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Documenting the First World War
The First World War forever changed Canada. Some 630,000 Canadians enlisted from a nation of not yet eight million. More than 66,000 were killed. As the casualties mounted on the Western Front, an expatriate Canadian, Sir Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), organized a program to document Canada’s war effort through art, photography and film. This collection of war art, made both in an official capacity and by soldiers themselves, was another method of forging a legacy of Canada’s war effort.
Sir Frederick Banting
Sir Frederick Grant Banting, KBE, MC, FRS, FRSC, co-discoverer of insulin, medical scientist, painter (born 14 November 1891 in Alliston, ON; died 21 February 1941 near Musgrave Harbour, Newfoundland). Banting is best known as one of the scientists who discovered insulin in 1922. After this breakthrough, he became Canada’s first professor of medical research at the University of Toronto. Banting was also an accomplished amateur painter. As an artist, he had links to A.Y. Jackson and the Group of Seven.
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.
Dr. James Naismith, physical educator, author, inventor, chaplain, physician (born 6 November 1861 in Almonte, Ontario; died 28 November 1939 in Lawrence, Kansas). James Naismith is best known as the inventor of the sport of basketball. He was also the first full-time athletics instructor at McGill University and established the basketball program at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where he worked and lived for 41 years until his death. Naismith became the first member of the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959. He was posthumously inducted to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame. In 2010, his original hand-written rules for the sport of basketball were sold at auction for $4.3 million, a sports memorabilia record.
Henry Hudson, mariner, explorer (born c. 1570 in England; disappeared 1611). Hudson was among a long list of explorers who searched in vain for a northern passage through Arctic waters from Europe to East Asia. He made four voyages historians are aware of, in 1607, 1608, 1609 and 1610–11. While he never found a route, in Canada, Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait are named for him, as well as the Hudson River in New York state. He disappeared, along with his son and seven companions, after being set adrift in a ship’s boat during a mutiny on James Bay in June 1611. (See also Northwest Passage; Arctic Exploration.)
Harriet Tubman, née Araminta "Minty" Ross, abolitionist, “conductor” of the Underground Railroad (born c. 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland; died 10 March 1913 in Auburn, New York). Tubman escaped from enslavement in the southern United States and went on to become a leading abolitionist before the American Civil War. She led numerous enslaved persons to freedom in the “free” Northern states and Canada through the Underground Railroad — a secret network of routes and safe houses that helped people escape enslavement.
Great Coalition of 1864
The politics of the Province of Canada in the early 1860s were marked by instability and deadlock. The Great Coalition of 1864 proved to be a turning point in Canadian history. It proved remarkably successful in breaking the logjam of central Canadian politics and in helping to create a new country. The coalition united Reformers and Conservatives in the cause of constitutional reform. It paved the way for the Charlottetown Conference and Confederation.
Sir Clifford Sifton
Sir Clifford Sifton, PC, KCMG, KC, lawyer, politician, businessman (born 10 March 1861 near Arva, Canada West; died 17 April 1929 in New York City, New York). Sir Clifford Sifton was one of the ablest politicians of his time. He is best known for his aggressive promotion of immigration to settle the Prairie West. Under his leadership, immigration to Canada increased significantly; from 16,835 per year in 1896 to 141,465 in 1905. A Liberal politician of considerable influence and vision, he was also a controversial figure. Sifton promoted a single education system and opposed the public funding of denominational schools, largely disregarding the concerns of French Catholics. He also showed little interest in the Indigenous peoples of the Prairies; he oversaw cuts to Indigenous education and approved Treaty 8. His brother, Arthur Lewis Sifton, was premier of Alberta from 1910 to 1917.
George Brown: 1865 Speech in Favour of Confederation
George Brown played an instrumental role in establishing Confederation. As leader of the Clear Grits (forerunner of the Liberal Party) in Canada West, he set aside political differences and allied with his Conservative rivals John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier in 1864, with whom he pitched Confederation to the Atlantic colonies at the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences. From 3 February to 13 March 1865, politicians in the Province of Canada debated the terms of Confederation, offering some of the most compelling defences and critiques of the union of British North American colonies. In the following speech, delivered before the legislature of the Province of Canada on 8 February 1865, Brown explains his reasons for supporting Confederation.
After the failed Rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada, its leader, William Lyon Mackenzie, retreated to Navy Island, in the Niagara River, accompanied by some 200 followers. The Caroline, an American ship based at Fort Schlosser in New York State, was chartered to bring supplies to the rebels. On 29 December 1837, a force of the Upper Canada militia led by Commander Andrew Drew of the Royal Navy found the Caroline moored at Schlosser. In the quick skirmish that followed, an American was killed. The Caroline, set on fire and adrift, capsized before reaching the falls and sank. The incident aggravated the already tense relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States.
Hiawatha is an important figure in the precolonial history of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) of present-day southern Ontario and upper New York (ca. 1400-1450). He is known most famously for uniting the Five Nations—Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk—into a political confederacy. In 1722, the Tuscarora, a tribe from much farther south, joined the Confederacy, forming what we now know as the Six Nations. The story of Hiawatha should not be confused with the popular poem by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha (1885). While Longfellow references Hiawatha, the poem’s focus is actually an Algonquian cultural hero, Nanabozho. Whether this was an intentional or accidental error, Longfellow’s poem confused the history of Hiawatha.
Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada
Although little is known about Chloe Cooley, an enslaved woman in Upper Canada, her struggles against her “owner,” Sergeant Adam Vrooman, precipitated the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada, 1793 — the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade.
The Act recognized enslavement as a legal and socially accepted institution. It also prohibited the importation of new slaves into Upper Canada and reflected a growing abolitionist sentiment in British North America.
George Dixon, boxer (born 29 July 1870 in Africville, NS; died 6 January 1908 in New York, New York). George Dixon was the first Black world champion in boxing history and the first Canadian to ever win a world championship. Despite his small stature (5 feet 3.5 inches and between 87 and 115 pounds), Dixon amassed several notable accomplishments across a 20-year career and was the first boxer to win championships in multiple weight classes — bantamweight (1890) and featherweight (1891–96; 1897; 1898–1900). A cerebral fighter known as a “pioneer of scientific boxing,” he is credited with inventing various fundamental training techniques, including shadowboxing and the use of the heavy bag. As a dominant Black fighter in the post-Civil War United States, Dixon was subjected to fierce racism. He died in poverty from alcoholism at the age of 37. He was an inaugural inductee into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame, and was also named to The Ring Magazine Hall of Fame and the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Children of the Halifax Explosion
Among the approximately 2,000 victims who died in the Halifax Explosion of 1917, one-quarter were children under the age of 18. Many other young people survived but would carry physical and emotional scars with them for the remainder of their lives. Dead and wounded children were the most poignant victims of the disaster.
Margaret Alberta Corbett Ecker, journalist (born 1915 in Edmonton, AB; died 3 April 1965 in Ibiza, Spain). Margaret Ecker was an award-winning newspaper and magazine writer. She was the only woman to serve overseas as a war correspondent for the Canadian Press wire service during the Second World War. She was also the only woman present at Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1945. Ecker was made an officer of the Netherlands’ House of the Orange Order in 1947, making her the first Canadian woman to receive that honour.
Documenting the Second World War
When Canada declared war on Germany on 10 September 1939, tens of thousands of Canadians enlisted to serve in the army, navy, air force and supporting services. The military scrambled to buy equipment, train recruits and prepare for war. Little thought was given, at first, to documenting the war effort. By 1940, however, the military was recruiting historians, most notably Charles Stacey, to collect records and write accounts of Canadian operations. In the following years, artists, photographers and filmmakers also served with the various branches of the armed forces. Today, their diligent work provides a rich visual and written catalogue of Canada’s history in the Second World War.
Glenn Herbert Gould (born Gold), pianist, broadcaster, writer, composer, conductor, organist (born 25 September 1932 in Toronto, ON; died 4 October 1982 in Toronto, ON).
William Henry Steeves
William Henry Steeves, senator (1867–73), politician, merchant, lumberman (born 20 May 1814 in Hillsborough, NB; died 9 December 1873 in Saint John, NB).
Inuit Experiences at Residential School
Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools created to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Schools in the North were run by missionaries for nearly a century before the federal government began to open new, so-called modern institutions in the 1950s. This was less than a decade after a Special Joint Committee (see Indigenous Suffrage) found that the system was ineffectual. The committee’s recommendations led to the eventual closure of residential schools across the country.