Discovered by the English – John Cabot, 1497
Explored and Settled by the French – Samuel de Champlain, 1608
Conquered by the English – Seven Years War, 1756-63
Fought the Americans to maintain their status as Englishmen – 1775-1815
to Dominion, 1867, consisting of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
to Independence within the British Commonwealth, 1932
|Parliament from the National Gallery of Art|
|House of Commons|
Though Canada and America are close allies -- connected by the longest friendly border, the English language, the Great Plains serving as a breadbasket, large-scale free trade, and democratic traditions -- most Americans have little familiarity with Canadian history. While sharing colonial roots…. Canada followed a different course, maintaining its independence from the US and aligning itself with the British Empire.
The eastern and most of the maritime Canadian provinces combined in 1867 to become a unified government with Ottawa, a centrally located town, becoming its capital. The more likely choice was one of three bustling cities -- Kingston, Montreal or Quebec -- which had competed for the honor. However, Queen Victoria, probably as a compromise, selected this little known provincial town as the seat of the Canadian government. In the early 1800’s, Ottawa had developed as a trading and farming center along the Ottawa River. In 1832, the Rideau Canal was dug from Kingston on Lake Ontario to Ottawa as a trade route to bypass the potential American military threat on the Great Lakes, should there be another “War of 1812” between the two nations. Though possible at times in the first half of the 19th century, conflict never came as both the American and British governments had strong interests in settling border disputes (Webster-Ashburton Treaty 1843 and the Oregon Treaty 1846). Peace has characterized the relationship since that time.
The Canadian Parliament building—a Victorian structure sits high on a ridge overlooking the Ottawa River and bordered by the Rideau Canal. The House of Commons members are popularly elected; the Senate members hold honorific positions with little real power. They are appointed by the Governor-General upon recommendation by the Prime Minister. As a constitutional monarch, the Queen is the head of government. She appoints a Governor-General as her representative, who routinely ratifies all laws passed by the Commons. The current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, comes from the majority conservative party. While maintaining the trappings of the British Commonwealth, Canada is a firmly established, independent democracy.