History of Insurance in Canada

visual representation of the insurance term

The insurance industry has played an important role in our nation’s development. Here’s a brief history of insurance in Canada.






Before Confederation

There used to be three major types of insurance: fire insurance, life insurance and marine insurance.


Since buildings were primarily made of wood and fire protections and firefighting resources were minimal or non-existent, fires were much more common and devastating in the past. They could ravage entire blocks or city sections. The fire insurance industry developed in the wake of one of the most destructive fires in history, the Great Fire of London of 1666, which destroyed close to 90% of the city’s buildings. Today, fire insurance is included in property insurance policies.


Marine insurance is believed to be the oldest type of insurance, dating back to the 14th century. Policies were drafted to address the risks involved in shipping goods across vast distances on vessels that could become shipwrecked. From the 18th through to the early 20th century, the marine insurance industry was integral to the practice of trading and transporting goods between Canada and England and Canada and France. Today, as ships have become safer and have yielded a large share of their shipping duties to trucks and planes, the marine insurance industry has shrunk considerably.


In the 18th and 19th centuries, Canadian settlers relied on life and fire insurance policies to face the uncertainties of pioneer life. These policies covered losses from fire and provided widow and burial benefits.


After Confederation

Prior to 1867, almost every insurance company operating in Canada was based in England or the United States. However, under the 1968 Dominion Insurance Act, passed one year after confederation, insurance companies needed sufficient assets in Canada to cover their obligations. This encouraged the proliferation of nationally based insurance companies and galvanized the Canadian insurance industry. In the decades to come, Canadian companies thrived not only nationally but internationally.


The Dominion Insurance Act also extended important protections to policyholders. It stipulated that insurers be licensed, submit annual statements and deposit funds with the Ministry of Finance.


After the Second World War, auto insurance overtook fire insurance as the largest insurance sector. In the second half of the century through to today, countless other types of coverages have been introduced to address a wide range of risks, from health insurance to income protection, to name a few.


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