During the last ice age, around 15,000-30,000 years ago, the first people arrived in Canada after crossing over the land bridge between Asia and North America. These first peoples eventually migrated to every corner of North and South America. They thrived for thousands of years in a variety of different environments before the arrival of Europeans. Inuit and First Nations adapted to their environments to meet their needs of food, clothing, and shelter, and developed sophisticated spiritual and cultural practices.
Inuit are the Native inhabitants of arctic Canada. Canadian First Nations are often divided into geographic areas. These cultural regions encompass hundreds of First Nations that had similar cultures which were adapted to a common environment. The Eastern Woodlands make up the region in the eastern part of Canada that is thick with boreal forests. The Great Lakes region has the Iroquoian First Nations. The land here is fertile and lush. The Plains First Nations are in the grasslands of the Canadian Prairies. The Plateau is a region where there is semi-arid land in the south and high mountains in the north. The Northwest Coast or Pacific Coast boasts giant red cedar trees for building large houses and totem poles as well as abundant salmon and shellfish. The Mackenzie and Yukon River Basins are barren with drastic temperatures of -40°F in the winter and 86°F in the summer. It is estimated that about 200,000 First Nations and Inuit were living in what is now Canada when the Europeans began to colonize.
European contact first began around 1000 CE with Lief Eriksson, the Viking explorer who sailed to Newfoundland, Canada. Almost five hundred years later in 1497, Italian explorer Giovanni Caboto (or John Cabot) sailed under the sponsorship of England. He landed in Newfoundland and claimed it for the British. In 1534, French explorer Jacques Cartier sailed to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and claimed land for France. Seventy years later, with the expedition of Samuel de Champlain, the first French settlement was established in Port Royal.
While the French concentrated on the area of Quebec, the British lay claim to the region they called "Rupert's Land" with the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. The company's focus was fur trapping and trading beaver pelts. The fur trade in Canada began in the 1600s and lasted for 250 years. The popularity of European felt hats drove the business, and the fur trade was a main driver for European colonization of Canada. In Europe, the beaver was almost extinct, but there were plenty in North America! The French and British both wanted to make money from the fur trade and control the land while First Nations sought to maintain their land rights and heritage. The fur trade was the most important industry in the region and it increased the wealth and power of those that controlled it. With it came new settlers, missionaries, and everyone vying for control over the land. In the early 1600s, the French traded with First Nations such as the Huron and Algonquin for beaver pelts. Later, the British traded with First Nations, such as those in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The Métis are descendants of both First Nations and European fur traders.
British and French farmers and fur traders fought over land between 1689 and 1763. The French and Indian War (or Seven Years War), which ended in 1763, resulted in the French losing control of Canada, ceding it to the British. However, because of their early colonization, French influence is still strongly a part of the Canadian identity today. English and French are both official languages and the province of Quebec is primarily French speaking.
In 1763, the British were in control of both the American Colonies and Canada. However, in 1776, the American colonists submitted their Declaration of Independence from Great Britain and subsequently fought the American Revolution. After seven years of battles, the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 making the United States an independent nation and officially creating a border between the U.S. and British Canada. After the American Revolutionary War, the remaining colonies of British North America saw a large influx of British Loyalists which would have a large impact on the region and shape it for decades to come.