10 Reasons Why Canada’s History is Really Cool

An impressive fort, famous gold rush and really big explosion are just a few reasons.
 

L’Anse aux Meadows, photo by D. A. Wilkes/Parks Canada

Europeans came to the Americas through Canada

Evidence of North America’s earliest European visitors can be found on a tiny patch of land on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula. L’Anse aux Meadows is the first and only known Viking settlement in the New World. In the 1960s, an archaeologist excavated remains of an 11th-century settlement complete with timber-framed turf buildings. Visitors can tour the area with costumed guides, view original artifacts and experience life in the Viking age.

We made telecommunication history

Cabot Tower is perched on a cliff on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. This famous structure has been part of many historical moments, but its most notable was on Dec. 12, 1901, when inventor Guglielmo Marconi received the first-ever transatlantic wireless signal—one of the world’s greatest telecommunication achievements. The Tower is part of Signal Hill National Historic Site in St. John’s, which was also an important battleground for the French and British.

Our national parks are amazing

Canada is world-renowned for its national parks system, which includes 46 parks and is one of the world’s largest systems of protected areas. And it all began with a hot spring: in 1883, three railway workers stumbled upon a thermal hot spring in what is now Banff National Park. The workers tried to claim the area, but the government saw the tourism potential of the springs and established a reserve, which was renamed a national park—the country’s first. The pool still exists at Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

Our government built a secret bunker

Just outside Ottawa, 23 metres underground, is a massive bunker made of 5,000 tonnes of steel and built to withstand a five-megaton nuclear blast. For nearly three decades, the public didn’t know it existed. Secretly commissioned by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker during the Cold War, the “Diefenbunker” was meant to shelter government and military officials in the event of a nuclear war. Luckily, it was never used, and is now a Cold War museum.

Our First Nations history is rich and unique

Alberta’s many important archaeological sites include the nearly 6,000-year-old Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, the world’s oldest, largest and best-preserved buffalo jump. The interpretive centre has videos and displays that explore this sophisticated method of hunting in which the Plains Peoples, using their knowledge of the topography and buffalo behaviour, herded the animals toward the edge of the cliff, where they plunged to their deaths.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, photo by Roth and Ramberg Photography/Travel Alberta

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, photo by Roth and Ramberg Photography/Travel Alberta

Halifax survived the world’s largest man-made explosion

On December 6, 1917, two ships collided in Halifax Harbour resulting in the world’s largest man-made explosion prior to the nuclear age. More than 2,000 people were killed and some 9,000 were injured. Relief flooded in from around the country and the U.S. in support of rebuilding Nova Scotia’s devastated capital. Today, the city has many sites commemorating the Halifax Explosion, including the must-see Halifax Wrecked exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Canada was at the centre of the continent’s gold rush

Possibly the most famous of all the gold rushes that swept the West Coast in the late 1800s is the Yukon’s Klondike Gold Rush. In 1897, thousands flooded the small trading post of Dawson City, turning it into a boom town in just months. An estimated $29 million in gold was recovered in just two years, but due to industrial mining, Dawson’s decline was as quick as its rise. Today, the Dawson Historical Complex protects more than 17 buildings associated with the rush.

Nova Scotia is the site of one impressive fort

Louisbourg in Cape Breton is the site of the continent’s most impressive fort. The Fortress of Louisbourg, an early French settlement that guarded the entrance of the St. Lawrence, was surrounded by four kilometres of wall, nine metres high and 11 metres thick in places. But, when the British took over Louisbourg after the 1758 siege, it was dismantled. Now the country’s largest historical reconstruction, it features 50 buildings over five hectares.

Engineering feats help to connect the country

As the Canadian Pacific Railway expanded west, B.C.’s seemingly impervious Selkirk Mountains hindered Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s plan to connect Canada from coast to coast. But, in 1882, American railway surveyor A. B. Rogers found a pass in the mountains; international workers tunnelled through the treacherous area and, with groundbreaking engineering feats, Roger’s Pass was completed in 1885. Hike the area, and marvel at this achievement.

Herds of dinosaurs once roamed Alberta

Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park has the greatest concentration of late-cretaceous fossils in the world—48 species of dinosaurs have been found at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, giving visitors a look at life on earth 75-million years ago. More than 400 dinosaur skeletons have been recovered from the area and are on display in 30- plus international museums. Visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum in nearby Drumheller to get a look at the fossils.

 

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