Seven Years’ War (Plain-Language Summary)

The Seven Years’ War (1756–63) was the first global war. In North America, Britain and France fought each other with the help of Indigenous allies. At the end of the war, France gave Canada (Quebec) and Ile Royale (Cape Breton) to Britain, among other territories. This is the reason that Canada has a British monarch but three founding peoples — French, British and Indigenous.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Seven Years’ War. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Seven Years’ War.)



Seven Years' War, Map

The Seven Years’ War (1756–63) was the first global war. It was fought in Europe, India and North America. In Europe, Britain, Prussia, and Hanover fought against France, Austria, Sweden, Saxony, Russia, and Spain. In India and North America, Britain fought against France. One of the main causes of the war was the competition between France and Britain for colonies and trade.

In North America, both Britain and France had Indigenous allies. The French and their allies won some important victories early in the war. They won battles at Fort Oswego (located on Lake Ontario) and at Fort William Henry (located on Lake George). For awhile, France had complete control of the Great Lakes. In 1758, however, the British and their allies began to win the war.

That summer, the British captured Louisbourg (Cape Breton). This was a very important victory. The French fort at Louisbourg had prevented the British from entering the St. Lawrence River. Now, the British could sail down the St. Lawrence and attack Quebec. In August 1758, the British also destroyed Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ontario).

In January 1759, the British navy captured the Island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. In July, they won a victory at Fort Niagara. They now controlled the entire Niagara region. Then, in September, the British and their Indigenous allies won a key victory on the Plains of Abraham (located in Quebec City). One year later, the British and their Indigenous allies won yet another important victory in Montreal. This victory effectively ended the war. France no longer wanted to continue fighting.

In 1763, France and Britain signed the Treaty of Paris to formally end the Seven Years’ War. France gave control of Ile Royale (Cape Breton), Canada (Quebec), the Great Lakes Basin and the east bank of the Mississippi to Britain. Britain gave Guadeloupe back to France and allowed France to keep the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon (located on the St. Lawrence River). Thanks to the Treaty of Paris, Britain became the leading colonial power in North America.

The Seven Years' War had a big effect on Canada. There are two main reasons why.

North America had both English and French settlers. At first, Britain wanted the French settlers in Quebec to adopt English customs. Laws were written in English, and Catholics, who mostly spoke French, weren't allowed to have government jobs. After a few years, the British realized that this wasn't working. In 1774, they created a law called the Quebec Act, which gave people in Quebec freedom of religion and the right to use some French laws. This was the beginning of Canada as a legally bilingual and bicultural nation.

The war also changed the relationship between Britain and Indigenous peoples living in what would become Canada. After the war, the British king, George III, made a new law called the Royal Proclamation of 1763. This law said that any land that Britain didn't control in North America belonged to the Indigenous people who lived on it. Indigenous peoples could keep those lands unless they wanted to sell them to the King. This meant that only the British government could buy land and make treaties with Indigenous nations. This law is still an important part of the Government of Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples today.

The Seven Years' War is an important event in the early history of Canada. This war helped to create Canada as we know it today.