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The Great Flag Debate

The long and often bitter debate over the new Canadian flag began in the House of Commons on 15 June 1964. It ended by closure on 15 December 1964. Feelings ran high among many English Canadians. Opposition leader John Diefenbaker demanded that the flag honour Canada’s “founding races” and feature the Union Jack. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson insisted on a design that conveyed allegiance to Canada while avoiding colonial association. A prolonged, heated debate ensued. Historian Rick Archbold described it as “among the ugliest in the House of Commons history.” The new flag, designed by George Stanley with final touches by graphic artist Jacques Saint-Cyr, was approved on 15 December 1964 by a vote of 163 to 78. The royal proclamation was signed by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 January 1965. The national flag was officially unfurled on 15 February 1965.

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Second World War (WWII)

The Second World War was a defining event in Canadian history, transforming a quiet country on the fringes of global affairs into a critical player in the 20th century's most important struggle. Canada carried out a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic and the air war over Germany and contributed forces to the campaigns of western Europe beyond what might be expected of a small nation of then only 11 million people. Between 1939 and 1945 more than one million Canadian men and women served full-time in the armed services. More than 43,000 were killed. Despite the bloodshed, the war against Germany and the Axis powers reinvigorated Canada's industrial base, elevated the role of women in the economy, paved the way for Canada's membership in NATO, and left Canadians with a legacy of proud service and sacrifice embodied in names such as Dieppe, Hong Kong, Ortona and Juno Beach.

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

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Canada’s Cold War Purge of LGBTQ from Public Service

Between the 1950s and the 1990s, the Canadian government responded to national security concerns generated by Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union by spying on, exposing and removing suspected LGBTQ individuals from the federal public service and the Canadian Armed Forces. They were cast as social and political subversives and seen as targets for blackmail by communist regimes seeking classified information. These characterizations were justified by arguments that people who engaged in same-sex relations suffered from a “character weakness” and had something to hide because their sexuality was considered a taboo and, under certain circumstances, was illegal. As a result, the RCMP investigated large numbers of people. Many of them were fired, demoted or forced to resign — even if they had no access to security information. These measures were kept out of public view to prevent scandal and to keep counter-espionage operations under wraps. In 2017, the federal government issued an official apology for its discriminatory actions and policies, along with a $145-million compensation package.

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Canadian Bill of Rights

The Canadian Bill of Rights was the country’s first federal law to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. It was considered groundbreaking when it was enacted by the government of John Diefenbaker in 1960. But it proved too limited and ineffective, mainly because it applies only to federal statutes and not provincial ones. Many judges regarded it as a mere interpretive aid. The bill was cited in 35 cases between 1960 and 1982; thirty were rejected by the courts. Though it is still in effect, the Bill of Rights was superseded by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

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Métis Experiences at Residential School

Although the first residential schools in Canada were established with the intention of assimilating First Nations children into Euro-Canadian culture, Métis and Inuit children were also institutionalized in such facilities. Métis children experienced similar day-to-day conditions to those of other students in residential schools, but they were often considered “outsiders” by their peers and administrators. This perception affected their experiences within these institutions in particular ways.


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Victoria Day

Victoria Day is a statutory holiday remembered informally as "the twenty-fourth of May,” or “May Two-Four.” Originally a celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday, the holiday now marks Queen Elizabeth II's birthday as well. Victoria Day was established as a holiday in the Province of Canada in 1845 and as a national holiday in 1901. It is observed on the first Monday before 25 May.

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1492 Land Back Lane

1492 Land Back Lane refers to the site of a protest in Caledonia, Ontario, in July 2020, where Haudenosaunee protestors – known as land defenders – occupied a housing development they argue stood on unceded Six Nations territory. 1492 Land Back Lane is part of a long-standing issue between the Haudenosaunee, settlers and the government over land rights in Caledonia, dating back to the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784. In July 2021, the housing development was officially cancelled.

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Canadian Electoral System

Electoral systems are methods of choosing political representatives. (See also Political Campaigning in Canada.) Elections in Canada use a first-past-the-post system, whereby the candidate that wins the most votes in a constituency is selected to represent that riding. Elections are governed by an elaborate series of laws and a well-developed administrative apparatus. They occur at the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels. Canada’s federal election system is governed by the Canada Elections Act. It is administered by the Chief Electoral Officer. Provincial election systems, governed by provincial election acts, are similar to the federal system; they differ slightly from each other in important details. Federal and provincial campaigns — and that of Yukon — are party contests in which candidates represent political parties. Municipal campaigns — and those of Northwest Territories and Nunavut — are contested by individuals, not by parties.

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Constitution of Canada

The Constitution of Canada is the country’s governing legal framework. It defines the powers of the executive branches of government and of the legislatures at both the federal and provincial levels. Canada’s Constitution is not one document; it is a complex mix of statutes, orders, British and Canadian court decisions, and generally accepted practices known as constitutional conventions. In the words of the Supreme Court of Canada, “Constitutional convention plus constitutional law equal the total constitution of the country.” The Constitution provides Canada with the legal structure for a stable, democratic government.

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Upper Canada

Upper Canada was the predecessor of modern-day Ontario. It was created in 1791 by the division of the old Province of Quebec into Lower Canada in the east and Upper Canada in the west. Upper Canada was a wilderness society settled largely by Loyalists and land-hungry farmers moving north from the United States. Upper Canada endured the War of 1812 with America, William Lyon Mackenzie’s Rebellion of 1837, the colonial rule of the Family Compact and half a century of economic and political growing pains. With the Act of Union in 1841, it was renamed Canada West and merged with Lower Canada (Canada East) into the Province of Canada.

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L’Anse aux Meadows

L’Anse aux Meadows is the site of an 11th-century Norse outpost at the tip of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula. Arguably the location of Straumfjord of the Vinland sagas, it is believed to be the first European settlement in North America. L’Anse aux Meadows was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1968 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Today, it is the site of a popular interpretive centre and ongoing archeological research.

Macleans

Griffintown Remembered

This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on March 17, 2003. Partner content is not updated.

HAPPY FURLONG'S LIFE was saved by a quart of beer. When the elderly carriage driver left his rooming house at the corner of Shannon and Ottawa streets in MONTREAL's Griffintown shortly after 10 a.m.

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Treaty 5

Treaty 5 — also known as the Winnipeg Treaty — was signed in 1875–76 by the federal government, Ojibwa peoples and the Swampy Cree of Lake Winnipeg. Treaty 5 covers much of present-day central and northern Manitoba, as well as portions of Saskatchewan and Ontario. The terms of Treaty 5 have had ongoing legal and socioeconomic impacts on Indigenous communities.

Macleans

Titanic Tourism Boom

For good or ill, the City of Halifax seems inextricably linked to the tragic April 14, 1912, sinking of the RMS Titanic, which saw 1,522 souls succumb to icy Atlantic waters.

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Ordre de Jacques-Cartier

The Ordre de Jacques-Cartier (OJC), commonly known as “La Patente,” was a secret society founded in 1926 in Vanier (now Ottawa), Ontario, to further the religious, social and economic interests of French Canadians. At the forefront of the conflicts over language and nationalism until the 1960s, it discreetly wielded its influence by infiltrating various associations, and it mobilized its members within a strict authoritarian structure. The rise of Québécois nationalism and internal tensions led to its dissolution in 1965.

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North-West Territories (1870–1905)

The North-West Territories was the first Canadian territory. It was Established on 15 July 1870. As a territory, the region became part of Canada. But it lacked the population, economic and infrastructure resources to attain provincial status. It thus fell under the jurisdiction of the federal government. It covered a vast area, stretching west from a disputed boundary with Labrador, across the northern portions of present-day Quebec and Ontario, through the Prairies to British Columbia, and north from the 49th parallel to the Arctic Ocean. The territory was subject to numerous boundary changes before 1905. At that time, the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were carved out of the southwest portion of the region. In 1906, the remaining territory was renamed the Northwest Territories.