John Cabot, an Italian sea captain in the pay of the British, discovered Canada in 1497, five years after Columbus discovered America. He planted a huge cross on the shore and sailed home, with the news that he had reached north east China , the land of the Great Khan , and that the sea was full of fish.
In 1534 , the French explorer, Jacques Cartier, sailed right down the St.Lawrence River until he could go no further. Among the great forests along the shore he met Indians who welcomed him, but in return he kidnapped some of their chiefs . He was the first European to treat the Indians with cruelty and treachery. It was almost another hundred years before French colonists settled on the banks of the St Lawrence and founded Quebec. They were sent there to give food and shelter to the French fur traders, who were carrying on a profitable trade with the Indians.
By the middle of the 18th century, the French in North America realized that they could not avoid a fight to the death with the British and their American colonists, but back in France the French king , Louis XV , was too busy with his wars with Prussia to bother much about what was going on in the ‘ Land of Ice and Snow’. So the French troops in Canada did not receive the supplies they needed so badly, and the few ships that did try to get through were usually captured by British warships.
Yet this colonial war ended in a famous battle. The British surprised the French by climbing the cliffs at Quebec in the middle of the night. After their defeat , the French were forced to give up each inch of land in North America. But the British allowed the French colonists , all 60,000 of them , to stay on, and they did no try to change the French way of life or their religion. The French were all Catholics. But the British warned them that Louis XV of France was no longer their King. Their King, from now on, would be King George III of England.
At that time there were very few British colonists in Canada. The first British settlers in Canada were American refugees who refused to fight against the British army in the Revolutionary War , because they felt they were more British than American. They called themselves Loyalists, but their fellow Americans accused them of being traitors and took away their possessions. 80,000 Loyalists helped the British to defend Canada against Americans during the Revolutionary War.
During the first half of the nineteenth century one million immigrants, mostly British, settled in Canada, but there were hardly any French immigrants from France. However, the French Canadians‘ birth rate was high, so that in just over two centuries the French Canadian population increased from 60,000 to 6 million.
Canada spread from Atlantic right across the prairies and the Rocky Mountains to British Columbia; and northwards to the bare but beautiful Yukon and the ice-covered islands of the Arctic. The pioneer farmers found that the black earth of the prairie provinces could grow some of the finest grain in the world. The tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway pushed to westwards through Indian lands. To protect their land the Indians made fierce attacks on the railway-builders and the farmers.
Canada moved slowly towards self-rule during the second half of the nineteenth century. A federation of the provinces was formed from Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast to British Columbia on the far side of the Rockies. In 1936 Canada became a Dominion (a self-governing nation) within the British Commonwealth and Empire. The Dominions of Canada, New Zealand and South Africa went to war alongside Britain in 1918 and again in 1939.
Canada is a good example of the way peoples of different ways of life and different languages can live side by side under one government. The population of Canada has risen from 11,5 million in 1941 to 25 million in 1980. Most of the newcomers are from Europe, Asia and the USA, so that today less than 44% of Canada’s population is of British origin. Quebec Province is still 90% French. There are some groups of French Canadiands in Ontario and Manitoba, but the numbers are quite small.
There are many Indians, Pacistanis and Chinese, and also blacks from the USA, among the immigrants who are pouring into Canada now. Some Canadians are afraid that before long Canada will have coloured citizens that white. Other Canadians are disturbed by the growing racism in their country. Canada, like so many countries, has only just begun to treat her own non-white citizens, Eskimos (or Inuit) and the Indians, as generously as they deserve. The Indian and Eskimo populations have grown quite a lot in the last few years. The government is at last realizing that it has a duty towards this people that it has neglected for so long.
All Canadian children have to learn both French and English at school, but Francophones and Anglophones do not enjoy learning each other’s language. Still, most Quebecois middle class families, living in Montreal are bilingual - they speak English and French equally well.
Until the Second World War, every Canadian province except Quebec was overwhelmingly British. Some Canadians were more patriotic than the British themselves and were really angry if anyone walked out of a cinema while ‘God Save the King’ was being played. Now Canadians think of themselves as a people in their own right, not tied to either Britain or the USA. The USA has not been a threat to Canada for almost two hundred years. In fact, the 6,416 km US-Canadian frontier is the longest continuous frontier in the world, has no wire fence, no soldiers, no guns on either side. It is called ‘The Border’.
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