The Department in History


Canada owes much to its diplomats. For the first few decades after Confederation, Great Britain handled Canada's international responsibilities, but the new country soon needed its own foreign ministry. On June 1, 1909, the new Department of External Affairs opened its doors with a handful of employees in a poky office above a barbershop in downtown Ottawa.

As Canada shed its colonial legacy, the Department grew apace, periodically transforming itself to reflect the changing international context and the country's evolving foreign-policy priorities. By the 1930s, Canada had diplomatic posts in London, Paris, Washington, Tokyo, and Geneva. Following the Second World War, Canada's reach became increasingly global, reflecting its post-war commitment to an active internationalism. After the Department merged with the Trade Commissioner Service in 1982, its operations and mandate expanded in new directions, changes reflected in its current name, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

The transformation of the Department from little more than a glorified post office into a modern foreign and trade ministry has mirrored Canada's own maturing role in the global community. Throughout the years, the men and women of the Department have worked to create a sophisticated foreign service that is capable, in the words of Canada's most famous diplomat, Lester B. Pearson, of "punching above its weight."

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