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Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada

Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada (MMIWG) refers to a human rights crisis that has only recently become a topic of discussion within national media. Indigenous women and communities, women’s groups and international organizations have long called for action into the high and disproportionate rates of violence and the appalling numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Prior to the launch of the national public inquiry on 8 December 2015, these calls were continually ignored by the federal government. Described by some as a hidden crisis, Dawn Lavell-Harvard, former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, refers to MMIWG as a national tragedy and a national shame. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada supported the call for a national public inquiry into the disproportionate victimization of Indigenous women and girls. The National Inquiry’s Final Report was completed and presented to the public on 3 June 2019.

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Residential Schools in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

In the early 1600s, Catholic nuns and priests established the first residential schools in Canada. In 1883, these schools began to receive funding from the federal government. That year, the Government of Canada officially authorized the creation of the residential school system. The main goal of the system was to assimilate Indigenous children into white, Christian society. (See also Inuit Experiences at Residential School and Métis Experiences at Residential School.)

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

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Peasant Farm Policy

From 1889 to 1897, the Canadian government’s Peasant Farm Policy set limits on Indigenous agriculture on the Prairies. The policy included rules about the types of tools First Nations farmers could use on reserve lands. It also restricted how much they grew and what they could sell. The Peasant Farm Policy was built on the belief that Indigenous farmers had to gradually evolve into modern farmers. It also reduced these farmers’ ability to compete with settlers on the open market. The policy ultimately impeded the growth and development of First Nations farms. As a result, First Nations never realized their agricultural potential.

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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.

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Smallpox in Canada

Smallpox is an infectious disease caused by the variola virus. The disease arrived in what is now Canada with French settlers in the early 17th century. Indigenous people had no immunity to smallpox, resulting in devastating infection and death rates. In 1768, arm-to-arm inoculation became more widely practised in North America. By 1800, advances in vaccination helped control the spread of smallpox. Public health efforts also reduced rates of infection. In the 20th century, Canadian scientists helped the World Health Organization eradicate smallpox. Eradication was achieved in 1979, but virus stocks still exist for research and safety reasons.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Wartime Elections Act

The Wartime Elections Act of 1917 gave the vote to female relatives of Canadian soldiers serving overseas in the First World War. It also took the vote away from many Canadians who had immigrated from “enemy” countries. The Act was passed by Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Conservative government in an attempt to gain votes in the 1917 election. It ended up costing the Conservatives support among certain groups for years to come. The Act has a contentious legacy. It granted many women the right to vote, but it also legitimized in law many anti-immigrant sentiments.

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Territorial Government in Canada

Under Canada’s federal system, the powers of government are shared between the federal government, provincial governments and territorial governments. The territories — Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon — are governed by their respective governments. They receive their legislative authority (the ability to create laws) from the federal government. Ottawa has given territorial governments authority over public education, health and social services; as well as the administration of justice and municipal government. More and more of these powers have been handed down from the federal government in a process called devolution. Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada is the federal ministry responsible for the territories.

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Three Day Road

Joseph Boyden’s first novel, Three Day Road, made him one of Canada’s most prominent writers of fiction. It won multiple awards and drew attention to an overlooked aspect of Canada’s history, namely the role Indigenous people played in Canada’s military history. Inspired by the story of Anishnaabe First World War sniper Francis Pegahmagabow, Three Day Road follows a wounded soldier’s journey home. The novel parallels the death that hangs over the battlefields of the First World War with the destruction of traditional Indigenous cultures. The book won the McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award.

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Propaganda in Canada

Propaganda refers to messaging that aims to spread or “propagate” an ideology or worldview. Psychologists have described propaganda as “manipulative persuasion in the service of an agenda” or communications that “induce the individual to follow non-rational emotional drives.” During the First World War, propaganda was used to recruit soldiers and supporters. The Second World War saw it take a dark turn toward using outright lies to spread hateful ideologies and practices. (See also Fake News a.k.a. Disinformation.) During the Cold War, governments in the West and East used propaganda to try to spread the ideologies of capitalism and democracy, or communism and the Soviet Union. Today, propaganda is most often found on social media; it is used to marshal support for, or opposition to, various political, economic and social movements.

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Women's Memorial March

The Women’s Memorial March (WMM) is held every year on 14 February, Valentine’s Day, in cities across Canada and the United States. The WMM started in 1992 in Vancouver, BC, following the murder of Indigenous woman Cheryl Ann Joe. The first Women’s Memorial March began as a small memorial for Joe, but grew to become an annual march to honour all missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The Vancouver march draws thousands of people, while women’s memorial marches have spread to more than 20 cities across Canada and the United States.

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Lower Canada

Lower Canada was a British colony from 1791 to 1840. Its geographical boundaries comprised the southern portion of present-day Quebec. In 1791, Britain divided the Province of Quebec into Upper Canada and Lower Canada. (See: Constitutional Act 1791.) Britain had followed a similar policy of territorial division twice before. Prince Edward Island was detached from Nova Scotia in 1769. The provinces of Cape Breton and New Brunswick were created in 1784 in response to the wave of Loyalist immigration (which also occurred in Quebec). In 1841, Upper Canada and Lower Canada were renamed Canada West and Canada East, respectively. They were united as the single colony of the Province of Canada.

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Peace, Order and Good Government

“Peace, order and good government” is a phrase that is used in section 91 of the British North America Act of 1867 (now called the Constitution Act, 1867). It offers a vague and broad definition of the Canadian Parliament’s lawmaking authority over provincial matters. Since Confederation, it has caused tensions between federal and provincial governments over the distribution of powers. The phrase has also taken on a value of its own with Canadians beyond its constitutional purpose. It has come to be seen as the Canadian counterpart to the American “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and the French “liberty, equality, fraternity.”

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Fraser Canyon War

The Fraser Canyon War (a.k.a. the “Fraser River War” and the “miners’ war”) was a war waged by mainly white American gold miners against the Nlaka’pamux Indigenous people of the Fraser Canyon in the summer of 1858. The war began when the miners, arriving as part of the Fraser River Gold Rush in June 1858, perceived scattered Nlaka’pamux attacks in defense of their territories as a coordinated effort to drive them by force from their claims. Driven by a hunger for gold and a sense of entitlement to Indigenous peoples’ territories and resources, American miners formed military companies and carried out violent attacks on Nlaka’pamux communities. The war ended on 21 August 1858, when the Nlaka’pamux and miners called a truce. Under threat of further violence, the Nlaka’pamux agreed to grant miners access to their territories and resources, bringing the immediate conflict to a close. The conflict bears resemblance to the Chilcotin War of 1864, another Indigenous-newcomer conflict in the colonial history of British Columbia.

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Ukrainian Internment in Canada

Canada’s first national internment operations took place during the First World War, between 1914 and 1920. More than 8,500 men, along with some women and children, were interned by the Canadian government, which acted under the authority of the War Measures Act. Most internees were recent immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman empires, and mainly from the western Ukrainian regions of Galicia and Bukovyna. Some were Canadian-born or naturalized British subjects. They were held in 24 receiving stations and internment camps across the country — from Nanaimo, BC, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Many were used as labour in the country’s frontier wilderness. Personal wealth and property were confiscated and much of it was never returned.

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Manitoba and Confederation

Canada’s fifth province, Manitoba entered Confederation with the passing of the Manitoba Acton 12 May 1870. The AssiniboineDakotaCree and Dene peoples had occupied the land for up to 15,000 years. Since 1670, it was part of Rupert’s Landand was controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Canadian government purchased Rupert’s Land at the behest of William McDougall, Manitoba’s Father of Confederation. No residents of the area were consulted about the transfer; in response, Louis Rieland the Métis led the Red River Rebellion. It resulted in an agreement to join Confederation. Ottawa agreed to help fund the new provincial government, give roughly 1.4 million acres of land to the Métis, and grant the province four seats in Parliament. However, Canada mismanaged its promise to guarantee the Métis their land rights. The resulting North-West Rebellion in 1885 led to the execution of Riel. The creation of Manitoba — which, unlike the first four provinces, did not control its natural resources — revealed Ottawa’s desire to control western development.

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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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Confederation's Opponents

Opposition to Confederation has existed since a union of British North Americancolonies was first proposed in the late 1840s. In the eastern parts of the country, opponents generally feared that Confederation would strip power from the provincesand hand it to the federal government; or that it would lead to higher taxes and military conscription. Many of these opponents ultimately gave up and even served in the Canadian government. In the West, Indigenous peoples in the Red River Colonywere never asked if they wanted to join Confederation. Fearing for their culture and land rights under Canadian control, they mounted a five-month insurgency against the government. Many Quebec nationalistshave long sought to separate from Confederation, either through the extreme measures of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), or through referenda in 1980 and 1995.