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Canada - History

Canada was first discovered by the Vikings in the year 985 AD and after the year 1000 AD a Norse settlement was established in what is now Newfoundland. This particular colony is thought to have died out before the 15th century and the country was ‘rediscovered’ by John Cabot in 1497, who was looking to establish new trade routes. It was Cabot’s explorations which gave Britain a claim on the country. France also laid claim to part of the country after an expedition in 1524 which searched for riches.

France launched further explorations over the next few years and in 1534 Jacques Cartier was given the task of producing a report on the country. The next year he was in charge of an exploratory mission along the St Lawrence River and discovered a number of Indian settlements, notably Stadacona which was close to what is now the city of Quebec and the village of Hochelaga. Hochelaga is on the site of the present city of Montreal, and it is Cartier that gave it this name.

Fishing vessels from Europe regularly made the trip to Canada during the 16th century but they also took part in the fur trade. This was regulated at the end of the 16th century when Troilus de Mesgouez travelled to Canada with the royal approval to be an exclusive trader in furs. His settlement in the country failed and the authorities in France continued to offer this right to other potential entrepreneurs in a bid to establish a hold on the fur trade. The most successful colony established at this time by France was in 1605 at Port Royal but this came to a temporary end in 1607 and this led to the first permanent colony at Quebec, founded in 1608 by De Monts.

Quebec grew slowly as the establishment of the colony was a difficult process. From here there were organised explorations of the interior of the country. During this time there were battles among the native Indians and by siding with the Huron tribe of Indians, the French made enemies of the Iroquois Indians. When the British arrived at Quebec, the French were suffering badly and had to surrender to them, although they were restored to the country a few years later. This part of the world was by now known as New France.

Montreal, even though the area already had the name, was not formally established as a French settlement until 1642 by Paul de Chomedy and he gave it the name Ville-Marie. The colony was helped by various Christian missions which took place in the area and there were many mission posts established in the outlying area. The Huron Indians were still experiencing problems with other tribes and in 1648 were almost completely wiped out by an attack from the Iroquois which also killed a number of Christian missionaries. The Iroquois were a threat to French settlements and there are many stories of attacks by the Indian tribe.

In 1665 a man called Jean Talon had come to the country as intendant and he was responsible for a rapid growth in the number of settlements and the economy. He encouraged business development, immigration and further exploration of inland areas. It was with the arrival of Count Louis de Frontenac in 1672 that peace was forged with the Iroquois, but battles began again with the British, particularly when they realised that the riches of the country were in the fur trade, which was dominated by the French. As the French strengthened their settlements, the British replied in kind and by 1749 were establishing strong towns such as Halifax.

The British aimed to take Quebec and remove France from the country. France responded by closing all routes to the city but the British managed to get a way through. In 1759 the British took a fleet of almost 150 ships up the river and laid siege to the city. They also managed to take Montreal and with the Treaty of Paris signed in 1763, the British found themselves in control of the eastern side of the North American continent.

The British encountered the same problem with the Indians as the French, and found that regular attacks by Ottawa Indians removed many of the British soldiers. More troops had to be brought in to quell the Indian uprisings but this was successful. In 1774 the Quebec Act was passed by Parliament in Britain. This established the boundaries of Quebec, the Roman Catholic Church in the region, French civil law for business and day to day matters and British criminal law.

The 13 colonies in what is now the USA were rebelling against the British and tried to capture British holdings in Canada. The attempt failed and there were no further attacks on the British in Canada. After this war ended many people left the 13 colonies for a new life in Canada and this influx led to a reorganisation of Nova Scotia and Quebec. Unsettled areas saw the establishment of new towns.

In 1812 the British found themselves in a new war with the USA, but the USA suffered a number of defeats in battles and peace was declared in 1814. Each country was obliged to hand back the towns and forts that had been captured during the war. However, Britain then faced problems with the Canadians who were becoming increasingly resentful of being governed from afar. Increased immigration ensured a rapid growth in many areas and leaders in Canada began to consider a break with Britain their only option.

Queen Victoria sent John George Lambton to the country in 1838 as governor, and he produced the Durham report. He recommended more self-governing powers in Canada as this could ensure loyalty. In 1840 Upper and Lower Canada were joined by an Act of Union and the government there was expanded to include a legislative council as well as elected members. The seat of government finally settled in Ottawa in 1865.

A written constitution for Canada was established with the British North America Act of 1867. This was signed on the 1st July which is still celebrated as Canada Day. The Act established the four initial provinces and gave them their own governments, own lawmaking bodies and governors. The Act established the Federal government at Ottawa.

Canada was involved in World War I, working alongside the British. The strength of its involvement helped it to be seen as a power in its own right and not simply another British colony. Canada lost 60,000 men during the war. Most of the army had volunteered to go but conscription was in place by 1917.

The country suffered a depression in the 1920s and 30s but recovered under a Liberal government. Acts of parliament in Britain ensured that no laws could be passed regarding Canada without the country’s consent, effectively giving it independence as part of the Commonwealth, although the country still supported Britain during World War II.

Canada acquired its own flag in 1965 as part of its development as an independent nation. There are still moves to separate Quebec from the rest of the country and French and English are still official languages of the country.

Read more about this country

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