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Article

David Thompson

David Thompson, explorer, cartographer (born 30 April 1770 in London, England; died 10 February 1857 in Longueuil, Canada East). David Thomson was called “the greatest land geographer who ever lived.” He walked or paddled 80,000 km or more in his life, mapping most of western Canada, parts of the east and the northwestern United States. And like so many geniuses, his achievements were only recognized after his death.

Article

George Godfrey

George Godfrey, boxer (born 20 March 1853 in Charlottetown, PEI; died 18 October 1901 in Revere, Massachusetts). George Godfrey was a successful Black Canadian boxer who began his career at the age of 26. He won the World Colored Heavyweight championship in 1883 and held the title for five years. Godfrey retired in 1896 after competing in over 100 fights. He was the first of many great Black Canadian boxers from the Maritimes; others included George Dixon and Sam Langford. Godfrey was inducted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

Article

John Anderson Extradition Case

John Anderson killed a man in self-defence in the United States while escaping from slavery in 1853. Several years after arriving in Canada, he was threatened with extradition to stand trial for murder in the United States. International agreements made this the law even though Anderson’s chances of getting a fair trial were non-existent. Canadian public opinion opposed the extradition and a protest movement developed in support of Anderson. A Canadian court stopped the extradition while a parallel legal challenge in London led to important changes which shaped Canada’s independent judicial system.

Article

Emily Murphy's Famous Triumph

“I feel equal,” wrote Emily Murphy in 1927, “to high and splendid braveries.” By that point in her life, the 59-year-old native of Cookstown, Ontario, had earned the right to big ambitions: her achievements included turns as a successful writer (under the name “Janey Canuck”), social activist, self-taught legal expert and, as of 1916, the first woman magistrate in the British Empire. She was also a wife and mother.

Article

Irene Parlby

Mary Irene Parlby (née Marryat), Alberta MLA (1921–35), women’s rights advocate, activist (born 9 January 1868 in London, UK; died 12 July 1965 in Red Deer, AB). Irene Parlby served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Alberta for 14 years. She was the first woman in Alberta, and the second in the British Empire, to be appointed to a cabinet position. One of the Famous Five appellants in the Persons Case, Parlby was a compelling advocate for women’s rights. Known as the “Women’s Minister,” her career in activism and legislation was dedicated to improving the lives of rural women and children, such as with Alberta’s Dower Act in 1917. She was also a delegate to the League of Nations in 1930. However, she has also been criticized for her views on eugenics and for her support of Alberta’s Sexual Sterilization Act. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1966 and an honorary senator in 2009.

Editorial

Irene Parlby and the United Farmers of Alberta

Most Canadians, if they have heard of Irene Parlby, know her as one of the “Famous Five.” This group of five Alberta women were plaintiffs in a court case that argued women were indeed persons under the British North America Act (now the Constitution Act, 1867) and thus entitled to be named to the Senate. It was a landmark case in the long struggle by women to achieve political and legal equality in Canada. But Parlby’s historical significance rests on much more than just the Persons Case.

Article

Jack “Doc” Gibson

John “Jack” Liddell MacDonald Gibson, athlete, administrator, dentist (born 10 September 1880 in Berlin [now Kitchener], ON; died 4 November 1954 in Calgary, AB). Jack “Doc” Gibson founded the world’s first professional hockey team (the Portage Lake Hockey Club in Houghton, Michigan) in 1903 and the first professional hockey league (the International Hockey League) in 1904. He has been called the “father of professional hockey” and the “father of hockey in Michigan.” He was an inaugural inductee into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976.

Article

Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy (née Ferguson, pen name Janey Canuck), writer, journalist, magistrate, political and legal reformer (born 14 March 1868 in Cookstown, ON; died 27 October 1933 in Edmonton, AB). Emily Murphy was the first woman magistrate in the British Empire. She was also one of the Famous Five behind the Persons Case, the successful campaign to have women declared persons in the eyes of British law. A self-described rebel, she was an outspoken feminist and suffragist and a controversial figure. Her views on immigration and eugenics have been criticized as racist and elitist. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1958 and an honorary senator in 2009.

Article

Fred Loft

Frederick Ogilvie Loft (commonly known as Fred or F.O. Loft), Mohawk chief, activist, war veteran, reporter, author and lumberman (born 3 February 1861 on the Six Nations reserve, Grand River, Canada West [ON]; died 5 July 1934 in Toronto, ON). Loft founded the League of Indians of Canada, the first national Indigenous organization in Canada, in December 1918 (see Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada). He fought in the First World War and is recognized as one of the most important Indigenous activists of the early 20th century. His Mohawk name was Onondeyoh, which translates as “Beautiful Mountain.”

Article

Famous Five

Alberta’s “Famous Five” were petitioners in the groundbreaking Persons Case. The case was brought before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1927. It was decided in 1929 by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Canada’s highest appeals court at the time. The group was led by judge Emily Murphy. It also included  Henrietta EdwardsNellie McClungLouise McKinney and Irene Parlby. Together, the five women had many years of active work in various campaigns for women’s rights dating back to the 1880s and 1890s. They enjoyed a national — and in the case of McClung, an international — reputation among reformers.

Article

Black Enslavement in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

The practice of slavery was introduced by colonists in New France in the early 1600s. The practice was continued after the British took control of New France in 1760 (see British North America.) For about two hundred years, thousands of Indigenous and Black African people were bought, sold, traded and inherited like property in early Canada. Slavery was abolished (made illegal) throughout British North America in 1834.

(This article is a plain-language summary of slavery in Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry on Black Enslavement in Canada.)

Article

Mary Ann Shadd

Mary Ann Camberton Shadd Cary, educator, publisher, abolitionist (born 9 October 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware; died 5 June 1893 in Washington, DC). Mary Ann Shadd was the first Black female newspaper publisher in Canada. Shadd founded and edited The Provincial Freeman. She also established a racially integrated school for Black refugees in Windsor, Canada West. She played an important role in giving Black people a voice and advocating for women’s rights. In 1994, Shadd was designated a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada.

Article

Uprooted Lives: the British Home Children

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.

Article

British Home Children

On 14 April 1826, an obscure police magistrate in London, England, Robert Chambers, told a committee of the British Parliament dealing with emigration: "I conceive that London has got too full of children." Chambers was alarmed at the number of youngsters, victims of east-end London's chronic poverty, who were begging in the streets and sleeping in the gutters. He had a recommendation which may well have been in the minds of others and which was to become reality several decades later in one of the most Draconian movements in the history of emigration. Chambers recommended that Britain's surplus children be sent to Canada as farm labour.

Article

Mi’k ai’stoowa (Red Crow)

Mi’k ai’stoowa, also known as Red Crow, warrior, peacemaker, Kainai (Blood) leader (born ca. 1830 near the junction of St. Mary’s and Oldman rivers, AB; died 28 August 1900 near the Belly River on the Kainai reserve, AB). Head chief of the Kainai, Mi’k ai’stoowa was a skilled negotiator and passionate advocate for his people. Mi’k ai’stoowa sought improved conditions for the Kainai in the wake of monumental changes amid the decline of the bison in traditional territories in the 1860s and 1870s, the encroachment of European settlers and the disastrous effects of smallpox epidemics.

Article

A Dish with One Spoon

The term a dish with one spoon refers to a concept developed by the Indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes region and northeastern North America. It was used to describe how land can be shared to the mutual benefit of all its inhabitants. According to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), the concept originated many hundreds of years ago and contributed greatly to the creation of the “Great League of Peace” — the Iroquois Confederacy made up of the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, and Mohawk nations. The Anishinaabeg (the Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi, Mississauga, Saulteaux and Algonquin nations) refer to “a dish with one spoon” or “our dish” as “Gdoo – naaganinaa.”

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Cowboys and Cowgirls in Canada

Cowboys and cowgirls are people employed to tend cattle or horses. The first cowboys to work on the Canadian prairies arrived in the 1870s. The traditional cowboy lifestyle has since given way to a more contained, corporate model of ranching. But the romanticized image of the cowboy on the “open range” lives on as a symbol of the prairies. Today, the terms cowboy and cowgirl can refer to ranch workers or rodeo competitors.

Article

John Ware

John Ware, cowboy, rancher (born c. 1845–50 in the United States; died 11 September 1905 near Brooks, AB). John Ware is legendary in the history of Alberta for his strength and horsemanship. Born enslaved, he became a successful rancher who settled near Calgary and Brooks. He was widely admired as one of the best cowboys in the West, even at a time of widespread anti-Black racism and discrimination.