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Constitutional History 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 federaland provincial levels. Canada’s Constitution is not one legal document. It is a complex mix of statutes, orders, British and Canadian court decisions, and generally accepted practices known as constitutional conventions. The Constitution has been in constant evolution from colonial times to the present day. The story of the Constitution is the story of Canada itself. It reflects the shifting legal, social and politicalpressures facing Canadians, as well as their choices as a society.

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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 federaland 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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Run

Eric Walters’s novel Run (2003) is a fictionalized account of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. The book follows troubled youth Winston Macdonald, who is inspired to stop running away from his problems after he befriends Fox in 1980. Run is both the first book for young adults and the first fictionalized book about Terry Fox endorsed by the Fox family. Author royalties from the sales of Run are donated to the Terry Fox Foundation. The novel’s audio version received the 2004 Torgi Award for Books in Alternative Formats.

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Constitutional Act, 1791

The Constitutional Act, 1791 was an act of the British Parliament. Also known as the Canada Act, it divided the Province of Quebec into  Upper Canada and Lower Canada. The Act was a first step on the long path to Confederation, but its rigid colonial structures also set the stage for rebellion in the Canadas. (See Rebellions of 1837–38.) The Act was also notable for giving women who owned property in Lower Canada the right to vote — a high level of inclusion by the standards of the time.

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Documenting the Second World War

When Canada declared war on Germany on 10 September 1939, tens of thousands of Canadians enlisted to serve in the armynavyair force and supporting services. The military scrambled to buy equipment, train recruits and prepare for war. Little thought was given, at first, to documenting the war effort. By 1940, however, the military was recruiting historians, most notably Charles Stacey, to collect records and write accounts of Canadian operations. In the following years, artists, photographers and filmmakers also served with the various branches of the armed forces. Today, their diligent work provides a rich visual and written catalogue of Canada’s history in the Second World War.

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Charlottetown Accord

The Charlottetown Accord of 1992 was a failed attempt by Prime Minister  Brian Mulroney and all 10 provincial premiers to amend the Canadian Constitution. The goal was to obtain Quebec’s consent to the Constitution Act, 1982. The Accord would have recognized Quebec as a distinct society; decentralized many federal powers to the provinces; addressed the issue of Indigenous self-government; and reformed the Senate and the House of Commons. The Accord had the approval of the federal government and all 10 provincial governments. But it was rejected by Canadian voters in a referendum on 26 October 1992.

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Residential Schools in Canada

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools that were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Although the first residential facilities were established in New France, the term usually refers to schools established after 1880. Residential schools were created by Christian churches and the Canadian government as an attempt to both educate and convert Indigenous youth and to assimilate them into Canadian society. However, the schools disrupted lives and communities, causing long-term problems among Indigenous peoples. Since the last residential school closed in 1996, former students have demanded recognition and restitution, resulting in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007 and a formal public apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008. In total, an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children attended residential schools. (See also Inuit Experiences at Residential School and Métis Experiences at Residential School.)

This is the full-length entry about residential schools in Canada. For a plain language summary, please see Residential Schools in Canada (Plain Language Summary).

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Residential Schools in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

In the early 1600s, Catholic nuns and priests established the first residential schools in Canada. In 1883, these schools began to receive funding from the federal government. That year, the Government of Canada officially authorized the creation of the residential school system. The main goal of the system was to assimilate Indigenous children into white, Christian society. (See also Inuit Experiences at Residential School and Métis Experiences at Residential School.)

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

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VE-Day (Victory in Europe)

Victory in Europe — the official end of the fighting in Europe in the Second World War — was celebrated on 8 May 1945, after Germany's unconditional surrender. In cities and towns across Canada, a war-weary nation expressed its joy and relief at the news. In Halifax, the celebrations erupted into looting and rioting. The war was not over, as conflict with Japan continued.

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Black Enslavement in Canada

In early Canada, the enslavement of African peoples was a legal instrument that helped fuel colonial economic enterprise. Enslavement was introduced by French colonists in New France in the early 1600s, and lasted until it was abolished throughout British North America in 1834. During that two-century period, Canada was involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Within the country’s borders, people were bought, sold and enslaved. Canada was further linked to the institution of enslavement through international trade. The country exchanged products such as salted cod and timber for slave-produced goods such as rum, molasses, tobacco and sugar from slaveholding colonies in the Caribbean.

This is the full-length entry about Black enslavement in Canada. For a plain language summary, please see Black Enslavement in Canada (Plain Language Summary).

(See also Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada; Underground Railroad; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Slavery Abolition Act, 1833.)

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Enslavement of Indigenous People in Canada

To a tremendous extent, the enslavement of Indigenous peoples defines slavery in Canada. Fully two-thirds of the slaves in the colony of New France were Indigenous. After 1750, the number of Indigenous slaves brought into French Canada began to decline. When slavery was abolished in British colonies in 1834, Black slaves far outnumbered Indigenous slaves. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.) The enslavement of Indigenous peoples is part of a dark legacy of colonization that has had implications on generations of Indigenous peoples in Canada and throughout North America.

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Confederation

Confederation refers to the process of federal union in which the British North American colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada joined together to form the Dominion of Canada. The term Confederation also stands for 1 July 1867, the date of the creation of the Dominion. (See also Canada Day.) Before Confederation, British North America also included Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, British Columbia, and the vast territories of Rupert’s Land (the private domain of the Hudson’s Bay Company) and the North-Western Territory. Beginning in 1864, colonial politicians (now known as the Fathers of Confederation) met and negotiated the terms of Confederation at conferences in Charlottetown, Quebec City and London, England. Their work resulted in the British North America Act, Canada’s Constitution. It was passed by the British Parliament. At its creation in 1867, the Dominion of Canada included four provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. Between then and 1999, six more provinces and three territories joined Confederation.

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

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Company of One Hundred Associates

The Company of New France, or Company of One Hundred Associates (Compagnie des Cent-Associés) as it was more commonly known, was formed in France in 1627. Its purpose was to increase New France’s population while enjoying a monopoly on almost all colonial trade. It took bold steps but suffered many setbacks. The company folded in 1663. It earned little return on its investment, though it helped establish New France as a viable colony.

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Treaty of Utrecht

Utrecht, Treaty of, an agreement between Britain and France concluded 11 Apr 1713 at Utrecht in the Netherlands as part of the series of treaties ending the WAR OF THE SPANISH SUCCESSION . The treaty recognized Queen Anne as the legitimate sovereign of England and officially ended French support for the claims of the Jacobite party to the British throne. 

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Quebec Act, 1774

The Quebec Act received royal assent on 22 June 1774. It revoked the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which had aimed to assimilate the French-Canadian population under English rule. The Quebec Act was put into effect on 1 May 1775. It was passed to gain the loyalty of the French-speaking majority of the Province of Quebec. Based on recommendations from Governors James Murray and Guy Carleton, the Act guaranteed the freedom of worship and restored French property rights. However, the Act had dire consequences for Britain’s North American empire. Considered one of the five “Intolerable Acts” by the Thirteen American Colonies, the Quebec Act was one of the direct causes of the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). It was followed by the Constitutional Act in 1791.

This is the full-length entry about the Quebec Act of 1774. For a plain language summary, please see The Quebec Act, 1774 (Plain-Language Summary).

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Conscription in Canada

Conscription is the compulsory enlistment or “call up” (sometimes known as “the draft”) of citizens for military service. The federal government enacted conscription in both the First World War and the Second World War, creating sharp divisions between English-speaking Canadians, who tended to support the practice, and French-speaking Canadians, who generally did not. Canada does not currently have mandatory military service.

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Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

Indigenous treaties in Canada are agreements made between the Crown and Indigenous people (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit). These agreements concern land. Indigenous people agree to share their land in exchange for payments of one kind or another and promises. Before Confederation, Britain controlled the treaty making process. After Confederation, the federal government took control of the treating making process.

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

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Enfranchisement (Plain-Language Summary)

Throughout much of Canadian history, a First Nations person would lose their Indian status if they were enfranchised. An enfranchised person is someone who has the right to vote in elections. A First Nations person who is deemed a Status Indian has certain rights and benefits granted to them through the Indian Act.

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