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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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Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign was the de facto Canadian national flag from 1868 until 1965. It was based on the ensign flown by British merchant ships since 1707. The three successive formal designs of the Canadian Red Ensign bore the Canadian coats of arms of 1868, 1921 and 1957. In 1891, it was described by the Governor General, Lord Stanley, as “the Flag which has come to be considered as the recognized Flag of the Dominion both afloat and ashore.” Though it was never formally adopted as Canada’s national flag, the Canadian Red Ensign represented Canada as a nation until it was replaced by the maple leaf design in 1965.

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Morris Pearlman (Primary Source)

Morris Pearlman was a captain in the Royal Canadian Dental Corps during the Second World War. He served in various prisoner of war camps in Canada. Learn how Pearlman, a Jewish dental officer, set aside resentment and hostility as he treated German POWs.

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.

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Corinne Kernan Sévigny (Primary Source)

At only 16 years old, Corinne Sévigny enlisted with the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during the Second World War. Sévigny served as a driver and was one of millions of women who helped with the war effort either overseas or at home. Read and listen to Sévigny’s story in which she details the extraordinary accomplishments of her fellow women-at-arms.

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.

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Francis William Godon (Primary Source)

Francis William Godon was only 19 years old when he first served with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles during the Second World War. As an anti-tank gunner, the young Métis soldier was one of 14,000 Canadians who invaded Normandy on 6 June 1944. Read and listen to Godon’s first-hand account of the horrors of that day and the important role the Allies’ victory played.

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.

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Oka Crisis

The Oka Crisis, also known as the Kanesatake Resistance or the Mohawk Resistance at Kanesatake, was a 78-day standoff (11 July–26 September 1990) between Mohawk protesters, Quebec police, the RCMP and the Canadian Army. It took place in the community of Kanesatake, near the Town of Oka, on the north shore of Montreal. Related protests and violence occurred in the Kahnawake reserve, to the south of Montreal. The crisis was sparked by the proposed expansion of a golf course and the development of townhouses on disputed land in Kanesatake that included a Mohawk burial ground. Tensions were high, particularly after the death of Corporal Marcel Lemay, a Sûreté du Québec police officer. Eventually, the army was called in and the protest ended. The golf course expansion was cancelled and the land was purchased by the federal government. However, it did not establish the land as a reserve, and there has since been no organized transfer of the land to the Mohawks of Kanesatake.

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The Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel

On 1 July 1916, Allied forces launched a major offensive in France during the First World War. The opening of the Somme offensive turned into one of the deadliest days in the history of modern warfare. At the village of Beaumont-Hamel, the First Newfoundland Regiment suffered catastrophic losses. More than 80 percent of the soldiers who advanced that day were either killed or wounded. In one morning, the regiment suffered approximately 700 casualties, including more than 300 dead.

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Railway History in Canada

The development of steam-powered railways in the 19th century revolutionized transportation in Canada and was integral to the very act of nation building. Railways played an integral role in the process of industrialization, opening up new markets and tying regions together, while at the same time creating a demand for resources and technology. The construction of transcontinental railways such as the Canadian Pacific Railway opened up settlement in the West, and played an important role in the expansion of Confederation. However, railways had a divisive effect as well, as the public alternately praised and criticized the involvement of governments in railway construction and the extent of government subsidies to railway companies.

Macleans

Maud Lewis

Maud Lewis, artist (born 7 March 1903 in South Ohio, Nova Scotia; died 30 July 1970 in Digby, Nova Scotia).

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Alexandria

Alexandria, ON, population centre, population 2,845 (2016 census), 2,924 (2011 census). Incorporated as a town in 1903, Alexandria lost this status in 1998 as the result of municipal restructuring in Ontario. It is now part of the new township of North Glengarry (population 10,109). Alexandria is located midway on the Canadian National Railway line between Montreal and Ottawa.

timeline event

The Testaments, the Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, is Published

The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s highly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, was launched in rock star fashion with a sold-out appearance by Atwood at the National Theatre in London, England, at 12:00 a.m. It was broadcast live to more than 1,000 theatres around the world. Atwood then embarked on a worldwide promotional tour that included stops in nine Canadian cities. The novel was also shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize a week before it was published. 

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Canadian Shield

The Canadian Shield refers to the exposed portion of the continental crust underlying the majority of North America. The crust, also known as the North American Craton, extends from northern Mexico to Greenland and consists of hard rocks at least 1 billion years old. With the exception of the Canadian Shield, the rocks of the North American Craton are buried deep within the continent and covered by soil and other material. At 5 million km2, the Shield makes up roughly 50 per cent of Canada’s land mass. Shaped like a horseshoe — or the shields carried during hand-to-hand combat — the Canadian Shield extends from Labrador in the east to include nearly all of Québec, much of Ontario and Manitoba, the northern portion of Saskatchewan, the northeast corner of Alberta, much of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut and into the Arctic Archipelago. (It also reaches into parts of the United States, in New York, Wisconsin and Minnesota.) While at times a barrier to settlement, the Shield has also yielded great resources, including minerals, coniferous forests and the capacity for hydroelectric developments.

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Moncton

Moncton, NB, incorporated as a city in 1890, population 71,889 (2016 census),69,074 (2011 census), is the largest city in New Brunswick. The City of Moncton is located in eastern New Brunswick on a bend of the Petitcodiac River. With a population of 144,810 (2016) the Greater Moncton region includes the steadily growing city of Dieppe and the town of Riverview.

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Howard Engel

Howard Engel, novelist, cartoonist (under the pen name “Foo”), story writer, poet (born 2 April 1931 in Toronto, ON; died 16 July 2019 in Toronto). Howard Engel was raised in St. Catharines, Ontario, and educated at McMaster University and the Ontario College of Education. During his career as a producer of literary and cultural programs at the CBC, Engel published a few stories and poems, but he did not begin to write seriously until he became interested in detective fiction.