Before the country was known as Canada, many different indigenous peoples inhabited the land. Some were nomadic, such as the Inuit of the North or the peoples of the Great Plains in the West. Others lived in settled communities, such as the peoples of the West and East Coasts and many of those who lived in the area of the Great Lakes.

French colonists came to Canada in the 17th century. They farmed along the St. Lawrence River and fished off the Atlantic coast. French traders, known as voyageurs, trapped furs or exchanged goods for furs with the native peoples.

To compete with the French, the British set up fur-trading forts around Hudson Bay. The rivalry between the English and French fur traders continued into the 18th century. It ended when the French lost their colony in 1759 in a battle on the Plains of Abraham near Quebec City. The British rulers allowed the French colony to preserve French civil law and the Catholic religion.

When the American colonies rebelled in 1776, thousands of British Loyalists left the newly formed United States and came north. American hostility flared up against the British colony in 1812. The British, allied with the French and the indigenous peoples, managed to stop an American invasion. In 1867, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia united to form Canada under the British North America Act.

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, wanted to connect the new nation to the Pacific by a railway. The Canadian Pacific Railway, completed in 1885, was an amazing feat of engineering that helped unite the country. The government encouraged immigrants to settle on the prairie made accessible by the railway. In 1870, part of the western territories became the province of Manitoba. Prince Edward Island joined the federation in 1873. In 1905 Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces.

After the First World War, Canada grew more independent from Great Britain. The Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge in 1917 brought Canada international respect. During the Second World War, Canadian soldiers were important to the Allied victory. The experience of the wars fostered a sense of Canadian national identity.

Canada enjoyed prosperity after the war. In 1949 Newfoundlanders voted to become Canadians. In 1982 the constitution was transferred from Great Britain to Canada and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect. Quebec, however, does not recognize this Constitution and many Québécois believe that Quebec should leave Confederation.

  Did you know?
When the French explorer Jacques Cartier travelled up the St. Lawrence River in 1534, he asked the indigenous peoples what they called their land. They answered "Kanata". In Huron-Iroquois the word meant village, but Cartier wrote "Canada" on his map for the whole country.