The English Canadian tart consists of butter, sugar and eggs in a pastry shell, similar to the base of the U. S. pecan pie without the nut topping, and similar to the French-Canadian sugar pie. Additional ingredients can include raisins, pecans, walnuts, coconut, dates, butterscotch, chocolate chips or peanut butter. Butter tarts were a staple of pioneer Canadian cooking, and they remain a characteristic pastry of Canada, considered one of only a few recipes of genuinely Canadian origin (for example, by the 6th edition of the Collins English Dictionary). One of the earliest known Canadian recipes is from northern Ontario and dates back to 1915.
Yet similar tarts are made in Scotland, where they are often referred to as Ecclefechan butter tarts from the town of Ecclefechan; and in France, though they are uncommon. There, they are related to the much more common tarte à la frangipane, that differs from the basic Canadian recipe only by the addition of ground almonds. The origin thus appears to be unknown.
Butter tarts are said to have been a favourite treat of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.