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Constitutional History
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Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations
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Pionniers et Immigrants

1497 - 1760
1608 - 1763
1775 - 1812
1811 - 1870
1814 - 1830
1830 - 1867
1842 - 1903
1851 - 1885
1870 - 1896
1896 - 1914
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Jacques Cartier at Mount Royal - National Archives of Canada / C-010521
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1492 - 1779: From First Contact to the Peace and Friendship Treaties

When French and English explorers discovered what would eventually be called Canada for the first time in the late 15th and early 16th century, it would mark the beginnings of a long period of colonization and competition. The first permanent settlement occurred in 1604 when Samuel de Champlain founded the first settlements in the Bay of Fundy region. This region would be called Acadia, but settlement would be hindered by war and land wrangling with the British.

Topics in this section:

Aboriginal Settlement
European Discovery of Canada
Acadia: The First French Settlement (1604 - 1758)
Louisbourg
Other Interesting or Important Documents

Aboriginal Settlement

Aboriginal people lived in what's now Canada long before any European landed on its shore. Archaeologists believe that North American Aboriginals originated in Asia and came over the land bridge connecting Siberia and North America during the Ice Age. It is believed by scientists that Aboriginals first lived in Canada anywhere from 10,000 to 13,000 years ago. However, some Aboriginal tribes believe that life on Earth began with their creation in North America, and entirely reject the notion they immigrated here at all.

For more information on early Aboriginal life and culture in Canada, please see Aboriginal Peoples in the Constitutional History

 

European Discovery of Canada

Europeans first discovered the east coast of Canada in 1497, when explorer John Cabot claimed either Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island for England. This discovery opened up new cod fishing and whaling grounds off the east coast that attracted English, French, Spanish and Portuguese fishermen. The latter two groups, however, would become more interested in exploring to the coastal areas south of this region.

The French, however, sent explorer Jacques Cartier in 1534 and 1535 in the hopes of establishing an inland presence in the region. Six years later, he returned for a third time to the area, and established a small settlement near where Québec City stands today. The settlement didn't survive a harsh winter, however. France decided to abandon the colony, save for a few fishermen and fur traders who remained.



Acadia: The First French Settlement (1604 - 1758)

Samuel de Champlain - National Archives of Canada / C-014305
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In 1603, Pierre de Monts received a fur-trading monopoly over New France from King Henry IV of France. In return, however, he was now responsible for the following two tasks:

  • settling 60 French colonists in the region each year;

  • starting religious missionary work to civilize the Aboriginal peoples.

Samuel de Champlain led the first colonizing mission to a region known to the French as Acadia. In 1604, he settled on Île Ste-Croix (Dochet Island) on what's now the Maine-New Brunswick border. However, that settlement failed due to a harsh winter that began early in October 1604, one that would kill off about half the colonists.

The following year, Champlain settled at Port-Royal on the Bay of Fundy. That colony, too, would be unsuccessful and became an abandoned location in 1607.

The Port-Royal location would be re-established twice in 1610 and the early 1630s. Though France gained the location through treaty in 1632, the British and French would fight over it throughout the 17th century.

In 1713, France gave most of the land and fishing rights on the eastern coast to Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht, except for Île Royale (Cape Breton), Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) and the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon.

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Treaty of Utrecht, 1713 (bilingual)

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Did you know?

Britain was generally uninterested in settling much area in what would become eastern Canada during the 1600s and very early 1700s. It limited most of its activity to a few fishing ports and outposts along the coast of Newfoundland. The British were generally more interested in settling the lands to the southwest of Nova Scotia instead - the area which would become the Thirteen Colonies and, later, the United States. Newfoundland itself remained sparsely populated until the 19th century, when European contact on the island would wipe out the Beothuk nation living there.

 

Louisbourg

A View of Louisburg in North America - National Archives of Canada / C-005907
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The French would develop Louisbourg on Île Royale as a commercial trading and military outpost in response to the new British presence in the region under the Treaty of Ghent. By 1740, it had become a major garrison that was home to 2,000 people, including 600 soldiers.

In 1755 and again in 1758, however, Louisbourg was seized by British lieutenant-governor Charles Lawrence. He deported most of the Acadians to New England in what's now the United States. About a third of these people died on ships during their deportation.

Many of these Acadians, though, were able to escape and resettle back in regions of what's now New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Louisbourg, on the other hand, was completely destroyed in 1760. Lawrence issued a proclamation opening up settlement of Acadian lands to British settlers - many came from New England. Some of the land, particularly on Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island, was given to friends of the British Crown.

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An Act for the quieting of possessions to the Protestant grantees of the Lands formerly owned by the French Inhabitants; Nova Scotia, 1759

 

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Banishment and removal of the Acadians

 
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For more information on the early history of Nova Scotia just prior to the Acadian deportation, please see Nova Scotia in the Constitutional History section.

 

Other Interesting or Important Documents

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