Canadian Geographic
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Building Canada


Many defining moments have contributed to making Canada the country it is today. From ancient cultures to early European settlers, through war, Confederation and the creation of Nunavut, Canada is a sprawling country with a long history stretching from thousands of years ago to the present. Explore Canada's history below.


Canada's timeline A slide show-type animation uses images, text and maps to illustrate the history of the development of the land that would become Canada from prehistory through the Age of Discovery to the present. A self-moving timeline across the bottom of the illustration moves to the right as the narration and animation progress.

Content (Narration)

As early as 40,000 B.C. Asian hunters follow mammoths over to North America across the Beringia [bear-in-jee-uh] land bridge.

Descendants of Asian hunters, the Paleo-Indians, settle in the southern areas of what is now mainland Canada.

After mammoths have become extinct, Aboriginals hunt buffalo, caribou, small game and fish, while foraging for other food.

Circa 3,000 B.C., the Denbigh [den-bee] people, or Paleo-Eskimos, travel from Siberia to settle in and adapt to life in the Arctic.

The Dorset culture dominates in the Arctic region for one and a half millennia.

By the sixth century A.D., Eastern Woodland tribes have cultivated a variety of crops around established villages.

At the dawn of a new millennium, Thule whalers, the ancestors of today’s Inuit, displace the Dorset Culture across much of the Arctic.

The Iroquois Confederacy frames its Gayanashagowa [gahy-yah-nah-sha-gou-ah], or Great Binding Law, circa 1142 – a constitution that remains in force today.

By the fifteenth century, the West Coast tribes have established a vast trading network.

In 1497, John Cabot lands in eastern Canada.

Forty years after Cabot arrives in Canada, Jacques Cartier charts the Gulf of St. Lawrence, over-wintering at what is now Québec City.

Samuel de Champlain builds a fort at Quebec in 1608.

Champlain dies in a settlement that will later be known as Québec City, on Christmas Day, 1635.

In 1642, Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, founds Montréal.

In 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company is granted all lands that drain into Hudson Bay.

The Treaty of Utrecht [yoo-trekt], signed in 1713, gives Hudson Bay, Newfoundland, and mainland Acadia to Britain.

In 1749, the British found Halifax.

In 1755, the British deport many Acadians.

New France is also ceded to Britain by 1763’s Treaty of Paris.

Captain James Cook anchors in Nootka Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in 1778.

The North West Company is established in 1779.

In 1783, the Canada- U.S. boundary is fixed from the Atlantic to Lake of the Woods.

In 1784, the first United Empire Loyalist refugees arrive at Saint John, New Brunswick.

In 1792, David Thompson begins a 28-year career as surveyor and mapmaker, eventually covering over 88,000 kilometres.

In 1793, York is founded. It will later be known as Toronto.

Britain and the United States go to war in 1812, the same year the Red River Settlement is established.

In 1818, the 49th parallel is negotiated as the boundary between Canada and the United States, from Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains.

The North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company merge in 1821.

In 1841, Upper Canada and Lower Canada unite to become the Province of Canada.

In 1857, Queen Victoria names Ottawa Canada’s capital city.

Canada’s Confederation is achieved by the signing of the British North America Act on July 1st, 1867. Four colonies are united to become the Dominion of Canada.

In 1870, the Manitoba Act establishes the province of Manitoba.

British Columbia joins Confederation in 1871.

PEI joins Canada in 1873, the same year an Act of Parliament establishes the North-West Mounted Police.

The secret ballot makes its debut in the 1878 federal election.

In 1885, the Last Spike is driven in, marking the long anticipated completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Just prior to the turn of the century, Yukon Territory is established.

The Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan are established in 1905.

Canada enters World War I in 1914, and the Battle of Vimy [Vih-mee] Ridge takes place in April of 1917.

The Winnipeg General Strike occurs in 1919.

The Canadian coat of arms is established in 1921.

1929 marks the beginning of the great depression. It will last a full decade.

The 1931 Statute of Westminster gives Canada complete autonomy from Great Britain.

Canada declares war on Germany in 1939.

In 1947, two years after the end of World War II, Canadian citizenship begins.

In 1949, Newfoundland becomes Canada’s tenth province.

1959 marks the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

After years of the Great Flag Debate, Canada adopts the Maple Leaf flag in 1965.

In 1970, le Front de libération du Québec, or FLQ, kidnaps James Cross and Pierre Laporte, initiating the October Crisis.

In 1980, Quebec votes “no” in an historic referendum on separation.

Canada’s new Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms comes into effect in 1982.

In 1987, the one-dollar coin is introduced as a cost-saving measure. The nick-name “loonie” is quickly embraced.

In 1992, Canada, the United States and Mexico sign the North American Free Trade Agreement, commonly referred to as NAFTA.

In 1995, a second Quebec referendum on sovereignty is narrowly defeated.

In 1999, 50 years after the last change to Canada’s borders, the Territory of Nunavut [noo-nah-voot] established.


On the next page:

Governing Canada

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Quiz :

How many years are passed between Confederation and the formation of Nunavut?