History of Global Affairs Canada

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, Ontario.

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 postwar commitment to an active internationalism.

After the department merged with the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service in 1982, its operations and mandate expanded in new directions, as seen through its renaming over the years:

  • External Affairs and International Trade Canada (1989 to 1995)
  • Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (1995 to 2013)
  • Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (2013 to 2015), which reflects the department’s amalgamation with the Canadian International Development Agency
  • Global Affairs Canada (2015 to –)

The transformation of the department from little more than a glorified post office into a modern foreign, trade and development 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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“Punching Above Our Weight”

Canada and the World

A history of Canadian Foreign Policy

Throughout the decades

A photographic timeline of events

Heads of posts abroad

Our heads of posts abroad since 1880

Documents on external relations

Notable diplomat

Ken Taylor and the Canadian Caper

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