Short History of Canada

The land’s moods, seasons and weathers are the chronometers by which Canadians measure their lives. The& is nothing benign about the Canadian landscape. The Canadian epics of civilising the contours are mostly about hard lives and anguish of pioneering families. Yet it is the land that anchors the sense of who the Canadians really are. Northrop Frye said that to enter the United States is a matter of crossing an ocean; but to enter Canada is a matter of being silently swallowed by an alien continent. Turning of this alien continent into a country as a favourite destination for an immigrant is the story of Canada.

It is a land with such innovations as the architecture of the Inuit Igloo, birch wood canoe, the device of a toggle head on an Inuit seal harpoon. Scholars have identified at least fifty cultures and twelve languages among the first peoples of Canada. The types of societies of these Amerindians (a term used to group together all the tribal societies across North America) in the sixteenth century were varied, as the Athapaskan tribes of the Arctic region were egalitarian, while some of the tribes on the west coast were stratified and slave owning. Though these societies were diverse, they, however, shared some common features. Spirituality and an understanding of the natural world and environment are two such features.

Unlike the Judaeo – Christian view in which man, made in the likeness of God, is destined to dominate the world. Native people believe that divinity resides within all living creatures and man has no superior claim to this. The Europeans could, not comprehend this all-encompassing spirituality, a common feature of all the Amerindian religious and beliefs, at the same of contact between the two.

Before their contact with the European traders different Native groups to trade among themselves had established the lines of trade. Copper, iron, flint, the ivory of walrus, bird features, and birch wood canoes were traded among the tribes in the north. Similarly, the hunters in the woodlands traded furs for corn and tobacco grown by the peoples in the Great Lakes regions. However, the Native peoples’ understanding of the world of nature and environment came very handy for the European traders and setters who used it for exploiting the natural resources for commercial purposes. It is estimated that by 1600 about one thousand ships were e n g ~ e din commercial activities of fur, ivory, hides and cod oil trade in Canada’s northwestern coastal waters. Eventually it was the fur trade that became the main activity of exchange of goods between Amerindians and Europeans.

As far European in roads into Canada, the Portuguese were the first to explore the new world to expand their trade and territories … Spaniards followed them by establishing an overseas empire by conquest. The French and the English were not to be left behind in this race to find gold, spices and other valuables from other parts of the world.

Henry VII, the first Tudor King, commissioned John Cabot, an Italian explorer who landed on the Atlantic coast of North America in 1947 and claimed it for England. Cabot’s discovered led to England’s interest in what is now Atlantic Canada, the fishery.

Jacques Camer took possession of the tenitory in the name of the king of France by planting a cross on the shores of Gaspe Peninsula in his first voyage in 1534. This very soon became a fishing port and supply centre for New France. During his subsequent visits he made contact with the Indians of Stadacona (Quebec) and took two Indians by force to France. In 1608 John Champlain established a fortified trading post at Quebec, a perfect location to foster h r trade and to senice it as a base for its founder’s idea of colonising the remote country for France. King Louis XIV of France made New France a royal colony in 1663.

Having established their colonies in various locations in Newfoundland, Quebec and Montreal, both the British and the French got themselves engaged in fishery and fur trade. However, Quebec fell to the British army at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and with this also fell New France forever. At the end of Seven Year’s War between England and France, New France became a British Colony and is called Quebec in 1763. The Quebec Act passed in 1774 extended Quebec’s borders and guaranteed the French language and Catholic religion. Thus, all the colonies in Canada came under the control of Great Britain and were iuled by the governors appointed by England.

The fur trade was essentially a northern enterprise. It drew the Europeans across the continent along the water routes that provided access to the most desirable fiu-baring lands. It brought Northern First Nations into regular contact with the world of European commerce and technology. It also ensured that northwest would become a British territory rather than American. Without signing treaties the European newcomers simply came to visit and decided to stay forever. By eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it became imperative to move fiuther northwest in search of beaver and other furs. By 1789, the North West Company had reached Lake Athabasca and had explored the Mackenzie rive fully. It reached the Pacific by 1793. This was done with the help of the Native peoples who taught the use of canoe to the white explorers and settlers. This enormous line of communication of 3,500 miles from British Columbia to Montreal was made possible by the birch-wood canoe that the Amerindians had used for centuries.

At the close of eighteenth century, British N o d l America consisted of seven political units: Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Lower Canada, Upper Canada and vast western domain under the nominal control of the Hudson’s Bay company. Tied in various ways to Great Britain, the seven had much in common. None enjoyed political independence. The British imperial centre had a great control over them. Their economies, being part of the pre-industrial world, were dependent upon the Empire.

The United Province of Canada (comprising Upper Canada and Lower Canada), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia formed a federal union under the new name of Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. It was soon expanded to with the addition of Manitoba and North West Territory 1970, British Columbia in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873 and Newfoundland in 1949.

Thus, the years from 1867 to 1919 were the formative years for the transcontinental nation-state. The dependent colonial existence now gave way to a nationhood rooted in Canadian dynamism that was manifested in its achievements during the First World War. Within a decade of the formation of Confederation. Canadian nation expanded dramatically to stretch from sea to sea. RUPART’S LAND was purchased from the colonial Hudson Bay Company in 1868-70 to carve out Manitoba and North Western Territories. Soon British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Alberta and Saskatchewan also joined the Confederation.

It was during the time of Sir John A. Macdonald, the first federal Prime Minister that the expansionist National Policy was followed showering Canadian Pacific Railway with cash and land grants to complete their project by 1885. This government built tariff wall to shield the Canadian industry from foreign, particularly American competition a high protective custom -. This policy, however, did not take into account the specificity of the French Canadians as also of the Catholics. His overriding preoccupations were unity and prosperity, which he summed up in his 1860 speech as follows: “One people, great in territory, great in resources, great in enterprise, great in credit, great in capital.”

Canadian politics marked a turning point when Wilfnd Laurier, a Liberal Party leader, became Canada’s first French Canadian Prime Minister in 1896. An advocate of national unity, Laurier launched his policies of compromise that kept him in power for many years. He was instrumental in the creation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan and their entry into the Canadian Confederation the same year. Under Laurids leadership Canada continued its industrialization and urbanisation and was strengthened by the addition of two provinces and two million inhabitants. Despite the British pressure, Laurier continued the National Policy of nation building, national unity and Canadian diplomacy started by Macdonald. He particularly highlighted economic nationalism of Canada made possible through the expansion of railways and development of mining. Never in their history had Canadians experienced such a run of prosperity. It is in this vein that their Prime Minister told them: “the twentieth century shall be the century of Canada and of Canadian development”.

This dream of Laurier, however, did not materalise immediately as the following decades proved to be real difficult for Canada due to the two world wars in which Canada had to participate because of its status as a dominion of the British empire. The Canadians lost 60,661 people; as many returned hopelessly mutilated in mind or body during the First World War. Conscription became a contentious issue between English and French Canada. National unity was also threatened because of the economic crisis.

The sacrifice of thousands of Canadian soldiers in the service of the Empire did bring reputation and honour to Canada. It made Canada a nation state rather than a colony of the Empire. Canada thus honourably joined the League of Nations in 1919 as a full and independent member.

The great Depression of 1929 that took a heavy toll in the U.S., was not so bad for Canada. It was not the crash of Wall Street that depressed Canadian economy; it was the enormous 1928 wheat crop, which could not be sold because of the glut and tough competition in the international market. Canada Managed to survive the Depression years.

The General mood of Canadians during World War I1 was isolationist: keeping Canada isolated from War. This mood, however, did not last long and Canada had to participate in it. The financial cost of Canadian war effort was astronomical. As many as 42042 soldiers lost their lives. However, the economy was strengthened and its manufacturing capacity much diversified. National confidence and national pride were enhanced. Canada became a middle power in her own right.

The history of Canada, in a way, is the story of the effect of communications on Canadians. While the European h r traders settled in Canada through the communications of the canoe developed by Amerindians, the canals on the great St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers developed the Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal region and railways connected the entire nation from coast to coast. Up until World War 11, most immigrants came from the British Isles or Eastern Europe. Since 1945, however, Canada’s cultural make-up has been enhanced by increasing numbers of southern Europeans, Asians, South Americans and people from the Caribbean Islands, with the greatest numbers of immigrants arriving from countries in the Asia Pacific region. Today, the country is made up of 10 provinces and three territories, most of which are populated by Canadians who can trace their ancestry from virtually everywhere in the world. A recent census showed that over 11 million Canadians, or 42 per cent of the population, reported having an ethnic origin other than British or French. The literacy rate in Canada is 96%.

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