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Canadian Film History: 1896 to 1938

Filmmaking is a powerful form of cultural and artistic expression, as well as a highly profitable commercial enterprise. From a practical standpoint, filmmaking is a business involving large sums of money and a complex division of labour. This labour is involved, roughly speaking, in three sectors: production, distribution and exhibition. The history of the Canadian film industry has been one of sporadic achievement accomplished in isolation against great odds. Canadian cinema has existed within an environment where access to capital for production, to the marketplace for distribution and to theatres for exhibition has been extremely difficult. The Canadian film industry, particularly in English Canada, has struggled against the Hollywood entertainment monopoly for the attention of an audience that remains largely indifferent toward the domestic industry. The major distribution and exhibition outlets in Canada have been owned and controlled by foreign interests. The lack of domestic production throughout much of the industry’s history can only be understood against this economic backdrop.

This article is one of four that surveys the history of the film industry in Canada. The entire series includes: Canadian Film History: 1896 to 1938; Canadian Film History: 1939 to 1973; Canadian Film History: 1974 to Present; Canadian Film History: Notable Films and Filmmakers 1980 to Present.

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Canadian Foreign Relations

Throughout its history, Canada has taken a series of steps to develop from a British colony into an independent nation. Both the First and Second World War were turning points; Canada’s military sacrifices gave it the strength and confidence to demand its own voice on the world stage. In the postwar era, Canada maintained its role in both Western and global alliances. (See NATO; NORAD; GATT.) However, economics have shaped Canadian diplomacy to a remarkable extent. Because of the United States’ singular importance to Canadian security and trade, relations with the US have dominated Canada’s foreign policy since Confederation.

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Canadian Foundations

Foundations are "non-governmental, non-profit organizations with funds (usually from a single source, either an individual, a family, or a corporation) and program managed by (their) own trustees or directors, established to maintain or aid social, educational, charitable, religious, or other activities serving the common welfare through the making of Grants".

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Canadian Human Rights Act

The Canadian Human Rights Act, created in 1977, is designed to ensure equality of opportunity. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex and a variety of other categories. The Act produced two human rights bodies: the Canadian Human Rights Commission and, through a 1985 amendment, the Human Rights Tribunal Panel (it became the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 1998). Decisions of both the Commission and the Tribunal can be appealed to the Federal Court of Canada. Unlike the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provides Canadians with a broad range of rights, the Canadian Human Rights Act covers only equality rights. It also governs only federal jurisdictions. Each province and territory in Canada has its own human rights legislation, which apply to local entities such as schools and hospitals.

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Canadian Identity

The question of what it means to be a Canadian has been a difficult and much debated one. Some people see the question itself as central to that identity. Canadians have never reached a consensus on a single, unified conception of the country. Most notions of Canadian identity have shifted between the ideas of unity and plurality. They have emphasized either a vision of “one” Canada or a nation of “many” Canadas. A more recent view of Canadian identity sees it as marked by a combination of both unity and plurality. The pluralist approach sees compromise as the best response to the tensions — national, regional, ethnic, religious and political — that make up Canada.

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Canadian Identity and Language

Language policy in Canada, as it relates to Canadian identity, traditionally encompasses three points of view. One favours an officially bilingual Canada. It reaffirms the country as the product of two “founding peoples.” A version of this approach, introduced by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, endorses official bilingualism but rejects the claim that two “peoples” or “nations” deserve any special recognition. Rather, it argues that we should instead emphasize Canada’s multiculturalism. The second position argues that, since no linguistic group deserves special status, the country should therefore have no official languages. The third position argues that Canada is not only multicultural, but also multinational. It argues that French and English should have official status because this recognizes two of the country’s founding nations. This approach also suggests that efforts should be made to help preserve Indigenous languages.

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Canadian Parents for French

Canadian Parents for French is a national organization of parents dedicated to the expansion of French second-language learning opportunities for young Canadians. Primarily driven by the volunteer efforts of parents, it has been the leading organization in Canada dedicated to the expansion of French immersion programs and the improvement of French second-language learning programs since the 1970s.

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Canadian Response to the "Boat People" Refugee Crisis

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.

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Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame

The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) is a non-profit organization that honours Canadian songs and songwriters. Music publisher Frank Davies founded the bilingual organization in 1998; its inaugural induction ceremony took place in 2003. Winners are inducted in one of three categories: songwriters; songs; and special achievement, for those who have made a significant contribution to the development and recognition of Canadian songs and songwriters. The CSHF has inducted over 50 songwriters and more than 150 songs since its inception.

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Cannabis Legalization in Canada

Cannabis, also known as marijuana (among countless other names), is a psychoactive intoxicant that was banned in Canada from 1923 until medical cannabis became legal in 2001. The consumption and sale of recreational cannabis was legalized and regulated on 17 October 2018, after Parliament passed Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act. Legalization was supported by a majority of Canadians, despite concerns about the drug’s addictiveness and health effects, especially among young people.

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Capitalism in Canada

Capitalism is an economic system in which private owners control a country’s trade and business sector for their personal profit. It contrasts with communism, in which property effectively belongs to the state (see also Marxism). Canada has a “mixed” economy, positioned between these extremes. The three levels of government decide how to allocate much of the country’s wealth through taxing and spending.

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Casavant Society

Two societies, one formed in Montreal and the other in Toronto in the mid-1930s, for the purpose of presenting recitals by the best Canadian and foreign organists. The name was chosen in honour of Casavant Frères, the noted organ builders.

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Catholic Action

 Faithful to the Vatican's teachings and following the example of the church in France, elements of the Roman Catholic Church in Québec established Catholic action groups to associate laymen of various ages and professions with the church's social work, particularly in urban areas.

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Catholic Women's League of Canada

With over 80,000 members across the country in 2019, the Catholic Women's League of Canada (CWLC) represents the largest organized body of Catholic women in Canada. It is officially recognized by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as a lay association of women and is affiliated with the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations. The CWLC national office is in Winnipeg, Manitoba.