How Old is Canada Really?
How Old is Canada Today In 2017, Canada celebrated the 150th anniversary of its confederation. Is this, however, an accurate representation of Canada’s age? What about the thousands of years of European history, thousands of years of indigenous history, and the millions of years of natural history that have shaped Canada?
Exploring a Canada’s age
In 2017, The 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation was commemorated. For Canada’s 150th “birthday,” parties were planned across the country, but the celebrations have prompted the question, “How accurate is this age?” For thousands of years, First Nations communities have lived in what is now known as Canada, despite the land itself being billions of years old.
Gabby from She Blogs Canada comments on the significance of this landmark celebration, saying:
“I imagine a strong country when I think of Canada. The people are warm and welcoming, and Canadian pride is excellent. Many things distinguish Canadians, such as saying ‘eh,’ eating poutine, and saying sorry at the first opportunity! We have a strong bond, which makes it challenging to believe Canada is only 150 years old. You’d think a country with so much wisdom and pride would be much older, but that’s precisely what makes Canada so unique..”
However, it may be older. From Fort Howe to the Alberta Badlands, there is a wealth of history discovered during a vacation in Canada. Its colorful past is littered with events that have ushered in a new era in Canadian history. In this timeline, we look at some of the most significant events in Canadian history before posing a question. – how old is Canada today in 2021?
Billions of years old?
Canada’s geographical age
With its imposing mountains, mysterious old-growth forests, and more lakes than the rest of the world combined, Canada’s landscape certainly feels like one a long time in the making. Although many consider Canada a young country, the geography of the land belies a much older history – one that stretches back many millions of years.
Dr. Francois Therrien, Curator of Palaeoecology at the Royal Tyrrell Museum explains:
Canada is made of several pieces of crust that have been “glued” (or accreted) together over billions of years. We have some of the oldest rocks on Earth in the Northwestern Territories and Nunavut that are up to 4 billion years old.”
However, the land as it was then is not quite what we would call Canada today. Therrien says, “It’s only sometime during or after the Archean (4 – 2.5 billion years ago) that small continents and pieces of crust collided together to form what we call today the Canadian Shield. Other parts of the country (the Appalachians, western prairies, Rocky Mountains and so on) were added through collision with islands and continents and sedimentation in oceans over the last 2.5 billion years. The Canada that we know today is a relatively recent construction (less than 65 million years old) but it is composed of fragments of crust that are as old as 4 billion years.”
Nim Singh from Destination Canada recommends visiting the province of Newfoundland and Labrador if you want to find out more about the nation’s prehistoric past, saying:
“This Province is unique. No other easily-reached place on the planet has a geological record that so fully reveals the history of the Earth, going back almost to its birth over 4.5 billion years ago. In the North of Labrador, the Province’s oldest rocks are dated at 3.87 billion years of age, amongst the oldest discovered anywhere on Earth. The rocks of Signal Hill are 550 million years old — 100 million years older than the eastern Appalachian Mountains, and over 400 million years older than the western Rocky Mountains!”
Nim says visiting the Johnson Geo Centre is a must to uncover more of Canada’s geographical past. This center in St John’s is built in a natural rock basin originally filled with peat, covering glacial till and boulders. Nestled between 500 feet of exposed rock falls, the center explores the history of the solar system, the province, and people. Even the heating system is fascinating. Six geothermal walls extract heat from the deep rocks in the winter and dissipate it into them in summer!
Its oldest life forms
However, there is also proof of living organisms dating back almost as far as Canada. As Dr. Francois Therrien explains, “Just recently, the putative fossils of the oldest life forms (unicellular organisms that lived near hydrothermal vents) have been found in northern Québec, their age being somewhere between 3.77 and 4.28 billion years old.” Of course, as she notes, Canada didn’t exist in those days – it was before the formation of the Canadian Shield landform. However, the discovery is nonetheless an exciting one for Canadian history.
Scientists in Québec believe they may have found the oldest fossils in the world – in Canada. The tiny tubes and filaments they found are made of an iron oxide known as haematite. As Dr. Therrien says, they are believed to be the remains of bacteria once living underwater in hydrothermal vents. These microfossils give huge insight into life on Earth millions of years ago. Matthew Dodd, one of the researchers who made the discovery, tells us:
“The discovery reveals Canada preserves the oldest remnants of life on Earth and some of the very first environments in which life arose. Canada today is home to some of the most ancient terrains on Earth spanning 4 billion years of Earth history making it one of the world’s greatest archives of natural history.”
Thousands of Years old?
Canada’s First people
If we judge Canada’s origin by when humans first settled there, it would be thousands of years old. Scientists have not reached a firm conclusion on where First Nations people migrated to Canada from, but it is known that they have lived here for tens of thousands of years.
Before Europeans arrived, Canada was inhabited solely by aboriginal groups. Of course, First Nations and Inuit people did not recognize the area as Canada – and many still do not. The border separating Canada and the U.S.A, for example, goes across many of the lands that Native American and First Nations groups occupied, such as the Blackfoot who live in Alberta as well as Montana and Idaho. However, the history of the first people to inhabit the area now politically known as Canada gives us a sense of the age of cultures.
Recent research indicates that aboriginal presence in Canada may stretch back even further. Earlier this year, an ancient village believed to be one of the oldest human settlements in North America was discovered in an excavation on Triquet Island, British Columbia. Scientists from the Hakai Institute found tools for lighting fires, fish hooks, and spears dating back to the Ice Age. Estimated at 14,000 years old, the village is much older than many ancient civilizations, including Egypt’s pyramids of Giza and Peru’s Machu Picchu!
Oldest living tree
If you’ve ever stepped foot in Vancouver’s old-growth forests, you’ll know that there are trees in Canada older than most historic buildings in the country. However, you might be surprised to learn just how old some of Canada’s trees are. Researcher Dr. Peter M. Brown is the Director of
Oldest, a database dedicated to ancient trees, identifying maximum ages that different species in different countries can reach. He tells us:
“The oldest tree in Canada, at 1,917 years, is a subalpine larch (Larix lyalli) from the northern Rockies near Kananaskis in Alberta. That tree was reported in a 1990 paper by John Worrall from the University of British Columbia, entitled – appropriately enough – “Subalpine larch: Oldest trees in Canada?” There is also a Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) at 1,350 years old and a Nootka cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) at 1636 years old, both on Vancouver Island, although there were reportedly even older Douglas-fir trees in Vancouver before the heavy logging
Oldest existing icebergs
The Maritimes of Canada is famous for their icebergs – from the bergs themselves to Iceberg Beer’s delicacy. Here, visitors can find some of the oldest icebergs globally, which give a fascinating indication as to the age of the waters surrounding Canada.
Darlene Langlois, Chief of the Meteorological Service of Canada, explains:
“Icebergs coming from Greenland are thought to be thousands of years old. We don’t follow icebergs from calving to final melt but it usually takes 2-3 years to go from Greenland to the East Coast of Canada. Some are grounded in shallow waters and they can last longer.”
So, next time you visit Nova Scotia, keep a lookout for icebergs – they may be millennia old!
Hundreds of years old? Is 152 years old in Canada?
The contact era
According to Robert J Shipley, when Europeans first arrived in the territory that we now call Canada, settlers and aboriginal peoples enjoyed two or three hundred years of relative harmony beforehand. During this time, he explains, European colonists were heavily dependent on the goodwill and intelligent technologies of the First Nations. The latter had the insight on how to survive in what could be a sterile environment. For at least three hundred years, the only form of transportation used was the First Nations’ canoe, which settlers adopted to begin the fur trade and other endeavors. Settlers could not survive in the north without Inuit dress and were unable to walk in many areas without snowshoes – an aboriginal invention.
Many of the early settlers who are often regarded as heroic explorers perished due to a resistance to collaborate with aboriginal people – the Franklin expedition, for example, notoriously ended in disaster after John Franklin refused to take First Nations peoples’ advice. For those who did listen, however, aboriginal aids were a lifesaver. Unlike Franklin, the physician John McCrea co-operated closely with the First Nations while working for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Following the advice of his aboriginal consul, he wore seal skins. He was able to survive in the most extreme of temperatures as a result.
The relationship was sometimes more fraught, however. Robert recites an old anecdote of how once Europeans arrived in Canada; many were severely ill with scurvy. Local First Nations families helped many settlers, giving them a kind of tea known as spruce beer, curing the unwell arrivals. Not long after, however, other members of the settler crew decided that this process must be unnatural and executed those generous helpers on witchcraft accusations.
Over the years, this tumultuous relationship persisted. Still, today, Canada is one of the most respectful countries globally when it comes to indigenous rights. In 1985, the Indian Act was amended to end discriminatory provisions present in previous versions. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a formal apology for the residential school system, which removed First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children from their cultures. This willingness to confront the more uncomfortable aspects of history makes Canada such a progressive nation – and this attitude is continued in the Canada 150+ celebrations, which celebrate the long history of First Nations culture.
This forward-thinking attitude has also manifested itself in science and technology, nurturing several brilliant minds who have invented some of the world’s most important products and practices.
From the invention of lacrosse by First Nations communities many hundreds of years ago to the creation of telephone technology in 1874 by Alexander Graham Bell, life as we know it would not be the same without Canada’s pioneering discoveries.
As Anthony Wilson-Smith, CEO of Historica Canada, comments, Canada has been home to some of the world’s more unusual innovations too. The world’s first UFO landing pad, for example, opened in St. Paul, Alberta, in 1967. To celebrate Canada 150+, several of these inventions are featured in the exhibition Made in Canada, held in Science World, Vancouver, to honor Canadian ingenuity with exhibits that inspire creativity and innovation. Dr. Scott Sampson, President, and CEO of Science World says:
“Made in Canada gives Science World a chance to celebrate Canada’s long history of creativity and innovation as part of Canada 150+. Through this celebration of imagination and ingenuity, we want to inspire Canadian kids and young adults to build on our national tradition of being science and technology leaders and carry this tradition into the future.”
Visit the exhibition this summer to explore the history behind inventions such as the egg carton, the lightbulb, basketball, and, of course, lacrosse.
First National Park
Founded in 1885, the much-loved landscape of Banff became Canada’s first National Park. Established on the 25th November as Banff Hot Springs Reserve, Banff has a lively history, from its first human activity around 10,300 years ago to present-day skiing and hiking exploits.
Pamela Marks from the Whyte Museum reflects on the historical significance of Banff National Park and how the landscape can be used to decipher Canada’s age:
“With its ever-changing glaciers, mountains, rivers, and forests, the Canadian Rockies’ mountain landscape suggests that Canada’s age should be measured in millions of years. The history of the Rockies’ First Nations peoples, including their artifacts, artwork, and stories, spans thousands of years. Over the last 150 years, settlers and visitors from all over the world have come and gone, including outfitters, mountaineers, artists, business people, and tourists. Some of these people are just getting started in Canada.”
Why not celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday this year by visiting Banff, one of the country’s oldest and most beautiful landscapes? The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is commemorating the 150th anniversary of Banff with a special summer exhibition called “Banff Reflections: 150 Years and Counting.” “This exhibition reflects the character of Banff as a town unique in a national park with large expectations from the labyrinth of global visitors,” Pamela explains. The diverse collections of the Whyte Museum place Banff in context from its humble beginnings to the present.”
First National Historic Site
Fort Howe was founded in 1777 and became Canada’s first National Historic Site in 1966. The British constructed the fort during the American Revolution to protect Saint John’s, New Brunswick, from further raids by American forces. The defense had eight cannons and barracks for a hundred men at the time. It was named after Sir William Howe, the British Army’s Commander-in-Chief in America at the time.
Fort Howe National Historical Park was established on March 30, 1914, thanks in large part to the efforts of James B. Harkin, the first Commissioner of Dominion (National) Parks. The primary goal was to create an urban recreational park at first. Many people objected to its designation at the time, believing it to be less significant than other historical sites. On the advice of historians, it was designated as the first National Historic Site in 1966, prompting plans to restore the fort to its original state.
Today, thousands of visitors venture here to see the fort and enjoy the panoramic views it provides of Saint John Harbour and the Saint John River.
Canada is now regarded as one of the world’s most progressive and accepting nations, but it took a lot of hard work to get there. Women’s, indigenous groups, and people of color’s rallies gained traction in the twentieth century as they fought for their human and civil rights recognition. Women finally gained the right to vote in federal elections in 1918, but only for white women; women of color did not gain this right until much later. On July 1, 1960, First Nations people living on reserves were granted the right to vote in federal elections for the first time.
Kim Campbell was then elected as Canada’s first female prime minister on June 25, 1993. Many consider this to be a watershed moment in Canadian politics; Adrienne Clarkson was appointed Governor-General not long after, in September 1999, making her the first woman to hold such a position in many categories. She was the first non-white Canadian to be appointed to the vice-regal position and the first person without a military or political background to hold the position.
However, in parts of Canada, the principles of liberty we now associate with the Civil Rights and Suffrage movements were being exercised long before. Robert J Shipley explains how, in 1795, the area we now know as Ontario became the first-ever jurisdiction to ban the practice of owning slaves. This was long before abolishing slavery by the British Empire in 1833 and held that people could no longer enslave other people. Those who were already slaves previous to the movement could be freed. If they were not, then their children would be automatically born as free citizens. By the war of 1812, this meant that there were people of African descent – many of whom would otherwise have been held as slaves – fighting as free citizens. Following the war, they had given land grants and gradually received increasing civil rights, long before the rest of the colonial world even banned slavery itself.
What does this all mean for Canada’s 150+ celebrations? How Old is Canada?
With its ever-changing glaciers, mountains, rivers, and forests, the Canadian Rockies’ mountain landscape suggests that Canada’s age should be measured in millions of years. The history of the Rockies’ First Nations peoples, including their artifacts, artwork, and stories, spans thousands of years. Over the last 150 years, settlers and visitors from all over the world have come and gone, including outfitters, mountaineers, artists, business people, and tourists. Some of these people are just getting started in Canada.”
“A key direction emerged from these discussions: Vancouverites wanted to approach Canada 150 from the perspective of being a City of Reconciliation situated on the traditional unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations (Host Nations). The designation of Vancouver as a City of Reconciliation signifies the city’s commitment to a long-term relationship of mutual respect and understanding with local First Nations and the urban Aboriginal community..
“The year-long ‘Canada 150+ Experience’ in Vancouver honors the city’s pre-Confederation and contemporary Indigenous cultures, which we recognize as integral to Canada’s creation and shared future with all people, as indicated by the ‘+’ in Canada 150+. The theme of Canada 150+ is Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples working together to achieve their goals.”
The arbitrary nature of the current 150+ celebrations is also emphasized by Robert J Shipley, a historian from the University of Waterloo. He claims that by commemorating Canada’s anniversary, we are celebrating a stage in the country’s history and that different historians will always choose other times as the pivotal moment in the country’s formation as we know it. The Confederation of 1867 did not include all of the provinces.
Robert, on the other hand, is adamant about not assigning a specific age to Canada. Other countries, he points out, have only recently adopted the familiar forms (Germany in 1949, India in 1947). Their age, on the other hand, is rarely questioned or even speculated about. Historica Canada’s CEO, Anthony Wilson-Smith, has a slightly different perspective. He declares:
“In Canadian history, there are several timelines. The first dates back 150 years, when Confederation formed the country of Canada in 1867. Another starts much earlier: archaeologists discovered a 14,000-year-old settlement on Triquet Island in British Columbia. The importance of bots is recognized and celebrated.h.”
All of this demonstrates the importance of recognizing the political age of Canada, the legacy of thousands of years of First Nations culture, and the ancient land on which this wonderful country we now call Canada rests. If all of this talk of Canada and its culture has piqued your interest in visiting the sacred lands, take a look at these Canadian hotels and start planning your trip for 2021..