Around the year 1000 Vikings landed on the eastern coast of Canada, nearly five hundred years before the official discovery of the New World by Columbus. A reconstruction of a settlement of thatched houses in Newfoundland is a reminder of these first European settlers on the North American continent.
Five years later, in 1497, the Italian Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) who was in the employ of the English King Henry VII, travelled round the coast of what later became the Atlantic Provinces and claimed them for England.
In the 1630s, Jacques Cartier claimed the area around what was to become Quebec as French territory. Another seventy years would go by, however, before the first French settlement would be established in Port Royal. From the early 17th century onwards French explorers pressed further into the interior of the country, looking for new shores, while English marines sailed round the north of America unaware.
The British fur trading company, the Hudsons Bay Company, founded in 1670 under English royal patronage, put a stop to the uncontrolled French colonisation of Canada, and brought the entire countryside in its area under its control. Battles between the two sides over land rights, spheres of influence, and rights to hunting and fishing grounds, became the norm over the next one hundred years, until the Treaty of Paris in 1736 settled ownership issues in North America once and for all.
Although the majority of the population was clearly French, Canada fell to Britain. The Quebec Act of 1774 merely guaranteed the French cultural autonomy under British sovereignty. The English-speaking Canadians were joined by more fellow countrymen following the American War of Independence, when many Britons loyal to the mother country left the newly-formed United States of America. The old French Province of Quebec divided into the Anglophile Upper Canada and the Francophile Lower Canada (the modern-day Provinces of Ontario and Quebec). In the last war on Canadian soil, the British-American War of 1812 - 1814, a number of skirmishes took place on different fronts. The ensuing peace treaty fixed the actual border between the two provinces at the 49th Parallel. Towards the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, explorers like Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser and David Thompson, in the employ of fur trading companies, opened the gateway to the west, up distant rivers and unknown paths. By the first half of the 19th century the fur trade had reached its apex and was a lucrative business for the white, for whom the Indians acted as suppliers and merchants in the wilderness.
The Dominion of Canada was founded in 1867, with the Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. Politically, the new country enjoyed internal self-government, but it was firmly tied to its distant but immensely powerful motherland insofar as trade was concerned. Two years later, Canada acquired the landholdings of the Hudsons Bay ...