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History of Canada: a snapshot

Timeline of key events

70,000 to 17,000 BC

  • Aboriginal people arrive in Canada via the Bering Strait from northeastern Asia

8,000 to 4,000 BC

  • Arrival of Native peoples in the St. Lawrence Lowlands

2,000 BC to 1500 AD

  • Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples inhabit the eastern woodland areas of what later becomes Canada
  • Iroquois Confederacy forms in 1142 AD

1000 AD

  • Norse (Viking) explorer Leif Ericson first European to arrive on the shores of Canada (possibly Newfoundland and Labrador)

June 24, 1497

  • Italian John Cabot sails from Bristol, arrives off the coast of Newfoundland; claims the land for England


  • Navigator Jacques Cartier leads three exploration voyages to the St. Lawrence region; claims the land for France

Statue of Samuel de Champlain in Quebec City

July 3, 1608

  • Explorer, geographer Samuel de Champlain, deemed the “Father of New France,” establishes French settlement that is now Quebec City

Mid-17th century to mid-18th century

  • French colonizers establish in parts on Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes
  • British colonizers lay claim to Hudson Bay and settlements in Newfoundland

1763 to 1867

  • France relinquishes most of its territory to British rulers
  • Treaty of Paris 1783: borders established between Canada and the United States


  • Rebellions of 1837, led by William Lyon Mackenzie, against British colonial government; uprisings take place in Upper and Lower Canada
  • Act of Union in 1840 leads to merging of single colony: United Province of Canada
  • Responsible government reached in 1848


Sir John A. Macdonald


  • March 29, 1867: Her Majesty Queen Victoria gives royal assent to the British North America Act
  • July 1, 1867: British North America Act comes into effect; New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada (later becomes Ontario and Quebec) join together and become a Dominion in the British Commonwealth
  • Canada remains under British control until 1982
  • Sir John A. Macdonald becomes first prime minister of Canada in 1867, in office until 1873


  • North-West Rebellion, led by Métis leader and founder of Manitoba Louis Riel, against the Canadian government
  • With resistance movement, Riel wanted to ensure Métis rights and culture were protected in the new Dominion


  • July 15, 1870: Manitoba and the Northwest Territories become fifth and sixth provinces of Canada
  • July 20, 1870: British Columbia becomes seventh province
  • July 1, 1873: Prince Edward Island eighth province of Canada
  • 1879: July 1 established as “Dominion Day”
  • June 13, 1898: Yukon becomes ninth province
  • Sept. 1, 1905: Saskatchewan and Alberta become 10th and 11th provinces of Canada

National War Memorial in Ottawa


  • First World War (1914-1918): 67,000 Canadians killed and 173,000 wounded
  • Second World War (1939-1945): more than 45,000 Canadians died, 55,000 wounded; 1.1 million served
  • Conscription Crisis of 1944: the forced military service affected unity between English and French-speaking Canadians


  • March 31, 1949: Newfoundland becomes 12th province of Canada
  • February 15, 1965: Canadian flag makes its first appearance; maple leaf replaces the Union flag


  • Quiet Revolution in Quebec: a period of intense change in the province, marked by secularization, separatist and federalist politics, and establishing welfare state via economic and social means

October 1970

  • October Crisis: with Quebec nationalism tension on the rise, members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnap British trade commissioner James Cross on October 5 and Québec minister of labour and immigration Pierre LaPorte on October 10
  • War Measures Act invoked by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on October 16


October 27, 1982

  • July 1 becomes known as “Canada Day”

July 1, 1980

  • “O Canada” proclaimed Canada’s national anthem; first sung on June 24, 1880
  • Anthem Composed by Calixa Lavallée. French lyrics by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier, English lyrics by Justice Robert Stanley Weir

Pierre Trudeau ((source: Cavouk/Library and Archives Canada)


  • April 17, 1982: During Pierre Trudeau’s tenure as prime minister, the Constitution Act was signed into law by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Parliament Hill in Ottawa
  • Quebec not part of the Act since it rejects patriation package in 1981
  • Although Canada received complete sovereignty, Her Majesty remains the country’s head of state
  • Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms forms the first part of the Constitution Act, entrenching bill of rights in the Constitution of Canada

June 23, 1985

  • Air India Flight 182 bombing: airplane explodes over the Atlantic Ocean killing all 329 people on board, 280 were Canadian citizens; deemed he largest mass murder in Canadian history



  • 1985: during tenure of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, talks begin between provincial and federal governments in an effort to establish constitutional changes favourable to Quebec
  • 1987 Meech Lake Accord: a set of constitutional amendments, one of which recognizes Québec as a “distinct society” in Canada; however, the Accord was later defeated in 1990
  • 1992 Charlottetown Accord” following the defeat of Meech Lake, a package of proposed amendments to the Constitution of Canada (including “distinct society” clause); however, it was narrowly defeated by a referendum on October 26


  • Free Trade Agreement comes into effect in 1989
  • July 11, 1990: Oka Crisis begins; land dispute between the Mohawk people of Kanesatake and the nearby town of Oka, Quebec, which was planning to expand a golf course and residential development on land used by the Mohawk; lasts until September 26, one person died in the crisis
  • Kim Campbell becomes Canada’s first female prime minister in 1983, but her tenure only lasts a few months. During the 1993 election, the Progressive Conservative Party was reduced to two seats. Liberal Jean Chrétien elected prime minister, in office until 2003


  • October 30, 1995: Quebec government holds a second referendum on sovereignty (whether Quebec should secede from Canada); narrowly rejected by 50.6 per cent (no vote) to 49.4 per cent (yes vote)
  • April 1, 1999: Nunavut becomes 13th province of Canada

Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan (source: DND)

January-February 2002

  • Canadian troops arrive in Afghanistan
  • As of June 8, 2011, 156 Canadian soldiers have lost their lives; click here for a complete list
  • Also killed are a Canadian diplomat, two Canadian aid workers and a Canadian journalist
  • About 2,500 Canadian Forces personnel are currently serving in that country, most in Kandahar (as of April 2011, source afghanistan.gc.ca)

July 20, 2005

  • Civil Marriage Act becomes law on; legislation legalizes same-sex marriage across Canada; first country in the Americas to do so, fourth country worldwide

Stephen Harper (Photo by: Cormac MacSweeney)


  • Canadian Alliance and PC Party merge into the Conservative Party of Canada
  • Conservative Party with then Leader Stephen Harper at its helm; elected twice as a minority government in 2006 and 2008 federal elections


  • Historic federal election held on May 2
  • Harper wins majority in 2011 federal election with 166 seats in the House of Commons
  • NDP the Official Opposition for the first time in history; receives the largest number of seats in party history with 103
  • Liberals win fewest seats in party with 34; former leader Michael Ignatieff defeated in his riding and resigns
  • Bloc Québécois loses official party status for the first time with four seats; former leader Gilles Duceppe defeated in his riding and steps down
  • Green Party Leader Elizabeth May wins first seat for party

Canadian history resources