François-Gaston de Lévis
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In the final months of the Second World War, Canadian forces were given the important and deadly task of liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. From September 1944 to April 1945, the First Canadian Army fought German forces on the Scheldt estuary — opening the port of Antwerp for Allied use — and then cleared northern and western Netherlands of Germans, allowing food and other relief to reach millions of desperate people. More than 7,600 Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen died fighting in the Netherlands. Today, Canada is fondly remembered by the Dutch for ending their oppression under the Nazis.
In a monarchy, the Crown is an abstract concept or symbol that represents the state and its government. In a constitutional monarchy such as Canada, the Crown is the source of non-partisan sovereign authority. It is part of the legislative, executive and judicial powers that govern the country. Under Canada’s system of responsible government, the Crown performs each of these functions on the binding advice, or through the actions of, members of Parliament, ministers or judges. As the embodiment of the Crown, the monarch — currently Queen Elizabeth II — serves as head of state. The Queen and her vice-regal representatives — the governor general at the federal level and lieutenant-governors provincially — possess what are known as prerogative powers; they can be made without the approval of another branch of government, though they are rarely used. The Queen and her representatives also fulfill ceremonial functions as Head of State.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau, PC, CC, CH, FRSC, prime minister of Canada 1968–79 and 1980–84, politician, writer, constitutional lawyer (born 18 October 1919 in Montreal, QC; died 28 September 2000 in Montreal). A charismatic and controversial figure, Pierre Trudeau was arguably Canada’s best-known politician, both at home and abroad. He introduced legal reforms in his quest to make Canada a more “just society,” and made Canada officially bilingual with the Official Languages Act of 1969. He negotiated Canada’s constitutional independence from Britain and established a new Canadian Constitution with an entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He played an important role in defeating the Quebec separatist movement of the 1970s and 1980s; although his decision to invoke the War Measures Act in response to the 1970 October Crisis drew sharp criticism. His federalist stance as well as his language and economic policies alienated many in Canada; particularly in the West. His eldest son, Justin Trudeau, became leader of the Liberal Party in 2013 and prime minister in 2015.
Sandra Perron was a captain in the Royal 22e Régiment of the Canadian Forces. She served on peacekeeping missions overseas. Perron completed two tours in former Yugoslavia where she helped many displaced Bosnian children find shelter and much needed care. Listen to Perron’s story as she details her experiences as a Canadian Peacekeeper.
Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.
Edwin Victor Cook, ‘Namgis First Nation student, soldier and war hero (born 10 May 1897 in Alert Bay, BC; died 28 August 1918 in Dury, France), served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the First World War. He was an infantryman and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his heroic actions in battle.
During the Second World War, Canadian women, for the first time, were mobilized for service in the Canadian Armed Forces. Of the roughly 50,000 women who enlisted, more than half served in the Canadian Army. Most were assigned jobs involving traditional female work such as cooking, laundry and clerical duties, but women also pioneered roles in the mechanized and technical fields. The Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) performed essential services, both at home and overseas, that helped bring about Allied victory.
More than 2,800 trained civilian nurses enlisted with the Canadian army during the First World War, becoming the first women in the modern world to hold military commissions as officers. As members of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC), the nursing sisters treated and cared for wounded soldiers overseas and at home. At least 58 died from disease or enemy action during the war.
Owen William Steele, salesman, soldier and officer (born 28 April 1887 in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador; died 8 July 1916 near Englebelmer, France). Owen Steele was an officer in the Newfoundland Regiment who served during the First World War. The regiment suffered horrendous losses in July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme (see The Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel). Steele is best known for the detailed journal he kept from his enlistment to his death in France in July 1916. His journal and letters from the front provide insight into the experiences and impressions of Newfoundland soldiers during the war.
The First World War forever changed Canada. Some 630,000 Canadians enlisted from a nation of not yet eight million. More than 66,000 were killed. As the casualties mounted on the Western Front, an expatriate Canadian, Sir Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), organized a program to document Canada’s war effort through art, photography and film. This collection of war art, made both in an official capacity and by soldiers themselves, was another method of forging a legacy of Canada’s war effort.
Frank Narcisse Jérome, Mi'kmaq, war hero (born 1886 in Maria, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine Region, QC; died 1934 in Gesgapegiag, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine Region, QC). Frank Narcisse Jérome was a First World War veteran from the Gesgapegiag First Nation in the Gaspé peninsula region who was recognized multiple times during the First World War for his bravery. Jérome was one of only 39 Canadian soldiers to win the Military Medal three times during the First World War, and is now recognized as one of the most honoured Indigenous veterans of the war (see Indigenous Peoples and the World Wars and Indigenous Peoples and the First World War). Jérome’s name appears on the war memorial in Gesgapegiag, Quebec.
David Kejick (also spelled Kisek, Kesick and Keejick), DCM, Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) trapper, guide, soldier, war hero and chief (born 20 June 1896 at Shoal Lake First Nations Community, ON; died 1 March 1969 at Shoal Lake). Kejick served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the First World War and received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his heroic actions in battle during the closing weeks of the war.
Huron Eldon Brant, Mohawk soldier, war hero, automobile mechanic (born 30 December 1909 in Deseronto, ON; died 14 October 1944 near Bulgaria, Italy). Brant was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for attacking a superior enemy force during the battle for Grammichele in Sicily (seeSecond World War) but was killed later during a battle on the Italian mainland (see The Italian Campaign).
Frances Elizabeth Owen “Feo” Monck, author (born 1 August 1835 in Charleville, Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland; died 31 July 1919). Feo Monck’s brother-in-law was governor general Viscount Monck, and her husband, Richard Monck, was military secretary to the governor general from 1864 to 1869. When Lady Monck was absent, she acted as the hostess for viceregal social occasions, including the ball held during the Quebec Conference of 1864. She recorded her experiences in the book, My Canadian Leaves: An Account of a Visit to Canada in 1864–1865.
More than 118,000 Canadians have died fighting for their country in overseas wars — including the First World War. About 28,000 of those warriors were lost in unknown graves.
Masumi Mitsui, MM, farmer, soldier, Canadian Legion official (born 7 October 1887 in Tokyo, Japan; died 22 April 1987 in Hamilton, ON). Masumi Mitsui immigrated to Canada in 1908 and served with distinction in the First World War. In 1931, he and his comrades persuaded the BC government to grant Japanese Canadian veterans the right to vote, a breakthrough for Japanese and other disenfranchised Canadians. Nevertheless, Matsui and more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians were displaced, detained and dispossessed by the federal government during the Second World War (see Internment of Japanese Canadians).
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.
Callixte Lavallée, composer, pianist, conductor, teacher, administrator, soldier (born 28 December 1842 in Verchères, Canada East; died 21 January 1891 in Boston, Massachusetts). A pioneer in music both in Canada and the United States, Calixa Lavallée was considered one of the “national glories” of Quebec. He is best known for composing the music for “O Canada” and was twice president of the Académie de musique de Québec. Despite this vaunted stature, he spent much of his life outside Canada, served with the Union Army during the American Civil War and called for Canada to be annexed by the United States. The Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée, awarded by the St-Jean-Baptiste Society of Montreal for outstanding contributions to the music of Quebec, is named in his honour.
Obwandiyag (Pontiac), Odawa chief (born c. 1720 along the Detroit River; died 20 April 1769 in Cahokia, Illinois Country). Obwandiyag was the leader of a loose coalition of Indigenous nations that opposed British rule in what became known as Pontiac’s War (1763–66). The uprising is regarded by many as a historical antecedent to more contemporary Indigenous rights movements.
In 1838, the British politician Lord Durham was sent to British North America to investigate the causes of the rebellions of 1837–38 in the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada. Durham's famous Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839) led to a series of reforms and changes. These included uniting the two Canadas into a single colony, the Province of Canada, in 1841. (See also: Act of Union.) The report also paved the way for responsible government. This was a critical step in the development of Canadian democracy. The report played an important role in the evolution of Canada’s political independence from Britain.