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Turtle Island

For some Indigenous peoples, Turtle Island refers to the continent of North America. The name comes from various Indigenous oral histories that tell stories of a turtle that holds the world on its back. For some Indigenous peoples, the turtle is therefore considered an icon of life, and the story of Turtle Island consequently speaks to various spiritual and cultural beliefs.

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Orange Shirt Day

At an event in Williams Lake, British Columbia, in May 2013, the orange shirt was presented as a symbol of Indigenous peoples’ suffering caused by residential schools, which operated from the 1830s to the 1990s. The event led to the annual 30 September Orange Shirt Day as a means of remembrance, teaching and healing. In June 2021, the federal government declared 30 September a national statutory holiday to coincide with Orange Shirt Day. (See also Reconciliation in Canada.)

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Filipino Canadians

Filipinos have been in Canada as early as the late 19th century. Migration from the Philippines to Canada significantly increased from the 1960s onward. (See Immigration to Canada.) In the 2016 Census, 837,130 people reported being of Filipino ethnic origin. Filipino Canadians are the largest group of Southeast Asian Canadians. Among Filipino Canadians, women outnumber men by 56 per cent to 44 per cent. The Philippines was the most common country of birth among people who immigrated to Canada between 2011 and 2016.

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Shelburne Race Riots

On 26 July 1784, a mob of Loyalist settlers stormed the home of a Black preacher in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. They were armed with hooks and chains seized from ships in the harbour. The confrontation ignited a wave of violence in Shelburne County that lasted approximately 10 days. The majority of the attacks targeted the county’s free Black population. The Shelburne Riot has been described as the first race riot in North America. (See also British North America.)

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Internment of Japanese Canadians

The forcible expulsion and confinement of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War is one of the most tragic sets of events in Canada’s history. Some 21,000 Japanese Canadians were taken from their homes on Canada’s West Coast, without any charge or due process. Beginning 24 February 1942, around 12,000 of them were exiled to remote areas of British Columbia and elsewhere. The federal government stripped them of their property and pressured many of them to accept mass deportation after the war. Those who remained were not allowed to return to the West Coast until 1 April 1949. In 1988, the federal government officially apologized for its treatment of Japanese Canadians. A redress payment of $21,000 was made to each survivor, and more than $12 million was allocated to a community fund and human rights projects.

This article is the full-length text on Japanese Internment in Canada. For a plain-language summary, see Internment of Japanese Canadians (Plain-Language Summary).

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Peasant Farm Policy

From 1889 to 1897, the Canadian government’s Peasant Farm Policy set limits on Indigenous agriculture on the Prairies. The policy included rules about the types of tools First Nations farmers could use on reserve lands. It also restricted how much they grew and what they could sell. The Peasant Farm Policy was built on the belief that Indigenous farmers had to gradually evolve into modern farmers. It also reduced these farmers’ ability to compete with settlers on the open market. The policy ultimately impeded the growth and development of First Nations farms. As a result, First Nations never realized their agricultural potential.

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Military Service Act

The Military Service Act became law on 29 August 1917. It was a politically explosive and controversial law that bitterly divided the country along French-English lines. It made all male citizens aged 20 to 45 subject to conscription for military service, through the end of the First World War. As such, the Act had significant political consequences. It led to the creation of Prime Minister Borden’s Union Government and drove most of his French-Canadian supporters into opposition.

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Patriation of the Constitution

In 1982, Canada fully broke from its colonial past and “patriated” its Constitution. It transferred the country’s highest law, the British North America Act (which was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867), from the authority of the British Parliament to Canada’s federal and provincial legislatures. The Constitution was also updated with a new amending formula and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These changes occurred after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country.

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MS St. Louis

​On 7 June 1939, 907 Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis were denied entry to Canada. The ship returned its passengers to safe harbour in four European countries. Sadly, 254 of its passengers later perished in the Holocaust.

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Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in Canada

Since the late 1960s, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Canada has seen steady gains in rights. While discrimination against LGBT people persists in many places, major strides toward mainstream social acceptance and formal legal equality have nonetheless been made in recent decades. Canada is internationally regarded as a leader in this field. Recent years have seen steady progress on everything from health care to the right to adopt. In 2005, Canada became the fourth country worldwide to legalize same-sex marriage.

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Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada

The Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada, also known as the Bird Commission in honour of its chair, Florence Bird, was established on 3 February 1967. More than 900 people appeared at its public hearings over a period of six months. In addition to providing an overview of the status of women, the report tabled on 7 December 1970 included 167 recommendations for reducing gender inequality across the various spheres of Canadian society.

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Black Enslavement in Canada

In early Canada, the enslavement of African peoples was a legal instrument that helped fuel colonial economic enterprise. The buying, selling and enslavement of Black people was practiced by European traders and colonists in New France in the early 1600s, and lasted until it was abolished throughout British North America in 1834. During that two-century period, settlers in what would eventually become Canada were involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Canada is further linked to the institution of enslavement through its history of international trade. Products such as salted cod and timber were exchanged for slave-produced goods such as rum, molasses, tobacco and sugar from slaveholding colonies in the Caribbean.

This is the full-length entry about Black enslavement in Canada. For a plain language summary, please see Black Enslavement in Canada (Plain Language Summary).

(See also Olivier Le Jeune; Sir David Kirke; Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada; Underground Railroad; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Slavery Abolition Act, 1833; Slavery of Indigenous People in Canada.)

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Child Labour

Child labour is defined as the regular employment of boys and girls under the age of 15 or 16. Attitudes toward child labour have altered dramatically since the late 18th century, when it was generally assumed that children should contribute to the family economy from about age seven. By the beginning of the 20th century most Canadian provinces had enacted labour legislation to restrict the employment of children.

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October Crisis (Plain-Language Summary)

The October Crisis happened in the fall of 1970. It was sparked by the Front de liberation du Québec (FLQ). The FLQ used terrorist tactics to try and make Quebec independent from Canada. On 5 October, the FLQ kidnapped James Cross, a British trade commissioner. The FLQ also kidnapped Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. The Act had never been used before during peacetime. It suspended civil liberties and led to hundreds of arrests. Laporte was murdered and found on 17 October. Cross was freed on 3 December. The crisis ended on 28 December, when Laporte’s killers were captured.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the October Crisis. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see the full-length entry.)

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Fatty Legs

Fatty Legs (2010) is a memoir about a young Inuvialuit girl’s two years at a religious residential school. It is based on the experiences of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, who cowrote the novel with her daughter-in-law Christy Jordan-Fenton. Published by Annick Press, the book features illustrations by Liz Amini-Holmes and archival photographs from Pokiak-Fenton’s personal collection. Fatty Legs was a finalist for the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize. It received many other nominations and was named one of the 10 best children’s books of the year by the Globe and Mail.

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Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria

The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria is believed to be the largest collection of historical documents and materials related to transgender research and activism in the world (see Historical Sources). Aaron Devor, chair of Transgender Studies at the University of Victoria, is the founder and subject matter expert of the archives, which officially opened in 2011. The archives aim to preserve the history and research of transgender people and other gender-diverse peoples. (See also Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in Canada; Two-Spirit; Queer Culture.)

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Persons Case (Plain-Language Summary)

The Persons Case was a constitutional ruling. It established the right of women to serve in the Senate. The case was started by the Famous Five. They were a group of women activists. In 1928, they objected to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that women were not “persons.” As such, they were not allowed to serve in the Senate. The Famous Five challenged the law. In 1929, the decision was reversed. As a result, women were legally recognized as “persons.” They could no longer be denied rights based on a narrow reading of the law.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Persons Case. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see the full-length entry.)

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Quebec Film History: 1990 to Present

This entry presents an overview of Quebec cinema, from the explosion that followed Denys Arcand’s Le déclin de l’empire américain (1986) to the setback that followed 10 years later and the new wave of filmmaking that emerged at the beginning of the 21st century. It highlights the most important films, whether in terms of box office success or international acclaim, and covers both narrative features and documentaries. It also draws attention to an aspect of filmmaking that still has difficulty finding its place: women's cinema.