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War of 1812

The War of 1812 (which lasted from 1812 to 1814) was a military conflict between the United States and Great Britain. As a colony of Great Britain, Canada was swept up in the War of 1812 and was invaded several times by the Americans. The war was fought in Upper Canada, Lower Canada, on the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, and in the United States. The peace treaty of Ghent (1814), which ended the war, largely returned the status quo. However, in Canada, the war contributed to a growing sense of national identity, including the idea that civilian soldiers were largely responsible for repelling the American invaders. In contrast, the First Nations allies of the British and Canadian cause suffered much because of the war; not only had they lost many warriors (including the great Tecumseh), they also lost any hope of halting American expansion in the west, and their contributions were quickly forgotten by their British and Canadian allies (see First Nations and Métis Peoples in the War of 1812).

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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 in the NHL. 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.

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Peter Mansbridge

Peter Mansbridge, OC, television news anchor, journalist, columnist (born 6 July 1948 in London, England). A widely respected journalist, Peter Mansbridge was the face of CBC News for nearly 30 years. As the chief correspondent and lead anchor of The National from 1988 to 2017, he won 12 Gemini Awards for broadcast excellence, including the Gordon Sinclair Award for best overall broadcast journalist in 1990 and 1998. His other honours include two Canadian Screen Awards as well as numerous honorary degrees and lifetime achievement awards. He has been inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.

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Tom Longboat

Thomas Charles Longboat, distance runner (born 4 July 1886 in Ohsweken, Six Nations Grand River reserve; died 9 January 1949). Tom Longboat (Haudenosaunee name Cogwagee) was an Onondaga distance runner from the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation reserve near Brantford, Ontario. Largely because of his ability to dominate any race and his spectacular finishing sprints, he was one of the most celebrated athletes before the First World War.

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Albert Johnson, “The Mad Trapper of Rat River”

Albert Johnson, also known as the “Mad Trapper,” outlaw (born circa 1890–1900, place of birth unknown; died 17 February 1932 in Yukon). On 31 December 1931, an RCMP constable investigating a complaint about traplines was shot and seriously wounded by a trapper living west of Fort McPherson, NT. The ensuing manhunt — one of the largest in Canadian history — lasted 48 days and covered 240 km in temperatures averaging -40°C. Before it was over, a second policeman was badly wounded and another killed. The killer, tentatively but never positively identified as Albert Johnson, was so skilled at survival that the police had to employ bush pilot Wilfrid “Wop” May to track him. The Trapper’s extraordinary flight from the police across sub-Arctic terrain in the dead of winter captured the attention of the nation and earned him the title “The Mad Trapper of Rat River.” No motive for Johnson’s crimes has ever been established, and his identity remains a mystery.

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Mr. Dressup

Mr. Dressup was one of Canada’s most beloved and longest-running children’s television series. The program ran for 29 years (1967–96) and more than 4,000 episodes. It starred Ernie Coombs as the jovial Mr. Dressup and was a precursor to the popular American series, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mr. Dressup was influential in tailoring children’s programming towards developing the child’s emotional and logical intelligence. The series won three Gemini Awards and earned Coombs an appointment to the Order of Canada. A 2017 crowd-sourced online vote unofficially declared Mr. Dressup Canada’s most memorable television program. In 2019, Mr. Dressup was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.  

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James Barry

James Miranda Steuart Barry, FRS (probably born Margaret Anne Bulkley), military surgeon, physician (born c. 1789–99; died 25 July 1865 in London, England). Posted across the British Empire, Barry reformed medical standards in the British army. His final and highest-ranking position was as inspector-general of military hospitals in the Province of Canada in the 1850s. After his death, it was reported that Barry’s assigned sex at birth was female. This has sparked significant debate about his identity.

Note on pronouns: This article refers to James Barry with masculine pronouns, as this was how Barry referred to himself throughout his life.

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

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Jennie Smillie

Jennie Smillie Robertson, physician, surgeon and teacher (born 10 February 1878 in Huron County, ON; died 26 February 1981 in Toronto, ON). Smillie is considered the first recorded female surgeon to practise in Ontario. She also performed the first major gynecological surgery in Canada.

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

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Patriation of the Constitution

In 1982, Canada fully broke from its colonial past and “patriated” its Constitution. It transferred the country’s highest law, the British North America Act (which was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867), from the authority of the British Parliament to Canada’s federal and provincial legislatures. The Constitution was also updated with a new amending formula and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These changes occurred after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country.

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Graeme Gibson

Graeme Gibson, CM, writer, cultural activist, teacher (born 9 August 1934 in London, ON; died 18 September 2019 in London, England). Graeme Gibson was a noted Canadian author and conservationist. His novels Five Legs (1969), Communion (1971), Perpetual Motion (1982) and Gentleman Death (1993) were widely acclaimed. He also published the environmentally conscious The Bedside Book of Birds (2005) and The Bedside Book of Beasts (2009). A committed bird watcher, he helped found the Pelee Island Bird Observatory. He was also instrumental in forming the Writers’ Union of Canada, the Book and Periodical Development Council and the Writers’ Trust of Canada. He was a former president of PEN Canada and the longtime partner of Margaret Atwood.

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Cindy Klassen

Cindy Klassen, OM, speed skater, hockey player (born 12 August 1979 in WinnipegMB). Cindy Klassen is the first Canadian to win five medals in one Olympic Games (Torino 2006). With a total of six Olympic medals, she is tied with fellow speed skater and cyclist Clara Hughes as the most decorated Canadian Olympians. Klassen was also overall world champion in speed skating in 2003 and 2006. In her career, she set six world records and won 115 international medals (46 gold, 41 silver and 28 bronze). She was awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year in 2006 and received the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada's female athlete of the year in 2005 and 2006. She has been inducted into the Order of Manitoba, the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame.  

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Andy Kim

Andy Kim (born Andrew Youakim; also known as Baron Longfellow), songwriter, singer (born 5 December 1952 in Montreal, QC). Andy Kim is one of Canada’s most successful singer-songwriters. He started out as a teenager writing songs for a television show and thus drew comparisons to Paul Anka and Neil Diamond. His hugely successful pop hits — such as “Sugar, Sugar,” “Rock Me Gently,” “Baby I love You” and “How’d We Ever Get This Way” — have sold more than 30 million copies. He was the inaugural winner of the Juno Award for Top Male Vocalist in 1970. He enjoyed moderate success as the adult-contemporary singer Baron Longfellow in the 1980s and 1990s. He has also collaborated with the Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson, Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, and Ron Sexsmith. Kim has been inducted into the Billboard Hit Parade Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (for “Sugar, Sugar”), Canada’s Walk of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

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Stephen Harper

Stephen Joseph Harper, CCPCprime minister of Canada 2006–15, politician, author, economist (born 30 April 1959 in Toronto, ON). Stephen Harper is Canada’s longest-serving Conservative prime minister since Sir John A. Macdonald. He helped found the Reform Party and served as head of the National Citizens Coalition and leader of the Canadian Alliance Party. He then transformed the country’s political landscape by uniting the previously divided right into the Conservative Party of Canada. He led the CPC to three consecutive election wins before being defeated in 2015 and resigning as party leader. Harper’s adherence to a brand of ideologically-pure conservatism resulted in what the Globe and Mail called “Canada’s first ever truly Conservative government.” He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in December 2019.

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Emilien Dufresne (Primary Source)

Emilien Dufresne was a solider with the Royal 22e Régiment during the Second World War. He was one of 14,000 Canadian soldiers who stormed Juno Beach on 6 June 1944. Learn Dufresne’s story of being taken prisoner by the Germans, forcefully put to work in a sugar factory, and how he was liberated.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

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Sonja Gaudet

Sonja Gaudet (née Melis), Paralympic wheelchair curler (born 22 July 1966 in North Vancouver, British Columbia). A three-time Paralympian, Gaudet won gold for Canada at the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Turin, at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver and at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi. She is the first wheelchair curlerever to win multiple Paralympic gold medals. She is also a three-time world champion, having helped Canada win gold at the World Wheelchair Curling Championship in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Gaudet has been inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame and the BC Sports Hall of Fame. She was named to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame on 27 May 2020 and will be formally inducted in 2021.

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Egerton Ryerson

Adolphus Egerton Ryerson, Methodist minister, educator (born 24 March 1803 in Charlotteville Township, Norfolk County, Upper Canada; died 18 February 1882 in Toronto, Ontario). Egerton Ryerson was a leading figure in education and politics in 19th century Ontario. He was born into a prominent Anglican, Loyalist family. He converted to Methodism and was ordained in 1827 in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He helped found and edit the Christian Guardian (1829), founded Upper Canada Academy (1836) and became the first principal of Victoria College (1841). He was known as a supporter of religious freedom and as the founder of the public education system in Ontario. Ryerson University was named in honour. However, his role in the development of residential schools has led to calls for the university to be renamed.

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Cowboy Junkies

The Cowboy Junkies are an alternative country and folk-rock band based in Toronto. Their breakthrough album, The Trinity Session (1988), established their signature sound, a melancholic mix of folk and blues marked by stripped-down instrumentation and lead singer Margo Timmins’s hushed yet haunting vocals. One of the most popular Canadian bands of the late 1980s and 1990s, the Cowboy Junkies have had two platinum and three gold albums in Canada and have sold more than 5 million albums worldwide. They have been inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

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Sir John A. Macdonald

Sir John Alexander Macdonald, first prime minister of Canada (1867–73, 1878–91), lawyer, businessman, politician, (born 10 or 11 Jan 1815 in Glasgow, Scotland; died 6 June 1891 in Ottawa).