The Oldest City In Canada

There are a few versions of what is the oldest city in Canada.  It might actually depend on how you look at it. Pre Canada, actually began long before the first city was established.  It was during the final glacial period that the Paleo-Indians migrated from Alaska which was not yet America. Through the next thousands of years, indigenous groups would establish settlements across Canada reaching from what is now considered the West Coast to the East Coast.

Europeans landed in Canada as early as 1497.  The theory is that St. John’s Newfoundland was actually the first settlement, and discovered by John Cabot, however there is evidence that there was a colony there up to 500 years prior.  Sir Humphrey Gilbert of Britain established a formal claim to the island in 1583 and created barriers in the form of penalties to any settlement on the island as they took advantage of the abundant fish trade.  Although it was established in 1519, It was not until 1855 that a local government was formed. The city was incorporated in 1888.

Quebec was first claimed in 1534 by Jacques Cartier through the St. Lawrence River.  Most settled along the river and in what is now known as the Montreal area.  Quebec City which held the highest population for a period, incorporated in 1608 which allows some to say it is the oldest city in Canada. Within Quebec, 78% of the population was french which remains the predominant language as up to 95% of the population speaks French today.

Canada also survived an attempted annex by the Americans who were equipped, over confident and disorganized in 1812.  Even though they had way more people than Canada, their forces were minimal and inefficient.  For some reason they felt that Canadians would welcome their “liberation” as many were outraged at the taxes that were being imposed and sent back to Britain.  With the amount of fire power and the logistics of the layout, Britain easily ended the American effort with the help of the Shawnee chief at the time Tecumseh who intercepted a supply train.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were actually the first provinces to unite in 1867 under the British Colonies to become the Confederation of Canada.  So even though we had our 100th birthday in 2017, we were not all part of the family until 1999 when Nunuvut was included.

Following is the actual confederation birthdays for the current provinces as taken from

Province/TerritoryDate of Entry
AlbertaSeptember 1, 1905
British ColumbiaJuly 20, 1871
ManitobaJuly 15, 1870
New BrunswickJuly 1, 1867
NewfoundlandMarch 31, 1949
Northwest TerritoriesJuly 15, 1870
Nova ScotiaJuly 1, 1867
NunavutApril 1, 1999
OntarioJuly 1, 1867
Prince Edward IslandJuly 1, 1873
QuebecJuly 1, 1867
SaskatchewanSeptember 1, 1905
YukonJune 13, 1898

How did the Capital cities of each province get their names?

  • Ottawa (ON) comes from the Algonquin word “adawe” witch means to trade.
  • St. John’s (NFLD) was first recorded as Rio de San Johem by a Portuguese explorer
  • Halifax (NS) was named after Lord Halifax who was the president of the British Board of Trade
  • Fredericton (NB) was named after Prince Frederick, Duke of York
  • Charlottetown (PEI) was named in honour of Queen Charlotte
  • Québec (QC) is from the Algonquin language “narrow passage” or “straight”
  • Winnipeg (MB) was named by The Cree who named the lake to the north “Win” (muddy) and “nipee” (water)
  • Regina (SK) was named in honor of Queen Victoria by Princess Louise
  • Edmonton (AB) was named by the Hudsons Bay Company as Fort Edmonton, a trading post
  • Victoria (BC) was named by the Hudsons Bay Company after Queen Victoria as Fort Victoria, a trading post
  • Iqaluit (NU) was re-named by the Iqaluit meaning “place of many fish” from Frobisher Bay
  • Yellowknife (NWT) named after the aboriginal group “T’atsaot’ine”, or “Yellowknives”
  • White Horse (YT) named after Yukon River in which the rapids looked like manes of white horses

Although this is a great history of the country as we know it, there is a bigger history that needs to be acknowledged in this article.  And that is the colonization of this land by the indigenous people who were actually here thousands of years prior to the Europeans who migrated from England and France.  As the populations arrived with modern city experience and the know how, to benefit from the agriculture and natural resources, the landscape began to change.

Although we are fully aware of the work by Europeans to convert and pillage the people who were already here, there were also alliances built with the first nations by France in their quest to claim Canada as their own. They were however no match for the size of the British forces.  It was after this attempt that a Treaty of Paris put the land under British rule in 1763.

I am also interested in any ways that the Europeans might have worked to integrate with the people who were already here as they forced the transition of this country to what it is today.  Good or bad is still yet to be determined and an entirely separate article.   We do know about the atrocities that occurred during those centuries and it is nice to see that some amendments are being attempted. There is a great resource for the history of First Nations in Canada located on the Government of Canada website.

Disclaimer: I am not in any way a historian, this interesting information was compiled as a result of research using the Library of Archives in Canada for verification, various articles and of course Histories of cities in Canada on Wikepedia.

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