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Great Depression in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

The Great Depression took place in Canada and around the world in the 1930s. The term “Depression” is used to describe an economic decline that lasts for a long time. During the worst period of the Depression about 30 percent of Canadians were unemployed. This made life very difficult because Canada had few social programs at the time. This changed because of the Depression. In the 1930s the government created social programs to help those in need. It also became more involved in the economy.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Great Depression in Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Great Depression in Canada.)

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Murdoch Mysteries

Murdoch Mysteries is a TV series about William Murdoch, a fictional Victorian-era detective who is ahead of his time and uses forensic science and technology to solve Toronto’s most complex crimes. Often referred to as a Victorian-era CSI, the long-running police procedural features a mix of humour, intrigue, science fiction, history and period production values. Based on Maureen Jennings’s successful series of mystery novels, the show  attracted a cult following after premiering on City TV in 2008. It garnered a much larger audience after being picked up by the CBC in 2013. It was Canada’s highest-rated scripted television series in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and won the Golden Screen Award in 2017, 2018 and 2020. It is seen by millions of viewers in more than 100 countries.

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Haldimand Proclamation

On 25 October 1784, Sir Frederick Haldimand, the governor of Quebec, signed a decree that granted a tract of land to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), also known as the Six Nations, in compensation for their alliance with British forces during the American Revolution(1775–83). This tract of land, known as the Haldimand Grant or Haldimand Tract, extended for 10 km on both sides of the Grand River(southwestern Ontario), from its source to Lake Erie. Throughout the late 1700s and 1800s, the Crown and Haudenosaunee disputed rights to the land title. Negotiations about title to the Haldimand Tract still continue between the Canadian government and the Six Nations Confederacy.

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Canadian Arctic Sovereignty

Arctic sovereignty is a key part of Canada’s history and future. The country has 162,000 km of Arctic coastline. Forty per cent of Canada’s landmass is in its three northern territories. Sovereignty over the area has become a national priority for Canadian governments in the 21st century. There has been growing international interest in the Arctic due to resource development, climate change, control of the Northwest Passage and access to transportation routes. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in 2008, “The geopolitical importance of the Arctic and Canada’s interests in it have never been greater.”

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Resistance and Residential Schools

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools that many Indigenous children were forced to attend. They were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Indigenous parents and children did not simply accept the residential-school system. Indigenous peoples fought against – and engaged with – the state, schools and other key players in the system. For the duration of the residential-school era, parents acted in the best interests of their children and communities. The children responded in ways that would allow them to survive.

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Conscription in Canada

Conscription is the compulsory enlistment or “call up” of citizens for military service. It is sometimes known as “the draft.” The federal government enacted conscription in both the First World War and the Second World War. Both instances created sharp divisions between English Canadians, who tended to support the practice, and French Canadians, who generally did not. Canada does not currently have mandatory military service. The Canadian Armed Forces are voluntary services.

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Military Service Act

The Military Service Act became law on 29 August 1917. It was a politically explosive and controversial law that bitterly divided the country along French-English lines. It made all male citizens aged 20 to 45 subject to conscription for military service, through the end of the First World War. The Act’s military value was questionable, but its political consequences were clear. It led to the creation of Prime Minister Borden’s Union Government and drove most of his French-Canadian supporters into opposition.

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Treaty Day

Treaty Day commemorates the day that certain treaties were signed by the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples between the 18th and 20th centuries. Treaty Day is also a celebration of the historic relationship between Indigenous peoples and the federal government. It promotes public awareness about Indigenous culture, history and heritage for all Canadians.

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Capitulation of Montreal 1760

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the capitulation of Quebec City in 1759 made the strategic situation of New France desperate. Despite a victory at the Battle of Sainte-Foy, the French forces found themselves isolated in Montreal by the British. The French commander, François-Gaston de Lévis, wanted to continue the fight. However, to avoid a pointless loss of life, the Governor of New France, Pierre-Rigaud de Vaudreuil, decided to surrender the city. With the capitulation of Montreal to the British forces on 8 September 1760, Great Britain completed its conquest of New France.

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Canadian Foreign Relations

Throughout its history, Canada has taken a series of steps to develop from a British colony into an independent nation. Both the First and Second World War were turning points; Canada’s military sacrifices gave it the strength and confidence to demand its own voice on the world stage. In the postwar era, Canada maintained its role in both Western and global alliances. (See NATO; NORAD; GATT.) However, economics have shaped Canadian diplomacy to a remarkable extent. Because of the United States’ singular importance to Canadian security and trade, relations with the US have dominated Canada’s foreign policy since Confederation.

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Shelburne Race Riots

On 26 July 1784, a mob of Loyalist settlers stormed the home of a Black preacher in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. They were armed with hooks and chains seized from ships in the harbour. The confrontation ignited a wave of violence in Shelburne County that lasted approximately 10 days. The majority of the attacks targeted the county’s free Black population. The Shelburne Riot has been described as the first race riot in North America. (See also British North America.)

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First World War (WWI)

The First World War of 1914–1918 was the bloodiest conflict in Canadian history, taking the lives of nearly 61,000 Canadians. It erased romantic notions of war, introducing slaughter on a massive scale, and instilled a fear of foreign military involvement that would last until the Second World War. The great achievements of Canadian soldiers on battlefields such as Ypres, Vimy and Passchendaele, however, ignited a sense of national pride and a confidence that Canada could stand on its own, apart from the British Empire, on the world stage. The war also deepened the divide between French and English Canada and marked the beginning of widespread state intervention in society and the economy.

(This is the full-length entry about the First World War. For a plain-language summary, please see First World War (Plain-Language Summary).)

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The Great War in the Air

Airplanes became an important part of modern warfare during the First World War (1914–18). Aircraft technology developed rapidly and by war’s end, airplanes were involved in reconnaissance, artillery spotting, air-to-air combat, strafing ground targets, anti-submarine warfare, tactical and strategic bombing and home defence. More than 20,000 Canadians served in British flying services (Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force) during the war. Approximately 1,400 were killed or died from wounds or accidents. Canada did not have an air force during the First World War; a single-plane Canadian Aviation Corps was established in 1914, but never saw service and soon disbanded. Later, on 5 August 1918, two Canadian Air Force squadrons were formed in Britain, but were disbanded the next year when the British cut off funding. The Royal Canadian Naval Air Service was formed in September 1918 but lasted only three months before the war ended. Canada would not have a permanent air force until 1924 (see Royal Canadian Air Force).

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Hawker Hurricane

The Hawker Hurricane was a combat aircraft of the 1930s and 1940s, designed by the British aircraft manufacturer Hawker Aircraft Ltd. The Hurricane was one of the principal combat aircraft that defended the United Kingdom during the Battle of Britain. This fighter plane played a pivotal role in the Second World War, primarily serving with the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force and Soviet Air Force. The Hurricane was mass-produced, with over 14,000 examples manufactured from 1937 to 1944. The Hurricane was produced in the United Kingdom and in Canada, with 1,451 examples built at the Canadian Car & Foundry plant, which was located in Fort William (now Thunder Bay), Ontario. Hurricane production in Canada lasted from 1938 to 1943 and was overseen by Elsie MacGill, the first woman in Canada to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. MacGill was popularly known as the “Queen of the Hurricanes” for overseeing the rapid production of the aircraft. At the height of production, the Canadian Car & Foundry plant produced 15 new aircraft each week. 

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Komagata Maru

The SS Komagata Maru was a chartered ship featured in a dramatic challenge to Canada’s former practice of excluding immigrants from India. This challenge took place in the spring and summer of 1914, on the eve of the First World War. It proved to be a bitter and tragic experience for the passengers, first in an unsuccessful and eventually physical confrontation with officials, police and the military at the Port of Vancouver, and then in a deadly encounter with police and troops near Kolkata on the passengers’ return to India.