Before the first Europeans arrived in Canada, the land was occupied by various groups of Indigenous peoples. Aboriginal peoples have lived in Canada for at least 15,000 years and the earliest archaeological evidence for human habitation in Canada comes from the Old Crow Flats and the Bluefish Caves in the Yukon (Canada’s most northwestern territory). Scientists believe that these peoples crossed into North America (Alaska) from Siberia over the Bering land bridge.

These earliest inhabitants were hunter-gatherers, although around 10,000 years ago we find the earliest evidence for the domestication of plants and animals. The Indigenous peoples lived on the land without interruption until the arrival of the first Europeans.In Canada, the various Indigenous groups are more broadly referred to as First Nations, Inuit or Métis. First Nations are the largest group of Aboriginal peoples in Canada and comprise of the Indigenous population south of the Artic, whereas the Inuit inhabit the Arctic region. The Métis, on the other hand, represent a distinct group of peoples who trace their lineage to mixed European and Aboriginal descent. As such, the Métis emerge as a distinct population only after the arrival of the first European settlers.

The first European contact with Canada occurred around the year 1000 CE, when the Norse arrived in Newfoundland and constructed a small settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. This site, located on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, is possibly connected to the attempted Norse colony of Vinland led by the famous explorer, Leif Erikson. This Norse settlement, however, did not last long and it would be another 500 years before the next wave of Europeans settled on the mainland.

The French explorer, Jacques Cartier, made three trips across the Atlantic between 1534 and 1542, claiming the territory for King Francis I of France. Cartier heard two captured Iroquois speak the word kanata, the Iroquoian word for “village”, and by the 1550s the name Canada began appearing on maps. The French made several attempts to establish permanent settlements in Canada, but all of them failed until 1604 when French explorer Samuel de Champlain established a colony at Port-Royal in Acadia, present-day Nova Scotia. By 1608, Champlain had built a fortress in what is known today as Québec City. It was named the capital of New France, the name given to the French colony in Canada. He aligned himself with three First Nations groups and they created a vast fur trading network that supplied the European market with beaver pelts. The French colonists did not settle, however, without many difficulties, notably drawing the ire of the Iroquois Confederacy. The French and their Aboriginal allies warred with the Iroquois for nearly a century, before peace was established in 1701.

The French were not the only country vying for land and settlement in Canada. The English established their first colony at St. John’s on the island of Newfoundland in 1583. During the 1600s, the English continued to settle new arrivals on the island of Newfoundland as well as parts of present-day Nova Scotia, to which the French also laid claim in parts. They also established the Thirteen Colonies on the northeastern coast of the present United States. Over time, these English colonies became more populous and wealthy than those in New France. The increasing tension between the two groups led to several battles in the 1700s over territory and access to trading routes. Ultimately, the English emerged victorious from this conflict after soundly defeating the French at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham at Québec City in 1759. The Empire was officially signed over to the British in 1763 under the Treaty of Paris andin 1774, the British passed the Québec Act, which guaranteed this population the freedom of religious expression, the ability to hold public office and restored French civil law in the province.

Only two years later, however, in 1776, the Thirteen Colonies (the British colonies south of Québec) proclaimed independence from Britain and declared themselves the United States. Canada experienced an influx of approximately 40,000 “Loyalists” who fled the newly founded United States, largely settling themselves in Nova Scotia, Québec and the newly established province of New Brunswick. This influx of “Loyalists” led theBritish in 1791 to divide the country into two parts: Lower Canada, the French-speaking catholic population of Québec, and Upper Canada, the English-speaking, protestant “Loyalists”, who madeYork (Toronto) their capital.

In 1812, the United States decided to invade Canada. This war was started because the First Nations peoples along the frontier were frustrating their attempts to settle thisregion. The Americans fought a united group of Canadians and First Nations. There were several battles along the frontier with losses on both sides, one of the most famous of which occurred at Queenston Heights, near Niagara Falls.In 1813, the Americans burned the Parliament Building in York. The Canadians retaliated in 1814 by marching to Washington D.C. and burning down the White House. The war ended in 1814 with no territorial gains made by either side. The present border with the United States was agreed upon at this point and the American now colonized westward, rather than north into Canada.

In 1840, Upper and Lower Canada were joined to form the Province of Canada under the pretext of creating a responsible government, meaning that the leaders of the country must be elected by a majority of the people. From 1864-1867, the representatives from the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick worked together with the British to establish a new and independent country. The Province of Canada was ultimately split into the provinces of Ontario and Québec, and in 1867, with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, formed the Dominion of Canada. In 1870, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories were added to the Dominion. British Columbia was added in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, the Yukon in 1898, Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905, Newfoundland and Labrador in 1949 and Nunavut in 1999, ultimately creating the boundaries of Canada that we know today.