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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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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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Sir John A. Macdonald

Sir John Alexander Macdonald, first prime minister of Canada (1867–73, 1878–91), lawyer, businessman, politician, (born 10 or 11 Jan 1815 in Glasgow, Scotland; died 6 June 1891 in Ottawa). John Alexander Macdonald was the dominant creative mind which produced the British North America Act and the union of provinces which became Canada. As the first prime minister of Canada, he oversaw the expansion of the Dominion from sea to sea. His government dominated politics for a half century and set policy goals for future generations of political leaders.

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Peter Tomkins

Peter Tomkins Jr., Métis leader, political organizer, blacksmith (born 1 January 1899 in Poundmaker Reserve, SK; died June 1970 in High Prairie, AB). In the 1930s, he worked with Jim Brady and Malcolm Norris to build the Métis Association of Alberta (founded 1932, now the Métis Nation of Alberta) and the Indian Association of Alberta (1939). From health care to his work with the Métis settlements, Tomkins promoted improved living conditions for the Métis of Alberta and Saskatchewan. His diplomacy, lobbying and negotiating skills helped get the first Métis-specific legislation passed in Canada in 1938.

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Andrew Weaver

Andrew John Weaver, OBC, FRSC, climate scientist, leader of the BC Green Party 2015–20 (born 16 November 1961 in Victoria, BC). Andrew Weaver is a leading climate change researcher who made historic gains for the Green Party of British Columbia in his second career as a politician. In 2013, he was elected the province’s first Green MLA. In 2017, he led the Greens to three seats. After the 2017 election, he engineered a power-sharing deal with the BC New Democratic Party and toppled the Liberal government of Christy Clark to help John Horgan become premier.

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James McGill

James McGill, fur trader, merchant, politician, philanthropist (born 6 October 1744 in Glasgow, Scotland; died 19 December 1813 in Montreal, Lower Canada). James McGill was one of Montreal’s most prominent citizens in the 18th and early 19th centuries. He grew a successful career as a fur trader into a business empire. McGill also held various positions in public office, including three terms in Lower Canada’s legislature. His will contained the endowment for McGill University. James McGill’s achievements cannot be separated from the fact that he enslaved Black and Indigenous people and profited from this practice.

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McIvor Case

The McIvor v. Canada case was about gender discrimination in section 6 of the 1985 Indian Act, which deals with Indian status. Sharon McIvor — a woman who regained status rights after the passing of Bill C-31 in 1985 — was not able to pass on those rights to her descendants in the same way that a man with status could. In her case against the federal government, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that section 6 did, in fact, deny McIvor’s equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In response to this case, the federal government introduced new legislation (Bill C-3) in 2011 to counter gender discrimination in the Indian Act.

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Enfranchisement (Plain-Language Summary)

Throughout much of Canadian history, a First Nations person would lose their Indian status if they were enfranchised. An enfranchised person is someone who has the right to vote in elections. A First Nations person who is deemed a Status Indian has certain rights and benefits granted to them through the Indian Act.

(This article is a plain-language summary of Enfranchisement. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Enfranchisement).

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Plain-Language Summary)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) started working in 2008. It was a result of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRRSA). The IRRSA recognized the suffering and trauma experienced by Indigenous students at residential schools. It also provided financial compensation (money) to the students. The TRC performed many tasks. It created a national research centre. It collected documents from churches and government. It held events where students told their stories. Also, it did research about residential schools and issued a final report. (See also Reconciliation in Canada.)

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Gerald Stanley Case

On 9 February 2018, Gerald Stanley, a white farmer in rural Saskatchewan, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in the killing of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man. The acquittal caused great controversy but was not appealed by prosecutors. However, it led the Justin Trudeau government to abolish peremptory challenges, which allowed Stanley’s legal team to keep five Indigenous people off the all-white jury that acquitted him. In 2021, an investigation conducted by a civilian watchdog concluded that that the RCMP was insensitive and racially discriminatory toward Boushie’s mother, and that the police mishandled witnesses and evidence. A Globe and Mail investigation also found that the RCMP “destroyed records of police communications from the night Colten Boushie died.”

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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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Vivienne Poy

Vivienne May Poy (née Lee), fashion designer, author, philanthropist, entrepreneur, senator (born 15 May 1941 in Hong Kong). Vivienne Poy is a fashion designer who founded Vivienne Poy Mode in 1981. In 1998, she became the first Canadian of Asian descent to be appointed to the Senate. She is an accomplished author and publisher of histories and biographies. She was also governor of McGill University and chancellor of the University of Toronto, and played a key role in founding Asian Heritage Month in Canada.

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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.

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Agnes Macphail

Agnes Campbell Macphail, politician, reformer (born 24 March 1890 in Proton Township, Grey County, ON; died 13 February 1954 in Toronto, ON). Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1921–40) and was one of the first two women elected to the Ontario legislature (1943–45, 1948–51). She was also the first female member of a Canadian delegation to the League of Nations. Macphail was a founding member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the forerunner of the New Democratic Party). She was a noted pacifist and an advocate for prison reform. As a member of the Ontario legislature, she championed Ontario’s first equal pay legislation (1951).

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Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain, cartographer, explorer, colonial administrator, author (born circa 1567 in Brouage, France; died 25 December 1635 in Quebec City). Known as the “Father of New France,” Samuel de Champlain played a major role in establishing New France from 1603 to 1635. He is also credited with founding Quebec City in 1608. He explored the Atlantic coastline (in Acadia), the Canadian interior and the Great Lakes region. He also helped found French colonies in Acadia and at Trois-Rivières, and he established friendly relations and alliances with many First Nations, including the Montagnais, the Huron, the Odawa and the Nipissing. For many years, he was the chief person responsible for administrating the colony of New France. Champlain published four books as well as several maps of North America. His works are the only written account of New France at the beginning of the 17th century.

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Louise McKinney

Louise McKinney (née Crummy), Alberta MLA (1917–21), women’s rights activist, lay preacher (born 22 September 1868 in Frankville, ON; died 10 July 1931 in Claresholm, AB). Louise McKinney was the first woman elected to a legislature in Canada and in the British Empire. She was a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and a devout Methodist and prohibitionist. She was a pioneer suffragist and one of the Famous Five behind the Persons Case, the successful campaign to have women declared persons in the eyes of British law. She was also instrumental in passing Alberta’s Dower Act in 1917. However, her views on immigration and eugenics have been criticized as racist and elitist. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1939 and an honorary senator in 2009.

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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.