Canada has its roots in immigration and remains a nation formed of many different communities. From European colonization of Aboriginal territory to the recent arrival of refugees from Syria, the laws and regulations governing immigration to Canada have long been marked by discrimination. On the other hand, Canadians have shown their humanity by welcoming several hundred thousand refugees with open arms over the course of the country’s history. As a result, diverse cultural, religious and linguistic communities have established themselves here and integrated into Canadian society — some with relative ease, others with greater difficulty. Through articles, features, exhibits and timelines, this collection explores the diversity that defines Canadian society today. Image below: Vancouver's Chinatown, ca. 1955. © Rolly Ford/Heritage Vancouver.
For Canada, Asia does not exist “over there.” It is, has been, and will continue to be, right here, contributing to and shaping our country. Canada’s citizenry includes over 6.7 million people — 20 percent of the population — who were born outside Canada. Recent immigrants to this country are more likely to have come from Asia and the Middle East than from Europe (Census of Canada, 2011).
This collection of articles, exhibits, images and quizzes explores francophone Canada in all its complexity, bringing its communities, institutions and struggles for language and education rights into focus. It also showcases francophone culture in Canada, from arts, literature, music, folklore and symbols to the identity and heritage of these communities. Above image: Saint Boniface Cathedral, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Nov. 2013. 38962960 © Wwphoto | Dreamstime.com
Thousands of children became orphans during the 1847 Irish famine migration to British North America. Public authorities, private charities and religious officials all played a part in addressing this crisis. Many orphans were placed with relatives or with Irish families. A considerable number were also taken in by Francophone Catholics in Canada East, and by English-speaking Protestants in New Brunswick. Although many families took in orphans for charitable reasons, most people were motivated by the pragmatic value of an extra pair of hands on the farm or in the household.
In 1991, Baltej Singh Dhillon became the first member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police permitted to wear a turban — as part of his Sikh religion — instead of the Mounties' traditional cap or stetson. Dhillon's request that the RCMP change its uniform rules triggered a national debate about religious accommodation in Canada.1
Canada is a country so vast that too often, it seems, its history is lost inside its geography. A striking example is the history of Indigenous peoples, whose long, rich narrative is well-preserved by them, but seldom gets the same attention on a broader scale — even when their stories affect us all.
The Sir George Williams affair (also known as the Sir George Williams riot) took place in winter 1969, when more than 200 students decided to peacefully occupy the ninth floor of the Henry F. Hall Building at Sir George Williams University in Montréal. These students were protesting the university administration’s decision regarding a complaint of racism that had been filed several months earlier by six Black students from the Caribbean. On 11 February 1969, to dislodge the students occupying the building, the police intervened forcefully, and the situation deteriorated, resulting in over $2 million worth of damage and the arrest of 97 people. The Sir George Williams affair is regarded as the largest student riot in Canadian history. For many observers and historians, it represents a key moment in the rebirth of black militancy in Montréal.
George Elliott Clarke, poet, anthologist (b at Windsor Plains, NS 12 Feb 1960). George Elliott Clarke was born near Windsor Plains, a black Loyalist community, and grew up in Halifax. He earned a BA at the University of Waterloo, an MA at Dalhousie, and a PhD at Queen's University.
The history of Black Canadian voting rights is marked by contrasting shifts. Enslaved during the period 1600–1834, Black persons could not vote. Emancipated, they were entitled to the rights, freedoms and privileges enjoyed by British subjects, including the franchise; however, racial discrimination did at times impede Black Canadians’ right to vote. The rights and freedoms of Black women were further restricted by virtue of their sex.
The vast continent of Africa and its complex array of peoples has not had a close relationship with Canada. Prior to 1960, black Africans comprised a very small, scattered and almost unknown group of newcomers to Canada, although Africans of European and Asian ancestry had a clearer presence.
Mabel Adeline (Addie) Aylestock, minister of the British Methodist Episcopal Church (born 8 September 1909 in Glen Allan, ON; died 25 July 1998 in Toronto, ON). The first Black woman to be ordained in Canada, Aylestock helped organize congregations in several communities in Ontario, as well as in Québec (Montréal) and Nova Scotia (Africville and Halifax).
Chanukah (also Hanukkah, Chanukkah, Chanuka, and the Festival of Lights) is the Hebrew word for dedication. In Canada, Chanukah has been celebrated since 1760 when the first Jews were allowed to immigrate. Chanukah in Canada is a celebration for friends and families to gather, socialize, eat, and exchange gifts. It is arguably the first non-Christian holiday that was widely and publicly celebrated in Canada.
Charles Lightfoot Roman, MD, CM, surgeon, author, researcher, lecturer (born 19 May 1889 in Port Elgin, ON; died 8 June 1961 in Valleyfield, QC). Charles Lightfoot Roman was one of the first Black Canadians to graduate from McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and became a recognized expert in industrial medicine. He was also one of the first Black Canadians to enlist for service in the First World War, and was the only known Black person to serve with the Canadian General Hospital No. 3 (McGill). Lightfoot Roman was also likely the first Black Grand Master of a traditional Masonic lodge.
Anderson Ruffin Abbott, doctor, surgeon (born 7 April 1837 in Toronto, Upper Canada; died 29 December 1913 in Toronto, ON). Abbott was the first Canadian-born person of colour to graduate from medical school. He served the Union army as a civilian surgeon during the American Civil War.
The No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) — also known as the Black Battalion — was authorized on 5 July 1916, during the First World War. It was a segregated non-combatant unit, the first and only all-Black battalion in Canadian military history.