The goal of Canadian Top Ten lists is to compile lists of the most historically important events in the Canadian story. These events are the ones that shaped us most as a nation. They are events which forever altered the direction of Canadian history and defined us in an entirely new way than had ever been considered before.
While there are several top ten historical lists to be compiled with various topics in mind, this is what I considered to be the overall list of the most important events to shake this nation so far. These events are not only the most important in our country’s history but also showcase the major themes in that history, address the classic struggles the nation has faced, and ultimately highlight the choices made by the titans of our history that make our nation what it is today.
In chronological order:
- Champlain founds Quebec, 1608
- The Plains of Abraham, 1759
- Queenston Heights, 1812
- Responsible Government, 1848
- Confederation, 1867
- Clifford Sifton opens up Canadian immigration policy, 1896
- Vimy Ridge, 1917
- Statute of Westminster, 1931
- Medicare, 1961
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982
Samuel de Champlain and Quebec (Native Canada vs. Colonial Canada)
The relationship between native and landed-Canadians has been an important (if often neglected) part of Canadian history. Samuel de Champlain was not the first non-aboriginal to land on Canadian soil but he was the first to found a major and lasting outpost in Canada which forever changed the social landscape of the country. Canada was no longer a land of various native peoples but was a place filled with many native cultures in direct confrontation with a newly landed European, specifically French, population.
The Plains of Abraham (Nouvelle France vs. British North America)
One of the most prevalent themes in Canadian history is the struggle between English and French Canada. In the early history of Canada, three groups of people battled and bartered for dominance: Aboriginals, the French, and the British. The Aboriginals were largely pushed aside by the other two groups who until 1759 had a relatively equal chance at becoming the dominant power in the new land of what is now Canada. However in 1759, when French forces lost Quebec to the British, power shifted tremendously with Britain as the benefactor. This was certainly not the end to power struggles between the French and the British but it did end French control over Canada as Britain laid claim to the new land.
Queenston Heights (Canada vs. the United States of North America)
One of the most notable themes in Canadian history is the fear of being overtaken or swallowed by the American presence to the south. In recent years this has been manifested in economic terms but early in Canada’s history the fear was militaristic, particularly during the War of 1812. The battle at Queenston Heights saw British (Canadian) forces fend off invading Americans and ensured Canada remained independent from its southern neighbour.
Responsible Government (Parliamentary Democracy vs. Republicanism)
The installation of Responsible Government in Nova Scotia in 1848 marked the beginning of a massive change in Canadian politics. It came at a crucial time in Canadian history where colonial existence was ceasing to serve the needs of the people but the systems on offer in other countries were not the correct answer for Canada. Nova Scotians, and later the people of what would become Ontario and Quebec, rejected the republican model of France and the United States and selected an entirely new framework from which to govern in which their political leaders would be held responsible by their elected representatives. Canada would not have a legislative sovereign or a president. It would have an elected and responsive parliament.
Confederation (Nation vs. Colony)
Confederation is arguably the most important event in our national history because it is the moment Canada ceased being a colony of Britain and became a nation. Perhaps even more important was the manner in which this was accomplished: peacefully and without taking up arms, through negotiation and not revolution. It was the product of centuries of social development, and years of political negotiation. It was very clearly the starting point for all else that followed in our history.
Clifford Sifton (Immigrant Nation vs. Colonial Nation)
Sifton was Minister of the Interior in the government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. It was in this position that Sifton encouraged massive immigration to Canada from not just Britain but several European nations. The mass immigration diversified the Canadian population from being largely British and French and also accomplished the settling of Western Canada. The expansion in the west made use of the newly created Canadian Pacific Railway, increased the economic power of the nation through avenues such as mining, and provided a presence that prevented any colonization attempts by the Americans. Sifton’s project would ultimately usher in over 3 million new Canadians and forever change the social and political landscape of the country.
Vimy Ridge (A Canadian National Identity vs. British Subjects)
Vimy Ridge is often considered the turning point in Canadian history where Canada truly became a nation in itself and broke away from Britain in a meaningful and lasting way. The battle left many Canadian soldiers dead but the intense effort by Canadians in particular in the victory at Vimy left a new impression on the nation, allowing the people of Canada for the first time to see themselves as Canadians first. While it was the Citizenship Act of 1947 that officially made the people of Canada Canadian citizens and not British subjects, it was the battle of Vimy Ridge that first created the feeling.
The Statute of Westminster (Canadian Law vs. British Law)
The Statute of Westminster removed the ability of the British to make ordinary laws for the nations of the Commonwealth. This essentially meant that other than constitutional matters, Canadian legislators were now almost solely responsible for their own lawmaking. For the first time in Canadian history, legal power over Canada was to be exercised by Canadians.
Medicare (Social Welfare vs. Privatized Society)
Medicare was first introduced in Canada in the province of Saskatchewan in 1961 by Premier Tommy Douglas. The concept would eventually make its way to the federal level along with several other social programs which revealed a massive shift in Canadian national policy that resulted in the social welfare state. This was a major shift in Canadian politics as the state became more involved in the everyday life of the citizen instead of acting as a far-away entity tasked primarily with topics such as foreign affairs.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Sovereignty vs. Foreign Legal Obstacles)
The Charter signaled a massive change in the Canadian legal framework and enshrined the notion of collective rights over personal rights in the country’s constitution. The Charter was made possible by the Patriation of the Constitution, allowing the people of Canada and their government, for the first time in Canadian history, to adopt changes to the Constitution themselves.
Each of these events marks a great departure from Canada as it was known at the time, redirecting our history down a different path and ultimately creating Canada as we know it today.