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Article

Celebrating Asian Heritage in Canada

Many Canadians today see our diverse population as a source of pride and strength — for good reason. More than one in five Canadians were born elsewhere. That is the highest percentage of immigrants in the G7 group of large industrialized nations. Asia (including people born in the Middle East) has provided the greatest number of newcomers in recent years. Since the 1990s, Canadians — who once thought primarily of Europe when they considered events abroad — now define themselves, and the world, differently. As former prime minister Jean Chrétien said: “The Pacific is getting smaller and the Atlantic is becoming wider.”

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10 Indigenous Firsts

Indigenous peoples have contributed greatly to Canadian society, culture and politics. Despite facing discrimination, racial segregation and policies of assimilation, Indigenous peoples have fought to make this country a better place for all, and to protect their own Indigenous cultures. From leaders in the fields of medicine and law, to war veterans, chiefs and politicians, many Indigenous peoples have risen to the top of their respective fields, championing a variety of causes. This list of 10 Indigenous “firsts” celebrates those trailblazers who were the first in their profession to make historic accomplishments in Canada.

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Douglas Jung

Douglas Jung, CM, OBC, politician, lawyer, soldier (born 25 February 1924 in Victoria, BC; died 4 January 2002 in Vancouver, BC). Douglas Jung was a member of Force 136, a group of Chinese Canadian soldiers who fought behind enemy lines in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War. After the war, Jung became a lawyer in British Columbia and was the first Chinese Canadian lawyer to appear before the BC Court of Appeal in 1955. On 10 June 1957, Douglas Jung was elected as the first Chinese Canadian member of Parliament.

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Baffin Island Inuit

Baffin Island Inuit (also known as Nunatsiarmiut) are Indigenous peoples who live on Baffin Island, the largest island in the Arctic Archipelago and in the territory of Nunavut. According to the 2016 census, the total Inuit population in the Baffin region was 14,875.

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Helen (Ma) Armstrong

Helen (Ma) Armstrong (née Jury), labour activist, women’s rights activist (born 17 June 1875 in Toronto, Ontario; died 17 April 1947 in Los Angeles, California). Helen Armstrong was a labour activist who fought for the rights of working-class women throughout her life. She was the leader of the Winnipeg Women’s Labor League and a central figure in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. She campaigned for unions, a minimum wage and social security, and against conscription. Armstrong was arrested for her activism at least three times, including twice during the Winnipeg General Strike. Historian Esyllt Jones described Helen Armstrong as “the exception in a male-dominated labour movement.”

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Indigenous Land Claims in Canada

Land claims seek to address wrongs made against Indigenous peoples, their rights and lands, by the federal and provincial or territorial governments. There are different types of land claims. Comprehensive claims (also known as modern treaties) deal with Indigenous rights, while specific claims concern the government’s outstanding obligations under historic treaties or the Indian Act. There are many ongoing comprehensive and specific claims negotiations in Canada.

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Charles Victor Roman

Dr. Charles Victor Roman, surgeon, professor, author, editor, philosopher, civil rights activist (born 4 July 1864 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania; died 25 August 1934 in Nashville, Tennessee). Charles Roman was raised in DundasOntario, and was the first Black person to graduate from Hamilton Collegiate Institute in Hamilton, ON. After a tragic accident in his teenage years, he went on to establish himself as an internationally respected surgeon and educator; he also wrote and edited several books and periodicals and was frequently called upon as a keynote speaker. Roman used the Canada–US border as a gateway to opportunity both north and south of the line. He is an example of a true "African North American," one of many individuals of African descent who crossed and recrossed the border separating the two countries between 1850 and 1930.

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Stoney-Nakoda

Stoney-Nakoda or îyârhe Nakodabi, "Rocky Mountain Sioux," are culturally and linguistically allied to the Plains Assiniboine, but in Saskatchewan and Montana are characterized by differences in language and culture. They speak the northern dialect of the Dakota language. Stoney oral tradition (see also Indigenous Oral Histories and Primary sources) asserts that their forefathers resided along the Rocky Mountain foothills from time immemorial.

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Immigration to Canada

The movement of individuals of one country into another for the purpose of resettlement is central to Canadian history. The story of Canadian immigration is not one of orderly population growth; instead, it has been — and remains one — about economic development as well as Canadian attitudes and values. It has often been unashamedly economically self-serving and ethnically or racially discriminatory despite contributing to creating a multicultural society (see Immigration Policy in CanadaRefugees to Canada). Immigration has also contributed to dispossessing Indigenous peoples of their ancestral lands.

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English Canadians

The English were among the first Europeans to reach Canadian shores. Alongside the French, they were one of two groups who negotiated Confederation. The expression "English Canadians" refers to both immigrants from England and the Loyalists in exile after the American Revolution and their descendants. According to the 2016 Census of Canada, about 18 per cent of the Canadians consider themselves to be of English origin.

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Immigration Policy in Canada

Immigration policy is the way the government controls via laws and regulations who gets to come and settle in Canada. Since Confederation, immigration policy has been tailored to grow the population, settle the land, and provide labour and financial capital for the economy. Immigration policy also tends to reflect the racial attitudes or national security concerns of the time which has also led to discriminatory restrictions on certain migrant groups. (See also Canadian Refugee Policy.)

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South Asian Canadians

South Asians trace their origins to South Asia, which encompasses India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Most South Asian Canadians are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from these countries, but immigrants from South Asian communities established during British colonial times also include those from East and South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji and Mauritius. Others come from Britain, the US and Europe. In the 2016 census, 1, 963,330 Canadians reported South Asian origins (1,603,000 single and 360,330 multiple responses).

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Winnifred Eaton (Onoto Watanna)

Winnifred Eaton Babcock Reeve (a.k.a. Onoto Watanna), author, screenwriter (born 21 August 1875 in Montreal, QC; died 8 April 1954 in Butte, Montana). Winnifred Eaton achieved literary fame under the pseudonym Onoto Watanna. She was the first person of Asian descent to publish a novel in the United States — Miss Numè of Japan (1899) — and to reach a mainstream audience. Her novel A Japanese Nightingale (1901) was adapted into a Broadway play and a motion picture. She also wrote screenplays for Hollywood and two novels, Cattle (1924) and His Royal Nibs (1925), about ranching life in Alberta.

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Chanie Wenjack

Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack (born 19 January 1954; died 23 October 1966 near Redditt, ON). Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy from Ontario, ran away from his residential school near Kenora at age 12, and subsequently died from hunger and exposure to the harsh weather. His death in 1966 sparked national attention and the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.

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Henrietta Muir Edwards

Henrietta Louise Edwards (née Muir), women’s rights activist, reformer, artist (born 18 December 1849 in Montreal, Canada East; died 9 November 1931 in Fort Macleod, AB). Henrietta Edwards fought from a young age for women’s rights and education, as well as women’s work and health. She helped establish many movements, societies and organizations aimed at improving the lives of women, and was instrumental in passing Alberta’s Dower Act in 1917. She was also one of the Famous Five behind the Persons Case, the successful campaign to have women declared persons in the eyes of British law. However, her views on immigration and eugenics have been criticized as racist and elitist. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1962 and an honorary senator in 2009.

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Jennie Trout

Jennie (Jenny) Kidd Trout, physician, teacher (born 21 April 1841 in Kelso, Scotland; died 10 November 1921 in Hollywood, California). Trout was the first female physician licensed to practice medicine in Canada. She received her licence from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Ontario in 1875.

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Jean Lumb

Jean Bessie Lumb (née Toy Jin Wong), CM, community leader, restaurateur (born 30 July 1919 in Nanaimo, BC; died 17 July 2002 in Toronto, ON). Jean Lumb was the first Chinese Canadian woman and first restaurateur inducted into the Order of Canada. She is also best known for her role in successfully lobbying the federal government to change its discriminatory immigration policies that separated Chinese families. Lumb also led the Save Chinatown Committee to prevent further demolition of Toronto’s Chinatown in the 1960s.

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Fred Sasakamoose

Frederick (Fred) George Sasakamoose, CM, hockey player, Elder of Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation (born 25 December 1933 at Whitefish Lake, now Big River First Nation, SK; died 24 November 2020 in Prince Albert, SK). Fred Sasakamoose was one of the first Indigenous hockey players from Canada in the National Hockey League (NHL). A former student of St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, he played 11 games for the Chicago Black Hawks in the 1953–54 NHL season. After his retirement from competitive hockey in 1961, he dedicated himself to encouraging youth through sports involvement. A Member of the Order of Canada, he was inducted into the Saskatchewan First Nations Sports Hall of Fame, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame, the Prince Albert Hall of Fame and the Canadian Native Hockey Hall of Fame.

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Two-Spirit

​Two-Spirit, a translation of the Anishinaabemowin term niizh manidoowag, refers to a person who embodies both a masculine and feminine spirit. Activist Albert McLeod developed the term in 1990 to broadly reference Indigenous peoples in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. Two-spirit is used by some Indigenous peoples to describe their gender, sexual and spiritual identity. (See also Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in Canada.)