Search for "South Asian Canadians"

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Forbidden City

William Bell’s historical novel Forbidden City (1990) tells the story of Alex, a teenager who accompanies his father on a trip to Beijing, China. Alex’s initial excitement at exploring the history of the city turns to horror when he becomes trapped near the Forbidden City during the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The most popular novel of Bell’s career, Forbidden City was published in 11 countries and eight languages. Reviewers praised its depiction of the on-the-ground reality of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The novel received Ontario’s Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award, the Ontario School Librarians Association Award and the Belgium Award for Excellence.  

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Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was a secret network of abolitionists (people who wanted to abolish slavery). They helped African Americans escape from enslavement in the American South to free Northern states or to Canada. The Underground Railroad was the largest anti-slavery freedom movement in North America. It brought between 30,000 and 40,000 fugitives to British North America (now Canada).

This is the full-length entry about the Underground Railroad. For a plain language summary, please see The Underground Railroad (Plain-Language Summary).

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Chinese Immigration Act

The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, known also as the Chinese Exclusion Act, banned the entry of virtually all Chinese immigrants for 24 years. Although migration into Canada from most countries was controlled or restricted in some way, only Chinese people were singled out completely from entering on the basis of race. The four exceptions to the exclusion were students, merchants (excluding laundry, restaurant and retail operators), diplomats and Canadian-born Chinese returning from education in China. The limit on absence from Canada was two years, and the consequence for not returning on time was being barred re-entry. Additionally, every person of Chinese descent, whether Canadian-born or naturalized, was required to register for an identity card within 12 months. The penalty for noncompliance was imprisonment or a fine of up to $500. Though the Act was repealed in 1947, immigration restrictions on the basis of race and national origin were not fully scrubbed until 1967.

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Fred Christie Case (Christie v York)

The Fred Christie Case (Christie v York, 1939) is a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that allowed private businesses to discriminate on the basis of freedom of commerce. In July 1936, Fred Christie and two friends went to the York Tavern attached to the Montreal Forum to have a beer. The staff refused to serve them because Christie was Black. Christie sued, eventually bringing his case to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the York Tavern was within its rights to refuse to serve people on the basis of race. The case reveals an era of legalized racism, while its facts hide the subtle ways that racism operated in early 20th-century Canada.

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Alessia Cara

Alessia Caracciolo, singer, songwriter (born 11 July 1996 in Brampton, Ontario). Alessia Cara is a pop music singer-songwriter. She has sold more than 11 million records in the United States and more than 285,000 in Canada since debuting in 2015. She is perhaps best known for her songs “Here” and “Scars to Your Beautiful.” She was named the Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the 2016 Juno Awards and the Best New Artist at the 2018 Grammy Awards. Her debut album Know-It-All (2015) won the 2017 Juno Award for Pop Album of the Year. Her album The Pains of Growing (2018) earned her 2020 Juno Awards for Album of the Year, Pop Album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. Cara has also won a SOCAN Award, two MTV Video Music Awards and three Canadian Radio Music Awards.

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St. Paul

St. Paul, Alberta, incorporated as a town in 1936, population 5,827 (2016 census), 5,405 (2011 census). The town of St. Paul, county seat for the county of St. Paul, is located on the north shore of Upper Thérien Lake, about 200 km northeast of Edmonton.

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Denham Jolly

Brandeis Denham Jolly, C.M., teacher, entrepreneur, publisher, broadcaster, philanthropist, civil rights activist, community leader (born 26 August 1935 in Industry Cove, Jamaica). Jolly began his business career by purchasing and operating rooming houses and nursing homes. He later purchased and became the publisher of Contrast, a Black community newspaper in Toronto and established FLOW 93.5, the first Black-owned radio station and the first station in Canada to showcase Black music and the stories of the Black community. Jolly also was involved with or founded and led community groups — such as the Black Action Defence Committee — that sought to end police violence targeting young Black men. Jolly also contributed generously to several causes including scholarships for promising young Black Canadians.

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John Ware

John Ware, cowboy, rancher (born c. 1845–50 in the United States; died 11 September 1905 near Brooks, AB). John Ware is legendary in the history of Alberta for his strength and horsemanship. Born enslaved, he became a successful rancher who settled near Calgary and Brooks. He was widely admired as one of the best cowboys in the West, even at a time of widespread anti-Black racism and discrimination.

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Lui Passaglia

Lui Passaglia, football player (born 7 June 1954 in Vancouver, BC). Lui Passaglia is regarded as one of the best kickers in Canadian Football League (CFL) history. He played 25 straight seasons with the BC Lions (1976–2000) and won three Grey Cups (1985, 1994, 2000). He holds both the CFL and professional football record for most points scored (3,991). He is also the CFL’s all-time leader in seasons, games played (408), field goals made (875) and converts made (1,045). He has been inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Museum, the BC Football Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. His No. 5 has been retired by the Lions, with whom he works as a community relations ambassador.

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David Suzuki

David Takayoshi Suzuki, CC, OBC, geneticist, broadcaster, environmental activist (born 24 March 1936 in Vancouver, BC). A Canadian of Japanese parentage, Suzuki was interned with his family during the Second World War and later became one of Canada’s most popular scientists and media personalities. He is known for his career as a broadcaster (including the CBC TV series The Nature of Things) as well as his work as an environmental activist.

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Hide Hyodo Shimizu

Hide Shimizu (née Hyodo), CM, educator, activist (born 11 May 1908 in Vancouver, BC; died 22 August 1999 in Nepean, ON). The daughter of Japanese immigrants, Shimizu was instrumental in organizing education for interned Japanese Canadian children in British Columbia during the Second World War. For this, she was awarded the Order of Canada in 1982. She was also an activist, lobbying the Canadian government for the enfranchisement of Japanese Canadians in the 1930s and, in the 1980s, for redress for the suffering and loss of interned Japanese Canadians.

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Black Canadians

Black people have lived in Canada since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement. Although historically very few have arrived directly from their ancestral homeland in the continent of Africa, the term "African Canadian" became increasingly popular in the 1990s to identify all descendants of Africa regardless of their place of birth.

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Frank Bing Wong (Primary Source)

Frank Bing Wong was a Chinese Canadian corporal in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. From 1942 to 1946, Wong served in the North West Europe campaign. Learn all about Wong’s experiences as he recalls the sights of battle and the impact that the Liberation of the Netherlands had on the Canadian war effort.

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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Rose Johnstone

Rose Mamelak Johnstone, FRSC, biochemist (born 14 May 1928 in Lodz, Poland; died 3 July 2009 in Montreal, QC). Rose Johnstone is best known for her discovery of exosomes, a key development in the field of cell biology. These tiniest of structures originating in all cells of the human body are vehicles that transport proteins, lipids and RNA from one cell to another. A pioneer of women in science, Johnstone was the first woman to hold the Gilman Cheney Chair in Biochemistry and the first and only woman chair of the Department of Biochemistry in McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine.

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Marshall Chow (Primary Source)

Marshall Chow served as a wireless operator during the Second World War. Initially refused entry into the Air Force because he was Chinese Canadian, Chow was later stationed overseas with the Canadian Army from 1941 to 1945. Read and listen to Chow describe his battles against prejudice and the horrors on the frontlines.

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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Edith Clayton

Edith Clayton (née Drummond), basket weaver (born 6 September 1920 in Cherry Brook, NS; died 8 October 1989 in East Preston, NS). Using dyes from the Mi’kmaq community and a style that originated in Africa, Edith Clayton weaved traditional baskets that were admired across Canada and around the world. She was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977. Her baskets were prominently displayed at the Canadian pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver. In 1989, she was featured in a National Film Board film titled Black Mother Black Daughter.

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Bessie Starkman

Besha (Bessie) Starkman (Perri), organized crime boss (born 14 April 1889 or 21 June 1890 in Poland; died 13 August 1930 in Hamilton, ON). During the Prohibition era she became known as Canada’s first high-profile female crime boss. With her common-law spouse, mobster Rocco Perri, she ran a bootlegging and drug-smuggling enterprise. Starkman was gunned down in the garage of her home and her murderers were never caught. Her funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Hamilton.

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