The economic history of what is now Canada begins with the hunting, farming and trading societies of the Indigenous peoples. Following the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, the economy has undergone a series of seismic shifts, marked by the early Atlantic fishery, the transcontinental fur trade, then rapid urbanization, industrialization and technological change. Although different industries have come and gone, Canada’s reliance on natural resources — from fur to timber to minerals to oil, and on export markets for these commodities, particularly the United States — has underpinned much of the economy through the centuries and does so still in many regions today.
Ontario and Quebec constitute Central Canada, a region that accounts for over 58 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP). The economic history of the region begins with the hunting, farming and trading societies of the Indigenous peoples. Following the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, the economy has undergone a series of seismic shifts, marked by the transcontinental fur trade, then rapid urbanization, industrialization and technological change.
Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland constitute the Atlantic provinces of Canada, a region that in 2016 accounted for 6 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP). The economic history of what is now Atlantic Canada begins with the hunting, farming and trading societies of the Indigenous peoples. Following the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, the economy has undergone a series of seismic shifts, marked by the early Atlantic fishery, the transcontinental fur trade, then rapid urbanization, industrialization and technological change.
Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia constitute Western Canada, a region that accounts for 35 per cent of the Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP). The economic history of the region begins with the hunting, farming and trading societies of the Indigenous peoples. Following the arrival of Europeans in the 18th century, the economy has undergone a series of seismic shifts, marked by the transcontinental fur trade, then rapid urbanization, industrialization and technological change.
Chartered banks, sometimes known as commercial banks, are public corporations that are licensed by the federal government to operate a banking business within Canada. By issuing these licenses (or charters), the Canadian government regulates and controls the country’s economy by influencing the amount, availability and distribution of money, and the terms or cost of accessing and distributing that money (interest rates). Chartered banks are regulated by the federal Bank Act and supervised by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. Chartered banks in Canada accept deposits from the public and extend loans (such as mortgages) for personal, commercial, and other purposes. Banks also own and operate trust companies, securities dealers and insurance companies and offer such services as investment banking, international banking and more.
Money consists of anything that is generally accepted for the settlement of debts or purchase of goods or services. The evolution of money as a system for regulating society’s economic transactions represented a significant advancement over earlier forms of exchange based on barter, in which goods and services are exchanged for other goods or services. Canadian money has its roots in the Indigenous wampum belts of the East, the early currencies of European settlers and the influence of the United States.
A free trade area as defined by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is "a group of two or more customs territories in which duties and other restrictive regulations of commerce... are eliminated on substantially all the trade between the constituent territories in products originating in such territories."
The Canadian dollar, also known as the loonie, for the loon on the $1 coin, is the currency of Canada. Its international currency code is CAD and its symbol $, or C$, to distinguish it from other dollar currencies. As money, it is the measure of value in which all prices in Canada are expressed and the medium of exchange for goods and services. It is divided into 100 cents (¢) and available in material form as coins circulated by the Royal Canadian Mint and banknotes circulated by the Bank of Canada.
The business cycle is a term used to describe the ups and downs of the economy over time. A business cycle consists of a repetition of four phases — expansion, peak, contraction, and trough — that is often called the boom-and-bust cycle. Most often a measure of change in a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the business cycle is a tool used by investors and business managers to analyze the performance of the economy and to make spending and investment decisions. Though business cycles cannot be predicted, forecasting when an economy will expand or contract and knowing when key turning points have arrived is important for consumers and business. The wave pattern of a business cycle can be measured in length from peak to peak, or trough to trough, in terms of months and years. On average, cycles last just over 7 years, though there is no definitive time frame for how long they usually last.
Banking is a financial process carried out by an institution that accepts deposits, lends money and transfers funds. Canada's major banks play a vital role in the economy and today also engage in the insurance, trust and securities markets. Their business, the technology surrounding it and the regulations that govern it, have evolved continuously over the centuries.
Interest is the price charged to borrow money. Expressed as a rate, interest is a percentage of the amount of money borrowed (the principal amount) that is to be paid for an agreed period of time. Interest can be paid by a borrower to a lender (e.g., to a bank), but it can also be paid by a bank to individuals whose money the bank uses to lend money to other borrowers. In Canada, interest rates are determined by the policy of the Bank of Canada, the demand for loans, the supply of available lending capital, interest rates in the United States, inflation rates and other economic factors. The Bank of Canada helps the Canadian government manage the economy by setting the bank rate and controlling the money supply.
A recession is a temporary period of time when the overall economy declines; it is an expected part of the business cycle. This period usually includes declines in industrial and agricultural production, trade, incomes, stock markets, consumer spending, and levels of employment. In purely technical terms, a recession occurs when two or more successive quarters (six months) show a drop in real gross domestic product (GDP), i.e., the measure of total economic output in the economy after accounting for inflation. In this sense, recessions are broad and can be particularly painful and challenging times for a country.
Gross domestic product (GDP) refers to the value of all final goods and services produced within a country by all factors of production, regardless of their ownership, usually during one year. Statistics Canada switched to GDP in their calculations of national production in 1986 to facilitate comparisons with other international statistics as most other countries used GDP. Despite its limitations, GDP is considered the best and most concise overall measure of economic performance. It is often used to calculate changes in a country’s standard of living. The growth of inflation-adjusted GDP (known as real GDP) is an important economic performance indicator. The tracking of GDP over time is used as evidence of business cycle performance, as traditionally two consecutive quarters of negative real GDP growth are referred to as a recession. As well, the distinction is often made between the growth of total real GDP (known as extensive growth) and the growth of real GDP per person (intensive growth), with intensive growth often used as an indicator of welfare per person in an economy.
The balance of payments, or balance of international payments, is an accounting statement of the economic transactions that have taken place between the residents of one country (including its government) and the residents of other countries during a specified time, usually a year or a quarter.
Fiscal policy is the use of government taxing and spending powers to manage the behaviour of the economy. Most fiscal policy is a balancing act between taxes, which tend to reduce economic activity, and spending, which tends to increase it — although there is debate among economists about the effectiveness of fiscal measures.
Monetary policy refers to government measures taken to affect financial markets and credit conditions, for the purpose of influencing the behaviour of the economy. In Canada, monetary policy is the responsibility of the Bank of Canada, a federal crown corporation that implements its decisions through manipulation of the money supply.
Industrialization is a process of economic and social change. It is one that shifts the centres of economic activity onto the focus of work, wages and incomes. These changes took two forms in Canada, beginning in the 19th century. First, economic and social activities were transformed from agriculture and natural resource extraction to manufacturing and services. Second, economic and social activities shifted from rural cottage industries to urban industrial pursuits. Industrialized production took place under the privately owned factory system, in which a larger proportion of the population expected to be wage earners for all of their working lives. Therefore, industrialization brought major changes, not only in work and the economy, but in the way society was organized and in the relations among different groups in society. Although it has evolved over nearly two centuries, the process of industrialization is considered revolutionary — as the term Industrial Revolution suggests — because it marked the shift from feudalism to capitalism, and from agriculture to manufacturing and services — changes that fundamentally altered human existence.