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Paleo-Indian humans first settled in what is now Canada some 26,000 years ago. Canada was the setting of the first European contact with the Americas when Norse settlers arrived in the late 10th Century A.D. but were driven out shortly afterwards. The oral tradition of the Viking sagas gave the existence of the America’s a mythical quality until the Christopher Columbus’ voyages caused Europeans to rediscover the Americas in 1492.
The first post-Columbian attempts to settle in Canada came from the Portugese, who attempted to settle in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in the early 16th Century. However, the cold, inhospitable climate, and the greater opportunities afforded in Brazil caused them to focus their efforts elsewhere. And so the French became the first serious and permanent settlers to colonise Canada following the French Explorer Jacques Cartier, who claimed the Gaspe Peninsula in the name of Francis I of France in 1534. The French colonisers found the area to be valuable for its abundance of Beavers and Bears, who provided fur for trade back home. French territories in Canada were referred to as ‘New France’ and extended beyond Canada’s modern borders as far south as Louisiana in the US. France did however, cede Hudson’s Bay, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in 1713 following Britain’s Victory in the War of the Spanish Succession.
The Seven Years War of 1756 to 1763 saw the French defeated and driven out of Canada by the British as a result of force of arms and treaty concessions. However, the population of the Quebec region remained in large part culturally and lpart linguistically French. In order to placate them and prevent them from rebelling in the future, Britain made large concessions to them, allowing them to retain French Civil Law, with French as an official language and for Roman Catholicism to remain the official religion in the area. These concessions were a source of anger for British colonists in the Americas, and were a contributory factor to the disenchantment with the motherland that would later lead to The American War of Independence.
The American War of Independence
Many of Britain’s Colonies to the south of Canada rose up against British rule and fought for their independence. In 1775 a rebel continental army invaded Canada in an attempt to capture Quebec City and inspire the local population to join them in their struggle against the British. However, they were disappointed by the lack of local support and the continental army was defeated and driven out of Canada by the British. Despite the rebelling colonists’ failure to spread the revolution into Britain’s Canadian holdings, they did secure independence in 13 of Britain’s American colonies and the newly independent colonies formed a federation called the United States of America. Relations between the new nation and Britain’s remaining North American colonies would remain uneasy for several generations.
War of 1812
The loss of the 13 colonists drove many American loyalists to settle in Canada. The demographic effect of this was to populate British North America with people naturally predisposed to be loyal to the Crown. Nevertheless, when war broke out between the United States and Britain in 1812, Canada was once again invaded by Americans who hoped to march as a liberating army encouraging the locals to rise against their British masters. However, they were once again disappointed by the lack of local support and the Canadian population remained by and large loyal to Britain. The Americans were once again driven out of Canada and the subsequent peace treaty returned the borders to the status quo ante bellum (as they were before the outbreak of the war).
Despite the loyalty of Canada’s population, there was a rising desire for great self-rule. This manifested itself violently in 1837 when rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada, one of which had been based on ethnic (French) nationalism and another on Anglo-Canadian political rights, had to be put down with military force, leading to an inquiry on the events that had taken place with a mind to implementing reforms to ensure that it would not happen again. Following its recommendations, Upper and Lower Canada were integrated into a single province, and Britons were encouraged to immigrate into Canada in order to try and overwhelm the French Community in Canada.
Despite these reforms, it soon became apparent that a more fundamental reform would be necessary. Despite Britain’s best efforts, the French community in Quebec was still dominant in that province, and a centralised political union no longer seemed practical by the 1860s. In addition, relations with America had deteriorated in the wake of the American Civil War (during which the British had provided some political and material support for the Confederacy) and Britain wished to instil a sense of nationhood in Canada that would reduce the need to station a large garrison of British troops there by inspiring them to provide for their own defence as much as possible. It did no good to hold a resentful population that might welcome or encourage any attempt by the Americans to liberate them from British control. On July 1 1867, The Dominion of Canada, an autonomous nation within the British Empire was created consisting of the states of Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Other Canadian territories would join later.
The First World War saw the deployment of Canadian troops to fight alongside their British Counterparts in large numbers. Canada did not control its own foreign policy at this point, and so joined the war automatically when Britain declared war. However, Canadian troops gained almost legendary status for their contributions to the war effort, and it is said that both the Germans and the British considered them to be elite shock troops.
In 1931, Canada gained legislative equality with the United Kingdom within the British Empire, this meant it had to be consulted as an equal member during the crisis of 1936 which culminated in the abdication of Edward VIII, and that during World War II, it made its own separate declaration of War on Germany in September 1939.
In the 1960s, Quebecois nationalism continued to pressure for independence, and as part of an attempt to placate French Canadian separatism, the Flag of Canada was changed to its current Maple-Leaf design devoid of any hint of British origins, a change that remains controversial with some Anglo-Canadians to this day.
In 1980, the last constitutional links with Britain were severed with the Canada Act of 1980. As with other Commonwealth Dominions, the Queen of Canada is considered a separate political entity to that of Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, even though both offices are occupied by the same person.
The First Coins used in Canada were French Coins of the old pre-revolutionary £sd system. Following the British takeover of Canada, British currency, supplemented by unofficial token issues were used. As part of an attempt to simplify the exchange rate between Canadian and American currency, the Canadian Pound, valued at £1=$4 was introduced. Its equivalent value in £ sterling was 16 shillings and 5.3 pence. In French Canada, the Sou was considered to be worth half a penny. However, even this was considered inadequate, and in 1858, the Canadian Dollar was introduced, divided, like the US equivalent, into 1$ = 100 cents. Not all provinces joined this currency unit immediately however, and Newfoundland was the last to join in 1949.
Today, coins consisting of 1c, 5c, 10c, 25c, 50c, $1 and $2 are issued for circulation. The present $1 coin, first introduced in 1987, gained the nickname of the ‘loonie’ in reference to the loon bird depicted on the reverse. The $2 coin is often refered to as the ‘toonie’, ‘doubloonie’ or, most amusingly, the ‘moonie’ (a reference to the bear on the reverse of the coin, or ‘bear behind’).
Canada also held out longer than most other countries in keeping silver coins in circulation, and they continued to be issued until 1968.
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