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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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Thunderchild (Peyasiw-Awasis)

Thunderchild (also known as Peyasiw-Awasis or Kapitikow, Cree for “one who makes the sound”), Plains Cree chief (born 1849, likely along the South Saskatchewan River; died 29 June 1927 on the Thunderchild Reserve in Saskatchewan). Chief Thunderchild was a signatory to Treaty 6 in 1879. He was a strong defender of treaty rights and Indigenous land as well as traditional Cree lifeways. Thunderchild supported the right of every reserve on the Canadian Plains to have its own school.

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Anna Leonowens

Anna Harriette Edwards Leonowens (born 6 November 1831 in Ahmadnagar, India; died 19 January 1915 in Montreal, Quebec). Anna Leonowens was an educator, author and lecturer who became famous as the British governess to the wives and children of King Mongkut (Rama IV) of Siam (now Thailand) in the 1860s. After leaving Siam, she emigrated to Canada, where she advocated for women’s suffrage, taught at McGill University and helped found what is now the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She was the inspiration for Margaret Landon’s historical novel, Anna and the King of Siam (1944), and the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I (1951).

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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.

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Robert Terrill Rundle

Robert Terrill Rundle, Methodist missionary and circuit clergyman (b at Mylor, Eng, 11 June 1811; d at Garstang, Eng, 4 Feb 1896). Sent as a Methodist missionary to the Saskatchewan country in 1840, he arrived at Fort Edmonton on 17 Oct 1840.

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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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Henry Hudson

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.)

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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 traveled 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.)

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Vancouver Feature: Gassy Jack Lands on the Burrard Shore

When Capt. Jack Deighton and his family pulled their canoe onto the south shore of the Burrrard Inlet in 1867, Jack was on one more search for riches. He had been a sailor on British and American ships, rushed for gold in California and the Cariboo, piloted boats on the Fraser River and ran a tavern in New Westminster. He was broke again, but he wasted no time in starting a new business and building the settlement that would become Vancouver.

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Queen Victoria

Victoria, queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India (born 24 May 1819 at Kensington Palace, London; died 22 January 1901 at Osborne House, Isle of Wight).

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Peter Fidler

Peter Fidler, fur trader, mapmaker, explorer (b at Bolsover, Eng 16 Aug 1769; d at Fort Dauphin [Man] 17 Dec 1822).

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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.

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Clovis (Llano)

These big-game hunters sought mammoths, mastodons, camels and horses that were native to North America at the time. Following the retreat of the Wisconsin glaciers, these animals became extinct, hastening the end of this stage of North American Prehistory.

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Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake in the Lakota language, meaning literally “Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down”), Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux chief (born in 1831; died 15 December 1890 at Standing Rock, South Dakota). Sitting Bull led the Dakota (Sioux) resistance against US incursion into traditional territory. After the most famous battle at Little Big Horn, in which General George Custer’s forces were completely annihilated, Sitting Bull left the United States for the Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan. Sitting Bull symbolized the conflict between settlers and Indigenous culture over lifestyles, land and resources.

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Rose Fortune

Rose Fortune, entrepreneur (born 1774 at Virginia; died 20 February 1864 at Nova Scotia). Rose Fortune, a Black Loyalist originally from the US, is best-known for her talent as a businesswoman.

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Ray Lewis

Raymond Gray (“Rapid Ray”) Lewis, CM, sprinter (born 8 October 1910 in Hamilton, ON; died 14 November 2003 in Hamilton, ON). Ray Lewis was the first Canadian-born Black athlete to earn an Olympic medal. He won a bronze medal in the 4 x 400 m relay at the 1932 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles. He was also part of the Canadian team that won the silver medal in the 4 x 400 m event at the 1934 British Empire Games in London, England. Lewis was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2000.