Search for "Canadian identity"

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Dieppe Raid

During the Second World War, on 19 August 1942, the Allies launched a major raid on the French coastal port of Dieppe. Operation Jubilee was the first Canadian Army engagement in the European theatre of the war, designed to test the Allies' ability to launch amphibious assaults against Adolf Hitler's "Fortress Europe." The raid was a disaster: More than 900 Canadian soldiers were killed, and thousands more were wounded and taken prisoner. Despite the bloodshed, the raid provided valuable lessons for subsequent Allied amphibious assaults on Africa, Italy and Normandy.

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Representing the Home Front: The Women of the Canadian War Memorials Fund

While they may not have had access to the battlefields, a number of Canadian women artists made their mark on the visual culture of the First World War by representing the home front. First among these were the women affiliated with the Canadian War Memorials Fund, Canada’s first official war art program. Founded in 1916, the stated goal of the Fund was to provide “suitable Memorials in the form of Tablets, Oil-Paintings, etc. […], to the Canadian Heroes and Heroines in the War.” Expatriates Florence Carlyle and Caroline Armington participated in the program while overseas. Artists Henrietta Mabel May, Dorothy StevensFrances Loringand Florence Wyle were commissioned by the Fund to visually document the war effort in Canada.

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Canadian Music Hall of Fame

The Canadian Music Hall of Fame was established in 1978 by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS). It honours individuals or groups that have made an outstanding contribution to the international recognition of Canadian artists and music. For many years, a sole inductee was presented annually at the Juno Awards. Since 2019, multiple inductees have also been presented annually at a separate ceremony at the National Music Centre in Calgary.

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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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Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster

In the early morning of 6 July 2013, a runaway train hauling 72 tankers filled with crude oil derailed as it approached the centre of the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The tanker cars exploded and the oil caught fire, killing 47 people and destroying many buildings and other infrastructure in the town centre. The fourth deadliest railway disaster in Canadian history, the derailment led to changes in rail transport safety rules as well as legal action against the company and employees involved in the incident. Years after the derailment, re-building was still ongoing and many of the town’s residents continued to suffer from post-traumatic stress.

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NORAD

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was a pact made in 1957, at the height of the Cold War. It placed under joint command the air forces of Canada and the United States. Its name was later changed to the North American Aerospace Defense Command; but it kept the NORAD acronym. Canada and the US renewed NORAD in 2006, making the arrangement permanent. It is subject to review every four years, or at the request of either country. NORAD’s mission was also expanded into maritime warnings. The naval forces of the two countries remain under separate commands.

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Schitt’s Creek

One of the most acclaimed Canadian TV series of all time, Schitt’s Creek is a CBC sitcom about a wealthy family who loses their fortune and is forced to live in the fictional small town of the show’s name. Created by co-stars Daniel Levy and his father, Eugene Levy, the series is centred on the tension between the town’s down-to-earth residents and the ostentatious Rose family. In 2020, it won nine Primetime Emmy Awards and became the first comedy series ever to win all seven of the top awards: best comedy series, best lead and supporting actor and actress, and best writing and directing. It has also won two Golden Globes and 24 Canadian Screen Awards, including five for best actress in a comedy series (Catherine O’Hara) and three for best comedy series.

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Kim’s Convenience

Kim’s Convenience (2016–21) is a CBC TV sitcom about a Korean Canadian family that runs a convenience store in Toronto. Based on a 2011 play by Ins Choi, it was the first Canadian comedy series to star a primarily Asian Canadian cast. The acclaimed comedy explores the generational tension between immigrant parents and their Canadian-born children and was inspired by Choi’s experience growing up in a Korean family in Toronto. The show was an instant hit when it premiered on CBC in fall 2016; its first season averaged 933,000 viewers per episode. The series won eight Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Comedy Series in 2018. It also gained an international audience that year when it was made available on Netflix.

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Anne of Green Gables

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s first novel, Anne of Green Gables (1908), became an instant bestseller and has remained in print for more than a century, making the character of Anne Shirley a mythic icon of Canadian culture. The book has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide, been translated into at least 36 languages, as well as braille, and been adapted more than two dozen times in various mediums. A musical version first produced by the Charlottetown Festival in 1965 is the longest running annual musical theatre production in the world, while the award-winning 1985 CBC miniseries starring Megan Follows is the most-watched television program in Canadian history. Thousands of tourists visit Prince Edward Island each year to see the “sacred sites” related to the book, and the sale of Anne-related commodities such as souvenirs and dolls has come to constitute a cottage industry.

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Editorial: Canadian Art and the Great War

Canadian painting in the 19th century tended towards the pastoral. It depicted idyllic scenes of rural life and represented the country as a wondrous Eden. Canadian painter Homer Watson, under the influence of such American masters as Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt, created images that are serene and suffused with golden light. In On the Mohawk River (1878), for instance, a lazy river ambles between tall, overhanging trees; in the background is a light-struck mountain. In Watson’s world, nature is peaceful, unthreatening and perhaps even sacred.

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Chilliwack (band)

The Vancouver rock band Chilliwack produced some of the most enduring Canadian rock songs of the 1970s and early 1980s, including “Lonesome Mary,” “Fly at Night,” and “My Girl (Gone Gone Gone).” Their catchy, easygoing hooks and bright, melodic style were distinguished by the soaring falsetto and tasteful guitar playing of lead singer and principal songwriter Bill Henderson. In 18 years (1970–88), Chilliwack released 11 albums, four of which were certified platinum in Canada. They also had 19 Canadian singles. The band moved in an increasingly commercial direction through varying styles — from psychedelic, progressive and country rock to adult contemporary and pop rock. They endured multiple changes in labels and band members before achieving success in the United States. The band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2019.

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The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip have been called “the most Canadian band in the world” by the BBC. The New York Times described them as “the band that for many has come closest to defining [Canada]’s cultural identity.” Between 1987 and 2016, they cemented themselves as the most popular Canadian band ever — despite having limited success outside the country. Their records have sold over six million copies in Canada. Nine of the band’s 13 studio albums topped the Canadian sales chart. The Hip amassed 46 Juno Award nominations and 15 trophies, including three wins each for Entertainer of the Year, Group of the Year and Rock Album of the Year. They also received the Juno’s Humanitarian Award and were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame. After lead singer and songwriter Gord Downie announced he had terminal brain cancer in 2016, the band undertook a farewell tour that rivetted much of the country. Downie was named the Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year in 2016 and 2017 — the first entertainer to receive the honour.

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The Great Flag Debate

The long and often bitter debate over the new Canadian flag began in the House of Commons on 15 June 1964. It ended by closure on 15 December 1964. Feelings ran high among many English Canadians. Opposition leader John Diefenbaker demanded that the flag honour Canada’s “founding races” and feature the Union Jack. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson insisted on a design that conveyed allegiance to Canada while avoiding colonial association. A prolonged, heated debate ensued. Historian Rick Archbold described it as “among the ugliest in the House of Commons history.” The new flag, designed by George Stanley with final touches by graphic artist Jacques Saint-Cyr, was approved on 15 December 1964 by a vote of 163 to 78. The royal proclamation was signed by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 January 1965. The national flag was officially unfurled on 15 February 1965.

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Canadian Identity

The question of what it means to be a Canadian has been a difficult and much debated one. Some people see the question itself as central to that identity. Canadians have never reached a consensus on a single, unified conception of the country. Most notions of Canadian identity have shifted between the ideas of unity and plurality. They have emphasized either a vision of “one” Canada or a nation of “many” Canadas. A more recent view of Canadian identity sees it as marked by a combination of both unity and plurality. The pluralist approach sees compromise as the best response to the tensions — national, regional, ethnic, religious and political — that make up Canada.

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Crown Corporation

Crown corporations are wholly owned federal or provincial organizations that are structured like private or independent companies. They include enterprises such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), VIA Rail, Canada Post and the Bank of Canada; as well as various provincial electric utilities. Crown corporations have greater freedom from direct political control than government departments. As long as crown corporations have existed, there has been debate about their structure, accountability and role in the economy.

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British Columbia and Confederation

The colony of British Columbia was founded in 1858 in response to the Fraser River Gold Rush. (See also The Fraser River Gold Rush and the Founding of British Columbia.) The colony established representative government in 1864 and merged with the colony of Vancouver Island in 1866. In May 1868, Amor De Cosmos formed the Confederation League to bring responsible government to BC and to join Confederation. In September 1868, the Confederation League passed 37 resolutions outlining the terms for a union with the Dominion of Canada. The terms were passed by both the BC assembly and the federal Parliament in 1871. The colony joined Canada as the country’s sixth province on 20 July 1871. The threat of American annexation, embodied by the Alaska purchase of 1867, and the promise of a railway linking BC to the rest of Canada, were decisive factors.

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Chinese Head Tax in Canada

The Chinese head tax was enacted to restrict immigration after Chinese labour was no longer needed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Between 1885 and 1923, Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax to enter Canada. The tax was levied under the Chinese Immigration Act (1885). It was the first legislation in Canadian history to exclude immigration on the basis of ethnic background. With few exceptions, Chinese people had to pay at least $50 to come to Canada. The tax was later raised to $100, then to $500. During the 38 years the tax was in effect, around 82,000 Chinese immigrants paid nearly $23 million in tax. The head tax was removed with the passing of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923. Also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, it banned all Chinese immigrants until its repeal in 1947. In 2006, the federal government apologized for the head tax and its other racist immigration policies targeting Chinese people.