British Empire—Colonies and Canada

1585 to 1885
Roanoke Colony to Saskatchewan Rebellion

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—Colonies and Canada

The exploration of Canada by French and English explorers commenced very soon after the discovery of the Americas by Columbus, although permanent settlement of the new world colonies did not occur until the early seventeenth century. The early explorers of North America, whose names are still recorded on lakes, bays, and rivers of the region, began with the voyage of John Cabot in 1497, and include Jacques Cartier , Henry Hudson, Samuel de Champlain, Martin Frobisher, John Davis, William Baffin, Alexander Mackenzie, and many others. Most were in search of the elusive Northwest-passage, from the Atlantic to Asia, that would have meant enormous riches for its discoverers, had it existed.

Early French and English Colonies in Canada—England's first attempt to colonize Canada was a failed expedition to Newfoundland by Humphrey Gilbert, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It was France, lead by the explorers Cartier and Champlain, that claimed the regions of Canada along the St. Lawrence seaway. The earliest French colonies were at Montreal and Quebec, which were established as trading posts for the French missionaries and trappers who went to live among the Indians.

From the beginning, the region of Canada was disputed between England and France. England controlled Hudson Bay, Newfoundland, and the southern coastal areas, while France centered its colonies around the St. Lawrence seaway and the great lakes. Britain's domination of the seas meant that its settlements were better supplied, and in closer contact with the mother country, but France's close relations with the Indian tribes gave it almost complete control of the fur trade, and easy access to the interior regions. During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, France and Britain were often at war, and although these conflicts went by different names in Europe, in the Americas, they were called the French Indian Wars. These Indian wars even continued when France and England were official at peace, but in spite of over seventy years of fighting, and many heroic and horrible events, nothing was permanently resolved until 1759, the year in which Britain conquered Quebec. Within a few years of that battle, fought between the famous Generals General Wolfe and General Montcalm, Britain had driven France from North America, and taken possession of all of her French colonies in the region.

Canada under British Rule—When Britain took control of New France, she allowed the French settlers to continue to govern themselves according to their own customs, and allowed freedom of worship for all Catholics. One exception to this general tolerance of their French subjects, occurred in Nova Scotia, were an independent settlement of Acadians refused to take an oath of loyalty to the British government. In consequence they were forcibly deported from the region, and many ended up in New Orleans. Many ethnic Cajuns in New Orleans are the descendents of these deported Acadians. The French-speaking colonies of Canada continued as a British province until 1791, when New France was partitioned into French-speaking Lower Canada, (modern Quebec), and English-speaking Upper Canada (modern Ontario). The reason for this, was that following the revolutionary war, a great number of Tory settlers had migrated to Upper Canada, and the two settlements were too dissimilar to rule under a single government. During this time other British colonies were also settled in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia.

Most of the British settlement at this time were located off the eastern seaboard, but traders from the Hudson Bay Company, a company first chartered by Charles II, were busy discovering and mapping the vast land to the west. The colonization of the western plains began in 1811 with the settlement of the Red River Valley, but the settlers there ran into many of the same troubles that plagued the earlier settlers in America: hostile Indians, disease, and hunger. Over a long period of time, however, the southern parts of Manitoba became a thriving colony. In the far west, George Vancouver explored the Columbia river basin and Vancouver Island, and claimed the entire region for Britain. Like most of the rest of western Canada, however, permanent settlement occurred slowly until the opening of the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1885.

Confederation of Canada—In the early 1830's, the elections reform bill in Great Britain resulted an a grand restructuring of the British Parliament. After this occurred many of the colonies, including the provinces of Canada, became enamored with the idea of democratic self-rule. In 1837 there were widespread riots in both Upper and Lower Canada in protest against the British colonial government. Lord Durham went to investigate and proposed the Union of the two provinces under limited self-rule. While the residents were still British subjects, they were allowed to elect parliaments and pass laws that pertained to local matters. In 1867, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia joined the confederation, followed by Manitoba and British Columbia in 1870, and Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. The last province to join the Canadian Federation was Newfoundland in 1947.

Characters—Colonies and Canada

Character/Date Short Biography


Humphrey Gilbert
Sea-faring adventurer. Founded the first English colony in Canada.
Martin Frobisher
Explored much of Canada in seach of the Northwest Passage. Fought in the Armada.
John Davis
British explorer who sought the Northwest Passage through Canada.
Henry Hudson
Explorer who discovered Hudson Bay and other parts of North America.
Jacques Cartier
Discovered the St. Lawrence Seaway and great lakes, while searching for Northwest Passage.
Pere Marquette
French Missionary who explored the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes.
Rene La Salle
Dauntless adventurer who followed the Mississippi to its mouth, and claimed all for France.
William Baffin
Discovered Baffin Bay while on a quest to find the Northwest Passage.
George Vancouver
Discovered Puget Sound, Vancouver Island, Columbia River; claimed region for Britain.
Alexander Mackenzie
Discovered the Mackenzie River and Great Northern Lakes of Canada.

French Heroes

Samuel de Champlain
Founded French colonies in the St. Lawrence seaway and great lake region. Father of 'New France.'
Count Frontenac
Governor of New France from 1672 to 1698. Expanded fur trade, and fought with British.
Madeline de Vercheres
Fended off a tribe of Indians attacking her for when she was only fourteen.
Led a group of volunteers form Montreal to ambush a force of Iroquois. The entire force was killed to a man.
Isaac Jogues
Heroic Jesuit missionary to Indians. Tortured by the Indians, but returned to preach the gospel.
General Montcalm
Military leader of New France during the Seven Year War; died at Battle of Quebec.

British Heroes

General Braddock
Led a disastrous campaign to Fort Duquesne (Ohio) during the French and Indian Wars.
General Wolfe
Defeated the French at the Battle of Quebec, giving Canada to Britain. Died during battle.
Lord Durham
Helped draft the Reform bill of 1832. Then recommended a form of self government for Canada.
Lord Selkirk
Obtained a land grand near Red River valley and help poor Scottish pioneers settle there.
Laura Secord
During War of 1812, warned a British Lieutenant of an impending surprise attack.

Native Heroes

Shawnee Hero. Tried to unify tribes against the colonists. Fought for Britain during War of 1812.
Louis Riel
Leader of the Metis tribes of Manitoba and Saskatchewan who fought for their rights.

Timeline—Colonies and Canada

AD YearEvent


1497 John Cabot claims Newfoundland for England.
1534 Jacques Cartier explores Gulf of St. Lawrence on first voyage.
1576 Martin Frobisher searches for the Northwest Passage.
1583 Humphrey Gilbert attempts to found colony in Newfoundland.
1611 Henry Hudson is killed by a mutinous crew in Hudson Bay.
1789 Alexander Mackenzie crosses Canada, discovers Mackenzie River and Artic Ocean.
1792 George Vancouver discovers Vancouver Island and Puget Sound.

French colonies

1542 Jacques Cartier fails to establish permanent colonies on third voyage.
1562-98 French Wars of religion interrupt settlement. Huguenots forbidden to emigrate.
1608 Samuel de Champlain establishes a French colony at Quebec; becomes capital of New France.
1615 First Catholic missionaries sent to New France to convert natives.
1632 Colony at Port Royal on Bay of Fundy re-established; becomes capital of Acadia.
1646 Isaac Jogues, missionary to the Hurons, tortured, martyred by Mohawks.
1682-92 Count Frontenac first term as governor of New France. Protects colonists from Iroquois.
1755-63 French Indian Wars results in loss of French colonies in America.
1755 Defeat of British General Braddock at Battle of Fort Duquesne.
1755 Acadians from Nova Scotia forced to relocate.
1759 At the Battle of Quebec General Wolfe wins New France for the British.

British Canada

1670 Hudson Bay Trading Company chartered by Charles II.
1763 Treaty of Paris grants New France to Britain on condition of religious liberty for Catholics.
1776 Canada declines to revolt against Britain, due to British toleration for French Catholics.
1783 Emigration of Tories in lower colonies to Canadian dominions after Revolutionary War.
1791 Former territories of New France partitioned into Lower and Upper Canada.
1837 Rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada against British rule.
1840 Act of Union, unites Upper and Lower Canada.
1867 New Brunswick and Nova Scotia join Canadian Federation.
1870 Manitoba and British Columbia join Canadian Federation.
1885 Completion of Canadian Pacific Rail, Montreal to Vancouver.
1905 Saskatchewan and Albert join Canadian Federation.
1949 Newfoundland joins Canadian Federation.

Recommended Reading—Colonies and Canada

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments

Marshall - Our Empire Story   Part I—Canada to Louis Riel (22)
Home - Canada: Peeps at History    entire book

Also Recommended

Gaskoin - The Hanoverians   Britains Beyond the Sea (1)
Synge - The Reign of Queen Victoria   Canadian Federation to Dominion of Canada (2)
Synge - A Book of Discovery   Cabot Sails to Newfoundland to Franklin Discovers Passage (21)