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Black History in Canada until 1900

Black people have lived in Canada since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement. Although historically very few arrived directly from their ancestral homeland in Africa, the term "African Canadian" is used to identify all descendants of Africa regardless of their place of birth. “Black Canadian” is also used as a more general term. The earliest arrivals were enslaved people brought from New England or the West Indies. Between 1763 and 1900, most Black migrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement in the US. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.)

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Calixa Lavallée

Callixte Lavallée, composer, pianist, conductor, teacher, administrator, soldier (born 28 December 1842 in Verchères, Canada East; died 21 January 1891 in Boston, Massachusetts). A pioneer in music both in Canada and the United States, Calixa Lavallée was considered one of the “national glories” of Quebec. He is best known for composing the music for “O Canada” and was twice president of the Académie de musique de Québec. Despite this vaunted stature, he spent much of his life outside Canada, served with the Union Army during the American Civil War and called for Canada to be annexed by the United States. The Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée, awarded by the St-Jean-Baptiste Society of Montreal for outstanding contributions to the music of Quebec, is named in his honour.

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R.B. Bennett

Richard Bedford Bennett, 1st Viscount Bennett of Mickleham, Calgary and Hopewell, businessman, lawyer, politician, philanthropist, prime minister of Canada 7 August 1930 to 23 October 1935 (born 3 July 1870 in Hopewell Hill, NB; died 26 June 1947 in Mickleham, England). R.B. Bennett is perhaps best remembered for his highly criticized response to the Great Depression, as well as the subsequent unemployment relief camps and the On to Ottawa Trek and Regina Riot. However, he also created the Bank of Canada, the Canadian Wheat Board and the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, which became the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also oversaw Canada’s signing of the Statute of Westminster. For his service during the Second World War, he was appointed to Britain’s House of Lords and became Viscount Bennett of Mickleham, Calgary and Hopewell.

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Crown

In a monarchy, the Crown is an abstract concept or symbol that represents the state and its government. In a constitutional monarchy such as Canada, the Crown is the source of non-partisan sovereign authority. It is part of the legislative, executive and judicial powers that govern the country. Under Canada’s system of responsible government, the Crown performs each of these functions on the binding advice, or through the actions of, members of Parliament, ministers or judges. As the embodiment of the Crown, the monarch — currently Queen Elizabeth II — serves as head of state. The Queen and her vice-regal representatives — the governor general at the federal level and lieutenant-governors provincially — possess what are known as prerogative powers; they can be made without the approval of another branch of government, though they are rarely used. The Queen and her representatives also fulfill ceremonial functions as Head of State.

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Grey Nuns

The Grey Nuns refer to six distinct Roman Catholic religious communities of women. Their origins can all be traced to the Sisters of Charity of theHôpital Général de Montréal founded by Marie-Marguerite d'Youville in the mid-18th century.

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Marie-Anne Lagimodière

Marie-Anne Lagimodière (née Gaboury), settler (born 2 August 1780 in Maskinongé, QC; died 14 December 1875 in St. Boniface, MB). Marie-Anne Lagimodière accompanied her fur-trader husband, Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière, to what is now Western Canada. She was one of the first women of European descent in the area and they became some of the first settlers in Red River. Marie-Anne Lagimodière was grandmother of Louis Riel, the Métis leader of the Red River Resistance.

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Fenians

Fenians were members of a mid-19th century movement to secure Ireland’s independence from Britain. They were a secret, outlawed organization in the British Empire, where they were known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. They operated freely and openly in the United States as the Fenian Brotherhood. Eventually, both wings became known as the Fenians. They launched a series of armed raids into Canadian territory between 1866 and 1871. The movement was primarily based in the United States, but it had a significant presence in Canada.

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Arthur Roy Brown

Arthur Roy Brown, fighter pilot and ace, businessman, civil aviation pioneer (born 23 December 1893 in Carleton Place, Ontario; died 9 March 1944 in Stouffville, Ontario). Brown is credited with killing Germany’s top First World War ace, Manfred von Richthofen, the famed “Red Baron.” Richthofen may, however, have been shot down by two Australian army machine-gunners.

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Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial

Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial, Marquis de Vaudreuil, (sometimes Vaudreuil-Cavagnial), officer, last governor general of New France 1755–1760 (born in Québec, New-France on 22 November 1698; died in Paris, France 4 August 1778). He was the governor of New France during the Seven Years’ War and the British Conquest of New France. Following the capture of Quebec by British forces, Vaudreuil signed the capitulation of Montreal and New France in 1760.

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John Diefenbaker

John George “Dief the Chief” Diefenbaker, PC, CH, KC, FRSC, prime minister 1957–63, politician, lawyer (born 18 September 1895 in Neustadt, ON; died 16 August 1979 in Ottawa, ON). John Diefenbaker was Canada’s 13th prime minister. He was well known as a defence lawyer before his election to Parliament, and was an eloquent spokesman for “non-establishment” Canada. A supporter of civil rights for all, Diefenbaker championed the Canadian Bill of Rights and the extension of the right to vote to First Nations peoples. He also played an important role in the anti-apartheid statement that led to South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth in 1961. He was a charismatic and popular speaker; but he was also a divisive force within the Progressive Conservative Party. He was criticized for his indecision concerning nuclear missiles on Canadian soil; for his strained relations with US President John F. Kennedy; and for his cancellation of the Avro Arrow project.

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Lester B. Pearson

Lester Bowles (“Mike”) Pearson, PC, OM, CC, OBE, prime minister 1963–68, statesman, politician, public servant, professor (born 23 April 1897 in Newtonbrook, ON; died 27 December 1972 in Ottawa, ON). Lester Pearson was Canada’s foremost diplomat of the 1950s and 1960s. He formulated the basics of the country’s postwar foreign policy; particularly its involvement in NATO and the United Nations, where he served as president of the General Assembly. In 1957, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic efforts in facilitating Britain and France’s departure from Egypt during the Suez Crisis. A skilled politician, he rebuilt the Liberal Party and as prime minister strove to maintain Canada’s national unity. Under his leadership, the government implemented a Canada Pension Plan; a universal medicare system; a unified Armed Forces; and a new national flag.

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Sir Alexander Mackenzie (Explorer)

Sir Alexander Mackenzie, fur trader, explorer (born around 1764 near Stornoway, Scotland; died 12 March 1820 near Dunkeld, Scotland). Mackenzie was one of Canada’s greatest explorers. In two epic journeys for the North West Company in 1789 and 1793, he crossed the dense northern wilderness to reach the Arctic and Pacific Oceans. The first European to cross North America north of Mexico, he inspired later adventurers and traders, such as the famous Lewis and Clark expedition sponsored by the American military (1804–6). The Mackenzie River, named in his honour, symbolizes Mackenzie’s important place as a pioneer and fur trader in Canadian history.

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Liberation of the Netherlands

In the final months of the Second World War, Canadian forces were given the important and deadly task of liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. From September 1944 to April 1945, the First Canadian Army fought German forces on the Scheldt estuary — opening the port of Antwerp for Allied use — and then cleared northern and western Netherlands of Germans, allowing food and other relief to reach millions of desperate people. More than 7,600 Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen died fighting in the Netherlands. Today, Canada is fondly remembered by the Dutch for ending their oppression under the Nazis.