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Article

Alias Grace

Margaret Atwood’s ninth novel, Alias Grace (1996), is a work of historical fiction that centres on the mysterious figure of Grace Marks. She was convicted in 1843 at the age of 16 for the murder of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, a wealthy Scottish Canadian, who was killed along with his housekeeper and mistress, Nancy Montgomery. Alias Grace won the Giller Prize for fiction in 1996. It was also shortlisted for a Governor General’s Award and England’s Booker Prize. In 2017, Sarah Polley adapted Atwood’s novel into a six-part CBC/Netflix miniseries, starring Sarah Gadon as Marks.

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Métis National Council

The Métis National Council represents more than 350,000 members of the Métis Nation, defined as Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and parts of Ontario, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

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Haida

Haida are Indigenous people who have traditionally occupied the coastal bays and inlets of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. In the 2016 census, 501 people claimed Haida ancestry, while 445 people identified as speakers of the Haida language.

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Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Cultural appropriation is the use of a people’s traditional dress, music, cuisine, knowledge and other aspects of their culture, without their approval, by members of a different culture. For Indigenous peoples in Canada, cultural appropriation is rooted in colonization and ongoing oppression. Indigenous peoples have seen culturally significant symbols and motifs used in non-Indigenous goods, marketing and art. They have also seen stereotypical images of “Indians” used in sports logos and the sale of various products.

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The Great Depression in Canada

The Great Depression of the early 1930s was a worldwide social and economic shock. Few countries were affected as severely as Canada. Millions of Canadians were left unemployed, hungry and often homeless. The decade became known as the Dirty Thirties due to a crippling droughtin the Prairies, as well as Canada’s dependence on raw material and farm exports. Widespread losses of jobs and savings transformed the country. The Depression triggered the birth of social welfare and the rise of populist political movements. It also led the government to take a more activist role in the economy.

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Voyageurs

Voyageurs were independent contractors, workers or minor partners in companies involved in the fur trade. They were licensed to transport goods to trading posts and were usually forbidden to do any trading of their own. The fur trade changed over the years, as did the groups of men working in it. In the 17th century, voyageurs were often coureurs des bois — unlicensed traders responsible for delivering trade goods from suppliers to Indigenous peoples. The implementation of the trading licence system in 1681 set voyageurs apart from coureurs des bois, who were then considered outlaws of sorts. Today, the word voyageur, like the term coureur des bois, evokes the romantic image of men canoeing across the continent in search of furs. Their life was full of perilous adventure, gruelling work and cheerful camaraderie.

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Blackfoot Confederacy

The Blackfoot Confederacy, sometimes referred to as the Blackfoot Nation or Siksikaitsitapi, is comprised of three Indigenous nations, the Kainai, Piikani and Siksika. People of the Blackfoot Nation refer to themselves as Niitsitapi, meaning “the real people,” a generic term for all Indigenous people, or Siksikaitsitapi, meaning “Blackfoot-speaking real people.” The Confederacy’s traditional territory spans parts of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as northern Montana. In the 2016 census, 22,490 people identified as having Blackfoot ancestry.

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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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Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples speaks primarily for Non-Status Indian people and the Métis population in Canada, as well as for some other Indigenous groups (see Indian Act). In 1993, under the leadership of Jim Sinclair, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) grew out of a reorganization of the Native Council of Canada (NCC). Since its founding in 1971, the central objective of the NCC, and now CAP, has been to represent the interests of off-reserve Status and Non-Status Indians, Métis and some Inuit people.

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First Nations

First Nations is a term used to describe Indigenous peoples in Canada who are not Métis or  Inuit. First Nations people are original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada, and were the first to encounter sustained European contact, settlement and trade. According to the 2016 census by Statistics Canada, 977,230 people in Canada identified as being of First Nations heritage, a growth of 39.3 per cent since 2006. There are 634 First Nations in Canada, speaking more than 50 distinct languages.

For more detailed information on specific First Nations, see Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

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Heritage Minutes

The Heritage Minutes collection is a bilingual series of history-focused public service announcements. Each 60-second short film depicts a significant person, event or story in Canadian history. They are produced by Historica Canada, the not-for-profit organization that also publishes this encyclopedia. First released in 1991, the Heritage Minutes have been shown on television, in cinemas and online. They have become a recognizable part of Canadian culture. The collection currently includes 96 episodes.

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Coureurs des bois

Coureurs des bois were itinerant, unlicenced fur traders from New France. They were known as “wood-runners” to the English on Hudson Bay and “bush-lopers” to the Anglo-Dutch of New York. Unlike voyageurs, who were licensed to transport goods to trading posts, coureurs des bois were considered outlaws of sorts because they did not have permits from colonial authorities. The independent coureurs des bois played an important role in the European exploration of the continent. They were also vital in establishing trading contacts with Indigenous peoples.

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Gerald Stanley Case

On 9 February 2018, Gerald Stanley, a white farmer in rural Saskatchewan, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in the killing of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man. The acquittal caused great controversy but was not appealed by prosecutors. However, it led the Justin Trudeau government to abolish peremptory challenges, which allowed Stanley’s legal team to keep five Indigenous people off the all-white jury that acquitted him. In 2021, an investigation conducted by a civilian watchdog concluded that that the RCMP was insensitive and racially discriminatory toward Boushie’s mother, and that the police mishandled witnesses and evidence. A Globe and Mail investigation also found that the RCMP “destroyed records of police communications from the night Colten Boushie died.”

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Saskatchewan Bill of Rights

The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights came into force on 1 May 1947. Written primarily by lawyer and human rights advocate Morris Shumiatcher, it was enacted by the CCF government led by Premier Tommy Douglas. While critics have debated its efficacy, it remains important because it was Canada’s first bill of rights; it predated the Canadian Bill of Rights (1960), Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (1975) and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).

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Great Peace of Montreal, 1701

On 4 August 1701, the French concluded a peace agreement with the Five Nations Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). This brought to an end almost a century of hostilities marked by atrocities on both sides. The Haudenosaunee were permitted to trade freely and to obtain goods from the French at a reduced cost. In exchange, they pledged to allow French settlement at Detroit and to remain neutral in the event of a war between England and France. The accord assured New France superiority in dealing with issues related to the region’s First Nations. It also gave the French the freedom to expand militarily over the next half century.

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Languages in use in Canada

Although French and English are Canada’s only two official languages, the country’s linguistic diversity is very rich. According to the 2016 census, an increased number of Canadians are reporting a mother tongue or language spoken at home other than English or French compared to in previous years. This is in addition to a large diversity of Indigenous languages.

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Temperance Movement in Canada

The temperance movement was an international social and political campaign of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was based on the belief that drinking was responsible for many of society’s ills. It called for moderation or total abstinence from alcohol. This led to the legal prohibition of alcohol in many parts of Canada. The Canada Temperance Act (Scott Act) of 1878 gave local governments the “local option” to ban the sale of alcohol. In 1915 and 1916, all provinces but Quebec prohibited the sale of alcohol as a patriotic measure during the First World War. Most provincial laws were repealed in the 1920s in favour of allowing governments to control alcohol sales. Temperance societies were later criticized for distorting economic activity, and for encouraging drinking and organized crime.

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Sleeping Car Porters in Canada

Sleeping car porters were railway employees who attended to passengers aboard sleeping cars. Porters were responsible for passengers’ needs throughout a train trip, including carrying luggage, setting up beds, pressing clothes and shining shoes, and serving food and beverages, among other services. The vast majority of sleeping car porters were Black men and the position was one of only a few job opportunities available to Black men in Canada. While the position carried respect and prestige for Black men in their communities, the work demanded long hours for little pay. Porters could be fired suddenly and were often subjected to racist treatment. Black Canadian porters formed the first Black railway union in North America (1917) and became members of the larger Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1939. Both unions combatted racism and the many challenges that porters experienced on the job.