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Canadian Armed Forces

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is the military arm of the federal government. Its role is to defend Canada’s security, interests and values and to contribute to international peace and security. There are 68,000 Regular Force and 27,000 Reserve Force members in the CAF, which includes the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force. Members of these three services can also be assigned to different commands, including Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC), Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). The CAF is supported by 24,000 DND civilians, who are not part of the CAF.

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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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NORAD

The North American Air Defense Agreement (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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Documenting the Second World War

When Canada declared war on Germany on 10 September 1939, tens of thousands of Canadians enlisted to serve in the armynavyair force and supporting services. The military scrambled to buy equipment, train recruits and prepare for war. Little thought was given, at first, to documenting the war effort. By 1940, however, the military was recruiting historians, most notably Charles Stacey, to collect records and write accounts of Canadian operations. In the following years, artists, photographers and filmmakers also served with the various branches of the armed forces. Today, their diligent work provides a rich visual and written catalogue of Canada’s history in the Second World War.

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Ross Rifle

In the early 20th Century, the Ross rifle, a Canadian-made infantry rifle, was produced as an alternative to the British-made Lee-Enfield rifle. The Ross rifle was used during the First World War, where it gained a reputation as an unreliable weapon among Canadian soldiers. By 1916, the Ross had been mostly replaced by the Lee-Enfield.

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Transportation

The importance of transportation to a trading nation as vast as Canada cannot be underestimated. The great distances between mines, farms, forests and urban centres make efficient transport systems essential to the economy so that natural and manufactured goods can move freely through domestic and international markets. Transportation has and will continue to play an important role in the social and political unity of 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 Aviation Disasters

There have been many tragic events in Canada’s aviation history. Some of these have involved Canadian aircraft, commercial as well as non-commercial. In other cases, many Canadians have died in the crash of a non-Canadian aircraft. Crashes that occurred over Canadian soil, or search and rescue efforts in which Canadians have played a large part, are also part of this history.

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Berger Commission

In 1974, the federal government formed a royal commission to consider two proposals for natural gas pipelines in the North. Thomas Berger, a judge, led the inquiry. Over the next two years, the Berger Commission assessed the potential impacts of the proposed pipelines. Berger held formal and informal hearings. These included 45 community hearings from the Northwest Territories and Yukon to Southern Canada. His 1977 report made several recommendations. He called for further study and the settlement of Indigenous land claims. He also called for a 10-year ban on pipeline construction in the Mackenzie Valley. Berger opposed building any pipeline across the sensitive caribou habitat of the northern Yukon. The Berger Commission involved the public and included Indigenous views more than any resource-related consultation had done before in Canada.

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

Editorial

Flag of Canada: Alternate Designs

national flag is a simple, effective way of identifying a country and expressing its collective will and sovereignty. Its symbolism should be expansive, representing perspectives from across the country. But it should also be singular, offering a picture of unity. For almost a century, Canada did not fly a flag of its own. There were instead the Union Jack and the Canadian Red Ensign. They took turns flying above Parliament. But neither was distinctly Canadian, nor permanent. The issue of a new flag was raised in Parliament in 1925 and again in 1945. It was dropped both times due to a lack of consent. Some clung to tradition, and none could agree on a unifying symbol. When Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson re-opened the debate in 1964, he offered Canadians the chance to “say proudly to the world and to the future: ‘I stand for Canada.’” A joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons was assembled to decide on a suitable design. After months of vigorous debate, the final design was unfurled at Parliament Hill on 15 February 1965. The design process was open to the public. Thousands of suggestions were submitted. This article looks at 12 of those designs. It includes explanations for the symbols found in each. The designs express a vision for Canada, still young and still finding its mode of self-expression.

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Quebec Act, 1774

The Quebec Act received royal assent on 22 June 1774. It revoked the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which had aimed to assimilate the French-Canadian population under English rule. The Quebec Act was put into effect on 1 May 1775. It was passed to gain the loyalty of the French-speaking majority of the Province of Quebec. Based on recommendations from Governors James Murray and Guy Carleton, the Act guaranteed the freedom of worship and restored French property rights. However, the Act had dire consequences for Britain’s North American empire. Considered one of the five “Intolerable Acts” by the Thirteen American Colonies, the Quebec Act was one of the direct causes of the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). It was followed by the Constitutional Act in 1791.

This is the full-length entry about the Quebec Act of 1774. For a plain language summary, please see The Quebec Act, 1774 (Plain-Language Summary).

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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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Acceleration

Acceleration is a thriller about teenage slackers in Toronto who track down a mysterious psychopath. The mystery by Canadian author Graham McNamee was first published in hardcover by Wendy Lamb Books in 2003. It was released in paperback by Ember in 2012. Acceleration won a prestigious Edgar Award as best young adult mystery from the Mystery Writers of America, as well as an Arthur Ellis Award for excellence in Canadian crime writing from the Crime Writers of Canada. It was also included in the “Best Books for Young Adults” list compiled by the American Library Association in 2004.

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Life of Pi

Yann Martel’s third novel, Life of Pi (2001), follows protagonist Piscine “Pi” Patel on a journey of survival after the cargo ship carrying him and his family sinks in the Pacific Ocean. As the lone survivor, Pi spends 227 days on a lifeboat in the company of a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The fantasy-adventure novel explores the tensions between spirituality and practicality, and between reason and imagination. It also raises questions about the nature of stories. The international bestseller gained Martel global recognition and won a number of awards and accolades, including the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. The 2012 film adaptation, written by David Magee and directed by Ang Lee, grossed more than US$600 million worldwide and won four Academy Awards.

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Bloc populaire canadien

The Bloc populaire canadien is an anti-conscription and nationalist political party of the 1940s. The party participated in federal elections and in Quebec provincial elections. The Bloc received some minor electoral successes, but, by 1948, its influence had drastically diminished and the party faded away.

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Shattered

Eric Walters’s young adult novel Shattered (2006) tells the story of Ian Blackburn. He is shaken out of his privileged life when he meets Jack, a homeless veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. A member of the failed United Nations peacekeeping mission to Rwanda, Jack introduces Ian to some of humanity’s darkest moments. Shattered received the 2007 Ontario Library Association’s White Pine Award for best Canadian children’s book and the 2007 National Chapter of Canada International Order of the Daughters of Empire Violet Downey Book Award.

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Crow Lake

Crow Lake is the debut novel by Mary Lawson, a Canadian-born author who lives in Britain. Set in a fictional community in Northern Ontario, Crow Lake tells the story of four children who are orphaned after their parents are killed in a traffic accident. Published in 2002, the novel was a best-seller in Canada and the United States. It has been published in more than two dozen countries and in several languages. It won the Books in Canada First Novel Award (now the Amazon.com First Novel Award) in 2003, as well as the McKitterick Prize for a first novel published in the United Kingdom by an author older than 40. In 2010, CBC Radio listeners selected Crow Lake as one of the Top 40 essential Canadian novels of the decade. It was also listed as one of 150 books to read for Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations in 2017.

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Crabbe

William Bell’s first novel, Crabbe (1986), tells the story of a disaffected teenager who escapes to the wilderness, only to learn that running away will not solve his problems. Crabbe has become a popular choice for school curricula across North America. A 2017 study found that it was among the 20 most-cited books in Ontario classrooms. It was one of only three Canadian books on the list, along with Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. The literary quarterly Canadian Literature attributed the book’s longevity to its “convincing narrative voice” and “precisely observed sense of detail.”

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