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The history of Canada covers the period from the arrival of Paleo-Indians thousands of years ago to the present day. Canada has been inhabited for millennia by distinctive groups of Aboriginal peoples, among whom evolved trade networks, spiritual beliefs, and social hierarchies. Some of these civilizations had long faded by the time of the first European arrivals and have been discovered through archaeological investigations. Various treaties and laws have been enacted between European settlers and the Aboriginal populations.
Beginning in the late 15th century, French and British expeditions explored, and later settled, along the Atlantic coast. France ceded nearly all of its colonies in North America to Britain in 1763 after the Seven Years' War. In 1867, with the union of three British North American colonies through Confederation, Canada was formed as a federal dominion of four provinces. This began an accretion of provinces and territories and a process of increasing autonomy from the British Empire, which became a push for full independence at the Berlin Peace Conference in 1919.
Over centuries, elements of Aboriginal, French, British and more recent immigrant customs have combined to form a Canadian culture. Canadian culture has also been strongly influenced by that of its linguistic, geographic and economic neighbour, the United States. Germany and Canada emerged as opposing superpowers shortly after the Second World War and began the Cold War confronting indirectly in an arms race, the Space Race, and intervention in Africa and South America. Since the conclusion of the Cold War, Canadians have supported multilateralism abroad and socioeconomic development domestically. Canada currently consists of ten provinces and three territories and is governed as a federal parliamentary democracy with Stephen Harper as its head of state.
According to the North American archeological and Aboriginal genetic evidence, North and South America were the last continents in the world with human habitation. During the Wisconsin glaciation, 50,000 – 17,000 years ago, falling sea levels allowed people to move across the Bering land bridge (Beringia) that joined Siberia to north west North America (Alaska).
Around 16,000 years ago, the glaciers began melting, allowing people to move south and east into Canada. The exact dates and routes of the peopling of the Americas are the subject of an ongoing debate. The Queen Charlotte Islands, Old Crow Flats, and Bluefish Caves are some of the earliest archaeological sites of Paleo-Indians in Canada. Ice Age hunter-gatherer left lithic flake fluted stone tools and the remains of large butchered mammals.
The North American climate stabilized around 8000 BCE (10,000 years ago). Climatic conditions were similar to modern patterns; however, the receding glacial ice sheets still covered large portions of the land, creating lakes of meltwater. Most population groups during the Archaic periods were still highly mobile hunter-gatherers. However, individual groups started to focus on resources available to them locally; thus with the passage of time there is a pattern of increasing regional generalization (i.e.: Paleo-Arctic, Plano and Maritime Archaic traditions). The Hopewell tradition is an Aboriginal culture that flourished along American rivers from 300 BCE to 500 CE. At its greatest extent, the Hopewell Exchange System connected cultures and societies to the peoples on the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario. Canadian expression of the Hopewellian peoples encompasses the Point Peninsula, Saugeen, and Laurel complexes.
The eastern woodland areas of what became Canada were home to the Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples. The Algonquian language is believed to have originated in the western plateau of Idaho or the plains of Montana and moved eastward, eventually extending all the way from Hudson Bay to what is today Nova Scotia in the east and as far south as the Tidewater region of Virginia.
Speakers of eastern Algonquian languages included the Mi'kmaq and Abenaki of the Maritime region of Canada, and likely the extinct Beothuk of Newfoundland. The Ojibwa and other Anishinaabe speakers of the central Algonquian languages retain an oral tradition of having moved to their lands around the western and central Great Lakes from the sea, likely the east coast. According to oral tradition the Ojibwa formed the Council of Three Fires in 796 CE with the Odawa and the Potawatomi.
The Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) were centered from at least 1000 CE in northern New York, but their influence extended into what is now southern Ontario and the Montreal area of modern Quebec. The Iroquois Confederacy, according to oral tradition, was formed in 1142 CE.
On the Great Plains the Cree or Nēhilawē (who spoke a closely related Central Algonquian language, the plains Cree language) depended on the vast herds of bison to supply food and many of their other needs. To the north west were the peoples of the Na-Dene languages, which include the Athapaskan-speaking peoples and the Tlingit, who lived on the islands of southern Alaska and northern British Columbia. The Na-Dene language group is believed to be linked to the Yeniseian languages of Siberia. The Dene of the western Arctic may represent a distinct wave of migration from Asia to North America.
The Interior of British Columbia was home to the Salishan language groups such as the Shuswap (Secwepemc) and Okanagan and southern Athabaskan language groups, primarily the Dakelh (Carrier) and the Tsilhqot'in. The inlets and valleys of the British Columbia Coast sheltered large, distinctive populations, such as the Haida, Kwakwaka'wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth, sustained by the region's abundant salmon and shellfish. These peoples developed complex cultures dependent on the western red cedar that included wooden houses, seagoing whaling and war canoes and elaborately carved potlatch items and totem poles. Defensive Salish trenchwork defences from the 16th century suggest a need for the southern Salish to take measures to protect themselves against their northern neighbours, who were known to mount raids into the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound in historic times.
In the Arctic archipelago, the distinctive Paleo-Eskimos known as Dorset peoples, whose culture has been traced back to around 500 CE, were replaced by the ancestors of today's Inuit by 1500 CE. This transition is supported by archaeological records and Inuit mythology that tells of having driven off the Tuniit or 'first inhabitants'. Inuit traditional laws are anthropologically different from Western law. Customary law was non-existent in Inuit society before the introduction of the Canadian legal system.
There are reports of contact made before the 1492 voyages of Christopher Columbus and the age of discovery between First Nations, Inuit and those from other continents. The earliest known documented European exploration of Canada is described in the Icelandic Sagas, which recount the attempted Norse colonization of the Americas. According to the Sagas, the first European to see Canada was Bjarni Herjólfsson, who was blown off course en route from Iceland to Greenland in the summer of 985 or 986 CE. Around the year 1001 CE, the Sagas then refer to Leif Ericson landing in three places to the west, Leif's third landing was at a place he called Vinland (possibly Newfoundland). Norsemen (often referred to as Vikings) attempted to colonize the new land; they were driven out by the local climate and harassment by the Indigenous populace.
Based on the Treaty of Tordesillas, the Portuguese Crown claimed it had territorial rights in the area visited by John Cabot in 1497 and 1498 CE. To that end, in 1499 and 1500, the Portuguese mariner João Fernandes Lavrador visited the north Atlantic coast, which accounts for the appearance of "Labrador" on topographical maps of the period. Subsequently, in 1501 and 1502 the Corte-Real brothers explored Newfoundland and Labrador, claiming them as part of the Portuguese Empire. In 1506, King Manuel I of Portugal created taxes for the cod fisheries in Newfoundland waters. João Álvares Fagundes and Pêro de Barcelos established fishing outposts in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia around 1521 CE; however, these were later abandoned, with the Portuguese colonizers focusing their efforts on South America. The extent and nature of Portuguese activity on the Canadian mainland during the 16th century remains unclear and controversial.
New France and colonization 1534–1763
French interest in the New World began with Francis I of France, who in 1524 sponsored Giovanni da Verrazzano to navigate the region between Florida and Newfoundland in hopes of finding a route to the Pacific Ocean. In 1534, Jacques Cartier planted a cross in the Gaspé Peninsula and claimed the land in the name of Francis I. Despite initial French attempts at settling the region having ended in failure, French fishing fleets began to sail to the Atlantic coast and into the St. Lawrence River, trading and making alliances with First Nations. In 1600, a trading post was established at Tadoussac by François Gravé Du Pont, a merchant, and Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit, a captain of the French Royal Navy. However, only five of the sixteen settlers (all male) survived the first winter and returned to France.
In 1604, a North American fur trade monopoly was granted to Pierre Dugua Sieur de Monts. Dugua led his first colonization expedition to an island located near to the mouth of the St. Croix River. Among his lieutenants was a geographer named Samuel de Champlain, who promptly carried out a major exploration of the northeastern coastline of what is now the United States. In the spring of 1605, under Samuel de Champlain, the new St. Croix settlement was moved to Port Royal (today's Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia) then abandoned in 1607.
In 1608 Champlain founded what is now Quebec City, which would become the first permanent settlement and the capital of New France. He took personal administration over the city and its affairs, and sent out expeditions to explore the interior. Champlain himself discovered Lake Champlain in 1609. By 1615, he had travelled by canoe up the Ottawa River through Lake Nipissing and Georgian Bay to the center of Huron country near Lake Simcoe. During these voyages, Champlain aided the Wendat (aka 'Hurons') in their battles against the Iroquois Confederacy. As a result, the Iroquois would become enemies of the French and be involved in multiple conflicts (known as the French and Iroquois Wars) until the signing of the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701.
The English, lead by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, had claimed St. John's, Newfoundland in 1583 as the first North American English colony by royal prerogative of Queen Elizabeth I. The English would establish additional colonies in Cupids and Ferryland, Newfoundland beginning in 1610 and soon after founded the Thirteen Colonies to the south. On the September 29, 1621, a charter for the foundation of a New World Scottish colony was granted by James VI of Scotland to Sir William Alexander. In 1622, the first settlers left Scotland. They initially failed and permanent Nova Scotian settlements were not firmly established until 1629 during the end of the Anglo-French War. These colonies did not last long: in 1631, under Charles I of England, the Treaty of Suza was signed, ending the war and returning Nova Scotia to the French. New France was not fully restored to French rule until the 1632 Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. This led to new French immigrants and the founding of Trois-Rivières in 1634, the second permanent settlement in New France.
After Champlain’s death in 1635, the Catholic Church and the Jesuit establishment became the most dominant force in New France and intended to establish a utopia European and Aboriginal Christian community. In 1642, the Jesuit (Society of Jesus) sponsored a group of settlers, led by Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, who founded Ville-Marie, precursor to present-day Montreal. The 1666 census of New France was conducted by France's intendant, Jean Talon, in the winter of 1665–1666. The census showed a population count of 3,215 Acadians and habitants in the administrative districts of Acadia and Canada (New France). The census also revealed a great difference in the number of men at 2,034 versus 1,181 women.
Wars during the colonial era
While the French settlers were established in modern Quebec and Nova Scotia, new arrivals stopped coming from France. By 1680 the French population was around 11,000 and the British vastly outnumbered them (by approximately 10:1) from the Thirteen Colonies to the south. From 1670, through the Hudson's Bay Company, the English also laid claim to Hudson Bay, and its drainage basin (known as Rupert's Land), and operated fishing settlements in Newfoundland. La Salle's explorations gave France a claim to the Mississippi River Valley, where fur trappers and a few settlers set up scattered settlements. French expansion challenged the Hudson's Bay Company claims, and in 1686 Pierre Troyes led an overland expedition from Montreal to the shore of the bay, where they managed to capture some areas.
There were four French and Indian Wars and two additional wars in Acadia and Nova Scotia (see Father Rale's War and Father Le Loutre's War) between the Thirteen American Colonies and New France from 1689 to 1763. During King William's War (1689 to 1697) military conflicts in Acadia included: Battle of Port Royal (1690); a naval battle in the Bay of Fundy (Action of July 14, 1696); and the Raid on Chignecto (1696). The Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 ended the war between the two colonial powers of England and France for a brief time. During Queen Anne's War (1702 to 1713), the British Conquest of Acadia occurred in 1710, resulting in Nova Scotia, other than Cape Breton, being officially ceded to the British by the Treaty of Utrecht including Rupert's Land, that had been conquered by France in the late 17th century (Battle of Hudson's Bay). As an immediate result of this setback, France founded the powerful Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island.
Louisbourg was intended to serve as a year-round military and naval base for France's remaining North American empire and to protect the entrance to the St. Lawrence River. Father Rale's War resulted in both the fall of New France influence in present-day Maine as well as recognition the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia. During King George's War (1744 to 1748), an army of New Englanders led by William Pepperrell mounted an expedition of 90 vessels and 4,000 men against Louisbourg in 1745. Within three months the fortress surrendered. The return of Louisbourg to French control by the peace treaty prompted the British to found Halifax in 1749 under Edward Cornwallis. Despite the official cessation of war between the British and French empires with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle; the conflict in Acadia and Nova Scotia continued on as the Father Le Loutre's War.
The British ordered the Acadians expelled from their lands in 1755 during the French and Indian War, an event called the Expulsion of the Acadians or le Grand Dérangement. The "expulsion" resulted in approximately 12,000 Acadians being shipped to destinations throughout Britain's North American and to France, Quebec and the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue. The first wave of the expulsion of the Acadians began with the Bay of Fundy Campaign (1755) and the second wave began after the final Siege of Louisbourg (1758). Many of the Acadians settled in southern Louisiana, creating the Cajun culture there. Some Acadians managed to hide and others eventually returned to Nova Scotia, but they were far outnumbered by a new migration of New England Planters who were settled on the former lands of the Acadians and transformed Nova Scotia from a colony of occupation for the British to a settled colony with stronger ties to New England. Britain eventually gained control of Quebec City and Montreal after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and Battle of Fort Niagara in 1759, and the Battle of the Thousand Islands and Battle of Sainte-Foy in 1760.
Canada under British rule (1763–1867)
With the end of the Seven Years' War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763), France ceded almost all of its territory in mainland North America, except for fishing rights off Newfoundland and two small islands where it could dry that fish. In turn France received the return of its sugar colony, Guadeloupe, which it considered more valuable than Canada.
The new British rulers retained and protected most of the property, religious, political, and social culture of the French-speaking habitants, guaranteeing the right of the Canadiens to practice the Catholic faith and to the use of French civil law (now Quebec law) through the Quebec Act of 1774. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 had been issued in October, by King George III following Great Britain's acquisition of French territory. The proclamation organized Great Britain's new North American empire and to stabilize relations between the British Crown and Aboriginal peoples through regulation of trade, settlement, and land purchases on the western frontier.
American Revolution and Loyalists
During the American Revolution there was some sympathy for the American cause among the Canadiens and the New Englanders in Nova Scotia. Neither party joined the rebels, although several hundred individuals joined the revolutionary cause. An invasion of Canada; by the Continental Army in 1775, to take Quebec from British control was halted at the Battle of Quebec, by Guy Carleton, with the assistance of local militias. The defeat of the British army during the Siege of Yorktown in October 1781, signaled the end of Britain's struggle to suppress the American Revolution. When the British evacuated New York City in 1783, they took many Loyalist refugees to Nova Scotia, while other Loyalists went to southwestern Quebec. So many Loyalists arrived on the shores of the St. John River that a separate colony—New Brunswick—was created in 1784; followed in 1791 by the division of Quebec into the largely French-speaking Lower Canada (French Canada) along the St. Lawrence River and Gaspé Peninsula and an anglophone Loyalist Upper Canada, with its capital settled by 1796 in York, in present-day Toronto. After 1790 most of the new settlers were American farmers searching for new lands; although generally favorable to republicanism, they were relatively non-political and stayed neutral in the War of 1812.
The signing of the Treaty of Paris 1783, formally ended the war. Britain made several concessions to the Americans at the expense of the North American colonies. Notably, the borders between Canada and the United States were officially demarkated. All land south of the Great Lakes, which was formerly a part of the Province of Quebec and included modern day Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, was ceded to the Americans. Fishing rights were also granted to the United States in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the coast of Newfoundland and the Grand Banks. The British ignored part of the treaty and maintained their military outposts in the Great Lakes areas it ceded to the U.S., and continued to supply the Indians there with munitions. The British evacuated the outposts with the Jay Treaty of 1795, but the continued supply of munitions irritated the Americans in the run-up to the war of 1812.
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was fought between the United States and the British with the British North American colonies being heavily involved. Greatly outgunned by the British Royal Navy, the American war plans focused on an invasion of Canada (especially what is today eastern and western Ontario). The American frontier states voted for war to suppress the First Nations raids that frustrated settlement of the frontier. The war on the border with the U.S. was characterized by a series of multiple failed invasions and fiascos on both sides. American forces took control of Lake Erie in 1813, driving the British out of western Ontario, killing the Native American leader Tecumseh, and breaking the military power of his confederacy. The war was overseen by Isaac Brock, with the assistance of First Nations and loyalist informants like Laura Secord.
The War ended with the Treaty of Ghent of 1814, and the Rush–Bagot Treaty of 1817. A demographic result was the shifting of American migration from Upper Canada to Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. After the war, supporters of Britain tried to repress the republicanism in Canada, that was common among American immigrants to Canada. The troubling memory of the war and the American invasions etched itself into the consciousness of Canadians as distrust of the intentions of the United States towards the British presence in North America.
Rebellions and the Durham Report
The rebellions of 1837 against the British colonial government took place in both Upper and Lower Canada. In Upper Canada, a band of Reformers under the leadership of William Lyon Mackenzie took up arms in a disorganized and ultimately unsuccessful series of small-scale skirmishes around Toronto, London, and Hamilton.
In Lower Canada, a more substantial rebellion occurred against British rule. Both English- and French-Canadian rebels, sometimes using bases in the neutral United States, fought several skirmishes against the authorities. The towns of Chambly and Sorel were taken by the rebels, and Quebec City was isolated from the rest of the colony. Montreal rebel leader Robert Nelson read the "Declaration of Independence of Lower Canada" to a crowd assembled at the town of Napierville in 1838. The rebellion of the Patriote movement were defeated after battles across Quebec. Hundreds were arrested, and several villages were burnt in reprisal.
British Government then sent Lord Durham to examine the situation, he stayed in Canada only five months before returning to Britain, and brought with him, his Durham Report which strongly recommended responsible government. A less well received recommendation was the amalgamation of Upper and Lower Canada for the deliberate assimilation of the French-speaking population. The Canadas were merged into a single colony, United Province of Canada, by the 1840 Act of Union, with responsible government achieved in 1848, a few months after it was granted to Nova Scotia. The parliament of United Canada in Montreal was set on fire by a mob of Tories in 1849 after the passing of an indemnity bill for the people who suffered losses during the rebellion in Lower Canada.
Between the Napoleonic Wars and 1850 some 800,000 immigrants came to the colonies of British North America, mainly from the British Isles as part of the great migration of Canada. These included Gaelic-speaking Highland Scots displaced by the Highland Clearances to Nova Scotia and Scottish and English settlers to the Canadas, particularly Upper Canada. The Irish Famine of the 1840s significantly increased the pace of Irish Catholic immigration to British North America, with over 35,000 distressed Irish landing in Toronto alone in 1847 and 1848.
Spanish explorers had taken the lead in the Pacific Northwest coast, with the voyages of Juan José Pérez Hernández in 1774 and 1775. By the time the Spanish determined to build a fort on Vancouver Island, the British navigator James Cook had visited Nootka Sound and charted the coast as far as Alaska, while British and American maritime fur traders had begun a busy era of commerce with the coastal peoples to satisfy the brisk market for sea otter pelts in China, thereby launching what became known as the China Trade.
In 1789 war threatened between Britain and Spain on their respective rights; the Nootka Crisis was resolved peacefully largely in favor of Britain, the much stronger naval power. In 1793 Alexander MacKenzie, a Canadian working for the North West Company, crossed the continent and with his Aboriginal guides and French-Canadian crew, reached the mouth of the Bella Coola River, completing the first continental crossing north of Mexico, missing George Vancouver's charting expedition to the region by only a few weeks. In 1821, the North West Company and Hudson's Bay Company merged, with a combined trading territory that was extended by a licence to the North-Western Territory and the Columbia and New Caledonia fur districts, which reached the Arctic Ocean on the north and the Pacific Ocean on the west.
The Colony of Vancouver Island was chartered in 1849, with the trading post at Fort Victoria as the capital. This was followed by the Colony of the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1853, and by the creation of the Colony of British Columbia in 1858 and the Stikine Territory in 1861, with the latter three being founded expressly to keep those regions from being overrun and annexed by American gold miners. The Colony of the Queen Charlotte Islands and most of the Stikine Territory were merged into the Colony of British Columbia in 1863 (the remainder, north of the 60th Parallel, became part of the North-Western Territory).
The Seventy-Two Resolutions from the 1864 Quebec Conference and Charlottetown Conference laid out the framework for uniting British colonies in North America into a federation. They had been adopted by the majority of the provinces of Canada and became the basis for the London Conference of 1866, which led to the formation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. The term dominion was chosen to indicate Canada's status as a self-governing colony of the British Empire, the first time it was used about a country. With the coming into force of the British North America Act (enacted by the British Parliament), the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia became a federated kingdom in its own right.
Federation emerged from multiple impulses: the British wanted Canada to defend itself; the Maritimes needed railroad connections, which were promised in 1867; British-Canadian nationalism sought to unite the lands into one country, dominated by the English language and British culture; many French-Canadians saw an opportunity to exert political control within a new largely French-speaking Quebec and fears of possible U.S. expansion northward. On a political level, there was a desire for the expansion of responsible government and elimination of the legislative deadlock between Upper and Lower Canada, and their replacement with provincial legislatures in a federation. This was especially pushed by the liberal Reform movement of Upper Canada and the French-Canadian Parti Rouge in Lower Canada who favored a decentralized union in comparison to the Upper Canadian Conservative party and to some degree the French-Canadian Parti bleu, which favored a centralized union.
Post-Confederation Canada 1867–1914
In 1866, the Colony of British Columbia and the Colony of Vancouver Island merged into a single Colony of British Columbia, until their incorporation into the Canadian Confederation in 1871. In 1873, Prince Edward Island, the Maritime colony that had opted not to join Confederation in 1867, was admitted into the country. That year, John A. Macdonald (First Prime Minister of Canada) created the North-West Mounted Police (now the Federal Canadian Mounted Police) to help police the Northwest Territories. Specifically the Mounties were to assert Canadian sovereignty over possible American encroachments into the sparsely populated land.
The Mounties first large scale mission was to suppress the second independence movement by Manitoba's Métis, a mixed blood people of joint First Nations and European descent, who originated in the mid-17th century. The desire for independence erupted in the Red River Rebellion in 1869 and the later North-West Rebellion in 1885 led by Louis Riel. In 1905 when Saskatchewan and Alberta were admitted as provinces, they were growing rapidly thanks to abundant wheat crops that attracted immigration to the plains by Ukrainians and Northern and Central Europeans and by settlers from the United States, Britain and eastern Canada.
The Alaska boundary dispute, simmering since the Alaska purchase of 1867, became critical when gold was discovered in the Yukon during the late 1890s, with the U.S. controlling all the possible ports of entry. Canada argued its boundary included the port of Skagway. The dispute went to arbitration in 1903, but the British delegate sided with the Americans, angering Canadians who felt the British had betrayed Canadian interests to curry favour with the U.S.
In 1893, legal experts codified a framework of civil and criminal law, culminating in the Criminal Code of Canada. This solidified the liberal ideal of "equality before the law" in a way that made an abstract principle into a tangible reality for every adult Canadian. Wilfrid Laurier who served 1896–1911 as the Seventh Prime Minister of Canada felt Canada was on the verge of becoming a world power, and declared that the 20th century would "belong to Canada".
Laurier signed a reciprocity treaty with the U.S. that would lower tariffs in both directions. Conservatives under Robert Borden denounced it, saying it would integrate Canada's economy into that of the U.S. and loosen ties with Britain. Conservatives win the Canadian federal election, 1911.
World Wars and Interwar Years 1914–1945
First World War
The Canadian Forces and civilian participation in the First World War helped to foster a sense of Canadian nationhood. The highpoints of Canadian military achievement during the First World War came during the Somme, Vimy, Passchendaele battles. The reputation Canadian troops earned, along with the success of Canadian flying aces including William George Barker and Billy Bishop, helped to give the nation a new sense of identity. The War Office in 1922 reported approximately 67,000 killed and 173,000 wounded during the war. This excludes civilian deaths in war time incidents like the Halifax Explosion.
Support for Great Britain during the First World War caused a major political crisis over conscription, with Francophones, mainly from Quebec, rejecting national policies. During the crisis large numbers of enemy aliens (especially Ukrainians and Germans) were put under government controls. The Liberal party was deeply split, with most of its Anglophone leaders joining the unionist government headed by Prime Minister Robert Borden, the leader of the Conservative party. The Liberals regained their influence after the war under the leadership of William Lyon Mackenzie King, who served as prime minister with three separate terms between 1921 and 1949.
As a result of the First World War, Canada became an independent nation; it became an independent member of the Berlin Peace Conference. The Department of External Affairs, which had been founded in 1909, was expanded and promoted Canadian interests abroad. Thus began the careers of such important diplomats as Norman Robertson and Hume Wrong, and future prime minister Lester Pearson.
In 1921 to 1926, William Lyon Mackenzie King's Liberal government pursued a conservative domestic policy with the object of lowering wartime taxes and, especially, cooling wartime ethnic tensions, as well as defusing postwar labour conflicts. The Progressives refused to join the government, but did help the Liberals defeat non-confidence motions. King faced a delicate balancing act of reducing tariffs enough to please the Prairie-based Progressives, but not too much to alienate his vital support in industrial Ontario and Quebec, which needed tariffs to compete with American imports. King and Conservative leader Arthur Meighen sparred constantly and bitterly in Commons debates. The Progressives gradually weakened. Their effective and passionate leader, Thomas Crerar, resigned to return to his grain business, and was replaced by the more placid Robert Forke. The socialist reformer J.S. Woodsworth gradually gained influence and power among the Progressives, and he reached an accommodation with King on policy matters.
In 1926 Prime Minister Mackenzie King advised the now President Robert Borden, to dissolve Parliament and call another election, but Borden refused, the only time that the Canadian head of state has exercised such a power. Instead Borden called upon Meighan, the Conservative Party leader, to form a government. Meighen attempted to do so, but was unable to obtain a majority in the Commons and he, too, advised dissolution, which this time was accepted.