1) The five nations of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca made up the great Iroquois Nation (also known as the Iroquois Confederacy 5 Nations) .The union was established in the 12th century with the Tuscarora nation joining later. It holds a great respect for women and has been described by some as the “oldest democracy on the continent”.
2) Around 1000 AD Leif Ericsson, the Viking and son of Eric the Red, became the first European to discover North America beating Columbus by almost 500 years. He called the area Vinland. The modern day UNESCO World Heritage site, L’anse aux Meadows, is a known Viking settlement and arguably the same place Leif explored and his brother Thorvald tried to colonize. The first European to be born in the Americas was also born in Vinland – a baby boy named Snorri.
3) John Cabot, also known as Giovanni Caboto, was a Venetian who sailed for England in 1497 and landed in what is now the Maritimes (probably Newfoundland). He is also credited with discovering the Grand Banks famous for their overflowing numbers of Cod. The famous Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia is named after him.
4) The name Canada comes from an interaction between Jacques Cartier and the sons of the great Iroquoian Chief Donnacona. They used the word Kanata referring to a village and Cartier mistook them for meaning the entire land ( and adjusting the word to “Canada”). The St. Lawrence was referred to as the River of Canada which in turn lent its name to the future regions of Quebec and Ontario and then eventually to the entire nation.
5) Samuel de Champlain tirelessly fought to preserve a French presence along the St. Lawrence. Around 1608, he founded a ‘habitation’ near a place called “kebek” by the Algonquins and eventually became known as the Father of New France. The early French settler were called habitants and this is why the modern day NHL team, the Montreal Canadiens, are often nicknamed “the Habs”.
6) In 1814, the British (or early Canadians depending on how you view it) ransacked Washington D.C. and in the process burned the residence of U.S. President James Madison. Then, as Will Ferguson tells us, “…the building was hastily rebuilt and the exterior painted over with whitewash. It became known as ‘the white house’.”
7) Laura Secord was a woman among women. First she went out into the aftermath of the Battle of Queenston Heights (during the War of 1812) and found her wounded husband and dragged him all the way back to their homestead. While taking care of him the Americans confiscated her home but let the family stay. Laura overheard the American’s plan for a surprise attack on the British/ Canadian forces at Beaver Dams – she then ventured out on a 32 kilometre mission through war torn terrain, climbed the Niagara Escarpment and warned of the attack. The end result was the complete surrender of the Americans troops after an ambush at Beaver Dams – all due to Laura Secord’s heroism.
8) On July 1st 1867, the British North American Act created the Confederation of Canada. The new nation included Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec (formerly known as Lower Canada) and Ontario (formerly known as Upper Canada). The Arctic regions that would later form the territories also belonged to Canada at this time and then, in 1871, British Columbia joined creating a land “from sea to sea to sea”. Ironically, the first part of Canada to be found by Europeans became the last province to join Confederation when Newfoundland finally entered in 1949.
9) The area west of the Rocky Mountains and onto the shores of the Pacific (known mostly as the Columbia District by the British and as the Oregon Territory by the Americans) almost became entirely American. Like Cabot, Cartier and Champlain opened up the East, three epic and rugged explorers are credited with opening up the West – Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser and David Thompson. Much credit is due these men for keeping the Columbia District as part of Canada and each one has a major river named after them (not to mention that David Thompson mapped out the Columbia River!) Eventually the 49th parallel was agreed upon to create a border between the Canadian and American lands.
10) If the canoe was the vessel that opened up early Canada, the train was the vehicle that opened it up to become a nation. One person has said, “If the railroad scheme is utopian, so is Confederation. The two must stand or fall together.” The Transcontinental Railroad stretched from Montreal to Vancouver and the last spike was driven in by Lord Strathcona at the small station of Craigellachie (near Revelstoke, BC) on November 7th, 1885.
11) Another defining moment in the history of Canada came during the Great War. Canada’s 8th Prime Minister, Sir Robert Laird Borden, led the country through this harrowing time. To quote Ferguson once again, “It is a myth that Canadians won their independence without bloodshed. Certainly, there political independence was won at great cost in the crucible of World War 1”. Canada had a proportionally immense contribution to the Great War and Borden, knowing this, refused to let Britain sign the Treaty of Versailles on Canada’s behalf but took his own pen to it in a symbolic but historically altering fashion. Approximately 172,000 Canadians were injured in WW1 and over 66,000 died for this unwaveringly brave new country. In WW2 45,000 Canadians gave their lives.
12) Ending on a lighter note, it is common for Canadians and foreigners alike to call us “Canucks” – but where did this come from? While first spelled ‘Kanuck” in 1835 by an American writer it mostly referred to Dutch and/or French Canadians. “Johnny Canuck” was a personification of the country that would often stand up to “Uncle Sam” in political cartoons. It has been used by an NHL hockey team, the Canadian rugby team as well as the ski team and, of course, by Marvel comic’s characters “Captain Canuck” and Wolverine who often refers to himself as an “Ol’ Canucklehead”. Today it applies to us all and we are proud to own it because we are proud to be Canadian.
Canadian History for Dummies: Will Ferguson
The Canadian Encyclopedia