Capital Cities of Canada

Map of the capital cities of Canada

ThoughtCo / Elise DeGarmo

The nation's capital is Ottawa, which was incorporated in 1855 and gets its name from the Algonquin word for "trade." Ottawa's archaeological sites reveal an indigenous population that lived there for centuries before Europeans arrived.

Canada has 10 provinces and three territories, each with their own capitals. Here are quick facts about the history and lifestyle of Canada's provincial and territorial capital cities.

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Edmonton, Alberta

Edmonton cityscape and river valley

(c) HADI ZAHER / Getty Images

Edmonton is the northernmost of Canada’s large cities and is frequently called "The Gateway to the North," reflecting its road, rail, and air transportation links. Indigenous people inhabited the Edmonton area for centuries before Europeans came. It’s believed that one of the first Europeans to explore the area was Anthony Henday, who visited in 1754 on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Co.

The Canadian Pacific Railway, which reached Edmonton in 1885, was a boon to its economy, bringing new arrivals from Canada, the United States, and Europe. Edmonton was incorporated as a town in 1892 and a city in 1904, becoming the capital of the new province of Alberta a year later. Edmonton has a wide range of cultural, sporting, and tourist attractions, and hosts more than two dozen festivals annually. 

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Victoria, British Columbia

British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria

Nancy Rose/Getty Images 

Named after the English queen, Victoria is today considered a business hub. Its role as the gateway to the Pacific Rim, its proximity to American markets, and its many sea and air links make it a bustling site of commerce. With the mildest climate in Canada, Victoria is known for its large retiree population.

Before Europeans reached western Canada in the 1700s, Victoria was inhabited by indigenous Coast Salish people and the native Songhees, who maintain a large presence in the area. Downtown Victoria focuses on the inner harbor, which features the parliament buildings and the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel. Victoria also is home to the University of Victoria and Royal Roads University. 

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Winnipeg, Manitoba

The postmodern architecture of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights at the Forks in Winnipeg

Ken Gillespie / Getty Images

Located at the geographical center of Canada, Winnipeg’s name is a Cree word meaning “muddy water.” Indigenous people inhabited Winnipeg well before French explorers arrived in 1738. Named for nearby Lake Winnipeg, the city is at the bottom of the Red River Valley, which creates humidity during the summer.

The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881 increased development in Winnipeg. It remains a transportation hub, with extensive rail and air links. Nearly equidistant from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, it's considered the center of Canada's Prairie Provinces. This multicultural city, where more than 100 languages are spoken, is home to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which houses the world's largest collection of Inuit art. 

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Fredericton, New Brunswick

City hall reflected in the Saint John River in downtown Fredericton

by Marc Guitard / Getty Images

Fredericton is on the St. John River within a day's drive of Halifax, Toronto, and New York City. Before Europeans arrived, the Welastekwewiyik (or Maliseet) people had inhabited the area for centuries.

The first Europeans to arrive were the French, in the late 1600s. The area was known as St. Anne's Point and was captured by the British during the French and Indian War in 1759. New Brunswick became its own colony in 1784; Fredericton became the provincial capital a year later.

Fredericton is a center for research in agriculture, forestry, and engineering, much stemming from the University of New Brunswick  and St. Thomas University.

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St. John's, Newfoundland, and Labrador

Colorful row houses of Newfoundland

Kevin Harding / Getty Images

Although the origin of its name is mysterious, St. John's is Canada's oldest settlement, dating to 1630. It sits on a deep-water harbor connected by the Narrows, a long inlet to the Atlantic Ocean. A major site for fishing, St. John's economy was depressed by the collapse of cod fisheries in the early 1990s but has rebounded with petrodollars from offshore oil projects

The French and English battled over St. John's during the 17th and 18th centuries, with the final battle of the French and Indian War won by the British in 1762. Although its colonial government was established in 1888, St. John's wasn't incorporated as a city until 1921.

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Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Northern Lights close to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories

Vincent Demers Photography /Getty Images 

The capital of the Northwest Territories is also its only city. Yellowknife is on the shore of Great Slave Lake, 300 miles from the Arctic Circle. While winters are cold and dark, its high latitude means summer days are long and sunny. Yellowknife was populated by the aboriginal Tlicho people until Europeans arrived in 1785 or 1786.

It wasn't until 1898, when gold was discovered nearby, that the population boomed. Gold and government were mainstays of Yellowknife's economy until the late 1990s. The fall of gold prices led to the closure of the two main gold companies, and the separation of Nunavut from the Northwest Territories in 1999 cost Yellowknife a third of its government employees. But the 1991 discovery of diamonds in the Northwest Territories rekindled the economy, making the diamond industry prominent. 

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Halifax, Nova Scotia

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse at sunset in Halifax

 Joe Regan / Getty Images

The largest urban area in the Atlantic provinces, Halifax has one of the world's largest natural harbors. Incorporated as a city in 1841, Halifax has been inhabited by humans since the Ice Age, with Mi'kmaq people living in the area for 3,000 years before European exploration.

Halifax was the site of one of the worst explosions in Canada's history in 1917, when a munitions ship collided with another ship in the harbor. The blast, which leveled part of the city, caused 2,000 deaths and 9,000 injuries. Halifax is home to the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History and several universities, including Saint Mary’s and the University of King’s College.

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Iqaluit, Nunavut

Balanced rocks on the shore near Iqaluit

Linus Strandholm / EyeEm / Getty Images 

Formerly known as Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit is the capital and only city in Nunavut. Iqaluit, Inuit for "many fish," sits at the northeast head of Frobisher Bay on southern Baffin Island. The Inuit have maintained a significant presence in Iqaluit, despite the arrival of English explorers in 1561. Iqaluit was the site of a major World War II airbase that played an even larger role as a Cold War communications center.

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Toronto, Ontario

The skyline at the Toronto waterfront

Radu Negrean / EyeEm/Getty Images

Canada's largest city and the fourth largest in North America, Toronto, Ontario is a cultural, entertainment, business, and financial hub with 3 million residents plus 2 million in the metro area. Aboriginal people have been in the area for thousands of years. Until the arrival of Europeans in the 1600s, the area was a hub for the Iroquois and Wendat-Huron confederacies of native Canadians.

During the Revolutionary War in the American colonies, many British settlers fled to the area. In 1793, the town of York was established; it was captured by Americans in the War of 1812. The area was renamed Toronto and incorporated as a city in 1834.

Toronto was hard hit by the Great Depression, but its economy rebounded during World War II as immigrants arrived. The city boasts the Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Science Centre, and the Museum of Inuit Art and three major professional sports teams: the Maple Leafs (hockey), the Blue Jays (baseball), and the Raptors (basketball).

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Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Colourful buildings on streets with shopping in Charlottetown

Peter Unger / Getty Images

Charlottetown is the capital of Canada's smallest province, Prince Edward Island. Aboriginal people inhabited Prince Edward Island for 10,000 years before Europeans arrived. By 1758, the British were largely in control of the region.

During the 19th century, shipbuilding became a major industry in Charlottetown. Charlottetown's biggest industry is tourism, with its historic architecture and scenic Charlottetown Harbour attracting visitors from all over the world. 


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Quebec City, Quebec

Quebec City old town in winter

Piero Damiani/Getty Images

The Quebec City area was occupied by aboriginal people for thousands of years before Europeans arrived in 1535. Permanent French settlement wasn't established until 1608 when Samuel de Champlain established a trading post there. It was captured by the British in 1759. 

Its location along the St. Lawrence River made Quebec City a major trade hub well into the 20th century. Quebec City remains a center for French-Canadian culture, rivaled only by Montreal. 

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Regina, Saskatchewan

Downtown city scenery of Scarth Street Mall in Regina

Oleksiy Maksymenko/Getty Images

Founded in 1882, Regina is 100 miles north of the U.S. border. The area's first inhabitants were the Plains Cree and the Plains Ojibwa. The flat, grassy plain was home to herds of buffalo hunted to near extinction by European fur traders. 

Regina was incorporated as a city in 1903. When Saskatchewan became a province in 1905, Regina was named its capital. It has seen slow but steady growth since World War II and remains a major agricultural center. 

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Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

A long summer's midnight sunset over Whitehorse in Yukon

Lauren Humble / Getty Images

Whitehorse is home to more than 70 percent of the Yukon's population. It is within the shared traditional territory of the Ta'an Kwach'an Council (TKC) and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation (KDFN) and has a thriving culture. The Yukon River flows through Whitehorse, and broad valleys and lakes surround the city.

The river became a rest stop for gold prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s. Whitehorse is still a stop for most trucks bound for Alaska on the Alaska Highway. It's also bordered by three large mountains: Grey Mountain on the east, Haeckel Hill on the northwest, and Golden Horn Mountain on the south.

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Munroe, Susan. "Capital Cities of Canada." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Munroe, Susan. (2020, August 28). Capital Cities of Canada. Retrieved from Munroe, Susan. "Capital Cities of Canada." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).