The real history of Canadian expansion begins with the formation of the Dominion of Canada
in 1867. This included the former Canada (Ontario
) as well as the British crown territories of Nova Scotia
and New Brunswick
. The stage was set for the expansion of Canada into the west.
The motives for Canadian westward expansion are many. They include the need for resources and a need to gain control over the western territories before the newly-powerful United States to the south. The first 'west' of Canada was Rupert's Land, belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company, a company that in 1670 had been granted a huge grant by King Charles. This area extended from the Hudson Bay, and was purchased by Canada in 1868. After a brief struggle with a man named Louis Riel over the rights of the First Nations tribes that lived in the area, a small part of Rupert's Land was made into the province of Manitoba (Originally called The Postage Stamp Province) (Thanks to stewacide who pointed out that I was incorrect in saying that 'the majority' of Rupert's Land was made into Manitoba and for telling me that it was called the Postage Stamp Province.) Meanwhile, British Columbia, far to the west, joined the Dominion in 1871. One of the conditions of their annexion was the promise of a railroad from the Eastern Dominion to BC. From then on, following the rapid increase in the population of the territories as settlers moved in, Prince Edward Island (1873), The Yukon Territory (1898), Alberta and Saskatchewan (both 1905) all joined the Dominion. The Yukon territory was formed to ensure the gubernatorial rights of the Canadian government during the Klondike Gold Rush and Alberta and Saskatchewan were formed from the vast remaining stretches of Rupert?s Land. The land to the west of the Yukon became the Northwest Territories. Newfoundland (including Labrador), a British Crown Colony chose not to enter the Dominion until after World War II. It joined in 1949. Recently, in 1999, much of the Northwest Territories have been formed into Nunavut, an effort to bring government of ancient tribal lands back to the First Nations. The main reason for this rapid growth was the huge increase in population, especially due to immigration. Immigration in 1913 alone totaled 400,000 people. (http://www.infocan.gc.ca/facts/history_e.html)
The type of settlers who went west were a hardy breed -- they had to leave all the friends and family they had every known and journey out into a place they, and most other people, had never seen before. On the trail, they would be alone for months. Understandably, with no law-enforcement agencies nearby, they would take the law into their own hands. This is often held up as the foundation for modern Canadian democratic thought. However, Carl N. Degler, in Out of Our Past, argues otherwise, pointing out that the Boers of South Africa and the Germans of the 19th century had large westward frontiers, yet neither society developed into a democracy until much later. However, I think it?s safe to say that modern Canada was born out of the optimism that carried its settlers into the largest frontier in North America.