Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday in the spirit of the country: with positivity, diversity and culturally and historically important exhibitions. While there may be talk of commemorative bank notes and a tulip for the occasion, the historical importance of these celebrations is not to be overlooked. Canada’s history stretches back much further than its 150 years of confederation, and this year is the opportunity to explore centuries of heritage.
This is the perfect year to enjoy a Canadian holiday, especially with free entry to Canadian national parks and the air of celebration across the country. If you are looking to soak up some history on your holiday to Canada, check out some of the most impressive historical sites in the country.
Cape Spear Lighthouse- Newfoundland & Labrador
Situated on the most eastern point of Canada and North America, it is where the sun rises first on the entire continent and therefore the site and building is of geographical and historical note. The original lighthouse was a wooden structure and was the second lighthouse to be built in Newfoundland. The Cape Spear light house was built in 1835 and has been updated with dioptric, acetylene and finally electric lights.
The Cape Spear light house has been kept by the same family with two exceptions since 1846. In 1835, a dense fog hid a warship carrying a prominent figure to St John’s Harbour, and the vessel was subsequently lost. The governor of St John’s Harbour sent out pilot boats to retrieve the lost vessel and the young James Cantwell was successful in his rescue mission. When asked what reward he wished for, he mentioned stewardship of the Cape Spear lighthouse that was then under construction. Though the post had been promised to another man, at his death ten years later, James Cantwell took up his reward and his family have remained there since.
L’Anse Aux Meadows- Newfoundland & Labrador
While Christopher Columbus may have discovered the Americas in a lasting way, he may not have been the first European to step foot on the soil of the New World. In the 1960s, two Norwegians, Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad, set off to find a site only alluded to in the Icelandic Sagas. The mythical Vinland is thought to have translated to ‘Wine- land’ and would have to refer to an area south of the Massachusetts coast to have grapes growing wild. The Ingstad’s had a different theory, that Vinland referred to meadows and would include a peninsula.
The local George Decker took Helge to the ‘Old Indian Camp’ where the bumps beneath the ground had been mistaken in origin, attributed to First Nation People as opposed to Norse. Helge and Anne Ingstad excavated the area between 1961 and 1968 and determined that L’Anse aux Meadows was of Norse origin and dating back to approximately 1000 AD. This is therefore believed to be an example of the first European settlement, the eight houses that were uncovered have been reburied to protect and preserve the area which has since been pronounced a UNESCO World Heritage site. Reconstructions have been built so visitors have a better idea of the structures that would have been in place.
Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump- Alberta
Though the name may not roll off the tongue, the area is significant as the site of one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved buffalo jumps in the world. Buffalo jumps or cliffs hark back to a method of hunting used as early as 12,000 years ago. Using the topography of the area and their knowledge of herd animals such as buffalo or reindeer, these early people were able to hunt game much larger than themselves and in large quantities.
Buffalos provided not only food and fur, but sinews were used for bow strings and laces, bones for tools and hide for clothing. In the foot hills of the Rocky Mountains, Head Smashed In is a dedicated UNESCO World Heritage Site and has also brought the Museum of Blackfoot Culture to the area.
Inuksuk Point – Nunavut
Inuksuk Point is a remarkable spot where you can explore the harsh landscape and learn about the people that once lived there. Located on Baffin Island, these are not the only Inuksuit (plural) in the world, as these stone structures are found in Iceland and India, however Inuksuk Point has around a hundred of these structures and en masse, they are startling.
Though not particularly tall, Inuksuit were built by the Inuit people as markers in the flat and often tough landscape of the Canadian Arctic. With the oldest Inuksuit thought to be over 4,000 years-old, these monuments are often more than markers and much of Inuit folklore speaks of the importance of them. Not only has Inuksuk Point been a historic site of Canada since 1969, but Inuksuit have come to symbolise Canadian spirit, with modern examples sitting outside Canadian Embassy’s and at Toronto Pearson Airport.
Baffin Island may seem a remote location, however it is well connected with flights and worth the effort to walk among the monuments left behind by the Inuit people of this area.
George Brown House – Ontario
This home was built between 1874 and 1876 and though it has served various purposes over the years its first owner was a man of political prestige. Though George Brown was born in Scotland, he quickly emigrated to the United States of America and then Canada with his family. While here, Brown’s father set up The Globe newspaper in 1844 and used it as a platform to air his family’s views on reform.
In 1850, Brown turned his attention to the slavery that was rife across much of the United States and helped found the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada. With the aid of an underground railway, the society was able to transport many former slaves to Canada and to safety, away from their former persecution.
Ninstints – British Columbia
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Site of Canada, the town of Ninstints on the Haida Gwaii archipelago is a true experience into the culture of the Haida people. Ninstints features the largest collection of Haida Totem Poles in their original locations, which are incredible as both works of art and cultural touchstones. These totem poles still reside in an original placement and are therefore at the mercy of the elements and the rainforest climate has done much to weather these incredible features.
The village is also significant as the original settlers were almost entirely wiped out by small pox brought by the Europeans. Travelling to this remote location is extremely worthwhile as intimate tours are conducted in small groups of 10 or 12. This allows you to fully appreciate the majesty and heritage of the area.