Capital Cities of Canada

Toronto, Halifax and Yellowknife are among Canada's provincial capitals

Ottawa Parkway Heading Downtown
Ottawa Parkway Heading Downtown. Dennis McColeman / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Canada has 10 provinces and three territories, each of which has its own capital. From Charlottetown and Halifax in the east to Toronto and Winnipeg in the center, to Yellowknife in the north and Victoria in the west, each of Canada’s capital cities has its own unique identity.

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 point to an indigenous population that lived there for centuries before Europeans discovered the area.

Between the 17th century and 19th century, the Ottawa River was the primary route for the Montreal fur trade. By 1830, Ottawa was a major supplier of timber to Britain, and the Grand Trunk Railway secured the city's status as the country's capital. 

Ottawa is home to a number of post-secondary, research and cultural institutions, including the National Arts Centre and the National Gallery.  

Read on for more about the capital cities of Canada's provinces and territories.

Edmonton, Alberta

Edmonton, on the North Saskatchewan River, is the northernmost of Canada’s large cities and is frequently referred to as the Gateway to the North, due to its road, rail, and air transportation links. 

Indigenous people inhabited Edmonton area for centuries before Europeans arrived. 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 Company.

Henday sought to establish fur trading with Edmonton’s indigenous people. Fort Edmonton, named for Edmonton, London in England, was established in 1795 along the river’s northern banks. 

The Canadian Pacific Railway, which arrived in Edmonton in 1885, was a boon for the local economy, bringing new arrivals from Canada, the United States, and Europe to the area.

Edmonton was incorporated as a town in 1892, and later as a city in 1904. It became the capital of the newly-formed province of Alberta a year later. 

Modern-day Edmonton has evolved into a city with a wide range of cultural, sporting and tourist attractions, and is the host of more than two dozen festivals each year. Most of Edmonton's population works in the service and trade industries as well as in the municipal, provincial and federal governments.

Victoria, British Columbia

Named after the English queen, Victoria is the capital city of the province of British Columbia. Victoria is a gateway to the Pacific Rim, is close to American markets, and has many sea and air links that make it a business hub. With the mildest climate in Canada, Victoria is known for its gardens and has a large retiree population. Its metropolitan area is the 15th largest in Canada.

Before Europeans arrived in western Canada in the 1700s, Victoria was inhabited by indigenous Coastal Salish people and the native Songhees, who still have a large presence in the area. Juan Perez of Spain visited in 1774, and James Cook of England arrived in 1778.

Fort Victoria was established by Hudson’s Bay trader James Douglas in 1841, although it was known as Fort Albert until 1843.

Douglas became the first governor of British Columbia in 1858. 
Victoria became the capital of British Columbia when the province joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871.

The focus of downtown Victoria is 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, as well as several other smaller colleges. 

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Located at the geographical center of Canada, Winnipeg’s name is a Cree word meaning “muddy water.” Indigenous people inhabited Winnipeg well before the first French explorers arrived in 1738. Winnipeg was incorporated as a city in 1873 and is now the eighth-largest city in Canada.

Named for nearby Lake Winnipeg, the city sits at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

It's at the bottom of the Red River Valley, which creates humid conditions during the summer months. The city is nearly equidistant from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and considered the center of Canada's Prairie provinces.

The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881 led to increased development in Winnipeg, and although an earlier boom as a heavy manufacturing center has waned, the city remains the center of Canada's grain industry.

Winnipeg is still a transportation hub, with extensive rail and air links. It is a multicultural city where more than 100 languages are spoken. It’s also the home of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which houses the largest collection of Inuit art in the world. Winnipeg hosts numerous music events and festivals and is the home ice of the NHL's newest expansion team, the Jets.

Fredericton, New Brunswick

The capital city of the province of New Brunswick, Fredericton is strategically located on the Saint John River and is within a day's drive of Halifax, Toronto, and New York City. Before Europeans arrived, the Welastekwewiyik (or Maliseet) people inhabited the Fredericton area for centuries.

The first Europeans to come to Fredericton were the French, who arrived 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, with Fredericton becoming the provincial capital a year later. 

Modern-day Fredericton is a center for research in the agriculture, forestry, and engineering industries. Much of this research stems from the two major colleges in the city: the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University, as well as a variety of training colleges and institutes.

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

Although the origin of its name is somewhat mysterious, St. John's is Canada's oldest settlement, dating back to 1630. It sits on a deepwater harbor connected by the Narrows, a long inlet to the Atlantic Ocean.

The French and English battled over St. John's through the late 17th century and early 18th century, with the final battle of the French and Indian War fought there in 1762. Although it had a colonial government beginning in 1888, St. John's was not formally incorporated as a city until 1921.

In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless (radio) signal in St. John's. 

A major site for fishing, St John's local economy was depressed by the collapse of cod fisheries in the early 1990s but has since rebounded with petrodollars from offshore oil projects.

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

The capital city of the Northwest Territories is also its only city. Yellowknife is on the shore of Great Slave Lake, just over 300 miles from the Arctic Circle. It was populated by the aboriginal Tlicho people until Europeans arrived in 1785 or 1786. The first European in Yellowknife was a North West Company fur trader. A few other Europeans ventured into the Northwest Territories, but it was not until 1898 when gold was discovered nearby, that the population saw a sharp uptick.

Gold and government administration were the mainstays of Yellowknife's economy until the late 1990s and early 2000s when the fall of gold prices led to the closure of the two main gold companies. The creation of the new territory of Nunavut in 1999 meant about a third of Yellowknife's government employees transferred to the new territory. 

The discovery of diamonds in the Northwest Territories in 1991 stimulated the economy again and diamond mining, cutting, polishing and selling became major activities for Yellowknife residents. While winters in Yellowknife are cold and dark, its proximity to the Arctic Circle means summer days are long and sunny. 

Halifax, Nova Scotia

The largest urban area in the Atlantic provinces, Halifax has one of world's largest natural harbors and is an important seaport. Incorporated as a city in 1841, Halifax has been inhabited by humans since the Ice Age, with Mikmaq people living in the area for some 13,000 years prior to European exploration. 

The British established settlements in Halifax beginning in 1746  and pushed out the Mikmaq and Acadians living there. The local economy was boosted by the Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as Halifax supplied timber to the British Royal Navy.

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. Some 2,000 people were killed and 9,000 were wounded in the blast, which leveled part of the city. 

Modern-day 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.

Iqaluit, Nunavut

Formerly known as Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit is the capital, largest community and only city in Canada’s newest territory. Iqaluit, which means "many fish" in the Inuit language, sits at the northeast head of Frobisher Bay on southern Baffin Island.

The Inuit who inhabited the region for centuries continue to have a significant presence in Iqaluit, despite the arrival of English explorers in 1561. 

Iqaluit was the site of a major airbase built at the start of World War II, which played an even larger role during the Cold War as a communications center.

Toronto, Ontario

The largest city in Canada, and the fourth-largest city in North America, Toronto is a cultural, entertainment, business and financial hub, and is the seat of the Ontario provincial government. The city has close to 3 million people, and the metro area has more than 5 million residents. 

Aboriginal people have been in the area that is now Toronto for thousands of years, and until the arrival of Europeans in the 1600s, the area was a hub for the Iroquois and Wendat-Huron confederacies of native Canadians.

First explored by European fur traders, like many resource-rich and strategic areas in Canada, Toronto was the site of several battles between the French and British. During the Revolutionary War in the American colonies, many British settlers fled to Toronto. 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.

Like much of the U.S., Toronto was hard-hit by the Depression in the 1930s, but its economy rebounded during World War II, as immigrants came to the area. Toronto's population grew exponentially after the war, and several of its suburbs saw rapid expansion.

Modern-day Toronto is a highly diverse metro area, with the Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Science Centre and the Museum of Inuit Art among its cultural offerings. It's also home to several professional sports teams, including the Maple Leafs (hockey), the Blue Jays (baseball) and the Raptors (basketball).  

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

The capital city of Canada's smallest province, Charlottetown holds a place in Canadian history as the site of the first three Canadian conferences on Confederation, which led to the creation of Canada in 1867 (even though Prince Edward Island did not join the Confederation until 1873).

Like many regions of Canada, aboriginal people inhabited Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island for some 10,000 years before Europeans arrived. French fur traders came to the area in 1720, but by 1758, the British were largely in control of the region.

During the 19th century, after Prince Edward Island was designated as a separate province from Nova Scotia, shipbuilding became a major industry in Charlottetown. In the present day, Charlottetown's biggest industry is tourism, with its historic architecture and scenic Charlottetown Harbour attracting visitors from all over the world. It's also home to Prince Edward Island University.

Quebec City, Quebec

Quebec City, the capital of the province of Quebec, is located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. It was occupied by aboriginal people for thousands of years before Europeans arrived in 1535. Permanent French settlement was not established in Quebec until 1608 when Samuel de Champlain set up 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. Modern-day Quebec City remains a hub for French-Canadian culture, rivaled only by Montreal, the other large Francophone city in Canada. 

Regina, Saskatchewan

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

Regina was incorporated as a city in 1903, and when Saskatchewan became a province in 1905, Regina was named its capital. It has seen slow but steady growth since World War II, and it remains a major center of agriculture in Canada. It is home to the University of Regina and the Saskatchewan Polytechnic College. 

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

The capital city of the Yukon Territory of Canada is home to more than 70 percent of the Yukon's population. Whitehorse 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 cultural community. Its diversity includes French immersion programs and French schools, and it also has a sizable Filipino community.

Whitehorse is just off the Alaska Highway on the Yukon River, about 65 miles north of the British Columbia border. The Yukon River flows right through Whitehorse, and there are broad valleys and big lakes around the city. 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.

The Yukon has been inhabited for several thousand years by aboriginal people. In the modern era, the Tutchone, Inland Tlingit and Tagish people, descendants of the Yukon First Nation people, still live in and around the Whitehorse area. The Yukon River near Whitehorse became a rest stop of sorts 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.

Around 250,000 travelers drive through Whitehorse every year, and several airlines fly out of the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International airport.