With the first permanent remaining settlement in Canada founded in the early 1600s, many falsely assume that Canada is lacking in historical sites worth visiting. This could not be further from the truth.
One does not need to be a history buff to appreciate the hundreds of historical sites across Canada which reflect the nation’s rich history and culture. From 1,000-year-old experimental Viking settlements on the Atlantic coast to abandoned mining towns in the far north to all the Indigenous settlements in between, Canada is filled with inspiring historical places
We picked ten must-visit destinations for anyone seeking to explore the beautiful country of Canada.
10. Dawson City, Yukon
Sparsely populated Yukon became host to a sudden influx of new residents beginning in the mid-1890s as word of gold in the area sent thousands of people running north to find wealth. Amid this goldrush, known as the Klondike Gold Rush, Dawson City was founded in 1896, within two years became home to 40,000 people, and a year later to just 8,000 as the goldrush came to an end. Today, the city is still populated with less than 1,500 residents, the second largest city in the Yukon.
Nevertheless, the town still carries the goldrush architecture with it to this day. Wild west architecture carrying signs with wild west fonts can be seen on both sides of the city streets, and the city still hosts saloons.
Even still today, visitors and tourists can head to the nearby Klondike Gold Fields to pan for gold. The lucky ones may return with a tiny new fortune of mineral wealth! Those who are not so interested in pushing their luck can still take a tour through the local gold mines, some of which are still operational.
One can also visit nearby Forty Mile, a town which once was the largest in Yukon at the height of the gold rush but today is a ghost town.
9. Fort Henry, Ontario
Overlooking the city of Kingston, Ontario rests Fort Henry, a British military post founded during the War of 1812. The original fort, however, seemed inadequate for the British, who were suspicious of their American neighbours lying right across the river, and a new fort was built in 1832. Throughout its existence, the fort was never attacked or placed under siege.
As relations between the United States and Canada began to warm as time went on, the fort became increasingly used as a prisoners of war camp, most notably for German soldiers during World War II.
The modern fort serves as a museum for tourists, complete with a whole military garrison known as the Fort Henry Guard, which simulated the life of soldiers who lived in the fort’s quarters during the 19th century.
For those who enjoy superstitions, be sure to go on Fort Henry’s Haunted Walk Experience, which explores the alleged “haunting” of the military fort.
8. Ninstints, British Columbia
Ninstints, also known as SGang Gwaay was the name of an Indigenous Haida village on the archipelago of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. The inhabitants of the area maintained trade relations with local colonial authorities until the village was decimated first by smallpox, and then by other diseases in the mid-late 19th century. The village was eventually abandoned by the late 1800s.
Today, the original longhouses are no longer standing, but the visitors can still revel in the towering totem poles which still stand to this day. Some remains of the longhouses exist as well, with cut wooden polls sticking out of the ground or lying on the grassy floor.
Visitors have described the experience of visiting Ninstints as “mystical,” but for those who aren’t as spiritual, you can also go kayaking and camping nearby after appreciating the physical beauty the former village has to offer.
7. Fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia
Facing the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of Cape Breton island lies the historic French Fortress of Louisbourg. Construction began in 1713 when a settlement was founded in the area, and the fortress grew to become one of the most important places in North America. At one point, the fortress was the second largest settlement in New France after Quebec City, which we’ll get to later, and the third busiest port on the continent.
The area changed hands between the French and the British until the French were permanently removed from the fort during the Seven Years’ War. Upon being captured by the British during the war, British forces chose to destroy the fort’s walls and the settlement began to decline from its height of 4,000 people.
By 1961, nearly two centuries after it had been abandoned, the Canadian government decided to rebuild the fort’s walls and some of the buildings within it to serve as a historical site and museum. One can tour the fortifications, and if they’re lucky they may see cannonballs being shot. Inside the buildings, visitors can view historical weapons and other items used by residents of the fort at the time.
While the building that are currently standing there are not the originals, the Canadian government employed a team of interdisciplinary researchers to reconstruct the buildings as accurately as possible, sometimes using the same stones used in the original fort.
6. Fort York, Ontario
Tucked into the heart of Toronto, Fort York was built to defend what was then the small British settlement of York in 1793 to defend Canada against the newly founded United States of America.
Fort York was famously burned to the ground by American forces in a raid during the War of 1812, with a new fort being built over the remains. Following the rebuilding, the fort served as a military hospital for the remainder of the war. Fort York continued to be owned by British, then Canadian troops for nearly a century afterwards. In 1909, the fort was transferred over to the civil authority and it was restored with some of its original, pre-War of 1812 configurations. Many buildings are still missing, however, with researchers using new technologies to detect where those buildings once stood.
Today, Fort York serves as a history museum of the War of 1812. Visitors are welcome to visit the reconstructed barracks, blockhouses, and the other areas of the fort, which aesthetically contrast with the surrounding high-rises which define the modern city of Toronto. In the buildings, you can find classic 1812 century layouts of buildings alongside historical artefacts such as cannons. The flag flying over Fort York is still British too.
5. Old Quebec, Quebec
Quebec City is one of the oldest cities in Canada, first settled by Iroquois as a settlement known as Stadcona, and officially founded by Samuel de Champlain, another French explorer, in 1608 as a trading post. It is also the only walled city in the Americas north of Mexico.
Quebec City was captured and destroyed in 1628 and rebuilt four years later modelled on the design of traditional French villages, endowing the city with a unique, old world feel. After all, it was in New France. The city was designed for the upper area to be where the seat of government rests, along with the homes of the wealthy and powerful. The lower village was inhabited by those who lacked wealth and power, but nevertheless enjoyed a beautiful and scenic city landscape.
Today, Quebec City boasts hundreds of thousands of people and serves as the capital city of the province of Quebec, with Old Quebec being the most stunning part of the city. The world-famous Chateau Frontenac is the masterpiece of the area and welcomes visitors to stay there. Walk down Petit-Champlain and enjoy a plethora of independent boutiques situated in historic buildings. Don’t miss the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, a magnificient stone church completed in 1723.
4. Batoche, Saskatchewan
Founded in 1872 by Metis people, it did not take long for trouble to come to Batoche. The site, of course, is the location of the Battle of Batoche, the battle which decided the fate of the North-West Rebellion of 1885.
The battle pitted 250 Metis troops against nearly 1,000 Canadians. After four days and 24 deaths, the Metis fighters were forced to surrender to the Canadians. It was at this battle that the famous Metis leader Louis Riel was captured. He was later executed for treason.
The village eventually became incorporated and had as many as 500 people but declined in population shortly after with only a handful of residents remaining today.
The modern site contains a number of restored and preserved buildings, some of which still have bullet holes from the time of the battle. The site operates as a tourist destination from May through to September, during which actors who simulate the life of the Metis people of the village at the time are present for the enjoyment of visitors. You can also visit the village’s church and cemetery.
3. Red Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador
Modern Red Bay is a small fishing village situated on the coast of Labrador with less than 200 inhabitants. Yet despite its small size, the town carries an interesting and long history.
Within decades of Europeans beginning their colonization efforts in the Americas, small-time entrepreneurs quickly realized that the continent could be a lucrative source of wealth for themselves. In Basque, a small region sandwiched between France and Spain, the locals realized that the Labrador coast had a large whale population, perfect for the commercial whaling.
Despite being a dangerous practice, hundreds of Basque sailors travelled thousands of kilometers across the Atlantic Ocean every year in order to hunt whales beginning in the 16th century. The reason? Whales carry blubber, an expensive and in-demand product in Europe at the time. Large fleets of Basque sailors, seeking new and untouched whaling grounds, therefore established a series of small, temporary fishing villages along the Labrador coast from which they would hunt whales.
As mentioned, however, whaling is a very dangerous activity given the size of the sea mammals. Many boats were sunk or capsized in the years the Basque spent in the region. The Basque eventually moved on to other whaling sites, but the sunken remains of their voyages remain. Visitors to Red Bay can still see these old shipwrecks today, with a number of them having been brought back to land for tourists to enjoy.
2. York Factory, Manitoba
On the coast of Hudson's Bay lies York Factory, an array of buildings which once served as the headquarters of the northern department of the Hudson's Bay Company. It was originally built as a simple trading post in 1684, the first trading post founded by HBC. Over time, it was eventually fortified as a military outpost and remained in use as a distribution centre by HBC until 1957.
The forst served as the starting point of the York Factory Express, which is named after it. The York Factory Express was a transport route which extended through the western provinces of Canada until the Pacific Ocean was reached at Fort Vancouver in modern-day Oregon. It was not a trading route, however, and serves as a quick back-and-forth route for personnel and correspondences across the continent.
Modern day York Factory consists of a few buildings along the coastline of Hudson's Bay. The buildings have artefacts and tools in them, some of which are hundreds of years old, spread out across a set of tables. Getting there can be difficult, however, and visiting is only recommended in the summer months where you would be through a sequence of plane, car, and boat rides. You may also see some polar bears around, so make sure to be alert and stay safe.
1. L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador
Settled and quickly abandoned over 1,000 years ago, L'Anse aux Meadows is the only known Norse settlement in North America outside of Greenland.
The Norse vikings were prolific sailors who ruled the seas of northern Europe for centuries. The vikings originated from Scandinavia, but later went on to settle Iceland and Greenland. Half a millenium before Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba, one viking by the name of Leif Erikson, the son of Erik the Red who was the first viking to settle Greenland, became the first European to set foot in North America, landing in what is today Newfoundland but what the Norse called "Vinland."
The vikings attempted to colonize Vinland, but their endeavour did not last very long. Without the dramatically more powerful technology possessed by the Europeans who arrived another 500 years later, the vikings found themselves unable to sustain their settlement in the face of opposition from local Indigenous tribes. The vikings eventually chose to abandon their settlements, with L'Anse aux Meadows being the only known remains.