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Canada History, Language and Culture

History of Canada

The first Europeans to reach Canada were descendants of Norse seafarers who had settled in Iceland and in Greenland during the ninth and 10th centuries; the second wave of European arrivals, led by the Italian navigator Giovanni Caboto (better known as John Cabot), were seeking a passage to Asia, in 1497. Over the next 100 years, attracted by rich fishing grounds, English and French commercial interests flocked to Newfoundland.

During the 17th century, the French accelerated trading with the New France Company. The creation of England's Hudson's Bay Company initiated a long period of rivalry, culminating in the Anglo-French war of the early 1760s; this ended with the surrender of the French Canadian capital, Quebec, to the English forces. The Treaty of Paris, in 1763, gave all French territories in northeast America to the British.

Within two decades, however, the English had been ousted from their American colonies following defeat in the American War of Independence. Eastern Canada was then settled by loyalists from the USA holding allegiance to the defeated British Crown. In 1791, Canada was divided between regions occupied by the English-speaking and the longer-established French-speaking community, but the arrangement did not work and was replaced by a unified system.

In the mid-19th century, Canada was granted the status of a Dominion of the British Empire, with an autonomous government but with the British monarch as head of state. From 1968 to 1984, politics were dominated by the charismatic figure of Pierre Trudeau. Brian Mulroney was elected in 1984, and the Quebec issue came to the fore once more. A 1995 referendum in Quebec resulted in an extremely narrow vote in favour of remaining inside Canada, although in 2006 the Canadian parliament agreed the Quebecois should ‘form a nation within a united Canada’, a largely symbolic gesture.

In 2015, Justin Pierre James Trudeau followed in the footsteps of his father and was named 23rd prime minister of Canada. As leader of the Federal Liberal party, Trudeau Jr. built a cabinet from an equal number of men and women, starting a trend towards a new liberal form of politics. Virtually every Trudeau initiative, from tax policy to legalising marijuana, has been at odds with the previous Conservative administration. 

2017 marks the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation and the country will celebrate this sesquicentennial with a series of special events planned over the course of the year.

Canada Culture

Religion in Canada

Around 70% of the population belong to the Christian faith; over half are Roman Catholic, followed by the United Church of Canada and Anglican denominations. There are numerous other active denominations and religions.

Social Conventions in Canada

Handshaking predominates as the normal mode of greeting. Close friends often exchange kisses on the cheeks, particularly in French-speaking areas. Codes of practice for visiting homes are the same as in other Western countries: flowers, chocolates or a bottle of wine are common gifts for hosts, and dress is generally informal and practical according to climate. It is common for black tie and other required dress to be indicated on invitations. Exclusive clubs and restaurants often require more formal dress. Smoking has been banned in most public areas.

Language in Canada

Canada is officially bilingual (English and French). The use of the two languages reflects the country's mixed colonial history - Canada has been under both British and French rule. However, while the federal government must operate in both languages as much as is practical, use of each language outside government varies widely across the country.

In almost all of the province of Québec, as well as parts of New Brunswick and Ontario, French is the dominant language; in most of the rest of the country, English predominates. Montréal, Ottawa and Moncton have large concentrations of fluently bilingual people. Immigration has also changed the language picture considerably; while not official languages, Chinese, Hindi, Punjabi, Arabic and other languages are often heard on the streets of Canada's largest cities.

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