Escalating tension in the Middle East and the Falkland Islands pushed the dollar forward against all major currencies yesterday, with the U.S. unit reaching near-record levels against the faltering French franc.

Meanwhile, the Canadian dollar closed at its lowest level in history yesterday despite a major hike in the Bank of Canada's lending rate. At the close of trading the Canadian dollar changed hands at 79.10 U.S. cents--nearly 1/3 cent below Wednesday's close--only a couple of hours after the central bank increased its trend-setting rate by 0.33 percent to 16.20 percent.

Gold was little changed in quiet trading. In Zurich, the bullion slid $1 to $326.50 an ounce, while on the London market it dropped to $326.875 from $328.375. In New York gold edged up 25 cents to $327.25, and the New York Commodity Exchange settled it at $326.80, down 40 cents. Silver increased 12 cents to $6.01 an ounce, and settled 12.9 cents higher on the Comex at $6.01.

The pound lost nearly a cent against the dollar, closing at $1.765 against $1.774, and climbing to $1.7625 in late New York trading. In Paris, the dollar closed at 6.30 French francs, less than two centimes off the all-time high of 6.3135 set in mid-April, against 6.2825.