The Seven Years War 1756-1763
The Seven Years War (1756–63) (the War of Conquest) was a culmination of a century-long battle between France and Britain for domination of North America and world supremacy. The Seven Years War is significant because it is the first global war (Europe, India, and America) fought at both land and sea and it was a crucial turning point in Canadian history.
In North America, the state of war between the French and the British had been going on since 1754. Early in the war, the French (aided by Canadian militia and Indigenous allies) were defeating the British, having captured a number of their forts. On the European front, the Seven Years War pitted the major powers of Britain (allied with Prussia and Hanover) against France (allied with Austria, Sweden, Saxony, Russia, and eventually Spain). Britain concentrated its efforts in Europe but its main aim was to destroy France as a commercial rival, therefore Britain focused its efforts on attacking the French navy and colonies in North America. France, on the other hand, was committed to fighting in Europe (defending Austria), leaving few resources to defend the North American colonies. Huge amounts of money, material and men had been invested in this conflict, leaving both powers exhausted.
In 1758, The British were successful in capturing Louisbourg. They also captured Québec City in 1759 and Montréal in 1760. In 1763, the Treaty of Paris of 1763, formally ceded Canada to the British. Thus, the Seven Years War lay the foundation for biculturalism in Canada.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763
After the Seven Years War, Britain was the dominant European power in North America, controlling all commercial fur trade but not having full control over the continent. Britain needed to create stable, peaceful relations with First Nations people if they were to remain successful in controlling the colonies. In 1763, King George III issued a Royal Proclamation announcing how the colonies would be administered. Under this proclamation, all lands to the west became the “Indian Territories”; Indian people reserved all unceded territories or land purchased from them, settlement or trade could occur only with the permission of the Indian Department, and only the Crown could purchase land provided there was official sanction from interested Indian people in a public meeting. The Royal Proclamation is significant because it was the first time that Indian rights to lands and title were recognized.
The Role of Pontiac’s War
The need by the British government to stabilize the western frontier was fueled by news that an Odawa chief Obwandiyag (also known as Pontiac) was organizing an Indigenous confederacy to demonstrate that Indigenous peoples were still masters of their ancestral lands, despite the British victory over the French army. Pontiac organized an alliance with the Potawatomis and Hurons, convincing them that if they did not stand together, the British would destroy them through malady, small pox or poison. Pontiac’s short lived war of one month sent the British reeling after a series of victories. The British threatened the Indigenous people with smallpox. This resulted in the disintegration of Pontiac’s alliances. Pontiac’s war is significant in that Pontiac foresaw the problems that would impact Indigenous peoples for generations to come.
The American War and Establishment of the United States
Up until the late 18th century, commercial and military needs continued to form the basis of the relationship between First Nations people and the Crown. The British government recognized the powerful position of the Indigenous peoples and realized that Indigenous interests needed protection if British commercial interests were to flourish in the interior.
The American War of Independence and the subsequent recognition of the United States of America in 1783 severely impacted the relationship between the British and Indigenous peoples. The loss of the war resulted in approximately 30,000 United Empire Loyalist refugees seeking new land for settlement in the remaining British colonies in North America. In addition, Indigenous people who had fought alongside the British, especially the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, were also dispossessed by the war. This resulted in the development of a series of land surrender treaties along the St. Lawrence River and down around the Great Lakes, allowing for peaceful establishment of an agricultural colony. At the same time, Indigenous allies were compensated for their losses through the establishment of two reserves for the Six Nations, one at the Bay of Quinte, and the other along the Grand River in an effort to maintain military alliances between the British and Indigenous peoples. This is significant because it strengthened alliances between the British and the Indigenous peoples. When the War of 1812 broke out, Indigenous peoples fought alongside the British to protect against the invasion of the Americans in what is now known as southern Ontario.
- Why do you think that Indigenous peoples feel that they have a right to the lands they have traditionally occupied?
- Why do you think that the Crown felt that it had a right to the land?
- What can be done to educate more people about the treaty making process?
Expanding Your Knowledge
- The following link provides information about the treaty making process from the perspective of the government of Canada:
History of Treaty-Making in Canada
- The following website also contains information about the history of treaty-making in Canada. The information contained within was written by Anthony J. Hall, Professor of Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge. This site also contains a suggested reading list for those who want to learn more about the treaty making processes from the perspective of Indigenous peoples.
Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada
- For more information on the Seven Years War, visit the following websites:
Seven Years War
The Seven Years’ War in Canada
- For more information on the Proclamation of 1763, visit to the following site:
Royal Proclamation of 1763