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  Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior  by Frances Anne Hopkins  1869. Courtesy the Glenbow Museum                               

Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior by Frances Anne Hopkins  1869. Courtesy the Glenbow Museum                               

The Fur Trade and the Opening of Canada: 1400 - 1867

Across the future Canada, communities of Aboriginal Peoples inhabit a land of lakes and rivers. They hunt beaver and other fur-bearing animals. European explorers, searching for a shortcut to China, encounter an unknown continent. Cabot reaches Newfoundland.  Iroquois leader Donnacona leads Cartier up the St. Lawrence River to his kanata where there is an abundance of beaver.  The furs become a fashion rage in Europe.  To meet growing demand, Champlain builds a settlement at Quebec and explores inland.  The Algonquin and Huron exchange fur pelts with coureurs-de-bois  for goods made of iron.  The Great Lakes basin is mapped. 

Radisson and des Groseilliers, working for the English king, plan to ship furs out of Hudson Bay and the Hudson's Bay Company is born.  The French, led by La Verendrye, counter with a string of posts stretching west from Lake Superior. The struggle for empire between France and England leads to the Seven Years' War.  Wolfe defeats Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham and New France becomes a British colony. English merchants take over the French fur trade and create the North West Company.  Exploration reaches the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. For almost 250 years, the fur trade drives the economy and opens up a country called Canada.

 Canadians go "over the top" in trench warfare in France   

Canadians go "over the top" in trench warfare in France

 

The Call of Empire: 1914 - 1916

Peace reigns across the vast Dominion of Canada.  Railroads tie the country together and disperse a flood of immigrants.  Europe, where the Triple Alliance opposes the Triple Entente, is a powderkeg ready to explode.  The fuse is lit when the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary is assassinated by a Serbian nationalist.  The Great War ignites. Germany’s assault on France through neutral Belgium pulls the British Empire, including Canada, into the war.  

Canada answers The Call of Empire by authorizing the Canadian Expeditionary Force.   33,000 recruits train at Camp Valcartier.  Sailing for France amid great fanfare, the First Canadian Division enters the trench lines in the dangerous Ypres Salient in early 1915. The untested Canadians face horrific conditions and choking chlorine gas.  Lt.-Col. John McCrae pens his iconic poem, In Flanders Fields.  At home, Canadian industry shifts to war production.  Munitions factories send a million shells a month to the Western Front.  Farm production soars and Canada supplies food to her allies.  Some 4,000 Aboriginal Peoples leave reservations to volunteer.  Visible minorities also enlist – among them are 2,600 African Canadians. In 1916, epic battles are fought at Verdun and at the Somme.   After two years of staggering casualties and dreaded telegrams, the stark reality of total war hangs heavily on Canadians.

 Labour shortages in factories and farms are solved by employing more women.

Labour shortages in factories and farms are solved by employing more women.

Ordeal by Fire: 1916 - 1918

The Western Front remains deadlocked.  The technology of warfare is advancing rapidly, especially in the development of aircraft.  Canadian aces, like Billy Bishop, duel in dogfights high over the Western Front. The Allied situation in Europe is deteriorating fast.   But a significant victory occurs when the Canadians capture the bastion of Vimy Ridge. The sacrifices of young Canadians overseas encourage even more sacrifices on the Home Front.  Workers are told to produce more.  Food rationing begins.  People cultivate backyard gardens.  To pay for the war, the first ever income tax is introduced.  The endless slaughter on the Western Front causes the number of recruits to dwindle.  Prime Minister Borden passes the Military Service Act making overseas military service compulsory for all men aged 20 to 45.  Conscription sets off a firestorm of protest, especially in Quebec. It is the central issue in the election of 1917.  A massive explosion levels large sections of Halifax, killing 2,000. 

Amid a quagmire of mud, the Canadians take Passchendaele Ridge in yet another Ordeal by Fire. In 1918, Russia pulls out of the war.  Germany unleashes all its forces along the Western Front.  The great German attack falters and the Allies launch a grand offensive.  Time and again, the Canadian Corps provides the shock troops.  It is Canada’s Hundred Days – victory follows victory.  On the verge of collapse, the Germans sue for peace.  The Kaiser abdicates.  An Armistice ends the war on November 11, 1918.  Four years of mass slaughter come to an end.

 
 
 Canadian troops march off to war in New Westminster, BC.  1940

Canadian troops march off to war in New Westminster, BC.  1940

Days of Despair: 1939 - 1942

1939.  The Great Depression lingers amid gathering war clouds in Europe and Asia.   The policy of appeasement fails.  Hitler's invasion of Poland signals the beginning of the Second World War.  Canada, now free to make foreign policy decisions, goes to war against Germany. Canada's armed forces are woefully weak but 60,000 men volunteer to fight within a month.  Prime minister MacKenzie King promises no overseas conscription and wins the election of 1940.  C.D. Howe is in charge of wartime production.  The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan makes Canada the aerodrome of democracy. Using blitzkrieg tactics, Germany attacks Western Europe.  Despite the Miracle of Dunkirk, France falls.  RCAF pilots are among the so few in the Battle of Britain.  Hitler turns on Russia and Japan surprises the Americans at Pearl Harbor.  Canada is now at war with all the Axis Powers.  The Japanese overrun Canadian defenders at Hong Kong. Fear spreads along Canada's west coast.  22,000 Japanese Canadians are sent to camps in the interior of B.C.  Canadians mobilize for total war.  War production soars.  Prices and wages are frozen.  Food and gasoline are rationed.  A million women trade their dresses for overalls and go to work in the war plants or enlist with the armed forces. Canadian supplies become a lifeline to Britain.  The Battle of the Atlantic rages.  Convoys sailing from Halifax face an ocean infested with German U-Boats.  By mid-1942, the Axis is at the height of its power.  The ill-fated Dieppe Raid echoes Canada's Days of Despair.

 Canadian troops exit landing craft at Juno Beach on D-Day,  June 6, 1944

Canadian troops exit landing craft at Juno Beach on D-Day,  June 6, 1944

Road to Victory: 1942 - 1945

Late 1942.  The grim war news of the past three years becomes more encouraging.  Axis expansion is stopped at Midway, El Alamein and Stalingrad.  The Allies are on the Road to Victory. The RCN helps to smash the Nazi wolf packs.  Canadian forces play a key role in the drive through Sicily and up the narrow Italian peninsula.  They face a stiff battle at Ortona.  The RCAF, flying Canadian-built Lancasters, is in the thick of raids on German cities. Canada is a country transformed by war.  War production accelerates and unemployment is negligible.  Bren Girls become national heroines.  Canadians use it up, wear it out, make it do and do without.  The country's social compass begins to change as the appeal of social security spreads.  Canadians look to government to protect them from a return to pre-war economic depression. 

On D-Day, 14,000 Canadians land at Juno Beach.  The fighting to close the Falaise Gap and trap several German divisions is intense.  The Canadian Army clears the Germans from the Channel Ports.  The liberation of Dieppe is especially triumphant. But, the war in Europe isn't over yet.  Canadian forces dislodge the stubborn Germans from the muck of the Scheldt Estuary and open the vital supply port of Antwerp.  Starving, but grateful Dutch welcome Canadian liberators.  The Canadian Army is poised to enter Germany. At home, Mackenzie King survives the Conscription Crisis by agreeing to send 16,000 conscripted men to Europe.  Few will see action.  By spring 1945, Nazi Germany is crumbling.   Canadian Generals accept the German surrender in Holland.  In Canada, jubilation as the country celebrates VE Day.   Atomic bombs bring sudden closure to the war in Asia.  In the moment of triumph, Canadians mourn the loss of 42,000 citizens.  In peacetime, Canadians are eager to put the war behind them.  

 Victory in Europe Celebrations on Bay Street, Toronto.  May 8, 1945 

Victory in Europe Celebrations on Bay Street, Toronto.  May 8, 1945 

Land of Promise: 1945 - 1954

May 1945.  It seems all Canada is one big street party.  The war in Europe is over.  Jubilant crowds flood into the streets.  A million veterans come home.  Canada has been spared the worst ravages of war, but 42,000 are dead.  Three months later, atomic bombs put a sudden and ominous end to the war against Japan.  Booming wartime production has heaved the country out of the Great Depression.  Inflation is low, purchasing power is high, and jobs and consumer goods are plentiful.  Oil is discovered at Leduc, Alberta.  The great surge of peacetime prosperity is a harbinger of a Land of Promise. The economic boom is echoed by the baby boom.  Immigration soars and the population surpasses 14 million in 1951.  Suburbs spring up and Canadians cruise the new Trans-Canada Highway in chrome-laden, high-powered V-8s.  CBC television makes its first appearance in living rooms.  Canada takes a prominent place on the world stage.  The Cold War causes rising tensions between NATO and the Soviet Union.  The threat of nuclear annihilation is an unthinkable possibility.  Canadian troops are sent into battle in Korea.  Igor Gouzenko, a Soviet defector, exposes a wide-spread Russian spy-ring that includes a Member of Parliament. St. Laurent replaces Mackenzie King as prime minister, Newfoundland joins Confederation, and the winds of change blow over Quebec.  The Massey Commission heralds an enormous outpouring of artistic creativity.  Hurricane Hazel, Bannister-Landy, and Marilyn Bell grab newspaper headlines.  By 1954, Canadians enjoy the second highest standard of living in the world.  

 
 
 The Canadian designed and built delta-winged interceptor aircraft the  Avro Arrow.

The Canadian designed and built delta-winged interceptor aircraft the Avro Arrow.

Optimism and Uncertainty: 1955 - 1963

The fabulous fifties are in full swing.  The post-war economic boom rolls along and the country is imbued with optimism.  Many baby boomers are now teenagers, alive with the sound of rock-and-roll.  Elvis is king and teens hula-hoop to the beat of Canadian heart-throb Paul Anka. Quebec is bursting with energy.  Premier Jean Lesage wants to break the dominance of English Canadians on Quebec's economy.  The Quiet Revolution sweeps through Quebec.  A radical fringe group, the FLQ, begins a small-scale terror campaign, exploding bombs in English areas of Montreal. More women begin to work outside the home ... helped by the pill and Betty Freidan's The Feminine Mystique.  As the good times soar, jet travel takes off.  Maurice the Rocket Richard is a national hero. The first televised election sees Diefenbaker populism defeat the Liberals.  The St. Lawrence Seaway is opened and huge irrigation, hydro, and oil and gas projects are undertaken.   Dief the Chief refuses to put nuclear warheads on Canadian soil.  The spectacular Avro Arrow is scrapped and the Cuban Missile Crisis brings the world to the brink of nuclear destruction. Political difficulties deepen and the Diefenbaker government falls in 1963. The Liberals, under Nobel Prize-winning Lester Pearson, claim victory and set about mending fences with the U.S.  Who could know that Canada stood on the verge of massive social upheaval?  

 Canadians flock to Montreal's Expo 67 to celebrate the country's 100th birthday.

Canadians flock to Montreal's Expo 67 to celebrate the country's 100th birthday.

Seeking an Identity: 1964 - 1972

Canada celebrates its 100th Birthday. A new flag, the Maple Leaf, flies over the land.  Paul Henderson's winning goal against the Russians is a touchstone experience for all Canadians.  The outward signs of Ca-nah-dah, we love thee are everywhere. But below the surface, there are indications of a search for a national identity.  Two million baby boomers try to find themselves in the youth rebellion; many embrace the hippie creed of counter-culture.  Make love, not war becomes the anthem of flower children who advocate marijuana and free love.  Older Canadians find love-ins, psychedelic music, and the Beatles distressing.  Counter-culture has a profound effect -- on politics, business, and the arts. Quebec seethes.  Bombs go off in Westmount.  RenĂ© LĂ©vesque establishes the Parti QuĂ©bĂ©cois.  Canada is rocked by the October Crisis.  The War Measures Act is invoked.  All eyes are on Quebec's angry new nationalist movement. The country yearns for a dynamic leader.  Somebody new; somebody youthful.  They find it in Pierre Elliott Trudeau - groovy, sexy, switched on to the youth movement.  Trudeau promises a  Just Society.  Trudeaumania sweeps the country and the country sweeps in change. Canada becomes a bilingual.  Medicare is introduced.  A dynamic women's movement emerges. 

 Terry Fox attempts to run across Canada in his Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer and wins the hearts of the nation.

Terry Fox attempts to run across Canada in his Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer and wins the hearts of the nation.

Turbulent Years: 1973 - 1980

1973. The Economist names Canada as the best country in which to live.   Turbulent years are ahead.  Skyrocketing energy prices create double-digit inflation and trigger wage and price controls. Unemployment grows, government deficits mount, and the country wallows in stagflation.  Emerging forces challenge the traditional Canadian fabric. Quebec nationalists denounce Confederation. Women demand equal opportunity. Canada increasingly becomes a multicultural mosaic. Gone is sixties-style protest and counterculture; the Me Generation has arrived. Adult baby-boomers seek personal improvement and self-fulfillment.  Divorce and abortion rates climb.  The seductive sound of disco is in. Saturday Night Fever becomes an icon for a generation. Toronto welcomes the Blue Jays.  The NHL expands from 12 to 21 teams. Joe Clark heads a short-lived Conservative government and a jubilant Trudeau greets television viewers on election night with Welcome to the eighties. In Quebec, RenĂ© LĂ©vesque heads an energetic separatist movement.  English Canada recoils with disbelief when the Parti QuĂ©bĂ©cois wins a landslide election victory and passes Bill 101.  The federalist victory in the 1980 Quebec Referendum ends the turbulent 1973-1980 years.

 
 
 Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau watches as Queen Elizabeth II signs Canada's new Constitution.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau watches as Queen Elizabeth II signs Canada's new Constitution.

The Gilded Eighties: 1981 - 1988

1981. The worst recession since the Great Depression staggers the nation.  Interest rates top 20%; inflation and unemployment reach double-digits; governments run massive deficits.  The economy shrinks. Within two years, a rebounding economy ushers in the gilded eighties.  The signs of wealth are everywhere.  High technology becomes the order of the day.  Teenagers gravitate to video arcades and the VCR becomes a must-have appliance. The new Constitution is Trudeau's last hurrah.  In the wake of his departure, Brian Mulroney wins a landslide victory and moves the nation closer to the United States. A free trade agreement is signed between friends.  Canada's leaders agree on the Meech Lake Accord.  It recognizes Quebec as a distinct society, but must be ratified within three years. The prosperity of the gilded eighties gives Canadians time to reflect.  Spurred on by gaps in the ozone layer and acid rain, Canadians dutifully put out their recycle boxes.  Large government deficits bring universality into question.  Pope John Paul II comes to Canada as do hundreds of thousands of immigrants of a multicultural background.  Canadians marvel as the Gretzky-Lemieux combination wins the Canada Cup. Calgary hosts the most successful Olympics ever.

 Roberta Bondar, Canada's first female astronaut, rockets into space aboard the NASA Space Shuttle  Discovery .

Roberta Bondar, Canada's first female astronaut, rockets into space aboard the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery.

Brave New World: 1989 - 1995

1989. Powerful forces are transforming Canada.  The old world is sliding away; the new world seems uncertain.  Everywhere change is profound.  The collapse of the Berlin Wall heralds the end of the Communist threat.  Free trade with the United States, and then with Mexico, is a reality.  Technology pervades daily life.  The information highway arrives.  An American team wins the Grey Cup. A persistent economic recession amplifies a national sense of unease.  Companies downsize and governments slash their budgets.  Unemployment reaches 1.5 million.  University students lament being out of school and out of work. The east coast fishery founders and prices for prairie crops dip below Great Depression levels.  An underground economy, abetted by the new GST, flourishes.  Mulroney's attempts to unify the country fail.  Meech Lake dies and Canadians say No to the Charlottetown Accord.  The ChrĂ©tien Liberals fare no better.  A disenchanted Lucien Bouchard founds the Bloc QuĂ©bĂ©cois and the separatists almost win a sovereignty referendum. Canadians weather the challenging times by becoming leaner and more skilled. Night school computer classes overflow.  Businesses purchase lap-tops, cellular phones and go on-line. Lifestyle ads abound.  Millions eat wiser, stop smoking, and roller blade. A collage of events flashes by Canadians:  Roberta Bondar rocketing into space; a stand-off at Oka; the Lambada; Clayoquot Sound protests; the Blue Jays winning back-to-back world series - dramatic symbols of a Brave New World.

 Fireworks over the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa ring in the year 2000 and the start of a new millennium.

Fireworks over the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa ring in the year 2000 and the start of a new millennium.

Towards the New Millennium: 1996 - 2000

1996.  Canada's Donovan Bailey becomes the world's fastest man.  His Olympic victory seems a sign of the times.  Canadians find their lives moving quickly towards the new millennium.  The recession of the early 90's abates and the economy ignites.  Technology stars such as Nortel Networks push the stock market to bullish heights.  Canadians are fascinated with e-mail and lead the world in Internet use.  A growth spurt in the oil patch propels Calgary as the powerhouse of the West.  But prairie grain farmers suffer and many face bankruptcy. Ravaged by government cutbacks, health care, education, and the environment ail.  A series of weather disasters - floods on the Saguenay and Red Rivers and the Great Ice Storm - remind Canadians that they ignore the environment at their peril.  An era in hockey ends.  Rocket Richard dies and Wayne Gretzky retires.  Canadian divas -  Celine Dion, Sarah McLaughlin, Shania Twain - dominate world music charts.  Teens attend huge, all-night dance parties called raves. The Liberals, led by Jean ChrĂ©tien, continue to dominate federal politics and win majority governments in 1997 and 2000.  A new party, the Canadian Alliance, is born in an attempt to unite the right.  Parliament puts federal finances in order and settles a ground-breaking aboriginal land claim treaty with the Nisga'a.  A new territory, Nunavut, is created in the Eastern Arctic. The sovereignty issue in Quebec ebbs. As the millennium approaches, there is widespread fear the dreaded Y2K bug will shut down computers and modern life.  Nevertheless, Canadians join in spectacular global celebrations as the calendar changes from 1999 to 2000.  But the dawning of the new millennium is tinged in sorrow.  Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's death unleashes a tidal wave of national grief.  The country's destiny passes into the hands of a new generation as Canada enters the new millennium.