Whether or not plate tectonic processes operated on a younger, hotter Earth remains ambiguous. Seismic data from new networks in the Hudson Bay region of the Canadian Shield, where the Precambrian geological record spans more than 2 billion years, offer fresh scope to address this problem. Using receiver function analyses we show that the crust of the Rae domain, which exhibits ages of Paleo- to Neoarchean (3.9–2.7 Ga), is likely felsic-to-intermediate in composition (average Vp/Vs < 1.73) and seismically transparent with a sharp Moho. There is little evidence for modern-style plate tectonics, and based on the simplicity and spatial extent of the felsic crust, models favouring vertical tectonic processes such as crustal delamination or plume activity appear better suited to the results. Data from the Hearne domain, which exhibits widespread ~ 2.7 Ga granite-and-greenstone geology, show a more complex crust with higher Vp/Vs ratios, consistent with a greater mafic component. The Trans-Hudson Orogen (THO), proposed to be a Himalayan-scale mountain belt during the Paleoproterozoic, is thought to have formed during the ~ 1.8 Ga collision of the Superior and Churchill plates. Results from the Quebec–Baffin Island segment of the THO appear to map out the first-order shape of the underthrusting Superior plate, with elevated Vp/Vs ratios likely representing the rifted margin of the Superior craton. Consistently thicker crust is observed beneath central and southern Baffin Island (~43 km), coincident with widespread high-grade metamorphic surface geology. These features can be explained by crustal thickening due to stacking of accreted terranes during continent–continent collision, analogous to the present-day Tibetan Plateau, followed by erosion. When reviewed in light of age and compositional constraints from the geological record, our seismic observations point towards secular crustal evolution from non-plate tectonic during the Paleo- to Mesoarchean evolving towards fully-developed modern-style plate tectonics during the Paleoproterozoic.