Canada Day 2017: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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canada day history, canada day origins

PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/Getty ImagesA Canadian supporter waves his national flag prior to the rugby union World Cup group B match Canada vs. Japan, 25 September 2007 at the Chaban-Delmas stadium in Bordeaux, southwestern France.

Happy Canada Day! Today we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 1867 unification of the 3 separate colonies of Canada, including Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Prior to the confederation under the British North America Act, Canada was made up of separate colonies all administered separately.

Under the new act, which also included the adoption of the Canadian constitution, the colony of Canada would become the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Today, Canada Day celebrations take place throughout the country that now also includes the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, along with the territories of Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories.

Learn more about the history and origins of Canada Day below:


1. Canada Was First Permanently Settled by Europeans in 1604

canada day history, canada day origins

April 1929: A Native Canadian Indian wedding in Alberta, Canada

The first permanet European settlement north of Florida was established by French explorers Pierre de Monts and Samuel de Champlain, first on St. Croix Island (in present-day Maine), then at Port-Royal, in Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia). Eventually, Champlain built a fortress in 1608 at what is now Quebec. Quebec would become the capital of “New France,” which, at its height, would extend from the northeastern reaches of present day Canada to New Orleans, Louisiana.

However, prior to this, “Vikings from Iceland who colonized Greenland 1,000 years ago also reached Labrador and the island of Newfoundland. The remains of their settlement, l’Anse aux Meadows, are a World Heritage site,” writes the Canadian Immigration Center.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the first people to call Canada home were Paleo-Indians who arrived at least 12,000 years ago. The Paleo-Indians and their ancestors are genetically related to people in parts of Asia. According to First Peoples of Canada, “Canada’s Native people are still referred to officially in three broad categories by government for administrative purposes” and include the Inuit, the First Nations, and the Metis.

The Inuits live in the Arctic, the First Nations are the non-Arctic aboriginals, and the Metis are descendants of First Nations peoples and Europeans. Many of these tribes’ traditional territories overlap more recently introduced borders, including the international border of Canada and the United States.


2. Canada Became a ‘Kingdom’ on the First Canada Day

canada day history, canada day origins

circa 1866: The Fathers of Confederation meeting in London to frame the British North America Act, setting up the Dominion of Canada.

Canada Day is often referred to “Canada’s birthday” by the press, which is a misnomer as Canada existed within both the French and British empires prior to 1867. However, on July 1, 1867, in London, the “Fathers of Confederation” started the process to make Canada what it is today.

Under the Canadian Confederation, representatives from the four original colonies of Canada met to create a “kingdom in its own right” within the British Empire, named the Dominion of Canada. Originally the name “Kingdom of Canada” was requested, but this was rejected by the British Foreign Secretary and the title Dominion was chosen in its place, writes The Chronicles of Canada.

The constituion of the dominion was modeled after the United States.

Canada had been a word used for the entire region since as early as 1535. According to a Government of Canada website, “The name ‘Canada’ likely comes from the Huron-Iroquois word ‘kanata,’ meaning ‘village’ or ‘settlement.’ In 1535, two Aboriginal youths told French explorer Jacques Cartier about the route to kanata; they were actually referring to the village of Stadacona, the site of the present-day City of Quebec. For lack of another name, Cartier used the word ‘Canada’ to describe not only the village, but the entire area controlled by its chief.”


3. Other Provinces Were Eventually Added

canada day history, canada day origins

A view of the second western terminal of the Canadian Pacific Railway on Cordova Street at the foot of Granville Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, circa 1900. Designed by Canadian architect Edward Maxwell, the station was opened in 1898.

After the initial four colonies were joined under the Dominion of Canada, more provinces eventually joined the Canadian Confederation. Today, Canada comprises ten provinces and three territories, with the most recent joining in 1999. The dates include:

  • Alberta, 1905
  • British Columbia, 1871
  • Manitoba, 1870
  • Newfoundland, 1949
  • Northwest Territories, 1870
  • Nunavut, 1999
  • Prince Edward Island, 1873
  • Saskatchewan, 1905
  • Yukon, 1898
  • According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “The Northwest Territories (NWT) entered Confederation in 1870 after Canada acquired Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory from the Hudson’s Bay Company. The smaller territory now known as the NWT is what remains after the creation of several other provinces and territories out of the original 1870 lands.”

    To create a new territory in Canada it only takes an act of Parliament, but for the creation of a new province the current Constitution of Canada requires an amendment to be ratified by seven provincial legislatures that represents at least half of the national population. As of 2015, the population of Canada is 35.85 million.


    4. Other Countries & American States Have Expressed Interest in Joining Canada

    canada day history, canada day origins

    Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II arrives in a landau at Parliament Hill for Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa, Canada.

    The Canadian Confederation is not just for the current landmass that Canada encompasses. In the past, a few American states have seriously considered becoming Canada’s 11th province, including Vermont, Maine, Washington, and Minnesota.

    Outside of North America, some British overseas territories and former territories have also considered provincehood, including the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, the West Indies Federation, and Belize.

    However, while some want to join Canada, some Canadian provinces have advocated for secession in the past, most notably the French-speaking region of Quebec. However, Alberta and other western provinces have had movements for secession, too.


    5. Canada Day Is Typically Celebrated Outside

    canada day history, canada day origins

    John Stillwell-Pool/Getty ImagesA group of teenage girls attend the Canada Day celebrations on July 1, 2010 in Ottawa, Canada.

    Canada Day is typically celebrated with outdoor public events, like as parades, carnivals, festivals, barbecues, air and maritime shows, fireworks, and free musical concerts.

    In the capital of Ottawa, Parliament Hill, Major’s Hill Park, and the Canadian Museum of History will host events. To learn more, click here.