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History of Canada

The First Nations

The arrival of the first nations people is hard to date. A number of contesting dates have been proposed. We do know that by the time the first written accounts of the First Nations people were written they were very well acclimatized to their surroundings. The first nations were seperated into a collection of large cultural groups such as the Cree in northern Quebec, the Haida on the pacific coast and the Iroquois in the St. Lawrence valley. Each group had impressive oral histories and detailed mythologies, but they were all essentially stone age peoples who could not stand up to European invaders.

The European Arrival

John Cabot landed on the coast of North America in 1497 and claimed it for King Henry VII of England. The French also soon arrived at North America with Jacques Cartier exploring much of the coast, and claiming it for France. Under Samuel de Champlain the first settlement was made which would later grow to be Quebec City. The French claimed Canada as their own and settlers arrived settling along the St. Lawrence and in the maritimes. The British also cliamed the region, however, and they also began to settle, claiming the south of Nova Scotia as well as the areas around the Hudson's bay.

The early Canadian economy revolved around beaver fur which was the rage in Europe. French voaygers would travel into the hinterlands and trade with the natives. As the period continued other resources increased in importance, especially timber which was essential for the navies of the European nations.

The arrival of the Europeans was disasterous for the native peoples. Relations varied between the settlers and the Natives. The French quickly befriended the Huron peoples and entered into a mutually beneficial trading relationship with them. The Iroquios, however, became dedicated opponents of the French and warfare between the two was unrelenting, especially as the British armed the Iroquois in an effort to weaken the French.

It was not warfare that destroyed the native way of life, however, but diseases imported from Europe to which they had no immunities. Smallpox and other maladies wipped out a large majority of Canada's population.

French vs. English

The French were well established in Canada, the English had control over the thirteen colonies to the south as well as control over Hudson's Bay. The British with greater financial power and a larger navy were consistently in a better position to defend and expand their colonies than the French, however. The French governemnt gave very little support to their colonists in New Franceand they had for the most part to fend for themselves. Thus in the long series of Anglo-French wars which dominated the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the French steadily lost ground.

The first areas lost to the English were the Maritimes. This gave the British control over a large number of French speaking Acadians. Not trusting these new subjects the British ordered a massive deportation effort and spread the Acadians throughout their North American holdings.

Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 while retaining ties to the British crown. Economically and technologically the nation has developed in parallel with the US, its neighbor to the south across an unfortified border. Its paramount political problem continues to be the relationship of the province of Quebec, with its French-speaking residents and unique culture, to the remainder of the country.