Bearing in mind the significant numbers of French speakers in Canada today, it won’t come as a surprise that much of Canada’s history has involved a competition for power between us and the French.
Having said that, the first Europeans who reached what is now Canada were probably Vikings. Some claim that Irish Saint Brendan, Welsh Prince Madoc and Scottish Prince Henry Sinclair may also have visited. And the Portuguese definitely had a go at it as well. Labrador, for instance, is named after a Portuguese explorer Lavrador, and assorted Portuguese turned up in the area in the early sixteenth century, either claiming bits of it or just going fishing for cod. Would a Portuguese Canada be a very different place? Probably, but we’ll never know. Perhaps, being used to the Algarve and all that, they just found Canada’s climate in winter a bit too challenging. Anyway, for whatever reason, they subsequently focused their attention elsewhere.
Instead, it was the French who started taking a serious (and from our point of view unwelcome) interest in the area. In 1534, Cartier turned up and claimed a chunk for France, and by 1608 Champlain was founding Quebec City.
And we were keen on the area, too. After all, we’re not used to Algarve-style weather in this country. John Cabot had already visited Newfoundland at the end of the fifteenth century, and in 1583 Sir Humphrey Gilbert occupied a part of Newfoundland (which curiously enough was �?Land Newly Found by Europeans’, although it had been found a long time beforehand by both the locals and the Vikings) and established St John’s. By 1610, Henry Hudson was lurking in Hudson’s Bay. It’s good that he’s remembered through the bay because his immediate future after 1610 wasn’t a particularly bright one. In fact it was pretty grim. Well, very grim. In 1611, his crew mutinied and dumped him and a few others in a small boat never to be seen again. In the 1620s, the Scots tried to settle in Nova Scotia (New Scotland), but found the French (and the locals) weren’t too keen on the idea. Then in 1670 the Hudson Bay Company was founded.
There was a lot of fighting against both French and locals ahead before we could take control of the whole of Canada. Already in the mid-seventeenth century the Beaver Wars erupted in parts of what is now the USA and Canada. These wars in some sense sound amusing, but in fact they were a bloody conflict between the Iroquois Confederation, backed by us, and the Algonquin, backed by the French, for control of the fur trade. And then there were numerous wars with us and our local allies fighting the French and their local allies, some of which were part of wider wars with different names and some of which have different names even in North America. It can be quite confusing.
Thus, the first war from 1689 to 1697, which we’ll call King William’s War, has also been called St Castin’s War and the Second Indian War, and it happens to also be the North American section of the Nine Years’ War which is also known as the War of the League of Augsburg or the War of the Grand Alliance. Confused? You should be. Anyway, King William’s War was a sort of draw, in which, after assorted fighting, everyone pretty much ended up back where they began.
Queen Anne’s War ran from 1702 to 1713. When it was over, the French accepted our claims to the areas of Hudson’s Bay, Acadia and Newfoundland (but not Cape Breton) at the Treaty of Utrecht.
The next war is Father Rale’s War (also known as Dummer’s War, Lovewell’s War and Gray Lock’s War – always nice to have a choice). Father Rale was a missionary who was connected with the start of the war, and in it we faced locals rather than the French. We sort of won on the mainland, but weren’t so successful in Nova Scotia and were forced to make concessions to the Mi’kmaq.
Then there was King George’s War from 1744 to 1748. In 1745, after a six-week siege, we took Louisbourg (on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia) only to hand it back at the end of the war in return for Madras in India, a global swap that, understandably, didn’t go down too well with the local New Englanders who had fought to capture it. Anyway, the war didn’t really end in 1748 because in some sense it dragged on into Father le Loutre’s War of 1749–55. This was us against the Mi’kmaq and the Wabanaki Confederacy, who had French support. Our founding of Halifax sort of started the war and it ended with our victory at the Battle of Fort Beausejour.
But just as King George’s War led into Father le Loutre’s War, so that war led into the French and Indian War of 1754–63. In 1755 we started expelling the French-speaking Acadians and continued doing so after the siege of Louisbourg in 1758. By 1760, following assorted battles, including the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the Battle of the Thousand Islands, we had taken control of Quebec and Montreal. After the treaty that ended the war, all France had left in what is now Canada were the small islands of St Pierre and Miquelon.
Across on the other side of the land, it was us against the Spanish, rather then the French. The Spanish had taken an early interest in Canada’s Pacific coast, but we soon started competing with them and we almost went to war with Spain over our respective interests in the area during the Nootka Crisis in the late eighteenth century. Eventually it was, yet again, us that became the dominant European power in the area.
The imposition of our control over the central parts of Canada did not come without local resistance, like the Red River Rebellion of 1869 and the North-West Rebellion of 1885. Canada became independent from Britain through a series of steps that gradually gave it more and more control over its affairs.