Although Canada is the second-largest country in the world by landmass, its vast expanse is only split into ten provinces and three territories. Furthermore, although there are thirteen provinces and territories in total, there are fourteen capital cities! As you read through this list of capital cities, you’ll notice that the oldest tend to be in the southeast of Canada where European settlers first arrived while the youngest tend to be in the geographical north and west. Read on to discover the ages of the youngest to oldest capital cities in Canada!
14. Iqaluit, NU: 1942
Iqaluit (Inuktitut for “place of many fish”) is the capital of the easternmost Canadian territory, Nunavut. It’s also the most recently founded capital city in Canada, although its primarily Inuit population has lived in the area for millennia. It sits on the far eastern side of Nunavut. As the only city in this sparsely-populated territory, it’s also by far its largest community. As of 2021, it had a population of 7,429.
Iqaluit did not become a permanent settlement until 1942 when the U.S. Air Force constructed Frobisher Bay Air Base. At that time, the name for the settlement was Frobisher Bay after Sir Martin Frobisher, who was the first European to find the area in 1576. By 1963, the Americans were gone and the settlement defaulted to the Canadian government, which officially recognized Frobisher Bay as a settlement in 1970. By 1987, the city had reverted to its proper Inuktitut name. In December 1995, the government declared Iqaluit to be the capital of Nunavut.
13. Yellowknife, NT: 1934
The city of Yellowknife is the capital of the second Canadian territory, the Northwest Territories. This vast tract of land sits to the north of Canada’s 10 provinces between Nunavut and the Yukon. As the second youngest capital city in Canada, Yellowknife sits in the southeastern portion of the Northwest Territories on the northern shore of Great Slave Lake. As of 2021, it had a population of 20,340.
Yellowknife was founded in 1934 for gold mining, though the government didn’t officially establish it as the territory’s capital city until 1967. The city lies within the traditional territory of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, from which it derived its name. The Yellowknives derived their name from the copper-bladed knives they possessed.
12. Whitehorse, YT: 1897
The third youngest capital city in Canada, Whitehorse, is the capital city of the westernmost and smallest Canadian territory, the famous Yukon. As of 2021, the population of Whitehorse was 28,201, making it the largest northern Canadian city.
Whitehorse first came to be during the Gold Rush of the late 1800s. Prospectors discovered gold in the region in 1896, drawing an influx of gold-seekers. By 1897, people were camping at an informal settlement known as “White Horse.” Soon after, permanent buildings replaced tents and the settlement expanded. The government officially recognized the city as the Yukon’s capital in 1953. Historians believe its name derives from the white caps on nearby rapids, which appear to be the white manes of horses.
11. Regina, SK: 1882
Regina is the fourth youngest capital city in Canada. It sits in the southern portion of the western prairie province of Saskatchewan. As of 2021, Regina had a population of 226,404. This number is expected to grow significantly over the coming years as the city expands.
Regina as we know it today began as an agricultural settlement in the 1880s, earning its current name in 1882. As with most Canadian capitals, Indigenous people had lived in the area for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. Regina’s original name was Wascana, which is Cree for “Buffalo Bones.” The current name comes from the Latin for “queen,” which was a tribute to the reigning monarch Queen Victoria. Regina officially became a city in 1903 and the capital city of Saskatchewan in 1905.
10. Victoria, BC: 1843
Victoria is the capital of the Canadian province British Columbia on Canada’s Pacific Coast. It’s the second oldest city in Western Canada and the country’s tenth oldest capital city. It sits on the extreme southern end of Vancouver Island. As of 2021, Victoria had a population of 91,867.
The Hudson’s Bay Company founded Victoria on March 14, 1843, as a fort and trading post. Originally, it bore the name of Fort Albert after its move from Vancouver, but the company changed the name to Fort Victoria on June 10th to honor Queen Victoria. Eventually, the government dropped “fort” from the name in 1852. Victoria was incorporated as a city on August 2, 1862, and designated the capital city of British Columbia on July 20, 1871.
9. Ottawa, ON: 1826
Ottawa is the ninth oldest capital city in Canada, tucked into the southeastern corner of the province of Ontario. It also holds the distinction of being the country’s official capital. Strangely enough, although Ottawa is the capital of Canada, it’s not the capital of its province. That honor goes to Toronto, which you can find further down this list. Ottawa became the capital mainly because of its defensible location and its approximate equidistance between major hubs Toronto and Montreal. As of 2021, the city had a population of 1,017,449, making it the fourth-largest city in Canada.
Ottawa originated in 1826 as the settlement Bytown, which took its name from Colonel John By. By attracted an influx of settlers to the area when he built the Rideau Canal to improve Canada’s military preparedness. Bytown became Ottawa during its incorporation as a town in 1855. In 1857, Queen Victoria officially declared Ottawa to be the capital of Canada. Its name comes from the Algonquin word “adawe,” which means “to trade.”
8. Winnipeg, MB: 1812
Winnipeg is the eighth oldest capital city in Canada and its sixth largest city. It sits in the southern portion of the province of Manitoba near the horizontal center of the country. The name Winnipeg derives from the Western Cree words for “muddy” (win) and “water” (nipee), which refers to nearby Lake Winnipeg. As of 2021, Winnipeg had a population of 749,607.
Fur trading posts such as Fort Rouge have existed in the Winnipeg area since 1738, but Scottish crofters created the first permanent settlement on the land in 1812. Winnipeg was incorporated as a city and declared Manitoba’s capital in 1873 with a population of just 1,869 people. The arrival of the railroad in 1881 resulted in an influx of settlers that greatly expanded the population. Winnipeg gained a reputation for being the “Gateway to the West” and the “Heart of the Continent.”
7. Edmonton, AB: 1795
Edmonton is the seventh oldest capital city in Canada and the capital of the province of Alberta. It sits approximately in the middle of the province, which lies between British Columbia and Saskatchewan. The city was named Edmonton after a town of the same name north of London, England. As of 2021, Edmonton had a population of 1,010,899, making it Canada’s fifth-largest city.
Edmonton first originated as a trading post called Fort Edmonton in 1795. The settlement began to overflow the fort, leading to its eventual incorporation as a town in 1892. By 1904, it was incorporated as a full-fledged city. A year later in 1905, it became the capital of Alberta. The discovery of oil in the area in 1947 resulted in a boom that accelerated Edmonton’s already rapid growth and transformed the city into a thriving metropolis.
6. Toronto, ON: 1793
Toronto is the sixth oldest capital city in Canada just behind Edmonton. This sprawling metropolis is the capital of the province of Ontario and lies to the south of Ottawa. The name Toronto derives from the Mohawk word “tkaronto,” which means “where trees are standing in the water.” As of 2021, Toronto had a population of 2,794,356, making it by far the largest city in Canada and the fourth most populous city in North America. It contains a large immigrant population.
Several transitory settlements cropped up on the site of modern-day Toronto, including a French trading post in 1750 called Fort Rouillé. However, no one managed to establish a permanent settlement there until 1793. Ontario’s first governor, John Graves Simcoe, created the small town of York as a military base to monitor the Canadian-American border. He named it after the son of King George III, the Duke of York. York became Toronto in the course of its incorporation as a city on March 6, 1834. Not until the Confederation in 1867 did Toronto gain status as the capital of Ontario. It was chosen as the provincial capital for its strategic military and economic position.
5. Fredericton, NB: 1783
The capital of the province of New Brunswick, Fredericton, is the fifth oldest capital city in Canada. It sits slightly south of the center of this diminutive province. As of 2021, Fredericton had a population of 63,116.
French colonists originally established the town of Pointe-Ste-Anne (St. Anne’s Point) on the site of modern Fredericton, but that settlement didn’t last. After the British destroyed Pointe-Ste-Anne in 1758 and routed its inhabitants, United Empire Loyalists arrived from New England in 1783 and renamed it “Fredericstown.” The name honored the second son of King George III, Prince Frederick, Duke of York. On April 25, 1785, Governor Thomas Carleton recommended that the settlement become the capital of the newly formed province of New Brunswick. The name subsequently changed from Fredericstown (also Frederick’s Town) to Fredericton. The city was eventually incorporated on March 30, 1848.
4. Halifax, NS: 1749
Halifax is the fourth oldest capital city in Canada and the capital of the maritime province of Nova Scotia. It derived its name from the 2nd Earl of Halifax, George Montagu-Dunk. It sits near the center of Nova Scotia. As of 2021, Halifax had a population of 439,819.
Halifax originated as a wartime settlement and the capital of Nova Scotia in 1749. Colonel Edward Cornwallis arrived in the area with British settlers, transports, and a sloop of war on June 21st. This marked the beginning of the Father Le Loutre’s War (1749-1755), also known as the Indian War, and violated prior treaties with the local Mi’kmaq people. Despite the conflict, both sides eventually agreed to a peace treaty in 1761. Halifax was incorporated as a city in 1842.
3. Charlottetown, PE: 1720
Charlottetown is the third oldest capital city in Canada and the capital of the country’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island. This tiny maritime province is nestled amid its Atlantic neighbors New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Its capital Charlottetown derived its name from Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III. It sits near the center of the island. As of 2021, the city had a population of 38,809.
Charlottetown began its existence in 1720 as the Acadian port town of Port la Joie. The area was originally under French control, but the British gained possession of the land due to the 1763 Treaty of Paris. At this time, they renamed the settlement Charlottetown. In 1764, the British government appointed Captain Samuel Holland to be Surveyor-General to survey their New World lands. His recommendation that Charlottetown become the capital of Prince Edward Island became law in 1765. It was incorporated as a city on April 17, 1855.
2. Québec, QC: 1608
The second oldest capital city in Canada is Québec City, the capital of the Francophone province of Québec. It is located in the southeastern portion of the province on the Saint Lawrence River. In 1985, UNESCO declared the historic neighborhood of Old Québec a World Heritage Site due to its status as one of the oldest European settlements in North America. As of 2021, Québec City had a population of 549,459, making it the eleventh largest city in Canada. Despite its status as the provincial capital, it trails nearby Montreal in terms of population.
French explorer Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Québec in 1608. He derived its name from the Algonquin name Kébec, which means “where the river narrows” (a reference to the Saint Lawrence River). The Constitutional Act of 1791 designated Québec the capital of Lower Canada (now the province of Québec). The city was incorporated in 1832.
1. St. John’s, NF: 1583
The oldest capital city in Canada is the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s. The city sits on the extreme eastern tip of the province’s Avalon Peninsula, which made it accessible to 16th-century European settlers and accounts for its early founding date. The province is known for its idiosyncratic but hospitable people and its iconic outport culture. As of 2021, St. John’s had a population of 110,525.
A popular legend claims that European explorer John Cabot (Zuan Caboto) arrived in St. John’s harbor as early as June 24, 1497, on the feast of St. John the Baptist. Though this is likely untrue, the site of the modern city functioned as critical fishing grounds from the early 1500s. The harbor appears on a Portuguese map from 1519 as Säo Joäo, which translates to St. John’s. This would seem to indicate that Portuguese or Basque fishermen were already using that name at this time.
However, the earliest evidence of a permanent settlement in the area dates from 1583 when Sir Humphrey Gilbert arrived to claim Newfoundland for the British. It was not until 1949 when the province joined the Canadian Confederation – the last of the 10 provinces to do so – that St. John’s officially became the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Summary Table of the 14 Oldest Capital Cities in Canada
|Number||City||Founded||Established as Capital City|
|1||St. John’s, NF||1583||1949|
For more census data on Canada’s provinces and territories, visit Statistics Canada.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Aqnus Febriyant/Shutterstock.com
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