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History of Labour Migration to Canada

Canada’s economic development has relied upon the labour and economic contributions of thousands of immigrant and migrant workers. (See also Economic Immigration to Canada; Immigration to Canada.) These workers came from a multitude of countries and worked a variety of jobs. Many of these workers would also ultimately settle in Canada. This labour and settlement pattern, however, is changing due to Canada’s temporary labour migrant programs. (See also Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.)

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present

Black people have lived in Canada since the 17th century. Some of the earliest arrivals were enslaved persons brought from what we now call the United States of America and from the Caribbean. (See Black Canadians; Caribbean Canadians.) From the 18th century to the 1960s, most Black immigrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement and/or discrimination in the United States. Since then, changes to Canadian immigration policy have led to an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. (See African Canadians.) In the 2016 Canadian census, 1.2 million people (3.5 per cent of the Canadian population) reported being Black.. Despite ongoing challenges, including discrimination and systemic racism, Black Canadians have excelled in sectors and industries across the country.

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

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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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West Indian Domestic Scheme

The West Indian Domestic Scheme was an immigration program for Caribbean women between 1955 and 1967. Through the scheme, approximately 3,000 Caribbean women emigrated to Canada to work as domestic workers. The program opened the door for many Black Caribbeans to migrate to Canada, giving them an opportunity which would not have been available otherwise. Despite this, the women that participated in the scheme often faced difficult work conditions and racial discrimination. (See Racism.) Due to Canada’s changing immigration policy, the scheme officially ended in January 1968; it was replaced by a points-based system, which provided temporary work permits. Even with the program’s official end, women from the West Indies continued to come to Canada as domestic workers on temporary employment visas for years afterwards. (See Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.)

Article

Patricia Beatty

Patricia Beatty, CM, dancer, choreographer, teacher and director (born 13 May 1936 in Toronto, ON; died 20 November 2020 in Toronto). As an inspirational teacher and mentor to young dancers and through the example of her rigorous, uncompromising artistic principles, Beatty played a seminal role in fostering the growth of modern dance (see dance, modern) performance and choreography in Canada.

Article

Tionontati (Petun)

Tionontati (also known as Petun) are an Iroquoian-speaking Indigenous people, closely related to the Huron-Wendat. The French called them Petun because they were known for cultivating tobacco or petún. The people call themselves Tionontati. After war with the Haudenosaunee in the mid-1600s, Tionontati and some other survivors, including the Attignawantan (a Huron-Wendat people) and the Wenrohronon (or Wenro), joined to become the Wendat, now known as the Wyandotte (or Wyandot) Nation. Today, the Wyandotte Nation is a federally recognized tribe of Oklahoma in the United States. There are also Wyandotte communities in Michigan (Wyandot of Anderdon Nation) and Kansas (Wyandot Nation of Kansas).

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Autumn Peltier

Autumn Peltier, Anishinaabe water-rights advocate, Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner (born 27 September 2004 in Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin Island, ON). Autumn Peltier is a world-renowned water-rights advocate and a leading global youth environmental activist. In April 2019, Peltier was appointed Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation and has spoken about the issue of contaminated water on Indigenous reserves in Canada at the United Nations. For her activism, Peltier was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

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Cree Language

The Cree language (also called Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi) is spoken in many parts of Canada, from the Rocky Mountains in the west to Labrador in the east. Cree is also spoken in northern Montana in the United States. Often written in syllabics (i.e., symbols representing a combination of consonant and vowel, or just a consonant or vowel), Cree is one of the most widely spoken Indigenous languages in Canada. In the 2016 census, 96,575 people reported speaking Cree.

Article

Herb Carnegie

Herbert H. Carnegie, CMO Ont, hockey player, philanthropist (born 8 November 1919 in Toronto, ON; died 9 March 2012 in Toronto). Arguably the first Black Canadian hockey star, Herb Carnegie is widely regarded as the best Black player never to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). Carnegie played in the 1940s and 1950s, mostly in the Quebec and Ontario Junior A and senior leagues. He was a member of the Black Aces, the first all-Black line in hockey outside the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes. Following his retirement from hockey in 1954, he established the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation. He was also an accomplished senior golfer. A Member of the Order of Canada, Carnegie was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Article

Mary Ann Shadd

Mary Ann Camberton Shadd Cary, educator, publisher, abolitionist (born 9 October 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware; died 5 June 1893 in Washington, DC). Mary Ann Shadd was the first Black female newspaper publisher in Canada. Shadd founded and edited The Provincial Freeman. She also established a racially integrated school for Black refugees in Windsor, Canada West. She played an important role in giving Black people a voice and advocating for women’s rights. In 1994, Shadd was designated a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada.

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Arctic Indigenous Peoples in Canada

The term Arctic peoples in Canada generally refers to the Inuit population, descendants of the Thule people, who lived in the Arctic from 400 to 1,000 years ago. The Inuit refer to their homeland as Inuit Nunangat. In 2011, there were nearly 60,000 Inuit in Canada, 73 per cent of whom lived in Inuit Nunangat.

Article

Nehiyawak (Cree)

The Cree or Nehiyawak (neh-HEE-oh-wuk) in the Cree language, are the most populous and widely distributed Indigenous peoples in Canada. Cree First Nations occupy territory in the Subarctic region from Alberta to Québec, as well as portions of the Plains region in Alberta and Saskatchewan. According to 2016 census data, 356,655 people identified as having Cree ancestry and 96,575 people speak the Cree language.

Article

Tsimshian

Tsimshian (Tsim-she-yan, meaning “Inside the Skeena River”) is a name that is often broadly applied to Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, speaking languages of the Tsimshian language family. In the 2016 census, 2,695 people reported speaking a Tsimshian language, with the largest concentration (98.1 per cent) living in British Columbia. Another 5,910 people claimed Tsimshian ancestry.

Article

Blackfoot Confederacy

The Blackfoot Confederacy, sometimes referred to as the Blackfoot Nation or Siksikaitsitapi, is comprised of three Indigenous nations, the Kainai, Piikani and Siksika. People of the Blackfoot Nation refer to themselves as Niitsitapi, meaning “the real people,” a generic term for all Indigenous people, or Siksikaitsitapi, meaning “Blackfoot-speaking real people.” The Confederacy’s traditional territory spans parts of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as northern Montana. In the 2016 census, 22,490 people identified as having Blackfoot ancestry.

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Dinjii Zhuh (Gwich'in)

Dinjii Zhuh (also Gwich’in, formerly Kutchin), meaning “one who dwells (in)” or “the inhabitant of,” are Dene (Athabaskan)-speaking Indigenous peoples who live in northwestern North America. These communities are often referred to collectively as Dinjii Zhuh, although some First Nations and the Gwich’in Tribal Council retain the Gwich’in name. There are thought to be between 7,000 and 9,000 Dinjii Zhuh living in communities in Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Article

Beothuk

Beothuk (meaning “the people” or “true people” in their language) were the now-extinct inhabitants of Newfoundland. At the time of European contact, they may have numbered no more than 500 to 1,000. Their population is difficult to estimate owing to a reduction in their territories in the early contact period and the absence of surviving documentation.

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Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear)

Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear), Plains Cree chief (born near Fort Carlton, SK; died 17 January 1888 on the Little Pine Reserve, SK). Mistahimaskwa is best known for his refusal to sign Treaty 6 in 1876 and for his band’s involvement in violent conflicts associated with the 1885 North-West Rebellion.