Search for "Royal Canadian Air Force"

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Leonard Braithwaite (Primary Source)

Leonard Braithwaite served with the Canadian Air Force as a Safety Equipment Operator from 1943 to 1946. However, he was rejected multiple times at a Toronto recruiting station because he was Black. Read and listen to the story of how Braithwaite overcame adversity and served overseas.

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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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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David Kejick

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.

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Nonnie Griffin

Nonnie Griffin (née Lorna Margaret Jean Griffin), also known as Margaret Griffin, actor, playwright and director (born 20 October 1933 in Toronto, ON; died 7 June 2019 in Toronto). A gifted mimic blessed with striking beauty, Nonnie Griffin was known for her virtuosity with accents and her ability to play different ages and styles. Her work was distinguished by sensitivity and intelligence, and she excelled as a radio performer. She worked extensively in CBC TV and CBC Radio productions in the 1950s and 1960s and co-starred in the highly successful musical production of Anne of Green Gables. She appeared in numerous Canadian plays, films and TV series, and wrote and starred in her own one-woman shows, right up to her death at the age of 85.

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Hunter Harrison

Ewing Hunter Harrison III, president and CEO of Canadian National Railway Company 2003–09, CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway Limited 2012–17 (born 7 November 1944 in Memphis, Tennessee; died 16 December 2017 in Wellington, Florida). Best known as the leading proponent of Precision Scheduled Railroading, Hunter Harrison ran four publicly traded, Class 1 railroads during his more than half century in the industry. His leadership of Canada’s two largest railway companies greatly improved the efficiency and profitability of both businesses.

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Barbara Godard

Barbara Godard, critic, translator, editor, educator (born at Toronto, 1942; died there 16 May 2010). Barbara Godard is one of Canada's leading authorities on literary theory, including her specialities in poststructuralism, feminism, avant-gardism, and translation studies.

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Jovette Marchessault

Jovette Marchessault, novelist, playwright, painter, sculptor (born 9 February 1938 in Montreal, QC; died 31 December 2012 in Danville, QC). Jovette Marchessault was a self-taught multidisciplinary artist. She won major prizes for her literary and theatrical works and made a unique mark on francophone culture. Supported by a deep and lyrical voice, her work celebrates words through myths and liberating poetic language. Her body of work stands as a tribute to women of all backgrounds, notably female artists and writers. She co-founded the international publishing house Squawtach Press, contributed to many publications and was a lecturer in the theatre department at the Université du Québec à Montréal. She won the prix France-Quebec and the Governor General’s Drama Award, among other honours.

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Acadian Heritage

This collection explores the rich heritage of the Acadians through articles and exhibits, as well as quizzes on arts and culture, history and politics, historical figures, and places associated with the Acadian people.

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Documenting the First World 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.

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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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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.

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Jean Little

Jean Little, CM, writer, lecturer (born 2 January 1932 in Taiwan; died 6 April 2020). Jean Little was best known for her children’s books. She wrote more than 50 books. Little won the Canada Council Children’s Literature Award as well as foreign acclaim. Little’s books are widely translated. Her novels and poetry treat such themes as loneliness, alienation, intolerance, family stress and the difficulties in interpersonal and intercultural relationships. (See also Children’s Literature in English.)

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Bill Miner

Ezra Allen (Bill) Miner, outlaw (born circa 1847 in Bowling Green, KY; died 2 September 1913 in Covington, GA). Bill Miner was reputed to be the first train robber in Canada, although bandits had robbed a train of the Great Western Railway in Ontario on 13 November 1874, 30 years before Miner arrived in Canada. Miner was the first to rob the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and thus became an outlaw hero in Canadian folklore. Miner was known as “The Grey Fox” and the “Gentleman Bandit” because of his polite manners during holdups. Miner was also credited with being the outlaw who coined the phrase “Hands up!”

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Yvonne Brill

Yvonne Madelaine Brill (née Claeys), rocket scientist (born 30 December 1924 in St. Vital, MB; died 27 March 2013 in Princeton, New Jersey). Yvonne Brill is known for her contributions to the advancement of rocket propulsion systems and designing rocket systems for space missions to the moon while keeping modern satellites in orbit. Although she was barred from pursuing an engineering degree because of her gender, Brill’s pioneering innovations are world-renowned.

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Sleeping Car Porters in Canada

Sleeping car porters were railway employees who attended to passengers aboard sleeping cars. Porters were responsible for passengers’ needs throughout a train trip, including carrying luggage, setting up beds, pressing clothes and shining shoes, and serving food and beverages, among other services. The vast majority of sleeping car porters were Black men and the position was one of only a few job opportunities available to Black men in Canada. While the position carried respect and prestige for Black men in their communities, the work demanded long hours for little pay. Porters could be fired suddenly and were often subjected to racist treatment. Black Canadian porters formed the first Black railway union in North America (1917) and became members of the larger Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1939. Both unions combatted racism and the many challenges that porters experienced on the job.