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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.)

See also Black History in Canada: 1900–1960 and Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present.

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Italian Canadians

Italian Canadians are among the earliest Europeans to have visited and settled the country. The steadiest waves of immigration, however, occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries. Italian Canadians have featured prominently in union organization and business associations. In the 2016 census, just under 1.6 million Canadians reported having Italian origins.

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Yvon Durelle

Yvon Durelle (the Fighting Fisherman), boxer (born 14 October 1929 in Baie-Sainte-Anne, NB; died 6 January 2007 in Moncton, NB). Yvon Durelle was an Acadian boxer. A heavy-handed power puncher, Durelle was Canadian middleweight champion (1953) and light heavyweight champion (1953–57); as well as British Empire light heavyweight champion (1957). In 1958, he earned international fame for a legendary 11-round slugfest against defending world champion Archie Moore at the Forum in Montreal. Durelle had a career record of 88 wins (49 by knockout), 24 losses and two draws. He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame, the Maritime Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame. He died at 77 following a years-long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

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Fenians

Fenians were members of a mid-19th century movement to secure Ireland’s independence from Britain. They were a secret, outlawed organization in the British Empire, where they were known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. They operated freely and openly in the United States as the Fenian Brotherhood. Eventually, both wings became known as the Fenians. They launched a series of armed raids into Canadian territory between 1866 and 1871. The movement was primarily based in the United States, but it had a significant presence in Canada.

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Obwandiyag (Pontiac)

Obwandiyag (Pontiac), Odawa chief (born c. 1720 along the Detroit River; died 20 April 1769 in Cahokia, Illinois Country). Obwandiyag was the leader of a loose coalition of Indigenous nations that opposed British rule in what became known as Pontiac’s War (1763–66). The uprising is regarded by many as a historical antecedent to more contemporary Indigenous rights movements.

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Alphonso Davies

Alphonso Boyle Davies, soccer player (born 2 November 2000 in Buduburam, Ghana). Alphonso Davies is one of the world’s most promising young soccer stars. The youngest player ever on Team Canada, he was named the Canadian Men’s Player of the Year in 2018 and 2020. After being named an MLS All-Star and the Player of the Year with Vancouver Whitecaps FC in 2018, he signed a six-year contract with FC Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga in 2019. He was named the Bundesliga Rookie of the Season in 2019–20 and became the first Canadian men’s international to play on a team that won the Champions League. In 2020, he received the Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s top male athlete and was a co-winner, with football player Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, of the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year.

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History of Acadia

Acadia’s history as a French-speaking colony stretches as far back as the early 17th century. The French settlers who colonized the land and coexisted alongside Indigenous peoples became called Acadians. Acadia was also the target of numerous wars between the French and the English. Ultimately, the colony fell under British rule. Many Acadians were subsequently deported away from Acadia. Over time, as a British colony and then as part of Canada, Acadians increasingly became a linguistic minority. Nonetheless, Acadians have strived to protect their language and identity throughout time.

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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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Indigenous Peoples in Canada

In Canada, the term Indigenous peoples (or Aboriginal peoples) refers to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. These are the original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada. In the 2016 census by Statistics Canada, over 1.6 million people in Canada identified as Indigenous, making up 4.9 per cent of the national population. Though severely threatened — and in certain cases extinguished — by colonial forces, Indigenous culture, language and social systems have shaped the development of Canada and continue to grow and thrive despite extreme adversity.

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Mary Two-Axe Earley

Mary Two-Axe Earley, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) elder, advocate for women and children, human rights activist (born 4 October 1911 on the Kahnawà:ke reserve, QC; died 21 August 1996 in the same place). Mary Two-Axe Earley was a pioneer and architect of the Canadian women’s movement. Her political activism helped to forge a coalition of allies to challenge Canadian laws that discriminated against Indigenous women. The great bulk of her political advocacy spanned the last three decades of her life, and she was particularly active in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

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Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker)

Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker), Cree chief (born circa 1842 in central SK; died 4 July 1886 in Blackfoot Crossing, AB). Remembered as a great leader, Pitikwahanapiwiyin strove to protect the interests of his people during the negotiation of Treaty 6. Considered a peacemaker, he did not take up arms in the North-West Resistance. However, a young and militant faction of his band did participate in the conflict, resulting in Pitikwahanapiwiyin’s arrest and imprisonment for treason. His legacy as a peacemaker lives on among many Cree peoples, including the Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

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Marie de l'Incarnation

Marie de l’Incarnation, born Marie Guyart, founder of the religious order of the Ursulines in Canada, mystic and writer (born 28 October 1599 in Tours, France; died 30 April 1672 in Quebec City). Her writings are among the most important accounts of the founding of the colony of New France and the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in the Americas. Her work as a teacher helped to lay the foundations for formal education in Canada.

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Kim Campbell

Avril Phaedra Douglas Campbell, PC, CC, QC, OBC, lawyer, professor, politician, Canada’s prime minister 25 June 1993 to 3 November 1993, diplomat, global advocate for education, democracy and women’s issues (born 10 March 1947 in Port Alberni, BC). Kim Campbell became Canada's first — and still only — female prime minister when she assumed the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party following Brian Mulroney's resignation. She was also Canada’s first female justice minister and attorney general; Canada’s first female minister of national defence and of veterans affairs; the first woman to represent a member country at a NATO meeting; and the first prime minister from British Columbia. She has received the Order of British Columbia and numerous honorary degrees and is a Companion of the Order of Canada.

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Tsilhqot'in (Chilcotin)

The Tsilhqot'in (Chilcotin) are an Indigenous people who live between the Fraser River and the Coast Mountains in west-central British Columbia. Traditionally Dene (Athabascan) speaking, their name means "people of the red river" and also refers to the Chilcotin Plateau region in British Columbia. The Tsilhqot’in National Government is a tribal council established in 1989 that represents the six member First Nations of the Chilcotin Plateau. In 2014, the Tsilhqot’in people won a Supreme Court of Canada case that focused on the issue of Aboriginal title. In 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized to the Tsilhqot’in people for the wrongful conviction and hanging of Tsilhqot’in chiefs during the Chilcotin War of 1864.

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Aziz Ahmad

Aziz Ahmad, novelist, short story writer, critic, translator, historian (born 11 November 1914 in Hyderabad Deccan [present-day India]; died 16 December 1978 in Toronto, ON).

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Palbinder Kaur Shergill

Palbinder Kaur Shergill, QC, judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in New Westminster (born in Rurka Kalan, Punjab, India). Shergill spent 26 years practising law before she was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. She was the first turbaned Sikh woman to be appointed as a judge in Canada.

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Lucy Maud Montgomery

Lucy Maud Montgomery, OBE, writer (born 30 November 1874 in Clifton (now New London), PEI; died 24 April 1942 in Toronto, ON). Lucy Maud Montgomery is arguably Canada’s most widely read author. Her first novel, Anne of Green Gables (1908), became an instant best-seller. It has remained in print for more than a century, making the character of Anne Shirley a mythic icon of Canadian culture. Montgomery produced more than 500 short stories, 21 novels, two poetry collections, and numerous journal and essay anthologies. Her body of work has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide. Anne of Green Gables alone has been translated into at least 36 languages as well as braille. It has been adapted dozens of times in various mediums. Montgomery was named an Officer of both the Order of the British Empire and the Literary and Artistic Institute of France. She was the first Canadian woman to be made a member of the British Royal Society of Arts and she was declared a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada.