Behind the scenes on building a nation

Thousands of years ago Aboriginal people are believed to have crossed a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska into North America, some settling in Canada.

European settlers arrived for the first time in Canada probably around 1000 years ago when Icelandic Norsemen settled for a short period in Newfoundland. This would have been the first meeting of Europeans and the Native Americans.

When European exploration of North America began, the French and British entered Canada by way of water inlets such as the French along the St. Lawrence River and the British through Hudson Bay. Some of the most well known explorers of these areas include Cabot, Cartier and Champlain.

The French settled in Canada in the early 1600s establishing a strong economy based on fur trade and heavily dependent on France for military and political direction and protection.

Quebec City fell to the British and France signed over all land in 1759 with the exception of the islands of St. Peirre and Miquelon off the coast of Newfoundland.

French settlers in Quebec maintained their culture, language and traditions which is still heavily part of the Canadian culture today. Colonists loyal to the British Empire fled the United States of America in 1776 when independence was declared and settled in Canada.

Canada was split into two parts in 1837 each with their own governing bodies overseen by the British Parliament. The Act of Union reunited Canada in 1848.

On the 1st of July 1867, in an effort to unite Britain’s North American colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, the Dominion of Canada was formed. Canada East (Quebec), Canada West (Ontario), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick joined together to create a new country.

Louis Riel in Winnipeg A Governor General was appointed as the Crown’s representative with the parliament being based on the British system. An elected House of Commons and an appointed Senate were formed. Parliament received the power to legislate over national issues and provinces were given legislative powers of issues affecting individual provinces such as property and education.

Westward expansion did not happen without stress. In 1869, Louis Riel led a political battle over the Hudson’s Bay Company land, in an attempt to defend M├ętis ancestral rights to the land. A compromise was reached in 1870 and a new province, Manitoba, was carved from Rupert’s Land.

British Columbia, already a Crown colony since 1858, decided to join the Dominion in 1871 on the promise of a rail link with the rest of the country; Prince Edward Island followed suit in 1873. In 1898, the northern territory of Yukon was officially established to ensure Canadian jurisdiction over that area during the Klondike gold rush. In 1905, two new provinces were carved from Rupert’s Land: Alberta and Saskatchewan. The residual land became the Northwest Territories. Newfoundland preferred to remain a British colony until 1949, when it became Canada’s tenth province.

The creation of new provinces coincided with an increase in immigration to Canada, particularly to the west. Immigration peaked in 1913 with 400 000 people coming to Canada. During the pre-war period, Canada profited from the prosperous world economy and established itself as an industrial as well as an agricultural power.

Canada’s substantial role in the First World War won it representation distinct from Britain in the League of Nations after the War. Its independent voice became more and more pronounced, and in 1931 Canada’s autonomy from Britain was confirmed with the passing of the Statute of Westminster.

In Canada as elsewhere, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 brought hardship. As many as one out of every four workers was without a job and the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba were laid waste by drought.

World War 2 Aircraft in NewfoundlandCanada played a significant role during the Second World War, both militarily and economically. The War boasted Canada’s international stature and did much to industrialize the Canadian economy and increase Canadians’ standard of living.

Since the Second World War, Canada’s economy has continued to expand. This growth, combined with government social programs such as family allowances, old-age security, universal medicare and unemployment insurance, has given Canadians a high standard of living and a desirable quality of life.

Noticeable changes have occurred in Canada’s immigration trends. Before the Second World War, most immigrants came from the British Isles or eastern Europe. Since 1945, increasing numbers of southern Europeans, Asians, South Americans and people from the Caribbean islands have enriched Canada’s multicultural mosaic.

On the international scene, as the nation has developed and matured, so has its reputation and influence. Canada has participated in the United Nations since its inception and is the only nation to have taken part in all of the UN’s major peacekeeping operations. It was a Canadian, Lester Pearson, who invented the concept of peacekeeping; he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 as a result. Canada is also a member of the Commonwealth, la Francophonie, the Group of Eight industrialized nations, the OAS (Organization of American States) and the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) defence pact.

The last quarter of a century has seen Canadians grapple once more with fundamental questions of national identity. Discontent among many French-speaking residents of Quebec led to a referendum in that province in 1980 on whether Quebec should become more politically autonomous from Canada, but a majority voted against sovereignty association.

In 1982, the process toward major constitutional reform reached an important milestone when the British North America Act of 1867 and its various amendments became the Constitution Acts, 1867-1982. The Constitution, its Charter of Rights and Freedoms and general amending formula redefined the powers of governments, entrenched the equality of women and men and advanced the rights of individuals and ethnocultural groups.

Native CampTwo major efforts were subsequently made to reform the constitutional system: the 1987 Meech Lake Accord, which was not implemented since it did not obtain the legislative consent of all provinces, and the 1991 Charlottetown Accord, which was rejected in a national referendum held on October 26, 1992.

On February 2, 1996, the Parliament of Canada passed a bill guaranteeing Canada’s five major regions that no constitutional change concerning them would be made without their unanimous consent. As well, less than a month after the Quebec sovereignty referendum of October 30, 1995, the Parliament of Canada passed a resolution recognizing Quebec as a distinct society within Canada.

Federal evolution is also under way in Canada’s North. On April 1, 1999, the northern territory of Nunavut joined the federation, marking the first change to the map of Canada since Newfoundland became a province fifty years earlier in 1949. Meaning “our land” in Inuktitut, the Inuit language, Nunavut is a vast territory, containing one-fifth of Canada’s land and made up of the central and eastern portions of the Northwest Territories. As the newest partner in the federation, Nunavut is the latest development in Canada’s nation-building process.