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First Nations

First Nations is a term used to describe Indigenous peoples in Canada who are not Métis or  Inuit. First Nations people are original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada, and were the first to encounter sustained European contact, settlement and trade. According to the 2016 census by Statistics Canada, 977,230 people in Canada identified as being of First Nations heritage, a growth of 39.3 per cent since 2006. There are 634 First Nations in Canada, speaking more than 50 distinct languages.

For more detailed information on specific First Nations, see Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

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André Nault

André Nault, Métis leader, farmer, and buffalo hunter (born 20 April 1830 in Point Douglas, Red River Colony [now Winnipeg, MB]; died 17 December 1924 in St Vital, MB). Although a kinsman of Louis Riel and always considered a Métis, Nault was not of mixed blood (his mother and father were French Canadian).

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Sonja Gaudet

Sonja Gaudet (née Melis), Paralympic wheelchair curler (born 22 July 1966 in North Vancouver, British Columbia). A three-time Paralympian, Gaudet won gold for Canada at the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Turin, at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver and at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi. She is the first wheelchair curlerever to win multiple Paralympic gold medals. She is also a three-time world champion, having helped Canada win gold at the World Wheelchair Curling Championship in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Gaudet has been inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame and the BC Sports Hall of Fame. She was named to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame on 27 May 2020 and will be formally inducted in 2021.

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Terry Fox

Terrance Stanley Fox, CC, Order of the Dogwood, athlete, humanitarian, cancer research activist (born 28 July 1958 in WinnipegMB; died 28 June 1981 in New WestminsterBC). After losing his right leg to cancer at age 18, Terry Fox decided to run across Canada to raise awareness and money for cancer research. With the use of a customized running prothesis, he set out from St. John’s, Newfoundland, on 12 April 1980 and covered 5,373 km in 143 days — an average of 42 km (26 miles) per day. He was forced to stop his Marathon of Hope in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on 1 September 1980, when cancer had invaded his lungs. He died shortly before his 23rd birthday. The youngest person to be made a Companion of the Order of Canada, he was awarded the 1980 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year and was named a Person of National Historic Significance by the Government of Canada. He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and has had many schools, institutions and landmarks named in his honour. The annual Terry Fox Run has raised more than $800 million for cancer research. The Marathon of Hope raised $24 million by February 1981.  

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Native People's Caravan

The Native People’s Caravan was a cross-country mobile protest that took place in 1974. Its main purpose was to raise awareness about the poor living conditions and discrimination experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. It travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa, where the subsequent occupation of a vacant warehouse on Victoria Island, near Parliament Hill, extended into 1975. The caravan brought various Indigenous groups together in protest of broken treaties, as well as a lack of government-supported education, housing and health care. As a result, meetings between Cabinet ministers and Indigenous leaders became more frequent. The protest is remembered as an important turning point in Indigenous activism in Canada.

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Tsetsaut

The Tsetsaut (also known as the Wetaɬ) were a Dene people who lived inland from the Tlingit (Łingít) along the western coast of British Columbia and Southeastern Alaska. Apart from Nisga’a oral tradition and the linguistic research of anthropologist Franz Boas, who lived among the Tsetsaut in the 1890s, little is known about them. The Tsetsaut were decimated by war and disease in the 1800s, their numbers reduced to just 12 by the end of the century. It was once believed that the last of the Tsetsaut people died in 1927 and that their ancient language was no longer spoken. However, as of 2019, there are approximately 30 people from the Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha Nation identifying as Tsetsaut in British Columbia.

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Steve Nash

Stephen John Nash, OC, OBC, basketball player (born 7 February 1974 in Johannesburg, South Africa). Steve Nash is widely considered the greatest Canadian basketball player of all time. He is a two-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player (MVP) and the first Canadian to win the award. A point guard, Nash was an eight-time NBA all-star. He ranks third on the NBA’s all-time assists leaderboard with 10,335 and second in career free-throw percentage with 90.43 per cent. He represented Canada in international competition and led the Canadian Senior Men’s National Team to the quarter-finals of the 2000 Olympic Summer Games. Nash is a three-time winner of the Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s best male athlete. He won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete in 2005. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada and has been inducted into the Order of British Columbia, Canada’s Walk of Fame, the Phoenix Suns Ring of Honour and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame on 27 May 2020 and will be formally inducted in 2021. He was named the head coach of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets on 3 September 2020.

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Helen Gregory MacGill

Helen Gregory MacGill, judge, journalist, musician (born 7 January 1864 in Hamilton, Canada West; died 27 February 1947 in Chicago, Illinois). Helen Gregory MacGill was a pioneering journalist, feminist and judge. She was the first woman to graduate from Trinity College (now the University of Toronto), as well as the first woman judge in British Columbia, where she served on the juvenile court for 23 years. Her daughter, Elsie MacGill, became the world’s first female aeronautical engineer and aircraft designer.

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Martha Salcudean

Martha Eva Salcudean (née Abel), OC, OBC, professor of mechanical engineering (born 26 February 1934 in Cluj, Romania; died 17 July 2019 in British Columbia). Salcudean was a leading authority on computational fluid dynamics and heat transfer. In 1985, she was named chair of the department of mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia. This made her the first female head of a Canadian university’s engineering department. Salcudean dedicated much of her academic career to forging research and development partnerships. She fostered collaboration between universities, government agencies and industry groups in sectors such as mining, pulp and paper and aeronautics.

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Margaret Trudeau

Margaret Joan (née Sinclair) Trudeau (Kemper), author, actor, photographer, mental health advocate (born 10 September 1948 in North Vancouver, BC). Margaret Trudeau’s marriage to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1971 made her a public figure overnight. The dissolution of their union occurred under withering public scrutiny at a time when traditional roles, for homemakers and political wives alike, were being challenged. As the wife of one prime minister and the mother of another — Justin Trudeau — Margaret Trudeau carved out a public role for herself after revealing her diagnosis with bipolar disorder. In two books and in well-received public speeches, she has been an outspoken advocate for people with mental health issues.

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Gordon A. Smith

Gordon Appelbe Smith, CM, OBC, painter, printmaker, teacher, philanthropist (born 18 June 1919 in East Brighton, England; died 18 January 2020 in West Vancouver, BC). Gordon Smith was a key figure in Vancouver’s art scene during the latter half of the 20th century. He was best known for his monumental, modernist abstractions of the West Coast landscape, and for his long and influential career as a teacher and philanthropist. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada for making “a major contribution to the development of the fine arts in Canada.” He also received the Order of British Columbia, the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts, and the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts.

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Crown

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.

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Pierre Elliott Trudeau

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.

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Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is a board of the British Privy Council. It was formed in 1833. In 1844, it was given jurisdiction over all of Britain’s colonial courts. People who had been judges in high courts in Britain served on the Judicial Committee, along with a sprinkling of judges from the Commonwealth. Their decisions were often criticized for favouring provincial powers over federal authority, especially in fields such as trade and commerce. The Judicial Committee served as the court of final appeal for Canada until 1949, when that role was given to the Supreme Court of Canada.  

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Bonnie Henry

Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer of British Columbia (2018 to present), epidemiologist, physician (born 1965 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island). Dr. Bonnie Henry is best known for leading British Columbia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has also worked to eradicate polio and to contain Ebola and SARS. Henry is a family care physician and a specialist in preventative medicine. She is the first woman to serve as BC’s provincial health officer.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Nancy Greene Raine

Nancy Catherine “Tiger” Greene Raine, OC, OBC, alpine skier (born 11 May 1943 in Ottawa, ON). Olympic gold medallist Nancy Greene was named Canada’s best female athlete of the 20th century by the Canadian Press. A two-time World Cup alpine skiing champion, Greene competed in slalom, giant slalom and downhill. Her fierce and aggressive style earned her the nickname “Tiger.” Her 13 World Cup victories are the most ever by a Canadian. Greene received the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year in 1967 and 1968. She retired from skiing at the age of 24 and later became a member of the Senate of Canada (2009–18). She has been inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame, the US Ski and Snowboarding Hall of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame.

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Egerton Ryerson

Adolphus Egerton Ryerson, Methodist minister, educator (born 24 March 1803 in Charlotteville Township, Norfolk County, Upper Canada; died 18 February 1882 in Toronto, Ontario). Egerton Ryerson was a leading figure in education and politics in 19th century Ontario. He helped found and edit the Christian Guardian (1829) and served as president of the Methodist Church of Canada (1874–78). As superintendent of education in Canada West, Ryerson established a system of free, mandatory schooling at the primary and secondary level — the forerunner of Ontario’s current school system. He also founded the Provincial Normal School (1847), which eventually became the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). Ryerson also served as principal of Victoria College, which he helped found in 1836 as the Upper Canada Academy. He was also, however, involved in the development of residential schools in Canada. This has led to increasing calls to rename Ryerson University and other institutions named in his honour.

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Ukrainian Internment in Canada

Canada’s first national internment operations took place during the First World War, between 1914 and 1920. More than 8,500 men, along with some women and children, were interned by the Canadian government, which acted under the authority of the War Measures Act. Most internees were recent immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman empires, and mainly from the western Ukrainian regions of Galicia and Bukovyna. Some were Canadian-born or naturalized British subjects. They were held in 24 receiving stations and internment camps across the country — from Nanaimo, BC, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Many were used as labour in the country’s frontier wilderness. Personal wealth and property were confiscated and much of it was never returned.