For a good part of the 18th century, the population of New-France is relatively prosperous. The territory then known as Canada encompasses a wide area around the great lakes, the southern part of the current province of Québec and Labrador. French-speaking inhabitants of this territory call themselves les Canadiens.
In contrast to early French settlers, British settlers can rely on the mother country. There's no impetus for them to define themselves as anything but citizens of the British Empire. The forming of the Dominion of Canada on July 1st, 1867, was made possible by the British North America Act, passed by the British Parliament. The Dominion of Canada kept its constitutional dependency upon the United Kingdom until the Constitution Act of 1982, also passed by the British Parliament.
Somewhere along the way, citizens of British origins started recognizing themselves as Canadians. Before they did, les canadiens left their mark on the current identity of our country.
In 1834, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste proposes the maple leaf as an emblem for Canada. In 1836, Le Canadien (a newspaper published in Lower Canada) refers to the maple leaf as a suitable emblem for Canada.
In the late 19th century, Calixa Lavallée (considered a Franco-American by some) composes the music to a poem written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. This song becomes "Ô Canada"; it is first sung in 1880, at the Congrès national des Canadiens-Français on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. Unaltered to this day, the original poem by Adolphe-Basile Routhier is an ode to French Canada. Although rarely sung nowadays, the second verse is most explicit about its patriotic and religious intent.
The Canadien grows as he hopes.
He is born of a proud race;
Blessed was his cradle.
Heaven marked his way
In this new world:
Always guided by His light,
He will keep the honor of his flag.
In 1965, the maple leaf flag replaces the Red Ensign and its Union Jack. The country sheds its British identity and officially assumes its Canadianity.
Somewhere along the way, British North Americans became Canadians and the expression "les Canadiens" lost its exclusive association with "Canadians of French descent" to encompass Canadians of all origins.