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Thomas D'Arcy McGee

Thomas D’Arcy McGee, journalist, politician, poet (born 13 April 1825 in Carlingford, County Louth, Republic of Ireland; died 7 April 1868 in Ottawa, ON). Thomas D’Arcy McGee was dedicated to the cause of Irish national liberation. This pushed him towards revolutionary anti-British doctrine in his early years. However, he matured to become a staunch defender of British constitutional monarchy and a Father of Confederation. He was an advocate for minority rights at a time when the politics of ethnic and religious identity were intensely fraught. He was an incredibly eloquent public speaker and a passionate advocate for Canadian interests. However, his political transformation ultimately damaged his popularity with Irish nationalists, particularly the Fenians. He was assassinated in 1868.

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Palbinder Kaur Shergill

Palbinder Kaur Shergill, QC, judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in New Westminster (born in Rurka Kalan, Punjab, India). Shergill spent 26 years practising law before she was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. She was the first turbaned Sikh woman to be appointed as a judge in Canada.

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Sir George-Étienne Cartier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier, co-premier of the Province of Canada, lawyer, railway promoter, politician (born 6 September 1814 in Saint-Antoine, Lower Canada; died 20 May 1873 in London, England). Sir George-Étienne Cartier dominated the politics of Quebec for a generation. After rebelling against the government in the Rebellions of 1837–38, Cartier served as Canada’s first minister of militia and defence. Arguably the kingpin of Confederation, he was responsible for bringing French Canada, Manitoba and British Columbia into the Dominion. He also negotiated the purchase of Rupert’s Land and the North-West Territories from the Hudson’s Bay Company. He is considered a Father of Confederation.

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R.B. Bennett

Richard Bedford Bennett, 1st Viscount Bennett of Mickleham, Calgary and Hopewell, businessman, lawyer, politician, philanthropist, prime minister of Canada 7 August 1930 to 23 October 1935 (born 3 July 1870 in Hopewell Hill, NB; died 26 June 1947 in Mickleham, England). R.B. Bennett is perhaps best remembered for his highly criticized response to the Great Depression, as well as the subsequent unemployment relief camps and the On to Ottawa Trek and Regina Riot. However, he also created the Bank of Canada, the Canadian Wheat Board and the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, which became the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also oversaw Canada’s signing of the Statute of Westminster. For his service during the Second World War, he was appointed to Britain’s House of Lords and became Viscount Bennett of Mickleham, Calgary and Hopewell.

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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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Jean Chrétien

Joseph-Jacques Jean Chrétien, CC, PC, OM, QC, prime minister of Canada 1993–2003, lawyer, author, politician (born 11 January 1934 in Shawinigan, QC). Lawyer and longtime parliamentarian Jean Chrétien was Canada’s 20th prime minister. Early in his political career, Chrétien helped negotiate the patriation of the Canadian constitution as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Prime Minister, he led the federal government to its first surplus in nearly 30 years. However, his administration also presided over a costly sponsorship program in Quebec that sparked one of the worst political scandals of modern times. His government committed Canadian forces to the Kosovo conflict (1999) and to the war in Afghanistan (beginning in 2002). Chrétien publicly refused to provide direct support for the subsequent American war in Iraq. The recipient of numerous honours and awards, he is involved in several international organizations dedicated to peace, democracy and other global concerns.

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Albert Johnson, “The Mad Trapper of Rat River”

Albert Johnson, also known as the “Mad Trapper,” outlaw (born circa 1890–1900, place of birth unknown; died 17 February 1932 in Yukon). On 31 December 1931, an RCMP constable investigating a complaint about traplines was shot and seriously wounded by a trapper living west of Fort McPherson, NT. The ensuing manhunt — one of the largest in Canadian history — lasted 48 days and covered 240 km in temperatures averaging -40°C. Before it was over, a second policeman was badly wounded and another killed. The killer, tentatively but never positively identified as Albert Johnson, was so skilled at survival that the police had to employ bush pilot Wilfrid “Wop” May to track him. The Trapper’s extraordinary flight from the police across sub-Arctic terrain in the dead of winter captured the attention of the nation and earned him the title “The Mad Trapper of Rat River.” No motive for Johnson’s crimes has ever been established, and his identity remains a mystery.

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Prime Minister of Canada

The prime minister (PM) is the head of the federal government. It is the most powerful position in Canadian politics. Prime ministers are not specifically elected to the position; instead, the PM is typically the leader of the party that has the most seats in the House of Commons. The prime minister controls the governing party and speaks for it; names senators and senior judges for appointment; and appoints and dismisses all members of Cabinet. As chair of Cabinet, the PM controls its agenda and greatly influences the activities and priorities of Parliament. In recent years, a debate has emerged about the growing power of prime ministers, and whether this threatens other democratic institutions.

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William Lyon Mackenzie King

William Lyon Mackenzie King, prime minister of Canada 1921–26, 1926–30 and 1935–48 (born 17 December 1874 in Berlin [Kitchener], ON; died 22 July 1950 in Kingsmere, QC). William Lyon Mackenzie King was the dominant political figure in an era of major changes. He was leader of the Liberal Party from 1919 to 1948, and Prime Minister of Canada for almost 22 of those years. King was Canada’s longest-serving prime minister. He steered Canada through industrialization, much of the Great Depression, and the Second World War. By the time he left office, Canada had achieved greater independence from Britain and a stronger international voice. It had also implemented policies such as employment insurance.

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Patriation of the Constitution

In 1982, Canada fully broke from its colonial past and “patriated” its Constitution. It transferred the country’s highest law, the British North America Act (which was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867), from the authority of the British Parliament to Canada’s federal and provincial legislatures. The Constitution was also updated with a new amending formula and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These changes occurred after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country.

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Stephen Harper

Stephen Joseph Harper, CCPCprime minister of Canada 2006–15, politician, author, economist (born 30 April 1959 in Toronto, ON). Stephen Harper is Canada’s longest-serving Conservative prime minister since Sir John A. Macdonald. He helped found the Reform Party and served as head of the National Citizens Coalition and leader of the Canadian Alliance Party. He then transformed the country’s political landscape by uniting the previously divided right into the Conservative Party of Canada. He led the CPC to three consecutive election wins before being defeated in 2015 and resigning as party leader. Harper’s adherence to a brand of ideologically-pure conservatism resulted in what the Globe and Mail called “Canada’s first ever truly Conservative government.” He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in December 2019.

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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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George Brown

George Brown, journalist, politician, senator, cattle breeder (born 29 November 1818 in Alloa, Scotland; died 9 May 1880 in Toronto, ON). George Brown played an instrumental role in Confederation. A Reformer who helped bring responsible government to Upper Canada, he orchestrated the great coalition of 1864, which pushed British North America toward Confederation. He participated in the Charlottetown Conference and the Quebec Conference in 1864 and is considered a Father of Confederation. Brown’s journalistic legacy is also significant. His Globe newspaper ushered in the beginning of Canada’s big newspaper business. The widely read Globe was a vigorous force in Upper Canada politics in the 1850s. Today, it is Canada’s major daily newspaper, the Globe and Mail.

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Fathers of Confederation

Thirty-six men are traditionally regarded as the Fathers of Confederation. They represented the British North American colonies at one or more of the conferences that led to Confederation and the creation of the Dominion of Canada. These meetings included the Charlottetown Conference (September 1864), the Quebec Conference (October 1864) and the London Conference (December 1866 to March 1867). Beyond the original 36 men, the subject of who should be included among the Fathers of Confederation has been a matter of some debate. The definition can be expanded to include those who were instrumental in the creation of Manitoba, bringing British Columbia and Newfoundland into Confederation, and the creation of Nunavut. (See also  Fathers of Confederation: Table.)

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John Humphrey

John Thomas Peters Humphrey, OC, lawyer, diplomat, scholar (born 30 April 1905 in Hampton, NB; died 14 Mar 1995 in Montreal, QC). John Humphrey was the director of the United Nations Human Rights Division from 1946 to 1966. He was instrumental in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. He also taught law and briefly served as dean at McGill University. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1974 and received the United Nations Prize for human rights advocacy in 1988.

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Sir Ambrose Shea

Sir Ambrose Shea, diplomat, politician, businessman, newspaperman (born c. 1815 in St. John’s, Newfoundland; died 30 July 1905 in London, England). Sir Ambrose Shea was one of the most influential Newfoundland politicians of the 19th century. He served in the colony’s House of Assembly for 34 years, including six as Speaker. He was a key player in both Liberal and Conservative administrations, having crossed the floor twice. A skilled orator and diplomat, he was admired for his attempts to mend political divisions between Catholics and  Protestants, and for his promotion of the island’s economic development. His enthusiastic support for Confederation following the Quebec Conference in 1864 hurt his career in Newfoundland, as Confederation did not gain popularity there until the mid-20th century. He is nevertheless considered a Father of Confederation. He also served as governor of the Bahamas.

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Gertrude Guerin

Gertrude Guerin (née Ettershank; traditional name Klaw-law-we-leth; also known as “Old War Horse”), chief, politician, community advocate, elder (born 26 March 1917 on the Mission Reserve in North Vancouver, BC; died 25 January 1998). Guerin, born into the Squamish First Nation (see Central Coast Salish), was a fierce protector of Indigenous people and culture. She represented the Musqueam nation locally as an elected chief, and on the national stage in challenges to Canadian jurisdiction over traditional Musqueam territory (see Coast Salish).

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Governor General of Canada

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. As such, there is a clear division between the head of state and the head of government. The head of government is the prime minister, an elected political leader. The head of state is the Canadian monarch; their duties are carried out by the governor general, who acts as the representative of the Crown — currently Elizabeth II — in Canada. (Lieutenant-Governors fulfill a similar role in provincial governments.) The governor general has extensive ceremonial duties. They also fulfill an important role in upholding the traditions of Parliament and other democratic institutions. Canada’s most recent governor general was Julie Payette. Following her resignation on 21 January 2021, the chief justice of the  Supreme Court of Canada, Richard Wagner, assumed the responsibilities of the office until a replacement could be confirmed.