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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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Willie O'Ree

Willie O’Ree, CM, ONB, hockey player (born 15 October 1935 in Fredericton, NB). Willie O’Ree became the first Black hockey player to play a National Hockey League (NHL) game on 18 January 1958. He played professional hockey for more than 20 years, including 45 games with the NHL’s Boston Bruins. Since 1998, O’Ree has been the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and ambassador for NHL Diversity, and has led the Hockey is for Everyone program. He received the Lester Patrick Trophy in 2003 for his outstanding service to hockey in the United States. In 2018, the NHL established the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in his honour. O’Ree is a Member of both the Order of Canada and the Order of New Brunswick. He has been inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame as a Builder on 27 May 2020 and will be formally inducted in 2021. The Boston Bruins will retire his No. 22 jersey in 2022.

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Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet)

Wolastoqiyik (also Welastekwewiyik or Welustuk), meaning “people of the beautiful river” in their language, have long resided along the Saint John River in New Brunswick and Maine, and the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Historically, the Europeans referred to the Wolastoqiyik by a Mi’kmaq word, Maliseet (or Malecite), roughly translating to English as “broken talkers.” The name indicates that, according to the Mi’kmaq, the Wolastoqiyik language is a “broken” version of their own. Today, there are six Wolastoqiyik Maritime communities in Canada and one in Maine. In the 2016 census, 7,635 people identified as having Wolastoqiyik ancestry.

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Murray Sinclair

Murray Sinclair or Mizanay (Mizhana) Gheezhik, meaning “The One Who Speaks of Pictures in the Sky” in the Ojibwe language, lawyer, judge and senator (born in 1951 in Selkirk, MB). Called to the Manitoba Bar in 1980, Sinclair focused primarily on civil and criminal litigation, Indigenous law and human rights. In 1988, he became Manitoba’s first, and Canada’s second, Indigenous judge. Sinclair joined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009, before becoming a senator in 2016. He retired from the Senate in 2021 but continues to mentor Indigenous lawyers. The breadth of public service and community work completed by Sinclair demonstrates his commitment to Indigenous peoples in Canada.

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Reconciliation in Canada

In Canada, the process of reconciliation is tied to the federal government's relationship with Indigenous peoples. The term has come to describe attempts made by individuals and institutions to raise awareness about colonization and its ongoing effects on Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation also refers to efforts made to address the harms caused by various policies and programs of colonization, such as residential schools. For some, the word represents an opportunity to reflect on the past, to heal and to make right. For others, however, current gestures of reconciliation are merely performative and lack meaningful action to address the harms done by colonization.

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Indigenous Elders in Canada

Elders are respected individuals who play key roles in Indigenous communities. They are important knowledge keepers, and they also help to ensure cultural continuity. As living connections to the past, Elders serve as teachers, healers, advisors and counsellors. Elder knowledge is culturally specific, meaning Anishinaabeg teachings, for example, are not necessarily Haudenosaunee teachings. However, Elders share some commonalities; for instance, spirituality and tradition shape their lives as well as the guidance they provide to others.

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Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous (Aboriginal) Peoples are the original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada. Inuit and First Nations history extends well before the arrival of Europeans in Canada, while Métis emerged as a distinct culture after intermarriage between European settlers and First Nations people. Indigenous people were essential to the development of early Canada, but suffered massive population declines due to the arrival of European disease. In addition, though they were often military allies, they faced persecution at the hands of colonial governments in the form of displacement, starvation, land seizure and cultural genocide through residential schools and destructive legislation. Indigenous people live throughout Canada and continue to strive to reinvigorate traditional culture and ways of life.

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Indigenous Treaties in Canada

Indigenous treaties in Canada are constitutionally recognized agreements between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. Most of these agreements describe exchanges where Indigenous nations agree to share some of their interests in their ancestral lands in return for various payments and promises. On a deeper level, treaties are sometimes understood, particularly by Indigenous people, as sacred covenants between nations that establish a relationship between those for whom Canada is an ancient homeland and those whose family roots lie in other countries. Treaties therefore form the constitutional and moral basis of alliance between Indigenous peoples and Canada.

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Métis

This collection features content related to Métis communities in Canada.Through the use of videos, articles and more, it explores issues concerning Métis history, identity and culture.

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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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Gender Identity

The term “gender identity” refers to an individual’s sense of their own gender, or the gender they feel is most in keeping with how they see themselves.

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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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Norwegian Music in Canada

It is believed that the Norse (Vikings) visited North America around the year 1000. However, people from modern Norway, the western kingdom of the Scandinavian peninsula, immigrated to Canada from the USA during the 1890s and moved into the Prairies and particularly to British Columbia, whose coastline so closely resembled that of their homeland. In 1986 there were 243,675 people of Norwegian origin living in Canada (191,000 in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan). Those born in Canada numbered 224,000, and of the 20,000 immigrants 2,000 arrived in the period 1977-86.

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Won Alexander Cumyow

Won Alexander Cumyow (溫金有), activist and interpreter (born around 21 March 1861 in Port Douglas, BC; died 6 October 1955 in Vancouver). Won Cumyow was the first Chinese Canadian born in British North America, which became Canada. He knew several languages, which assisted his work as a Chinese community leader and court interpreter.

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Dan Hill

Daniel Grafton Hill IV, singer, songwriter, guitarist, writer (born 3 June 1954 in Toronto, ON). Dan Hill is a successful adult contemporary singer and songwriter. Known for his plaintive voice and unabashedly sentimental lyrics, he achieved international stardom at age 23 with the hit single “Sometimes When We Touch.” In addition to his solo work, Hill has enjoyed a long career as a pop and country songwriter. He has amassed over 100 million in sales for his songs, which have been recorded by such artists as Céline Dion, Britney Spears, Alan Jackson and Reba McEntire. Hill has won five Juno Awards, a Grammy Award, five SOCAN Awards for outstanding radio airplay in Canada, and six ASCAP Awards for airplay in the United States. He was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2021.

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Kim Thúy

Kim Thúy, CQ, writer (born 18 September 1968 in Saigon, Vietnam). The winner of several prestigious literary awards for her first novel, Ru, this Quebec writer of Vietnamese origin is known for her short and elegant stories. Her novels deal with the migrant experience and the challenges of adapting to a new culture. Written in French, which Thúy calls her “second mother tongue,” they have been translated into 15 languages.