Background and History

When you think of Canada, many images come to mind – Vancouver on the west coast, one of the most beautiful harbor cities in North America; The Rockies and its stunning scenery; Calgary and its cowboys and rodeo; the vastness of the interior prairies; the fast moving city of Toronto and the sophisticated City of Montreal; old parts of Quebec City and the far east wild coastline of Nova Scotia.

Canada is a huge country with lots to see. There are also images that come to mind of the Royal Canadian Mounties, perhaps the most recognized police force in the world; of Black Bears, Moose, pine forests, lakes, ice and snow, Niagara Falls and a whole lot more.

There is also something very British about Vancouver and Victoria on the west coast, but equally something very French when you come to Montréal and Québec, and then you have the Inuit peoples, and the Native Tribal Groups of Canada whose culture and traditions date back centuries.

Welcome to Canada!

Before planning your trip, it is good to get an understanding of the distances involved in travelling across the country – they can be very long journeys.

From Vancouver on the West Coast it is around 850 kilometres to just get to Banff in the Rockies (Rocky Mountains) or 800 kilometres from Vancouver to Jasper, which is about 290 kilometres north of Banff.

The distance from Vancouver to Calgary is 673 kilometres and then from Calgary to Toronto 3400 Kilometres; Toronto to Montréal 500 Kilometres and Montréal to Québec City 260 kilometres and from Quebec City to Halifax in Nova Scotia on the East Coast it is just over 1000 kilometres more. Even flying from Vancouver to Toronto is around a 4 ½ hour to 5 hour flight, which gives you an indication of how big the country is.

Most of the cities and population of Canada are located in the south of the country and bigger cities that more or less follow along the Border with the United States on the southern side, with vast areas of the country in the north of Canada being wilderness areas with snow, ice and few people.

To give you a feel for the population of Canada, the country as a whole has a population of around 36 million people, of which about 6 million live in the Toronto area, 4 million in Montréal , 2.5 million in Vancouver, 1.4 million in Calgary, 1.3 million in Ottawa, the Capital of Canada and 1.3 million in Edmonton area. These are area figures as opposed to city population figures, but you can see that the vast majority of Canadians live in Cities.

A Little History

Canada has been settled for thousands of years with recordings of the first Iroquois being around 600AD, and today there are some 617 First Nation Communities made up of some 50 different nations, as well as Inuit and Métis peoples, in communities spread across Canada.

Around 1000AD, a Norwegian Explorer, Leif Ericsson (c. 1000AD- 1100AD) and a group of around 90 people from Greenland established a settlement on the northern top of Newfoundland at a place that is now called L'Anse-aux-Meadows) where they built timber and earth sod buildings. These building were not discovered until the 1970's and in 1978 this settlement was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is now a Viking Trail to the site from Deer Lake in Newfoundland, and you can read more about it at This settlement was later abandoned but is considered to be the first settlement by Europeans on the North American continent. It is also likely that they met with resistance to their settlement by local tribes, but the harsh climate and isolation, no doubt played a role too. They are also thought to have voyaged south to what they called Vinland, what is now called Nova Scotia.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus (c. 1451-1506) born in Genoa (in Italy), but sailing under a Spanish flag discovered what he called "The New World" and then in 1497 Giovanni Caboto anglicized to John Cabot (C.1450-1499) born in Venice (Italy) but sailing under a British flag touched land in Newfoundland, and claimed all of the land to the west in the name of Britain.

In those times, here as elsewhere in the world, the right to ownership over land, was on the basis of if the 'discovered' land was deemed to be "Terra Nullius" a Latin term, meaning "belonging to no-one", then this meant that the land therefore became the land of the discoverer, or more precisely the land of the King or Queen under whose flag the ship sailed. The newly discovered land ownership was then further justified on the basis of 'Those heathens and non-believers in the Christian Religion' had no rights to ownership or recognition of any such land rights, as the right of God was on the side of those who discovered the lands.

In the 1500's a succession of explorers from Spain, Portugal and France followed in the footsteps of Columbus, the most notable being the French Explorer from St Malo in Brittany, Jacques Cartier (1491-1557). In 1534 he sailed around Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and the Gaspe Peninsula and the following year 1535 up the St Lawrence River, claiming the lands that he saw in the name of France.

The early trade routes to Europe all came from the 'mystical' far east to western Europe, so when the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and British sought to break the monopoly of this trade, it was logical to suppose that the fabled lands of the far east, lay in that direction. They knew that they couldn't get to the east through the Mediterranean (there was no Suez Canal until 1869), so it meant either heading north or south and then to the east.

They believed that there must be a 'north east passage' across the top of Siberia to Asia but knew that this was blocked by ice even in summer, assuming it existed so travelling south and then to the east seemed the most logical route to take. Was the world flat and what lay ahead at the end of the world? Would it drop over the edge of the world, be eaten by dragons or find only death and destruction or make their fortune? While the early Greeks had postulated that the earth was indeed round, and many held that view even in the 1500's, it was Christopher Columbus (c.1451-1506) that actually put the theory to the test, when he and his crew circumnavigated the world, by sailing west and finding the 'new world', though he thought that this was Asia.

When Jacques Cartier sailed up the St Lawrence River in 1535 he came across tribes of Iroquoian Indians and a settlement at Stadacona, and he and his crew stayed at Stadacona over the winter before sailing back to France. The Iroquoian people called where their country 'Kanata' and the French spelt it as 'Canada', a term that would become the name of the country, with Stadacona ultimately becoming the site of Québec City. Another village he found was Hochelaga, which is believed to be where McGill University is located in Montréal – the word Montréal coming from Cartier naming the Mountain he climbed here as Mont Royal.

Cartier also took an Iroquois Chief, Donnacona and his two sons with him when he returned to France, but Donnacona and the sons died, never to return to their homeland. Cartier did however return in 1541 establishing Charlesbourg-Royal as the first settlement in today's Canada. It would only survive a couple of years before being abandoned.

Over coming years any new attempts to establish settlements were met with hostility from Iroquois and Huron tribes and it was only in 1608 that the French, led by Samuel de Champlain (1574-1635) established Québec City.

In 1607 the British had established their first colony in the Americas at Jamestown in Virginia, and the British Explorer, Henry Hudson (1565-1611)in 1610 had explored the Hudson River (Where New York would later be established) and then had sailed north into the Arctic regions finding a vast sea area, what became known as Hudson Bay. The cold and rough conditions led his crew to mutiny, and he and some of his crew and his son were cast adrift in a small boat never to be seen again. He had been trying to find a way east through the northern icefields, seeking the elusive 'North West Passage' a shortcut to Asia, but this was never to be found.

During the 1600's, the French built up small settlements off the coast and along the St Lawrence River, establishing 'New France' and exploration continued inland in the hope of discovering potentially new wealth and a way across the continent, knowing that Asia lay somewhere to the west. As much as they were explorers and adventurers, they also went in search of beavers, beaver pelts and other furs that they could sell back to Europe and France, beaver pelts for use in making felt hats and other furs for coats and fashionable clothing.

Two French Fur Traders, Médard Chouart des Groseilliers (1618-1710) and his brother in law Pierre-Esprit Radisson (1636-1710) around 1860 ventured inland from New France, seeking trade with the Sioux and Cree Indians for beaver and other furs. They brought back furs, but were then arrested for a short time in 'New France' and their furs confiscated on the basis that they did not have the right License paperwork in place. Their meetings with the Cree however had revealed stories that large numbers of beavers could be found in the far north.

Travelling to the north into unexplored Territory, with the cold and danger of being killed by bears or Indians, no doubt weighed heavily on their mind, and they recognized that if they were to succeed in this new venture they would need funding.

Funding such a venture could only come from France or from Britain, who by this stage had established settlements along the Eastern Coast of the USA, including the Puritan New England Settlement of Boston, which had been established in 1630. The Fur trader's initial plans to get funding in Boston failed, and it was felt that there best chance of getting funding would be in London. In 1665 they set sail from Nantucket with an Englishman, Colonel George Cartwright, who was able to introduce them to one of the wealthiest men of that time, Sir George Cateret, who had connections to Prince Rupert, who was the first cousin of the British King, Charles II.

In 1668 they managed to get British support enough to fit out two ships that then sailed to Hudson Bay, and though one ship turned back the other managed to make it to land and return in 1669 with enough furs to encourage more investment leading to a new Joint-Stock Company being formed.

This happened on May 2nd 1670 when the 'Company of Adventurers of England' was established, becoming known as 'The Hudson's Bay Company' with the Company given a 'Royal Charter' by King Charles II and the exclusive trading rights over "Rupert's Land'. Rupert's Land, named after Prince Rupert (1619-1682) who became its first Governor, with the Company gaining exclusive trading rights over all lands whose rivers and streams from the east, west or south drained into Hudson Bay – roughly 40% of the whole of today's Canada. Prince Rupert, born in Prague had an adventurous life, involved in many wars and battles and also exploration and scientific work. He was also one of the first Governors in establishing the British 'Royal Society', the most influential scientific organisations in the world during the British Colonial period, and when he died in London, he was buried at Westminster Abbey.

While another competitive company (The North West Company) would set up later, it ultimately merged with the Hudson Bay Company in 1821 and it was only in 1868 that most of the Company's lands were transferred to the British Crown and then to the Canadian Government. The Hudson Bay Company still exists today, with the headquarters in Toronto, and their business is mostly in property and Retailing.

When you consider that the company had a trading monopoly from 1670 to 1868, around 188 years over most of Canada's land and resources, it is a remarkable story.

In the early days of the company's operations, the Company established fur trading posts on the southern side of Hudson Bay at what became known as Fort Albany, Moose Factory and Fort Monsoni , with beaver pelts, moose skins, otter pelts, fox and other furs being traded. The average temperature in these areas is around minus 1⁰C with a very short period of what would be called summer, when temperatures in the middle of the day might reach 15⁰C.

The late 1600's saw more French settlements along the St Lawrence and islands off the coast in what became known as Arcadia with further exploration place inland in and around the Great Lakes taking place too.

In 1701 the War of the Spanish Succession began, when the Hapsburg King Carlos II of Spain (1661-1700) died without having a child of his own. He had chosen his closest living relative, his grand-nephew, Philip, Duke of Anjou to become King of Spain, but Philip was also the grandson of the half -sister of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France.

The idea of Spain and France combining under the control of King Louis XIV and becoming a dominant power in Europe was seen by the other powers, including Britain as potentially damaging to 'the balancing of powers' in Europe, and so war was inevitable. The war in Europe began in 1701 and lasted until 1713 when a Treaty was signed in Utrecht in Holland under which France ceded most of its 'New France' and Nova Scotia territories to Britain and made other concessions. The French retained Ile Royale (Cape Breton Island) based on them needing a shore base for their fishermen catching Cod off the coastline here, and they established a new Fort at Louisbourg overlooking the coastline, named after Louis XIV. The Fort with 4 kilometres of massive walls, just 3 gateway entrances that were locked at night, and houses, barracks and store houses became one of the busiest ports on the Atlantic coastline. It came under siege in 1745 and for three years came under British control, before returning to French control in 1748, but then in 1758 the British and American Militaria from Boston destroyed it, some of the stone walls being transported back to Boston where it was apparently used in a Beacon Hill square called 'Louisburg Square' – a small privately owned square park surrounded by town houses, which today are some of the most expensive homes in the United States.

Today, the old fort and buildings have been restored and it is now a Canadian National Heritage site. See

While signing a treaty was one thing, putting the peace into practice was another, and in Canada the years following the Treaty and relations between the French and British were strained and at many times hostile, with the French aligning themselves with different Métiz and First Nation Indian tribes and mounting guerrilla attacks on the British.

In 1755 this led the British to implement a plan whereby all 'Acadians' were forcibly required to declare their allegiance to the British Crown or face forcible deportation. It is thought that some 6000 to 10,000 Arcadians were transported to France or forced southwards into the United States, many ending up in the French Territory in Louisiana and New Orleans. The Cajuns as they came to be called (derived from the word Acadians) established a new culture in Louisiana that exists to this day.

The French however continued to maintain a stronghold over Quebec and Quebec City and many battles ensued, but in 1759 British General James Wolfe (1727-1759) sailed up the St Lawrence River and mounted a surprize attack on the Plains of Abraham on the north side of Québec City. He had with him some 200 ships, 9000 soldiers and 18,000 sailors and outnumbered the French by a large margin who had been drawn out of the City and their camps south.

While the attack was a huge success for the British, General Wolfe died in the battle, and the Commander of the French forces, the Marquis of Montcalm Gozon (1712-1759) also died from his battle wounds.

One year later, the British attacked Montréal and this was a turning point in Canadian history, with the British prevailing over the French authorities, with Québec and Nova Scotia becoming British Colonies in 1763 and the first British Governor of Québec taking up his post in 1764. While the British had control, the British Parliament also enacted the Québec Act, which recognized that the French language could co-exist with English, along with their Catholic Religion and traditions. The Act also expanded the territories of Québec to include Ontario, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota, and confirmed that many of the French system of law could co-exist with English Law.

The Québec Act (Acte de Québec) was received well by the Canadians but it did not go down well with the thirteen American Colonies in New England – which had been largely been established by Puritan and Quakers and those settlers in the lands in what would ultimately become American states in the Union. The French Canadians were largely Catholic.

It was only a few years later (1775) that the American War of Independence started, and this time the Battle lines were drawn between the British, their Loyalist supporters, Canadian Quebecois, Iroquois 'Six nations' league/Confederacy and the American Revolutionaries or Patriots depending on your point of view.

This time was a critical period of time in Canada's history as the fledging colonies in Québec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island could have also sided with the New England colonies and become part of the American uprising against the British in the Revolutionary War (American War of Independence 1775-1783) but the three colonies decided to support the British, as did the Iroquois Six Nations.

Wars over centuries have always involved strategies both in terms of using force and power of numbers to overcome an adversary or enemy, but also weakening an enemy at the same time, and sometimes the forces of nature can either add to a success or lead to a failure.

For the Revolutionaries in Boston and Philadelphia seeking to establish their independence from Britain, having strong British and Canadian forces to their north in Canada was a threat to their plans. They could ignore them and hope that they did not pose a threat, or attack them and gain control, and hope that sympathizers to their cause might also join with them and attack the British themselves.

In December 1775, in the middle of winter, the American Continental Army, largely made up of volunteers under the command of General Richard Montgomery (1738-1775) headed north to attack the British and their forts as well as Québec City. Montgomery was killed during the battle. While battles would continue into 1776 and for a while the Continental Army had some successes, even taking control of Montréal, ultimately the Continental forces were repulsed and headed back south. The harsh winter, ice, lack of food and provisions and also smallpox took their toll.

While the British had succeeded in repulsing the Continental Army from Québec, they were not so successful in stopping the Revolutionaries in the 13 New England colonies, and after a Revolutionary war that dragged on from 1775 to 1783 a peace negotiations in 1782 led on to the Treaty of Paris being signed in 1783.

The terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and associated treaties involved the United States and Britain as the two combatants, but also involved Spain, France and the Dutch too, who also held territories in or adjoining the United States.

The principle purpose of the Treaty was to secure peace and define the borders of the United States with its neighbouring countries and territories. Those Loyalists to the British in the 13 states whose land had been confiscated had the land returned, and there was an exchange of prisoners on both sides, as well as other terms agreed to. At one stage in the negotiations the United States also wanted Québec to be ceded to the United States, but this was refused by Britain.

Following the War, in spite of the Treaty, many of the English speaking Loyalists in the new England territories, estimated to be as many as 50,000 headed to Canada to live, and Canada itself divided itself under a Constitutional Act in 1791 into two parts – Upper Canada in the north and Lower Canada in the south.

It was not until March 29th, 1867 seventy six years later that the British House of Lords and House of Commons passed the British North American Act with a Proclamation made by Queen Victoria to unite the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into one dominion under the name of Canada.

That same year, 1867 also saw the purchase of Alaska by the United States from Russia, having offered to sell it to both Britain and the United States, fearing that if they did not sell it, it might well be just taken by force by the United States or Britain.

In 1869 the North West Territory lands and Rupert's Land owned by the Hudson Bay Company were purchased by the British Crown and then came under Canadian control in 1870, renamed as the North West Territories. Manitoba also became part of the Confederation of Canada in 1870 followed by British Columbia in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, the Yukon Territory in 1898, Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1905, Newfoundland in 1949 and in 1999 the mass of Arctic Islands to the far north, called Nunavut also became officially part of Canada.

The Spanish in the 1500's explored the west coast, no doubt trading with First Nation people, but there interests largely centred around the Caribbean and coastal areas around the Gulf of Mexico and in South America. Vasco Nuñez de Balboa (c.1475-1519) had managed to cross the Panama Isthmus in 1513. They had even produced maps and charts of the West Coast in the 1500's, though some of the land masses were more conjectures than based on actual discovery.

It was not until the 1770's that the Spanish took more interest in the western coast of America, and this was mainly in response to hearing that Russians were establishing fur trading and hunting bases there. San Blas was first established as a settlement in 1768 and San Francisco in 1776.

The north-west coast of Canada, what became known as British Columbia was also the land of many First Nation tribal groups, including Haida, Salish, Gitxsan, Athapaskan, and others.

A Danish born Explorer, Vitus Bering (1681-1741) commanding a Russian ship for the Tsar Peter I explored and mapped parts of the Siberian coastline in 1725-1730. In 1741 he reached the American coastline hoping to find a land bridge between the top of Siberia to China. He and his crew were ship wrecked on an island and he subsequently died there with Bering Island and Bering Strait both named in his honour.

In 1774 the Spanish Explorer, Juan Pérez Hernàndez (1725-1775) anchored in Nootka Sound trading with the First Nation Indians for furs and in 1775 Juan Francisco de la Bodega-y- Quadra ( 1744-1794) also sailed here too, voyaging north into the Alaskan waters, and laying claim to the land that he saw in the name of Spain.

The search for a North West Passage proved to be taunting task – the objective being to find a faster and therefore more profitable trading route to Asia and the Chinese market.

When you think about these times, you have to consider the great trading Spanish Empire with its established colonies in Mexico and throughout South America, with their trade building in the Pacific, colony in the Philippines, and the Spanish working with the Portuguese with their settlement in Macau. Then on the other side of the Pacific in Canton (Guanzhou) you had the British East India Company with its China trade Monopoly granted under a British Royal Charter, a trading monopoly that it held from 1700 to 1833. Adding to the mix are the Russians in the north, the Americans and the Dutch.

The North West passage, even if it did exist would have been buried by masses of ice, with no way to break through. In addition there are thousands of rugged islands, making any journey a treacherous one, even if there was no ice, winds or freezing temperatures to encounter.

From the east coast, Henry Hudson had searched for the North West Passage, and lost his life in the process, with Hudson Bay named in his honour.

On the west coast, British Captain James Cook (1728-1779) on his third voyage had searched and mapped parts of the coastline looking for the North West passage in 1779 without finding it, and then ended up being speared and died on the beach that same year in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).

In 1788 George Vancouver (1757-1798) also British had sailed as a Mid-shipman with James Cook on his third journey too and in 1790 he returned to the west coast also to continue searching for the North West Passage, but also to map the coastline. He gave his name to Vancouver Island, with the city of Vancouver named in his honour.

Jean Francois La Perouse (1741-1788) had mapped some of the west coast in 1786, before two years later war lost at sea somewhere in the Pacific.

In 1789 Esteban José Martinez (1742-1798) anchored in Nootka Sound where there was a Nuu-chah-Nuth (Nootka)village called Yuquot. Martinez called the Nootka Sound Puerto de San Lorenzo de Nuca and then built San Miguel fort and even a hospital here, giving the settlement the name, Santa Cruz de Nuca.

That same year, 1789, both American and British fur traders sailed into the settlement looking to trade with the First Nation tribes seeking furs and otter skins. A British China trader, James Colnett (1753-1806) claimed that the owner of his ships, John Meares (c.1756-1809) had purchased land here in 1788 from a First Nation chief with the intention of building a settlement. Meares in 1876 had sailed a ship that he called the Nootka into the waters in Alaska, and while the purchase may or may not have transpired, it was used as a claim to have 'prior rights' due to its earlier date over the Spanish claim, though equally the Spanish claimed that they had declared ownership over the coast in the 1500's.

Although John Meares was Irish and James Colnett was British, Colnett sailed under a Portuguese flag (from Macau), on the basis of trying avoiding paying a Licence Fee to the East India Company. At the time all British traders were required to pay the British East India Company a Licence in order to trade in China, the East India Company having the Exclusive rights to do so.

Martinez promptly arrested Colnett and his ships captains and crews on the basis that this was Spanish territory and Colnett had no rights to establish any such settlement. He also commandeered the ships and then took his prisoners and their ships south to San Blas, the main trading port on the Pacific side in Spanish California.

The fact that the Spanish had captured the ships and taken the British as prisoners was seen as a major confrontation between Spain and Britain, becoming known as the 'Nootka Crisis', with both Britain and Spain claiming rights over the Northwest Territories, based on their earlier discoveries and claims over the lands involved.

For a time, it was felt that war between Spain and Britain was inevitable, but a convention was held in 1790 with George Vancouver representing British interests and Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra representing those of Spain. Further Conventions followed, with no clear resolution, but in the meantime more fur traders came overland from Alberta and other parts of Canada, including Simon Fraser (1776-1862) and Alexander Mackenzie (c.1755-1820) who in 1789 had crossed over the Rocky Mountains.

In 1819 the Adams-Onis Treaty between the United States and Spain resulted in Spain relinquishing any claims it had to the Northwest, and then the parties to the conflict became the United States and Britain. The matter was then finally settled under the Oregon Treaty of 1846, when Oregon became part of the United States and a border was established across the San Juan de Fuca Strait and along the 49th Parallel just south of Vancouver Island, with the British gaining complete control over the Colony areas north of the Border and the United States to the south.

The San Juan de Fuca Strait is one of the few signs today of early Spanish involvement in the exploration of Canada. If things had been different, Canada today, or at least the Northwest coast, could well have become a Spanish colony with Spanish as the main language.

Robert Gray (1755-1806) the first American to circumnavigate the world sailed from Boston around the tip of South America and then in 1791 along the west coast on his ship the Columbia, with the Columbia River in the Oregon Territory named by him after his ship. In 1846 when decisions on the border boundary between the United States and Canada was agreed to run along the 49th Parallel, Oregon became part of the United States, with the name Columbia used on the northern side by the Hudson Bay Company. Queen Victoria was the one who added the word 'British' to the name, hence British Columbia, with it becoming a Province of Canada in 1871.

Ottawa had been chosen and approved to be the Capital of Canada in 1857, and in 1858 the first Gold Rush began with another Gold rush in the 1890's in the Klondike and Yukon territories.
By 1886 the Canadian Pacific Railway connected the East Coast of Canada to Vancouver on the west coast, and Canada developed as a separate nation in the world, with its mix of French and English languages.

Immigrants from all parts of the world have also come to Canada, and while there are many similarities to the United States, there are some big differences too – as Canada remains part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, with the Queen of England also being the Queen of Canada, and head of State with Canada maintaining close ties even today to Britain, even though its closest neighbour is the United States.

In many ways, Canada is defined by its climate and weather, with some of the northern parts of Canada being some of the coldest in the world. Equally it is defined by the beauty of its lakes, coastline, mountains, forests and prairies. There is certainly a lot more to see in Canada than just the Rockies and Niagara Falls.

In my mind, the old city of Québec City is one of my favourite cities in North America, but equally cities like Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal also have a lot of character and individual charm too, and if you do make it to Nova Scotia and Halifax you will see more great scenery.

One of the greatest ocean voyages in the world is also here in Canada, travelling north from Vancouver to Alaska seeing Glaciers and spectacular scenery, and also some of the world's best train journeys is also here too through the Rockies.

I hope that this short history of early Canada adds to your knowledge of Canada and will lead you to discover more about this great country.

Happy Travelling

Geoff Stuart

FREE Travel Tips/Latest Deals

CONNECT with us by entering your email here >>


FHI’s Associated Partner Websites are responsible for their own content, service and support. Please direct any service queries, questions or issues you have directly via email to the Partner Website involved. Feel free to also contact FHI too where you feel it necessary. 2020 @ All right reserved. Visit mobile website:

Web Design & SEO by Kardash & Sons