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Article

Dorothea Palmer

Dorothea Ferguson (née Palmer), birth control advocate, social worker (born 1908 in England; died 5 November 1992 in Ottawa, ON). Dorothea Palmer was arrested in 1936 for advertising birth control to women in a working-class neighbourhood in Ottawa. She was cleared of charges after a lengthy trial proved her work had been for the public good. Her acquittal was a major victory for the birth control movement in Canada.

Article

Mabel Hubbard Bell

Mabel Gardiner Hubbard Bell, aeronautics financier, community leader, social reformer and advocate for the deaf (born 25 November 1857 in Cambridge, Massachusetts; died 3 January 1923 in Chevy Chase, Maryland). Bell actively supported and contributed to the work of her husband, inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Her financial investment in his work made her the first financier of the aviation industry in North America. She was a community leader in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, where the Bell family spent their summers. She was also a social reformer and supported innovation in education.

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

Article

Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada

Although little is known about Chloe Cooley, an enslaved woman in Upper Canada, her struggles against her “owner,” Sergeant Adam Vrooman, precipitated the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada, 1793 — the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade.

The Act recognized enslavement as a legal and socially accepted institution. It also prohibited the importation of new slaves into Upper Canada and reflected a growing abolitionist sentiment in British North America.

Article

Bertha Clark-Jones

Bertha Clark-Jones (née Houle), OC, Cree (Nehiyawak)-Métis advocate for the rights of Indigenous women and children (born 6 November 1922 in Clear Hills, AB; died 21 October 2014 in Bonnyville, AB). A veteran of the Second World War, Clark-Jones joined the Aboriginal Veterans Society and advocated for the fair treatment of Indigenous ex-service people. She was co-founder and first president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Clark-Jones devoted her life to seeking equality and greater power for women in Canada.

Article

Black Cross Nurses in Canada

The Black Cross Nurses (BCN) is an auxiliary group intended for female members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The BCN was modeled on the nurses of the Red Cross. Its first chapter was launched in Philadelphia in May 1920. Under the leadership of Henrietta Vinton Davis, the BCN quickly became one of the UNIA’s most popular and iconic auxiliary groups. Offering a safe and inviting place for the Black community, UNIA halls became important cultural hubs in many cities and towns across Canada, where BCN divisions were also established. Although they were not professionally trained nurses, members of the BCN were expected to provide care and advice on matters of health and hygiene.

Article

Sleeping Car Porters in Canada

Sleeping car porters were railway employees who attended to passengers aboard sleeping cars. Porters were responsible for passengers’ needs throughout a train trip, including carrying luggage, setting up beds, pressing clothes and shining shoes, and serving food and beverages, among other services. The vast majority of sleeping car porters were Black men and the position was one of only a few job opportunities available to Black men in Canada. While the position carried respect and prestige for Black men in their communities, the work demanded long hours for little pay. Porters could be fired suddenly and were often subjected to racist treatment. Black Canadian porters formed the first Black railway union in North America (1917) and became members of the larger Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1939. Both unions combatted racism and the many challenges that porters experienced on the job.

Article

Thelma Chalifoux

Thelma Julia Chalifoux, Métis, senator, entrepreneur, activist (born 8 February 1929 in Calgary, AB; died 22 September 2017 in St. Albert, AB). Chalifoux was the first Métis woman appointed to the Senate of Canada. As a senator, she was concerned with a range of issues, including Métis housing, drug company relations with the federal government, and environmental legislation. An ardent advocate for women’s and Indigenous rights, Chalifoux was involved in organizations such as the Aboriginal Women’s Business Development Corporation and the Métis Women’s Council. She was also known for her work in the protection of Métis culture, having served in the Alberta Métis Senate and Michif Cultural and Métis Resource Institute (now Michif Cultural Connections).

Article

Louis Riel

Louis Riel, Métis leader, founder of Manitoba, central figure in the Red River and North-West resistances (born 22 October 1844 in Saint-BonifaceRed River Settlement; died 16 November 1885 in ReginaSK). Riel led two popular Métis governments, was central in bringing Manitoba into Confederation, and was executed for high treason for his role in the 1885 resistance to Canadian encroachment on Métis lands. Riel was initially dismissed as a rebel by Canadian historians, although many now sympathize with Riel as a Métis leader who fought to protect his people from the Canadian government.

Article

Josephine Mandamin

Josephine Henrietta Mandamin, Anishinaabe elder, water-rights advocate, Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner (born 21 February 1942 in Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin Island, ON; died 22 February 2019). Mandamin, known as “Grandmother Water Walker” and Biidaasige-ba (“the one who comes with the light”), was a world-renowned water-rights activist. She walked around the Great Lakes from 2003 to 2017 to bring awareness to the problems of water pollution and environmental degradation on the Great Lakes and on Indigenous reserves in Canada. For her activism, Mandamin was awarded the Anishinabek Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) and the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross (2018). Her great-niece, Autumn Peltier, followed in Mandamin’s footsteps, becoming the next generation’s “water warrior.”

Article

Jean Cuthand Goodwill

Jean Cuthand Goodwill, OC, nurse, public servant and Indigenous health and education advocate (born 14 August 1928 on the Poundmaker Cree Nation, SK; died 25 August 1997 in Regina, SK). Cuthand Goodwill was one of the first Indigenous registered nurses in Canada. In 1974, she cofounded Indian and Inuit Nurses of Canada (now known as the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association). She was a lifelong organizer, writer and educator who promoted First Nations health and culture.

Article

Lillian Freiman

Lillian Freiman (née Bilsky), OBE, benefactor, community activist, organizer, civic leader and Zionist (born 6 June 1885 in Mattawa, ON; died 2 November 1940 in Montreal, QC). Lillian Freiman used her high social status and wealth to help those less fortunate, both within and beyond the Jewish community. For her work assisting First World War soldiers and leading the Poppy Campaign, the Canadian Legion made her an honorary life member in 1933. Freiman was the first woman to receive this honour.

Article

Orange Order in Canada

The Orange Order was a political and religious fraternal society in Canada. From the early 19th century, members proudly defended Protestantism and the British connection while providing mutual aid. The Order had a strong influence in politics, particularly through patronage at the municipal level, and developed a reputation for sectarianism and rioting.

Article

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in Canada

Since the late 1960s, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Canada has seen steady gains in rights. While discrimination against LGBT people persists in many places, major strides toward mainstream social acceptance and formal legal equality have nonetheless been made in recent decades. Canada is internationally regarded as a leader in this field. Recent years have seen steady progress on everything from health care to the right to adopt. In 2005, Canada became the fourth country worldwide to legalize same-sex marriage.

Article

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.

Article

Jim Egan

James Leo (Jim) Egan, gay activist, writer, politician, environmental activist (born 14 September 1921 in Toronto, ON; died 9 March 2000 in Courtenay, BC). Egan was the first person to publish long articles written from a gay point of view in Canada. He was also one of the first openly gay politicians to serve in Canada. Egan is best remembered for a court challenge he and his partner, Jack Nesbit, launched against the spousal allowance benefit under the Old Age Security Act in 1988. In the subsequent Egan v. Canada decision (1995), the Supreme Court read in that sexual orientation is a protected ground of discrimination in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — a monumental finding in support of LGBTQ2 rights in Canada.