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Abortion in Canada

Abortion is the premature ending of a pregnancy. Inducing an abortion was a crime in Canada until 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law as unconstitutional. Since then, abortion has been legal at any stage in a woman’s pregnancy. Abortion is publicly funded as a medical procedure under the Canada Health Act. (See Health Policy.) However, access to abortion services differs across the country. Despite its legalization, abortion remains one of the most divisive political issues of our time.

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Rep by Pop

Representation by population is a political system in which seats in a legislature are allocated on the basis of population. It upholds a basic principle of parliamentary democracy that all votes should be counted equally. Representation by population was a deeply divisive issue among politicians in the Province of Canada (1841–67). Nicknamed “rep by pop,” it became an important consideration in the lead up to Confederation. (See also: Representative Government; Responsible Government.)

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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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Saskatchewan Bill of Rights

The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights came into force on 1 May 1947. Written primarily by lawyer and human rights advocate Morris Shumiatcher, it was enacted by the CCF government led by Premier Tommy Douglas. While critics have debated its efficacy, it remains important because it was Canada’s first bill of rights; it predated the Canadian Bill of Rights (1960), Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (1975) and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).

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Goaltender Masks

The first goaltender to wear a mask in an organized ice hockey game was Elizabeth Graham of Queen’s University in 1927. The first National Hockey League (NHL) goalie to wear a mask full-time was Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens; he wore a face-hugging fibreglass mask created by Bill Burchmore beginning in 1959. The construction and design of goalie masks gradually improved to include a caged section over the eyes and nose. This hybrid-style fibreglass mask was adapted for use in baseball by Toronto Blue Jays catcher Charlie O’Brien in 1996. However, concerns have arisen over the safety of goalie masks and goalie-style catcher masks, particularly their ability to protect against concussions.

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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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Francis William Godon (Primary Source)

Francis William Godon was only 19 years old when he first served with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles during the Second World War. As an anti-tank gunner, the young Métis soldier was one of 14,000 Canadians who invaded Normandy on 6 June 1944. Read and listen to Godon’s first-hand account of the horrors of that day and the important role the Allies’ victory played.

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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Morris Pearlman (Primary Source)

Morris Pearlman was a captain in the Royal Canadian Dental Corps during the Second World War. He served in various prisoner of war camps in Canada. Learn how Pearlman, a Jewish dental officer, set aside resentment and hostility as he treated German POWs.

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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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 Citizenship

Canadian citizenship was first created in 1947 by the Canadian Citizenship Act. Today's version of the law says both Canadian-born and naturalized citizens are equally entitled to the rights of a citizen, and subject to the duties of a citizen. In 2014, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act brought about the first significant amendments to the Citizenship Act since 1977. However, these changes were repealed or amended by legislation passed in 2017.

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Canadian Electoral System

Electoral systems are methods of choosing political representatives. (See also Political Campaigning in Canada.) Elections in Canada use a first-past-the-post system, whereby the candidate that wins the most votes in a constituency is selected to represent that riding. Elections are governed by an elaborate series of laws and a well-developed administrative apparatus. They occur at the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels. Canada’s federal election system is governed by the Canada Elections Act. It is administered by the Chief Electoral Officer. Provincial election systems, governed by provincial election acts, are similar to the federal system; they differ slightly from each other in important details. Federal and provincial campaigns — and that of Yukon — are party contests in which candidates represent political parties. Municipal campaigns — and those of Northwest Territories and Nunavut — are contested by individuals, not by parties.

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Political Participation in Canada

Canadians participate in the political system any time they voluntarily try to influence the outcome of an election, or a government or party policy. This can be done in various ways, from voting to campaigning for a political cause to running for political office. The highest turnout rate for a federal election was 79.4 per cent in 1958. Voter turnout in Canada declined in the 1990s and 2000s, reaching 58.8 per cent in 2008. The numbers then began trending upwards, reaching 68.3 per cent in 2015 and 67 per cent in 2019. Women, who gained the right to vote federally in 1918, vote at slightly higher rates than men. Older citizens are more politically active than younger ones, although voting among people age 18 to 34 increased sharply between 2011 and 2019.

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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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Political Party Financing in Canada

The financial activities of political parties in Canada were largely unregulated until the Election Expenses Act was passed in 1974. Canada now has an extensive regime regulating federal political party financing; both during and outside of election periods. Such regulation encourages greater transparency of political party activities. It also ensures a fair electoral arena that limits the advantages of those with more money. Political parties and candidates are funded both privately and publicly. Election finance laws govern how parties and candidates are funded; as well as the ways in which they can spend money. (See also Canadian Electoral System.)

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Internment in Canada

Internment is the forcible confinement or detention of a person during wartime. Large-scale internment operations were carried out by the Canadian government during the First World War and the Second World War. In both cases, the War Measures Act was invoked. This gave the government the authority to deny people’s civil liberties, notably habeas corpus (the right to a fair trial before detention). People were held in camps across the country. More than 8,500 people were interned during the First World War and as many as 24,000 during the Second World War — including some 12,000 Japanese Canadians.

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Canadian Human Rights Act

The Canadian Human Rights Act, created in 1977, is designed to ensure equality of opportunity. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex and a variety of other categories. The Act produced two human rights bodies: the Canadian Human Rights Commission and, through a 1985 amendment, the Human Rights Tribunal Panel (it became the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 1998). Decisions of both the Commission and the Tribunal can be appealed to the Federal Court of Canada. Unlike the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provides Canadians with a broad range of rights, the Canadian Human Rights Act covers only equality rights. It also governs only federal jurisdictions. Each province and territory in Canada has its own human rights legislation, which apply to local entities such as schools and hospitals.

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Right to Vote in Canada

The term franchise denotes the right to vote in elections for members of Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipal councils. The Canadian franchise dates from the mid-18th-century colonial period. At that time, restrictions effectively limited the right to vote to male property holders. Since then, voting qualifications and the categories of eligible voters have expanded according to jurisdiction. These changes reflect the evolution of Canada’s social values and constitutional requirements.

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Massey Commission

The Massey Commission was formally known as the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences. It was officially appointed by Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent on 8 April 1949. Its purpose was to investigate the state of arts and culture in Canada. Vincent Massey chaired the Commission. It issued its landmark report, the Massey Report, on 1 June 1951. The report advocated for the federal funding of a wide range of cultural activities. It also made a series of recommendations that resulted in the founding of the National Library of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada), the creation of the Canada Council for the Arts, federal aid for universities, and the conservation of Canada’s historic places, among other initiatives. The recommendations that were made by the Massey Report, and enacted by the federal government, are generally seen as the first major steps to nurture, preserve and promote Canadian culture.