Archaeological studies and genetic analyses have indicated a human presence in the northern Yukon region from 24,500 BC, and in southern Ontario from 7500 BC. The Paleo-Indian archeological sites at Old Crow Flats and Bluefish Caves are two of the oldest sites of human habitation in Canada. The characteristics of Canadian Aboriginal societies included permanent settlements, agriculture, complex societal hierarchies, and trading networks. Some of these cultures had collapsed by the time European explorers arrived in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and have only been discovered through archeological investigations.
The aboriginal population is estimated to have been between 200,000 and two million in the late 15th century, with a figure of 500,000 accepted by Canada's Royal Commission on Aboriginal Health. As a consequence of the European colonization, Canada's aboriginal peoples suffered from repeated outbreaks of newly introduced infectious diseases such as influenza, measles, and smallpox (to which they had no natural immunity), resulting in a forty- to eighty-percent population decrease in the centuries after the European arrival. Aboriginal peoples in present-day Canada include the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. The Métis are a mixed-blood people who originated in the mid-17th century when First Nations and Inuit people married European settlers. In general, the Inuit had more limited interaction with European settlers during the colonization period.European colonization Benjamin West's The Death of General Wolfe (1771) dramatizes James Wolfe's death during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham at Quebec in 1759.
The first known attempt at European colonization began when Norsemen settled briefly at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland around 1000 AD. No further European exploration occurred until 1497, when Italian seafarer John Cabot explored Canada's Atlantic coast for England. Basque and Portuguese mariners established seasonal whaling and fishing outposts along the Atlantic coast in the early 16th century. In 1534, French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence River, where on July 24 he planted a 10-metre (33 ft) cross bearing the words "Long Live the King of France", and took possession of the territory in the name of King Francis I of France.
In 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed St. John's, Newfoundland, as the first North American English colony by the royal prerogative of Queen Elizabeth I. French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived in 1603, and established the first permanent European settlements at Port Royal in 1605 and Quebec City in 1608. Among the French colonists of New France, Canadiens extensively settled the St. Lawrence River valley and Acadians settled the present-day Maritimes, while fur traders and Catholic missionaries explored the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and the Mississippi watershed to Louisiana. The Beaver Wars broke out in the mid-17th century over control of the North American fur trade.
The English established additional colonies in Cupids and Ferryland, Newfoundland, beginning in 1610. The Thirteen Colonies to the south were founded soon after. A series of four wars erupted in colonial North America between 1689 and 1763; the later wars of the period constituted the North American theatre of the Seven Years' War. Mainland Nova Scotia came under British rule with the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht; the Treaty of Paris (1763) ceded Canada and most of New France to Britain after the Seven Years' War.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 created the Province of Quebec out of New France, and annexed Cape Breton Island to Nova Scotia. St. John's Island (now Prince Edward Island) became a separate colony in 1769. To avert conflict in Quebec, the British passed the Quebec Act of 1774, expanding Quebec's territory to the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley. It re-established the French language, Catholic faith, and French civil law there. This angered many residents of the Thirteen Colonies, fuelling anti-British sentiment in the years prior to the 1775 outbreak of the American Revolution.
The 1783 Treaty of Paris recognized American independence and ceded territories south of the Great Lakes to the United States. New Brunswick was split from Nova Scotia as part of a reorganization of Loyalist settlements in the Maritimes. To accommodate English-speaking Loyalists in Quebec, the Constitutional Act of 1791 divided the province into French-speaking Lower Canada (later Quebec) and English-speaking Upper Canada (later Ontario), granting each its own elected legislative assembly.Robert Harris's Fathers of Confederation (1884), an amalgamation of the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences of 1864.
The Canadas were the main front in the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain. Following the war, large-scale immigration to Canada from Britain and Ireland began in 1815. Between 1825 and 1846, 626,628 European immigrants reportedly landed at Canadian ports. Between one-quarter and one-third of all Europeans who immigrated to Canada before 1891 died of infectious diseases.
The desire for responsible government resulted in the abortive Rebellions of 1837. The Durham Report subsequently recommended responsible government and the assimilation of French Canadians into English culture. The Act of Union 1840 merged the Canadas into a united Province of Canada. Responsible government was established for all British North American provinces by 1849. The signing of the Oregon Treaty by Britain and the United States in 1846 ended the Oregon boundary dispute, extending the border westward along the 49th parallel. This paved the way for British colonies on Vancouver Island (1849) and in British Columbia (1858).Confederation and expansion An animated map showing the growth and change of Canada's provinces and territories since Confederation in 1867.
Following several constitutional conferences, the 1867 Constitution Act officially proclaimed Canadian Confederation on July 1, 1867, initially with four provinces – Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Canada assumed control of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory to form the Northwest Territories, where the Métis' grievances ignited the Red River Rebellion and the creation of the province of Manitoba in July 1870. British Columbia and Vancouver Island (which had been united in 1866) joined the Confederation in 1871, while Prince Edward Island joined in 1873. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald and his Conservative government established a National Policy of tariffs to protect the nascent Canadian manufacturing industries.
To open the West, the government sponsored the construction of three transcontinental railways (including the Canadian Pacific Railway), opened the prairies to settlement with the Dominion Lands Act, and established the North-West Mounted Police to assert its authority over this territory. In 1898, during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Northwest Territories, the Canadian government created the Yukon Territory. Under the Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, continental European immigrants settled the prairies, and Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces in 1905.Early 20th century Canadian soldiers and a Mark II tank at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917.
Because Britain still maintained control of Canada's foreign affairs under the Confederation Act, its declaration of war in 1914 automatically brought Canada into World War I. Volunteers sent to the Western Front later became part of the Canadian Corps. The Corps played a substantial role in the Battle of Vimy Ridge and other major engagements of the war. Out of approximately 625,000 Canadians who served in World War I, around 60,000 were killed and another 173,000 were wounded. The Conscription Crisis of 1917 erupted when conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden brought in compulsory military service over the objections of French-speaking Quebecers. In 1919, Canada joined the League of Nations independently of Britain, and the 1931 Statute of Westminster affirmed Canada's independence.
The great depression in Canada during the early 1930s saw an economic downturn, leading to hardship across the country. In response to the downturn, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in Saskatchewan introduced many elements of a welfare state (as pioneered by Tommy Douglas) in the 1940s and 1950s. Canada declared war on Germany independently during World War II under Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, three days after Britain. The first Canadian Army units arrived in Britain in December 1939.
Canadian troops played important roles in many key battles of the war, including the failed 1942 Dieppe Raid, the Allied invasion of Italy, the Normandy landings, the Battle of Normandy, and the Battle of the Scheldt in 1944. Canada provided asylum for the Dutch monarchy while that country was occupied, and is credited by the Netherlands for major contributions to its liberation from Nazi Germany. The Canadian economy boomed during the war as its industries manufactured military materiel for Canada, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union. Despite another Conscription Crisis in Quebec in 1944, Canada finished the war with a large army and strong economy.Modern times At Rideau Hall, Governor General the Viscount Alexander of Tunis (centre) receives the bill finalizing the union of Newfoundland and Canada on March 31, 1949.
The Dominion of Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador) was unified with Canada in 1949. Canada's post-war economic growth, combined with the policies of successive Liberal governments, led to the emergence of a new Canadian identity, marked by the adoption of the current Maple Leaf Flag in 1965, the implementation of official bilingualism (English and French) in 1969, and the institution of official multiculturalism in 1971. Socially democratic programs were also instituted, such as Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, and Canada Student Loans, though provincial governments, particularly Quebec and Alberta, opposed many of these as incursions into their jurisdictions. Finally, another series of constitutional conferences resulted in the 1982 patriation of Canada's constitution from the United Kingdom, concurrent with the creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 1999, Nunavut became Canada's third territory after a series of negotiations with the federal government.
At the same time, Quebec underwent profound social and economic changes through the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, giving birth to a modern nationalist movement. The radical Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) ignited the October Crisis with a series of bombings and kidnappings in 1970, and the sovereignist Parti Québécois was elected in 1976, organizing an unsuccessful referendum on sovereignty-association in 1980. Attempts to accommodate Quebec nationalism constitutionally through the Meech Lake Accord failed in 1990. This led to the formation of the Bloc Québécois in Quebec and the invigoration of the Reform Party of Canada in the West. A second referendum followed in 1995, in which sovereignty was rejected by a slimmer margin of 50.6 to 49.4 percent. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that unilateral secession by a province would be unconstitutional, and the Clarity Act was passed by parliament, outlining the terms of a negotiated departure from Confederation.
In addition to the issues of Quebec sovereignty, a number of crises shook Canadian society in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These included the explosion of Air India Flight 182 in 1985, the largest mass murder in Canadian history; the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989, a university shooting targeting female students; and the Oka Crisis of 1990, the first of a number of violent confrontations between the government and Aboriginal groups. Canada also joined the Gulf War in 1990 as part of a US-led coalition force, and was active in several peacekeeping missions in the 1990s, including the UNPROFOR mission in the former Yugoslavia. Canada sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001, but declined to send forces to Iraq when the US invaded in 2003. In 2009, Canada's economy suffered in the worldwide Great Recession, but has since rebounded modestly. In 2011, Canadian forces participated in the NATO-led intervention into the Libyan civil war.