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1800s Canadian History


Canada saw a period of great change in the 19th century. Its population drastically increased due to immigrants from the United States and abroad. Communities were growing and also creating increasing conflicts with the Indigenous Peoples that had lived in the region for millennia. In addition, there was the War of 1812, rebellions, increasing steps towards democracy, gold rushes, and additional territories added to the dominion.

Student Activities for Canadian History 1800s



Canadian History in the 1800s

In the late 1700s and 1800s, the region which is now Canada saw a tremendous amount of changes. After the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783, an influx of British Loyalists as well as Black Loyalists and Iroquois migrated north. The predominantly French-speaking Quebec now saw an increased British presence. To keep the peace, British Parliament instituted the Constitutional Act (the Canada Act) in 1791 and divided Quebec into two colonies: Upper Canada to the southwest for the English and Lower Canada to the northeast for the French.

In 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain and attempted to invade Canada. They were defeated and the war officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. In 1818, the U.S. and the British agreed to a border along the 49th parallel from Lake of the Woods in the east (present day Ontario & Minnesota) to the Rocky Mountains in the west. This would later be extended to the Pacific Ocean in 1846 with the Oregon Treaty.

In 1834, the British formally outlawed slavery in most of its territories. Thousands of enslaved people escaped and endured perilous journeys from the United States to freedom in Canada. The route to freedom marked by allies who secretly provided food, lodging, and directions was called the Underground Railroad.

Desires for a more democratic system of government precipitated the Rebellions of 1837–38, which occurred in each colony in both Upper and Lower Canada. They led to the Durham Report and later the Act of Union in 1841, which united the two colonies into the "United Province of Canada" under one government.

In 1857, Queen Victoria declared Ottawa to be the capital of Canada. Parliament buildings were constructed in Ottawa in 1859 and the Prince of Wales visited in 1860 when Canada first used the Maple Leaf as its official emblem. The Dominion of Canada was formed July 1, 1867 with 4 provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario. It is celebrated today as Canada Day. It's likened to "Canada's Birthday", as Canada adopted its current constitution on that day and officially “became a country" with Sir John A. Macdonald as its first Prime Minister.

Conflicts over land between the Canadian government and Indigenous peoples, Inuit, and Metis continued. The Indian Act of 1876 was imposed without Indigenous peoples' consent. Indigenous peoples were forced onto reservations and Indigenous children were sent to residential schools, where they were abused and forced to forget their language culture. The schools systematically erased Indigenous peoples' cultural identity, inflicting generations of trauma and injustice that is still felt today. Despite these tragedies, Indigenous Peoples continue to make up vibrant and thriving communities within Canada, maintaining their heritage and celebrating their history.

In 1869, Canada obtained the Northwest Territories from the Hudson's Bay Company. Canada also added the province of Manitoba in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, and Prince Edward Island in 1873. The Klondike Gold Rush saw approximately 100,000 prospectors move to the Klondike region of the Yukon, in north-western Canada, between 1896 and 1899. In 1898, the Yukon was formed as part of the Northwest Territories. The gold rushes resulted in resource exploitation, and displacement and marginalization of many of the Indigenous communities in the region.

Today, Canada has ten provinces and three territories: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. The three territories are Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon. Canada continues to trade fish and other natural resources with the world. It is considered a global market leader in the fields of agriculture, telecommunications, and energy technologies. There is so much more to Canadian history than this small glimpse. Students can use these activities to research more about Canada and display their knowledge in creative ways by making posters, timelines, narrative storyboards, and spider maps!


Essential Questions for Canadian History in the 19th Century

  1. How did Canada change in the late 1700s and 1800s?
  2. What conflicts precipitated these changes?
  3. Who were the participants in the War of 1812 and what was the outcome?
  4. What were some of the outcomes of the Rebellions of 1837-1838?
  5. How did Canada's government change in 1867? How did this affect its people including indigenous populations?
  6. What impact did the gold rush's of the 1800s have on Canada and its peoples including the indigenous populations?

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