As a member of the British Empire (now known as the Commonwealth), in 1868 the Governor General, Lord Monck, called upon the people of Canada to celebrate the first anniversary of the union of the North British-American provinces which became known as Canada. The celebration was first called Dominion Day. The first organized ceremony took place on the 50th anniversary in 1917 - the new parliament buildings were under construction and, with the centre block in place, was dedicated as a memorial to all Canadians who fought in World War I.

There have been annual celebrations of Canada's birthday since 1958, when a concert and fireworks display was organized. In 1982 the name of this celebration was changed from Dominion Day to Canada Day and since 1985 committees have been established in each province and territory to plan, organize and coordinate the celebrations locally.