Canada - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Canada: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Canada, federated country in North America, made up of ten provinces and three territories. Canada is a vast nation with a wide variety of geological formations, climates, and ecological systems. It has rain forest, prairie grassland, deciduous forest, tundra, and wetlands. Canada has more lakes and inland waters than any other country. It is renowned for its scenery, which attracts millions of tourists each year. On a per-capita basis, its resource endowments are the second richest in the world after Australia. See Canada: Land and Resources.

Canada is the second largest country in the world but has about the same population as the state of California, which is about 4 percent of Canada’s size. This is because the north of Canada, with its harsh Arctic and sub-Arctic climates, is sparsely inhabited. Most Canadians live in the southern part of the country. More than three-quarters of them live in metropolitan areas, the largest of which are Toronto, Ontario; Montréal, Québec; Vancouver, British Columbia; Ottawa, Ontario; Gatineau, Québec; and Edmonton, Alberta.

French and English are the official languages, and at one time most Canadians were of French or English descent. However, diversity increased with a wave of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that brought in people from many other European nations. This trend continues into the 21st century: Canada is one of the few countries in the world that still has significant immigration programs. Since the 1970s most immigrants have come from Asia, increasing still further the diversity of the population. See Canada: People.

Canada’s prosperity and diversity have encouraged a variety of artistic pursuits. Most major cities have symphony orchestras, opera companies, classical and modern dance groups, and live theater. Canadian popular musicians have built highly successful careers both in Canada and in the world at large. Canadian writers have also gained worldwide recognition, as have painters, sculptors, filmmakers, and architects. To nurture Canadian arts, the government has imposed quotas on foreign content in Canadian media.

Canada has impressive reserves of timber, minerals, and fresh water, and many of its industries are based on these resources. Many of its rivers have been harnessed for hydroelectric power, and it is self-sufficient in fossil fuel. Industrialization began in the 19th century and a significant manufacturing sector emerged, especially after World War II (1939-1945). Canada’s resource and manufacturing industries export about one-third of their output. While Canada’s prosperity is built on the resource and manufacturing industries, most Canadians work in service occupations, including transportation, trade, finance, personal services, and government. See Canada: Economy.

Canada is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. The federal, provincial, and territorial legislatures are all directly elected by citizens. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is recognized as the queen of Canada. She is the official head of state. The queen is represented in Canada by the governor-general and ten lieutenant governors. Canada’s constitution guarantees equality under the law to all of its citizens. Powers of the federal and provincial governments are spelled out separately under the constitution, but over the past 50 years they have increasingly cooperated in programs that provide a wide range of social services to the public. See Canada: Government.

Canada’s indigenous peoples (original inhabitants) are often called First Nations or Indians (see Native Americans of North America). The name Canada comes from a word meaning “village” or “community” in one of the indigenous Iroquoian languages. Indigenous peoples had developed complex societies and intricate political relations before the first Europeans, the Vikings, arrived in the 11th century. The Vikings soon left, but more Europeans came in the 16th century and were made welcome because they brought manufactured goods and traded them for furs and other native products. However, the Europeans settled down and gradually displaced the indigenous peoples over the next 250 years. This process of dispossession has left a legacy of legal and moral issues that Canadians are grappling with today. See Canada: History.

European settlers came in a series of waves. First were the French, followed by the English, and these two groups are considered the founding nations. France lost its part of the territory to Britain in a war in 1760, but most of the French-speaking colonists remained (see French and Indian War). Their effort to preserve their language and culture has been a continuing theme of Canadian history and has led to a movement to become independent of the rest of Canada.

Modern Canada was formed in an event that Canadians call Confederation, in 1867, when three colonies of Britain merged to create a partially independent state of four provinces. Since then, six more provinces and three territories have been added. Canada achieved full independence in 1931 but continues to belong to the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of countries with ties to the United Kingdom.


Canada’s physical characteristics have heavily influenced the course of its development. It is a very large country (only Russia is larger) composed of several distinct regions that are often separated from each other by natural barriers. Canada has an abundance of natural resources, such as forests, minerals, fish, and hydroelectric power. These resources have encouraged Canadians to focus their economic development on the export of raw materials. Conservation of these resources has become a national priority.

Canada is a country of difficult terrain; much of its area is underwater, rocky, marshy, mountainous, or otherwise uninhabitable. Settlement has therefore been concentrated in the areas that are more level and have the better soils. The northern climate, with its long winters, has encouraged the population to settle in the south, where agricultural and living conditions are most favorable. The vast majority of Canadians live within 320 km (200 mi) of the American border.

Extent of Canada

Canada occupies nearly all of North America north of latitude 49° north and east of longitude 141° west. It has an area of 9,984,670 sq km (3,855,103 sq mi), of which 7.6 percent or 755,180 sq km (291,577 sq mi) is covered by fresh water such as rivers and lakes, including part of the Great Lakes. It is bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean; on the northeast by Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, which separate it from Greenland; on the east by the Atlantic Ocean; on the south by the United States; and on the west by the Pacific Ocean and Alaska. Cape Columbia, a promontory of Ellesmere Island, is the country’s northernmost point; the southernmost point, 4,600 km (2,900 mi) away, is Middle Island in Lake Erie. The easternmost and westernmost limits, which are separated by 5,500 km (3,400 mi), are respectively Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the greater part of the border with Alaska.

Long distances and a challenging physical environment make transportation and communication across the country very difficult. This reality has made it a challenge for Canadians to maintain a sense of nationhood.

Natural Regions in Canada

Six general landform regions are distinguishable in Canada: the Appalachian Region, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Lowlands, the Canadian Shield, the Great Plains, the Canadian Cordillera, and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

Appalachian Region and Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Lowlands

Eastern Canada consists of the Appalachian Region and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Lowlands. The Appalachian Region embraces Newfoundland Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and the Gaspé Peninsula of Québec. This region is an extension of the Appalachian mountain system (continuations of the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire) and of the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Lowlands are a generally level plain that includes southern Québec and Ontario. This region has the largest expanse of good farmland in eastern and central Canada. The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Lowlands also contain the so-called manufacturing heartland of Canada, along the corridor from Windsor, Ontario, to Québec City. Ontario and Québec provinces together account for 76 percent of Canada’s employment in manufacturing and two-thirds of the nation’s manufacturing shipments.

Canadian Shield

The Canadian Shield is the largest region, extending from Labrador to Great Bear Lake, from the Arctic Ocean to the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River, and into the United States west of Lake Superior and in northern New York. This region of ancient granite rock is sparsely covered with soil and deeply eroded by glacial action. It includes all of Labrador (the easternmost part of the mainland), most of Québec, northern Ontario, Manitoba, Nunavut Territory, and part of the Northwest Territories, with Hudson Bay in the center.

Great Plains

Bordering the Canadian Shield on the west are the Great Plains, an extension of the Great Plains of the United States. About 1,300 km (about 800 mi) wide at the U.S. border, the region narrows to about one-quarter of that size west of Great Bear Lake and widens again to about 500 km (about 300 mi) at the mouth of the Mackenzie River on the Arctic Ocean coast. Within the Great Plains are the northeastern corner of British Columbia province, most of Alberta, the southern half of Saskatchewan, and the southern one-third of Manitoba. This region has the most fertile soil in Canada.

Canadian Cordillera

Canada’s westernmost region, the Canadian Cordillera, embraces the mountains west of the Great Plains. The region belongs to the vast mountain system extending from the southernmost extremity of South America to westernmost Alaska. The Canadian Cordillera has an average width of about 800 km (about 500 mi). It includes part of western Alberta, much of British Columbia, the Inuvik Region and part of the Fort Smith Region of Northwest Territories, and practically all of Yukon Territory.

The eastern portion of the Canadian Cordillera consists of the Rocky Mountains and related ranges, including the Mackenzie, Franklin, and Richardson mountains. Mount Robson at 3,954 m (12,972 ft) is the highest summit of the Canadian Rockies, and ten other peaks reach elevations of more than 3,500 m (11,500 ft). To the west of the Canadian Rockies are numerous isolated ranges, notably the Cariboo, Stikine, and Selkirk mountains, and a vast plateau region. Deep river valleys and extensive tracts of arable land are the chief features of the plateau region, particularly in British Columbia.

Flanking this central belt on the west and generally parallel to the Pacific Ocean is another great mountain system. This system includes the Coast Mountains, which are an extension into British Columbia of the Cascade Range of the United States, and various coastal ranges. The highest of these, the Saint Elias Mountains, are on the boundary between Yukon Territory and Alaska. Among noteworthy peaks of the western Canadian Cordillera is Mount Logan, which at 5,959 m (19,551 ft) is the highest point in Canada and second highest mountain in North America. Others are Mount Saint Elias at 5,489 m (18,008 ft), Mount Lucania at 5,226 m (17,146 ft), and King Peak at 5,173 m (16,972 ft). All are in the Saint Elias Mountains.

Canadian Arctic Archipelago

The Canadian Arctic Archipelago is a collection of islands north of Hudson Bay and between the Beaufort Sea and Davis Strait. All but the southern tip of Baffin Island are above the Arctic Circle. The archipelago is a complex region including mountains, uplands, plateaus, and lowlands. There are three main subareas: the Innuitian region, the shield territories, and the Arctic lowlands.

The Innuitian region, in the far north, consists of the Queen Elizabeth Islands. The northernmost of these, Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg islands, are almost entirely mountainous and glacier-covered. The Sverdrup Islands to the southwest are lowlands, forming a basin between the Queen Elizabeths and the plateaus of the Parry Islands.

The second major part of the archipelago is an extension of the Canadian Shield and includes most of Baffin Island, Devon Island, part of Somerset Island, and the southeast tip of Ellesmere. This is mainly granite bedrock that has been uplifted and folded into mountains.

The Arctic lowlands make up most of the remainder of the archipelago. These lowlands extend from the Arctic coastal plain in the far west through the interior lowlands of Banks Island. They include most of Victoria Island, Prince of Wales Island, and King William Island.

The archipelago has a cold, dry Arctic climate. Much of the region is covered by glaciers or polar deserts composed of gravel and other unconsolidated material. The sparse vegetation is mainly lichens and mosses.

Geology of Canada

The Canadian Shield, which occupies the eastern half of Canada’s landmass, is an ancient craton (stable continental platform). It is made of rocks that formed billions of years ago during the Precambrian Era of Earth history and includes granites, gneisses, and schists 2 to 4 billion years old. It became the nucleus of the North American crustal plate when Earth’s crust first experienced the tectonic forces that drive continental drift (see Plate Tectonics).

In the Paleozoic Era (about 540 million to 250 million years ago), large parts of Canada were covered by shallow seas. Sediments deposited in these seas formed the sandstone, shale, and limestone that now surround the shield. During the Cambrian and Silurian periods of the Paleozoic Era, layers of rocks were formed that appear as outcroppings in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, along the St. Lawrence valley, and on the shores of Lake Ontario. Flat beds of Paleozoic and younger rocks extend westward across the Great Plains through the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The rocks in these areas contain valuable deposits of oil and gas.

In the Canadian Cordillera, the rocks were subjected to tectonic forces generated by the collision of the North American plate with the Pacific plate. In the ensuing upheavals, which began during the Cretaceous Period (about 145 million to 65 million years ago), mountain ranges rose throughout the Canadian Cordillera. The easternmost of these ranges, the Rocky Mountains, run from Canada south through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. They were built by uplifting and folding of sedimentary rocks and, to a lesser degree, by volcanic activity. The strata composing them range in age from the Paleozoic Era to the Tertiary Period (about 65 million to 1.8 million years ago) and contain valuable deposits of metals as well as fossil fuels.

During the Pleistocene Epoch (about 1.8 million to 11,500 years ago), nearly all of Canada was covered by vast ice sheets that extended into the northern United States. As these ice sheets moved, they profoundly modified Canada’s landscapes, creating many thousands of lakes and extensive deposits of sand, clay, and gravel. See also Ice Ages.

Soils in Canada

Canada’s largest area of high-quality farmland is a formation of rich dark brown and black prairie, or grassland, soils that run from southern Manitoba west across Saskatchewan and into Alberta. The gray-brown soil of the St. Lawrence valley and the Great Lakes is also good farmland. Only about 5 percent of Canada’s land is suitable for raising crops, however; the remainder is too mountainous, rocky, wet, or infertile.

Large areas of Canada are covered by boggy peat that is characteristic of the tundra and adjoining forest areas. This land is generally infertile and frequently mossy. In the Arctic regions, most of the soil is classified as permafrost, meaning that at least 80 percent of the ground is permanently frozen. The freeze-thaw action that occurs in the more southern parts of the permafrost zone frequently causes so-called patterned ground features, such as polygonal rings of stones, ice wedges, and pingos (ice domes).

Rivers and Lakes in Canada

Canada contains more lakes and inland waters than any other country in the world. In addition to the Great Lakes on the American border (all partly within Canada except Lake Michigan), the country has 31 lakes or reservoirs of about 1,300 sq km (about 500 sq mi) in area. Canada’s two largest lakes are Superior and Huron, at 82,100 sq km (31,700 sq mi) and 59,600 sq km (23,000 sq mi), respectively. About one-third of Lake Superior and about three-fifths of Lake Huron are in Canada.

The largest lakes wholly within Canada are Great Bear, at 31,328 sq km (12,096 sq mi), and Great Slave, at 28,568 sq km (11,030 sq mi), both in the Northwest Territories. Each of these immense lakes is larger than either Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, at 24,387 sq km (9,416 sq mi), also compares in size with Lake Erie and is much larger than Lake Ontario. Other very large bodies of freshwater are Lake Athabasca and Reindeer Lake in Saskatchewan and the Smallwood Reservoir in Newfoundland and Labrador. Also significant in size are Nettilling Lake on Baffin Island, Lake Winnipegosis and Lake Manitoba in Manitoba, Lake Nipigon and Lake of the Woods in Ontario, and Lake Melville in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Canada’s two greatest rivers are the St. Lawrence, which drains the Great Lakes and empties into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the Mackenzie, which empties into the Arctic Ocean and drains a large part of northwestern Canada. While the St. Lawrence is the largest river in Canada in volume of water discharged at its mouth, the Mackenzie is the longest. Through its tributary, the Peace River, and tracing to its source in the Finlay River of British Columbia, the Mackenzie is 4,241 km (2,635 mi) long and is one of the longest rivers in the world. The St. Lawrence and the Mackenzie are the second and third largest rivers by volume of discharge, respectively, in North America.

Other large Canadian rivers in terms of both length and discharge are the Yukon, flowing from Yukon Territory across Alaska into the Bering Sea; the Nelson-Saskatchewan system, flowing across the Great Plains into Hudson Bay; the Churchill, also flowing into Hudson Bay; and the Fraser and the Columbia in British Columbia. Other significant regional rivers are the Saint John, emptying into the Bay of Fundy between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; the Churchill, in Newfoundland and Labrador; and the many rivers flowing into the St. Lawrence from the shield, including the Ottawa, the Saguenay, and the Saint-Maurice. All these rivers are navigable for at least some of their length, but only the St. Lawrence and Mackenzie are used for commercial navigation.

In general, all rivers and lakes in Canada have value as sources of water for agricultural, industrial, urban, and recreational uses; but some have more specific commercial uses. The St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes together form an important transportation network for eastern Canada, allowing oceangoing vessels to travel deep into the heartland. The Great Lakes are used to transport bulk materials, such as grain and iron ore, and have been important for the industrial development of the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes region.

Many of the rivers emptying into the St. Lawrence are also important producers of hydroelectric power. In contrast, the rivers of the Arctic drainage basin have little commercial importance. Although the Mackenzie is navigable for most of its length and has been used for transportation, its isolation limits its usefulness. The rivers draining into Hudson Bay are important primarily as power sources, particularly the Nelson in northern Manitoba and the La Grande in northern Québec. The fast-flowing rivers draining into the Pacific, such as the Fraser, are particularly suitable for power generation. They are also crucial for the salmon fishing industry, but these two uses are not compatible. For this reason, hydroelectric development has been prohibited on the Fraser.

Coastline of Canada

The coast of the Canadian mainland, about 58,500 km (about 36,350 mi) in length, is extremely broken and irregular, with alternating large bays and peninsulas. Canada also has numerous coastal islands, with a total island coastline of about 185,290 km (about 115,130 mi). Off the eastern coast the largest islands are Newfoundland, Cape Breton, Prince Edward, and Anticosti. Off the western coast, which is fringed with fjords, are Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Hudson Bay contains Southampton Island and many smaller islands. The Canadian Arctic Archipelago contains many large and small islands, the largest of which are Baffin, Ellesmere, and Victoria.

The importance of the coastline lies in the access it provides to marine resources. Canada has jurisdiction over resources in the oceans that are within 200 nautical miles (230 mi/370 km) of its shores. It has exclusive rights to the resources within that zone, including fisheries and oil deposits. The most important oil sources at present are the Hibernia Oilfields off Newfoundland and Labrador and the Sable Island reserves off Nova Scotia.

The coastline is also important because it provides many natural harbors that have been developed into ports. Ocean ports handle much of Canada’s international trade and provide a significant portion of local and regional coastal economies. Of course, the commercial value of the coastline varies with location; the southern coasts and their ports, such as Vancouver and Victoria in the west and Halifax in the east, are much more important than similar locations in the north, which are icebound much of the year. Finally, coastlines in Canada are very scenic and attract visitors from around the world.

Climate in Canada

Because of its size, Canada has a great variety of climatic conditions. Part of the mainland and most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago are within Earth’s north frigid zone; the remainder of the country lies in the northern half of the north temperate zone. Climatic conditions range from the extreme cold of the Arctic regions to the moderate temperatures of more southerly latitudes. Average summer temperatures range from 8°C (46°F) in the far north to more than 22°C (72°F) in some parts of the far south. Average January temperatures range from -35°C (-31°F) in the far north to 3°C (37°F) in southwestern British Columbia. Similarly, precipitation ranges from near-desert conditions of less than 300 mm (12 in) per year in the far north to very wet conditions of more than 2,400 mm (more than 90 in) in parts of the west coast. Therefore, there is no single Canadian climate, but rather several regional climates.

In the Atlantic provinces, the ocean lessens the extremes of winter cold and summer heat but also causes considerable fog and precipitation. The Pacific coast, which is influenced by warm ocean currents and moisture-laden winds, has mild summers and winters, high humidity, and abundant precipitation. In the Canadian Cordillera, the higher western slopes of certain uplifts, particularly the Selkirks and the Rockies, receive sizable amounts of rain and snow. The eastern slopes and the central plateau receive little precipitation. In the eastern Canadian Cordillera, the chinook, a warm, dry westerly wind, makes winters substantially less severe in the Rocky Mountain foothills and adjoining plains. The Prairie provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) are marked by the most extreme ranges of summer heat and winter cold in Canada. Eastern Canada (Ontario and Québec), which also has great variations in heat and cold, is the snowiest region in Canada.

Climate has been a factor in the development of Canada because people have settled where temperatures are warmest and agricultural growing seasons longest. Climate also influences vegetation, producing, for example, the rain forest of coastal British Columbia. Southern Ontario and southwestern British Columbia have the mildest climates and greatest population densities in Canada. In contrast, the central and northern regions are sparsely populated. The permafrost region in the north poses great challenges for settlement and development. Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories, the Nunavut Territory, northern Québec and Labrador, and the far northern areas of Ontario and Manitoba are all affected by this condition. Houses, roads, runways, and pipelines require special, expensive adaptations. Water and sewage lines are especially troublesome to maintain. Permafrost also makes mining and other forms of development more difficult and environmentally damaging. Disruption of the environment through development can induce thermokarst, the formation of thaw lakes into which buildings can sink.

Plant Life in Canada

The flora of the entire northern part of Canada is Arctic and sub-Arctic (see Tundra). The tree line—the northern limit beyond which trees cannot grow—extends roughly from the mouth of the Mackenzie River to Hudson Bay, just north of Manitoba’s northern border, and continues east from Hudson Bay at approximately 58° north. The tree line is simultaneously a climatic, soil, vegetation, and cultural boundary. It divides the zone of Arctic climate and permafrost, which is the traditional homeland of the Inuit, from the sub-Arctic zone of intermittent permafrost and stunted forest, which was the northern limit of the Athapaskan and Algonquian peoples.

South of the tree line, eastern Canada was originally thickly forested, primarily with coniferous trees. The typical vegetation of southern Ontario, southern Québec, and the Maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) is mixed coniferous and deciduous forest. The only part of Canada dominated by deciduous forest is southernmost Ontario, bordering Lakes Erie and Ontario. Point Pelee on Lake Erie, at roughly the same latitude as the northern border of California, is known for its variety of deciduous trees, including southern species found nowhere else in Canada, such as the Kentucky coffee tree.

The Prairie provinces are largely treeless as far north as the Saskatchewan River system; prairie grasses, herbage, and bunchgrasses are the chief vegetation. Short grasses dominate the dry belt known as Palliser’s Triangle in the southeast portion of the prairie region; an arc of tall grass extends north and west, and this is in turn surrounded by parkland, or mixed grass and mainly deciduous forest.

North of the Saskatchewan River is a broad belt of conifers known as the boreal forest. This belt includes Newfoundland and Labrador, the regions south and east of Hudson Bay, and lands extending westward to the Rocky Mountains. Spruce, tamarack, and poplar are the principal species. The dry slopes and valleys of the Rocky Mountains support thin forests, mainly pine, but the forests increase in density and the trees in size westward toward the region of greater rainfall. On the coastal ranges, especially on their western slopes, are dense forests of mighty conifers, principally spruce, hemlock, Douglas and balsam firs, jack and lodgepole pines, and cedar.

Canada’s extensive coniferous forests constitute the plant life that is most important to its economy. This living resource provides valuable raw products, manufactured products, and thousands of jobs. The coastal and interior forests of British Columbia are the largest and most valuable portion, containing about 35 percent of the country’s timber value. The smaller trees of the boreal forest are used across Canada for pulp and paper. The southeastern mixed zone in the Maritimes also supports a lumber industry. The natural vegetation of Canada also has commercial value as a tourist attraction.

Animal Life in Canada

The animals of Canada are similar to those of northern Europe and Asia. Among the carnivores are several species of the weasel family, such as the ermine, sable, fisher, wolverine, and mink. Other representative carnivores are the black bear, brown bear, lynx, wolf, coyote, fox, and skunk. The polar bear is distributed throughout the Arctic; the puma is found in British Columbia. Of the rodents, the most characteristic is the beaver. The porcupine, the muskrat, and many smaller rodents are numerous, as are hares. Gophers are found in the Great Plains.

Several varieties of Virginia deer are native to southern Canada; the black-tailed deer occurs in British Columbia and parts of the Great Plains. This region is also the habitat of pronghorns. The woodland caribou and the moose are numerous and widely distributed, but the Barren Ground caribou is found only in the far north, which is also the habitat of the musk ox. Elk and bison (often called buffalo) are found in various western areas. Bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats are numerous in the British Columbia mountains. Birds are abundant and diverse, and fish are numerous in all the inland waters and along all the coasts. Reptiles and insects are scarce except in the far south.

Many animal species in Canada are threatened with extinction as urban, agricultural, and industrial uses envelop and pollute natural environments. Some species have already become extinct, such as the passenger pigeon, the sea mink, and the Dawson caribou. Among the endangered animals are the whooping crane, swift fox, peregrine falcon, beluga (white whale), and the spotted owl. Furthermore, some animals are threatened by illegal hunting; for example, an illegal market in bear parts used in some Asian medicines has had a severe impact on black and grizzly bear populations. In 2005 there were 345 animal and aquatic species categorized as “at risk” in Canada. In contrast, some of Canada’s animals have adapted very well to new environments and have become so numerous as to be considered pests in some areas. Others have been brought back from the brink of extinction by conservation efforts.

Except for fish, native animals are no longer of much economic importance in Canada. Although beaver, bison, sea otter, and whale were once hunted to virtual extinction, they are now either protected or largely ignored as an economic asset. Canada still has a fur industry, but the demand for furs has lessened substantially. Hunting for sport, however, generates a certain amount of income across Canada. Also, a growing number of people participate in other recreations related to wildlife, such as birdwatching, whale watching, and nature photography; all of these generate jobs and income.

Natural Resources of Canada

Canada is richly endowed with valuable natural resources that are commercially indispensable to the economy. Most are specific to one region or another; for this reason separate resource-based economies have tended to develop across Canada. The country has enormous areas of fertile, low-lying land in the Prairie provinces and bordering the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Profitable agricultural economies have developed in both of these regions. Canadian forests cover 31 percent of the country’s land area and abound in commercially valuable stands of timber, especially in British Columbia, Québec, northern Ontario, the northern Prairie provinces, and the Maritimes.

Canada’s extensive mineral resources provide valuable exports and also supply domestic industries. Five of the country’s six major regions contribute to these resources. The Québec portion of the Appalachian Region has the world’s largest reserves of asbestos, along with deposits of copper and zinc. The Canadian Shield is a rich source of metals such as nickel, copper, gold, uranium, silver, aluminum, and zinc. Minerals from the shield helped fuel the manufacturing development of southern Ontario and Québec. The Great Plains region is rich in reserves of crude petroleum and natural gas; these are concentrated in the Prairie provinces, particularly in Alberta. These fuel deposits are responsible for the dynamic energy-producing economy of these provinces. The Great Plains region also has deposits of nonfuels, such as potash, gypsum, and salt. The western Canadian Cordillera provides copper, lead, zinc, molybdenum, and asbestos, and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago provides zinc and lead. Increasingly important to the mining industry, the Canadian Arctic Archipelago features the world’s northernmost base metal mine, the Polaris mine, on Little Cornwallis Island.

The river and lake systems of the country combine with topography to make hydroelectric energy one of the permanent natural assets of Canada. Here British Columbia and the shield provinces are particularly well endowed. As with other natural resources, much of the energy is exported.

The wildlife of the country is extensive and varied and attracts tourists from around the world, but it is the fish stocks that have the greatest economic value. The cod stocks off the eastern coast provided export revenue and livelihoods for Atlantic Canadians for centuries. In the early 1990s, however, this fishery experienced a sudden collapse due to overfishing and other factors and has not recovered. Other edible fish and shellfish are present in Atlantic coastal waters but do not represent the same commercial value as cod. In the Pacific region, the various salmon species are the most important fish resource, although many other varieties of fish and shellfish are also economically significant. Finally, freshwater fish in Canada’s numerous lakes and rivers are a source of food and revenue for many local communities.

Environmental Issues in Canada

The Canadian environment is being altered by many human activities. The growth of industries and urban areas has caused air quality to decline, raising concerns among many people about the effects of fossil fuel use, acid rain, and global warming. Urban growth has reduced agricultural lands and has become a major issue near large urban centers, especially in the Windsor-Montréal corridor of Ontario and Québec and in the Fraser River valley adjoining Vancouver. Waste management in urban areas is also a growing environmental problem, and many communities are having problems siting waste facilities and reducing the volume of waste generated.

Outside cities, agriculture, forestry, fishery, hydroelectric development, and mining have increasingly met with controversy over their effects on environmental quality and loss of wilderness areas. In agriculture, global competition has intensified, leading to lower prices for many agricultural products. Farmers have tried to stay competitive by adopting practices, such as the use of chemical fertilizers, that degrade the natural resource base. In other resource industries, notably forestry and fishing, concern has been expressed that historical and current rates of extraction threaten the viability of the resources. Thus government resource management policies are under more scrutiny than ever before.

Since the 1970s the federal and provincial governments have required an environmental impact assessment for new projects, such as mines, pulp and paper mills, and irrigation projects. At first these reviews were not very demanding and were not universally applied, but they became more stringent over time. In 1995 federal laws were passed making such reviews universal. The legislation mandates that all projects on federal land, using federal funds, or run by federal agencies must be reviewed to determine their impact on the environment. Most provinces now have legislation requiring environmental assessments of projects within their jurisdiction.

Sustainable Development

Increasingly, federal and provincial governments in Canada have adopted the concept of sustainable development as a standard. Sustainable development has been defined by the World Commission on Resources and Development to mean development that meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations. The World Commission, of which Canada is a member, was created by the United Nations. In 1987 it produced an influential report, Our Common Future, on environment and economic development. Two of the report’s recommendations in particular were taken up by Canada: establishing roundtables (policy groups of people with diverse backgrounds) and increasing the amount of protected land. The federal government and most provincial governments established roundtables on the economy and the environment.

In 1990 the Canadian government established the Green Plan, which emphasized more monitoring of the environment, tighter environmental regulations, and the restoration of damaged areas, and set a goal of protecting 12 percent of the country’s land by placing it in parks, special resource management zones, ecological reserves, and other designations. By 2001 Canada had reached 10 percent, although only 6 percent of all land was defined as “strictly protected.”

Most government ministries dealing with land and resources are continuing to emphasize sustainable development. The provinces, which control most of Canada’s public land, are protecting more of it. Many provinces have made a commitment to increase their allocation of land for parks, wildlife reserves, and other ecosystem protection zones. Decisions to protect more land have frequently pitted urban-based environmental activists against rural communities whose residents rely on the resources that will be protected.

As people have become more concerned about protecting the environment, policymakers have begun to make decisions about resource management by considering both the needs of human activities and those of ecosystems. In Ontario remedial action plans have been established to clean up industrial pollution in the Great Lakes.

Decisions regarding the management of resources have often led to political conflict and lawsuits. Alternative methods of resolving these conflicts are increasingly being promoted. One method is mediation, in which an intermediary helps the opposing sides resolve a problem. In Ontario a joint agency was set up to make recommendations to the provincial government on land allocation and resource management in the Temagami region north of Toronto. The agency included representatives of government, indigenous peoples, and the general public.

In several provinces the process for making decisions about resources has been broadened to include different groups of people. In part, this is the result of indigenous peoples’ demands for more input into the process, but it also reflects demands by the general public to be included in decisions that directly affect them. The trend is particularly strong in fisheries, forestry, and wildlife management. For example, local communities are becoming more involved in forest management through programs such as the Community Forests Initiative in Ontario and Forest Renewal BC in British Columbia. In addition, several provinces have begun forestry education programs for indigenous peoples and have sought ways, including shared management of public lands, to increase indigenous involvement in forest and land management.

Fisheries Management

Licenses for sport fishing are usually distributed by the provincial or territorial governments, which retain the revenue collected. Many provinces put these revenues into fish conservation projects. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for regulating, developing, and conserving Canada’s commercial fisheries, although it delegates part of the management of freshwater fisheries to the provinces through federal-provincial agreements. The department also conducts research and represents Canada in international agreements on fisheries management and marine research. There are management problems involving other countries on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

In the international waters of the Atlantic Ocean the fisheries are regulated by an international body called the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), whose member states include Canada, the United States, and the countries of the European Union (EU). Disputes involving NAFO are worked out in international negotiations and through the United Nations. Canada controls fishing within 200 nautical miles (230 mi/370 km) of its shores, and NAFO recognizes Canada’s right to enforce its regulations to protect fish stocks that are partly within and partly outside this limit. Not all countries respect this right, however, and international tensions sometimes flare.

On the Pacific coast, salmon spawned in Canadian streams are caught by American fishing boats and also as an incidental (unintentional) catch in trawl nets and drift nets operated by Japanese, Koreans, and Taiwanese. Issues between Canada and the United States are dealt with under the Canada-United States Pacific Salmon Treaty, signed in 1985. The two nations, however, have not always agreed on how the treaty should be implemented. Issues with other nations are handled through an international organization, the North Pacific Anadromous Fisheries Commission, which promotes the conservation of salmon and other anadromous fish (fish species that migrate between rivers and the ocean) on the high seas. Trade sanctions are applied to countries that break its rules.

Controversy has also surrounded the Atlantic seal fishery. Protesters from several nations objected to the harvesting of whitecoat harp seal pups, which they charged was done in a cruel manner. It was banned in the 1980s, and today only harp seals that have molted their white coats—and are therefore considered mature—are harvested.

Forest Management

As of 2001, the federal government owned about 42 million hectares (about 104 million acres) of forest. The provinces owned about 243 million hectares (600 million acres) or 81 percent of the forests south of latitude 60° north (the northern border of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba). The remaining 19 percent was reserved for national parks or held privately. The provinces are responsible for managing their public lands and the timber on those lands.

Increasingly, policymakers are recognizing the intangible benefits of forests. These include recreational pursuits such as park visitation, birdwatching, nature photography, hunting, hiking, and canoeing. Forests are also recognized as important reserves of scientific information and habitats for wildlife, as well as important to water and soil conservation, air quality improvement, and maintenance of biological diversity (including both genetic diversity and ecosystem diversity). In recognition of these benefits, commercial logging is not permitted on about 5 percent of the productive forestland; this land is set aside in parks and other reserves. Several provinces have made commitments to set aside more forested lands in parks and reserves. Reforestation efforts are also an important aspect of the government’s forest management programs.

Wildlife Management

Wildlife is an important component of the Canadian heritage. More than 90 percent of Canadians participate in wildlife-related activities, such as nature photography, wildlife watching, bird feeding, hunting, fishing, and subsistence use (obtaining food). In addition, many visitors come to Canada to view wildlife, especially birds and large mammals. Canada still has important wildlife populations, including a large proportion of the world’s stock of mountain sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears, but many animal populations have shrunk or even disappeared. These losses are due in part to overhunting in the days before hunting restrictions and in part to habitat loss, which continues to this day.

Wildlife is a natural resource and therefore falls under provincial jurisdiction. However, the Canada Wildlife Act of 1973 enables the federal government to work with the provinces on wildlife conservation and research. The act gives the federal government special responsibilities to protect and manage marine species and certain migratory birds and to conserve wildlife and habitat of national or international importance. Endangered species and those that migrate across provincial or national boundaries are covered by the act, as are wetlands that provide waterfowl habitat. The federal Canadian Wildlife Service works with provincial wildlife agencies to establish annual revisions of hunting seasons and catch limits, undertake ecological research, coordinate national efforts to protect wildlife and habitat, and manage wildlife areas and bird sanctuaries.

In addition, some indigenous peoples have a special interest in wildlife, largely because it is important to their way of life. Contemporary treaties—covering most of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut—have provided indigenous peoples with a direct say in wildlife management in Canada’s north.


The estimated population of Canada in 2009 was 33,487,208. At the time of the last census in 2001, the official population was 30,007,094, compared to about 28.8 million in 1996. The population growth rate from 1994 to 2003 was 1 percent per year; this was the eighth highest rate among the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a list that makes up the most developed industrial countries of the world. Two-thirds of this growth was due to immigration. Canada’s liberal immigration program accepts newcomers from nearly every other country in the world.

Most Canadians live in cities, and most of the cities are close to the country’s southern border. The largest urban centers are in Québec and Ontario provinces, or central Canada, where almost two-thirds of the people live. Most of the population is ethnically British or French, although other European countries are well represented, and indigenous peoples are the majority in the north. French and English are the official languages, although the people who speak English as their mother tongue outnumber those whose mother tongue is French by about 2.5 to 1. Roman Catholics, who include most French-speaking people, are the most numerous religious group, followed by the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church. Immigrants are a growing minority, particularly those from Asia, and have been changing the face of Canada’s largest urban areas. See also Ethnic Groups in Canada.

Canadians have a high literacy rate and a number of top universities. The standard of living is one of the world’s highest, although one in seven households lives in poverty. Violent crime is low compared to other North American societies but has been rising.

Population Characteristics of Canada

Demographic Trends

Canada is a nation of people who came from somewhere else. All but the indigenous people arrived there within the past 400 years, most within the past few generations. For that reason most Canadians still feel some attachment to their old homelands. The majority of the population is of European descent, but the proportion of Asians is increasing. Nearly 60 percent of all immigrants in the decade from 1991 to 2001 came from Asia, and Chinese is the fastest-growing mother tongue in Canada. As ethnic groups intermarry, however, ethnic identities are becoming more blurred; more than one-third of Canadians report multiple ethnic origins. Indigenous peoples make up about 3 percent and blacks about 2 percent of the population.

Immigration is important to maintaining Canada’s population. The current childbearing generation has smaller families than earlier generations: The fertility rate (average number of children born per woman) is 1.6. At the same time, older people are living longer, so that the average age of the population is higher. In 2009 Canada’s rate of natural increase was 0.25 percent, resulting from a birth rate of 10.3 per 1,000 persons and a death rate of 7.7 per 1,000. There is a downward trend in the birth index—in 1981 it was 15.3—and the likely end result will be zero growth or population loss. For this reason the Canadian government decided in the 1980s to compensate for the low birth rate by allowing more immigration.

Distribution of Population

Although Canada has a very low population density of 3.7 persons per sq km (9.6 persons per sq mi), this is a misleading statistic. Actually the population is highly concentrated, with about three-quarters of all Canadians living within about 300 km (about 200 mi) of the U.S. border. Canadians are further concentrated into about 25 metropolitan areas. Overall, according to the 2001 census, a total of 79.7 percent live in urban areas (communities of 1,000 people or more). The percentage of urban dwellers has remained relatively stable since 1971.

There is also a regional dimension to population distribution in Canada. In 2005 about 62 percent of Canadians were concentrated in Québec and Ontario. Nearly all of the rest lived in the other eight provinces: 17 percent in the Prairie provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan; about 7 percent in the Atlantic provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick; and about 13 percent in British Columbia. The Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut were sparsely inhabited, with only about 0.3 percent of the country’s total population.

During the last quarter of the 20th century the Canadian population shifted westward. British Columbia and Alberta were beneficiaries of this movement and enjoyed growth rates well above the Canadian average. However, Ontario continued to be the most populous and economically vibrant province.

Population Centers

The largest urban centers of Canada are found mostly in the southern parts of Ontario and Québec. They are ranked according to the population of their Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs). A CMA is a geographic area that contains the main labor market of an urban zone—that is, the area from which at least 25 percent of the residents commute to work at jobs in the core built-up area. As of 2006 the largest CMAs in Canada were as follows. Toronto, Ontario (5,406,300), is the country’s leading financial and manufacturing center and one of the most ethnically varied cities in the world; its local government provides services in some 70 languages. Montréal, Québec (3,666,300), a major manufacturing and commercial center, is the world’s largest French-speaking city outside France. Vancouver, British Columbia (2,236,100), is a scenic, rapidly growing commercial, transportation, and forest-products manufacturing center.

Ottawa, Ontario, the hub of the Ottawa-Gatineau metropolitan area (1,158,300), is the national capital and an emerging center of high-technology research. Calgary, Alberta (1,107,200), is the headquarters of Canada’s petroleum industry and an important farm trade center. Edmonton, Alberta (1,050,000), a petroleum and farming center, is the capital of Alberta and site of the West Edmonton Mall, one of the world’s largest indoor malls.

Québec City (723,300), founded in 1608, is the capital of Québec province, with a well-preserved center that has been listed as a World Heritage Site. Hamilton, Ontario (716,200), is the principal center of Canadian steel production. Winnipeg, Manitoba (706,700), is a major wheat market and railroad hub. London, Ontario (465,700), is an industrial and commercial city. Kitchener, Ontario (463,600), is a manufacturing center that forms the hub of Canada’s so-called technology triangle, an economic region comprising the cities of Cambridge, Guelph, Kitchener, and Waterloo. St. Catharines, Ontario, in the St. Catharines-Niagara metropolitan area (396,800), is a center of agricultural and industrial production. Halifax, Nova Scotia (382,200), is a seaport and the economic center of the Atlantic region.

Languages in Canada

Canada is officially bilingual, and all services provided by the federal government are available in English and French. The selection of Ottawa as the national capital, located on the Ontario-Québec border, reflects the long-standing political and cultural importance of the two founding nations. The 2006 census reported that just 1.6 percent of Canadians lack the ability to speak at least one of the official languages; 17 percent of Canadians are fluently bilingual. The majority, 57 percent, reported English as their mother tongue in 2006, while 22 percent reported French and 20 percent declared a nonofficial language. Some of the most prevalent nonofficial languages in Canada are Chinese, Italian, German, Punjabi, Spanish, Portuguese, and Vietnamese.

Historically, the indigenous peoples of Canada spoke dozens of different languages. More than 50 are still recognized today. Almost all fall into groups of related languages traceable from a common ancestral tongue. The largest such group is the Algonquian; Cree, an Algonquian language, is the most significant indigenous language in Canada today. Other large groups are Dene (also called Athapaskan), Iroquoian, Siouan, Salishan, Wakashan, Tsimshian, and Inuit-Aleut (Eskimaleut). There are also three indigenous languages of British Columbia—Kootenay, Haida, and Tlingit—that are not clearly related to any other known tongue. See also Native American Languages.

Ethnic Groups in Canada

Ethnic Composition

The ethnic composition of the Canadian people is diverse. Historically, the Canadian population has been dominated by those of British and French origins. At the time of the 1996 census these two groups made up about 35 and 25 percent of the country’s population, respectively. Ethnic data collection processes were changed for the 2001 census, however, allowing respondents to list multiple ethnicities, including “Canadian.” Under this method the most popular ethnic background checked was Canadian (39.4 percent of respondents), followed by English (20.2 percent), French (15.75 percent), Scottish (14.3 percent), Irish (12.9 percent), and German (9.25 percent). Among those respondents that checked only one ethnicity, the leading categories were Canadian (37 percent), English (8 percent), French (6 percent), Chinese (5 percent), German and Italian (4 percent each), and Irish and Scottish (3 percent each).

The majority of French-speaking Canadians live in Québec, where they make up about 70 percent of the population, although only 29.6 percent of the province’s residents identified themselves as ethnically French Canadian in the 2001 census. Significant numbers of this ethnic group also live in Ontario and New Brunswick. The remaining French Canadians are thinly scattered through the rest of Canada, but there are a few concentrations, such as the Saint Boniface district of Winnipeg.

While French Canadians form a cultural group based on their language, history, and religion, British Canadians do not. The four nationalities of the British Isles—English, Scots, Welsh, and Irish—all had different histories, belonged to various religions, and developed different cultural traditions and beliefs. While an economic elite of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, mostly of English and Scottish background, has dominated the business and industry of every province, even Québec, they are a minority of British Canadians.

The ethnic population trends and settlement patterns have been heavily influenced by Canadian immigration policy. The policy during the early 20th century, a time of vigorous western settlement, focused on Europeans. As a result, the proportion of European Canadians in the Prairie provinces is especially high. More recently, Asian immigration has coincided with the growth of the largest metropolitan centers—Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver—and thus Chinese Canadians and Indo-Canadians are most visible there. See also Ethnic Groups in Canada.

French Canadians

Four-fifths of French Canadians live in Québec province. Many, if not most, of them regard Québec as the center of their society and culture, and their effort to preserve it has led to a movement of French Canadian nationalism that has taken several forms. Surrounded by an English-speaking society and living in an economy dominated by an English-speaking elite, the Québécois (French-speaking residents of Québec) made a concerted effort beginning in 1960 to increase their control of Québec affairs. A nationalist provincial government revamped the educational system, provided aid to small businesses, and took control of some industries, all with the objective of increasing Québécois’ control of the economy.

Many Québécois nationalists have gone further: Some support a separatist movement that seeks independence for the province; others advocate a more moderate alternative, keeping Québec in Canada but giving it more powers than the other provinces. The English-speaking minority in Québec is opposed to its separation from Canada. The other provinces also oppose it and are also generally against the more moderate alternative.

Both the Parti Québécois, the party elected in 1993 to govern Québec, and the Bloc Québécois, the party elected the same year to represent the province in Canada’s Parliament, are officially dedicated to separation. This situation has intensified the historical mistrust between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians, a legacy from the time when English speakers in Canada focused solely on their own interests (see Canada: Laurier). Emphasis on French Canadian culture and aspirations has also damaged the Québécois’ relations with other minorities in the province. Among these are indigenous peoples, who have lately begun to pursue their own rights and political powers.

Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples, designated in the census as “Aboriginal,” made up about 3.3 percent of Canada’s inhabitants at the beginning of the 21st century. They live across Canada in every province and territory, with about 45 percent concentrated in the Prairie provinces, according to the 2001 census. Less than half of Canada’s indigenous peoples live on reservations (or reserves). In the Arctic and sub-Arctic, where the climate has discouraged permanent European settlement, indigenous peoples are the majority. They divide themselves into nations, each with a traditional territory, language, and culture. The groupings and homelands have changed over time. For example, the Bearlake only became a nation in the 20th century; the Neutral and several neighboring nations were broken up in the 17th century; and the Sioux did not arrive in Canada until the 19th century.

The federal Indian Act recognizes four categories of indigenous people: Status Indians, who are registered on an official roll; Inuit; Métis, people of mixed European and indigenous heritage; and non-Status Indians, people of indigenous descent who are not on the official roll. For administrative purposes, indigenous peoples in Canada are also divided according to band. A band is the smallest indigenous political unit; there are about 600 bands in Canada, corresponding roughly to local indigenous communities.

The indigenous peoples speak many different languages, engage in different cultural processes, pursue economic well-being in diverse ways, and have created a variety of governing systems. Yet they have historically shared many characteristics and conditions of life. The land continues to have social and cultural significance for a large proportion of them. Their relation to the land has not been well understood by European Canadians.

Land and resource development has had social costs for indigenous people, particularly those living in the north. In the first place, it often destroys fragile physical environments. With the loss or reduction of traditional hunting and fishing lifestyles comes damage to indigenous identities and self-esteem. Furthermore, the economic benefits of development mostly accrue to developers rather than local people. Even where indigenous Canadians have negotiated a share in the profits, economic benefits tend to be only temporary while the social problems associated with a rapid influx of people and money are often of longer duration.

Tensions have sometimes erupted into violence. The most serious confrontations have occurred in Oka, Québec, and Gustafson Lake, British Columbia, where armed standoffs with police lasted many days. Smaller incidents, such as blockades across access roads to resource sites, are becoming more common. Problems are generally related to disagreements over land use and ownership. The situation is unlikely to improve until land negotiations between governments and indigenous peoples are complete.

The Canadian government, through the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND), administers the Indian Act and other legislation relating to Status Indians. The department is responsible for meeting the federal government’s treaty obligations, negotiating with Status Indian communities regarding increased autonomy for these communities, supporting indigenous people’s economic development and self-sufficiency, and negotiating with them to resolve their land claims.

DIAND has begun transferring to indigenous reserves the responsibility of managing their own affairs. These communities now control the majority of all funding from Indian and Inuit Affairs, one of the four programs within DIAND. The program provides funds for housing; education; economic development; child, family, and adult care services; and other social services, including initiatives to prevent family violence and substance abuse.

Since 1986 the Canadian government has negotiated with indigenous communities to develop self-government. The first communities to do so created their own local political entities, which have municipal status and are accountable to an indigenous electorate. This model, however, is not accepted by all indigenous peoples. Some indigenous organizations have demanded a much broader set of powers that would recognize their inherent right to be self-governing, independent of the jurisdiction of the provinces.

In November 1992 Ottawa and the Inuit of the eastern Arctic signed a comprehensive agreement to resolve outstanding grievances. This agreement also authorized the new territory of Nunavut, which was created in 1999 from the eastern part of the Northwest Territories. In 2001 almost 90 percent of the people in Nunavut were Inuit (Nunavut is the Inuit word for “our land”). The territory became the first large political unit in North America with an indigenous majority. It is governed by its own legislative assembly, territorial court, and civil service.


Blacks, or African Canadians, have never been a major segment of the country’s population, but their history is interesting. Although King Louis XIV of France authorized the importation of slaves from the West Indies in 1689, few were brought to Canada or Acadia. Some refugees from the American Revolution (1775-1783) brought slaves north with them, and a greater number of blacks came as free persons, many of them having won their freedom by fighting for the British side in that conflict. Nova Scotia abolished slavery in 1787, as did Upper Canada (Ontario) six years later; their actions set precedents for the British Empire. When British troops burned Washington, the U.S. capital, in the War of 1812 (1812-1815), they brought back to Halifax many slaves who had sought refuge with them. Escape to Canada meant freedom, and thus it was a major destination of the so-called Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes by which U.S. abolitionists spirited slaves out of the American South. They transported many slaves into Canada, particularly to Chatham and Sarnia in Ontario. See also Slavery.

Blacks in Canada have generally been equal under the law, although Nova Scotia and Ontario formerly had legally segregated public schools, and the schools for blacks were often poorly funded. Traditionally, blacks have been employed in jobs that pay low wages. They remain among the poorest and worst educated of Canada’s citizens. Since an upsurge of civil rights activism in the 1960s, blacks have pressed for improvement of their condition, and their leadership has been enhanced by the addition of educated black immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. Some urban black communities in Canada have had protests over police mistreatment of black people in recent decades, including in Toronto, Montréal, and Halifax.


Immigrants accounted for about 18 percent of Canada’s population in 2001, and immigration has been a key force in the country’s growth since the beginning of the colonial era. For most of postcolonial history Canada’s immigration policy favored people of European descent. This practice was replaced in the 1960s by new rules classifying immigrants into three groups: refugees fleeing political persecution, family members of Canadian citizens, and independent immigrants (sometimes called “economic immigrants”). The last group is admitted under a point system, where they are allocated points for level of education, experience in the labor market, facility in one or both official languages, and so on. Those with enough points are allowed to become permanent residents and, three years later, Canadian citizens. The policy is designed so that half of Canada’s immigrants are family members or political refugees and half are economic immigrants.

Immigration to Canada often reflects international developments and trends. During the 1990s, for example, immigrants from Hong Kong accounted for 15 to 20 percent of all immigration to Canada in most of those years. This movement was related to the widespread concern in Hong Kong over the return of the colony to China in 1997. In 2004, 48.6 percent of Canada’s 235,824 new immigrants came from Asia and the Pacific Rim, 21 percent from Africa and the Middle East, 17.8 percent from Europe and the United Kingdom, 9 percent from South and Central America, and 3.2 percent from the United States. During the same year the top ten source countries for immigrants to Canada (in order) were China, India, Philippines, Pakistan, the United States, Iran, the United Kingdom, Romania, Korea, and France.

The federal government is required to consult the provinces each year on immigration policy. The government is also required to set an annual target figure for immigration, although it has been common in recent years to plan in five-year stages. In the early 21st century the targets were set at between 220,000 and 245,000 immigrants annually. Because of Canada’s low birth rate and aging population, some government officials pushed for raising the yearly target up to 1 percent of the Canadian population, or about 325,000 people per year.

Arriving immigrants require settlement services. These are provided by provincial and municipal governments and a variety of nongovernmental organizations. Much of the funding for these programs comes from the federal government. Services include temporary accommodation, language classes, and employment counseling.

The overwhelming majority of newcomers settle in cities, which has altered the ethnic compositions of large Canadian cities such as Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver. Each of these cities has a different immigrant profile: Persons arriving from French-speaking countries are most likely to settle in Montréal, those from Latin America in Toronto, and those from the Pacific Rim in either Toronto or Vancouver. Certain resources in these cities have become strained, particularly the school systems. It is common, for example, for entire elementary classrooms in some parts of Vancouver to consist of recent immigrants from Asian countries. Beyond the cost of providing instructional programs in English as a second language, these cities are faced with the challenge of integrating diverse cultures. A number of problems have arisen, such as immigrants’ complaints of discrimination. Although some Canadians have pressured the government to cut back the annual immigration target, immigration is generally well supported.

In response to requests by various cultural groups, the Canadian government established a multicultural policy in 1971 that recognizes the changing composition of the Canadian population. This policy was intended to acknowledge the contribution of all groups that make up Canada and to signal that there is no official culture into which everyone is expected to assimilate. In 1972 a new position was added to the federal cabinet: the minister of state for multiculturalism. The federal Human Rights Act, passed in 1977, made discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, or ethnic origin illegal. In 1982 these rights were included in the new constitution, and in 1986 a program was established to ensure that minorities have equal access to federal employment.

Religion in Canada

Most Canadians are Christians (about 75 percent in the 2001 census), although a rapidly growing number have no religious affiliation (16 percent). The remainder practice non-Christian Eastern religions, Judaism, indigenous traditions, or other forms of belief such as the New Age movement. The Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest single denomination, representing 43 percent of the Canadian population in 2001; approximately half of Roman Catholics live in Québec. The great majority of French Canadians are Roman Catholics. The next two largest denominations in 2001 were the United Church of Canada (10 percent), formed in the 1920s through a merger of Methodists, Congregationalists, and most Presbyterians; and the Anglican Church (7 percent). Other significant religious affiliations in Canada were Baptist (3 percent); Muslim (2.0 percent); Lutheran (2.0 percent); Protestant (1.9 percent); Presbyterian (1.4 percent); Pentecostal (1.2 percent); and Jewish (1.1 percent). Immigration from eastern and southern Asia in recent years has also brought increasing numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs.

Most religious groups are widely distributed across Canada, but some communities are concentrated in specific areas. For example, the Mennonites, the Hutterites, and the Ukrainian Orthodox are mainly located in the Prairie provinces, the majority of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) reside in Alberta, most Hindus live in Toronto, and most Sikhs live in Vancouver. In each of these cases, religious communities have created visible landscapes that add to the distinctiveness and variety of Canadian places. In Vancouver, for example, there are several Sikh temples that are each large enough to accommodate more than 1,000 worshippers at a service. The Vancouver area also has thriving Indo-Canadian shopping areas that specialize in traditional products of the Punjab, the district in India where Sikhism originated.

Education in Canada

The educational systems in Canada derive from British, American, and—particularly in the province of Québec—French traditions. Students in Québec are taught in French unless specific conditions apply, for example, if their parents were taught in an English-language school in Québec. English is the principal language of instruction in other provinces and the territories, but there are exceptions. Many of New Brunswick’s schools are French-language schools, reflecting the high proportion of French Canadians in the province as well as the official policy of bilingualism there. French immersion programs, where students are taught almost completely in French, are also popular in many parts of the country.


The earliest Canadian schools date from the early 17th century and were conducted by French Catholic religious groups. Higher education began in 1635 with the founding of the Collège des Jésuites in the city of Québec. It was not until the transfer of Canada from French to British jurisdiction in 1763 that an educational system began to emerge that augmented church schools with secular public schools and private schools. When the dominion was created in 1867, education was defined as a provincial responsibility, and it has remained so ever since.

There is no central ministry of education in Canada. The federal government steps in only for special populations outside normal provincial jurisdiction, such as inmates of federal prisons, the families of Canada’s armed forces, and indigenous peoples on reserves. Increasingly, indigenous groups are acquiring more control over their local educational programs.

Although education is administered by the government, churches frequently play an integral role in its delivery. Church-run schools that are alternatives to the secular system of elementary and secondary schools exist in all provinces and territories. Typically these schools receive state funding if they agree to teach the regular curriculum; in addition, they offer extra language and/or religion courses.

The vast, sparsely settled areas of Canada present special problems in delivering education. Initially, governments and religious groups established residential schools, especially for indigenous children, but these were never popular. The indigenous peoples saw them as a way for white society to dominate indigenous cultures and reported incidents of physical and sexual abuse. Eventually these schools were closed, and in 2006 the Canadian government offered a nearly C$2-billion compensation package to the survivors. A less centralized system emerged, which increasingly has been augmented with correspondence programs and more recently with educational television, teleconferencing, and Internet programs. Some of the more successful distance education technologies, such as those developed by the Knowledge Network in British Columbia, have been exported to other provinces and countries.

Canadian educators are increasingly occupied with the issue of funding current education programs while budgets are shrinking. Almost all provincial governments have adopted deficit reduction strategies that make money increasingly less available for schools. At the same time, schools must meet a number of demands. Many schools are faced with large numbers of immigrant children requiring language training. In Toronto and Vancouver, the two cities with the greatest ethnic diversity in Canada, more than half of all students in the regular school system did not learn English as their first language. In poor neighborhoods, the schools provide free or subsidized meals to many children.

Schools are also facing a demand for sophisticated and expensive technological training to equip students for the future. At the individual school level, parents are demanding and receiving a greater say in policy-making and program choices. In response, provincial governments have attempted to deliver education services more efficiently by consolidating school districts and collaborating with other provinces.


By world standards, Canada has a high literacy rate. Complete illiteracy—the inability to read or write at all in any language—is very rare in Canada, at just 3 percent of the adult population. However, there is a greater level of functional illiteracy—the inability to read well or to understand what is read. Illiteracy is more likely to be found among the elderly and poor of Canada. Programs to combat illiteracy are offered by the National Literacy Secretariat, which promotes and supports organizations dedicated to adult literacy training.

Elementary and Secondary Schools

Education is compulsory for children from age 6 or 7 to age 15 or 16, depending on the province they live in, and it is free until the completion of secondary school studies. Participation in the school system is almost universal. After the period of mandatory education is completed, participation decreases. In 2001 some 85 percent of adults had high school degrees.


Canada’s large universities were established in the 19th century, beginning with McGill University in 1821. Since World War II (1939-1945), higher education has expanded. Many new institutions have been founded, and the older universities have increased in size, scope, and influence. The federal and provincial governments fund the university system in Canada, including sectarian institutions, and students pay only a small portion of the cost. Universities are still the predominant institutions offering higher education, but the number of nonuniversity postsecondary institutions, particularly community colleges, has increased sharply in recent decades.

Nursing education, formerly concentrated at special schools attached to hospitals, has been transferred to universities and community colleges. Similarly, teacher training has been shifted from specialized institutions to universities.

Among the country’s larger universities are the following: the University of Alberta (1906) and the University of Calgary (1945), in Alberta; the University of British Columbia (1908) and Simon Fraser University (1963), in British Columbia; the University of Manitoba (1877); the University of Moncton (1864) and the University of New Brunswick (1785), in New Brunswick; Memorial University of Newfoundland (1925); Acadia University (1838) and Dalhousie University (1818), in Nova Scotia; Carleton University (1942), McMaster University (1887), the University of Ottawa (1848), the University of Toronto (1827), the University of Waterloo (1957), and York University (1959), in Ontario; the University of Prince Edward Island (1834); Concordia University (1974), Université Laval (1852), McGill University (1821), the Université de Montréal (1876), and the Université du Québec (1969), in Québec; and the University of Saskatchewan (1907).

Way of Life in Canada

The complex regional and cultural composition of Canadian society means that there is no single Canadian way of life, but certain generalizations can be made. Perhaps the clearest is that Canada shares with the United States, most European countries, and Japan a high standard of living relative to the remainder of the world. Most Canadians are well housed, fed, and clothed. Canadians also enjoy an advanced, efficient health care system that is universally available to all citizens and landed immigrants (immigrants who are allowed permanent residence in the country) regardless of their location, income, or social standing. In fact, recent opinion polls have shown that Canadians see this system of socialized medicine as a defining characteristic of their national identity.

Generally, Canadians devote the highest portion of their income to housing. Most own their homes, and the majority reside in single-family detached homes. Housing quality is generally high, and only about 1 percent live in units defined by government agencies as crowded. However, housing quality is not as high in rural and northern areas as it is in Canada’s cities. Problems are especially prevalent on Indian Reserves (lands set aside for Status Indians). Housing in the Arctic region poses special problems; permafrost can cause foundations to shift and makes providing water and sanitary services difficult. Frequently, aboveground insulated utility systems are the only feasible solution.

The nature of Canadian households has changed considerably over the past quarter-century. With the liberalization of divorce legislation in the late 1960s and changing social attitudes about marriage, the number of single-parent households and common-law unions has increased.

Canadian eating habits are also being transformed. Concern for better health has led to a small decline in total meat consumption; Canadians are also spending more on fruits, vegetables, pasta, and other complex carbohydrates. Canadians, especially those in the larger cities, have also acquired more cosmopolitan tastes. The range of foods and beverages available is far greater than ever before, and includes dishes from Ethiopia, Thailand, Latin America, and a variety of Chinese regions. Still, many traditional regional eating habits have been retained, such as the distinctive diets of the Inuit and other indigenous groups, and the French-influenced cuisine of Québec.

Although lacrosse was Canada’s first national game, ice hockey is its most popular sport. At the professional level, there are six National Hockey League (NHL) teams in Canada, including two of its most venerable, the Montréal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadian Football League was created in 1956. Baseball has been played in Canada since at least 1838, and a Canadian professional league was established in 1876. The Montréal Expos became Canada’s first major league baseball team in 1969. The Toronto Blue Jays began play eight years later and became one of the sport’s most successful teams, attracting more than 4 million fans in a single season and winning the World Series twice (1992 and 1993). After years of declining attendance, however, the Expos franchise moved to Washington, D.C., in 2005 to become the Washington Nationals. Two Canadian teams joined the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the 1990s: the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies. The Grizzlies subsequently relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, in 2001.

Canada consistently produces Olympic medal winners in a variety of sports, including ice hockey, rowing, track and field, and, most notably, ice skating. A large and growing number of ordinary Canadians regularly participate in sporting leagues, fitness classes, and individual exercise.

Social Issues in Canada


While Canada is affluent by world standards, approximately one in eight Canadian families lives below the level of income deemed necessary to provide a decent standard of living. The most commonly cited measure of poverty in Canada is the one used in the annual Statistics Canada survey. Statistics Canada defines low income based on the share of income an average person or family devotes to food, clothing, and shelter needs. Adjustments are made for family size and for rural or urban location. By this standard in 2003, 12.3 percent of families and 38 percent of unattached individuals were deemed to have low incomes. Among families, low income was especially prevalent in single-parent households. More than half the families headed by single mothers had low incomes, and about 18 percent of Canada’s children were living in families with low incomes. Among all Canadians, elderly women were the most likely to have low incomes (19.1 percent).

Incomes are also considerably below normal among indigenous peoples in Canada, who earn less than half the Canadian average. While Ottawa has special responsibility for indigenous people, the reserves have some of Canada’s worst social conditions. There, poor housing and chronic unemployment are a way of life for many. Among indigenous peoples, suicide is closely linked to the problems associated with poverty, such as alcohol abuse, family violence, and family disintegration. In some communities where these problems are especially acute, the rate is more than 10 times the national average. Suicide has become the leading cause of death among indigenous teenagers and young adults. Poverty underlies indigenous peoples’ struggles for land and self-government.

Poverty is also prevalent in cities. However, while each Canadian city has its skid row of bars, rooming houses, and relief agencies, there are few large areas of poverty. In fact, many declining neighborhoods have been redeveloped for middle-class residents in recent years. Government-funded housing projects have also been dispersed throughout most of the larger metropolitan areas, rather than concentrated. As a result, poverty rates in many suburbs are no longer appreciably different than in urban core areas.


The issue of crime is highly visible in the Canadian media. In 2004 there were 946 violent crimes (attacks on the person, abduction, and robbery) and 3,990 crimes against property per 100,000 Canadians. There were 2 homicides for every 100,000 people the same year. In comparison, in the early 1990s the homicide rate was 0.6 in Japan, 0.9 in Britain, 9.9 in the United States, and 17.2 in Mexico. Generally, crime rates fell during the 1990s.

Concern about crime in Canada was heightened in 1989 when a man used an assault rifle to murder 14 women enrolled in the engineering program at the École Polytechnique in Montréal. More-stringent gun control legislation was proposed soon after the incident but did not become law until 1995. The legislation banned a number of assault weapons, further limited the legal use of handguns, and required that all handguns and rifles in Canada be registered. These regulations have drawn vocal public criticism from rural areas and certain lobby groups but are widely supported by the general population. The number of violent crimes involving firearms declined about 7 percent in Canada in 1995, but it is unclear whether any of this drop was attributable to the new law.


Canada is a relatively young country and is still forging a cultural identity that is distinct from those of its European founding nations and the United States. Establishing a national culture is made difficult by a strong tendency within Canada toward regional forms of cultural expression. Furthermore, many different cultures must be accommodated within the national identity. Thus it is more appropriate to speak of Canadian cultures rather than a single national culture.

Indigenous Art in Canada

The indigenous peoples had a rich artistic tradition long before European colonization. Many native forms of expression, such as dance, woodcarving, soapstone sculpture, and decorative handicrafts, were highly developed and are still practiced. The artistic power of indigenous art, with its strong attachment to nature and spiritual values, has had a great impact on postcolonial Canadian culture and remains an important element today. A recent renaissance of indigenous art is exemplified by the sculptures by Bill Reid of the Haida nation, which have been shown around the world. Inuit carvings are highly valued by collectors and critics alike. See also Native American Art.

Colonial Art in Canada

In the colonial period, culture was heavily influenced by French and British models. Colonists brought their culture with them and tried to reproduce it in the new land. Simplified and practical versions of European styles of architecture, craftsmanship, and music date from this period. Colonists were also confronted by new landscapes and new peoples, producing a strong urge to describe and portray them. Thus colonial writing and painting about Canada were largely documentary, including explorers’ accounts of their travels, missionaries’ reports, and naturalistic portrayals of landscapes and ways of life. Typical of these are paintings of the St. Lawrence valley in the 1840s by Cornelius Krieghoff, paintings of the Métis people by Paul Kane, and literary descriptions of pioneer life by Susanna Moodie. All of this early art was infused by European sensibilities.

Nationalism and Government Support in Canada

After Canada became a nation in 1867, a new nationalist sentiment appeared in public art. The country’s history and institutions became the subject of monumental and heroic artworks. Prominent examples include the architecture of the Parliament buildings built in 1867 and the National Gallery of Canada constructed in 1880; sculptures on historical monuments and war memorials; and paintings such as The Fathers of Confederation, painted by Robert Harris in 1883. The Confederation Poets of the late 19th century tried to show that Canadian topics, such as the plight of the indigenous peoples, could be the subject of poetry. However, most artistic expression in Canada was still dominated by European models. Québec artists in particular, such as poet Louis Honoré Fréchette, strove to maintain and promote French culture in the face of English dominance. Painting, as well as French-language literature and music, tended to celebrate the rural and religious values of the Québec people. The culture of other regions also often expressed a strong sense of place. Such small-town attitudes were the subject of humorous works by essayist Stephen Leacock.

A real break from tradition and regionalism came in the 1920s, when the Group of Seven introduced revolutionary new techniques and concepts to painting, as well as a strong commitment to a national perspective. The group rebelled against the conservative art then being produced in Canada and shifted emphasis away from slavish imitation of nature toward bold, colorful expressiveness. Also at this time Emily Carr in British Columbia was painting nature in a new personal style that expressed the themes of the Pacific landscape and was strongly influenced by the Northwest coast style of indigenous art.

In the postwar period from the 1940s through the 1960s, Canadian culture truly began to expand and respond to new influences, such as the media theories of writer Marshall McLuhan and the liberation manifesto of Les Automatistes, a group of painters in Québec. McLuhan stimulated interest in the use of multiple media, which engage all the senses to create what he called “mosaic patterns” of meaning.

Renewed nationalism was also a factor as Canadians began to channel government funds to invest in their own culture. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, founded in 1936, provided a forum for artists across the country. The Canada Council was established in 1957 to fund artistic endeavors and became a crucial agent in supporting creativity. Support for Canadian culture has also come from such prizes as the Governor General’s Literary Awards, instituted in 1936. The film industry was nurtured by the National Film Board of Canada, an advisory board that became a producer of highly acclaimed short films, and by Telefilm Canada, a producer of feature-length films. Programs to support the Canadian publishing industry were also implemented in the postwar period.

The result of these initiatives was an explosion of artistic opportunities. New ballet and modern dance companies emerged, including the National Ballet of Canada in 1951; theatrical festivals were established, particularly the Stratford and the Shaw; and new orchestras and music festivals were created. Support for the arts continued through the 1980s but began to decline in the 1990s.

Architecture in Canada

Canadian architects have generally participated in global trends in architectural styles. In the 1930s they adopted the modern International Style of cubic forms, austere surfaces, and large windows. In the past few decades they have helped to define the Post-Modern movement, returning to historical elements such as classical motifs and 19th-century decorations. Interesting examples of vernacular, or folk, architecture—architecture designed by everyday people for everyday purposes—abound throughout the country. So-called significant buildings, those that exemplify particular movements or set new styles, are largely to be found in Canada’s metropolitan areas, especially Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, and Ottawa-Gatineau.

Many influential architects practice in Canada, but Arthur Erickson and Moshe Safdie are probably the best known. Erickson’s dramatic designs began to achieve prominence in the early 1960s after his proposal for the Simon Fraser University campus was selected; he is also well known for the University of Lethbridge, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto, and the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Safdie’s career was established with his innovative design of Habitat at Expo ‘67 in Montréal, and he has since worked in a variety of international settings, including Israel, Iran, Mexico, and Singapore. Aside from Habitat, his principal contributions to Canada have been in important civic structures, particularly the in Ottawa and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Québec. See also Canadian Architecture.

Writers, Artists, and Musicians in Canada

The field of Canadian literature is large and complex, and includes voices from the various regions and many cultural groups of the country. Notable Canadian poets include Irving Layton and Dorothy Livesay. Children around the world have enjoyed Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery, a 1908 novel set in rural Prince Edward Island. Hugh MacLennan, Robertson Davies, and Margaret Laurence set new standards for Canadian fiction in the mid-20th century. Other important writers have followed, such as Margaret Atwood, Gabrielle Roy, Anne Hébert, Marie Claire Blais, and Alice Munro. Many have drawn on their experiences as immigrants or members of minority groups in their fiction: Mordecai Richler (Jewish), Michael Ondaatje (Sri Lankan), and Neil Bissoondath (Caribbean) are just a few examples. See Canadian Literature.

The earliest works of visual art in North America were produced by indigenous groups. European colonists introduced their artistic traditions almost as soon as they settled in the land that became Canada. The defining moment for post-Confederation Canadian art, however, is generally acknowledged to have been the formation of the Group of Seven in Toronto during the 1910s and 1920s. The post-Impressionist images of elemental nature created by these painters have inspired generations of Canadian artists.

Other distinctly Canadian schools were the Canadian Group, the Contemporary Art Society, Les Automatistes, and Painters Eleven. The Canadian Group, formed in Toronto in 1933, practiced regionalist painting, which took daily life as its subject matter. The Contemporary Art Society was formed in Montreal in 1940 to produce experimental work based on Parisian models. Among this group was Paul-Émile Borduas, who developed a spontaneous, abstract painting style. Les Automatistes, who emulated his style, formed around him after 1945; they included the renowned abstract expressionist painter Jean Paul Riopelle. Painters Eleven, including Jock Macdonald, William Ronald, and Harold Town, was formed in Toronto in 1953 to produce abstract works in the cubist tradition. There are thousands of artists now at work in Canada, producing paintings, sculptures, and other media of great variety. Among the best-known are Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland, Greg Curnoe, and Bill Reid. See Canadian Art.

Pianist Glenn Gould is probably Canada’s most widely recognized classical musician, particularly for his innovative interpretations of Bach. In the 1990s, guitarist Leona Boyd and opera tenor Ben Hoeppner were among the more visible Canadians on the international stage. In the past, Canadian popular-music artists looked to the United States as the primary market for their music; in fact, several, such as Paul Anka, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell, immigrated to the United States. By the 1970s, however, Leonard Cohen, Anne Murray, and other artists demonstrated that it was possible to reach an international audience from a Canadian base. A thriving Canadian popular-music industry emerged in the 1980s and 1990s; a few particularly well-known Canadian performers are Bryan Adams, Céline Dion, k.d. lang, Shania Twain, and Alanis Morissette.

Theatrical and Musical Institutions in Canada

The performing arts in Canada are supported by government and private grants. The National Arts Centre in Ottawa, which opened in 1969, has a resident symphony orchestra and both French and English theater companies. Visiting opera and dance companies perform there, and in summer its terraces along the Rideau Canal are the scene of band concerts.

A number of major theater, opera, dance, and musical groups are found in the large cities; these groups also tour the provinces and travel abroad. The chief theatrical centers are the cities of Québec, Montréal, Toronto, and Vancouver. The theaters of these cities make an effort to present new Canadian plays as well as imports and classics. Among the principal dance companies are the National Ballet of Canada, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montréal. The Toronto Dance Theatre, Les Ballets Jazz in Montréal, and a number of small companies present modern dance. The prominent orchestras include the Montréal Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, and the Vancouver Symphony.

There is also a thriving film industry in Canada that is bolstered by popular film festivals—the Toronto International Film Festival, Montréal World Film Festival, and Vancouver International Film Festival—as well as state support through Telefilm Canada. Canadian-born Norman Jewison, a prominent director in the U.S. film industry, has helped support Canadian filmmaking. Other well-known Canadian directors include Atom Egoyan, Denys Arcand, and François Girard.

Libraries and Museums in Canada

The federal government’s National Museum Policy of 1972 provides subsidies to regional and local museums and has encouraged and supported the growth of museums throughout the country. Canada has more than 2,000 museums, archives, and historic sites, the most important of which are in the national capital region. These include the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Québec, which celebrates Canada’s multicultural heritage; and, in Ottawa, the Canadian Museum of Nature (formerly the National Museum of Natural Sciences), the National Museum of Science and Technology, and the National Gallery of Canada. The last exhibits European art, a growing collection of Asian art, and a large body of work by Canadians.

The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto has collections of art, life and earth sciences, and materials typical of Canadian culture. Among more-specialized museums are Upper Canada Village, a restoration of 18th- and 19th-century buildings in Morrisburg, Ontario; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Museum in Regina, Saskatchewan; and the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, which contains important displays of indigenous artifacts.

The National Library of Canada, in Ottawa, issues the national bibliography and maintains union catalogs of the collections of more than 300 other libraries. The Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, also in Ottawa, is the center for the dissemination of scientific and technical data. Provinces and cities have their own libraries. Particularly outstanding university libraries are those of the universities of Toronto, British Columbia, and Montréal.

Festivals in Canada

Canadians and visitors enjoy summer festivals, such as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario; the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario; and Cultures Canada, a series of multicultural events in Ottawa. Local traditions are preserved in a wide variety of events, including the Highland Games on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia; the Sherbrooke Festival de Cantons in Québec City, celebrating French Canadian culture and cuisine; the Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin, Manitoba; and Discovery Day in Dawson, Yukon Territory. There are also a number of music festivals in Canada. Montréal is known for its jazz festival, and Toronto and Winnipeg for their folk music festivals. In the fall, “Fringe Festivals” in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria showcase new theatrical performances.


Canada has an advanced economy, and the majority of its citizens enjoy a high quality of life by world standards. Historically, much of this wealth has been generated through the extraction and processing of natural resources, especially fish, furs, timber, minerals, and farm produce. Increasingly, however, manufacturing and service activities have been added, and Canada now has one of the most complex economies in the world. Canada is also highly integrated into the global economy through trade, with more than a third of its GDP dedicated to exports.

The Canadian economy has grown more rapidly than those of most other developed countries since the recession of the early 1990s. This success is due to several factors, including low inflation, low interest rates, and a low Canadian dollar (with respect to other major currencies), all of which helped exports to grow. However, this growth has not generated as many jobs as analysts expected. Canadian businesses have found ways to increase their output by introducing more-efficient methods of production rather than hiring more workers. Also, the role of government in the Canadian economy has declined, and with it the number of jobs in the public sector. In early 2006 Canada’s unemployment rate was 6.6 percent.

From 1990 to 2003 the Canadian economy grew an average of 3.28 percent per year, reaching a GDP of C$857 billion, which represented a per-capita income of C$27,080. By 2003 Canada had achieved the second highest budget surplus and the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio of any Group of Eight (G-8) nation. The proportion of GDP accounted for by federal government expenditure decreased from 15.7 percent in 1994 to 11.5 percent in 2003. Employment growth in Canada’s manufacturing industries began to slow in the late 1990s, while employment in the service industry saw a strong increase. By 2003 three out of four Canadians worked in service industries, including the fields of health care and public administration.

Labor in Canada

The Canadian civilian labor force numbered 17.3 million in 2005. The participation rate of men in the labor force reached a postwar high in 1981 of 78.7 percent and declined to 72.9 percent by 2005. The participation rate of women, on the other hand, has risen steadily to about 62 percent in 2005. In part, the shift toward a more gender-balanced labor force is the outcome of the women’s movement, but it is also a reflection of wider economic change, especially the growth of the services sector. The vast majority of workers in goods-producing industries continue to be men, while women outnumber men in finance, business, and community and personal services; the numbers of men and women in trade and public administration are roughly equal. In general, women work fewer hours than men (women hold almost 70 percent of all part-time jobs) and are paid less; in 2003 men in full-time, full-year employment earned C$39,100 on average, while women averaged less than two-thirds that amount (C$24,800).

In 1999 the Canadian government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), one of Canada’s largest unions, reached a pay-equity settlement to end a 16-year dispute. The settlement was one of the largest in North American history. In the dispute, the PSAC accused the federal government of discriminating against women by paying lower salaries for female-dominated jobs, including secretaries and librarians, than for male-dominated jobs of “equal value,” involving comparable education, demands, and responsibility. The federal government agreed to distribute about $C3.6 billion in back pay among some 230,000 past and present public service workers, primarily women.

The number of self-employed Canadians has risen substantially in recent decades, from 7 percent of the labor force in the 1970s to more than 14 percent in 2005. Many choose self-employment as a way to achieve greater independence; for some, however, it is a last resort when opportunities for regular employment are scarce.

Jurisdiction over labor matters is split between the federal and provincial governments, and legislation therefore varies across the country. Minimum standards are established by the Canada Labour Code, but provinces enact further rules. Canada also has federal and provincial laws that prohibit child employment, provide for maternity leave, guarantee the right to collective bargaining, require paid holidays, and require equal pay for men and women.

Labor unions have existed in Canada since at least 1827. There have been several periods when labor problems were acute, notably a period after World War I (1914-1918) that culminated in more than 300 strikes during 1919. The most famous of these, the Winnipeg General Strike, brought that city to a halt for six weeks and ended in bloodshed as the police fired live ammunition into a crowd of demonstrators.

Until recently, union membership in Canada had been highest in goods-producing industries; this has changed with the growth of the services sector. In 2004, 30.5 percent of all paid workers and 75.5 percent of public sector employees were members of unions, about twice the rates of the United States. There is a central coordinating body, the Canadian Labour Congress, that represents most unions at the national level. Many Canadian unions are linked to larger international groups, especially the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. See also Labor Unions in Canada.

Agriculture of Canada

Agriculture is not as important to the Canadian economy as it was in the 19th century, but it continues to be the mainstay of several regions and is a significant source of export income. In early 2006 there were 229,400 farms in Canada, averaging 295 hectares (729 acres) in size. Some 340,000 men and women worked in agricultural jobs in 2005, representing 2.1 percent of the total labor force. This is down from 430,000 and 3.2 percent in 1995. The annual value of farm output amounted to C$38.3 billion in 2001. Because of Canada’s abundant production and relatively small population, it is a leading exporter of food products; these account for 20 percent of goods exported, compared with 0.5 percent for Japan, 5.4 percent for Mexico, and 6.7 percent for the United States.

Farm life is changing considerably as farmers adjust to new trends. One trend is consumer preference for foods with lower fat content, which has changed demand for specific products. For example, there is less demand for cream and more demand for vegetables. Also, government has reduced its subsidies to the industry, making it necessary for farmers to introduce more profitable crops and more livestock production, which is generally more profitable. These changes have contributed to the decline of full-time farming, as more and more the majority of family-farm income comes from sources off the farm.

Farms in Canada are about equally divided between crop raising and livestock production. Wheat is the most important single crop, and the Prairie provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan form one of the greatest wheat-growing areas of the world. As of 2003 Canada was the seventh largest producer of wheat in the world. One-half of Canada’s wheat is grown in Saskatchewan. Total wheat production in 2007 was 20.6 million metric tons. In recent years, prairie farmers have sought to diversify their crops to minimize the effects of bad crop years or reductions in the price of wheat. Thus they have increasingly shifted from wheat to other grains and oilseeds. After wheat, the largest cash receipts from field crops are obtained from canola, vegetables, barley, maize, potatoes, fruits, tobacco, and soybeans.

Canada’s agricultural sector is in two major parts. The first, dominated by grains and livestock, is geared to the export market, and farmers receive international prices. The second is sold within a protected Canadian market. These products, mainly dairy products and poultry, are regulated by provincial marketing boards that allocate quotas to individual farmers to preserve the farming sector and to match supply with demand. As a result, Canadian consumers pay a premium for poultry and dairy products. The future of marketing boards is in doubt, however, due to a recent agreement of the member countries of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which included Canada, to open agricultural markets to full global competition. GATT, now succeeded by the World Trade Organization, was an international body that promoted and enforced trade laws and regulations. It worked to minimize preferential trade agreements between countries and other barriers to international trade.

Livestock and livestock products are growing in importance within the Canadian economy. Beef cattle ranching is a specialized industry in the west, especially in the dry grasslands of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 2007 Canada had 14.2 million cattle, compared to 97 million in the United States.

In 2003 the Canadian cattle industry was damaged when a cow in Alberta tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease. The discovery caused several nations, including Japan and the United States, to ban the importing of Canadian cattle. The ban was finally lifted in mid-2005, but not before costing the industry an estimated C$7 billion in lost sales.

In 2004 Canada had 13.8 million hogs and 879,100 sheep. Ontario and Québec ranked highest in dairy products, poultry farming, and egg production. Québec produced the vast majority of the maple products, and Ontario produced most of the nation’s tobacco crop. Fruit farming is primarily found in Ontario, British Columbia, and Québec.

Forestry in Canada

Forest products contribute significantly to regional and rural economies. The forest industry as a whole employs about 360,000 people directly and supports around 1 million jobs overall. It is estimated that the full range of forestry activities—from logging, through manufacturing, to trade in wood products—generates roughly 1 in 15 Canadian jobs. It is Canada’s largest nonurban employer, with activities concentrated in British Columbia, Québec, and Ontario. The industry accounted for about 3 percent of Canada’s GDP and 11 percent of all goods exported in 2003.

Canada’s forests make up about 10 percent of the world’s total forest area. Despite heavy harvesting by early settlers, forests, mainly coniferous, still cover 31 percent of the country’s land area. A national forest inventory is conducted every five years by Forestry Canada, the federal forestry agency, in cooperation with provincial and territorial agencies. Most of the forestland is owned and managed by the provincial and federal governments.

Canadian wood products are among the finest in the world: Canadian softwood lumber is made up of long fibers that provide a high strength-to-weight ratio, and Canadian pulp is known for strong, light-colored paper products. Canada is the world’s largest producer of newsprint and exports the vast majority of it. The United States is the world’s second largest producer but uses nearly all of its output domestically. Canada is also the world’s second largest producer of pulp, the third largest producer of sawn lumber, and the world’s largest exporter of softwood lumber.

In 2002 the United States imposed trade sanctions on softwood purchases from Canada, accusing the government of illegally subsidizing lumber companies and other unfair practices. Although U.S. restrictions and duties were reduced in subsequent years, the dispute cost Canadian lumber producers billions of dollars and damaged relations between the two countries. In April 2006 the two countries announced an agreement resolving the long-running dispute.

The annual allowable cut for a forested area is the amount of timber that can be harvested each year without diminishing the long-term sustainability of the forest. There is uncertainty in many parts of the country over whether the current harvest rates are sustainable. Regional supplies vary considerably, and some local shortages have been identified.

Fisheries in Canada

Commercial fishing in Canada dates back nearly 500 years. Fishing occurs in ocean waters, inland lakes, and rivers, and though the industry has declined as the number of fish has decreased, Canada remains one of the world’s largest exporters of fish and seafood. Canada’s fish catch in 2007 was 1.02 million metric tons. Over 75 percent of the catch is exported, which is just over 1 percent of the total value of goods exported. Canadian fish and seafood are sold to many countries, but the primary markets are the United States, Japan, and the European Union. In 2003 exports of Canadian fish to the United States accounted for 72 percent of total fish exported.

Cod, herring, crab, lobster, and scallops have been the most important exports from the Atlantic coast, and halibut and salmon from the Pacific coast. There is also a commercial freshwater fishery in Ontario, focused on Lake Erie. Commercial sport fishing industries have been developed throughout Canada.

Fisheries were a mainstay of economic life in Atlantic Canada. By 1992 the total value of Canada’s Atlantic fisheries reached C$984 million annually. In 1993, however, the Canadian government imposed an unprecedented two-year ban on the commercial fishing of cod in the northern fishery, extending from southern Labrador to the northern Grand Banks, because of a drastic decline in fish stocks. This was formerly one of the richest areas on the Atlantic coast. The fishing ban later was extended indefinitely because of the near-extinction of the fish. Initially the federal government provided emergency assistance payments, in addition to unemployment compensation, to fishers, processing workers, and boat owners. A more comprehensive compensation plan, a voluntary job retraining program, and a regional development program followed.

The causes of the near-extinction of cod have been much debated. Some blame environmental factors. The Canadian government, however, points to the increasing use of larger, more sophisticated boats and foreign intrusion on the fishery. In the century before 1950, fishers worked in small boats using hand-operated equipment and took about 250,000 metric tons a year from the Atlantic waters off Newfoundland and Labrador. After 1950 Canadians increased their catching capacity by using larger, longer-range vessels with new nets, power equipment, and electronic navigation. Modern European vessels also moved in. In 1968 the northern cod catch peaked at 800,000 metric tons.

In 1977 Canada extended its fishing zone to 200 nautical miles (230 mi/370 km) to protect stocks, and for a few years scientists believed that the cod stocks were recovering. However, foreign boats, especially Spanish and Portuguese, began fishing just outside the zone limit in 1986, and by 1991 they accounted for more than a quarter of the cod caught in the region. In 1989 scientists realized that the foreign boats were depleting the northern cod stocks. By 1992 the Canadian government introduced new conservation measures and stricter enforcement to protect small fish and spawning stocks. These measures proved insufficient, however, leading to a total collapse of the fishery and the imposition of the ban. It has yet to recover.

The British Columbia fishery on the Pacific coast is an important economic contributor. Five species of salmon are the mainstay of the fishery. Other fishes caught in Pacific waters are herring, halibut, cod, sole, and a variety of shellfish. In British Columbia and Yukon Territory, indigenous Canadians are eligible to fish as part of their aboriginal rights—rights they retain as the original owners of the land. Some indigenous people also fish in the commercial industry, and what they take there is in addition to what they are allocated under aboriginal rights.

Canada and the United States share the Pacific salmon resource under the 1980 Pacific Salmon Treaty, which took 15 years to negotiate. The treaty’s goals are to conserve stocks and to distribute salmon equitably. Each country is allowed a catch proportional to the share of salmon spawning in its rivers. These proportions are sometimes the subject of disputes between the Canadian and U.S. fishing industries.

Furs in Canada

In many ways, the fur industry created Canada. Much of pre-Confederation history revolves around the competition between the French and British for control of the profitable fur trade. But by the late 20th century demand for fur had declined, and the income of indigenous trappers had suffered severely. Canada’s remaining fur farms are mainly concentrated in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Québec, and British Columbia. Trapping is carried on primarily in northern Canada; Ontario, Québec, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are the main producers of wildlife pelts. See also Fur Trade in North America.

Mining in Canada

Mining in Canada has a long history of exploration and development. The country is one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of minerals such as uranium, zinc, potash, nickel, elemental sulfur, asbestos, cadmium, platinum, gypsum, copper, lead, cobalt, titanium, and molybdenum. Much exploration and development activity in Canada is now devoted to diamond mining, especially in the Northwest Territories, the Prairie provinces, and the Canadian Shield.

Fuel minerals—oil and natural gas—are also important to Canada’s mining industry. In 2004, 842 million barrels of crude oil and 183 billion cu m (6.5 trillion cu ft) of natural gas were produced, much of which was exported.

Oil and gas production is centered mainly in Alberta. Pipelines transport Alberta’s crude oil and natural gas to the industrial centers of eastern Canada, to British Columbia, and to the northwestern and midwestern United States. In addition, oil and gas are shipped to refining centers throughout Canada and to the United States.

Environmental and social concerns have caused uncertainty for the mining industry. The degradation of water quality by mine wastes, in particular, has led federal and provincial governments to regulate mine operations. In 1992 the Mining Association of Canada responded by establishing the Whitehorse Mining Initiative, a broad agreement to increase the level of environmental responsibility in the industry. The initiative was developed together with indigenous groups, environmentalists, and representatives of labor unions and government.

Another source of uncertainty in the industry is the denial of access to lands where mining claims are staked, or where bodies of ore are known to be located. For example, in British Columbia the creation of new parks, such as Tatshenshini-Alsek near Alaska, has closed large areas to mining. The land issues raised by the indigenous peoples have held up mining operations for years while ownership of the rights is being negotiated or litigated.

Manufacturing in Canada

Manufacturing is a key component of the Canadian economy, employing about 15 percent of the country’s workforce and accounting for 17 percent of the GDP and around 75 percent of goods exported. Manufacturing supports many other sectors of the economy by purchasing their outputs and supplying them with products. Manufacturing is highly sensitive to broader economic trends, especially changes in the level of consumer spending.

Early manufacturing in Canada, before the mid-19th century, was localized and was in support of resource production. Boats were built in Atlantic Canada, for example, and farm machinery in southern Ontario. Modern industrialization, in the form of mass production, began on a small scale in mid-19th-century Montréal and gathered momentum in the 1870s. Canadian manufacturing was spurred by rapidly increasing resource production, the introduction of electrical generating capacity, population expansion, and the two world wars. The greatest growth in facilities and output, however, occurred after World War II (1939-1945) as consumer spending increased and most countries reduced their tariffs.

By the beginning of the 21st century, Canada’s manufacturing sector was in the midst of profound technological change. Investment in high-tech machinery and equipment had become essential for businesses to compete in the rapidly changing world economy. The introduction of new, more advanced machines was expected to improve productivity and reduce the number of workers in the manufacturing sector.

Transportation Equipment

Canada’s chief manufacturing industry is transportation equipment, especially automobiles and auto parts. This sector makes up almost one-quarter of the total value of the country’s manufacturing output. In recent decades, the transportation equipment industry has evolved toward a single continental market in North America. This is due primarily to Canada’s smaller market, which makes Canadian branch plants inefficient. In the 1960s the governments of Canada and the United States, together with executives of the automobile industry, negotiated the Canada-United States Automotive Products Agreement, which removed Canadian import tariffs as long as automakers produced as many cars in Canada as they sold in Canada. The signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the mid-1990s further unified the market.

The result of these pacts has been a continental integration of auto production, where particular models are built in local plants and distributed throughout North America. This integration has led to a more efficient industry but has also meant that events that occur in one part of the North American auto industry affect the entire continent. A protracted strike at a parts plant in Ontario, for example, can cause the closure of assembly plants in Ohio, and vice versa.

Other Manufacturing

Other significant manufacturing sectors include food processing, paper products, chemical products, primary metal processing, petroleum refining, electrical and electronic products, metal fabricating, and wood processing. Many of these manufactures rely on Canada’s vigorous resource industries. Unlike the motor vehicles and other consumer products industries, which are highly localized in the heartland, resource processing is much more widely distributed across the country.

U.S. Investment

U.S. involvement in Canadian manufacturing began in the late 19th century, notably in the 1880s after the Canadian government imposed higher trade tariffs. U.S.-owned firms built branch plants to serve the Canadian market and thereby avoid the tariffs involved in exporting their products to Canada. This process accelerated in the 20th century.

Concern over foreign ownership prompted the Canadian government to establish the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA) in 1974. The agency was charged with scrutinizing investment from abroad and ensuring that it benefited Canada. FIRA never turned down an application, but did require modifications in many cases. U.S. interests continue to dominate foreign investment in Canada, making up about two-thirds of the total in the early 21st century.

Energy in Canada

As a large country rich in natural resources, Canada’s energy industry is one of the biggest in the world. Each year the country produces much more energy than it consumes, making it a significant exporter of this resource, especially to the United States. In 2006 Canada’s annual output of electricity was 595 billion kilowatt hours, of which 59 percent was provided by hydroelectric plants, 16 percent by nuclear power plants, and 23.32 percent by conventional thermal plants using fossil fuels. Wind-generated energy is the fastest-growing sector of the industry.

Hydroelectric Power

Endowed with many fast-flowing rivers, Canada is the world’s leading producer of hydroelectricity, the electrical energy produced by falling or running water. Most of the country’s hydroelectric output is generated in the provinces of Québec, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and British Columbia. One of the largest hydroelectric complexes in North America is located on La Grande Rivière, near James Bay in Québec. It has three hydroelectric stations, and is owned and operated by the public utility Hydro-Québec. Its total capacity is about 10 million kilowatts. The powerhouses on La Grande Rivière constitute the first phase of a larger planned hydroelectric project (see James Bay Project). Churchill Falls, in the Labrador region of Newfoundland, is another major Canadian hydroelectric facility.

Nuclear Power

Since the early 1950s Canada has sought to use its abundant resources of natural uranium to generate electricity through nuclear reactions. The first nuclear power plant, a demonstration station at Rolphton, Ontario, was completed in 1962. A large nuclear energy plant was opened at Pickering, Ontario, in the early 1970s. In addition, a large complex of nuclear facilities on the Bruce Peninsula, in Ontario, is owned and operated by Ontario Power Generation. In 2009 Canada had 18 nuclear facilities; the majority of nuclear generation occurs in Ontario. The proper disposal of spent fuel is a research priority in Canada.

Thermal Power

Thermoelectric energy—electricity produced by heat or burning—remains an important source of power in Canada. A large portion of this type of energy is generated in Alberta, which has extensive coal, oil, and natural gas resources. The second largest share is generated in Ontario, mainly using coal imported from the United States. The remainder is principally generated in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, using local coal supplies. Due to environmental concerns, most plants are introducing methods to reduce pollution. The chief pollution problem has been acid rain, in which airborne byproducts of the burning combine with moisture in the air to form toxic sulfuric and nitric acids, which then rain down on and destroy vegetation. Another serious environmental concern is this industry’s growing production of greenhouse gases, a major contributor to global warming. From 1990 to 2001, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions rose 18 percent. See also Fossil Fuels; Greenhouse Effect.

Foreign Trade in Canada

Canada has just 0.6 percent of the world’s population, but accounts for 4 percent of total exports in world trade. Exports have always been important to Canada’s economy. In the early colonial period, the leading Canadian items of export were fish and furs. During the 19th century, timber became the staple export item. With the improvement of railway lines early in the 20th century and settlement of the prairies, wheat became the chief item of export. The contribution of mineral products to Canadian exports also accelerated in the early 20th century as metal resources in the Laurentian and Canadian Cordilleran regions were exploited. Gradually, manufacturing industries emerged and now produce more than three-quarters of Canada’s exports.

Most of Canada’s foreign trade is with the United States, which typically buys about four-fifths of Canada’s exports and supplies about three-quarters of its imports. A large portion of this trade is made up of motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts. Because so many corporations operate on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, much of the trade between the two nations actually consists of transfers within firms. Trade between Canada and Mexico is growing rapidly, but the total amount is still quite small.

Canada also has significant export trade with other countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, the Netherlands, and China. Canada’s major export commodities are transportation equipment, machinery, mineral fuels, wood products, electrical equipment, metals, and agricultural and fishing products. Leading imports include machinery, transportation equipment, communications and office equipment (especially computers), and other consumer goods.

Trade between Canada and the United States is the largest bi-national flow in the world. In 1989 the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA) came into effect, a pact that removed the trade barriers between the two countries. In 1994 the FTA was expanded into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which included Mexico in this free trade zone. The effects of NAFTA on the Canadian economy have been hotly debated since its passage. Manufacturing employment grew in the late 1990s but then declined in the early 21st century. In a large, developed economy such as Canada’s it is difficult to attribute these types of economic changes to a single factor, such as trade policy.

Since World War II (1939-1945) Canada has been at the forefront of the movement to reduce tariff barriers. Canada emerged from the war with the industrial capacity to supply consumer products that the world needed; another incentive was the feeling that trade barriers had partly contributed to both world wars. Canada was a founding member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1948 (reorganized as the World Trade Organization in 1996) and has since helped initiate other agreements with nations from around the world. The most important are the Caribbean Agreement of 1986; the FTA, 1988; the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group of 1989; and NAFTA, 1994. See also Foreign Trade; Free Trade; Globalization.

Currency and Banking of Canada

The unit of currency in Canada is the Canadian dollar, which consists of 100 cents (C$1.10 equals US$1, 2007 average). The Bank of Canada, which was founded in 1935 and is owned by the federal government, has the sole right to issue paper money for circulation.

Most foreign-owned and major domestic banks in Canada have their head offices in Toronto, and a few are based in Montréal. Trust and mortgage loan companies, provincial savings banks, and credit unions also provide banking services. Securities exchanges operate in Toronto, Montréal, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver. See also Banking; Money.

Transportation in Canada

Water Transport

Since the earliest explorations, water travel has been important to Canada. The St. Lawrence-Great Lakes navigation system extends 3,769 km (2,342 mi) from the Gulf of St. Lawrence into the center of the continent. The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 contributed greatly to industrial expansion, but the seaway is declining in significance with the growth of intermodal transport, which integrates water, rail, and road shipments. Vancouver and Halifax especially have capitalized on intermodal shipment and are the seaway’s strongest competitors. The ports of Vancouver, Sept-Îles, Montréal, Port-Cartier, Québec, Halifax, Saint John, Thunder Bay, Prince Rupert, and Hamilton handle most of the shipping cargo.

Canada does not have a large merchant marine, and the great majority of Canadian overseas trade is carried in ships of other countries. Canadian merchant vessels of 100 gross registered tons (GRT) or more numbered 938 in 2008, with a total GRT of 3 million. Most ships of Canadian registry operate along the coast, on the St. Lawrence Seaway, or on the Great Lakes Ships called lake carriers, or “lakers,” are built in eastern Canada specifically for the Seaway-Great Lakes traffic. Typically long and flat, they are sized to the dimensions of the seaway locks and include innovations such as the self-unloading carrier.


Rail transportation has been crucial to the formation of Canada but has declined in recent decades, due chiefly to the popularity of motor vehicles (trucking). The two major railways are the Canadian National (CN), formerly a federally owned corporation, and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Their declining revenues led Ottawa to create a combined passenger network, VIA Rail, in 1977. However, revenue from passenger service was not sufficient to cover the costs of the service, and in 1990 half the routes were closed. However, the government is legally bound to operate a passenger rail service across western Canada because that was a condition of British Columbia’s entry into the Confederation in 1871.

The profitability of freight service has also been declining, although less severely. These problems stem largely from special rate structures legislated by Ottawa in 1897 as part of the Crow’s Nest Pass Agreement and later negotiations. In essence, the CPR received a grant to pay for laying track through Crowsnest Pass in the Rockies, and in return agreed to charge low rates for hauling grain. These rates were intended to remain in effect forever. As the CPR’s costs went up over the years and the so-called Crow rate did not, profits sank and it was difficult to make improvements to the line. The rate limits were partly abrogated in 1983 and fully removed in 1996. At the same time, many of the rules regulating the rail system were relaxed, allowing the railroads to better integrate their operations with marine and truck transportation companies in the emerging intermodal system. See also Railroads.


Canada has one of the world’s best highway systems; good roads are essential to a country of such wide spaces, scattered people, and geographic barriers. The increasing use of these roads, however, coupled with reduced government expenditures, has led to a deterioration in their quality.

The national highway system in Canada carries about a third of all road traffic in the country. The Trans-Canada Highway, completed in 1962, stretches from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, to Victoria, British Columbia. In 2003 there were 561 registered passenger vehicles for every 1,000 Canadians, compared with 441 in Japan, 451 in Britain, and 465 in the United States.

Air Transport

Canada’s largest airline, Air Canada, maintains a broad network of domestic and international routes. Air travel is particularly important in the far north because the widely scattered communities of the region are not connected by road or rail and water transport is limited to the brief summer periods. The busiest airports in Canada are Lester B. Pearson International in Toronto, Vancouver International, Trudeau and Mirabel in Montréal, and Calgary International.

Tourism of Canada

Canada’s variety of seasons and scenic attractions draws large numbers of tourists from around the world. There are many festivals, including spring blossom festivals in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, the Ottawa Festival of Spring, and the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. The Niagara Grape and Wine Festival and color tours in central Ontario and the Laurentian Mountains of Québec are autumn attractions. Cosmopolitan cities such as Vancouver, Montréal, and Toronto draw millions of visitors annually to their many cultural attractions.

Visitors are also drawn to Canadian wilderness areas. In the winter the abundant snowfall supports a number of world-class skiing centers, especially in the Canadian Cordillera region. Many terrestrial and marine areas have been preserved in their natural state as national parks, and each of the provinces and territories also has set aside land as provincial or territorial parks.

Tens of thousands of Canadian businesses cater to tourists. More than two-thirds of tourist revenues come from Canadians themselves. The vast majority of foreign tourists come from the neighboring United States. U.S. visitors made up about 75 percent of all foreign tourists in Canada in the early 21st century.


Canada is a federation governed under a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. Governmental powers in Canada are divided between the central or federal government and the provincial and territorial governments. Territories have less autonomy from the federal government than provinces have. Canada is governed under the constitution of 1982, which gathered the previous constitutional acts into a single framework and added a charter of rights and freedoms. It also provided for what Canadians call “patriation”—giving the Canadian government total authority over its own constitution. Previously, the British North America Act of 1867 and subsequent laws had given the British government some authority over Canada’s constitution.

With the exception of electoral officers, all Canadian citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote. All eligible voters except those currently serving time in correctional facilities are eligible to run in elections. Voters must be resident in the riding (electoral district) where they cast their ballot. Voter turnout for national elections is generally high, with 70 percent or more of eligible voters participating.

Queen Elizabeth II, the monarch of Britain, is recognized as the queen of Canada. The queen is represented in Canada by the governor-general, whose powers are largely ceremonial. The chief executive is the prime minister, who is answerable to a legislature. The Canadian Parliament is answerable to the citizens at elections that are held, at most, five years apart. Judges are appointed by the federal and provincial governments.

Traditionally there were two dominant Canadian national political parties, the Liberal Party and the Progressive Conservative Party. They stood for the liberal and conservative sides, respectively, of political thought, although their positions varied widely. Each had a counterpart in the provincial governments, but these were loosely connected and differed with the national party on major issues. The two parties were of comparable strength, with one forming the government and the other the official opposition in Parliament, until 1993. In that year the Progressive Conservatives were defeated so resoundingly that their future was in doubt. A sectional party, the Bloc Québécois of Québec, won the second highest number of seats in Parliament and became the official opposition. In 1997 they were replaced in that role by another sectional party, the conservative Reform Party (later folded into a new party called the Canadian Alliance), based mainly in the western provinces. In 2003 the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance merged to form the Conservative Party.

Since World War II the federal government has greatly increased the social services—such as subsidized medical care, pensions, and family allowances—that it provides its citizens. The provincial governments have generally cooperated, but not without fear that the traditional powers exercised by the provinces are being eroded. That fear is especially great in Québec, where it is compounded by fear of domination by the English-speaking majority of the country.

In foreign policy, Canada was allied with the non-Communist powers during the period of world tension called the Cold War and contributed troops to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance formed to counter the threat of Communist aggression. However, Canada has not aspired to be a major military power. A strong supporter of the United Nations, it devotes its military largely to providing peacekeeping forces for that body in hot spots around the world.

Constitution of Canada

Under the British North America Act of 1867, the central government had considerable power over the provinces. However, amendments to the act and changes brought by practical experience have increased the scope of authority of the provincial governments. Considerable tension continues to exist between Ottawa and the provincial governments concerning the proper allocation of power. The most important current constitutional issue is the status of Québec, which seeks more autonomy. When the constitution was patriated in 1982, the Québec premier refused to sign it because he did not think the terms were fair to Québec. Subsequent attempts to induce Québec to ratify the constitution, in 1990 and 1992, foundered because of opposition from other provinces. This impasse has fueled the Québec separatist movement, and in 1995 a referendum that could have led to Québec independence very nearly passed, receiving 49.4 percent of the vote. See also Constitution of Canada; French Canadian Nationalism.

Federal-Provincial Division of Powers

The central government of Canada exercises all powers not specifically assigned to the provinces. It has exclusive jurisdiction over administration of the public debt, currency and coinage, taxation for general purposes, organization of national defense, fiscal matters, banking, fisheries, commerce, navigation and shipping, energy policy, postal service, the census, statistics, patents, copyright, naturalization, aliens, indigenous peoples’ affairs, marriage, and divorce. Among the powers assigned to the provincial governments are authority over education, hospitals, provincial property, civil rights, taxation for local purposes, regulation of local commerce, and the borrowing of money. Some of these may be allocated to the municipal level at the discretion of the provincial government. With respect to certain matters, such as immigration and agriculture, the federal and provincial governments have concurrent jurisdiction.

The provinces and territories control the establishment and operation of local units of government within their borders. The categories and functions of local governmental units vary from province to province, depending on population density and local custom. In densely populated areas, such as southern Ontario, the system of local governmental units includes counties, districts, cities, towns, villages, and townships. Large metropolitan areas may have regional governments comprising several local governments. Certain powers, such as transit and regional planning, are the responsibility of the regional government, although each local unit usually retains powers of local self-government, with responsibility for local public services. Unincorporated rural districts are usually administered by the provincial or territorial government.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, added to the constitution in 1982, guarantees to citizens fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of conscience and the press. It also guarantees the right to vote and seek election, as well as rights to move throughout Canada, to enjoy security of person, and to combat discrimination. It also specifies the equality of the French and English languages. The charter changed the Canadian political system by enhancing the power of the courts to make or unmake laws through judicial decisions. It also contains the so-called notwithstanding clause, which allows Parliament or the provincial legislatures to designate an act operative even though it might clash with a charter provision. The charter applies uniformly throughout Canada although the province of Québec has never signed the constitution.

Federal Government Organization of Canada

The Canadian Parliament consists of three parts: the governor-general, the Senate, and the House of Commons. Commons, which is popularly elected, contains about three times as many members as the appointed Senate. The prime minister and the Cabinet are members of Parliament, usually of the House of Commons.

Head of State

Queen Elizabeth II, the monarch of Britain, is the queen of Canada. She is the official head of state and is represented in Canada by the governor-general and in each province by a lieutenant governor. The governor-general is appointed by the reigning monarch on the recommendation of the prime minister of Canada. Traditionally, English-speakers alternate with French-speakers as governor-general. The length of term is usually five years.

The governor-general’s role is largely ceremonial; he or she summons, suspends, and dissolves Parliament, gives royal assent to bills that have passed Parliament, authorizes treaties, commissions officers in the armed forces, gives honors such as the Order of Canada, and acts as host to visiting heads of state. He or she has the constitutional right to be consulted and to give advice and thus receives regular visits from the prime minister and government officials.

Officially the governor-general appoints the prime minister and the cabinet ministers. However, he or she must adhere to the advice of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons (the larger chamber of Parliament) in appointing the prime minister and must follow the prime minister’s wishes in appointing the Cabinet. While holding no political power, the governor-general has considerable symbolic power. As the governor-general is above politics, the post serves as a unifying symbol for all Canadians.


The executive head of government is the prime minister, generally the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons. Canada’s parliamentary system is modeled on that of Britain (see British Parliament), where the prime minister must be elected from a local riding (district) like any other member of the House of Commons. The prime minister derives his or her executive position by being head of the party, which in most cases votes as a bloc. This is unlike the American system, for example, where the chief executive (the president) is elected separately. In cases where no one party has a majority in Commons, the governor-general chooses the leader most likely to win support from other parties. If a prime minister resigns as leader of the party before an election, the new party leader automatically becomes prime minister until an election can be held.

The responsibilities and powers of the prime minister are far reaching. He or she sets the policy of the government and determines what legislation should be passed. Through the Cabinet, he or she controls all the functions of the federal government, including budget allocations. The prime minister names the cabinet ministers (who are then officially appointed by the governor-general) and also recommends appointees to the civil service, Senate, and judiciary.

The length of term of the prime minister is at most five years, but he or she generally calls an election before then. There is no restriction on the number of terms a prime minister may serve; William Lyon Mackenzie King was prime minister for 13 consecutive years and served two other separate terms. The prime minister may, however, be removed at any time by a vote of no confidence in Parliament—that is, a declaration by the majority of the members that they no longer support the prime minister. A no-confidence vote forces the prime minister either to resign or to call a general election.

The Cabinet consists of as many as 40 members, most of whom are ministers presiding over the various departments of the federal government, such as finance, immigration, labor, or health. They are supported by civil servants headed by a deputy minister. Some members of the Cabinet may be ministers without portfolio, who are not assigned to a department. Although they have no formal legal power, cabinet ministers exercise considerable authority to make and enforce regulations in their various departments through orders issued by the governor-general. The prime minister generally selects his or her Cabinet from party members sitting in Commons, but he or she may also draw them from other parties or the Senate.


The members of the Senate are appointed, nominally by the governor-general but in effect by the prime minister. Once appointed, a senator may stay in office until age 75. Appointment to the Senate is considered an honor and is frequently granted for political service in the national or provincial government. To be appointed, a senator must own a certain amount of property, be over the age of 30, and reside in the province he or she represents.

Senators are appointed on the principle of regional representation. There is a total of 105, but four more or eight more can be added under exceptional circumstances as long as they are drawn equally from Québec, Ontario, the Maritimes, and the western provinces.

The Canadian Senate is more closely related in function to the British House of Lords than to the United States Senate. It has the power to initiate legislation, except for finance bills, but mainly acts as the chamber of “sober second thought,” scrutinizing the legislation initiated in the House of Commons. It has the right to amend or delay passage of bills passed by Commons. It also has the power to veto bills but rarely exercises it. Another important function of the Senate is the Special Senate Committee, through which social and economic issues important to the country are thoroughly investigated, often leading to changes in government policy.

House of Commons

Members of Commons are directly elected by the Canadian voters. There is no uniform interval between national, or general, elections, but by law they must be held at least once every five years. Each province and territory is divided into ridings, and each riding elects one member. The total number of seats is reapportioned periodically on the basis of the national census. Currently the House of Commons has 308 members. If a seat becomes vacant between general elections a by-election is held in that riding to fill the open seat.

To qualify for election to the House of Commons, a candidate must be a Canadian citizen and at least 18 years of age. But, unless he or she runs as an independent, a candidate must go through a nomination process at the party level first. A candidate or member does not have to live in the riding he or she represents, but most do.

In practice, the House of Commons is the key legislative branch, the place where most important bills are introduced; all money bills must originate in Commons. The prime minister and most of the Cabinet are members of Commons. Tradition decrees that if a government loses the support of a majority of Commons, it must surrender power or call a general election. Therefore, members of the party in power rarely vote against government policies. Dissent within the party is expressed in private meetings or party caucuses, but the party usually presents a solid front in Parliament.

All political parties in the House of Commons that do not support the government are known collectively as the opposition. The minority party with the most seats in Commons is known as the Official Opposition and has special privileges. The leader of the Official Opposition is one of the most important and visible figures in the House of Commons. In the Canadian parliamentary system it is the duty of the opposition to oppose the party in power. Government programs and bills submitted to Parliament are subject to close scrutiny and criticism by members of the opposition. The prime minister and his Cabinet must be ready at all times to explain and defend the government’s program or actions to the opposition.

Judiciary in Canada

The legal system in Canada is derived from English common law, except in Québec, which has a civil-law system based on the French civil law, which has been the basis of French law since 1804. The federal judiciary is headed by the Supreme Court of Canada, made up of a chief justice and eight associate judges, three of whom must come from Québec. It sits in Ottawa and is the final Canadian court of appeal for all civil, criminal, and constitutional cases. The next highest tribunal, the Federal Court of Canada, is divided into a Trial Division and an Appeal Division. It hears a variety of cases, including those involving claims against the federal government. Provincial courts are established by the provincial legislatures and, although the names of the courts are not uniform, each province has a similar three-part court system. Judges of the Supreme Court and the Federal Court and almost all judges of the higher provincial courts are appointed by the federal government.

Provincial Government in Canada

Canada comprises ten provinces, each with a separate legislature and administration. The government of each province is similar in structure and function to that of the national government. The monarch is represented in each province by a lieutenant governor, who is appointed by the governor-general on the recommendation of the prime minister. The functions of the lieutenant governor, like those of the governor-general, are primarily ceremonial. Each province has a unicameral, or single-chamber, legislature, called the legislative or provincial assembly. It is elected at least once every five years but may be dissolved at any time. The provincial legislature functions in much the same way as the House of Commons.

The head of the provincial government is the premier, who is appointed by the lieutenant governor after his or her party wins a general election. The premier’s role is similar to that of the prime minister in Ottawa. He or she must be able to control a majority in the legislature. The premier appoints an executive council, or Cabinet, whose members must be members of the legislative assembly and serve as heads of provincial departments. They function in provincial affairs as cabinet members do in national affairs.

The Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories are administered by Ottawa through the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The chief executives are commissioners, appointed by the federal government and assisted by local councils. The commissioner for the Northwest Territories resides at Yellowknife, and the commissioner for the Yukon at Whitehorse. The Yukon Territory has an elected legislative council. The council for the Northwest Territories is composed of both elected and appointed members; the majority are elected. In both territories the commissioner and council have legislative powers similar to those of provincial governments. A few areas of government, such as natural resources, are still controlled by Ottawa. The commissioner of each territory acts according to instructions from the federal Cabinet or the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

A third territory, Nunavut, was created in 1999 out of the Northwest Territories and encompasses about 2 million sq km (about 772,000 sq mi) of the eastern Arctic. Nunavut has its own government, similar to the other territories. This is the only large jurisdiction in North America with a majority of indigenous people, and in effect it constitutes indigenous self-government.

Political Parties of Canada

The strongest national political parties in Canada during the 20th century were the Progressive Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. The third party with a tradition of national support was the New Democratic Party (NDP). The Progressive Conservatives generally favored an unfettered market, fiscal responsibility, and limits on state power. The Liberals are generally associated with the center of the political spectrum, which means that they advocate greater government involvement in the economy; they have also been traditionally seen as the party most open to immigration.

The smaller NDP, which emerged from Canadian labor and protest movements, supports programs to increase social and economic equality. The NDP claims to represent ordinary people. Although never achieving national power, the NDP has from time to time held the balance of power and used it to support the Liberals; it has also led the provincial government at various times in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan.

In the 1993 election only the Liberals maintained their political base, while the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP waned in significance. Two new parties arose that cut into their traditional support. The Bloc Québécois (BQ) was formed to protect Québec interests and promote Québec sovereignty. It acts to a large extent as the federal arm of the provincial separatist party, the Parti Québécois. The BQ has no support outside Québec and no desire to form the federal government. To its own surprise, the collapse of the Progressive Conservatives and NDP in 1993 left the Bloc Québécois for a time in the position of the official opposition in Canadian Parliament. Its original leader, Lucien Bouchard, left the party to become the premier of Québec. The BQ will cease to exist if Québec gains independence; it will likewise decline if serious interest in Québec separatism disappears.

In contrast, the Canadian Alliance, the successor to the Reform Party and originally an expression of western dissatisfaction with federal control, came to express right-wing conservative ideals. It supported reducing taxes and governmental functions and opposed concessions to Québec. In the 1997 election it increased its standing in the west, replacing the Bloc Québécois as the official opposition in Parliament. Led by Stockwell Day, the Canadian Alliance gained an even larger share of seats in the 2000 election and retained its position as the official opposition. However, the party failed to attract many voters from central or eastern Canada.

In 2003 the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance merged to form a new party known as the Conservative Party. Led by Stephen Harper, the Conservative Party became the official opposition in Parliament. A small group of former Progressive Conservatives rejected the merger and formed a breakaway political party known as the Progressive Canadian party. In elections held in early 2006 the Conservative Party won the most seats in Parliament and formed a minority government, with the Liberals becoming the official opposition party.

Social Services and Health Care in Canada

All levels of government share the responsibility for social welfare in Canada. The chief federal agencies responsible for social service programs are Health and Welfare Canada and Human Resources Development Canada. The latter agency administers comprehensive income maintenance programs, such as the national pensions, old-age security, and unemployment insurance (known officially as the Employment Insurance program). Nationwide coordination is considered to be necessary for these programs. The federal government also provides services for indigenous peoples and veterans, and it provides block grants to provincial governments to help cover their expenditures in health, education, and public assistance.

Canada’s health system has successfully provided health services to all people regardless of income for many decades. Canada’s infant mortality rate, at 5 per 1,000, is one of the lowest in the world. Vaccination programs have brought diseases such as polio under control. Canadians have one of the highest life expectancies in the world and a generally high level of health throughout their lives. Most Canadians consider their health-care system a sacred trust.

However, the Canadian health-care system is being squeezed on the one hand by rising costs and on the other by reductions in government funding. Costs are increasing for a variety of reasons: an aging population, increasing poverty, higher expectations for health services, population growth in some provinces and cities, intractable diseases such as cancer, newer ones such as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and higher-cost treatment procedures. Governments concerned with deficit reduction are looking for ways to reduce costs; user fees for certain services, billing for extra physician visits, and private clinics have been suggested. Canadians are worried, however, about creating a two-tier system where the wealthy would have better access to health care than the poor, which has become a serious issue in the United States.

The problem of rising health-care costs is particularly acute for the Canadian federal government, as it covers a larger percentage of total medical costs than the U.S. government—69 percent of all health-care spending comes from the federal government in Canada versus 45 percent in the United States. Overall Canadian federal government spending rose from C$81.8 billion on health care in 1998 to more than C$130 billion in 2004, an increase of 59 percent. The 2004 total represented slightly more than $C4,000 for each man, woman, and child in the country.

The Child Tax Benefit, Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, and the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) program are the chief forms of federal welfare service. The Child Tax Benefit is a monthly stipend paid to low- and modest-income families with children to help cover the costs of child maintenance. Employment Insurance provides income for up to a year, in the event of job loss, to workers who receive a salary or an hourly wage. The Canada Pension Plan supplies retirement and disability income and survivors’ benefits to older workers, keyed to the amount of their lifetime earnings. It is supplemented by Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which are paid to people over 65 regardless of how much they earned. The CHST program provides money to the provinces to administer programs for health care, higher education, social assistance, and other social services.

The administration of welfare services is mainly the responsibility of the provinces. Municipalities and other local entities actually provide the services, generally with financial aid from the province. Provincial governments also have the major responsibility for education and health in Canada, with municipalities assuming authority over matters delegated to them by provincial legislation. The provinces spend about 30 to 35 percent of their total budgets on health care and about 17 percent on social services.

State-funded medical health insurance was first enacted in Saskatchewan in 1947 by the provincial government. A national system was established with the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act of 1957 and the Medical Care Act of 1966. In 1984 the Canadian Parliament consolidated these acts into the Canada Health Act. Under that law, the provinces must ensure that their health care systems meet the following criteria: (1) public administration—the health insurance plans must be administered by a public authority accountable to the provincial government; (2) comprehensive benefits—the plan must cover all medically necessary services prescribed by physicians and provided by hospitals; (3) universality—all legal residents of the province must be covered; (4) portability—residents must continue to be covered if they move or travel from one province to another; (5) accessibility—services must be made available to all residents on equal terms, regardless of income, age, or health needs. Private health insurance companies also operate in Canada, providing coverage for services beyond the regular system, such as ambulance fees and private hospital rooms.

The incidence of most diseases in Canada is similar to that in other developed countries. There are no diseases unique to Canada. The leading causes of death in 1997—the most recent year for which complete statistics are available—consisted of cancer, 27.2 percent; heart disease, 26.6 percent; and cerebrovascular diseases, 7.4 percent. Infectious diseases are fairly rare, although incidence varies between socioeconomic groups. Tuberculosis, for example, once thought to be under control in Canada, is now widespread in indigenous communities and other vulnerable populations, such as homeless people and those who are more than 65 years old. There were 1,628 new or relapsed cases of tuberculosis reported in 2003.

Attention also has focused on AIDS in recent years. The first known case in Canada was recorded in 1982. Since then there have been an estimated 20,000 cases of AIDS in the country. Despite improved drug and therapy programs, the number of persons living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)—the virus that causes AIDS—is rising, from an estimated 40,000 in 1996 to 56,000 in 2002. The death rate of individuals with AIDS declined during the 1990s as new medications were introduced, but stopped dropping late in the decade as the virus developed resistance to them. See also Health Care System in Canada.

Defense of Canada

As a country of nearly 33 million people, Canada is not a central military power. A special joint Senate and Commons committee reaffirmed in 1994 that Canada’s existing defense policy is to oversee and protect Canada, survey and control Canadian airspace and coastal waters, and participate in multinational security operations. Canada spends 6 percent of the federal budget on its armed forces, which are intended to evolve toward greater flexibility, mobility, and affordability.

The Canadian Forces are unified rather than being divided into separate branches, as with the U.S. military. The head of the armed forces is the chief of the defense staff, who reports to the civilian minister of national defense. Under the defense staff are three major commands, organized by function: the air, maritime, and land force commands. Military service is voluntary, and there has been no conscription in Canada except for brief periods during the two world wars. Conscription measures were unpopular and were soon repealed.

Canada was a founding member of NATO in 1949, and until 1994 Canada had air and land forces stationed in Europe to support NATO. Canada also participates jointly with the United States in the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which coordinates the air and space defense of North America. Canada is a leading peacekeeping nation, regularly sending service personnel to participate in United Nations peacekeeping or supervisory operations.

Occasionally the armed forces have been used in domestic affairs. The most notable of these incidents occurred during the October Crisis of 1970, when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau deployed the armed forces to prevent terrorist activity in the province of Québec. The army has also intervened in various protests by indigenous peoples in recent decades.

In the 1990s Canada reduced its military expenditures. Funding for the armed forces peaked in the early 1990s, at which time the military employed more than 120,000 people both in and out of uniform. By 2005 the numbers had dropped to 63,700 for regular forces and 22,000 for reserves. Funding actually rose during the same period, however—from C$11.3 billion in 1994 to C$13 billion in 2005, although inflation plays a role in the increase.

In general, the military does not have a high profile in Canada. Military affairs have had little impact on politics since the conscription controversy of World War II (1939-1945). In the mid-1990s a public inquiry into misconduct on the part of Canadian peacekeeping soldiers in Somalia revealed several cases of abuse of foreign civilians, including the murder of a Somali man. During the investigation, officers and department officials were accused of trying to cover up the incident and of tampering with evidence, and the result was the disbanding of the Airborne Regiment involved and the resignations of two succeeding chiefs of the defense staff. A new minister of defense was appointed, and his decision to terminate the inquiry before its completion was criticized by many.

Foreign Policy in Canada

Foreign policy is coordinated by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The country uses its influence to encourage democracy, the protection of human rights, free trade, and peaceful resolution of conflicts. These objectives generally coincide, but occasionally choices must be made among them. For example, Canada participated in economic sanctions against South Africa during the era of apartheid, placing the issue of democracy above that of trade. In the 1990s, however, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien declared that the most effective way to promote democratic movements and human rights was through increased trade, a policy that drew criticism from some groups but was supported by the business community.

The policy has also frustrated some of Canada’s allies. The United States, especially, disapproves of Canada’s continuing trade with Cuba in the face of a U.S. embargo of that country. Tensions rose between the two countries in 1996 when the United States tried to enforce its Helms-Burton Act, which barred entry into the United States of certain foreign persons doing business in Cuba. Canada retaliated by passing the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act, forbidding Canadian companies from observing U.S. embargoes. Since the late 1990s the United States has backed off on enforcing Helms-Burton against Canadian firms. Trade between Canada and Cuba remained strong into the 21st century, and in 2005 Canada was Cuba’s third-largest trading partner.

Tensions between the United States and Canada over foreign policy were renewed in 2003 over the unilateral decision of U.S. president George W. Bush to invade Iraq and oust the regime of Saddam Hussein. Canada urged the United States to work through the United Nations (UN) and rejected Bush’s unilateral approach. Canada’s refusal to send troops to Iraq angered the Bush administration. See also U.S.-Iraq War.

Foreign aid, including money, goods, expertise, and emergency relief, is also an important part of Canada’s foreign policy. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was formed in 1968 to manage Canada’s foreign aid program, which annually provides billions of dollars in aid to developing countries. The International Development Research Centre, set up in 1970, funds research into possible adaptations of science and technology for use in the developing world.

Canada has always had a strong role in the United Nations (UN), the umbrella organization for international cooperation and problem resolution. Canadian leaders have expressed the belief that cooperation and consensus among nations are the best hope for the future. Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s mediation in the Suez Crisis of 1956 and his proposal for an international peacekeeping force won him the Nobel Peace Prize and boosted the role of peacekeeping forces around the world. Canada supports the UN in many ways: as a major financial contributor; as a participant in many UN aid organizations; and as a contributor to the world’s peacekeeping troops. Canada has also supported a number of UN-led military interventions—for example, in the Korean War (1950-1953) and in the Persian Gulf War in Kuwait (1991)—but advocates earlier involvement to prevent active fighting. Canada also sent troops in support of the UN effort to protect Kābul, the capital of Afghanistan, after the United States invaded and toppled that nation’s Taliban regime in retaliation for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Canada belongs to a variety of major international organizations. One is the Commonwealth of Nations, which developed gradually after World War I (1914-1918) as former British colonies gained their independence. Others include NATO (1949) and NORAD (1957). Canada has enthusiastically supported the international associations for world peace and cooperation, first the League of Nations (1920-1946) and then its successor the United Nations (UN), of which Canada was a charter member in 1945. Other international groups that Canada has joined are the International Monetary Fund (1944), World Bank (formally the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, 1944); World Trade Organization (formerly General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, 1948); Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (1961); L’agence de Cooperation Culturelle et Technique (1970); G-7 Summit (1976); Organization of American States (1989); and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organization (1994).


Canada’s human past begins with the long tenure of the indigenous societies, followed by the 500-year collision between those peoples and the newly arrived Europeans. European colonization gave way after 1867 to the era of the Canadian nation-state. In the 20th century Canada became one of the world’s small group of wealthy, highly industrialized, technologically advanced, and heavily urbanized democracies. Yet regional tensions, ethnic rivalries, global pressures, and the powerful neighboring presence of the United States continued to challenge Canada’s political unity and cultural identity.

First Inhabitants in Canada


The indigenous peoples say they have been in Canada as long as the landscape itself. Evidence of their presence dates from the time when the land reappeared from under the great ice sheets that covered most of the country during the Pleistocene Ice Age at its peak about 18,000 years ago.

Dry land, largely ice-free, linked Asia and Alaska during the Pleistocene Epoch. Most anthropologists believe Canada’s first immigrants used this isthmus, a natural land bridge called Beringia, to migrate into North America at least 15,000 years ago. Some scholars believe the earliest migrants arrived much earlier, perhaps 30,000 years ago or longer. These first people seem to have been nomads who hunted mammoth, bison, and caribou. They expanded their range as the ice sheets retreated. As the climate stabilized and northern North America developed its modern ecological zones, such as tundra, forest, and prairie, the hunters adapted to local conditions. See also First Americans.

Other migrants from Asia came later, perhaps as recently as 4,000 years ago, bringing new languages and different types of tools and weapons. Distinct cultures and nations developed throughout Canada. They comprised at least 11 separate language groups with hundreds of individual languages and a variety of ways of living.

Indigenous Peoples in 1500

In 1500, on the eve of regular European contact, there may have been 300,000 people living in Canada, although some estimates run much higher. More than half were clustered in two regions, southern Ontario and the Pacific coast. Despite divisions due to distance, language, and culture, trade networks stretched far across the continent, as did diplomatic alliances, rivalries, and warfare. Each nation had its own myths, heroes, and spiritual practices, but they all shared a reverence for nature and a sense of the spiritual presence in all living things.

The societies of the Algonquian language family, the most widespread in North America, extended from the Atlantic coast to the Rockies. Groups on the Atlantic coast made extensive use of fish and coastal marine life. Most Algonquian speakers, however, were hunter-gatherers: They hunted deer and other large animals, and gathered nuts and wild grains. They lived in small bands of related families, in the forest that stretches across Canada from west to east. Some moved into the Great Plains to make their living by hunting bison.

Another language group, the Athapaskan speakers, were also hunter-gatherers. They lived mainly in the northwestern forest, but some groups lived on the plains, along with some Algonquian and Siouan groups. These plains people wintered in sheltered river valleys and followed the bison herds. They planned and executed well-organized drives to stampede bison over cliffs. From the bison they got not only food but also clothing, tools, and many other necessities. These societies began their golden age in the mid-1700s when they got horses, imported to North America via Mexico. With the new mobility that horses provided, mounted bison hunters such as the Blackfoot and Plains Cree flourished on the Great Plains.

On the tundra, the Arctic coast, and Arctic lands lived the Inuit, who developed ingenious inventions to help them survive in one of the world’s most forbidding climates. The Inuit lived in small bands as hunters, with a diet almost wholly of sea animals, although some followed the caribou herds. They spoke a common language, in several dialects, that spread eastward from Alaska to Greenland barely a thousand years ago. It is part of the Eskimo-Aleut language group, which has branches in Siberia and thus is the only indigenous language group with a clearly identified Asian connection.

The temperate rain forest of the mountainous Pacific Northwest was the most densely populated part of indigenous Canada and had the greatest diversity of languages. Speakers of at least five distinct language groups lived here. The coastal nations were blessed with abundant food sources, particularly salmon, and lived in substantial, permanent towns of elaborately decorated cedar-plank houses. They produced sophisticated works of art, the most famous of which were the totem poles that decorated houses and proclaimed the lineages of their owners. They traveled, raided, and hunted whales in large, oceangoing canoes. These were complex societies consisting of chiefs, nobles, commoners, and slaves.

Another area of large populations and complex societies was the woodlands of the lower Great Lakes and St. Lawrence valley, inhabited by Iroquoian-speaking peoples. About 500 AD the Iroquoians began growing corn, beans, and squash. Once established, agriculture supported much larger populations than hunting and gathering. The Iroquoian farmers lived in large, fortified towns surrounded by cornfields. Some groups formed rival confederacies known as the Huron, Neutral, and Iroquois (or Five Nations, later Six Nations). Each confederacy had its own elaborate political systems and ceremonies. See also Native Americans of North America; Native American Languages; Native American Religions.

European Contact: 985-1600

The Viking Voyagers

Viking colonists of Iceland and Greenland were the first Europeans known to have reached North America. They began to visit the northeast coast of Canada about AD 985, when they settled Greenland. Leif Ericson of Greenland sailed west about AD 1000 to a place he called Vinland and built a settlement there. This may have been L’Anse aux Meadows, a place on the island of Newfoundland and Labrador where remains of a Viking village were found in the 1960s. Although the colony did not last long, Viking contact with indigenous people may have been widespread on the northeast coast. This contact seems to have been marked by conflict despite some evidence of trading exchanges. Contact with North America had ceased entirely by the time Europe lost contact with Greenland in 1410.

Search for the Northwest Passage

Later in the 15th century, Europe’s seafarers began extending the range of their voyages. John Cabot, an Italian in the service of England, renewed contact with northern North America when he sailed to Newfoundland in 1497. Cabot sought a Northwest Passage, a westward sea route to the wealthy empires known to exist in Asia. He was soon followed by Portuguese and other explorers who were seeking a water route to Asia through or around North America. In 1576 Martin Frobisher sailed to Baffin Island. In 1585 John Davis found and named Davis Strait. In 1610 Henry Hudson sailed into Hudson Bay. Hudson was marooned there by his mutinous crew, and Sir Thomas Button’s unsuccessful search for him (1612-1613) confirmed that there was no western exit from the bay. Well into the 18th century, however, hopeful explorers looked for navigable rivers that might form a water route if connected by short portages. All of these explorations helped to map Canada and bring its natural resources to the attention of people in Europe.

In 1534 King Francis I of France dispatched explorer Jacques Cartier to seek empires similar to the wealthy ones that Spain had recently conquered in Mexico. Cartier explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but he found no such empires. In 1535 he traveled the St. Lawrence River as far as the Iroquoian town of Hochelaga (the present site of Montréal) and confirmed that the river offered no sea route to Asia. Cartier’s men spent the winter at Stadacona, an Iroquoian village where Québec City now stands. Cartier brought back a name for the country, Canada, which seems to mean “village.” In 1541 he led a larger colonization venture that was also unsuccessful.

First Commercial Ventures

Whale oil, cod, and furs brought a steadier, less publicized stream of European sailors to Canada. From the early 1500s until after 1600, Basques, people from southern France and northern Spain, came each year to Labrador and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to hunt whales. English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese fishers came to catch cod on the shallow, bountiful Grand Banks off the Atlantic coast, often drying the catch on the shores. The fishing industry led to several attempts to start colonies in Newfoundland and elsewhere. Few endured, although the fishing season regularly brought a throng of fishers to some harbors. In 1583 English adventurer Sir Humphrey Gilbert arrived at busy St. John’s Harbour in Newfoundland and found it crowded with boats.

Although Spanish and Portuguese boats shared the harbor with the English, Gilbert claimed Newfoundland for England. In the 1600s, after the Spanish and Portuguese quit fishing in the Grand Banks, permanent English communities grew up around Newfoundland’s Avalon peninsula, and French communities grew up on the island’s south coast. About the same time, whalers and fishers began to develop a trade in furs with indigenous nations they met along the coasts. Europe’s hatters discovered that beaver hair, when shaved and matted into a stiff felt, was the finest hat-making material available. The Canadian fur trade, destined to be the backbone of the economy for some 200 years, was born. See also Fisheries; Whaling.

European-Indigenous Relations

For several hundred years, there were few European settlers across much of Canada, and thus there were few conflicts between them and the indigenous peoples over control of the land. Trading relations, rooted in the fur trade that eventually spread across the continent, were often more important. The fur trade changed indigenous societies by adding new European goods to their way of life, encouraging them to concentrate on trade with the newcomers, and often leading them into new alliances or conflicts based on trade. But trade rarely put the indigenous nations under European domination. Missionaries, who often accompanied the early traders, tried to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity but were frequently disappointed by their lack of success. So long as the indigenous societies remained independent, they rarely showed great enthusiasm for European religions. For centuries after the arrival of Cabot, most of them retained control over their contacts with Europeans.

In these early years, disease was the greatest effect of European contact. The Europeans brought with them diseases that were unknown in North America, and the indigenous people lacked immunity to them. The result was devastating epidemics that ran through the Americas long before any Europeans moved inland to report them. The population began to decline as soon as the Europeans arrived. Some scholars have estimated that the Mi’kmaq lost 90 percent of their population between 1500 and 1600.

As contact moved gradually north and west, so did epidemics. Great Plains nations suffered devastating epidemics in the late 1700s; the Pacific Northwest suffered similar catastrophes in the mid-1800s; and many Inuit groups were hard hit by illnesses as they came into regular contact with Europeans in the 20th century. Indigenous populations in Canada declined continuously from about 1500 to about 1930.

New France: 1600-1763

When the French government saw the potential value of the fur trade, the fishing industry, and other resources of northern North America, it began to take more interest in the region, which came to be known as New France. New France would eventually comprise Canada (the area drained by the St. Lawrence), Acadia (now the Maritime provinces), the island of Newfoundland (shared unwillingly with the English), and later Louisiana (the valley of the Mississippi River). France claimed and defended this vast area as its possession. For the most part, however, indigenous inhabitants continued their way of life unaffected by French laws or customs, and they dealt with the French primarily as allies and as customers for their furs. The French claim was contested by the English, who tried persistently to divert the fur trade or to occupy parts of the territory.

Early Years

To confirm its claims to North American territory, France needed to build permanent forts and settlements. But settlements were expensive, and in order to pay for them, commercial colonizers sought a monopoly on the fur trade. Pierre du Gua, sieur de Monts, acquired such a monopoly from the king of France, and in 1604 he established a post in Acadia. In 1608 Samuel de Champlain, an explorer hired by de Monts, founded a settlement at Québec on the St. Lawrence River. Champlain, who became the champion of French colonization, understood that a monopoly of the inland fur trade could be better protected there, where the river narrowed, rather than at sites on the open coast of Acadia. Consequently, French colonization began to focus on the St. Lawrence valley. Eventually, Champlain convinced Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister to King Louis XIII, of the importance of North America. In 1627 Richelieu organized the Company of One Hundred Associates to develop and administer New France.

To maintain his settlement and develop the fur trade on the St. Lawrence, Champlain had to form alliances with the local Algonquian nations and their inland allies, the Huron confederacy. These indigenous allies brought the furs to Québec, and with their assistance Champlain was able to travel widely and to map eastern North America from Newfoundland to the Great Lakes.

Under the company, the Canada colony continued to grow after Champlain died at Québec in 1635. More settlements were founded, notably at Trois-Rivières (1634) and Montréal (1642). However, the colony remained small in population and dependent on the fur trade. Fur traders also maintained a small French presence in Acadia, and in the 1640s a small, settled Acadian community took root around Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal) on the Bay of Fundy.

In the 1640s New France was unable to aid its ally, the Huron confederacy, in a war with the Iroquois. After the Iroquois defeated and scattered the Huron in 1649, New France’s fur trade was devastated, and Montréal and Québec were exposed to attack. The colony survived, however, and the fur trade rebounded after the Ottawa, Ojibwa, and other Algonquian nations replaced the Huron as French allies and suppliers. New France’s trader-explorers also began to venture inland from Montréal in search of new sources of furs. Two of them, Médard Chouart, sieur des Groseilliers, and Pierre Esprit Radisson, explored the west side of Lake Superior in the 1650s.

Development of the Colony

In 1663, when New France still had barely 3,000 people, Louis XIV’s finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert abolished the One Hundred Associates, ending the era of company rule. Thenceforth, New France was a royal province ruled from Québec by a governor-general, who commanded the military forces and symbolized royal authority. In addition, an intendant oversaw colonial finances, justice, and daily administration. Both officials reported to the Minister of Marine in the king’s court, since all French colonies were administered by the naval department. An appointed Superior Council advised the governor and acted as a supreme court, but there were no elective bodies in the government of New France.

With royal support, the defenses of New France were improved. The Carignan-Salières regiment, a veteran military force of 1,200, arrived in 1665 and waged a campaign against the Iroquois. This campaign led to a peace settlement with the Iroquois. About 400 members of the Carignan-Salières regiment stayed on in Canada as settlers. During the first decade of royal rule, the monarchy also subsidized immigration from France, notably of some 700 unmarried women, who were later called filles du roi (daughters of the king) because the king paid for their transportation and dowries. Their arrival helped balance the male-female ratio, which had been overwhelmingly male. Thereafter immigration from France was slight; the 10,000 settlers reported on the 1681 census became, by natural increase, the ancestors of almost all the French-speaking Canadians of today.

Soon after the peace settlement with the Iroquois, New France acquired a permanent garrison of colonial troops. Soldiers for the colony came from France, but they were commanded by what became a hereditary aristocracy in New France. Military officers explored new territory, built forts, and participated in diplomacy, trade, and warfare with the indigenous peoples.

Trade and Exploration

In 1664 Colbert organized a new company, the Company of the West Indies, to hold the fur trade monopoly. As a settled rural population developed in the St. Lawrence River valley, the fur trade moved westward and northward. After 1670 there was a new competitor in the fur trade. In that year, King Charles II of England granted a trade monopoly in the area of Hudson Bay to a London group, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). However, the fur trade merchants of Montréal were able to compete successfully. They combined the fur trade with exploration and missionary work. Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette began exploring the Mississippi River, and René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, reached the Gulf of Mexico in 1682.

Illicit traders called coureurs de bois (woods rangers) and licensed ones called voyageurs pushed northwest toward the prairies. Some remained there, adopting indigenous ways of life and marrying indigenous women. Around 1700, King Louis XIV authorized development of a chain of forts linking the St. Lawrence to Louisiana, a colony newly founded at the mouth of the Mississippi. Some fur traders and their mixed-blood families formed communities of farmers and traders around these forts and posts. Their descendents became the Métis (French for “mixed people”).

French Colonial Society


The Roman Catholic Church was a powerful element in colonial society. Although France had many Protestants at the time, its official religion was Roman Catholicism, and this was the form of Christianity that France desired to spread in North America. Thus Protestants were prohibited from settling in New France, and Roman Catholic religious organizations were charged with maintaining and spreading the Catholic faith. The first religious organization to send missionaries to New France was the Franciscan Récollet group, who arrived in 1615. In 1633 they were replaced by the richer, better-organized Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. As the church gradually reoriented itself to serving the settler community, members of the Ursulines, an organization of nuns (women devoted to the religious life) came in 1639 to start schools for girls. Sulpician priests, who ran seminaries to educate future priests, arrived in 1657.

Bishop François de Laval, who had led the colonial church since 1659, established the Diocese of Québec in 1674. It was supported by mandatory tithes, which took the form of taxes levied on the farmers’ produce. Religious bodies ran hospitals and schools and often owned large estates called seigneuries. New France, however, was never abundantly supplied with clergy. Though the people were overwhelmingly Catholic, rural communities might see a priest only a few times a year.

Land Tenure

New France developed as a largely rural society, as farmers cleared land along the St. Lawrence and adjacent rivers. These farmers, called habitants, held their land under the seignorial system. Land in New France was granted in the form of seigneuries to large landlords, or seigneurs, who in turn granted acreages to farming families. In return the farmers had to pay annual dues to the seigneur in the form of produce, labor, or sometimes money. New France’s farm families lacked export markets—they were hundreds of miles from the ocean—and so they produced mainly for themselves rather than for sale. The members of large farm families worked together to raise wheat, vegetables, and livestock. As younger family members grew up and married, they cleared new land. The farmers had little opportunity for formal education, but they lived better than did most peasants in France at the time.

Seignorial lands usually brought little income to their owners, and owning seigneuries did not confer noble status. However, land ownership was another sign of prestige for the colonial elite. Few seigneurs lived on their estates or gave them close attention. Most seigneurs lived in the towns, and many had careers as military officers.

French and British Rivalry

Territorial Disputes

In the 1680s New France was again at war with the Iroquois, partly over control of the fur trade but also as an offshoot of war between France and England. The English and their Iroquois allies attacked the settlements on the St. Lawrence in King William’s War (1689-1697), but New France now had a permanent garrison and could strike back. New France’s soldiers, notably Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d’Iberville, raided the frontiers of New York and New England with their indigenous allies and seized most of the English trading posts on Hudson Bay. After almost a decade of guerrilla warfare, the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) merely confirmed each country’s possessions before the war, even returning Acadia, which the English had captured, to the French. In 1701 the Iroquois made a comprehensive peace with New France and sought to remain neutral in future conflicts between the two countries.

In 1702 a new war, Queen Anne’s War, broke out between France and Great Britain (a new union of three countries headed by England). By the Peace of Utrecht that ended the war, France was compelled to yield its land in Newfoundland, although it kept seasonal fishing rights on the north side (the French Shore), and its claims to Hudson Bay. The Acadian mainland was also ceded to Britain. However, the French kept their forts and trading posts on the north side of the Bay of Fundy, maintaining that this was Mi’kmaq land that had never become part of Acadia. The Acadians who lived under British rule became the neutral French, tied to neither the French nor the British, but always distrusted by the British. They and the Mi’kmaq were the only people living in the colony, which the British called Nova Scotia, until the seaport of Halifax was founded in 1749.

France kept Cape Breton Island and Île Saint Jean (now Prince Edward Island), organizing them as the colony of Isle Royale. After 1713 the French fishing industry focused on Cape Breton Island, where the fortified town of Louisbourg was founded that year. Louisbourg soon became a successful fishing and trading port as well as a military base. In the peaceful decades that followed, New France continued to grow and prosper, from 18,000 people in 1713 to 40,000 in 1737 and 55,000 in 1755. Most of these people lived in the long-established farming communities of the St. Lawrence valley, the heartland of New France.

The Fur Trade

Fur trade forts dotted the continent, and Montréal’s merchants continued to control the lion’s share of the fur trade, which grew and spread westward. The French approached the fur trade differently than the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). The French went into the back country to collect furs, but the HBC generally preferred to establish posts at shipping ports and let the indigenous trappers bring their furs to the posts. Although the HBC made a generous profit, its trade was often intercepted upstream by Montréalers who met the trappers on their home ground and bought the best of their furs.

The French fur trade operations were extended far to the west by military officer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye, and his sons. They explored almost to the Rocky Mountains in the 1730s and 1740s and established a string of fur trading forts. The fur traders who followed them established routes along the Saskatchewan and Missouri rivers. The French forged alliances, based on the trade, with the indigenous peoples of the west, and this meant that French soldiers, traders, and missionaries could move with relative ease across the continent. But since the indigenous nations trapped and traded the pelts and European hatters processed them, the fur trade never provided work for more than a few hundred French colonists.

The French and Indian War

With the outbreak of the French and Indian War, Britain began a relentless attack on France’s colonies. The conflict began in the Ohio Valley, where traders from the 13 colonies were beginning to settle. This British expansion threatened Louisiana’s links with the rest of New France. The British also threatened the French on the Atlantic coast. In 1755 Britain rounded up and deported some 7,000 Acadians, destroying the century-old Acadian society of Nova Scotia.

The Acadians were replaced by settlers from New England, who occupied the productive diked farmlands that the Acadians had created by the Bay of Fundy. Some of the deported Acadians were sent to France, and some eventually went to Louisiana, where their present-day descendants are known as Cajuns. Some retreated to the woods to avoid being sent away and settled farther north on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. After 1764 the British allowed some deportees to return, and in the last part of the 18th century a few came back to join the refugees in these new settlements.

For several years New France’s forces, led by the experienced French general the Marquis of Montcalm, held their own against the large and very costly assault by British forces. In a global military contest, Britain was compelled to devote one-seventh of its army—20,000 soldiers—to face down a few thousand French troops, supported by militia and indigenous allies, in North America. But Louisbourg fell in 1758, and its population was deported to France. In 1759 three British armies pushed toward the St. Lawrence heartland. After a summer-long siege of Québec, the young British general James Wolfe won the battle of the Plains of Abraham and captured the city. Montréal fell the following summer and New France came under British rule.

The conquest did not end all the fighting. The final stage was a widespread indigenous campaign in the spring of 1763, under Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa, against the western posts where British garrisons had recently replaced the French. Most of these posts were in the southern and western territories of Canada that now form the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The indigenous nations of the area resented the 13 colonies’ westward expansion onto their lands, and joined the uprising to force them back. However, they were unable to sustain their attack or to sever British supply lines.

British North America: 1763-1841

By the Treaty of Paris in 1763, New France with its 65,000 settlers (except western Louisiana) was ceded to Britain. At that point, what is now Canada comprised the British colonies of Québec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Rupert’s Land. Québec was the new name for the colony of Canada, which had reached from Labrador to Missouri but was now reduced to the lower St. Lawrence valley. Nova Scotia comprised all of what had been Acadia and Île Royale, and Newfoundland included Labrador. Rupert’s Land, which was the name for the Hudson Bay drainage area, continued to be a monopoly of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

King George III of Britain sought to pacify Pontiac’s allies with his Royal Proclamation of 1763, which recognized indigenous sovereignty with certain qualifications. It committed Britain to negotiating treaties with the indigenous peoples to acquire land before allowing settlers to move in. The land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, including Canada outside the lower St. Lawrence valley, was set aside as a reserve, the so-called Lands Reserved for the Indians. This angered people in the 13 colonies, who felt they were being deprived of rights to western land that had been given or implied in their original colonial charters.

Consolidating British Rule

When Britain conquered New France, it expected to impose British institutions, including a colonial assembly that would be open only to Protestants. Military governors James Murray and Guy Carleton found that policy unworkable. In 1774 by the Québec Act, Britain agreed to preserve a regime with no elective institutions. The Québec Act entrenched the old French civil law and the seignorial system of landholding and officially recognized the Roman Catholic Church, including its right to impose tithes. By shoring up the society of French Québec, the Québec Act helped reconcile its key leaders—the church and the seigneurs—to British rule. The Québec Act also restored to Québec the land between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, which had been included in the lands reserved for the Indians. This helped preserve Montréal’s fur trade and encouraged the indigenous nations to form alliances with the British.

All of the northern colonies were theoretically under the authority of Britain’s governor-general at Québec City, but in practice there were few links among them. Each colony continued to develop in isolation from the others. In Newfoundland, English and Irish settlements had been growing during the 18th century. By the end of the century, Newfoundlanders, rather than fishing fleets from England, caught most of the cod that was exported to Europe and the Caribbean. Newfoundland was not entirely British after 1763, however; France kept fishing rights on the north and west coasts and acquired the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon as a base for its fishing fleets.

Nova Scotia attracted only a few settlers from New England and Britain, but its capital, Halifax, became important as a military base and seaport. Halifax was the site of the first newspaper in what is now Canada (1752) and of the first elected assembly (1758). After 1770 migration from the highlands of Scotland produced a substantial Gaelic-speaking minority in Nova Scotia. Prince Edward Island (called Saint John’s Island until 1799) became a separate colony in 1769.

In Québec the population grew, commerce expanded, rural villages developed, and prosperity increased, but French-speaking society, particularly rural society, continued largely unchanged from the days of French rule. The world of most French colonists continued to center on the farm and the parish. There were few schools, and most of the colonists were unable to read and write. Rural prosperity aided the seigneurs, who for the first time could hope to live as country gentlemen on the dues paid by the habitants. The English-speaking population, most of whom were involved in trade, government, or the garrisons, lived mainly in the towns.

The American Revolution

Removal of the French threat, which eliminated the need for British military protection, encouraged the 13 colonies to grow away from their ties to Britain. Barely 15 years after the conquest of New France, these colonies took up armed resistance to British rule, and the American Revolution began. In 1775 American forces harassed Nova Scotia and invaded Québec. They did not win the support of the Nova Scotians, who still depended on British connections. The Americans seized Montréal and besieged Québec City in the winter of 1775 to 1776, but they found little support, and British forces drove them out early in 1776. For the rest of the war, Britain used the forts and seaports of the northern colonies as springboards for its campaigns against the Americans.

The American Revolution created not one but two new nations in North America. When the independence of the United States of America was confirmed in 1783, the northern part of British North America, the future Canada, was left to the British Empire.

Loyalist Immigration

The British were immediately confronted with a dramatic increase in population. Some 40,000 Loyalists—people from 13 colonies who were loyal to Britain—came as refugees during and immediately after the revolution (see United Empire Loyalists). Others, called late Loyalists, arrived in subsequent years. Some of the Loyalists were former members of the urban elite of the 13 colonies, but most were ordinary farmers or townspeople. A tenth of the Loyalists in Atlantic Canada were blacks, mostly escaped slaves who had joined the British cause. Part of the Iroquois confederacy that had allied itself with Britain also joined the migration. Thayendanegea, or Joseph Brant, founded an Iroquois community on the Grand River north of Lake Erie.

Britain supported Loyalist refugees for several years and provided them with generous land grants in British North America. Almost overnight, Loyalists tripled the population of Nova Scotia. Their arrival caused two new colonies to be carved out of Nova Scotia: New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island (reunited with Nova Scotia in 1820). In Québec, which received about 10,000 Loyalists, Governor Frederick Haldimand decreed that the English-speaking newcomers should not be merged into the French communities. At his direction, most Loyalists in Québec migrated in 1784 to new settlements on the upper St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario, creating the nucleus of the future Ontario.

The Constitutional Act of 1791

Loyalist leaders soon joined British merchants of Québec City and Montréal in agitating against the Québec Act. It did not provide the British legal institutions, legislatures, and systems of land tenure that the Loyalists and others of British background expected. In response, in 1791 Britain divided Québec into two colonies, Lower and Upper Canada, and gave a new constitution to each. In mostly French Lower Canada, French civil law, the rights of the Catholic Church, and seignorial land tenure were preserved. In mostly English Upper Canada, Protestant churches, particularly the Church of England, were favored, and English laws and land tenure were installed.

The War of 1812

In 1812 the United States declared war on Britain, which was again fighting a global war against France. Both Britain and France had confiscated U.S. ships that were attempting to trade with the other side. The United States declared war on Britain and invaded Upper Canada.

American leaders expected success rather than a repeat of 1775, because most Upper Canadians had only recently come from the 13 colonies. They were wrong. Britain’s professional army, with the support of the colonial militias and indigenous allies led by Tecumseh of the Shawnee, inflicted a series of defeats on the large but ill-trained American invasion forces. In 1812 British general Isaac Brock secured the Canadian frontier at Niagara and captured Detroit.

There was no direct threat to Atlantic Canada because its nearest U.S. neighbors, the New England states, largely opposed the war. In fact, Nova Scotian shipowners enjoyed a bonanza; their vessels went on privateering expeditions, capturing and confiscating American ships. The Americans never effectively threatened Lower Canada. They attempted to capture Montréal in 1813, but the attempts were blocked by British victories at Crysler’s Farm and Châteauguay. However, the 1813 American naval victory at Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie renewed the threat to Upper Canada, whose survival depended on command of the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes. American forces occupied parts of the colony and burned its capital, York (now Toronto), but got little support from the inhabitants.

When the war ended in 1815, the attempted American conquest had been defeated. The war had strengthened anti-American feeling, particularly in Upper Canada, and increased the belief that British North America had a separate destiny. See also War of 1812.


The Fur Trade and Western Exploration

Bringing all of the northern regions under British rule did not stop the fur trade competition between Montréal and Hudson Bay. The French merchants of Montréal were joined by and gradually replaced by Scots. Gradually the Montréalers formed a cartel, the North West Company (NWC). Competition from the Nor’Westers, as the NWC people were called, forced the HBC to move inland from its posts on the bayshore, and the companies fought a fierce, costly battle from 1775 to 1821. The rivalry accelerated exploration of the west as fur traders sought new routes and suppliers. Nor’Wester Sir Alexander Mackenzie followed the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean in 1789, and in 1793 he reached the Pacific. Nor’Wester Simon Fraser reached the mouth of the Fraser River, near modern-day Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1808. David Thompson, who followed the Columbia River to its mouth in 1811, mapped much of western Canada for the NWC.

The fur trade shaped development on the Pacific coast. Sea otters, which bear one of the world’s finest furs, ranged along that coast from Alaska to California. Russian and Spanish traders exploited this resource, but Britain pushed them out of what is now British Columbia after explorations by its captains James Cook (1778) and George Vancouver (1792). In a brief period, the fur traders nearly exterminated the sea otter, although a few survived in Alaska.

The enmity of the companies colored the history of western settlement. Assiniboia, the first colony west of the Great Lakes, was begun at Red River in Rupert’s Land in 1812. It was the project of a major HBC stockholder, Lord Selkirk. The North West Company saw it as an HBC attempt to block their east-west trade route, which ran through Red River. The Métis, mixed-blood offspring of fur traders and indigenous people, already had communities in Red River; they sided with the Nor’Westers. The colony’s first governor, Miles Macdonell, set the tone when he issued restrictions on trade. In 1816 the second governor, Robert Semple, and 20 men were killed in a gunfight with Métis while trying to enforce the restrictions. Other violence occurred as the HBC and NWC vied for dominance.

In 1821 the competition between the fur trade companies ended when the NWC merged into the HBC. The HBC took over the NWC’s trading area and also administered the Oregon Country, claimed by both Britain and the United States (see Northwest Boundary Dispute). Montréal’s fur trade dwindled as Hudson Bay became the major shipping point for furs going to Europe. The HBC came to dominate British interests on the Pacific, developing a network of trading forts. In 1843 the HBC built Fort Victoria (now Victoria, capital of British Columbia) on Vancouver Island as its Pacific headquarters. As population grew around the forts, HBC administrators, notably Sir James Douglas, later known as the father of British Columbia, played important roles in making the transition to colonial government. Gradually the fur trade’s role in the Canadian economy faded, although a commercial fur trade continued in the west and north.

Immigration and Settlement

At the beginning of the 19th century a flood of immigrants came to British North America from England, Scotland, and Ireland. Probably a million people migrated from these countries to British North America between 1815 and 1850. By the 1840s, British North America had 1.5 million people: 650,000 in Lower Canada, 450,000 in Upper Canada, and more than 300,000 in Atlantic Canada. About half the immigrants were English, but Irish immigrants became more numerous than English in the 1830s, and particularly after 1845, when famine struck Ireland. Scots immigration increased when tenant farmers in the Scottish Highlands were evicted from their land to allow large-scale sheep farming. The immigrants from Ireland and Scotland included both Catholics and Protestants, and Catholics became a sizable minority in all the English-speaking colonies.

People who had acquired land and wanted to establish colonies recruited other immigrants. Lord Selkirk encouraged immigration not only to Red River, but also to Prince Edward Island and Upper Canada. The Canada Company, a land company chartered by the British government, sought settlers for the large tract of Upper Canada that it acquired in 1826. Most people, however, came on their own. They risked the dangers of the passage and periodic outbreaks of shipborne cholera (particularly in 1832) and typhus (1847).

The greatest number of these immigrants settled in Upper Canada, which was considered “a good poor man’s country” because immigrants willing to work hard for a generation or more could acquire potentially valuable farmland. Upper Canada became the fastest-growing part of British North America. Atlantic Canada also attracted many immigrants, though fewer went to Newfoundland than to the other colonies. In Lower Canada, immigration caused the English-speaking population to grow in Québec City, the Ottawa River valley, Montréal, and the Eastern Townships (east of Montréal). French Canadians, however, remained the largest ethnic group in Lower Canada.

Immigration made the colonies more British. It also made the indigenous nations minorities in most areas east of the Great Lakes. Land cession treaties gave them small reserves, but the hunting rights and other guarantees made to them in these treaties were rarely respected. Few immigrants went far west or north, and the indigenous nations remained dominant in the vast HBC lands. On the plains, the mounted hunting societies, who did not depend on the fur trade, lived independently on the still-abundant bison. The Red River colony continued, but the additions to its population were chiefly Métis, who were proud of their role as a new people different from both the indigenous peoples and the Europeans. There was little contact with the colonies to the east before midcentury. Then, however, as Upper Canada’s farm population grew, some of its leaders began considering the west as potential space for expansion.

Timber and Gold

Britain continued to be important to the economic development of its North American colonies, supplying trade opportunities and investment. During its wars with France, Britain was cut off from its timber sources in Europe, and it turned to British North America for timber. Timber production became a vital industry, and wood quickly replaced furs as the leading export of British North America. The timber trade encouraged shipbuilding, and by midcentury Atlantic Canada was building and operating a long-distance sailing fleet. Merchants prospered in Halifax and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; Saint John, New Brunswick; St. John’s, Newfoundland; and other seaports.

The Fraser River gold rush of 1858 brought new settlers and new interest to the Pacific coast. The colony of British Columbia was formed that year out of the HBC territory, and in 1866 it incorporated the colony of Vancouver’s Island (the old name of Vancouver Island), which had been created in 1849. Its settlers, a mix of British, Canadians, and Americans, with a few Chinese, had begun to ship timber, salmon, and coal, as well as gold, from the colony, but they were still outnumbered by the indigenous population of the coast.

Political Changes

Growth of Self-Government

The act of 1791 established assemblies, in both Upper and Lower Canada, that were representative in that most adult males could vote in elections for these bodies. Britain conceded that its colonists were entitled to representative institutions, but it did not want a repeat of the American Revolution. It was widely believed among the British that the revolution had resulted from allowing too much independence in the 13 colonies. Britain therefore wanted to bind the British North Americans more securely to the British Empire—the group of dominions, colonies, and other territories around the world that owed allegiance to the British crown—by establishing a colonial elite similar to the powerful British landed aristocracy. To that end, Britain balanced the power of elected assemblies with the authority of the governor-general and lieutenant governors from Britain, who were assisted by an appointed legislative council for each colony. The council members were drawn from the elite (English speakers in Upper Canada, and both English and French speakers in Lower Canada).

Ties to Britain were fostered by feelings of rivalry toward the United States. Edward Winslow, a Loyalist founder of New Brunswick, believed that his province would be “the envy of the United States.” John Graves Simcoe, first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, welcomed American settlers because he believed that Upper Canada would show them that the British system of government was superior to American republicanism. Even in French-speaking Lower Canada, the church and the aristocracy accepted British rule. The rural population in Lower Canada also had no wish to be assimilated by the alien Americans, since its way of life seemed protected under British rule.

Radicals and Reformers

A colonial aristocracy never developed in British North America. Most colonists were small farmers, fishers, or artisans. In an increasingly commercial society, commerce was a more important source of wealth and influence than land, and egalitarian values were much more strongly entrenched in Canada than in Europe. The appointed councils, as intended, dominated government in all the colonies; however, most Canadians, who criticized them as self-seeking cliques of officeholders, did not accept them as leaders. Council members tried to fend off their critics by pointing to the prosperity and growth achieved under British rule and equating change with disloyalty and Americanism.

Two groups—radicals and reformers—opposed the autocratic rule of the appointed councils. The radicals looked to American and French political models and called for republican institutions, elections for all public offices, and the overthrow of all forms of privilege and inequality. By the mid-1820s, the fiery Scots-born Upper Canadian journalist and politician William Lyon Mackenzie was the most vigorous advocate of the radical platform. The more moderate reformers defended British institutions and ties to the British monarchy and empire. They campaigned for responsible government, meaning a parliamentary system where the monarchy’s advisers in each colony would be picked from, and responsible to, an elected legislature. Prominent reformers included Anglo-Irish lawyer W. W. Baldwin in Upper Canada, French Canadian journalist Étienne Parent in Lower Canada, and journalist Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia.

The Rebellions of 1837

In Lower Canada, the movement for political change threatened to become a revolution. Lower Canada’s farming economy suffered from overcrowding and soil exhaustion. French Canadian society was threatened with a decline in living standards and gradual impoverishment. Ethnic conflict exacerbated this economic challenge. French Canadians were concentrated in the hard-pressed countryside while British immigrants dominated the towns, where they controlled commerce and industry and had the ear of government. Continued immigration threatened French Canadian predominance, even in the countryside.

French Canadian lawyers, journalists, and others blamed French Canada’s problems on British domination. They warned that French Canadians would become merely the impoverished servants of British commercial interests and argued that the solution lay in a French Canadian nation. Nationalism, an almost unknown concept in the 18th century, became a powerful factor in Lower Canadian politics.

Lower Canada’s assembly became the center of conflict between English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians. The assembly was dominated by the Patriote Party, which was supported by French Canadian voters and led by French Canadian middle-class professionals. Some English-speaking reformers also supported it. The assembly, however, was constantly opposed by the British governors and their appointed councils. In 1834 the assembly requested fundamental changes, embodied in a document called the Ninety-Two Resolutions. Britain rejected the Ninety-Two Resolutions in 1837 and authorized the governor to override the assembly almost entirely. Mass protests were called and soon turned into armed rebellion. See Rebellions of 1837.

Patriote leader Louis Joseph Papineau, a seigneur who wanted to preserve or restore many aspects of traditional French Canadian society, was a reluctant revolutionary who soon fled across the border to exile in the United States. But radical urban professionals and disgruntled rural peasants joined forces against British rule. In November 1837 they defeated British soldiers at Saint-Denis, but about two weeks later at Saint-Eustache, the British prevailed in a fierce conflict in which several hundred were killed or wounded. Within a few days after that battle, the British military dispersed all the rebel forces. The constitution was suspended, and British control in the colony was soon restored. In November 1838 a second brief outbreak, organized by Patriote exiles in the United States, was also quelled.

Armed rebellion also broke out in Upper Canada. In elections called in 1836 by a new governor, Francis Bond Head, supporters of the government had won a majority of the assembly seats. Radicals lost hope for peaceful change. Amidst a brief economic downturn that made times hard for Upper Canadian farmers, William Lyon Mackenzie called on his supporters in rural Upper Canada to march on Toronto in December 1837. Head had sent the local garrison to Lower Canada, but loyal citizens quickly defeated the small, ill-organized rising, with only one death in the fighting around Toronto. Mackenzie and many supporters fled to the United States and attempted to foment further risings from a base on Navy Island in the Niagara River.

The Union Period: 1841-1867

The Durham Report

Defeat shattered the radical cause in both Lower and Upper Canada, but the outbreak of rebellion also discredited the office-holding cliques and the constitutions of 1791. The beneficiary was the moderate approach of the reformers, which had been overshadowed during the rebellions. John George Lambton, Lord Durham, a British reformer sent as governor-general in 1838, condemned the ruling elites of the Canadas and urged that responsible government be implemented. Durham was alarmed by ethnic conflict in Lower Canada, where he said he found “two nations warring in the bosom of a single state.” He concluded that assimilation of the French Canadians was the only solution to ethnic strife.

The British government soon acted on Durham’s report. In 1841 the Act of Union (1840) created the province of Canada, which had two sections—Canada West (which had been Upper Canada) and Canada East (Lower Canada). French Canadians protested because English-speaking Canada West was given as many legislative seats as French-speaking Canada East, which had a larger population. In addition, English was to be the only official language. The arrangement was designed to advance Durham’s goal of assimilation, but his recommendation for responsible government was not implemented. Governors-general sent from Britain were expected to seek the support of the elected assembly but did not depend on it.

As it turned out, however, assimilation failed and responsible government triumphed. Reformers from Canada West and East, led respectively by Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, joined forces in a coalition that overrode ethnic divisions and showed that success in Union politics depended on bicultural support. Baldwin and LaFontaine repeatedly insisted that the governors-general take the assembly’s advice in making official appointments. When one governor-general refused, in 1843, the two men resigned and dissolved the administration. Finally, in 1847, Britain sent out a new governor-general, Durham’s nephew Lord Elgin, with instructions to appoint a Canadian government supported by the majority party in the assembly and to approve its policies whether he liked them or not. Responsible government was achieved when Baldwin and LaFontaine returned to office in 1848.

Joseph Howe’s reform party had already won the same victory in Nova Scotia earlier in the year. Responsible government soon followed in New Brunswick in 1854, in Prince Edward Island in 1851, and in Newfoundland in 1855. Britain retained authority for foreign affairs, defense, and other matters and still appointed the governors, but British North America had full local self-government with one of the broadest electoral franchises in the world. All men could vote provided they held property worth a certain amount, and most of them qualified. However, the secret ballot was rare until the 1870s, the universal vote for adult males came only gradually, and women had no vote until 1917.

Although there were many political factions, two broad party coalitions developed throughout the colonies. Reformers or liberals, nicknamed Grits in Canada West and Rouges in Canada East, promoted universal education, individual rights, and the interests of farmers and small-business owners. Conservatives, called Tories in Canada West and Bleus in Canada East, built a coalition that combined loyalty to Britain and respect for tradition with a willingness to use state power to support capitalist enterprise. Conservative allies John Alexander Macdonald, who later became the first prime minister of Canada, and George-Étienne Cartier, a Patriote rebel turned railroad lawyer, were the most successful politicians of the period.

Nineteenth-Century Society

English-Speaking Society

The Union period saw great changes in British North America. Population growth continued and was particularly rapid in Canada West. Commerce and industry encouraged urban growth. The cities, and colonial society generally, came to be dominated and defined by a confident, prosperous middle class.

The first Canadian passenger railroad was built near Montréal in 1836, and in the 1850s thousands of kilometers of track and telegraph lines were laid. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 reduced customs tariffs and increased trade between British North America and the United States.

The midcentury period was Atlantic Canada’s golden age, when it prospered from building wooden ships and sailing them in overseas trade. British North America’s shipping fleet was exceeded only by those of Britain and the United States. Shipyards all over the region produced a quarter of the British Empire’s merchant fleet and helped launch careers like that of Sir Samuel Cunard, the Halifax-born founder of the Cunard shipping line. The merchant elite, with ties to London, Boston, and other major cities, became wealthy and supported schools and universities. Nova Scotia saw itself as the cultural capital of British North America.

Most of the English-speaking population was proud of its connection to the British Empire and wished to maintain it, although aspiring at the same time to move from colonial status to greater self-rule. It was generally believed that hard work, industrialization, and attention to commerce would inevitably achieve the progress that would bring this about. The symbol of the era to English speakers was Britain’s monarch, Queen Victoria (reigned 1837-1901), whose personal stability and moral uprightness seemed to personify British virtues.

Protestant churches were important in English-speaking society; most people belonged to the Church of England, the Methodists, or the Presbyterians. The churches provided social services, a role that the state had yet to take on. Middle-class citizens embarked on moral crusades to defeat the liquor traffic, protect the Sabbath, eliminate prostitution and gambling, ban lewd literature, and improve the moral education of schoolchildren and the poor.

Women of English-speaking society in that era were expected to restrict themselves to domestic concerns. They were excluded from most fields of commerce and higher education as well as from politics. Men and women were expected to operate in so-called separate spheres. This meant, however, that women had great authority in the home and over the young, and also in defining public morals and social standards. Women gradually came to dominate elementary teaching and many areas of social and charitable work, and they were crucial leaders and supporters of religious campaigns and temperance crusades. See also Women’s Rights.

French-Speaking Society

Under responsible government, French Canadians had the voting power to ensure the status of the French language and to continue the Catholic Church’s control of education in Canada East. Thus the union that was intended to assimilate French Canada actually protected its individuality. More municipal and local governments were formed, and these governments invested in expanded public education, transportation, and other public services. The seignorial system was abolished, and the old French civil law modernized.

During the Union era, French Canada’s rural crisis began to ease. Farm communities became better connected to markets, and farmers began to shift into mixed commercial farming and dairying. A migration to the cities, to frontier areas, and to New England relieved rural population pressure. The Catholic Church greatly expanded its social action and its political influence. Under dynamic leaders like Ignace Bourget, bishop of Montréal from 1840 to 1885, the church for the first time was abundantly provided with French Canadian clergy. They developed schools, hospitals, and other social services that were elsewhere run by the state. Education and literacy for the first time became widely available to rural French Canada. The church, however, was very slow to accept social change. It fought hard to control French Canada’s cultural life and to discredit the secular ideas of the radicals of 1837, such as separation of church and state. Reformist ideas survived, however, among supporters of the minority Rouge party.

Building the Nation: 1867-1929


Developing the Plan of Union

Serious discussion of a union of all the British North American colonies began in 1864 with a proposal to unite the three Maritime colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Delegates from the legislatures of the three colonies agreed to discuss union at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. At the last minute, delegates from the province of Canada joined them.

The Canadian decision to attend resulted from a political crisis over representation in Canada’s assembly. Canada West’s Reform Party, led by journalist George Brown, objected to Canada West’s having no more legislative seats than Canada East had. Canada West had grown much larger than Canada East, and the Grits demanded representation by population. Canada East, fearing the power of an English-speaking majority, refused to accept this. Thwarted, Brown proposed federalism: Canada East and West would become separate provinces, either in a loose union between them or in a federation of all of British North America. In June 1864 Brown’s Grits joined the Tories, led by Macdonald, and the Bleus, led by Cartier, in a three-way coalition pledged to explore those options. The Charlottetown meeting in September gave the coalition the chance to propose a British North American union to the Maritime colonies.

The plan, which came to be called Confederation, fired the imaginations of the delegates at Charlottetown. The potential for a transcontinental nation and a national destiny inspired enthusiasm. The delegates agreed to meet again at a larger, longer meeting in Québec in October 1864. At this Québec Conference, delegates of Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland approved the Seventy-two Resolutions, which were a draft constitution for Confederation. The Québec Conference proposed a centralized federation, with most powers granted to a central government responsible to a parliament. However, there would be provincial governments with specified powers over property, language, education, religion, and generally all matters of local concern. Special protection for religious and linguistic minorities reassured the French Canadian leaders in Canada East. The status of the monarch of Britain as the head of state and the ceremonial status of the governor-general were preserved unchanged.

Confederation did not confer full national independence, for Canadian opinion still favored a link to Britain as a guarantee against American domination. Britain retained control of foreign affairs and could theoretically veto Canadian legislation. Nevertheless Canada’s status as a dominion—a locally autonomous state within the British Empire—became the model for the future evolution of the British Commonwealth of Nations as a partnership of equals.

The Approval Process

The Seventy-two Resolutions had to be ratified by the colonial assemblies and then voted into law by Britain’s Parliament. Confederation was debated vigorously in the colonies from 1864 to 1867. It was popular in Canada West but more controversial in Canada East. The Rouges accused Cartier and his allies of betraying French Canada, but most politicians and the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Canada East supported Confederation. It was quickly approved by the joint assembly of Canada.

Confederation was also controversial in the Atlantic colonies, where many were reluctant to join a union that Canada East and West were sure to dominate. The assemblies of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland refused to ratify the Seventy-two Resolutions. In New Brunswick, vigorous opposition forced elections that were won by candidates opposed to Confederation. However, the anticonfederate government could offer no persuasive alternative to a federal union. Raids in 1866 by Fenians, anti-British rebels based in the United States, created a sense of crisis and national solidarity, and the same year New Brunswick reelected the government of Confederation supporter Samuel Leonard Tilley. In Nova Scotia, opposition to the Seventy-two Resolutions was led by Joseph Howe, and at first the province refused to ratify Confederation. However, as New Brunswick committed to Confederation, the Nova Scotia assembly voted to send delegates to the London conference where Canadians worked with British officials to draft a final version of the Resolutions to submit to Parliament. The colonial delegates made some small changes to the resolutions, and the result was the British North America Act, which was passed by the British Parliament. On July 1, 1867, the Dominion of Canada, with four provinces—Québec (formerly Canada East), Ontario (formerly Canada West), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia—came into being. Ottawa was chosen as the national capital.

Macdonald was appointed as the first prime minister of the Dominion, and an election was set for August. Macdonald’s coalition, into which he had drawn many of the advocates of Confederation, won the election. Nova Scotia overwhelmingly supported anti-Confederation candidates, however, and it appeared for a while as if Nova Scotia might attempt to secede. Macdonald negotiated with Howe, and the danger of secession was removed in 1869 when Howe, acknowledging that Britain would not repeal confederation, joined Macdonald’s government.

In 1871 Macdonald participated, under British supervision, in negotiating the Treaty of Washington on Canadian-American relations. The treaty acknowledged that Canada would remain closely allied to Britain but that this allegiance would not pose a threat to American interests. Britain withdrew its last garrisons from Canada in 1871, confirming that the British Empire would not challenge the supremacy of the United States in North America.

Completing the Design

Territorial Expansion

Westward expansion was an early Canadian priority. In 1869 the Hudson’s Bay Company agreed to sell to Canada its northern territories—Rupert’s Land and The North-Western Territory—which together became the Northwest Territories. This new territory made Canada, with just 3.7 million people, one of the world’s largest nations in land area. The traditionally autonomous Métis of Red River, who had never been consulted, resisted annexation. They feared that they would lose their land and be overwhelmed by farmers migrating west from Ontario.

They organized in the Red River Rebellion to protect their land rights, their way of life, and—for the French-speaking Métis—their language and religion. Louis Riel, a young Red River Métis educated in Montréal, declared a provisional government for the Red River area and blocked the arrival of Canadian officials. Negotiations resulted in Red River entering the Confederation as the province of Manitoba, and the French language, Catholic education, and other rights were protected. The Canadian government promised to reserve 566,580 hectares (1.4 million acres) of land for the Métis.

However, when British troops established Canadian authority in Red River, anti-Métis feeling was so strong that Riel was obliged to go into exile. Waves of immigration from Ontario soon made the Métis a minority in Manitoba, and the newcomers were hostile to them. In addition, most of the land grants that had been promised to the Métis were delayed by the government. As a result, many of the Métis who were bison hunters migrated farther west to the Saskatchewan River valley.

Confederation soon expanded in the west, east, and north. British Columbia agreed to join after Canada committed to building a railroad to the Pacific coast within ten years. It became the sixth province in 1871. On the east coast, Prince Edward Island became the seventh province in 1873. Britain transferred the Arctic Archipelago to Canada in 1880, completing the Canadian territory except for Newfoundland and Labrador, which remained separate until 1949. Also in 1880, land was taken from the Northwest Territories to enlarge Manitoba. In 1912 Manitoba received another grant of land, and the remainder of the Northwest Territories on the south and east of Hudson Bay was divided between Ontario and Québec.

Treaty Making

In 1873 Canada created the North-West Mounted Police, now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or Mounties, to help administer the territories and keep order there. Treaties were negotiated with the indigenous nations with the intention of opening the Great Plains to agriculture. Eleven numbered treaties were signed with the indigenous nations across Canada between 1850 and 1929, opening their lands to occupation. In general, the treaties provided some material compensation for transfer of lands to Euro-Canadians and provided for the establishment of reserves across the country. However, there were lapses in coverage: In British Columbia, treaties covered only a few small places, while in the Northwest and Yukon territories, treaties were not signed at all.

The once nomadic peoples of the plains were crowded into reserves. The reserve lands were allotted by headcount. The government typically was to provide schools, farm tools and agricultural assistance, and fishing and hunting rights as these had previously been enjoyed. Governments intent on assimilating the indigenous peoples honored few of these commitments. In some areas, for instance, the reserves were smaller than promised or were never provided at all. By 1901 Canada’s indigenous peoples numbered about 100,000, barely 2 percent of the country’s population, and they were confined to reserves everywhere outside the far north. See also Native Americans of North America.

Railroad to the Pacific

Building the transcontinental railroad became the great challenge of the Confederation. The first attempt collapsed in the Pacific Scandal of 1872 and 1873. Macdonald was driven from office after he was found to have accepted campaign funds from Montréal financier Sir Hugh Allen in exchange for the railroad contract. The election that followed made Alexander Mackenzie, a Liberal from Ontario, the new prime minister. Mackenzie’s Liberals were lukewarm about the railroad commitment and its huge costs, particularly during the economic recession of the mid-1870s. Macdonald and the Conservatives returned to power in 1878, the economy improved, and the railroad advanced.

The Canadian Pacific Railway, a private company supported by generous federal land grants and other assistance, was incorporated in 1881 to complete the project and operate the railroad. A dynamic American general manager, William C. Van Horne, pushed the rails across the plains, through the Canadian Shield, and into the previously unsurveyed Rockies. Particularly in British Columbia, laborers imported from China dug the tunnels, built the trestles, and laid the track, enduring deadly hazards at low pay. The transcontinental line was completed in 1885. In 1886 the Canadian Pacific extended the line 32 km (20 mi) from Port Moody and founded the Pacific coast metropolis of Vancouver as a new western end point.

The Northwest Rebellion (1885)

A second Métis rising, the Northwest Rebellion, flared up in 1885, not in Manitoba but among newer Métis settlements in the Saskatchewan valley farther west. Settlement was moving west from Manitoba and catching up with the Métis who had moved there; once again they feared being overrun and dispossessed. They summoned Louis Riel back from exile to help defend their interests. Riel, driven by dreams of founding a French-speaking, Catholic religious empire, led Métis fighters in a brief war against Canadian authority. His general, veteran bison hunter Gabriel Dumont, defeated the Mounties at Duck Lake and drove them from Fort Carleton.

Like the Métis, the Cree and other Plains indigenous nations were struggling with poverty, loss of independence, and the loss of the great bison herds. Indigenous leaders, notably Pitikwahanapiwiyan (or Poundmaker) of the Cree and Isapo-muxika (or Crowfoot) of the Blackfoot, foresaw the result of armed conflict and sought to avoid it. However, a few renegades of the Cree nation joined in the rebellion, attacking settlers and Canadian forces.

Canada rushed troops westward on the new railroad, and the Métis were overwhelmed at the battle of Batoche, May 12, 1885. Riel was tried for treason. He rejected an insanity defense and was hanged in November 1885. The Métis defense of their community’s rights in the West elicited the sympathy of many people in Québec, and Riel’s execution spurred French Canadian resentment against English Canadian dominance in the Confederation. See also French Canadian Nationalism.

Growth of Provincial Power

Prime Minister John A. Macdonald was committed to a strong central government, but he was unable to prevent provincial governments from challenging his view of the British North America Act. Oliver Mowat, premier of the province of Ontario between 1872 and 1896, asserted provincial sovereignty against federal efforts to subordinate the provincial governments to Ottawa. In a series of rulings on the BNA Act, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London (a British court to which Canadian cases could still be appealed) mostly supported Mowat’s interpretation. Federal powers to overrule provincial governments rapidly faded from use, ensuring the provinces an important place in Canadian political life.

Mowat did not fight his campaign alone. Honoré Mercier, premier of Québec from 1887 to 1891, linked provincial rights with French Canadian nationalism. He promoted Québec’s provincial government as the defender of the French Canadian nation within Canada. He also promoted French Catholic colonization of frontier areas of Québec and northern Ontario as an alternative to emigration and assimilation in New England. In 1887 Mercier called a conference of provincial premiers, and at this conference Mercier, Mowat, and three more of the seven provincial premiers demanded transfer of power to the provinces. Federal-provincial rivalries became an essential part of Canadian politics.

Growth and Development

Industrial Growth

Except for the five-year interruption of the Mackenzie government, Macdonald was prime minister from 1867 to 1891. Nation building and loyalty to monarch and empire were the trademarks of his later administrations. In 1878 his Conservative Party introduced the National Policy. This was a package of tariffs, or taxes on imports from abroad, designed to make them more expensive and thereby give a price advantage to Canadian manufacturers. Gradually the term was broadened to cover all of Macdonald’s nation-building activities, including western expansion, railroads, and immigration. The policy also included links, both symbolic and practical, with Britain and the empire. The Conservatives used “National Policy” as a slogan into the 1930s.

All parts of Canada hoped to benefit from industrial development. The new cities on the CPR track, like Vancouver and Winnipeg, wanted products to ship by rail. The Atlantic provinces were looking for new industry because their golden age of shipbuilding was declining as steel and iron ships replaced wooden ones. Some industrial projects did develop in Nova Scotia, but the main areas of industrialization were southern Ontario and Montréal. Industry grew rapidly in these areas, and population shifted from rural areas to cities. Many central Canadian industries became national enterprises, shipping their products west and east on the new railroads. Eaton’s, a Toronto department store, became a national retailer. The Massey-Harris Company of Toronto became the largest corporation in Canada and the largest farm-implements firm in the empire.

Montréal had been the economic and financial capital of Canada, but now Toronto challenged it in its new role as a center of industry. The spread of industrial capitalism also saw more Canadians become wage-earning urban workers, who organized to improve their situation. Wage labor and labor rights movements were not new to Canada. Skilled tradesmen such as printers, coopers, and bakers had begun organizing as early as the 1830s; and in the 1840s workers on canal-building projects had rioted for better conditions. During the 1870s labor organizations began to campaign for the nine-hour workday. The first Canadian law legalizing labor unions was passed in 1872. The Trades and Labour Congress linked unions across Canada in the 1880s. At the same time, the radical Knights of Labor sought to unite all workers regardless of skill, sex, or race, with the exception of Chinese immigrants, whom they barred from their ranks. In 1894 Labour Day—the first Monday in September—became an official national holiday. See also Labor Unions in Canada.

In 1896 gold was discovered in the Klondike region of Yukon Territory, and by 1897 thousands of people rushed there to search for gold. This was just one economic bonanza for Canada at the turn of the 20th century. Industry and commerce expanded in central Canada, and the country’s vast mineral wealth and hydroelectric power resources were being rapidly developed. As small-scale manufacturing evolved into large corporate enterprises, Canada acquired a new class of millionaires. Railroads sprouted everywhere; eventually there were three competing transcontinental rail systems, the Canadian Pacific, Canadian Northern, and National Transcontinental.


As prosperity increased, immigration also grew. Late in the 19th century, new arrivals had barely exceeded those leaving Canada, most often for the United States. In the first decade of the 20th century, however, more than a million people came and stayed. The population grew 34 percent from 1901 to 1911, and another 22 percent—to 8 million—by 1921. The great majority of the immigrants came to the English-speaking areas of Canada.

The immigrants came partly from Britain and the United States, but for the first time Canada recruited large numbers from eastern Europe. They left their homes to escape poverty and political strife, and were attracted to Canada by promises of free land made to them by Canadian recruiters. They crossed the Atlantic on steamships run by the Canadian Pacific and often headed west on immigrant trains to settle on the vast tracts of farmland that the Canadian Pacific had been granted by the government. They lived in sod huts, broke the prairie soil, and planted Marquis wheat, a new variety that Canadian government scientists had developed for prairie conditions. Settlement expanded across the prairie lands, and two new provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, were created out of the Northwest Territories in 1905.

Many Canadians, however, feared and resented the presence of non-British foreigners. A powerful backlash developed against them, as it did against the Asian immigrants to British Columbia and the Jewish, Italian, and other migrants to the eastern cities. For instance, a head tax was imposed on Chinese immigrants in the 1880s, which prevented most Chinese men from bringing their families to Canada. During World War I (1914-1918), wartime fears were added to existing suspicions, and thousands of aliens were interned. In addition, aliens from enemy countries who had been naturalized after 1902 were stripped of the right to vote.

Canada and the Empire


Prime Minister Macdonald died in office in 1891, and his Conservative Party was swept from power in 1896. The new prime minister was Wilfrid Laurier, a charming, cultivated Québec lawyer who liked to say “sunny ways” were better than stormy conflicts. Laurier shrewdly took over popular Conservative policies, including the National Policy tariffs and strong imperial ties. His prediction that “the 20th century belongs to Canada” summed up the bright prospects of his early years in office.

Even with a French Canadian prime minister, imperial sentiment thrived in Canada at the turn of the 20th century. Since Confederation, Britain’s political empire and its economic power in the world had grown greatly. Many British Canadians believed it was Canada’s destiny to help fund that empire. When the South African War, or Boer War (1899-1902), broke out, the imperialists were eager for Canada to fight alongside Britain. Laurier’s decision to support only limited, mostly volunteer participation by Canadians annoyed imperialists, but it also provoked nationalist opinion in Québec, now led by Henri Bourassa. See also French Canadian Nationalism.

Bourassa, a grandson of Louis Joseph Papineau, advocated a pan-Canadian, bicultural nationalism. Threatened by the growing imperialism of British Canada, he broke with Laurier’s Liberals and came to express French Canadian opposition to the policies of the English-speaking majority. In the Manitoba Schools controversy of 1896, Laurier had accepted Manitoba’s renunciation of guarantees made to its French population in 1870. Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces in 1905 on an English-only basis. Immigration was expanding the use of English, not French, in Canada, and “equal rights” campaigners opposed any protection for French minority communities in Canada. Such events reinforced Québec’s sense that only in Québec was the French language and culture respected. Imperialists, meanwhile, found Laurier insufficiently imperial. In 1910 they denounced his decision to build a small Canadian navy instead of contributing to Britain’s Royal Navy.

Laurier’s Liberal Party returned to its free-trade roots in 1911, when the United States proposed mutual cuts in tariffs and customs duties, known as reciprocity. The election that followed was a disaster for Laurier. Prominent American politicians hailed reciprocity as a step to the annexation of Canada. Concern over American ambitions reinforced imperial sentiment among British Canada. With his free trade denounced as a threat to jobs and to the empire, Laurier was rejected in British Canada, even as Bourassa undermined his base in French Canada. The Conservative Party won the 1911 election, and Robert Borden became prime minister.

World War I

Although Canada had governed its own domestic affairs since the 1840s, it had no independent foreign policy when World War I began in August 1914. Britain’s declaration of war on Germany meant that the entire empire, including Canada, was at war. The strength of the imperial tie was demonstrated in Canada’s ready response. After a massive recruiting effort, the first contingent of 32,000 men went overseas in October. In April 1915 the Canadians suffered 6,000 casualties and endured the war’s first poison-gas attack at Ieper, Belgium. Canada increased its commitment to 150,000 men. In 1916 Borden promised a half-million-man Canadian army, all volunteers, from a population still under 8 million. Canadian soldiers achieved notable victories, particularly at Vimy Ridge in the spring of 1917. Canada’s army was overwhelmingly English-speaking but included some French Canadian units, notably the distinguished 22nd Battalion. Many Canadians also served in the Royal Flying Corps (a separate Royal Canadian Air Force was created in 1918). The small Canadian navy served mostly in home waters.

As the war went on, it began to demand enormous efforts not only from Canadian army recruiters, but also from industry and agriculture. The government coordinated industrial production for military needs, and scandals erupted over corruption and war profiteering. To help pay for the war, the federal government introduced the first Canadian income tax as a “temporary” measure in 1917. The war effort encouraged social changes, too. Women took over men’s places in industry and agriculture. Women’s groups often supported the war effort vigorously. In 1917 women secured the right to vote in federal elections if they had close relatives in the armed forces; in 1918 they got that right without restriction. In the provinces, women gained the vote between 1916 (Manitoba) and 1940 (Québec). See also Woman Suffrage.

The war provoked increased tension between English- and French-speaking Canadians. Henri Bourassa had helped elect Borden’s government, but the nationalists and the imperialists were odd allies. Québec became increasingly cool to what seemed to be an imperial crusade rather than a Canadian cause. Relations became worse in 1917 when national conflict arose over Ontario’s attempt to limit French education for its French-speaking minority.

Borden, meanwhile, was demanding more Canadian participation in planning and directing the imperial war effort. With so many Canadians fighting and dying, deference to British authority became difficult to support. Gradually Canadian forces were consolidated into a Canadian Corps with Canadian commanders, answering to the Canadian government.

To achieve and hold that authority, however, Canada had to provide the troops, and the army could not recruit enough volunteers to meet its needs. In 1917 Borden proposed forming a coalition government with the opposition Liberal Party in order to introduce military conscription. Most of the English-speaking Liberals joined the coalition; most of the Québec Liberals, including Laurier, did not, and the Liberal Party was split. Helped by the votes of soldiers and their newly enfranchised female relatives, the coalition won the 1917 wartime election, and conscription began early in 1918.

Although conscription provided few troops for the war effort, it split the country. It was overwhelmingly unpopular in Québec, where there was massive resistance to military service. It left a lasting conviction in Québec that in a crisis the English-speaking majority would ignore French Canada’s views, no matter how strong they were. Meanwhile the Canadian Corps, commanded by Canadian general Arthur Currie, helped spearhead the final advances of Britain and its allies before an armistice ended the war in November 1918. See also Canadian Forces.

Postwar Reorganization

Canada had entered the war as part of the British Empire, but the huge commitment and terrible losses—60,000 Canadians died—strengthened its sense of nationhood. Thus Canada insisted on acting as a sovereign power in treaty negotiations after the war and in the new international body, the League of Nations. In 1926 the British government acknowledged the equality of the dominions with Britain itself, and in 1931 the British Statute of Westminster confirmed that Canada was a sovereign state. There were some leftover details: Canadian Supreme Court decisions could be appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council until 1949, and Canada had no procedure for amending its own constitution (which was an act of the British parliament) until 1982. Canada and Britain remained economically and politically linked, but Britain and the empire grew less effective as counterweights to American influence.

After the war, Britain began to lose its preeminence in world affairs, and the United States replaced it as the largest foreign investor in Canada. Most of the American money was direct investment: the purchase of Canadian companies or the establishment of branch operations of American companies.

American cultural influence also expanded with the increasing popularity of film, broadcasting, and other mass media. In reaction to American influence, Canadians established the publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in the 1930s. The CBC operated French-language and English-language networks in radio and later in television. Canadian achievements in art (notably the Group of Seven landscape painters), in science (the discovery of insulin), and in other fields spurred Canadian national pride.

The 1920s, which were called the Roaring Twenties in the United States, did not roar in Canada. There was no surge of prosperity. There were difficulties in absorbing soldiers and converting industry from war production. One result was growing industrial unrest. General strikes erupted in several cities, particularly Winnipeg, which was rocked by a violent labor conflict in 1919.

The disturbances of the postwar years provoked wild fears that Canadian democracy would be overthrown in favor of Russian communism or socialism, both of which would drastically redistribute wealth. Both doctrines did gain small footholds among workers and immigrants. This in turn intensified negative feelings toward the labor movement and foreigners in some segments of Canadian society.

In Atlantic Canada, attempts at industrialization had failed to stop the economy’s slide that began with the decline of shipping and shipbuilding, and the region was now relatively worse off than the rest of the country. Underemployment and labor unrest were constant, particularly in the coal and steel industries of Cape Breton Island. Residents, complaining that confederation unfairly favored central Canada, founded the Maritime Rights movement, which sought to revive Atlantic Canada by changes to transportation, industrial, and tariff policies.

Vancouver and the resource economies of western Canada benefited from the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, which increased Pacific shipping. Prosperity eluded many westerners, however, particularly on the prairies, and the prairie-based Progressive Party arose to argue that while central Canada got cheap access to western resources, westerners paid high prices for manufactured goods from central Canada. This was because the manufactures, protected from outside competition by tariffs, went for relatively high prices, while the prairie products—which were primarily food and raw materials—had no such price supports.

The key political figure of the 1920s was William Lyon Mackenzie King, leader of the Liberal Party, which formed a government in 1921. King was the first Canadian party leader chosen by an American-style convention, in which ordinary party members had a voice in choosing their leaders. Formerly leaders had been chosen in party caucuses, where the party’s members of Parliament chose and deposed leaders among themselves. King was a master politician who dominated national politics for almost 30 years. His wish to avoid international commitments and his resistance to imperialism were widely shared in postwar Canada. Although he was from Ontario and never learned French, he was acutely conscious of the support from Québec that kept his government in office. King was one of the first prominent Canadians not to accept a knighthood, and after 1935 Canadians ceased to be entitled to British honors.

The Pursuit of Well-Being: 1929-1968

The Depression

When the Great Depression, the worldwide hard times of the 1930s, began in 1929, world trade was cut by half. Markets for Canada’s resource industries, such as mining, timbering, and wheat farming, declined rapidly. In addition, foreign investors invested less money in Canada. The collapse spread throughout the economy, and by 1933 a third of the Canadian workers were unemployed. Factories went out of business or ran far below capacity. People who were still working faced uncertain prospects and deep wage cuts, though the cost of living fell even faster.

Canada had few welfare programs, but 15 percent of all Canadians applied for the relief that was offered. Because the provinces ran the welfare programs, nationwide coordination to attack the problem was lacking. Perhaps the worst situation was on the prairies. Not only did wheat prices fall by two-thirds, ruining many farmers who were already burdened by debt, but a prolonged drought made agriculture difficult or impossible for much of the decade. Things were little better in the rest of the country, and thousands of workers drifted across the country seeking work or food. Canada closed its doors to immigrants for the first time in centuries, and even deported non-Canadians who were on relief.

Remedies and Reactions

King’s Liberal Party government did little to relieve the depression, and it was defeated in the election of 1930. The new prime minister, Conservative Richard B. Bennett, was a wealthy Alberta lawyer. Bennett at first expected the depression to be cured by the business cycle, a cycle in which an economic downturn is ordinarily followed in a few years by an upturn. He promised to deal harshly with social protest. He sought to create jobs by securing preferential tariffs from Britain, which gave some help to agriculture and the timber industry but not to the manufacturing sector. Bennett became deeply hated by many depression victims. Automobiles without engines, pulled by horses because their owners could not afford gasoline, were called Bennett buggies. Unemployed men, collected into work camps in British Columbia, launched the On to Ottawa Trek in 1935 to confront Bennett and inform the nation of their need for better conditions. Bennett denounced them, and police broke up the march in Regina, Saskatchewan. Bennett then ordered the arrest of the leaders, which precipitated a riot in which a constable was killed and several dozen persons injured.

There were several political responses to the depression. Communist and other revolutionary movements, mostly banned, flourished underground. Socialist movements from earlier decades united in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). Led by Methodist minister J. S. Woodsworth, the CCF in 1933 issued its Regina Manifesto, in which it proposed that major industries be nationalized, or put under government control, and that a welfare state be established with unemployment insurance, health and welfare programs, and pensions for all workers. The CCF became an influential third party in federal politics; it also became a force in provincial politics, particularly in the west. Another clergyman, evangelical preacher William Aberhart of Alberta, launched Social Credit, a political movement that blamed the depression on the financial system. The Social Credit Party did not reject capitalism but proposed state regulation of prices and an increase in the money supply to boost purchasing power.

The federal government moved slowly into the social welfare field by starting to pay large percentages of the provinces’ costs for old-age pensions and unemployment relief. Then in 1935, with an election coming up and his popularity at a low ebb, Prime Minister Bennett launched the Bennett New Deal. This program was modeled on its American counterpart (see New Deal). It was designed to help the economy recover by investing in projects that provided work for the unemployed and by providing benefits for the jobless. It proposed minimum wages, maximum hours of work, and unemployment insurance. However, Bennett’s New Deal proposal did not prevent a crushing defeat for the Conservatives in the 1935 election.

After Bennett left office, the courts ruled that most of his New Deal was unconstitutional. While the national government had the power to raise revenue, they said, only the provinces had the authority to intervene in the economy or launch social programs. The constitutional bar to federal aid programs left many citizens deeply frustrated with the Canadian political system. In 1937 King appointed the Rowell-Sirois commission of inquiry, which recommended shifts in federal and provincial powers to address the problem. The increase in federal power was heatedly opposed by Québec premier Maurice Duplessis, a French Canadian nationalist, and Ontario premier Mitchell Hepburn, a strong provincial-rights advocate.

World War II

Although the economy stopped its decline about 1933, it did not recover completely until the outbreak of World War II in 1939. When World War II broke out between the Allied powers and the Axis powers, led by Germany, Canada entered the war grudgingly but with a widespread sense that it could not be avoided. King’s government insisted that Canada control its own war effort, and King at first hoped that the training of aircrews and the production of arms might be Canada’s main contributions. Both King and his powerful Québec lieutenant, Ernest Lapointe, promised that there would be no conscription for overseas service.

However, a Canadian all-volunteer army went to Britain, and with the tide of Axis victories in 1940, the Canadian commitment grew. The Canadian navy joined in the battle to defend Atlantic convoys against submarine attack. Canadian pilots and aircrews defended Britain and joined in a bomber offensive against the parts of Europe occupied by the Axis. Meanwhile, in 1940 and 1941, Canadian-American agreements on the defense of North America and the financing of the war effort marked the end of Canada’s policy of relying on the British alliance to avoid American influence.

The issue of conscription soon came up again. With recruits urgently needed, King’s government held a plebiscite in 1942, asking to be released from its no-conscription pledge. The English-speaking majority consented; Québec did not. Although King was under pressure from the Conservatives to begin conscription immediately, he delayed and fired his pro-conscription defense minister, Colonel J. L. Ralston. When conscription was eventually introduced in late 1944, it remained unpopular in Québec, but King’s obvious reluctance to impose it had eased the crisis. As in World War I (1914-1918), few conscripts served overseas.

At home, industry and capital were mobilized to support the war effort, many products were rationed, and women returned to a booming labor force. After Japan entered the war in 1941, thousands of Japanese Canadians were interned and moved inland from Canada’s Pacific coast. The government seized their assets and sold them.

As the war spread across the world, the Canadian army fought unsuccessfully to defend Hong Kong against Japanese attack in 1941 and to seize the German-held French seaport of Dieppe in 1942. Canadians fought in Italy in 1943 and 1944, and participated in the D-Day landings and the liberation of northern France and the Low Countries in 1944 and 1945. Naval and air forces continued grim struggles at sea and over Europe. Between 1939 and 1945, 42,000 Canadians died in the war.

The war strengthened Canada’s economy. Factories were dedicated to building tanks, guns, ships, and aircraft, notably fighter planes and Lancaster bombers. Canada’s war production program was guided by C. D. Howe, the federal minister of munitions and supply, who imposed a system of central planning, with wage and price controls. At war’s end Howe headed the Department of Reconstruction, converting the economy back to a free-enterprise system. Canada entered the postwar era with a much more diverse manufacturing capacity than it had had in 1939.

Postwar Prosperity

The Welfare State

William Lyon Mackenzie King continued in power after the war, retiring in 1948 as Canada’s longest-serving prime minister. His Liberal Party stayed in power until 1957. During this period Canada moved toward vigorous federal intervention in the economy, following the theories of British economist John Maynard Keynes, who proposed that government spending should be used to create jobs when business investment was insufficient. Job creation and prosperity became state commitments, and many new social programs such as tax incentives, veterans’ benefits, and family allowances (support payments to families with children) were introduced. The way had been paved for public acceptance of these programs during the war, when the federal government had begun some of them under its sweeping authority for wartime economic measures.

These programs were developed partly to help the Liberal Party hold off left-wing challenges. The socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), particularly, was innovative in devising social programs. The first government formed by the CCF was the provincial government that was elected in Saskatchewan in 1944. Led by Premier Thomas C. ‘Tommy’ Douglas, Saskatchewan pioneered several social policy initiatives, particularly Medicare, a system of universal government-funded medical insurance. Medicare was introduced nationwide in 1966.

Growth and Urbanization

Fearing postwar depression, Canada got a boom instead. Pent-up demand from the war and the depression started a long period of sustained economic growth. With the rest of the world devastated, Canada and the United States had unparalleled opportunities in world trade. Canada attempted to rebuild its old trade network that had focused on Britain and Europe, but Canadian-American economic integration grew stronger, cross-border trade increased, and more American investment flowed into Canada. Both manufacturing and resource industries grew, and the discovery of oil in Alberta gradually made that province one of Canada’s wealthiest. Organized labor grew and its power increased. During the 1950s more than 30 percent of Canadian workers were unionized. See also Labor Unions in Canada.

Industrial growth was matched by population growth. In 1949 Newfoundland and Labrador, until then a British dominion separate from Canada, chose in a hotly contested referendum to become Canada’s tenth province. Immigration, mostly from Europe, and the postwar baby boom (a great increase in the birthrate) raised Canada’s population by 50 percent, from 12 million to 18 million, between 1946 and 1961. By 1961 Canada, which had been 70 percent rural around the start of the century, had become 70 percent urban. Widespread home ownership and automobile ownership gave families an independence they had not had before. Suburban sprawl became a feature of urban life as the proliferation of automobiles made long-distance commuting possible.

Television became available to most homes and imported, to an even greater extent than before, the popular culture of the United States. Canadians who feared the loss of their culture voiced their protests again as they had in the 1930s, and Canadian governments sought to promote Canadian culture and national identity as a counterweight to the American influence. Thus in the 1960s the federal Board of Broadcast Governors decreed that 55 percent of the television programming should have Canadian content. The Canada Council was founded in 1957 to support arts and culture in Canada. The deepening integration of the Canadian and American economies was not directly addressed, however, beyond some limited controls on foreign investment.

International Activities

Following the war, Canada took an active role in international relations. Canada joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance founded in 1949 to defend Europe against Communist attack. The North American Air (later Aerospace) Defense Agreement, signed in 1958, confirmed American involvement in defending North American airspace over Canada. Canada contributed forces to the United Nations campaign to defend South Korea in the Korean War (1950-1953).

In 1950 Canada began foreign aid programs for underdeveloped nations as part of the Colombo Plan, launched by the Commonwealth of Nations to attack the poverty that was thought to breed support for communism. Canadian diplomat and politician Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1956 for organizing a peacekeeping force to defuse the Suez Crisis. Peacekeeping became a frequent assignment for Canadian forces as Canada sought status in world affairs as a so-called middle power: too small to be a great power, but large enough and strong enough to act as an intermediary in world affairs.

Diefenbaker and Pearson

After running the national government continuously since 1935, the Liberal Party was defeated by the Progressive Conservatives (the new name for the Conservatives) in 1957. The new prime minister, John Diefenbaker, was a crusading country lawyer from Saskatchewan who built his campaign on growing resentment over the long dominance of the Liberal Party and the arrogant Canadian establishment. He also urged economic development of the far northern regions. An orator and a fighter for social justice and the ordinary citizen, Diefenbaker appealed to Canadian national pride. His disorganized administration, however, alienated potential allies and faced frequent crises. His government fell in a 1963 election contest with the Liberals under Pearson. The chief issues were Canada’s role in NATO and Diefenbaker’s opposition to the building of nuclear weapons bases in Canada.

Pearson’s achievements as prime minister included new and expanded social programs and a new, distinctive Canadian flag, the red maple leaf. Pearson’s Liberals never had a majority in the House of Commons but survived because opposition was divided. Among the new opposition parties was the New Democratic Party (NDP), formed in 1961 by a merger of the socialist CCF and Canadian labor organizations. The NDP campaigned for public ownership of key industries, wider social programs to promote economic equality, and controls on foreign (particularly American) investment. First led by former Saskatchewan premier Thomas Douglas, the NDP became a long-lasting third party competing with the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives.

Social Change

French Canadian Nationalism

During Diefenbaker’s time as prime minister, French Canadian nationalism moved into a phase that came to be called the Quiet Revolution. This was a transition, almost explosive in its suddenness, from traditional, rural, church-oriented values to full participation in modern, urban, secular values.

Political leader Maurice Duplessis, premier from 1936 to 1939 and from 1944 to 1959, staunchly defended the old belief that preservation of a traditional rural society was the best way to protect French Canada from British and secular influences. Religion and agriculture, not government, were considered the vital defenses. The Roman Catholic Church held a special role: Its priests, nuns, and other religious figures ran educational, health, social, and cultural programs that were government-run in the rest of Canada. The church’s educational curriculum was weak in science and technology, and the percentage of graduates from secondary schools was low.

Through support of the church and his party’s control of political patronage, Duplessis maintained the status quo until his death in office in 1959. Even though Québec had by that time become an urban industrial society, English-speaking Canadians, many of whom considered French Canadians to be backward, dominated public life in Canada. Even in Montréal, Québec’s largest city, English predominated in commerce and among the leaders of business and industry.

In 1960 a new Liberal government led by Jean Lesage took power in Québec promising to make French Canadians “masters in their own house.” Lesage planned to use state power to promote better education, health care, public industries, and French Canadian culture. The state replaced the church as the guardian of Québec society, and the role of the church in operating secular institutions like schools and hospitals plunged dramatically. A ministry of education was established to modernize the curriculum and make postsecondary education more broadly available through a new system of community colleges.

The government of this new Québec was also determined to secure new powers and reduce the role of the federal government within the province. The Liberals, particularly under Premier Robert Bourassa (1970-1976, 1986-1994), worked to revise the federal system to better accommodate French Canadian aspirations.

A variety of opinions emerged in Québec over French Canadian aims. Premier Daniel Johnson (1966-1968), whose Union Nationale party governed between Lesage and Bourassa, called for a new Canadian constitution with special status for Québec as the homeland of one of the two founding peoples. Other movements were formed to advocate complete separation from Canada. One group, the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ), resorted to terrorism to achieve that end. Meanwhile, René Lévesque, formerly in Lesage’s Cabinet, left the Liberals and founded the Parti Québécois (PQ) to seek sovereignty-association. This was envisioned as a union in which Québec would be an economic partner with the rest of Canada but otherwise Québec would be fully independent. In the 1970 provincial election, the PQ won the support of almost a quarter of the voters.

In the October crisis of 1970, the terrorist group FLQ kidnapped a Québec politician, Pierre Laporte, and a British diplomat, James Cross, and demanded the release of FLQ members who were in jail. The Canadian government rejected the kidnappers’ demands and invoked the War Measures Act, which authorized mass arrests and the deployment of army troops in the streets of Montréal. The murder of Laporte by his kidnappers added to the crisis. Cross was released by his captors in December in exchange for their safe passage to Cuba, and Laporte’s killers were later tracked down, arrested, and convicted of murder. The violence discredited the FLQ’s revolutionary approach to Québec nationalism, and the independence movement united behind the PQ’s approach.

Québec’s demand for increased provincial powers was mirrored elsewhere in Canada. Other provincial leaders claimed the right to acquire any new constitutional powers Québec might receive. Western Canada, increasingly prosperous but still lacking the political clout of Ontario or Québec, resented Ottawa’s preoccupation with central Canadian concerns. Challenges to the growing power of the federal government mounted in the provinces, but several federal-provincial constitutional conferences to try to resolve these issues, notably in 1964 and 1971, ended in deadlocks.

New Voices of the Sixties

The independence movement in Québec was only one social revolution among many in Canada in the late 1960s. There, as elsewhere in the developed world, youth culture and youth protest flourished, minorities asserted their rights, and women worked to transform their place in society. Women moved rapidly into the workforce, into higher education, and into feminist political and social campaigns against sexism and gender inequality. The National Action Committee on the Status of Women, a federation of women’s organizations, was formed in 1971 to lobby for abortion rights, equality legislation, and other feminist issues.

In the 1960s Canada also opened immigration to new racial and ethnic communities from southern Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, and much of the world. Concentrating in the cities, immigrants changed the face of urban Canada, producing a dynamic mix of peoples in communities that had long been dominated by people of British or French origin. In 1971 the federal government officially recognized multiculturalism as a characteristic of Canada. Native Canadians, the poorest and most marginalized Canadians throughout the century, had also begun a demographic and cultural renaissance. Native organizations started to assert political demands rooted in ancient and long-neglected treaty rights. See also Ethnic Groups in Canada.

In the midst of these growing tensions, Canada hosted a remarkably lively and successful commemoration of the centennial of Confederation in 1967. Its highlight was the successful world’s fair, Expo ‘67, in Montréal.

National Unity: 1968-2000

The Trudeau Years

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a Québec law professor and longtime opponent of special status for Québec, entered federal politics in 1965 to promote French power in Ottawa. He argued that a bilingual, bicultural Canada could provide full scope for the aspirations of French Canadians without the need of new provincial powers. Trudeau succeeded Lester Pearson as leader of the Liberals in 1968 and led his party to electoral triumph soon after; he held the prime minister’s post almost continuously from 1968 to 1984 and received massive support from Québec voters even when they elected nationalists to govern the province.

Trudeau promoted French Canadians within the federal civil service and increased the spending of federal money in Québec. In 1969 his government passed the Official Languages Act, which made Canada officially bilingual. The act required federal agencies to offer bilingual services coast to coast. Some English-speaking Canadians resented this assertion of French culture as much as they did Québec’s political demands for greater provincial power. See also Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.

Economic Problems

Trudeau came to power intending to modernize government and reform the constitution, but he soon found his agenda hijacked by economic troubles. Both inflation and unemployment rose, and expensive social and economic programs had led to large and continuing budget deficits despite high taxes. Canada’s economic problems were compounded when the price of oil increased dramatically during the oil crisis of 1973. The crisis was provoked when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which included many of the major oil-producing nations of the world, cut back on production. In an effort to shield Canadians from high oil prices, Ottawa tried to control sales of oil. The province of Alberta, a large oil producer, resented these efforts. Westerners also resented federal investment in depressed regions, particularly Atlantic Canada and Québec.

Québec Referendum

In 1976 Québec elected René Lévesque’s PQ as its provincial government. During the campaign, the PQ had pledged to consult the province in a referendum before implementing its policy of sovereignty-association. The PQ government introduced both social programs and nationalist measures. Rejecting bilingualism, the PQ legislated French as Québec’s sole official language. French quickly challenged English as the language of commerce. The shift was particularly dramatic in Montréal, which had long been dominated by its English-speaking minority. In 1980 the promised referendum took place. Québec voters were asked to decide whether the province should negotiate with Ottawa toward achieving sovereignty-association. However, the vote was 60 percent against and 40 percent in favor. See also French Canadian Nationalism.

A New Constitution

Trudeau, who had promised a new constitutional deal during the referendum, moved in with his own constitutional agenda: “patriating” the British North America Act (BNA Act) passed by the British Parliament in 1867. Patriation would make the BNA Act a Canadian constitution that could be amended by Canadians. Trudeau also promised to add a Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the constitution. Trudeau’s constitutional package offered none of the additional powers the provinces had been seeking, but both patriation and the charter were popular. Trudeau achieved both in 1982 despite the opposition of the government of Québec. For Québec sovereigntists, the patriation of the constitution against Québec’s will and without meeting its demands for greater powers became an added grievance. See also Constitution of Canada.

Contemporary Indigenous Relations

One new element in the Constitution Act of 1982 (as the patriated BNA Act was renamed) stated that “existing aboriginal and treaty rights are recognized and affirmed.” This acknowledgment of aboriginal rights showed the gains that had been made by indigenous Canadians in the 1960s and 1970s. However, these existing rights were neither listed nor defined; the extent of indigenous rights largely remained to be negotiated.

In the 1960s the federal government had favored abolition of the Indian Act and rejection of most indigenous claims upon Canada. In 1973, however, a Supreme Court of Canada ruling (known as the Calder case) suggested that courts would recognize the existence of aboriginal land titles. Canada thereupon declared its readiness to negotiate agreements that would recognize indigenous land titles and rights of self-government. In 1975 the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement, which permitted massive hydroelectric development by the government of Québec, granted substantial powers of self-government to the Cree of the James Bay region in exchange for a massive surrender of land. See also James Bay Project.

Further support for indigenous rights to self-government came in 1977 with a report by Judge Tom Berger on pipeline construction in the Mackenzie River valley. Berger advised against any such development until indigenous claims had been settled. His advice was widely influential.

In recent decades the fundamental aims of indigenous organizations have been to resist assimilation into Canadian society and to defend the autonomy and cultural integrity of indigenous groups. They seek public sympathy by publicizing the poverty, injustice, and marginalization suffered by most indigenous Canadians, frequently appealing to international tribunals and world opinion. In the 1990s this strategy was successful in deterring the government of Québec from proceeding with James Bay II, a second stage of hydroelectric development in the north.

Failures to respond to indigenous grievances also resulted in several episodes of armed indigenous resistance to Canadian authority. In 1990 Mohawks resisted the development of land they claimed as indigenous property near Oka, Québec. Heavily armed Mohawks confronted police and troops for months before surrendering.

Indigenous bands and federations (notably the Assembly of First Nations, founded in 1982) have pursued legal actions and government-to-government negotiations seeking recognition of self-government and settlement of land claims. These negotiations have been most successful in the Northwest Territories. Large land settlements were made with the Inuit of the Mackenzie Delta in 1984 and Inuit of the eastern Arctic in 1992.

In the 1980s the Canadian government pledged to transform the Northwest Territories into new regions: One to be called Nunavut, with the Inuit majority, and the other probably Denendeh, with a Dene majority. In each, the indigenous residents would have broad powers of self-government. Nunavut achieved separate territorial status on April 1, 1999, but plans for Denendeh have moved more slowly.

In 1996 the federal government received the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the result of a five-year study of indigenous life. Its 400 recommendations covered almost every aspect of indigenous life, calling for new federal departments, an independent tribunal for land claims, and an indigenous parliament to be called the House of First Peoples. The C$30 billion price of the reforms, to be spread over 15 years, received a cool reception from the cost-cutting Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. In 1998, however, the government offered an apology for abusive and racist policies against indigenous people. The government continued to address the issue of reparations for those policies. In 2006 it agreed to compensate those who were forced to attend residential schools, where many children were the victims of physical and sexual abuse. In 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology for the residential school policy, which aimed at assimilating indigenous children by destroying their language and culture. See also Indian Treaties in Canada.

The Continuing Constitutional Debate

Pierre Trudeau retired in 1984. Partly because his party had not been able to improve the economy, the Progressive Conservative Party soon swept into power, led by Brian Mulroney, a bilingual Québec lawyer. Mulroney had built support in Québec, traditionally a Liberal stronghold, by recruiting nationalists when sovereignty-association seemed unlikely to be achieved. He made national unity a high priority and sought to amend the new constitution so that Québec could accept it.

Working closely with Québec premier Robert Bourassa, Mulroney negotiated the Meech Lake Accord, a package of changes to the constitution. This agreement between the federal and provincial governments was signed in June 1987. It gave all the provinces substantial new powers and gave Québec the undefined but potentially large powers of a “distinct society.” The constitutional changes seemed assured of passage because all the provincial premiers supported the accord.

However, all the provincial legislatures had to ratify the accord within a three-year period. Opposition soon emerged as public debate focused on the weakening of federal authority in Canada, on the distinct-society clause, and on complaints that the agreement had been reached during closed-door negotiations that were undemocratic. Trudeau spoke out from retirement to condemn the accord as a surrender of vital federal powers. Indigenous leaders, who had been campaigning for expanded self-government, protested their exclusion from the process. When the governments of three provinces changed in elections, the required unanimous consent of the provinces was lost. Ottawa worked desperately to save the accord, but a last-minute vote in the Manitoba legislature was blocked on a procedural technicality by an Ojibwa-Cree member, Elijah Harper. Newfoundland and Labrador also failed to ratify the accord. Time ran out, and the Meech Lake Accord died in June 1990. In Québec the failure of the accord was widely interpreted as a rejection of Québec itself, and support for sovereignty surged.

The Mulroney government tried again, this time with widened public consultation and increased participation by indigenous leaders. The result was the Charlottetown Accord, which was endorsed by the premiers in 1992 and presented for ratification in a national referendum. However, Québec nationalists rejected this new accord as inadequate to Québec’s needs, and the new accord also failed to satisfy the growing aspirations of many groups and regions in the rest of Canada. It was defeated both in Québec and elsewhere. The PQ returned to power in Québec in the provincial election of 1994 with renewed determination to achieve sovereignty-association.

The Conservative Alternative

The Mulroney government advocated a different approach to Canada’s economic problems. It advocated turning away from government intervention, which it argued had been unable to defeat persistent unemployment and inflation. Mulroney’s government reduced public management of the economy, even in areas where state ownership had been seen as vital. Railroads were closed or sold, and the publicly owned airline and oil companies were sold to private investors. Spending on Canadian cultural programs, including the CBC, was cut back, and taxes on corporations were reduced.

Mulroney’s government also reduced its investment in developing depressed regions, a Trudeau priority that it condemned as expensive, wasteful, and ineffective. The cuts hit hard in Atlantic Canada, particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador. The end of the 1980s saw the collapse of Newfoundland and Labrador’s cod fishery, which had been the mainstay of the province’s economy since the 16th century. Both overfishing and changes in ocean climate were blamed for the decline in the cod population. A moratorium on fishing was imposed in 1992 along with a temporary program of assistance to fishery workers.

Mulroney’s economic agenda was capped in 1987 with the negotiation of a Canadian-American free trade treaty. Canada and the United States were already intimately linked economically, and each was the other’s largest trading partner. Free trade was strongly supported by business but denounced by others as an avenue for greater American domination of the Canadian economy. Approval of the free trade agreement, delayed in the Canadian parliament, became the foremost issue during the 1988 election. The Progressive Conservatives won the election, and in 1994 free trade was expanded to include Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Early results seemed to confirm predictions that Canadian productivity and exports would benefit; in 1995, for example, exports of goods grew by 16 percent and imports by 11 percent. It remained uncertain to what extent the treaty would prohibit Canada from implementing social programs that could be interpreted as subsidies to commerce and, therefore, as interferences with free trade.

Return of the Liberals

Brian Mulroney retired in 1993. He had become unpopular and was attacked for imposing new taxes, particularly the unpopular Goods and Services Tax, and for failing to reduce the deficit, solve economic problems, or end the constitutional crisis. His former allies among the Québec nationalists formed a new party, the Bloc Québécois, to work in federal politics for the independence of Québec. Alienated westerners turned to the Reform Party, a new conservative movement led by Preston Manning of Alberta. Mulroney’s successor, Kim Campbell, Canada’s first woman prime minister, was overwhelmingly defeated by the Liberals in the 1993 national election after just four months in office. Her Progressive Conservative Party, which had been a force in national politics since Confederation, won only two seats in the 295-seat House of Commons. The New Democratic Party, usually Canada’s third party, fared almost as badly, winning just nine seats.

Québécois Jean Chrétien, a veteran politician and former member of Trudeau’s governments, led the new Liberal Party government. The Liberals continued many of the Progressive Conservatives’ economic and social policies, including NAFTA, and, to the dismay of many of their supporters, sought to balance the federal budget rapidly. Chrétien cut spending while maintaining tax rates and supported private rather than public enterprise as the key source of economic growth. Governments dedicated to free enterprise took power in Alberta in 1993 and in Ontario in 1995, and both cut government spending and taxation significantly.

Chrétien’s government remained popular in its early years while its opposition was divided into a Québec bloc, a conservative western bloc, and mere fragments of the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democratic Party. Unemployment remained high, however. Chrétien’s failure to fulfill a promise to scrap Mulroney’s Goods and Services Tax damaged his reputation for honesty. The country’s reputation as an international peacekeeper was marred by scandals over the behavior of Canadian troops in Bosnia and Somalia. Above all, the Chrétien government remained vulnerable to constitutional crisis as sentiment for sovereignty remained high in Québec.

In 1995 Québec premier Jacques Parizeau, a hard-line separatist, held the province’s second referendum on sovereignty. Even though there was widespread anger in Québec over the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, defeat was expected. However, Lucien Bouchard, the head of the Bloc Québécois, entered the campaign and revitalized it. Bouchard’s passionate speechmaking and his promise of undefined ties with Canada after achieving sovereignty gave the pro-sovereignty side a late surge. The referendum was rejected by the barest margin: Less than 1 percent divided the no votes (50.4 percent) from the yes votes (49.6 percent). Parizeau resigned, and Bouchard succeeded him as premier of Québec. Bouchard’s determination to continue the pursuit of sovereignty challenged Chrétien’s federal government, which had hoped that a clear victory in the referendum would enable it to focus on other issues. Québec’s own economic difficulties forced Bouchard to sideline the sovereignty issue, however. See also French Canadian Nationalism.

Chrétien’s Liberal government was elected to a second term in June 1997, but it received a reduced share of the vote and won a bare majority of the 301 seats in the newly expanded House of Commons. The opposition remained divided. The Reform Party, with strong support in western Canada, became the official opposition. Its leader, Preston Manning, continued to advocate a much reduced federal government, greater provincial autonomy, and free-enterprise principles. The Bloc Québécois still held most of Québec’s seats. The Conservatives began to rebuild their popularity, and the NDP grew slightly.

In October 1997 nine provincial premiers (all but Québec’s) proposed a new constitutional offer to Québec, known as the Calgary accord. With a separatist government still in power in Québec, however, Chrétien’s federal government preferred to emphasize economic issues. A decade of spending cuts and taxation, coupled with prosperity and low interest rates, finally brought 20 years of federal budget deficits to an end, and persistently high unemployment rates began to fall slowly.

In 1998 Jean Charest, a popular young Québécois who had revived the federal Progressive Conservative Party, was persuaded to become leader of Québec’s provincial Liberal Party. The move made him leader of the federalist forces in Québec. Despite Charest’s efforts, in provincial elections held later that year the Parti Québécois was reelected as the dominant party in Québec, and Charest became the opposition leader.

In 1998 the Supreme Court of Canada issued an important ruling on the legal status of any bid by Québec to secede from Canada. The court declared that Québec does not have the right of unilateral secession, meaning that secession must be agreed to by the federal government and therefore cannot occur simply at the will of the separatist government. The ruling obligated the federal government to negotiate regarding secession if a clear majority of citizens in Québec voted to secede on a clear question of whether they wanted to secede. However, the ruling lacked a definition of what would constitute a clear majority or a clear question.

In an effort to clarify these issues the Chrétien government introduced the so-called clarity bill, which formally passed into law in June 2000. Under the law, negotiations may occur only if the federal House of Commons has determined that the referendum question was clear and that secession was supported by a clear majority. The law also specifies that secession may not occur until a constitutional amendment governing the process is negotiated and adopted. See also French Canadian Nationalism.

On April 1, 1999, a large region of the Northwest Territories officially became the separate territory of Nunavut, the first Canadian territory or province with a majority indigenous population. Paul Okalik, a young Inuit lawyer, became Nunavut’s first territorial premier.


Chrétien’s Liberal Party held firmly onto power in the November 2000 election, increasing its parliamentary delegation to a comfortable majority. Jean Chrétien, who called the election just three and a half years into his five-year term, became the first Canadian leader since World War II (1939-1945) to win a third consecutive majority government. Chrétien gambled that a strong budget surplus and high ratings for his government in public opinion polls would bolster support for his party. The Liberals gained seats in eastern Canada and Québec, reducing the power of the Bloc Québécois. The Canadian Alliance won additional seats in western provinces, solidifying its position as the main party on the right.

Facing a Liberal Party convention and a vote of confidence on his leadership in February 2003, Chrétien expressed his desire in January 2002 to continue leading the party. Seven months later, however, Chrétien announced his decision to retire. The end came when he fired Finance Minister Paul Martin, his long-term rival for Liberal Party leadership, in June 2002. The move backfired as Liberal Party members of parliament came to Martin’s defense and called on Chrétien to step down. Chrétien resigned as Liberal Party head, and therefore, as prime minister, in December 2003. Martin succeeded him as Canada’s 21st prime minister.

Beginning in 2003 Canada moved toward permitting homosexual marriages. In June of that year Chrétien and the Canadian cabinet approved a new policy to legalize same-sex marriages. The same month the Ontario Court of Appeal declared that the federal government’s existing definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman discriminated against homosexuals and violated the equal rights provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The effect of the ruling was to immediately make same-sex marriages legal in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. In July 2005 the Canadian Senate passed a bill making same-sex marriage legal throughout the country. Canada became the fourth nation to enact such a law and the first outside of Europe. See also Marriage.

Rise of the Conservatives

In December 2003 members of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance approved the merger of the two parties to form the Conservative Party, which became the official opposition party in Parliament. In March 2004 the Conservative Party selected Stephen Harper as its leader.

Martin and the Liberals lost their parliamentary majority in elections held in June 2004, but the party retained control of the government. The party was plagued by a growing corruption scandal, however, as evidence emerged that officials in Chrétien’s government had funneled millions of dollars in federal money into their own party’s coffers in the late 1990s. Over the next year Conservative Party leaders charged Martin’s government with involvement in the scandal and called for new elections, finally forcing a confidence vote in May 2005. The Liberals narrowly won the vote, 153-152, with the tiebreaking vote cast by House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, a Liberal.

A government report released in October 2005 provided new details about the scandal and the Liberal Party’s role in it. The revelations prompted another confidence vote in Parliament in late November. The Liberal government lost the vote this time, 171-133, resulting in new elections.

In the elections, held in January 2006, the Conservatives led all parties by capturing 124 seats in the House of Commons. The Liberal Party won 103 seats while the Bloc Québécois (BQ) won 51, the New Democratic Party (NDP) won 29, and there was 1 independent winner. The Conservative victory ended 12 years of Liberal Party rule in Canada and made Harper the country’s 22nd prime minister.

Harper identified lowering taxes and increasing governmental accountability and efficiency as important priorities for his new government. Because the Conservatives lacked a parliamentary majority, however, Harper was frustrated by his inability to pass his legislative agenda. He described Parliament as deadlocked and dysfunctional. Harper had originally called for new elections in October 2009, but faced with a parliamentary logjam, he decided to call snap (unscheduled) elections in October 2008, hoping that signs of growing support for the Conservatives would translate into a parliamentary majority. Harper called the elections for October 14, but between the time of the announcement and the actual balloting, a global financial crisis occurred as several large banks in the United States either went into bankruptcy or had to be rescued. As stock markets plunged and the crisis took on international repercussions, Harper appeared to be aloof from the turmoil, saying at one point that it was a good opportunity for Canadians to invest.

Some political observers blamed Harper’s nonchalance for the Conservatives’ failure to win a majority in the elections. Although the Conservatives increased their representation in parliament from 124 to 143, they still fell 12 votes short of a majority. The Liberals, however, suffered significant losses, winning only 26 percent of the vote nationwide and seeing their representation in parliament decline from 103 seats to 76 seats. The New Democratic Party gained 8 seats for a total of 37.

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