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Human Rights

Human rights are rights that we all have by virtue of our shared humanity. Depending on the nature of the right, both individuals and groups can assert human rights. The realization of human rights is a constant struggle on the part of people who suffer injustices and who seek redress.

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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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Nova Scotia and Confederation

Nova Scotia was one of the four founding provinces of Canada. It joined New Brunswick,  Ontario and Quebec in Confederation on 1 July 1867. However, this was mainly because Confederation delivered the Intercolonial Railway to the Maritimes, and because of the efforts of Sir Charles Tupper. His government passed approval for Confederation in the colonial legislature despite popular opposition. (See Confederation’s Opponents.) Confederation was met with mass protests in the colony. Joseph Howe led a two-year effort to repeal the union. (See Repeal Movement.) But Howe finally decided he could do more to help his province by working inside the federal government. He joined the federal Cabinet in 1869.

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Constitutional Act 1791

The Constitutional Act of 1791 was an Act of the British Parliament creating Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Although it was a first step towards Canadian Confederation, its rigid colonial structures also set the stage for rebellion in the two Canadas.

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The American Response to the Canadian Rebellions of 1837–38

By December 1837 and January 1838, rebels from Upper and Lower Canada had suffered heavy defeats at the hands of British and Loyalist forces. (See: Rebellion in Lower Canada; Rebellion in Upper Canada.) They fled to the United States to seek financial and military assistance. The American public was aware that there had been armed conflicts in the Canadas. Many were even initially supportive. However, the presence of Canadian rebels on American soil forced many to question American involvement. The growing tensions with Great Britain over the Caroline Affair complicated matters. The creation of the Republic of Texas and the fight over the abolition of slavery were also factors. In January 1838, US President Martin Van Buren took steps to ensure America’s neutrality in the Canadian rebellions.

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Charlottetown Conference

The Charlottetown Conference set Confederation in motion. It was held from 1–9 September 1864 in Charlottetown, with additional meetings the following week in Halifax, Saint John and Fredericton. The conference was organized by delegates from New BrunswickNova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to discuss the union of their three provinces. They were persuaded by a contingent from the Province of Canada, who were not originally on the guest list, to work toward the union of all the British North American colonies. The Charlottetown Conference was followed by the Quebec Conference (10–27 October 1864) and the London Conference (December 1886–March 1867). They culminated in Confederation on 1 July 1867.

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Quebec Act

Royal Assent on 22 June 1774 and put in effect on 1 May 1775, the Quebec Act (An Act for making more effectual Provision for the Government of the Province of Quebec in North America) revoked the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Contrary to the proclamation — which aimed to assimilate the French Canadian population — the Quebec Act was passed to gain the loyalty of the local French-speaking majority of the Province of Quebec. Based on the experiences of Governors James Murray and Guy Carleton, it, amongst other things, guaranteed the freedom of worship and restored French property rights. The Act, however, had dire consequences for Britain’s North American empire. Considered one of the five “Intolerable Acts,” the Quebec Act was one of the direct causes of the American Revolution. It was followed in 1791 with the Constitutional Act.

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Constitution Act, 1982

The Constitution Act, 1982 enshrined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution, and completed the unfinished business of Canadian independence — allowing Canadians to amend their own Constitution without requiring approval from Britain.

Editorial

Editorial: William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion in Upper Canada

At 8:00 p.m. on Monday, 4 December 1837, William Lyon Mackenzie set out by horse down Yonge Street to scout the route for his attack on Toronto. At the top of Gallows Hill (below St. Clair Ave.) he met Tory alderman John Powell, himself on patrol from the city. Mackenzie and his men took Powell prisoner. “Do you have a gun?” Mackenzie asked Powell. “No,” Powell replied. Mackenzie took his word as a gentleman and sent him back toward the rebel headquarters at Montgomery’s Tavern.

Editorial

Editorial: Baldwin, LaFontaine and Responsible Government

The BaldwinLaFontaine government of 1848 has been called the “great ministry.” In addition to establishing responsible government, it had an incomparable record of legislation. It established a public school system and finalized the founding of the University of Toronto. It set up municipal governments and pacified French-Canadian nationalism after a period of unrest. Responsible government did not transform Canada overnight into a fully developed democracy. But it was an important milestone along the road to political autonomy. Most importantly, it provided an opportunity for French Canadians to find a means for their survival through the British Constitution. The partnership and friendship between Baldwin and LaFontaine were brilliant examples of collaboration that have been all too rare in Canadian history.

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Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or simply the Charter, is the most visible and recognized part of the Canadian Constitution. The Charter guarantees the rights of individuals by enshrining those rights, and certain limits on them, in the highest law of the land. Since its enactment in 1982, the Charter has created a social and legal revolution in Canada, expanding the rights of minorities, transforming the nature of criminal investigations and prosecutions, and subjecting the will of Parliament and the legislatures to judicial scrutiny — an ongoing source of controversy.

Editorial

Editorial: The Charlottetown Conference of 1864 and the Persuasive Power of Champagne

On Monday, 29 August 1864, eight of 12 cabinet members from the government of the Province of Canada boarded the steamer Queen Victoria in Quebec City. They had heard that representatives of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI were meeting in Charlottetown to discuss a union of the Maritime colonies. (See Charlottetown Conference.) The Canadian officials hoped to crash the party. Their government was gripped in deadlock. Even old enemies such as John A. Macdonald and George Brown agreed that a new political arrangement was needed. As the Queen Victoria made its way slowly down the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Canadians frantically worked on their pitch.

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Dominion of Canada

Dominion of Canada is the country’s formal title, though it is rarely used. It was first applied to Canada at Confederation in 1867. It was also used in the formal titles of other countries in the British Commonwealth. Government institutions in Canada effectively stopped using the word Dominion by the early 1960s. The last hold-over was the term Dominion Day, which was officially changed to Canada Day in 1982. Today, the word Dominion is seldom used in either private or government circles.

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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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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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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.