There has been human habitation in Newfoundland and Labrador for about 9000 years, beginning with the Maritime Archaic peoples, who lived in the area from about 7000 BCE to 1500 BCE. These were later largely replaced with various other native peoples, particularly the Dorset and later the Inuit and Beothuk. First European contact was established with the area by the Vikings in about 1001 CE, but this failed to produce a stable European colony in the area, and the native peoples were left largely undisturbed until 1497 when John Cabot landed in what is believed to be Cape Bonavista. His arrival was followed by that of Portuguese explorers who mapped the region, and later claimed the area for Portugal. Portuguese control of the area was maintained throughout most of the 1500s, until 1583 when Sir Humphrey Gilbert took possession of Newfoundland under the authority of Queen Elizabeth I. The discovery of the excellent fishing resources of the area lead to a boom in the fishing industry that lasted well into the 1600s and drew colonization efforts from numerous European powers, with the French taking root in 1655. Skirmishes between the French and English, and between these European powers and native populations, continued until the French ceded their holdings to the English in 1713. Attempts to retake control by the French and Spanish occurred in the mid-to-late 1700s, but were largely repulsed. In 1854 the region, now thoroughly British, was given responsible government. Despite the best efforts of the Canadian government, Newfoundland consistently rejected efforts at confederation throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and became a dominion in 1907. Maintenance of a regiment during the First World War put the dominion on shaky economic ground. Despite the absorption of the mainland Labrador into the dominion in 1927, the region remained so economically unstable that in 1933 the government voted itself out of existence and handed power to an unelected group of British-appointed officials. This Commission of Government went unchallenged from 1934 until economic prosperity began to return to the area in 1942 and Newfoundlanders began to call for a new governmental system. The British government chose to allow the Newfoundlanders to make their own decision about their government. This lead to two referendums which ultimately decided to confederate with Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador officially became part of Canada through the British North America Act, 1949, which came into force on March 31st, 1949.
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is made up of two major constituent regions, the mainland Labrador, which is bordered by the province of Quebec and the Atlantic Ocean, and the island of Newfoundland, which is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. The mainland and island are separated by the Strait of Belle Isle. It also contains over 7,000 smaller islands. The capital of Newfoundland is St John's, which is also its largest city.
There are just over 514,000 people living in the province, a majority of whom live on the island. A majority of the population report their ethnic origin as Canadian, with smaller populations identifying as Irish, English, Scottish, French, Native, Inuit, German and Métis. 0.7% of the population describe themselves as "Newfoundlander" in origin. Other ethnicities are identified by very small proportions of the population, none of which exceed 0.55%. Christianity is the dominant religion, with only 2.7% of the population identifying with another religion. Of this 2.7%, 2.5% identify as having no religion.
Newfoundland is Canada's most linguistically homogenous region, with 97.7% of the population identifying English as their native language. Other languages, such as French and native languages, each account for less that 0.4% of residents. Newfoundlanders are noted throughout Canada for their distinctive accent and vocabulary, which borrows heavily from British and Irish immigrants.