The first settlers arrived around 1759. The town was founded in 1772 as "Kings District". The name was changed to "Canaan" in 1788. One of the oldest sections of Canaan is Frisbie Street, settled in 1770 by Gideon Frisbie, who emigrated from Canaan, Connecticut. Frisbie Street fronts what was once the Albany-Boston stagecoach route.
The Lace House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 36.9 square miles (95.7 km2), of which 36.7 square miles (95.0 km2) is land and 0.27 square miles (0.7 km2), or 0.76%, is water. The majority of the town drains westward or northward via tributaries of Kinderhook Creek to the Hudson River, notably Queechy Lake Brook and Buttercup Creek, both of which flow into the Stony Kill. The southeast corner of the town drains via Flat Brook into the Williams River in Massachusetts and thence to the Housatonic River, which flows south into Connecticut.
The east town line is the border of Massachusetts.
Interstate 90 passes through the town, connecting the Massachusetts Turnpike to the east with the New York State Thruway to the west. I-90 has one interchange in the town, with New York State Route 22.
The Taconic Mountains rise in the northeast corner of the town.
As of the census of 2000, there were 1,820 people, 643 households, and 414 families residing in the town. The population density was 49.6 people per square mile (19.1/km²). There were 970 housing units at an average density of 26.4 per square mile (10.2/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 87.80% White, 8.63% African American, 0.33% Native American, 0.66% Asian, 1.21% from other races, and 1.37% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.25% of the population.
There were 643 households out of which 27.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.5% were married couples living together, 5.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.5% were non-families. 28.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.34 and the average family size was 2.88.
In the town, the population was spread out with 34.2% under the age of 18, 4.3% from 18 to 24, 20.9% from 25 to 44, 26.5% from 45 to 64, and 14.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 137.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 103.2 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $51,607, and the median income for a family was $62,656. Males had a median income of $44,063 versus $37,083 for females. The per capita income for the town was $28,209. About 2.7% of families and 5.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.1% of those under age 18 and 5.4% of those age 65 or over.Canaan – The hamlet of Canaan is in the north-central part of the town at the junction of New York State Route 295 and County Road 5. It was formerly "Canaan Corners".
Canaan Center – A hamlet south of Canaan village on Route 5, just south of the geographic center of the town.
East Chatham – A hamlet at the west town line.
Edwards Park – A location southeast of Flatbrook.
Flatbrook – A hamlet southeast of Canaan village and located on Route 22.
Queechy – A hamlet east of Canaan village.
Queechy Lake – (formerly Whiting's Pond) A 600-acre (2.4 km2) lake near the east town line.
Red Rock – A hamlet at the south town line.
Asa Adgate (1767–1832), born in Canaan, U.S. congressman
Daniel G. Garnsey, U.S. congressman
Anne Meacham (1925-2006), American actress
Eleazer Root (1802–1887), born in Canaan, educator and Episcopal priest
Captain William Henry Warner (1812-1849), born in Canaan, West Point class of 1836, Chief of California Topographical Engineers, fought and wounded in Battle of San Pasqual, California (6 Dec 1846), killed by Native Americans in 1849
Albert Lincoln "Al" Roker Jr. (born August 20, 1954) is an American television personality, weather forecaster, actor, and book author. He is best known as being the weather anchor on NBC's Today, owns a summer home in the Town of Canaan.