The European And British Colonisation Of Canada

The following article consists of my recent academic essay in the course ‘Canadian Culture and Literature’ as part of my MA degree in British culture and civilisation at Ștefan cel Mare University of Suceava (USV).

Canada is the northernmost country in North America and a country with a relatively recent history compared to other countries across Europe, yet with very strong historical, social, geopolitical, and economic ties to both the United Kingdom of Great Britain and northern Ireland as well as France. It is a multicultural and multi-ethnic country with a rich colonial heritage stemming from both the British and the French. The British colonisation of Canada is thus the main focus of this Canadian Culture and Literature (CLC) essay, but before that I included a brief historical description of the European presence in Canada prior to British rule as I deemed this very important for a better overview of the subject of European colonisation in Canada at large.

The total territorial extent of the British Empire worldwide in 1897, with Canada being a constituent dominion situated to the west and northwest across the turbulent waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

Thus, although Canada was mainly colonised by both the British and the French, it should be mentioned that the first known European settlers in Canada were, in fact, Norwegian Vikings who crossed the North Atlantic Ocean past what they described as Helluland and Markland and arrived in a territory that they called ‘Vinland‘ (i.e. the Land of Wine, but actually in Old Norsevin‘ means meadow or plain). The Norwegian Vikings actually settled in Newfoundland, part of the contemporary Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador on the east coast of Canada in circa 1000, where they founded a colony that did not last long at L’anse-aux-Meadows (or L’anse aux Meduses as the settlement is known in French). The Norse colony in Newfoundland did not last long as the Norsemen and Norsewomen led by Leif Erikson came into conflict with the indigenous/native population known as the ‘Skrælings’.

Subsequently, the Norse colonists would be overrun and defeated by these Native Americans known as ‘Skrælings’ (known in both Danish and Norwegian as ‘Skrælinger’). These so-called Skrælings could have very likely been the Beothuk population native to Newfoundland (or Native Americans belonging to the Dorset culture whose territorial extent stretched far away to the northern islands of present-day Canada). Either way, the Native Americans that the Norsemen encountered in Newfoundland were the ancestors of the later Beothuk culture (now an extinct Native American group of the First Nations) whose population subsequently came into contact with other Europeans during the 16th century.

Thus, the European presence on today’s Canadian territory (represented at that time by Europeans of Scandinavian origin, more specifically Norwegian) would end for several centuries to come. These events and the entire history of the discovery of the North American continent by the Norwegian Vikings led by Leif Erikson and the establishment of their colony in Vinland/Newfoundland were recorded in two Icelandic sagas.

Long after the events recorded in the two Icelandic sagas about the arrival and colonisation of Vinland by the Norwegian Vikings (more precisely ‘Grænlendinga saga’, i.e. ‘The Saga of the Greenlanders’, respectively ‘Eiríks saga rauða’, i.e. ‘The Saga of Erik the Red’, another famous Norwegian explorer and the father of Leif Erikson or Leif the Lucky) took place, the Europeans would once again colonise the North American continent throughout the modern period, this time represented by the western colonial powers, more specifically the French and the British (in particular the English). It must be mentioned first that Canada was initially colonised mostly by the French along the east coast, but the French colonies were later ceded to the British Empire after the Treaty of Paris in 1763 (the treaty also provided the ceding of some French colonial territories in India to the British Empire).

The French later lost control of their North American territories to the British and French Canada became a British Dominion and, later on, a very important constituent country of the British Commonwealth. British colonisation, however, did not end in the eastern part of Canada, but progressively continued and gradually spread out in the Canadian mainland, advancing into central Canada, northern Canada, and western Canada.

The British colonisation of Canada did not only include (or was solely limited to) ethnic English people, but also other native peoples of the United Kingdom, namely the Irish and the Scottish. To this day, the British colonial legacy can be clearly seen in geopolitical terms, with Canada still part of the Commonwealth and recognising the British monarch as their head of state, yet also having a Prime Minister (exactly as Australia and New Zealand).

Documentation sources and external links:

  1. L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site on (UNESCO’s official website)
  2. Where is Vinland? on (Canadian Mysteries)
  3. Who were the Skrælings? on (Canadian Mysteries)
  4. Groenlendinga saga on Encyclopædia Britannica online
  5. Războiul de șapte ani (1756 – 1763), Istoria: Enciclopedie pentru întreaga familie, Ediutra Teora, 2009, 2004, paginile 300 și 301 (in Romanian)
  6. America de nord 1675 – 1791, Istoria: Enciclopedie pentru întreaga familie, Editura Teora, 2009, 2004, paginile 302 și 303 (in Romanian)

You can also download my academic essay in the course ‘Canadian Culture and Literature’ here. Thank you very much for your time, attention, and readership! All the best!

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