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Indigenous Peoples and the First World War

Indigenous soldiers, nurses, and ordinary civilians made a major contribution to Canada’s First World War effort. More than 4000 First Nations soldiers fought for Canada during the war, officially recorded by the Department of Indian Affairs (see Federal Departments of Indigenous and Northern Affairs). In addition, thousands more non-Status Indians, Inuit, and Métis soldiers enlisted without official recognition of their Indigenous identity. More than 50 Indigenous soldiers were decorated for bravery in action, including the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) soldier Francis Pegahmagabow, Inuit soldier John Shiwak, and Cree soldier Henry Norwest.

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John Stoughton Dennis

John Stoughton Dennis, surveyor, soldier (b at Kingston 19 Oct 1820; d at Kingsmere, Qué 7 July 1885). Of UE Loyalist stock, Dennis was commissioned a surveyor in the Department of Crown Lands in 1843. He joined the militia in 1855, becoming in 1862 Brigade Major of No 3 Military District, Toronto.

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Claude de Ramezay

Claude de Ramezay, (born 15 June 1659 in La Gesse, France; died 31 July 1724 in Quebec City). Claude de Ramezay came to New France as an officer in the troupes de la marine. He served as governor of Trois-Rivières (1690–99), commander of Canadian troops (1699–1704), governor of Montreal (1704–24), and as acting governor general of New France (1714–16). Throughout his time in New France, he pursued fur trade and lumber interests. He is also remembered for his home, Château Ramezay. Built in 1705, it is now a museum and one of Montreal’s landmark historical buildings.

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Tommy Prince

Thomas George Prince, war hero, Indigenous advocate (born 25 October 1915 in Petersfield, MB; died 25 November 1977 in Winnipeg, MB). Tommy Prince is one of Canada's most-decorated Indigenous war veterans, having been awarded a total of 11 medals in the Second World War and the Korean War. Although homeless when he died, he was honoured at his funeral by his First Nation, the province of Manitoba, Canada and the governments of France, Italy and the United States. (See also Indigenous Peoples and the World Wars.)

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John Shiwak

John Shiwak (Sikoak), Inuit hunter, trapper, soldier (born February or March 1889 in Cul-de-Sac, near Rigolet, Labrador; died 21 November 1917 near Masnières, France). Shiwak was one of more than 60 men from Labrador who joined the military during the First World War. He went on to become one of the best scouts and snipers on the Western Front.

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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.

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Chinese Canadians of Force 136

Force 136 was a branch of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War. Its covert missions were based in Japanese-occupied Southeast Asia, where orders were to support and train local resistance movements to sabotage Japanese supply lines and equipment. While Force 136 recruited mostly Southeast Asians, it also recruited about 150 Chinese Canadians. It was thought that Chinese Canadians would blend in with local populations and speak local languages. Earlier in the war, many of these men had volunteered their services to Canada but were either turned away or recruited and sidelined. Force 136 became an opportunity for Chinese Canadian men to demonstrate their courage and skills and especially their loyalty to Canada.

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Battle of Vimy Ridge

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought during the First World War from 9 to 12 April 1917. It is Canada’s most celebrated military victory — an often mythologized symbol of the birth of Canadian national pride and awareness. The battle took place on the Western Front, in northern France. The four divisions of the Canadian Corps, fighting together for the first time, attacked the ridge from 9 to 12 April 1917 and captured it from the German army. It was the largest territorial advance of any Allied force to that point in the war — but it would mean little to the outcome of the conflict. More than 10,600 Canadians were killed and wounded in the assault. Today an iconic memorial atop the ridge honours the 11,285 Canadians killed in France throughout the war who have no known graves.

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Front de libération du Québec (FLQ)

The Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) was a militant Quebec independence movement that used terrorism to try and achieve an independent and socialist Quebec. FLQ members — or felquistes — were responsible for more than 200 bombings and dozens of robberies between 1963 and 1970 that left six people dead. Their actions culminated in the kidnapping of British trade commissioner James Cross and the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte, in what became known as the October Crisis.

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Harry DeWolf

Harry George DeWolf, naval officer and veteran of the Second World War, vice-admiral, Chief of Naval Staff, Royal Canadian Navy (born 26 June 1903 in Bedford, NS). DeWolf was best known as the commanding officer of HMCS Haida, one of Canada’s eight Tribal Class destroyers during the Second World War. DeWolf entered the navy in 1918 and retired in 1961. A new class of offshore patrol vessels has been named in his honour.

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Fred Loft

Frederick Ogilvie Loft (commonly known as Fred or F.O. Loft), Mohawk chief, activist, war veteran, reporter, author and lumberman (born 3 February 1861 on the Six Nations reserve, Grand River, Canada West [ON]; died 5 July 1934 in Toronto, ON). Loft founded the League of Indians of Canada, the first national Indigenous organization in Canada, in December 1918 (see Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada). He fought in the First World War and is recognized as one of the most important Indigenous activists of the early 20th century. His Mohawk name was Onondeyoh, which translates as “Beautiful Mountain.”

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Leonard Braithwaite

​Leonard Austin Braithwaite, CM, OOnt, QC, lawyer, politician (born 23 October 1923 in Toronto, ON; died 28 March 2012 in Toronto). Braithwaite was the first Black Canadian elected to a provincial legislature. He served as a Liberal member of the Ontario Legislature from 1963 to 1975.

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Howie Meeker

Howard William “Howie” Meeker, hockey broadcaster, player, coach (born 4 November 1923 in Kitchener, ON; died 8 November 2020 in Nanaimo, BC). Howie Meeker won a Junior B hockey championship and served with the army’s Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers before joining the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1946. He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1947, and won four Stanley Cups in his first five years with the Maple Leafs. He also served as a Member of Parliament and played a key role in the development of hockey in Newfoundland. He was perhaps best known for his enthusiastic and influential commentary on CBC TV’s Hockey Night in Canada. A Member of the Order of Canada, Meeker was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame and the British Columbia Hockey Hall of Fame.