referendum on secession
in Oct. 1995 yielded a narrow rejection of the proposal. But
separatists vowed to try again. Since then, however, the
Reform Party has replaced the Bloc Québecois as the
On April 1, 1999, the Northwest
Territories were officially divided to create a new
territory in the east that would be governed by Canada's
Inuits, who make up 85% of the area's population. Composed
of 770,000 sq mi of mostly snow and ice reaching well to the
north of the Arctic Circle, the 25,700 residents of Nunavut
are governed from the new capital, Iqaluit.
In July 2000, Stockwell Day of the
new conservative Canadian Alliance Party unexpectedly
emerged as the leader of Canada's opposition. In elections
held in Nov. 2000, however, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien of
the Liberal Party won a landslide victory of a third
five-year term. After the election, the conservatives
rapidly lost steam.
Chrétien announced in Aug. 2002
that he would not seek a fourth term and instead retire from
politics in 2004. Conflict between Chrétien and his former
finance minister, Paul Martin, has divided and weakened the
In Quebec's provincial elections in
April 2003, the Liberal party had a surprising win over the
separatist Parti Quebecois, who had dominated Quebec for the
past nine years.
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