Canadian Ancestry

Canadians have a long, complex, and very rich history. While many history books typically start with the arrival of the Europeans, the true history of Canadian people is far older.

Starting roughly 15,000 years ago, as seen in the image below, Homo sapiens spread across the Bering Strait and into North America. These people expanded into many different tribes and cultures across Canada, and many of their descendants are now members of the First Nations Tribes, Inuit, or other aboriginal groups in Canada.

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Before the Europeans, some Viking explorers ventured to what is now Labrador and Newfoundland. These early settlers established small villages, but not much remains of their stay. Though there have been archeological findings dating their arrival to the 11th century, the Vikings must have left sometime before European colonization starting in the 1500s.

Starting in 1497 with explorations by John Cabot, Canada has previously been claimed by a number of nations. The Spanish claimed parts of Canada, as did the Portuguese Empire. However, the largest periods of colonialism were under French and British rule. The French held major parts of Eastern Canada from the early 1500s to the late 1700s. As such, many French people made their way to Canada during these years.

The British also laid claim to various parts of the landmass, and many people in Canada today still have an English heritage. Many more English settlers came to Canada and the Thirteen Colonies in the 1700s, especially into regions around the Hudson Bay, dominated by the English Hudson Bay Company.

After the Seven Years War, the territories that form Canada today were largely transferred to British rule. With this, many more English settlers entered the region. Because of these two historical rulers and mass migrations, it is of no surprise that Canadians largely think they are of either French or English descent. However, many other nationalities and ethnicities have made their mark on Canada in the last severalcenturies.

Since the days of British rule, people have come to Canada from all over the world. There are now pockets of culture from nearly every corner of the globe, many tucked away within Canada’s largest cities.

Ethnic Origins in Canada

According to the Canadian Government, people self-identify with many different ethnicities within Canada. According to census data, Canada represents a very diverse culture. Over 6 million people identify as English. 5 million identify as French. Almost 5 million identify as Scottish, which 4.5 million identify as Irish. Aboriginal heritage is claimed by 2 million people. More ethnic groups include Italian, Chinese, Ukrainian, East Indian, Dutch, and Polish. All of these groups have more than a million people living in Canada.

However, the largest ethnicity by far in Canada is Canadian, claimed by 10 million citizens in the census. This ethnicity is claimed proudly by many who celebrate the combined heritage and history of Canda.

Though the British and French once ruled the land, immigrants have come to Canada from all over the world throughout history. In Canada, there are over 13 groups with 1 million members or more. As of 2011, over 20% of the population was foreign-born, meaning that immigration to Canada is still alive and well.

This self-identified number reflects what citizens classify themselves as, but it does not necessarily reflect what genetics tell us about Canadian ancestry. According to an article by Global News, a study by Ancestry revealed that the average Canadian is around 46% French and German, while only around 43% British, Irish or Scottish. This surprised researchers, as more English was reported on the census.

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Other strong influences were Eastern European, Italian, Scandinavian, Spanish, West Asian, African, and European Jewish. Though these groups only show up in a small percentage of the population, that is changing rapidly with over 20% of the country being foreign-born. Further, according to the same Canadian Government website, third-generation descendants of immigrants reported multiple ethnic origins nearly 50% of the time. This means that the population of Canada is getting more diverse and integrated, making genealogy and genetic heritage all the harder to understand.

How to Easily Test Your Genetic Heritage

The reason that the census and Ancestry’s findings on the genetic background of Canada were so different was in part because people often don’t fully understand their family history. Often, the complex relationships of your maternal and paternal lines are simplified into an understandable package that places you within an established group. But more often than not, the story is much more complicated than that.

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A DNA test kit can help you gain a fuller understanding of your family history. Your genes are referenced to populations that have lived in areas of the world for many generations. Given that each of these reference populations has specific mutations within the genome, a laboratory can estimate where you came from based on which mutations you share with each group. Though you may think you are just English, just French, or prefer to be considered Canadian, an analysis of your genetics will likely reveal a much broader set of influences in your family history.

Today, many companies offer DNA Ancestry Testing, an at-home service which allows you to explore your heritage through the lens of your genetic code. DNA test kits are provided by a number of companies. Order the test online and a sample collection kit is sent directly to your house. Spit in a tube or swab your cheek cells to collect your sample. Mail the sample back to the company and Viola!, a few weeks later you receive a detailed report about your genetic ancestry.

There are several DNA ancestry test kits available in Canada, with a variety of features (here you can compare different kits). Some services provide the ability to build and research a family tree, while others let you explore different aspects of your genes such as health and lifestyle traits. Check out the best companies for Canadian Ancestry below, and see our full reviews for a complete breakdown of their offerings, prices, and customer reviews.

Best Tests for Canadian Ancestry


Ancestry, as a company, has specialized in creating family trees and tracing genealogy since before DNA test kits were invented. The company has embraced the new technology and intertwined it with a tried-and-true platform for researching and building family trees. The company even has a site dedicated to Canadian ancestry full of resources (some free) used to find and understand the lives of your ancestors.



MyHeritage was created by a software developer who started with basic online family tree programs. Today, the company has family tree records and a platform rivaling that of Ancestry, with more focus on European records. Since a majority of Canadians believe their ancestors to have come from European origins, this company may be a good option.  



LivingDNA is a genetic-ancestry-focused company which can give great insights into where your ancestors came from. The company tests for deep ancestry, and also provides a book detailing your family history which you can share with friends and loved ones.


Oxford Ancestors

Oxford Ancestors was started by a genetic researcher, who found that nearly all the people in Britain could be traced back to 7 general migrations out of Africa, aptly named the 7 Daughters of Eve. The results from this test will tell you about your ancestors and how they migrated out of Africa, as well as more recent migrations and family history.



23andMe represents one of the fastest growing genetic testing companies. Not only can they give you insights into your ancestry which are fairly specific, but the company also offers a variety of tests for other health, disease, and lifestyle characteristics. The test is available in Canada and offers a broader range of results compared to the other companies.

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