France was a colonial power in North America from the early 16th century, the age of European discoveries and fishing expeditions, to the early 19th century, when Napoléon Bonaparte sold Louisiana to the United States. French presence in North America was marked by economic exchanges with Indigenous peoples, but also by conflicts, as the French attempted to control this vast territory. The French colonial enterprise was also spurred by religious motivation as well as the desire to establish an effective colony in the St. Lawrence Valley. From the founding of Québec in 1608 to the ceding of Canada to Britain in 1763, France placed its stamp upon the history of the continent, much of whose lands — including Acadia — lay under its control. Through the use of encyclopedic articles, biographies, exhibits, study guides and searchable timelines, this collection features content related to this history.
Women’s suffrage (or franchise) is the right of women to vote in political elections; campaigns for this right generally included demand for the right to run for public office. The women’s suffrage movement was a decades-long struggle intended to address fundamental issues of equity and justice and to improve the lives of Canadians.
Immigration of Cambodians to Canada is relatively recent. From 1980 to 1992, Canada welcomed more than 18,000 Cambodia refugees who were fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime. They settled in Canada’s major urban areas. In the 2016 Census, 38,490 people reported being of Cambodian ethnic origin. Over the years since Cambodians began immigrating to Canada, many Cambodian Canadians have become distinguished in their fields; examples include actress Ellen Wong, journalist Chan Tep and graffiti artist FONKi.
The immigration of Laotian nationals to Canada is relatively recent, having begun in earnest in the late 1970s. After the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam in March 1973, mainland Southeast Asia (former Indochina) was left at the mercy of revolutionary forces in the region. In 1975, at the end of a 20-year-long civil war, communist revolutionaries of the Pathet Lao (Lao State) movement took power, abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Living conditions deteriorated in Laos, as they did in Vietnam and Cambodia. Former civil and military officials were sent to labour camps and their families were denied access to employment and education. These difficult economic conditions, combined with an increasingly forceful communist regime and violations of human rights, sparked a mass migration in the region. Like Vietnamese, Laotians left their country in makeshift vessels, facing perilous conditions on the Mekong River and then the China Sea. This is the origin of the name often used to refer to these migrants: “boat people.” From 1979 to 1982, Canada welcomed nearly 8,000 Laotians. Approximately 20 per cent were of Chinese origin. Supported by the federal government and private sponsor groups, they resettled in various parts of Canada. Today, however, the Laotian population is concentrated in Québec and Ontario. In the 2016 Census of Canada, 24,590 people reported being of Laotian origin.
The settlement of Vietnamese nationals in Canada is relatively recent. It resulted from two waves of immigration in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The first wave consisted mostly of middle- class people who were welcomed to Canada for their professional skills after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Because Vietnam had been part of the French colony of Indochina until 1954, these immigrants generally spoke French, if not English. The second wave of immigration consisted of refugees from the former South Vietnam, seeking to escape the harsh living conditions and deteriorating human-rights situation following the reunification of the two Vietnams into a single country. These refugees were widely referred to in the media as “boat people.” Moved by the desperate plight of the hundreds of thousands who, to escape the Communist regime, took to the high seas in makeshift boats that threatened to sink at any moment, many Canadians offered to sponsor their journey to Canada. In July 1979, the Government of Canada committed to accept 50,000 refugees from Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) by the end of the year. In April 1980, the government revised the target number of refugees it would admit and announced that Canada would accept 10,000 more. This brought the number of refugees to 60,000 for the year 1979–80.2
The Last Spike was the final and ceremonial railway spike driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) track by company director Donald Smith on the morning of 7 November 1885. The ceremony marked the completion of the transcontinental CPR and was a muted affair at which a group of company officials and labourers gathered at Craigellachie near Eagle Pass in the interior of British Columbia. One of about 30 million iron spikes used in the construction of the line, the Last Spike came to symbolize more than the completion of a railway. Contemporaries and historians have viewed the Last Spike — as well as the iconic photographs of the event — as a moment when national unity was realized.
Treaty Day commemorates the day that certain treaties were signed by the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples between the 18th and 20th centuries. Treaty Day is also a celebration of the historic relationship between Indigenous peoples and the federal government. It promotes public awareness about Indigenous culture, history and heritage for all Canadians.
The Dominion of Canada wasn't born out of revolution, or a sweeping outburst of nationalism. Rather, it was created in a series of conferences and orderly negotiations, culminating in the terms of Confederation on 1 July 1867. The union of the British North American colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada was the first step in a slow but steady nation-building exercise that would come to encompass other territories, and eventually fulfill the dream of a country a mari usque ad mare (from sea to sea).
Located in Nova Scotia, Port-Royal National Historic Site features a reconstruction of the Port-Royal Habitation, one of the first settlements attempted by the French in North America (1605). Administered by Parks Canada, this historic site offers interpretive activities that convey the French settlers’ challenges in implementing the new colony. Visitors can also learn about the culture of the Mi’kmaq, the area’s first inhabitants of the land.
The ongoing Syrian conflict has catalyzed different responses in Canada. The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, which came into power in November 2015, has greatly expanded the resettlement of Syrian refugees into Canada. However, the policies have also been criticized as Canada continues to fight Islamophobia and negative attitudes about refugees.
The movement of nationals of one country into another for the purpose of resettlement is central to Canadian history. The story of Canadian immigration is not one of orderly population growth; it has been and remains both a catalyst to Canadian economic development and a mirror of Canadian attitudes and values; it has often been unashamedly and economically self-serving and ethnically or racially biased.1
Beginning in early 1942, the Canadian government detained and dispossessed the vast majority of people of Japanese descent living in British Columbia. They were interned for the rest of the Second World War, during which time their homes and businesses were sold by the government in order to pay for their detention.
Every year on 6 December, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, the women who lost their lives in the massacre are remembered. While flags are flown at half-mast, vigils, conferences and demonstrations are held in remembrance. Despite these efforts, assigning meaning to the shooting has stirred controversy — and continues to do so.
Drafted in January 1834 by Louis-Joseph Papineau, leader of the Parti patriote, and Augustin-Norbert Morin, the 92 Resolutions were a list of grievances and demands made by the Parti patriote with regards to the state of the colonial political system. They were drafted following a long political struggle against the governor general and Château Clique and the Patriotes’ inability to produce any significant reforms. The document critiqued the division of authority in the colony and demanded a government that was responsible to the Legislative Assembly. The imperial government responded with the Russell Resolutions, which rejected their demands, preparing the way for the Canadian Rebellion.
One of the most intriguing artifacts once on loan to the Canadian War Museum was a white handkerchief. Frayed and dirty, it had been hoisted on a rifle by Boer commandos surrendering to the troops of the Royal Canadian Regiment — one of whom considered the rag a worthy battlefield keepsake.
The Vindicator was a short-lived weekly English-language newspaper published in Montréal from 1828 to 1837. It was founded by Daniel Tracey, an Irish immigrant who arrived in Montréal in 1825. Tracey was a staunch Irish nationalist, and his newspaper was the voice for Irish members of the Patriotes in Montréal. He supported the Parti patriote, and, similar to Ludger Duvernay’s editorial direction for La Minerve, he favoured the party’s more radical reformist ideology. Following Tracey’s death in 1832, Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan took over the newspaper and continued Tracey’s editorial line. Though The Vindicator lasted less than a decade, it played a major role in promoting Irish involvement in the Patriote cause.
The united Province of Canada — a response to the problems and violence that plagued Lower and Upper Canada in the 1830s — was a 26-year experiment in anglophone-francophone political co-operation. During this time responsible government came to British North America, trade and commerce expanded bringing wealth to the region, and Confederation was ultimately born.
The welcoming and resettlement of many thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia in the late 1970s and early 1980s represents a turning point in the history of immigration in Canada. It was the first time that the Canadian government applied its new program for private sponsorship of refugees — the only one if its kind in the world — through which more than half of the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees who came to Canada during this period were admitted. In recognition of this unprecedented mobilization of private effort, the people of Canada were awarded the Nansen Medal, an honour bestowed by the United Nations for outstanding service to the cause of refugees. It was the first and remains the only time that the entire people of a country have been collectively honored with this award. But most importantly, this positive, humanitarian response by Canadians reflected a change in their attitude toward refugees. Never before in its history had Canada welcomed so many refugees in so little time.
On 24 February 2010, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, officially apologized for a program that the British government put in place in the 19th century to send large numbers of children as emigrants to various British colonies, including Canada. Media reports of this apology took many people in Britain and Canada by surprise. They had no idea that such an event had taken place in their two countries’ histories.
Up until the second half of the 19th century, most rural teachers in Canada were young, female, poorly paid, and held the most limited professional qualifications. These teachers delivered a rudimentary education to thousands of Canada’s rural children, often amidst difficult conditions. Indeed, until the 1960s, rural teachers frequently taught students of various ages and wide-ranging academic abilities together in one-room schoolhouses while also shouldering the burden of maintaining the schools themselves.