As Canada turns 151, let's look back at its baby pictures from 1867

As the bells rang out at noon on July 1, 1867, Canada was introduced for the first time as a fresh-faced nation of four provinces and 3,463,000 people.

Reminisce about how Canada came to be and check out some facts about this country we call home

The landscaping around the centre block of Canada's Parliament buildings in Ottawa was a little bland in 1867, but then again the block had only opened a year earlier. It was razed by a fire in February 1916 and, though reconstruction began almost immediately, it wasn't completed until 1927. (Library and Archives Canada)

Oh Canada, you've come a long way — and my, how you've grown.

As the bells rang out at noon on July 1, 1867, you were introduced for the first time as a fresh-faced nation of four provinces and 3,463,000 people.

Now here were are, 151 years later, and you've grown into a country of 10 provinces and three territories and a population of 37,067,011. On a global scale, you rank 38th in total population but are the second-largest country by area.

On the occasion of your birthday, let's pull out the baby album and take a look back at some of your early photos, your history and some remarkable facts. 

A large crowd gathers to hear the proclamation of Confederation being read aloud in Kingston, Ont.'s Market Square on July 1, 1867. (Library and Archives Canada)
This photo, circa 1866 or 1867, shows Mi'kmaq people, who were among the original inhabitants of what is now Atlantic Canada and the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. (Library and Archives Canada)
Cariboo Road through the British Columbia Interior, circa 1867-1868. (Library and Archives Canada)

Canada facts

  • The largest population centres are Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa, with those six being the only cities with more than one million people.
  • The highest tides in the world occur in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
  • Wasaga Beach at the southern end of Ontario's Georgian Bay is the longest freshwater beach in the world.
  • The Trans-Canada Highway is among the longest highways in the world, at 7,821 kilometres.
  • The world's most northerly active sand dunes are in Athabasca Provincial Park in northwest Saskatchewan.
  • Canada covers a total area of 9,984,670 square kilometres. Of that, 9,093,507 square kilometres is land and 891,163 square kilometres is fresh water. 
  • Canada has six time zones.
  • The three sunniest cities in Canada are: Calgary (2,396 hours per year), Winnipeg (2,353) and Edmonton (2,345).
  • Ontario's Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the world.
  • Average life expectancy in Canada is 82.2 years, which ranks it 12th out of the world's 183 countries. No. 1 is Japan at 83.7 years. The United States ranks 31st at 79.3.
  • Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories are two of the largest lakes in the world.
  • The average number of people per household in Canada is 2.6. Back in 1867, it was 12.
  • The average age in Canada is 41. Alberta has the youngest population at an average of 36.7, followed by Saskatchewan and Manitoba at 37. Newfoundland and Labrador is oldest at 45.7. 

Canadian history 101

The settlement of Lytton, B.C., along the Cariboo Wagon Road in 1867. The community, which now has about 250 people, sits at the confluence of the Thompson River and Fraser River. (Library and Archives Canada)
People at Boston Bar, a settlement in the B.C.'s Fraser Canyon, circa 1863-1867. (Library and Archives Canada)
The view from the Halifax Citadel, circa 1867-1873. (Library and Archives Canada)

Canada Day carries many different meanings for people, with celebrations and protests as diverse as the country itself.

It can be a source of pride in Canadian accomplishment and a celebration of independence from Britain. For some, it is a source of sadness and referred to as "colonial day" in protest against European settlement.

It's the official start of school holidays, the first holiday of summer, or just an excuse to wear a lot of gaudy red and white and light fireworks.

For much of the country, the enactment of the British North America Act (later changed to Constitution Act, 1867) in 1867 didn't even apply to them.

The fledgling nation had just four provinces — Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

A view of Fredericton, cirica 1867-1873. (Library and Archives Canada)
Looking west from the courthouse to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, circa 1867. (Library and Archives Canada)
The Rideau Canal and Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, circa 1867. (Library and Archives Canada)

In the fall of 1864, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island gathered to discuss a Maritime union, fuelled by fears stemming from the U.S. Civil War and rumours that America wanted to expand its territory north.

The colonies in the Maritimes viewed Britain's increasing reluctance to maintain the expense of defending them as a threat and believed they needed to band together and form a larger government. Newfoundland was also invited, while leaders in the Province of Canada (formerly Lower Canada and Upper Canada) announced their interest in being part of the new union, too.

Settler's house and Red River cart in Manitoba in 1862. (Lawrence J. Barkwell)
An 1858 photo of St. Paul's Church, parsonage and school house, about 14 kilometres south of Upper Fort Garry, now downtown Winnipeg. (Library and Archives Canada)
The home of Andrew McDermot, close to present day Portage and Main in Winnipeg, seen here in 1858. McDermot was a Hudson's Bay Company employee who became a prominent merchant in the settlement. (Library and Archives Canada)

The 1864 conference in Charlottetown brought them all together, but it took several years, several meetings in other cities and several legislative votes before most delegates agreed on a draft of the British North America Act in February 1867.

Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland opted against joining, however.

The draft was presented to Queen Victoria that same month and received royal assent in March, with July 1 set as the date for the union of the colonies into one dominion within the British Empire.

Upon Confederation, the old province of Canada was divided into Ontario and Quebec and the dominion's first prime minister was John A. Macdonald.

Upper Fort Garry, at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, seen here in 1880. (Library and Archives Canada)
The southeast corner of Lower Fort Garry, northeast of present-day Winnipeg, circa 1878-1880. (Library and Archives Canada)
An Indigenous camp in Manitoba in 1890. (Library and Archives Canada)

But hold on. This land we call Canada was still a long way from being what we celebrate today.

With concerns over the U.S. looking to annex the West, after it purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867, the new dominion looked to extend its reach.

Corner of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive in Ottawa, circa 1865-1870. (Library and Archives Canada)
Hamilton as seen in the years just prior to Confederation. (Library and Archives Canada)

The Northwest Territories and Manitoba were brought into Confederation in 1870.

British Columbia joined in 1871 and Prince Edward Island finally signed on in 1873.

Yukon split from the Northwest Territories to become its own territory in 1898.

Alberta and Saskatchewan joined in 1905 and, in 1949, Newfoundland became the 10th province. The borders stayed the same for 50 years, until 1999, when Nunavut became Canada's third territory.

The room in which the Charlottetown, P.E.I, conference was held in 1864. (Library and Archives Canada)
Delegates from the legislatures of Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island meet at a convention in Charlottetown, P.E.I., on Sept. 1, 1864, to consider the union of the British North American colonies. (Library and Archives Canada)
Charlottetown's Grafton Street seen from Province House, circa 1865. (Library and Archives Canada)

Even though the Constitution Act of 1867 provided a semblance of independence to the dominion, it wasn't until the Canada Act of 1982 that Canada fully patriated its constitution. Up until then, the British Parliament was required to approve any changes to Canada's constitution.

What anthem is that?

It wasn't until 1965 that Canada adopted the Maple Leaf flag, replacing the Red Ensign, while the national anthem wasn't officially adopted until 1980. O Canada had served as a de facto national anthem since being written by Robert Stanley Weir in the early 1900s, but had some competition for the role from The Maple Leaf Forever, a song many found too jingoistic.

Its lyrics have changed several times, most recently earlier this year when they became:

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all of us command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee

Most Canadian probably don't know the extra stanzas Weir wrote for the song, which are rarely used. But if you want to belt out the full original version, here it is: 

O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love thou dost in us command.
We see thee rising fair, dear land,
The True North, strong and free;
And stand on guard, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.

O Canada! O Canada!
O Canada! We stand on guard for thee,
O Canada! We stand on guard for thee.

O Canada! Where pines and maples grow.
Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow.
How dear to us thy broad domain,
From East to Western sea.
Thou land of hope for all who toil!
Thou True North, strong and free!


O Canada! Beneath thy shining skies
May stalwart sons, and gentle maidens rise,
To keep thee steadfast through the years
From East to Western sea.
Our own beloved native land!
Our True North, strong and free!


Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
Hold our Dominion within thy loving care;
Help us to find, O God, in thee
A lasting, rich reward,
As waiting for the better Day,
We ever stand on guard.


Toronto's King Street, as seen a year after Confederation in 1868. (Library and Archives Canada)
A carriage driver in 1867 at New Fort in Toronto. New Fort was a military site that was located on the city's original shoreline. The land is now the present CNE grounds. (Toronto Public Library)
Secwepemc and Cariboo chiefs in a May 1867 photo, taken at New Westminster, B.C. (Library and Archives Canada)
Edmonton in 1867, as seen on a postcard. (University of Alberta/Peel's Prairie Provinces)
In 1867, two-thirds of what is now known as Canada was under control of the Hudson's Bay Company and called Rupert's Land. (Wikimedia Commons/Golbez)


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.