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Patrick James Whelan

Patrick James Whelan, convicted murderer, tailor (born c. 1840 near Dublin, Ireland; died 11 February 1869 in Ottawa, ON). Whelan was arrested for the April 1868 assassination of Member of Parliament and Father of Confederation Thomas D’Arcy McGee. He was convicted in September 1868 and sentenced to death. The authorities suspected that Whelan carried out a Fenian conspiracy to murder McGee and promptly arrested him within 24 hours of the murder; however, it was never fully proved that Whelan was acting as a Fenian sympathizer. Whelan maintained his innocence throughout his trial and until he was hanged publicly in Ottawa in early 1869. There is room for reasonable doubt as to whether Whelan did in fact murder McGee or was simply part of a group of people who did. McGee was the only federal politician to be assassinated, and Whelan one of the last people to be hanged publicly in Canada.

Article

Indigenous Title and the War of 1812

In the first decade of the 19th century, relations between Great Britain and the United States deteriorated, primarily due to the widening influence of the Napoleonic Wars. At the centre of this movement, two Shawnee brothers implored Indigenous peoples to unite in order to defend their dwindling lands against the growing incursions of Anglo-American settlers and the United States government. The promise of an Indigenous state never came to fruition. After the War of 1812, the United States and Britain found it more advantageous to ignore Aboriginal title.

Article

George Brown

George Brown, journalist, politician, senator, cattle breeder (born 29 November 1818 in Alloa, Scotland; died 9 May 1880 in Toronto, ON). George Brown played an instrumental role in Confederation. A Reformer who helped bring responsible government to Upper Canada, he orchestrated the great coalition of 1864, which pushed British North America toward Confederation. He participated in the Charlottetown Conference and the Quebec Conference in 1864 and is considered a Father of Confederation. Brown’s journalistic legacy is also significant. His Globe newspaper ushered in the beginning of Canada’s big newspaper business. The widely read Globe was a vigorous force in Upper Canada politics in the 1850s. Today, it is Canada’s major daily newspaper, the Globe and Mail.

Article

Mifflin Gibbs

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, politician, judge, diplomat, banker, entrepreneur (born 17 April 1823 in Philadelphia, PA; died 11 July 1915, in Little Rock, AR). Gibbs was a notable figure in both American and Canadian history. In just over a decade in colonial British Columbia, he prospered in business, advocated for the Black community, served as an elected official and helped guide British Columbia into Confederation. Gibbs was the first Black person elected to public office in what is now British Columbia.

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Loyalists in Canada

Loyalists were American colonists, of different ethnic backgrounds, who supported the British cause during the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). Tens of thousands of Loyalists migrated to British North America during and after the war. This boosted the population, led to the creation of Upper Canada and New Brunswick, and heavily influenced the politics and culture of what would become Canada.

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

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The Underground Railroad (Plain-Language Summary)

The Underground Railroad was a secret organization. It was made up of people who helped African Americans escape from slavery in the southern United States. The people in this organization set up a system of routes that escaped slaves could travel to find freedom in the northern United States and Canada. In the 1800s (the 19th century) between 30,000 and 40,000 escaped slaves travelled to British North America (Canada) through the Underground Railroad.

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

Article

Delos Davis

Delos Rogest Davis, KC, teacher and lawyer (born 4 August 1846 in Maryland, died 13 April 1915 in Anderdon Township, ON). Davis was the third Black lawyer in Canada and the first Black person appointed to the King’s Counsel in all of the British Empire.

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

Anahareo

Anahareo, or Gertrude Philomen Bernard, CM, conservationist, prospector (born 18 June 1906 in Mattawa, ON; died 17 June 1986 in Kamloops, BC). An independent, forceful animal welfare advocate, Anahareo is credited with converting her well-known husband, Grey Owl, into a conservationist.

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Louis Riel

Louis Riel, Métis leader, founder of Manitoba, central figure in the Red River and North-West resistances (born 22 October 1844 in Saint-BonifaceRed River Settlement; died 16 November 1885 in ReginaSK). Riel led two popular Métis governments, was central in bringing Manitoba into Confederation, and was executed for high treason for his role in the 1885 resistance to Canadian encroachment on Métis lands. Riel was initially dismissed as a rebel by Canadian historians, although many now sympathize with Riel as a Métis leader who fought to protect his people from the Canadian government.

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Dionne Quintuplets

Annette, Emilie, Yvonne, Cecile and Marie aroused worldwide attention after their birth at Corbeil, Ontario, to Oliva and Elzire Dionne on 28 May 1934. With only two previous cases on record, they were the only quintuplets to survive for more than a few days. This miracle, plus their baby cuteness, the poverty of their French Canadian parents, and the controversy over their guardianship, made them the sensation of the 1930s.

Article

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.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Queen Mother (HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother)

Her Majesty (HM) Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, consort of King George VI and mother of Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, the United Kingdom and 13 other Commonwealth realms (born 4 August 1900 in London, United Kingdom; died 30 March 2002 in Windsor, United Kingdom). In 1939, Queen Elizabeth became the first queen consort to visit Canada with her reigning husband. Her determination to remain in London during the Blitz made her an inspirational figure during the Second World War. Her tours of Canada spanned a 50-year period from 1939 to 1989. She was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2000.

Article

Elijah McCoy

Elijah McCoy, engineer, inventor (born 2 May 1843 or 1844 in Colchester, Canada West; died 10 October 1929 in Wayne County, Michigan.) McCoy was an African-Canadian mechanical engineer and inventor best known for his groundbreaking innovations in industrial lubrication.

Article

Chloe Cooley

Chloe Cooley was one of hundreds of Black women enslaved in the French and British colonies that became Canada. Although little is known about Chloe Cooley, who was enslaved in Upper Canada, her struggles against her enslaver, Sergeant Adam Vrooman, precipitated the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada of 1793. The Act was the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.)

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

Article

Masumi Mitsui

Masumi Mitsui, MM, farmer, soldier, Canadian Legion official (born 7 October 1887 in Tokyo, Japan; died 22 April 1987 in Hamilton, ON). Masumi Mitsui immigrated to Canada in 1908 and served with distinction in the First World War. In 1931, he and his comrades persuaded the BC government to grant Japanese Canadian veterans the right to vote, a breakthrough for Japanese and other disenfranchised Canadians. Nevertheless, Matsui and more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians were displaced, detained and dispossessed by the federal government during the Second World War (see Internment of Japanese Canadians).