France was a colonial power in North America from the early 16th century, the age of European discoveries and fishing expeditions, to the early 19th century, when Napoléon Bonaparte sold Louisiana to the United States. French presence in North America was marked by economic exchanges with Indigenous peoples, but also by conflicts, as the French attempted to control this vast territory. The French colonial enterprise was also spurred by religious motivation as well as the desire to establish an effective colony in the St. Lawrence Valley. From the founding of Québec in 1608 to the ceding of Canada to Britain in 1763, France placed its stamp upon the history of the continent, much of whose lands — including Acadia — lay under its control. Through the use of encyclopedic articles, biographies, exhibits, study guides and searchable timelines, this collection features content related to this history.
Women’s suffrage (or franchise) is the right of women to vote in political elections; campaigns for this right generally included demand for the right to run for public office. The women’s suffrage movement was a decades-long struggle intended to address fundamental issues of equity and justice and to improve the lives of Canadians.
During Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914–20, 8,579 men, and some women and children, were interned by the Canadian government acting under the authority of the War Measures Act. While most were recent immigrants from the multinational Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman empires, some were Canadian-born or naturalized British subjects — most of the civilian internees came from the western Ukrainian regions of Galicia and Bukovyna. Held in 24 receiving stations and internment camps across the country — from Nanaimo, BC to Halifax, NS — these “second class” prisoners of war (POWs) were generally separated from “first class” German and Austrian POWs. Many were transported into the country’s frontier wildernesses and obliged to work for the profit of their jailers. Personal wealth and property was confiscated, not all of which was returned on parole or following the end of the internment operations.
The Dominion of Canada wasn't born out of revolution, or a sweeping outburst of nationalism. Rather, it was created in a series of conferences and orderly negotiations, culminating in the terms of Confederation on 1 July 1867. The union of the British North American colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada was the first step in a slow but steady nation-building exercise that would come to encompass other territories, and eventually fulfill the dream of a country a mari usque ad mare (from sea to sea).
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.
After the failed Rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada, its leader, William Lyon Mackenzie, retreated to Navy Island, in the Niagara River, accompanied by some 200 followers. The Caroline, an American ship based at Fort Schlosser in New York State, was chartered to bring supplies to the rebels. On 29 December 1837, a force of the Upper Canada militia led by Commander Andrew Drew of the Royal Navy found the Caroline moored at Schlosser. In the quick skirmish that followed, an American was killed. The Caroline, set on fire and adrift, capsized before reaching the falls and sank. The incident aggravated the already tense relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States.
The Last Spike was the final and ceremonial railway spike driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) track by company director Donald Smith on the morning of 7 November 1885. The ceremony marked the completion of the transcontinental CPR and was a muted affair at which a group of company officials and labourers gathered at Craigellachie near Eagle Pass in the interior of British Columbia. One of about 30 million iron spikes used in the construction of the line, the Last Spike came to symbolize more than the completion of a railway. Contemporaries and historians have viewed the Last Spike — as well as the iconic photographs of the event — as a moment when national unity was realized.
Immigration of Cambodians to Canada is relatively recent. From 1980 to 1992, Canada welcomed more than 18,000 Cambodia refugees who were fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime. They settled in Canada’s major urban areas. In the 2016 Census, 38,490 people reported being of Cambodian ethnic origin. Over the years since Cambodians began immigrating to Canada, many Cambodian Canadians have become distinguished in their fields; examples include actress Ellen Wong, journalist Chan Tep and graffiti artist FONKi.
The immigration of Laotian nationals to Canada is relatively recent, having begun in earnest in the late 1970s. After the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam in March 1973, mainland Southeast Asia (former Indochina) was left at the mercy of revolutionary forces in the region. In 1975, at the end of a 20-year-long civil war, communist revolutionaries of the Pathet Lao (Lao State) movement took power, abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Living conditions deteriorated in Laos, as they did in Vietnam and Cambodia. Former civil and military officials were sent to labour camps and their families were denied access to employment and education. These difficult economic conditions, combined with an increasingly forceful communist regime and violations of human rights, sparked a mass migration in the region. Like Vietnamese, Laotians left their country in makeshift vessels, facing perilous conditions on the Mekong River and then the China Sea. This is the origin of the name often used to refer to these migrants: “boat people.” From 1979 to 1982, Canada welcomed nearly 8,000 Laotians. Approximately 20 per cent were of Chinese origin. Supported by the federal government and private sponsor groups, they resettled in various parts of Canada. Today, however, the Laotian population is concentrated in Québec and Ontario. In the 2016 Census of Canada, 24,590 people reported being of Laotian origin.
The settlement of Vietnamese nationals in Canada is relatively recent. It resulted from two waves of immigration in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The first wave consisted mostly of middle- class people who were welcomed to Canada for their professional skills after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Because Vietnam had been part of the French colony of Indochina until 1954, these immigrants generally spoke French, if not English. The second wave of immigration consisted of refugees from the former South Vietnam, seeking to escape the harsh living conditions and deteriorating human-rights situation following the reunification of the two Vietnams into a single country. These refugees were widely referred to in the media as “boat people.” Moved by the desperate plight of the hundreds of thousands who, to escape the Communist regime, took to the high seas in makeshift boats that threatened to sink at any moment, many Canadians offered to sponsor their journey to Canada. In July 1979, the Government of Canada committed to accept 50,000 refugees from Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) by the end of the year. In April 1980, the government revised the target number of refugees it would admit and announced that Canada would accept 10,000 more. This brought the number of refugees to 60,000 for the year 1979–80.2
After New France was ceded to Great Britain in 1763, the migration of French colonists slowed considerably. A trickle of clergy members, farmers and professionals settled during the 19th century. However, after the Second World War, French immigration — which was then politically favoured — resumed with renewed vigour. This effort was geared towards recruiting francophone professionals and entrepreneurs, who settled in Canada’s big cities. The French spawned many cultural associations and had a large presence in French-Canadian schools.