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Fenian Raids

​The Fenians were a secret society of Irish patriots who had emigrated from Ireland to the United States. Some North American members of this movement were intent on taking Canada by force and exchanging it with Britain for Irish independence. From 1866 to 1871 the Fenians launched a series of small, armed incursions of Canada, each of which was put down by government forces — at the cost of dozens killed and wounded on both sides.

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Chinese Head Tax in Canada

The Chinese head tax was levied on Chinese immigration to Canada between 1885 and 1923, under the Chinese Immigration Act (1885). With few exceptions, Chinese people had to pay $50 (later raised to $100, and then $500) to come to Canada.

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MS St. Louis

​On 7 June 1939, 907 Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis were denied entry to Canada. The ship returned its passengers to safe harbour in four European countries. Sadly, 254 of its passengers later perished in the Holocaust.

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Chinese Immigration Act

The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, known also as the Chinese Exclusion Act, banned the entry of virtually all Chinese immigrants for 24 years. Although migration into Canada from most countries was controlled or restricted in some way, only Chinese people were singled out completely from entering on the basis of race. The four exceptions to the exclusion were students, merchants (excluding laundry, restaurant and retail operators), diplomats and Canadian-born Chinese returning from education in China. The limit on absence from Canada was two years, and the consequence for not returning on time was being barred re-entry. Additionally, every person of Chinese descent, whether Canadian-born or naturalized, was required to register for an identity card within 12 months. The penalty for noncompliance was imprisonment or a fine of up to $500. Though the Act was repealed in 1947, immigration restrictions on the basis of race and national origin were not fully scrubbed until 1967.

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Canada and the Holocaust

The Holocaust is defined as the systematic persecution and murder of 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews, including Roma and Sinti, Poles, political opponents, LGBTQ people and Soviet prisoners of war (POWs), by Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. Jews were the only group targeted for complete destruction because Nazi racial ideology considered them subhuman.

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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.

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Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was a secret network of abolitionists (people who wanted to abolish slavery). They helped African Americans escape from enslavement in the American South to free Northern states or to Canada. The Underground Railroad was the largest anti-slavery freedom movement in North America. It brought between 30,000 and 40,000 fugitives to British North America (now Canada).

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

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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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War Measures Act

The War Measures Act was a federal law adopted by Parliament on 22 August 1914, after the beginning of the First World War. It gave broad powers to the Canadian government to maintain security and order during “war, invasion or insurrection.” It was used, controversially, to suspend the civil liberties of people in Canada who were considered “enemy aliens” during both world wars. This led to mass arrests and detentions without charges or trials. The War Measures Act was also invoked in Quebec during the 1970 October Crisis. The Act was repealed and replaced by the more limited Emergencies Act in 1988.

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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.)