Thinking about moments that matter

Over the course of the Winter 2018 semester, students in HIST 203 (Canadian History Since 1867) have critically engaged with how we think about significance and history in the context of national narratives dominated by notions of progress and improvement. The results are below. Each of these “Moments that Matter” has been selected and curated based on criteria developed by the students themselves. The context and significance of each moment is elaborated in the descriptions provided in individual blog posts. The result is a complex and multi-layered assessment of history in Canada that challenges how we think of “significance” as historians and as citizens of the world.

The Great Canadian Flag Debate


Image result for canadian flag


The introduction of the current Canadian flag on February 15, 1965 is a moment which has a great deal of importance for the trajectory of Canadian history. The flag, as one of the foremost symbols of a country, generally serves to promote national pride and unity. Therefore, the adoption of new one is a rare chance for people to come together behind their shared values.

However, in the years leading up to 1965, Canadians were more often than not divided when it came to their vision of the flag ought to look like. This blog post examines the postwar context in which the flag debate took place, the circumstances of the actual moment, and the lasting significance of the change on Canadian history. While much has been made in Canadian historiography of the country’s Anglophone and Francophone “two solitudes,” relatively little attention has been devoted to how the flag — itself a seemingly-superficial object — fit into those narratives of linguistic and cultural confrontation.


In the years after World War II, Canadians wrestled with the challenge of coming into their own as a country. Though the war-as-independence narrative is in many ways overwrought, it remains that Canadians began to see themselves as a distinct nation through their involvement in the conflict, and their emergence from it as a bona fide middle power.

One of the first arenas in which Canadians began to fully assert their independence in the postwar period was international trade. Initially, the conventional wisdom among political and economic decision-makers was that maintaining close ties with the United States was the best way for Canada to ensure its future prosperity. By 1955, with the full support of the government, foreign investment in Canada had more than doubled since the start of the war, to $13.5 billion annually.[1] However, many were soon put off by American excesses, such as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s infamous anti-communist crusade.[2]

Consequently, when a royal commission on the country’s future “economic prospects” was convened by the Liberal government in 1956, its chair, a staunch nationalist by the name of Walter L. Gordon, devoted a great deal of time to warning about what he saw as the dangers of too much “foreign ownership” of Canadian resources and industries.[3] Traditional economists scoffed, but newspaper editorials raved when the commission’s report recommended that the government require foreign firms to employ more Canadians, or face steep tariffs.[4] While little actually came of the text, Gordon did successfully provoke the country into thinking more critically about how to cultivate an identity apart from its larger neighbours.

The same year Gordon sent the country into a frenzy over foreign ownership, Canada also split heavily from Britain in the Suez Crisis. The Crisis began when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser moved to nationalize the Suez Canal, a key link in the shipping lanes between Europe and Asia. In retaliation, Britain and France invaded Egypt. The Soviet Union supported Nasser, while the United States, fearing a nuclear war, tried and failed to convince the British to back off.

Amid the escalation, and with a rift forming in the Anglo-American alliance, then-Foreign Minister Lester B. Pearson of Canada found an opening. In a marked contrast to its former colonial master, Pearson’s Canada led a successful campaign to deploy an international peacekeeping force to the region. The United Nations approved the mission, Canadian troops were sent in, and, under great international pressure, the deeply-humbled British were forced to withdraw. For his efforts, Pearson took home the Nobel Peace Prize the next year, and was later elected Prime Minister in 1963.

During the 1963 campaign, Pearson promised to, among other things, introduce a new flag for Canada within two years, in plenty of time for the country’s centennial. Pearson’s interest in the flag arose during the 1956 Crisis, when Nasser expressed concern about the presence of Canadian peacekeepers partly because the Canadian flags on their uniforms incorporated the British union jack.[5]


This first Canadian flag, commonly known as the Red Ensign, was made up of a solid red field with the union jack in the top left. On the right was a shield incorporating the symbols of each province, which became more and more cluttered as new provinces joined confederation and individual flag makers added their own embellishments.[6] Though the design was eventually standardized by the 1950s, Pearson was nonetheless convinced by his experience in the Suez Crisis that Canada needed to start from scratch if it wanted to be seen as a state in its own right, and not just a British colonial outpost.

After winning the 1963 election, Pearson formed a parliamentary committee to consider new designs. A previous foray into the flag discussion in the 1940s had produced over 2,600 public submissions of potential designs, but none were ever adopted in the face of substantial opposition.[7] This time around, too, Pearson faced blowback from John Diefenbaker, his predecessor as prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party. Under Diefenbaker, the Conservatives held that there was nothing wrong with the Red Ensign. Many Anglophone Canadians, especially in older generations, felt great attachment to an idealized version of Canada that was distinctly British-flavoured. They saw no need to distance the country from what they saw was its rightful place as part of a “family” of nations of British descent. Diefenbaker argued that there were far more serious matters to attend to, and that changing the flag would furthermore be a slap in the face to the veterans who had fought under it during both World Wars.[8]

Nevertheless, Pearson was able to eventually build a consensus, even among Conservatives, around what a potential new flag should include, by tapping into the fact that “World War II created an impulse of national pride among Canadians” writ large.[9] The parliamentary committee resolved that any new design would have to use the country’s official colours of red and white (as adopted in 1921), and a maple leaf or leaves as a national symbol, thus avoiding the division that might be caused by the retention of the British union jack or the addition of a French fleur-de-lys.[10] These developments were frequently unpopular among various segments of the population — from Anglophiles to Quebec nationalists —- but eventually, the committee finalized its proposal of a red maple leaf on a white background, with two red bars to the sides. After a heated debate in the full House of Commons, Parliament adopted the committee proposal over keeping the Red Ensign. In a ceremony in Ottawa on February 15, 1965, the new flag was raised for the first time to the tune of “O Canada.”


In his speech at the ceremony, Pearson triumphantly proclaimed, “If our nation, by God’s grace, endures a thousand years, this day… will always be remembered as a milestone in Canada’s national progress.”[11] Pearson felt so strongly about the flag because he gauged that without it, the country was at risk of breaking apart entirely. The 1960s were in particular a time of great social tumult in the province of Quebec, and separatist sentiment there was growing as discontent with the status quo brewed. Canada, “perhaps without being fully conscious of the fact,” was in the midst of a great and prolonged crisis.[12]

Pearson’s opening of the flag question initially fueled the Quebec nationalist movement, because “the very assumptions of confederation were now being questioned.”[13] Many were distrustful and viewed the flag as merely a further imposition of the will of the Anglophone majority, especially when the incorporation of a fleur-de-lys was ruled out. In La Presse, Guy Cormier wrote that “Pearson’s appeal for unity is a wish, it is not a reality. It is less than a reality. Things first come into existence, then the symbols they represent are created. Mr. Pearson is proceeding by means of artificial insemination.”[14]

Nonetheless, Pearson believed that it was more important to give Quebecers a flag they could fly that would, at the very least, not remind them of their place as a minority in a sea of English-speakers. And to placate Anglophone war veterans, Pearson ensured that, at the flag-raising ceremony, they could see that he was wearing his World War I medals, as “a reminder that he was one of them.”[15]

Missing, however, from historical coverage and analysis of this moment is the input of Canada’s Indigenous populations. From the outset, “the proposed flag’s distinctiveness derived from the absence of all marks of Canada’s two founding races, French and English.”[16] The exclusion may have worked for Pearson at the time, but the entire notion of the French and English being the country’s “two founding races” sorely erases the existence of Indigenous people from Canadian history. Furthermore, the very foundation of Quebec nationalism in the context of the flag debate — the notion that Quebecers are subjugated by the Anglophone majority — neglects the fact that Indigenous people have faced oppression, discrimination, and cultural genocide under both regimes.


Over fifty years later, Canada has kept its iconic maple leaf flag, while debates over Quebec separation have come and gone without the breakup of the country. Though the country’s constitution remains a sore spot, and Indigenous people remain severely disenfranchised, neither of these have led to a serious rethinking of the flag itself, or many other Canadian symbols. History has, to say the least, not been the most charitable to Guy Cormier’s view that one cannot create a design and then give it meaning. While the Canadian flag may be distinguished by its utter lack of official significance, around the world, Canada’s flag is among its most recognizable calling cards. It is precisely because it eschews traditional English or French iconography that the flag has become attached to an idea of an unfailingly polite and tolerant “Canadianness” that transcends the country’s linguistic divides. Around the world, Canada is — rightly or wrongly — lauded as a model of a modern, progressive society, and is often cited as the “world’s most admired country.”




Albinski, Henry S. “Politics and Biculturalism in Canada: The Flag Debate” In Australian Journal of Politics and History vol. 13, no. 2. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1967. pp. 169-188.

Azzi, Stephen. Walter Gordon and the Rise of Canadian Nationalism. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1999.

English, John. The Worldly Years: The Life of Lester Pearson, 1949-1972. Toronto: Vintage, 1993.

Fraser, Alistair B. “A Canadian Flag for Canada.” In Journal of Canadian Studies vol. 25, no. 4. Peterborough, Ont.: Trent University Press, 1990. pp. 64-81.

Government of Canada. “History of the National Flag of Canada.” In Canadian Heritage. Accessed at

Levine, Allan. “The Great Flag Debate.” In Canada’s History, February-March 2015. Accessed at


[1] Stephen Azzi, Walter Gordon and the Rise of Canadian Nationalism, (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1999), p. 35.

[2] Ibid., p. 36.

[3] Ibid., p. 42.

[4] Ibid., p. 51.

[5] John English, The Worldly Years: The Life of Lester Pearson, 1949-1972, (Toronto: Vintage, 1993), p. 140.

[6] Government of Canada, “History of the National Flag of Canada,” in Canadian Heritage. Accessed at

[7] Ibid.

[8] Allan Levine, “The Great Flag Debate,” in Canada’s History, February-March 2015. Accessed at

[9] Henry S. Albinski, “Politics and Biculturalism in Canada: The Flag Debate,” in Australian Journal of Politics and History vol. 13, no. 2, (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1967), p. 170.

[10] Levine, “The Great Flag Debate.”

[11] Albinski, “Politics and Biculturalism in Canada,” p. 169.

[12] Albinski, “Politics and Biculturalism in Canada,”

[13] Ibid., p. 172.

[14] Ibid., p. 174.

[15] Levine, “The Great Flag Debate.”

[16] Albinski, “Politics and Biculturalism in Canada,” p. 170.

The Creation of the Cirque du Soleil


Cirque du Soleil is among the most prominent spectacles that come to mind for many Canadians when thinking of the most famous live performance entertainment companies in Canadian history. For this, and several other reasons, the creation of the Cirque du Soleil is arguably a moment that matters in Canada. Since Cirque du Soleil’s creation in a small town near Quebec City by a group of Canadian street performers, thousands of artists have worked with the circus to perform spectacles filled with Canadian art. However, Cirque du Soleil does not only play a significant role in Canadian art and culture, but is also a world-renowned circus that performs internationally. Since its advent in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has produced over 30 shows that have been performed in over 25 different countries.[i] Consequently, Cirque du Soleil is a piece of Canadian culture that has been seen by over 15 million people worldwide.[ii] The creation of Cirque du Soleil is a significant historical moment for Canada, and continues to bear national importance as it evolves and expands today. Cirque du Soleil is a part of Canadian history that deals with nationalism and political tensions, however, has a primary focus on the public’s enjoyment of Canadian art and culture.


Cirque du Soleil’s creation in Quebec was a lengthy process that inevitably formed a distinct culture. Before the 1950s, culture was not a priority for Quebec, however, this changed with the rise of Quebec nationalism when citizens perceived a need to affirm their differences with the rest of English Canada and the United States in the south.[iii] The government decided that if they were to create an independent Quebec, they also needed to create a distinct culture and to help with identity formation.[iv] Arts and culture were areas that were not considered very organized or economically beneficial.[v] Nevertheless, throughout the 1950s, the Quebec government started to help the province’s cultural revival by investing in it: they gave money to help many projects in art, architecture, theatre, and other areas to create a cultural identity in Quebec.[vi] With the help of the government of Quebec, culture began to be more lucrative and expansive across the Canadian nation as well.

Furthermore, Quebec did not have a circus culture before the creation of the Cirque du Soleil.[vii] When circuses did tours in Canada, they were mainly troops from the United States.[viii] These American circuses were what could be considered traditional circuses: shows with different kinds of performers like acrobats and clowns.[ix] The shows also featured animals that did numbers, such as elephants, lions, and tigers.[x] A traditional circus’ goals were to create wonder for audiences with acts they were not used to seeing in their daily lives. This traditional circus was exceptionally popular among children.[xi] However, Quebec did not have any circus schools like Europe did, so it was difficult to develop a Quebec circus culture when people did not have a place to learn it.[xii] Thus, circus culture in Quebec did not develop until the 1980s. However, even though Quebec had no concrete circus tradition, there was a type of circus culture found in street performers who did small numbers to entertain passersby.[xiii] They did several different numbers such as juggling, walk on stilts, or eat fire.[xiv] In places with more tourism in Quebec, like the Old Port of Montreal or Old Quebec City, it is still possible to see street performers entertaining visitors. While there was not a solid traditional travelling circus such as the United States, Quebec street performers nevertheless had their own small-scale impact of a cultural initiative in Canada with influences from abroad.


Cirque du Soleil first performed on July 16th, 1984.[xv] The Cirque’s origins, however, began several years earlier. In order to obtain a full picture of how Quebec’s internationally renowned circus began, one must first look at the early life of its founder, Guy Laliberté. Laliberté’s interest in show business began at the age of 16, when he began touring with the travelling folk-music group, La Grande Gueule.[xvi] Laliberté’s early introduction to the travelling life of an aspiring musician led him to Paris, where he claims that “street performers and folk musicians were kind of on the same circuit.”[xvii] Laliberté’s encounters with street performers in France led him to take an interest and pursue new forms of performance, such as fire-breathing. In 1979, Guy Laliberté returned to Quebec with his newfound skills, where he met the biggest influence for the creation of his Cirque du Soleil.

Upon his return, Laliberté found work as an entertainer at Le Balcon Vert, a youth hostel in Baie-Saint-Paul, run by a stilt performer named Gilles Ste-Croix. After working together for the summer season, the two became quite close. Ste-Croix, after seeing how successful the summer had been, introduced the idea of organising a troupe of theatre performers on stilts to Guy Laliberté, and Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul was formed.[xviii] The advent and success of Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul eventually led to Laliberté’s idea for the creation of the Cirque du Soleil. The two performers were fortunate; at the time – in the early 1980 – the Quebec government was offering funding for expressions of Quebecois culture. In order to secure funding and make a name for their troupe, Laliberté convinced Ste-Croix to walk from Baie-Saint-Paul to Quebec City – a journey of fifty-six miles.[xix] The stunt made provincial headlines, and a photo of Ste-Croix in his costume was published on the front page of Le Soleil (figure 1). The stunt was successful, and the troupe secured funding from the government, and their initial success fueled Guy Laliberté’s imagination; the young performer began to develop the idea of creating a “homegrown circus”.[xx]

Figure 1

In 1984, the Quebec government was celebrating the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada, where Laliberté and his troupe performed. The success of Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul won the performers further funding from the provincial government; Laliberté and Ste-Croix were provided $30 000 to produce the concept for a Quebec circus,[xxi] and the Cirque du Soleil was born, originally as a travelling circus under the name Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil.

Despite difficulties and conflict which arose due to the inexperience of all those involved, the Cirque was extremely popular, and finished their first year with $60 000 in profits. While they qualified as a success, $60 000 was not enough to fund another year of performances. However, their popularity won them further funding from the government, largely due to René Lévesque, who was Premier at the time. Lévesque was a big fan of Cirque du Soleil’s work, and “twisted a few arms”[xxii] in order to get Laliberté the funding he needed to continue. The extra funding came with the added bonus of allowing the Cirque to function as a legitimate circus, performing shows without needing to tour the province. The string of early successes and popularity continued to allow Laliberté and his colleagues to push the boundaries of traditional concepts of circus acts, and the Cirque du Soleil eventually grew into the world-renowned company that it is today.


The creation of the Cirque du Soleil is significant in the sense that its development and international success had cultural, economic, and political consequences, either within Canada or outside. There are multiple cultural ramifications from Cirque du Soleil’s impact. The company performs their shows on all continents, and not only recruits their artists from Quebec and Canada, but also from other countries.[xxiii] The vast expansion of Cirque du Soleil created a new demand for artists mastering various circus skills, and enabled people to continue pursuing this artistic career. Furthermore, the image of the circus was transformed with Cirque du Soleil’s approach, as they did not incorporate animals in their shows, as was traditionally done, but still achieved tremendous success.[xxiv] It is then undeniable that the Cirque du Soleil has had a worldwide impact in changing the face of previous cultural activity in the circus, which enhanced its popularity. Both the governments of Quebec and Canada gave grants to Cirque du Soleil during its early stages.[xxv] The province and nation equally saw Cirque du Soleil as a way to showcase their assets to the world. Nonetheless, the circus was generally more affiliated with the distinct culture of Quebec than that of Canada.[xxvi] In addition to the grants, the province sought to strengthen the link between its own cultural identity and company by allowing the Cirque du Soleil to represent the nation on the world stage.[xxvii] However, the company’s worldwide success is partly because its shows are not associated with any particular country; even its language is an imaginary one. In fact, the Cirque says they are citizens of the “imagi-nation.”[xxviii] Although by early 2014 more than 100 million people saw shows of the Cirque du Soleil,[xxix] it is erroneous to say that the spectators specifically witnessed Quebec’s or Canada’s culture. Nonetheless, the spectators’ awareness of the circus, its French name and origin has an international cultural significance.

Additionally, the creation of Cirque du Soleil and its growth had political and economic consequences. The circus’ first show in 1984 was only a couple of years prior to Quebec’s second referendum for independence, in 1995.[xxx] As the distinctiveness of Quebec’s culture was a clear cause and argument for its nationalist tendencies,[xxxi] the Cirque du Soleil and its success played key a role in the separatist rhetoric. In fact, between 1984 and 1994, Quebec and Canada made big investments of 5 million dollars to the company.[xxxii] Furthermore, the provincial government kept giving smaller grants to the company even when it did not need them anymore, in order to keep a link with the Cirque.[xxxiii] In return, Cirque du Soleil contributed to Canadian employment. As of 2013, the Cirque employed 2000 people in the city and possessed various offices.[xxxiv] The company also had international economic impacts, and also hired numerous employees and performers globally.[xxxv] In other words, the foundation of the Cirque du Soleil is significant because of the worldwide cultural impact that reformed the circus, and brought awareness to its distinct cultural identity within Canada. Its significance also lies in the political role being factor of tension between the governments over the issues of jurisdiction and sovereignty, and an economic role by giving jobs to many people within Canada and abroad.


The creation of the Cirque du Soleil was a provincial endeavour that expanded into a global triumph. Although political tensions allowed for uneasiness in cementing a cultural identity both provincially and nationally, chaos eventually flourished into Guy Laliberté’s vision of a lively entertainment possibility that would be comprehensive across the globe. The question of a transnational image for Canada was presented through Cirque du Soleil’s grassroots start-up in Quebec, as well as the international stage they would entertain on. As a testament to the importance and utmost significance of the company’s cultural and artistic form, the Cirque cultivated influences from abroad, and ultimately fostered a vibrant identity that many Canadians can be proud of. The creation of the Cirque du Soleil is a moment that matters through the contribution of building national and cultural identities, solidifying a Canadian genre of entertainment, and bringing together circus enthusiasts politically, economically, and culturally.

[i] Cirque du Soleil. “Shows by Cirque du Soleil,” Cirque du Soleil (2017). Accessed April 4, 2018.


[iii] Deborah Leslie and Norma M. Rantisi, “Creativity and Place in the Evolution of a Cultural Industry: the Case of Cirque du Soleil,” UrbanStudies 48, no.9 (July 2011): 1778.

[iv] Leslie and Rantisi, “Creativity and Place in the Evolution of a Cultural Industry,” 1778.

[v] Jean David, Quel Cirque! Ma Théorie Générale de la Réalité (Quebec city : Un monde différent ltée, 2005), 47.

[vi] Leslie and Rantisi, “Creativity and Place in the Evolution of a Cultural Industry,” 1779.

[vii] Leslie and Rantisi, “Creativity and Place in the Evolution of a Cultural Industry,” 1772.

[viii] David, Quel Cirque! 41.

[ix] Ibid., 42.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid., 43.

[xii] Leslie and Rantisi, “Creativity and Place in the Evolution of a Cultural Industry,” 1776.

[xiii] Ibid., 1777.

[xiv] David, Quel Cirque! 30.

[xv] Babinski, Tony. Cirque Du Soleil: 20 Years under the Sun. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2004), 9.

[xvi] Ibid., 18.

[xvii] Ibid., 24.

[xviii] Ibid., 25.

[xix] Ibid., 28.

[xx] Ibid., 44.

[xxi] Ibid., 51.

[xxii] Ibid., 55.

[xxiii] Issam A. Ghazzawi et al. “Cirque du Soleil: An Innovative Culture of Entertainment,” Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies 20, no. 6 (2014): 31.

[xxiv] Deborah Leslie, and Norma M. Rantisi, “Creativity and Place in the Evolution of a Cultural Society: the Case of Cirque du Soleil,” Urban Studies 48, no. 9 (2011): 1772.

[xxv] Jennifer Harvie, and Erin Hurley, “States of Play: Locating Québec in the Performances of Robert Lepage, Ex Machina, and the Cirque du Soleil,” Theatre Journal 51, no. 3 (1999): 303. 25068678

[xxvi] Deborah Leslie, and Norma M. Rantisi, “Creativity and Place in the Evolution of a Cultural Society: the Case of Cirque du Soleil,” Urban Studies 48, no. 9 (2011): 1780-1781.

[xxvii] Harvie, “States of Play” 302.

[xxviii] Leslie, “Creativity and Place,”1772.

[xxix] Ghazzawi, “Innovative Culture of Entertainment,” 31.

[xxx] Harvie, “States of Play” 301.

[xxxi] Ibid., 300.

[xxxii] Ibid., 303.

[xxxiii] Leslie, “Creativity and Place,”1781.

[xxxiv] Ghazzawi, “Innovative Culture of Entertainment,” 31.

[xxxv] Ibid.

The Establishment of the Canadian Space Agency


In November 2018, astronaut David Saint-Jacques is expected to begin a six-month mission on the International Space Station (or the ISS), making him the tenth Canadian citizen in space.[1] Canada’s early participation in the space community gained the public spotlight on October 4 1957, when scientist John Chapman was among the first scientists to record signals sent by Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite to reach orbit.[2] Since that time, Canada has sent two state-of-the-art robotic arms (Canadarm and Canadarm2) and many other scientific instruments into space, launched countless satellites, and continues to contribute to ISS activities in various other ways.

Although not as old as its American and Russian counterparts, the Canadian Space Agency (or the CSA), which law established in 1990, is the organization leading Canada’s activities in space.[3] This essay argues that the establishment of the CSA marks a significant event in the nation’s history by the importance of its endeavour and by the benefits it provides. Participation on the ISS through the CSA helped Canada develop long-term international relationships with countries like the United States, Russia, and the nations of the European Union. The space sector also provides many direct economic benefits such as 24,000 jobs in 2015.[4]  The CSA also represents an investment in the economic opportunities presented by telecommunications, and by potentially lucrative activities such as asteroid mining.[5] The establishment of a government organisation representing Canada’s space activities helps advance the country’s contributions to academia and scientific knowledge, formalizes its commitment to space research and generates public inspiration to explore the final frontier.


Canada’s interest in space exploration began long before the official establishment of the Canadian Space Agency in 1990, despite it marking a significant milestone. In fact, historical records demonstrate that the Canadian government supported space research dating to the 1930s, as funding was granted for “rocketry and upper atmosphere exploration”.[6] Such explorations were reinforced after the Second World War by the National Research Council (or the NRC) to enhance space inquiry and solidify data on post-war science policy.  After the dissolution of the NRC, Canada’s Defence Research Board (or the DRB) maintained all Canadian affairs in relation to space. Contrary to the NRC, the DRB had new objectives to fulfill. For instance, the board played as a mediator between the Canadian armed services and the civil community. In addition, with the fear of the Cold War approaching, the Canadian government increased its involvement in the development of rockets and space programs designed for defence.[7]

The Canadian government continued to be heavily involved in space exploration in the 1950s and 1960s. For instance, in September 1962, Canada launched its first satellite, the Alouette. Although the nation experienced early success, the Canadian government nevertheless struggled to implement an official space policy. As a solution, the Royal Commission on Government Organization suggested the creation of a single space agency, as it was clear that the outcome of the Canadian space program was rewarding.[8] While the idea of a single space agency appeared to be an adequate solution at the time, a new problem arose: how to manage such an ambitious and significant project. Consequently, Telesat Canada and ICS were established in 1969, to supervise satellite communications and administer departmental involvement.[9]

In 1974, under the Minister of State for Science and Technology, the very first space policy was initiated in the House of Commons which stated four features: (a) “the use of space applications had to contribute directly to the achievement of established national goals”, (b) “the policy ensured the growth of the Canadian space industry by moving government space research into industry in accordance with a ‘Make or Buy’ policy”, (c) “the policy directed that Canada’s satellite systems must be designed, developed, and constructed in Canadian industry”, and (d) “the policy directed the improvement of domestic space industry to meet domestic needs while continuing to rely on foreign launch services”.[10] Nonetheless, the 1974 space policy did not clearly define or describe national goals, nor did it promote international collaboration. Despite this, the 1974 space policy indicated a civil and domestic interest which altogether initiated further ideas for the Canadian space industry.[11]

Description of the Moment

The CSA was established by the Canadian Space Agency Act, which received Royal Assent on May 10 1990 and came into force on December 14 1990.[12] Andrew B. Godefroy claims that the CSA was created to have a single government body responsible for all future Canadian space exploration.[13] He states that John Larkin Kerwin, who was a renowned physicist, was its first president.[14]

Image of the first President of the CSA John Larkin Kerwin : Godefroy, Andrew B. 2017. The Canadian Space Program: From Black Brant to the International Space Station, p.182

John Larkin Kerwin had previously served as President of the National Research Council of Canada from 1980 to 1985, notes Godefroy, and at the time of his election, he served as President of the Canadian Academy of Engineers, a non-profit organization that provided consultation on engineering matters of national importance.[15] Godefroy explains that for a number of reasons, the federal government decided to build the headquarters of the Canadian Space Agency in St. Hubert, near Montreal, which officially opened on March 1 1989.[16] Karl Doetsch points out that the government Space Station Program Office, therefore, needed to be moved from Ottawa to Montreal in mid-program.[17]

The Canadian Space Agency Act states the objects of the CSA are “to promote the peaceful use and development of space, to advance the knowledge of space through science and to ensure that space science and technology provide social and economic benefits for Canadians”.[18] The Act declares that the essential functions of the CSA will be to (a) “assist the Minister to coordinate the space policies and programs of the Government of Canada”, (b) “plan, direct, manage and implement programs and projects relating to scientific or industrial space research and development and the application of space technology”, (c) “promote the transfer and diffusion of space technology to and throughout Canadian industry”, (d) “encourage commercial exploitation of space capabilities, technology, facilities and systems”, and (e) “perform such other functions as the Governor in Council may, by order, assign”.[19]

Aerial view of the CSA headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Quebec.
Godefroy, Andrew B. 2017. The Canadian Space Program: From Black Brant to the International Space Station, p.181

The Act then announces the various complementary functions of the CSA, such as to (a) “construct, acquire, manage, maintain and operate space research and development vehicles, facilities and systems”, (b) “assist departments, boards and agencies of the Government of Canada to use and to market space technology”, (c) “make grants and contributions in support of programs or projects relating to scientific or industrial space research and development and the application of space technology”, and (d) “cooperate with the space and space-related agencies of other countries in the peaceful use and development of space”.[20] The CSA was therefore committed to the development and application of knowledge concerning space, for the benefit of Canadians and the rest of humanity.


The establishment of the CSA marked a milestone in Canadian History, demonstrating Canada’s commitment to the pursuit of science for peaceful purposes, their commitment to a renewed international cooperation, as well as a desire to provide social and economic benefits to Canadians. As previously mentioned, the Canadian Space Agency Act in 1990 states that the objects of the Canadian Space agency are to “promote the peaceful use and development of space, to advance the knowledge of space through science and to ensure that space science and technology provide social and economic benefits for Canadians”.[21]

Canadarm extended over the Space Shuttle Atlantis’ cargo bay on Shuttle Mission STS-125 (2009).
Government of Canada, Canadian Space Agency. “20 Stunning Images of the Canadarm.” (Image 20) Canadian Space Agency Website, 18 July 2011,

After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the Russian space program changed their name to Roscosmos, and then poured the remainder of its dwindling resources into the International Space Station, leading to a new wave of international space cooperation.[22] The foundation of the CSA was a way by which Canada could participate in the international community, along with other countries with space programs such as Japan, and several members of the European Union. The CSA enabled Canada to be a part of the International Space Station program – the crowning achievement of space science today – along with the other countries mentioned above. The CSA has made significant contributions to the ISS and space development in general, leading to further scientific innovations and various benefits for Canadian citizens and the Canadian economy. The CSA developed Canadarm and Canadarm2, two vital components of the space shuttle and the ISS respectively, facilitating in assembly and maintenance of the ISS.[23]

The Canadarm has also sent satellites into orbit and retrieved others for repair. In addition to its benefits in space, the Canadarm’s technology has benefited Canadians by making Canada a leader in the development of robotic surgery.[24]

The foundation of the CSA is also significant in another way: providing a source of national pride and inspiring a new generation to pursue space sciences. Chris Hadfield was a Canadian astronaut and commander of the ISS for Expedition 35 in March 2013. Throughout his stay aboard the ISS, he liberally used the social media platform Twitter, among others, to broadcast his stay and share photos of Earth from the station.

Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield performing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” onboard the International Space Station, 2013.
ColChrisHadfield. “Space Oddity.” YouTube, YouTube, 12 May 2013,

He has accumulated over 2 million followers on Twitter, and his music video shot on the space station of the song “Space Oddity” by David Bowie has accumulated almost 40 Million views on YouTube. The song was also featured in the new Tesla Roadster aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, but Chris Hadfield’s interpretation of the song is a moment that Canadians are likely to appreciate more. The foundation of the CSA, therefore, had cultural significance, in so far as it inspired millions of people.


Canada’s history in space and astronomy is extensive and certainly has had its fair number of peaks and low points. Although the average Canadian citizen is unlikely to know precisely when the CSA was founded, its establishment certainly marks a significant achievement in Canadian history. Therefore, Canadians must recognize its significance as a national establishment, by means of which Canada can connect to the world, and extend itself beyond our planet.

We can now conclude that the establishment of the CSA clearly marks a significant event in the nation’s history by the importance of its endeavour and by the benefits it provides. We firstly provided a description of the context for the establishment of the CSA by explaining that the Canadian government began to support space research in the 1930s and that after the Second World War, Canada launched its first satellite into space in 1962 and initiated its first space policy in 1974. We then described this moment that matters by explaining that CSA was established by the Canadian Space Agency Act, which declared the various essential and complementary functions of the CSA, and that the CSA is essentially committed to the development and application of knowledge concerning space, for the benefit of Canadians and the rest of humanity. We lastly explained that the establishment of the CSA is a moment that matters to the history of the nation since it demonstrated Canada’s commitment to the pursuit of science for peaceful purposes, their commitment to a renewed international cooperation, as well as a desire to provide social and economic benefits to Canadians.

From innovation in science and technology, to political and economic impacts, to public outreach and educational endeavours, the Canadian Space Agency has undoubtedly carved a space in history for Canada’s legacy beyond the Earth. It continues to do so, and when David Saint-Jacques launches towards the ISS to make his debut in space, many Canadians will surely be watching in awe and with a sense of pride, national or otherwise.


[1] Government of Canada, Canadian Space Agency. n.d. “Canadian Astronaut David Saint-Jacques’ Mission” Canadian Space Agency Website.

[2] Government of Canada, Canadian Space Agency. 2016. “Canadian Space Milestones” Canadian Space Agency Website.

[3] Canadian Space Agency Act (1990, c. 13), 8. Retrieved from the Justice Laws Website:

[4] Government of Canada, Canadian Space Agency. 2018. “State of the Canadian Space Sector” Canadian Space Agency Website.

[5] Barton, Susanne, and Hannah Recht. “The Massive Prize Luring Miners to the Stars.” March 08, 2018.

[6] Godefroy, Andrew B. 2017. The Canadian Space Program: From Black Brant to the International Space Station, 137.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 138.

[9] Ibid., 139.

[10] Ibid., 140.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Canadian Space Agency Act (1990, c. 13), 8.

[13] Godefroy, The Canadian Space Program, Introduction xii.

[14] Ibid., 183.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 181.

[17] Doetsch K. 2005. “Canada’s Role on Space Station”. Acta Astronautica. 57 (2-8).

[18] Canadian Space Agency Act (1990, c. 13), 2.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 3.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Howell, Elizabeth. “Roscosmos: Russia’s Space Agency,”, January 29, 2018. Accessed April 05, 2018,

[23] Doetsch K. 2005.

[24] Government of Canada, Canadian Space Agency. 2017. “Uses for Robotic Arm Technology”

Space Agency Website.

The Oka Crisis


In selecting a Canadian “moment that matters” it was important to us that our chosen event had a global significance, was definitively Canadian, and had an impact upon the future of Canada. After gauging this selection criteria, we decided upon The Oka Crisis, which was a standoff between Mohawk protestors, the Quebec police force and the Canadian army. As laid out in the following post, The Oka Crisis, which occurred in Oka Quebec on July 11th, 1990, is a critical moment to examine as it highlighted relationships between aboriginals and government, brought awareness to Indigenous rights and their claims for land, and set forth future activist movements on both a local and international scale. Although the event only lasted three months, it’s impacts, both negative and positive, were long-term and influential. From those who were directly involved, to those who witnessed the events unfold on a television screen, the 1990 Oka Crisis is a moment that truly matters in Canadian history.


To understand the events that unfolded in the summer of 1990, it is necessary to examine the historical and contemporary relationship between the Mohawks, of what is now known as Montreal, and the European settlers. Tensions between these two groups began in the late 17th and early 18th century, as the Seminary of St. Sulpice, a French Roman Catholic order, was tasked by King Louis XV of France to relocate and evangelize Mohawk, Algonquin and Nipissing tribes that were occupying the lands of Montreal.[i] The relocation of these nations ultimately occurred in 1721 after lands near the Lake of Two-Mountains in Kanehsatake, now known as Oka, were granted to the St. Sulpice mission. The Mohawk accepted the relocation of their tribe on the assumption that they would be given ownership to their newly acquired territory, however the King of France ultimately gave land rights to the St. Sulpice mission who proceeded to sell the land to European settlers.[ii]

Continuous attempts were made by the Mohawk to gain legal land ownership during the pre-Confederation era, specifically in the years of 1794, 1802, 1818, 1828, and 1859, as well as in the post-Confederation era, in 1868, 1881, 1910 and 1975.[iii] Unfortunately, each of these attempts were met with disappointment as the settler-colonial government continuously stood by the claims that the land belonged to the St. Sulpice mission. In 1945, the remaining 1,556 acres were sold to the government, who claimed it would be held for the “…sole use and benefits of the Mohawks…”.[iv] However, the federal government did no such thing and continued to silence the voices of Mohawk contesters.[v]

The Mohawk Warrior Society Flag

Tensions between the Indigenous defendants and the Canadian government escalated very quickly in the late 20th century. In 1970, several Mohawks united to create the Mohawk Warrior Society whose “…objective was to repossess and protect Kanehsatake territories…”.[vi] In 1977, the Society’s efforts were rejected by the federal government who stated “…the claimants did not assert that they were the sole or even dominant people there [at Kanehsatake] at the time [in the 17th century] …”.[vii] One year later, members of the Mohawk Warrior Society confronted three police officers who were patrolling Kanehsatake. These policemen felt threatened and ultimately killed one of the warriors.[viii] Tensions were higher than ever before, and when the municipal government announced that they were expanding a Golf Club which would encroach drastically into the sacred pine forest where Indigenous burial grounds were located, the Mohawk community decided that they could no longer endure this maltreatment. Various individuals decided to unite and resist the government’s continuous repression. As one member of the Kanehsatake community states:

The whole village was built on Indian land. They used and enjoyed our forest land, too. We welcomed them. Then they wanted to add an extra nine holes to their private golf course by cutting down the sacred pine forest we planted, and where our Ancient burial grounds are located. This was too much to swallow and we refused to let our dead be disturbed or to let them use the hand for that selfish purpose.[ix]


To resist the expansion of the Pines Golf Course and the destruction of their burial grounds, the people of Kanesatake united with members of the Kahnawake and Akwesasne communities to construct a barricade which blocked access to this land.[x] As the protestors refused to move, despite various injunctions, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) was ordered to intervene.[xi] This intervention immediately resulted in violence and aggression as the SQ threw tear gas and concussion grenades on the morning of July 11, 1990 to attack the protestors. It is unclear who fired first, but a gunfight occurred between both sides which resulted in the death of an SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay.[xii] This violence, aggression and loss of life only marked the beginning of the crisis.

The Oka Barricade

After this conflict, the Kanesatake protestors created more barricades by pushing abandoned police vehicles into place. However, these barricades were no longer only blocking the golf course, they now blocked Montreal’s main highway; the 344.[xiii] The Kahnawake protestors also blockaded the Mercier Bridge which cut off access between the Island of Montreal and the city’s heavily populated South Shore suburbs.[xiv] In response to the Mohawk’s growing defense, the SQ also built their own barricade on the same highway to restrict access to Oka and Kanesatake.[xv] It was these barricades that gained attention and created anger amongst the local population.

As their access to the roads and entire cities were blocked, the civilians of Oka grew frustrated and demanded action to be made. Approximately 1,400 local residents attended a meeting at the Châteauguay city council on August 7 and argued that security forces should be sent to reopen the blockaded Mercier Bridge.[xvi] When no satisfactory action was made, several angry civilians united to occupy the Saint-Louis-De-Gonzague Bridge in protest against the barricade on the Mercier Bridge.[xvii] Due to the public’s growing discontent and the Mohawk perseverance, on August 12, negotiations between Indigenous and government representatives occurred at the Trappist monastery in Oka.[xviii] However, despite the growing conversation and dialogue between both parties, the Canadian government brought in approximately 800 members of the Royal 22e Regiment to assume position only meters away from the Mohawk barricades.[xix] With the government’s imposition of the Canadian armed forces and their ultimate refusal of Mohawk sovereignty, tensions and frustration increased dramatically.

“Face to Face”

Several attacks began to be implemented by angry mobs of civilians against the Mohawk protestors on Mercier Bridge. The army continued to stand their ground and by August, reconnaissance aircrafts began to circle the protestors. It was on August 29, under these intense pressures, that the Kahnawake protestors agreed to dismantle their barricade on the Mercier Bridge.[xx] However, the Kanehsatake protestors at the Oka barricade continued to protest. At this site, they created a curtain to hide themselves behind, making it more difficult for the army to watch over them. As a response, the soldiers harassed the warriors by hosing them with high-pressured water.[xxi] On September 26, after a standoff that lasted 78 days, the people of Kanesatake stepped down, dismantled their guns and surrendered. As a consensus, the government agreed to purchase the Pines to prevent further development of the Golf course, however they did not give landownership to the Kanesatake community.[xxii] Instead, the government fined many of the Indigenous protestors, convicted five of criminal charges, and sentenced one individual to jail.[xxiii] By no means was this a victory for the Kanesatake Indigenous peoples.


The Oka Crisis, also known to some by its more empowering title, The Kenesatake Resistance, was not a static event. It opened a dialogue and sparked other movements. The Oka Crisis is significant to Canada’s current state of Indigenous relations and is even relevant globally.

The 78-day standoff brought much needed attention to the conditions of First Nations peoples in Canada. It started a real dialogue between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian Government about land claims. The crisis represented a turning point: First Nations people in Canada would no longer be silent; it was time for Indigenous issues to be addressed:

The Crisis marked a turning point in public awareness of First Nations, who went from being “vanishing people” to a political force to be reckoned with, said Sarah Henzi, a sessional instructor in First Nations studies at the University of British Columbia.[xxiv]

By no means were all issues of land claims and Indigenous people’s treatment resolved after Oka. There continues to be a great need for this dialogue. The current Grand Chief of Kanehsatake states that: “Oka is what happens when dialogue stops.”[xxv] But since The Oka Crisis of 1990, there has been an increase in legislation that protects First Nations resources and land like the 2002 Paix des Braves between the Quebec Government and the Grand Council of the Crees, which mandates resource sharing between the two parties.[xxvi]

Idle No More in Victoria, BC

Because it was so prominent in the media, The Oka Crisis inspired other movements in Canada and across the world. In Canada it sparked movements like Idle No More, a grassroots protest initiative, started by four women activists, Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam, and Jessica Gordon, to address Indigenous issues in Canada. Oka also inspired the demands for a federal inquiry into the missing and murdered aboriginal women in British Columbia. On a global scale, Professor Marcelo Saavedra-Vargas from the University of Ottawa states that “…the indigenous social movements in Bolivia, which ended up brining an indigenous person to the presidency, were also inspired by the Oka events…”.[xxvi]

Although many positive outcomes and progress have emerged from the events of Oka 1990, there is still a lot of trauma in the community from the crisis. It has taken an entire generation to recover from the events of Oka, and the community continues to be in a process of healing.


The 1990 Oka Crisis was not only representative of the modern conflicts between the Mohawks of Kanehsatake and the Canadian government, but also of their historical relationship. The Crisis embodies the difficult and tumultuous dynamic Indigenous individuals have endured with the non-Indigenous populations throughout time. The Oka Crisis vocalized this marginalization and illustrated that the socio-political system in place was not working. The aggression and violence of this event brought the public’s eye to the small Quebec region of Oka, but more importantly it created discourse regarding Canadian-Indigenous relations that were historically disregarded. This brief moment had deep seeded historical roots and has had a continuous impact. Together, the context, event, and significance of the 1990 Oka Crisis illustrate that the 78-day conflict is an important moment that matters in Canadian history.

End Notes

[i] “Oka Timeline: An Unresolved Land Claim Hundreds of Years in the Making,” CBC, last modified September 23, 2017,

[ii] Harry Swain, Oka: A Political Crisis and its Legacy (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010), 17.

[iii] Émilie Guilbeault-Cayer, La Crise d’Oka: Au-Delà des Barricades (Québec: Éditions du Septentrion, 2013), 22.

[iv] Swain, 23.

[v] Swain, 23.

[vi] “Oka Timeline: An Unresolved Land Claim Hundreds of Years in the Making.”

[vii] Swain, 30.

[viii] “La Crise d’Oka: 11 Juillet 1990”, La Chaîne du Québec,, published on November 22 2013, accessed April 3 2018.

[ix] Craig MacLaine and Michael S. Baxendale, This Land is Our Land: The Mohawk Revolt at Oka (Montreal: Optimum Publishing International Inc., 1991), 26.

[x] Tabitha Marshall, “Oka Crisis,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, last modified July 15, 2014,

[xi] Marshal, Oka Crisis.

[xii] Swain, 82.

[xiii] Marshal, Oka Crisis.

[xiv] André Pichard, “Oka residents flee, fear battle looming,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON), August 8, 1990.

[xv] Marshal, Oka Crisis.

[xvi] Pichard, “Oka residents flee, fear battle looming.”

[xvii] John Mahoney, “Memories of Oka,” Montreal Gazette, (Montreal: Quebec), July 13, 2010.

[xviii] Swain, 125.

[xix] Marshal, Oka Crisis.

[xx] Marshal, Oka Crisis.

[xxi] Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, directed by Alanis Obomsawin (1993; Montreal, QC: National Film Board of Canada, 2006), DVD.

[xxii] Marshal, Oka Crisis.

[xxiii] Swain, 155.

[xxiv] Scott, Marian, “Revisiting the Pines: Oka’s Legacy,” Montreal Gazette (Montreal: Quebec), 10 July 2015.

[xxv] Valiante Giuseppe, and Peter Rakobowchuk, “Oka Crisis Inspired Dialogue on Indigenous Awareness,” last modified July 7, 2015.

[xxvi] “Grand Council of the Crees,” GCC, last modified March 2018,


Baxendale, Michael S and MacLaine, Craig.  This Land is Our Land: The Mohawk Revolt at Oka. Montreal: Optimum Publishing International Inc., 1991.

“Grand Council of the Crees.” GCC. Last modified March 2018.

Guilbeault-Cayer, Émilie. La Crise d’Oka: Au-Delà des Barricades. Québec: Éditions du Septentrion, 2013.

“La Crise d’Oka: 11 Juillet 1990.” La Chaîne du Québec. Published on November 22 2013. Accessed April 3 2018.

Mahoney, James. “Memories of Oka.” Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Quebec), July 13, 2010.

Marian, Scott, “Revisiting the Pines: Oka’s Legacy.” Montreal Gazette (Montreal: Quebec), July 10 2015.

Marshall, Tabitha. “Oka Crisis” last modified July 12, 2013.

Obomsawin, Alanis, dir. Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. 1993; Montreal, QC: National Film Board of Canada, 2006. DVD.

“Oka Timeline: An Unresolved Land Claim Hundreds of Years in the Making.” CBC. Last modified September 23, 2017.

Pichard, André. “Oka residents flee, fear battle looming.” The Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON), August 8, 1990.

Rakobowchuk, Peter and Giuseppe, Valiante. “25 Years on, Legacy of Oka Crisis Is Deeper Understanding of Land Claims | CBC News.” last modified July 17, 2015.

Swain, Harry. Oka: A Political Crisis and its Legacy. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010.

Media Sources

“Oka Timeline: An Unresolved Land Claim Hundreds of Years in the Making.” CBC. Last modified September 23, 2017.

“The Mohawk Warrior Society” Indian Country Today. Last Modified 2018.

Wurst, Bonnie. “Oka Crisis: Part Two?” last modified August 14, 2017.





















Creation of Nunavut, 1999

Nunavut – A Moment that Matters?

The creation of Nunavut in 1999 was the Canada’s last geographical change. Before Nunavut, there were only two territories in Canada, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon. Nunavut was split from the Northwest Territories and became its own territory[1]. To look at this moment, the context of this geographical change, the description of the moment and the reasons why this moment is so important will be covered in this blog. This moment is very important in Canadian history because in the creation of Nunavut, the Inuit people were able to have a territory in which they were the majority. This is geographically significant because the Inuit were given the largest territory or province in all of Canada. Furthermore, in obtaining the territory, the Inuit people were able to use their language, practice their culture and represent themselves with their traditional symbols. This is socially significant as an Indigenous group in Canada were able to live their life a more traditional way. Lastly, in the new territory the Inuit were self-governing, meaning they were also able to have a substantial amount of political power over themselves and how they live.[2]


In What Context Was Nunavut Created?

First, during the 1980s and 1990s there was a shift in thought taking place in Canada regarding the method used to govern areas with high indigenous populations.  Since the Indian Act had been put in place, traditional forms of government had fallen by the wayside and had essentially disappeared from Canadian Indigenous communities.  As a result of the changing feelings toward self-government, in 1983, the Special Committee of the House of Commons on Indian Self Government was created specifically in an effort to shift power back in to the hands of Indigenous people; particularly in areas where they were the majority.  The committee came out with a report recommending that First Nations be recognized as their own form of government which came to be known as the Penner report.[3]

Canada, 1949. Library Archives Canada,

Moving on, also happening at the time were major decisions in regard to land claims for indigenous communities.  In 1984, soon after the committee had released their report recommending increased self- governance, an interesting decision was made which replaced the Indian Act in the Cree-Naskapi area and allowed for more self-governance as well as allowing for the establishing of the Indigenous communities, there already at the time, as corporate entities.  Many other ground-breaking land claims were signed in the years following this and displayed the rapidly changing landscape around the way Indigenous communities were treated.[4]

The changing landscape towards land claims as well as self-governance by Natives eventually culminated in the historic treaty which gave the Inuit people their own territory. This territory to be given was to be known as Nunavut.  The treaty, signed in 1993, dictated that the actual date of creation of Nunavut would be 1999, which was actually how it worked out.  While Nunavut is not entirely governed by the Inuit people because some non-Inuit people live there, the population is eighty-five percent Inuit meaning the elections are decided by the Inuit in large part. This allows for their culture and traditions to receive more protection. [5]

Canada, 1999. Library Archives Canada,

Another important point to make is that the government of Nunavut is not guided by the same principles as the rest of Canada.  The decisions of the government are based around the idea of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, (IQ) which is the value system by which the traditional Inuit way of life had been driven.  Nowadays, the Nunavut school system integrates teachings from this value system and government documents require statements about how IQ priorities will be addressed in government actions[6].

Nunavut is at its core, the result of a changing attitude about the best way to handle the Indigenous population.  It would probably never have happened if not for the changed attitudes which resulted from the 1983 commission promoting the idea of self-governance as well as the many successful land claims which had happened around the same time[7].  Despite the many changes which were happening, Indigenous people were still being taken to residential schools during much of the process of creating Nunavut and today they still face many disadvantages.  However, it can be argued that the creation of Nunavut was an essential milestone for the Native community and a reason to be optimistic about the future of the Inuit people. Thus, all of this illustrates the context within which Nunavut created within Canada. It illustrates a period leaning towards land claims and self-governance, specifically in regard to victories of such land claims and self-governance for Indigenous peoples. It helps make it clear that these victories were just the beginning in reconciling Canada’s past in regard to the Indigenous population.

Moment Itself

This moment, the founding of Nunavut, is an important moment that happened throughout the 20th century; however, gained legal status by the 1990s[8]. Nunavut, in Inuktitut, means our land, which is relevant due to it being a territory which is for the most part self governed by the Native populations living there[9]. Nunavut’s creation was caused by multiple reasons such as the increasing need for self-government within the native community[10]. This movement of self-government was partially due to the 1990s Quebecois sovereignty movement, which helped fuel the idea of an Inuit controlled territory such as Nunavut[11]. In addition, during the 1990s, there were multiple movements in Alaska and Greenland to form Native protection organizations, which influenced the native community[12]. This movement was started due to the formation of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, which among other things would map out a land claim for the Nunavut territory in 1976[13]. Nunavut was situated in the Northwest Territories and was later separated due to Nunavut Land Claims Agreement that was fed out of the self-government movement started in 1971[14].

Paul Quassa, President of the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut, and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Iqaluit, May 1993, by Hans-Ludwig Blohm, C.M.

The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada was formed during the national conference of natives at Calgary in August 1971. This organization would fight for the rights of native Canadians in the arctic[15]. The work of negotiating land claim was done by the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut which would, from 1982 to 1993, try to negotiate with the Canadian and Northwest Territory governments to create a land claim agreement[16]. While the groups agreed upon the land claim in 1993, its implementation wasn’t enforced until April 1st, 1999, through passing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Nunavut Act[17]. The 1993 act that would lead to the creation of Nunavut was signed on May 25th, 1993 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney[18]. These actions allowed a 1,877,787 km area of land to the Inuit people, making it the largest land claim in modern history. This gave them Inuit peoples a well deserved chance to govern themselves and develop their culture mostly independent from Canada[19]. In addition, they were given money as compensation in the form of the Nunavut Trust, which was a 1.17-billion-dollar payment over 14 years[20]. This was made to compensate them for the abuse of ancestral land and was made to help support economic development in the region[21]. In addition to the Trust, the government must pay a royalty to the Nunavut population for resources extracted from the region[22]. The creation of Nunavut allowed for a native controlled government that would be in control of their own society and their own needs[23]. Through this, the native population could better help their society recover from centuries of oppression and improve the situation of their people.

Why is this a Moment That Matters?

The creation of Nunavut had multiple meaningful social, political and geographical significances for the Inuit population in Canada, as well as the rest of the country. Firstly, it is geographically significant because as stated in the Nunavut Act “all that part of Canada north of the sixtieth parallel of north latitude and east of the boundary described in Schedule I that is not within Quebec or Newfoundland and Labrador”[24] were used to form Nunavut, as well as several other islands in “Hudson Bay, James Bay and Ungava Bay”. [25]As previously mentioned, this was one of the largest land claims in modern history. Although Nunavut was split from the Northwest Territories, it became the largest province or territory in Canada by area[26]. The geographical change is not only significant because it was a large change for Canada geographically, but because this significance allows the next two significances to be possible.

Next, it is socially significant because, at that time, the population living on the geographical area, now known as Nunavut, contained 85 percent of its habitants of Inuit origin[27]. Because of this, it is crucial to mention the impact that the creation of Nunavut had on the Inuit and their culture. Given that such a specific cultural majority was present in a specific region, it was important for them to have a geographical area of their own, where they could live with their traditional values and language. The establishment of that territory allowed for the official recognition of public, cultural and social symbols of Inuit tradition, which then became visible in Nunavut. Among them were the creation of a flag containing Inuit symbols like the inuksuk, the Inuktitut that became an official language beside the French and English languages[28], and the administrative and legislative practices became inspired by the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, which translates in to English by “the Inuit traditional knowledge”.[29] According to a survey on 35 people living in Nunavut which were aged between 18 and 85 years old[30], the majority considered that speaking the Inuktitut language became visibly more important in their community for getting jobs and integrating social life, especially after the creation of Nunavut, which in effect made people more aware.[31] Although the same people admit that learning English is becoming crucial for young Inuit to succeed, they mention that it is through Inuktitut and the creation of Nunavut that they have the opportunity to learn more about their origins and traditions.[32] The creation of Nunavut is really significant for the culture of the Inuit people, as it allowed them to embrace and use their culture and language in a territory where they are the majority.

Nunavut Day at Royal Bank Parking Lot, Iqaluit, Nunavut, Government of Nunavut – Department of Culture and Heritage

Third of all, the creation of Nunavut had also a great political impact as with its creation, the eastern part of the Northwest Territories became an autonomous political entity.[33] As it was previously mentioned, that geographical area of Canada was mainly populated by Inuit population, so giving them politicians that speak their language and share their vision made it easier for them to be heard and represented, allowing them to progress as a community.[34] The allowance of self-governing is extremely significant as it gave the Inuit people political power in their own region, as well as in Canada. Even though the political power they have is very limited, it is still very important as many Native populations around Canada and the world stride for political power, and the chance to govern themselves.

In brief, this event had a great significance for Inuit people and Canada. The geographical change that introduced Nunavut in the eastern part of the Northwest Territories gave land to a minority overall in Canada, but who was a majority on that specific region. This allowed the people in that community to evolve and live based on their traditional values, language and culture which is a crucial element of any community. This is even more important for the ones that are representing a minority as without proper governance that gives importance to certain traditions, these can easily be lost through the process of assimilation. The creation of Nunavut allowed the Inuit population to have their say in their local area through social and political means, which in the end allows them to preserve their values and history going forward as a present population in Canada.

Conclusion: Is This Truly a Moment That Matters?

In conclusion, the entrance of Nunavut into the Canadian federation as a territory was perhaps one of the most important events in Canadian history of recent memory. Taking outside influences from movements in Quebec and Greenland, the residents of Nunavut were able to obtain measures which allowed for financial compensation, a native-controlled government, as well as being able to determine their own future. The existence of a province which has both its government and its culture controlled by its original inhabitants is proof that it is possible to go forward with reconciliation, and even return to the First Nations peoples what was taken from them centuries ago. The geographical change that introduced Nunavut in the eastern part of the Northwest Territories gave land to a people who are a minority in Canada, but who are a majority in that specific region. This allows the people in that community to evolve and live based on their traditional values, language and culture which is a crucial element of any community. This moment is significantly more important for the ones that are representing a minority. Without proper governance that emphasizes the importance to certain traditions, the traditions, values and culture can easily be lost through the process of assimilation. The creation of Nunavut allowed the Inuit population to have their say in their local area through social and political means, which in the end allows them to preserve their values and history going forward as a present population in Canada.  Therefore, all things mentioned previously considered, the creation of Nunavut in Canada is truly a moment that matters because of the social, political, and geographic implications it had on Canada as a whole, as well as its Indigenous population.




[1] Peter Kikkert, “Nunavut.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Government of Canada, August 9, 2007. Retrieved from (accessed on March 28, 2018)

[2] Ibid.

[3]William B. Henderson, “Indigenous Self-Government in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Government of Canada,  February 7, 2006. Retrieved from (accessed on April 4, 2018)

[4] Natalia Loukacheva, “Nunavut and Canadian Arctic Sovereignty.” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes 43 (2009): 82-108. Retrieved from (accessed April 4, 2018).

“Nunavut – September 2003.” Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, September 15, 2010. Retrieved from (accessed April 4, 2018)

[6] “Education Frame Work For Nunavut Cirriculim: Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit.” Government of Nunavut, 2007. Retrieved from (accessed April 4, 2018)

[7] William B. Henderson, “Indigenous Self-Government in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Government of Canada, February 7, 2006. Retrieved from (accessed on April 4, 2018)

[8] Jean Malaurie and Peter Feldstein, “Toward Inuit Self-Government in Canada.” In Hummocks: Journeys and Inquiries Among the Canadian Inuit, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007), 24-60

[9] R. Quinn Duffy, “Relinquishing Authority.” In Road to Nunavut: The Progress of the Eastern Arctic Inuit since the Second World War, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988), 230-266.

[10] Ibid.

[11]Jean Malaurie and Peter Feldstein, “Toward Inuit Self-Government in Canada.” In Hummocks: Journeys and Inquiries Among the Canadian Inuit, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007), 24-60

[12]R. Quinn Duffy, “Relinquishing Authority.” In Road to Nunavut: The Progress of the Eastern Arctic Inuit since the Second World War, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988), 230-266.

[13]James C. Saku and Andrew Bock, “Aboriginal Land Claim Agreements: The Case of Nunavut Land Claim Agreement.” Pennsylvania Geographer 55 (2017):36-50.


[15] R. Quinn Duffy, “Relinquishing Authority.” In Road to Nunavut: The Progress of the Eastern Arctic Inuit since the Second World War, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988), 230-266.

[16] James C. Saku and Andrew Bock, “Aboriginal Land Claim Agreements: The Case of Nunavut Land Claim Agreement.” Pennsylvania Geographer 55 (2017):36-50.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Jean Malaurie and Peter Feldstein, “Toward Inuit Self-Government in Canada.” In Hummocks: Journeys and Inquiries Among the Canadian Inuit, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007), 24-60

[19]James C. Saku and Andrew Bock, “Aboriginal Land Claim Agreements: The Case of Nunavut Land Claim Agreement.” Pennsylvania Geographer 55 (2017):36-50.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] R. Quinn Duffy, “Relinquishing Authority.” In Road to Nunavut: The Progress of the Eastern Arctic Inuit since the Second World War, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988), 230-266.

[24] “Nunavut Act (S.C. 1993, c. 28).” Justice Laws Website. Government of Canada, March 23, 2018. (accessed March 28, 2018)

[25] Ibid.

[26] Peter Kikkert, “Nunavut.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Government of Canada, August 9, 2007. Retrieved from (accessed on March 28, 2018)

[27] Louis-Jacques Dorais, “Discours et identité à Iqualit après l’avènement du Nunavut.” Études/Inuit/Studies 30 (2006) :165. Doi : 10.7202/017570ar

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., 175

[32] Ibid., 176-177

[33] Ibid., 165.

[34] Ibid., 178.


Photos (In Order of Appearance)

“Maps: 1967-1999: 1949.” Library Archives Canada. Government of Canada, March 2, 2015. (accessed April 4, 2018)

“Maps: 1967-1999: 1999.” Library Archives Canada. Government of Canada, March 2, 2015. (accessed April 4, 2018)

Hans-Ludwig Blohm, “Paul Quassa, President of the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut, and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Iqaluit, May 1993.” Northern Public Affairs, 2013.

“Nunavut Day.” Government of Nunavut. Department of Culture and Heritage, July 9, 2017.


1988 R. v Morgentaler Supreme Court Decision


In 1988 the landmark Canadian Supreme Court Case, R. v. Morgentaler, held that the  provision in the Canadian Criminal Code which made abortion criminal was unconstitutional because it violated a woman’s right to security of person under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This case was brought to the Supreme Court by Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a humanist doctor and abortion rights activist who began performing safe, but illegal abortions 20 years prior to the 1988 ruling. Before this ruling, abortions not approved by a special committee were deemed illegal. The R. v. Morgentaler decision was a significant moment in Canadian history because it marked the codification of the most recent abortion law in Canada, decriminalized abortion throughout Canada, and set a legal precedent that remains unchanged. Additionally, this moment in Canadian history is significant as it pertains to a controversial social debate over the morality of abortion in Canada and the rights of Canadian women. By tracing the contentious legal and social history of abortion discourse and its culmination in the R. v. Morgentaler decision, the nuanced dynamics of Canadian modernization, nation formation, and contesting the nation reveal themselves. The R. v. Morgentaler ruling acted as a signifier of shifts in Canadian ideology about women’s rights and set a new legal precedent which expanded women’s rights to choose, but it also was a moment for reflection and debate over the legal and social place of abortion in Canada.


To examine the context of the chosen moment, the following elements will be looked at: the law in place prior to the moment, the attitudes of the population in the years leading up to the moment, and a brief examination of who Morgentaler was as well as some of the other key actors involved in the lead up to this moment. As stated, the moment being discussed is the R. v Morgentaler (1988) decision which “struck down the abortion law” that was in place at the time.[i] The law that was amended after R. Morgentaler was passed in 1969 and was part of the Canadian Criminal Code under section 25.[ii]This section stated that performing an abortion on a woman was an “indictable offense which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment […with an] exception [that] allows qualified medical practitioners to terminate a pregnancy in an accredited hospital without criminal liability if, prior to the commencement of the procedure, a majority of the therapeutic abortion committee of that hospital has certified that the “continuation of the pregnancy of such female person would or would be likely to endanger her life or health.”[iii]

Essentially, women could only have abortions by doctors if they had permission of this committee. If not, the abortion was deemed illegal.[iv] Dr. Henry Morgentaler believed this legislation to be unjust as it restricted the rights of women’s autonomy.

The key actors in this landmark decision are  Dr. Henry Morgentaler, Dr. Leslie Frank Smoling and Dr. Robert Scott. Dr. Morgentaler was a Polish Holocaust survivor and doctor  immigrated to Canada in 1950. He continuously advocated that women should be able to receive abortions without special permission of the committee aforementioned) for reasons outside medical necessity. Morgentaler had abortion clinics in Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg, and other places across Canada. It is estimated that he performed approximately 80,000 abortions, many of which were done without following the guidelines of section 251. In 1975 he was sentenced to a  year and a half in jail for his refusal to comply with the law.[v] Nevertheless, he never stopped doing what he felt was right: advocating for women’s right to abortion and conducting abortions “despite the personal, professional, and financial risks for [him]”[vi] The remaining actors, Dr. Smoling and Dr. Scott, worked with Dr. Morgentaler at the Toronto clinic. It was at this clinic in 1983 that they were also charged with violating the Criminal Code’s section 251.[vii]

In looking at social reception of abortion before the overturning of the law in 1988, many people were not pleased with the concept of abortion considering many “pro-life activists protested outside each clinic”[viii] In a study conducted in Toronto, it was found that people were more accepting of abortions if they were conducted for medical reasons or in cases of rape.  However, for financial or non-medical reasons, there was much less support.[ix] Nevertheless, Morgentaler, and others, went to court to advocate for women to have the ability to decide themselves if they wanted to have an abortion; something he saw as a right for all women.[x]

All parties, Morgentaler, Scott and Smoling, argued that section 251 violated the constitution, specifically the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ section 7.[xi] This all lead up to the actual moment: the case of R v Morgentaler in 1988.

R. v Morgentaler (1988)

 The Morgentaler decision was held in the Supreme Court of Canada, located in Ontario, on January 28th, 1988.  Dr. Henry Morgentaler, Dr. Leslie Frank Smoling, and Dr. Robert Scottwere the appelants.  Robert George Brian Dickson, Jean Beetz, Willard Zebedee Estey, William Rogers McIntyre, Antonio Lamer, Bertha Wilson, and Gérard V. La Forest sat as judges for the trial.[xii]

The following is an outline of the majority opinion that was formed by three distinctive series of reasoning. The three distinctive series of reasoning were defined by different judges present during this final decision. The first series of reasoning was initiated by Chief Justice Dickson and Justice Lamer. The second series of reasoning was given by Justice Beetz and Justice Estey. Last but not least, the third series of reason was proposed by Madam Justice Wilson.[xiii]

Throughout the process of formulating the majority opinion, all 3 majority assessments agreed that the abortion conditions regarding the Criminal Code of Section 251(‘Section 251’ during that time period) were very unlawful. However, the 3 majority assessments had distinctive reasons from one judgement to the other in regard to why they found the abortion conditions unlawful. All 3 majority judgments shared a common agreement that the procedural conditions breached the following right: Charter 7 “security of the person” right.[xiv]

Out of all the judges present in the making of this decision, only one judge thought that the abortion law breached the following right: Charter 7 “right to liberty.” The judge that believed in this violation was Justice Wilson. Wilson was also the only judge that believed the abortion law breached the following section of the Charter: section 2 (b) that includes the right to “freedom of conscience.” Justice Wilson was the only judge in this case that believed that a woman not only has a right, but a Charter right to have an abortion. She based this off the knowledge of one’s given right to liberty, exclusively in the commencement of gestation.[xv]

In the majority opinion, all of the judges decided that the federal authority must provide the required security of a fetus by integrating criminal law jurisdiction. However, none of the judges discussed the given length they would provide in regard to the protection of a fetus.[xvi] Despite the final decision to abolish Canada’s abortion law, what many people failed to understand is that the Supreme Court of Canada did not acknowledge a legal right to abortion. Also, the Court failed to resolve this matter as is generally intended or demanded. Instead, the Supreme Court of Canada decided to hand over to Parliament the responsibility of creating and putting in place a new law concerning abortion. The purpose of the creation and establishment of this new law was to stabilize the importance of  women’s rights in regarding the security of an unborn child, while not antagonizing the nation’s Charter.[xvii]


Dr. Henry Morgentaler outside his clinic in Toronto in 1988.


Dr. Henry Morgentaler stands in front of a banner that reads “Canadian Abortion Rights Action League in 1988.”


The R vs Morgentaler case is an extremely important moment in Canadian history as a significant legal change  occurred due to the results of the trial. In a 5-2 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada “struck down the abortion law found in section 251 of the Criminal Code.”[i] as the majority found it to be unconstitutional; considering the fact that it conflicted with the charter of rights. The 1969 law made it illegal for Canadian woman to get an abortion; unless the pregnancy was a danger to her health. By removing the law from the Criminal Code, Canada experienced legal changes that expanded women’s autonomy over their bodies and their rights to choose whether or not to have an abortion autonomously. Women were now able to receive an abortion legally now thatit was no longer considered to be a criminal act.

More than a legal decision, the Morgentaler case marked a shift in the values of Canadian society. It represented an important milestone in Canada’s path towards modernization as it set a precedent for future cases. The highest court of appeal in Canada had recognized as unconstitutional the ability of the government to  deprive women from exerting control over their reproductive capacity. This sent out a strong message in the establishment of modern Canadian values and the promotion of women’s rights. The protection of individual liberties promoted by the at-the-time quite new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom had come to be proven true and effective. In the eyes of the public, Canada was moving further away from its previous conservative culture marked with Judeo-Christian values. At a time where a lot of grievances concerning social changes were made, one group in particular saw this ruling as a victory; women rights activists. As expressed by M.L McConnell, “[the] removal of abortion from the Criminal Code [had] been the longest-standing demand of the women’s movement.”[ii] In what was considered to be a defeat for the pro-life supporters, this moment marked a step forward for the Canadian women’s emancipation. Along with the divorce laws which also experienced important changes in this same period, it was a time that shaped Canada as a nation and redefined the terms of the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. Canadians would no longer tolerate living under legislation that did not match the progress of their society. However, there was contestation to the 1988 decision. In 1990 the House of Commons voted in favour (140-131) of a new law, introduced by new Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, that would re-criminalize abortion. However, it failed once it reached the Senate. In 1993 Dr. Henry Morgentaler challenged the Nova Scotia Medical Services Act and brought his case to the Supreme Court again. This provincial act banned abortion clinics in the province and was deemed illegal by the Supreme Court. From then on, all abortion clinics in Canada were publicly funded.[iii]

The R v Morgentaler ruling marked a significant moment in Canadian history. Not only had Canada become one of the first countries to legalize the medical practice of abortion, but it had also been one of the first times in history where the Supreme Court of Canada had clearly chosen a side (in this case being the pro-choice over pro-life) where there was no gray area for the other camp to manoeuvre around. This moment marked a major change in legal precedent, shifts in societal understanding of women’s rights, and the acceptance of increasingly liberal social policy in Canada. This moment also offers a quintessential historical example of how one person’s act of contesting the nation lead to immense change in conceptions of nationhood.


The 1988 R. v Morgentaler decision beget legal, political, and social changes that continue to affect the lives of Canadians today. Dr. Henry Morgentaler continued fighting for Canadian rights to abortion after the ruling, opening abortion clinics all around Canada and fighting for the public funding of and access to abortions in all provinces.  In 2008 Morgentaler was appointed to the Order of Canada for his commitment to increased health care options for women. There was public backlash by anti-choice organizations, but a national public opinion  poll reported that two-thirds of Canadians supported the Canadian government’s decision to give Morgentaler the high honor. Dr. Morgentaler continued to undertake legal action in the name of promoting healthcare and abortion rights until he died on May 29th, 2013 due to heart problems. The 1988 case he brought to the Supreme Court emphasizes the impacts of contesting the nation, the culmination of the historical legal and social battle for women’s autonomy in Canada and the further transition of the Canadian state into one of modernity.




Henry Morgentaler is awarded the rank of Member in the Order of Canada by Governor General Michaelle Jean at the Citadelle in Quebec City, October 10, 2008.


[i] Martin, Sheila. “Morgentaler v. The Queen in the Supreme Court of Canada.” Canadian Journal of Women & the Law 2, no. 2 (1987): 423.


[ii] Campbell, Tom. “Abortion Law in Canada: A Need for Reform.” Saskatchewan Law Review 42, no. 2 (1977-1987): 221. Accessed April 5, 2018.


[iii] Ferri, Raymond Michale, and Terese Ferri. “Canadian Abortion Law.” The Catholic Lawyer 30, no. 4 (1985): 337.


[iv] Ibid, 337

[v] Kermode-Scott, Barbara. “Henry Morgentaler.” British Medical Journal 347, no. 7923 (September 7, 2013): 27. Accessed April 5, 2018.


[vi] Ibid, 27

[vii] Richer, Karine. “Abortion in Canada: Twenty Years After R. v. Morgentaler.” September 24, 2008, 2. Accessed April 5, 2018.


[viii] Kermode-Scott, Barbara. “Henry Morgentaler.” British Medical Journal 347, no. 7923 (September 7, 2013): 27. Accessed April 5, 2018.


[ix] Osborn, R.W, and B. Silkey. “Husbands’ Attitudes Towards Abortion and Canadian Abortion Law.” Journal of Biosocial Science 12, no. 1 (1980): 28. Accessed April 5, 2018. doi:10.1017/S0021932000012657.


[x] Kermode-Scott, Barbara. “Henry Morgentaler.” British Medical Journal 347, no. 7923 (September 7, 2013): 27. Accessed April 5, 2018. xi Goldberg, Edward M. “The Bad Law Argument in Morgentaler v. The Queen.” Canadian Journal O Women and the Law 3, no. 2 (1989): 585-86. Accessed April 5, 2018.


[xi] Goldberg, Edward M. “The Bad Law Argument in Morgentaler v. The Queen.” Canadian Journal O Women and the Law 3, no. 2 (1989): 585-86. Accessed April 5, 2018.

[xii] Maloney, BJ. “The 1988 Morgentaler Decision.” Morgentaler Decision. April 1, 2018.


[xiii] Ibid,

[xiv] R. v. Morgentaler [1988] 1 S.C.R. 30, 1988 SCC 19556.

[xv] ibid

[xvi] ibid

[xvii] ibid

[i] Martin, Sheila. “Morgentaler v. The Queen in the Supreme Court of Canada.” Canadian Journal of Women & the Law 2, no. 2 (1987): 423. Link/doi:


[ii] McConnell, M. L. “Abortion and Human Rights: An Important Canadian Decision.” The International and Comparative Law Quarterly 38, no. 4 (1989): 905-13.


[iii] Jenson, Jane. “Competing Representations: The Politics of Abortion in Canada.” In Women and the Canadian State/Les Femmes Et L’Etat Canadien, edited by ANDREW CAROLINE and RODGERS SANDA, 291-305. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997.


“Abortion Rights Crusader Henry Morgentaler, Revered and Hated, Dead at 90.” The Globe and Mail. March 26, 2017. Accessed April 06, 2018.

Church, Tedd. “Photos: Henry Morgentaler through the Years.” 2013. Accessed April 06, 2018. Henry Morgentaler through years/8450469/story.html.

“In Pictures: Dr. Henry Morgentaler.” The Globe and Mail. March 26, 2017. Accessed April 06, 2018.


“I hate feminists”- The 1989 Polytechnique massacre and the Royal Commission on the statues of the women in Canada


Maryse Laganiere, Maryse Leclair, Maud Haviernick, Anne Maire Lemay, Anne-Marie Edward, Anne St. Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Daigneault, Barbara Klucznik, Genevieve Bergeron, Helene Colgan, Michele Richard, Nathalie Croteau and Sonia Pelletier are the names of the women who were killed by Marc Lepine on December 6, 1989 in what is now known as the Polytechnique massacre[1]. Equipped with a rifle and a hunting knife, Marc Lepine went to the Ecole Polytechnique with one goal; to kill as many “feminists” as possible. The witnesses’ reports and his targeted killing of women, prompted a massive media coverage of the incident: Why did he hate females so much?

This event happened in the backdrop of the investigations and report of the “Royal Commission on the Statues of women in Canada”. In 1967, on an initiative by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, the government formed a commission that would investigate the status of Canadian women and propose recommendations that would ensure more equal opportunities between men and women in the Canadian society[2]. The foundation of the commission took place in a period of increasing public awareness with people seeing it as their right, indeed, their duty of partaking in the public affairs in Canada. However, there was also the belief that the government was an instrument of change and that they would ensure them. While the government took action after the commission had published its report, by constructing Status of Women in 1971 and Canada Advisory Council of the Statues on Women in 1973, one vital issue the commission had reported on was virtually ignored: violence against women.

So, it is with these two issues in mind that we are going to explore The Contesting of the nation theme. Our selection criteria, as to choosing to morph these two events together and write about the Polytechnique massacre in the context of “The Royal Commission on Women’s statues in Canada”, is that the massacre prompted a massive media coverage on the issue of violence against women[3]. The commission itself contributed to the “Canadian charter of rights and freedoms of 82”, for instance, by outlawing discrimination based on sex[4]. Still the misogyny attitude continued to be ever present as not everybody was happy with being “pushed” out by women. Lepine action were attributed, by some psychologists, to be a result of his mere idiosyncratic insanity. However, many felt this brushed away the real issue of violence and negative attitudes toward women that were felt more generally than just by Marc Lepine[5]. As mentioned, the commission’s report on violence against women was ignored until the 1989 Polytechnique massacre caused a long sought after addressing of this issue. Further, we chose our moment because, in addition to contributing to focus on women and feminism, the Polytechnique massacre also prompted the question of gun control which lead to the Bill C-17 in 1991[6]. Hence, we are now going to present you with a moment that touches the spheres of cultural, political and social historiography.



As has been suggested, the motives of the perpetrator were probably linked to the fact that he disliked feminism and women, and was denied admission to the Ecole Polythechnique a few years earlier. Given these facts, it is appropriate to give some context as to what the feminist movement in Canada had conducted its campaign for rights, and what advances had been made in.

In the 1960s, reorganization of feminist movements in countries all over the world (mainly the west) took place. This reorganization and the subsequent advances these movements made in the cause of women’s liberation, have been called “second wave feminism.” Simon de Beauvoir was in many ways the architect of this wave of feminism. In it, both spheres of human life, the public and the private, were being challenged. The suggestion was that the roles the woman played were not intrinsic to her nature, but that rather she was “made” play them, through the teachings of society.[7]

“The dream team”- The Bird committee (royal commission) working on The Status of Women [1]

This manifested itself in many ways in Canada, one of which was the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, whose report was tabled in 1970 before congress and “called for legislative changes” regarding women’s rights,” i.e. the commission wanted equality through legislation.[8] The RCSW, among other things, discovered the “deplorable” conditions women experienced in the workplace and the barriers they had to face to live their life as active citizens. The commission set three aims in particular for the government to achieve. The Canadian Feminist Movement reported, in 1988, that two of them, “decriminalization of abortion and the inclusion of discrimination on sexual grounds in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,”[9] had been achieved. What was still lacking in 1988 was legislation concerning universal child care.[10]

One aspect of “public” life where women, as a result of the campaign for women’s rights as well as the expansion of universities following the adulthood of the baby boomers, made an entrance in the 70s and 80s, were universities. Women were only one third of the average student body of universities in the 1960s, but by the late 80s, more than half of undergraduates in Canadian universities were female.[11]  Universities had stopped, like many other fields of life, being a male-dominated space.

As James Baldwin said, “it is rare indeed that people give. Most people guard and keep; they suppose that it is they themselves that they are guarding and keeping…” [12] In this case, men had been forced to give up certain privileges, and some of them did probably view it as an attack on themselves. This is not to say that what happened at Ecole Polythechnique in 1989 is in any way a natural reaction, absolutely not. However, it is saying that rights can almost never be won over unless a struggle takes place, and that the privileged group must face that it too must make sacrifices in such a struggle.



“You’re all a bunch of feminists- I hate feminists[13]”. These words spoken by Marc Lépine, preceded his violent attack on the 6th of December 1989 at the Université de Montréal’s École Polytechnique in Québec. That afternoon, at five, the twenty-five-year-old man entered the building with a rifle and a hunting knife. The gunman entered a classroom where he separated the male from the female students and proceeded to shoot all the women. He continued his mass shooting through corridors, the cafeteria and into another classroom. Twenty minutes later, he ended his own life after killing fourteen women and injuring thirteen other students and staff members of the university. Among the victims could be counted Montreal Police’s then director of public relations, Pierre Leclair’s daughter[14]. To this day, the Polytechnique massacre is the deadliest mass shooting that has occurred in Canadian history. The gunman attacked young women who were attending a mechanical engineering class that day, but his message was of a more general resonance. Not only did Lépine resent Canada’s largest engineering program for not accepting his candidature, he also despised the growing female enrollment rate and blamed them for taking up the spot he believed he deserved in the faculty. In his suicide note, the perpetrator blamed his actions on political motives and more specifically on the existence of feminists. He also had listed nineteen other Québécoise women whom he viewed as being “radical feminists”. He held this group responsible for his unsuccessful professional and private life. He explicitly stated in his letter that he was angry at feminists for advocating social changes and requesting advantages because of their gender.

This tragedy profoundly shocked Canadians not only because of the gunman’s actions but also by the extent of the hateful nature of his speech. The province’s government as well as the city of Montreal declared that the following three days would be ones of grief, not only for the victims’ families but for every citizen. The funerals were attended by the governor general, Montreal’s then mayor, then prime minister Brian Mulroney as well as then Quebec minister Robert-Bourassa[15]. In search of a rationale behind this profoundly disturbing event, many debates were raised surrounding the nature of this attack and Lépine’s background. Many feminist groups have appropriated this attack as being directly anti-feminist while the public’s general opinion is geared more towards an act of violence directed to all women. This moment changed forever the discourse about violence against women in the Canadian medias who endorsed the story and diffused it worldwide[16]. Today, four women who survived this tragedy have been involved in the public sphere to strongly advocate for the presence of women at the Polytechnique. Jocelyn Dallaire Légaré, who made the funeral arrangements for the victims, Heidi Rathjen, a gun control activist, Nathalie Provost, a senior manager for the Quebec government, and Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire, the director of public relations at the time of the massacre[17].



The massacre has triggered a lot of debates and controversies, especially because very few information was given by government and criminal justice officials. It has been quickly seen as an example of the violence against women. Feminist scholars attributed Lépine’s actions to a national societal misogyny[18]. Criminologists viewed it as an example of hate or bias crime against women (targets interchangeable with others from the same group). Nevertheless, some saw the slaughter as the isolated act of a madman, given that suicide was Lépine’s primary motivation. Lépine’s actions were also perceived in a broader analysis of societal changes (individual isolation, increased poverty). A Globe Mail columnist even suggested that Lépine felt alienated in Quebec society as an immigrant’s child.

The police immediate response has been heavily criticized, because a prompter intervention and a better coordination would have limited the number of human losses[19]. It has also been considered as a major spur for the Canadian gun control legislation. Survivors and parents of victims organized themselves under the Coalition for Gun Control. Their activity led to the passage of the Bill C-68 (Firearms Act) in 1995, implementing a better screening of firearm applicants and the registration of guns[20].

The memorial plaque of the deceased women of the Polytechnique massacre [2]

On the topic of the violence against women, the Canadian women’s movement recalled that “the death of young women would not be in vain, we promised[21]”. In response to those claims was created the House of Commons Sub-Committee on the Status of Women, which released a report: “The war against women” in 1991, which proposed a “National Action Plan” in order to reduce violence against women through government policy.

Male survivors of the slaughter have been criticized for not intervening to stop Lépine when they have been asked to leave the rooms. The columnist Mark Steyn explained this lack of heroism by a “culture of passivity”, which would define Canadian maleness[22]. In parallel, the feminist movement has also been criticized for its appropriation of the massacre as a symbol of their struggle, using the massacre of women as a way to promote their agenda. Other critics argued that the feminist moralization bestowed guilt on all men (as potential murderers), whereas western culture doesn’t encourage violence against women. A memorial erected in Vancouver sparked controversy because was dedicated to “all women murdered by men”.

The slaughter’s trauma has given place to the construction of memory places and the organization of commemorative events throughout Canada. Since 1991 the anniversary of the massacre has become National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. In 2014, for the 25th anniversary of the massacre, the city of Montreal installed fourteen searchlights on the esplanade of Mount Royal, embodying the fourteen victims[23]. A movie, entitled Polytechnique raised a controversy over the legitimacy of experiencing the tragedy through a commercial film. Finally, in 2014 was established a 30 000$ national scholarship intended for female engineering graduate students.


The 1989 Polytechnique massacre is seen as the largest massacre shooting in Canadian history and it holds a massive significance when it comes to Feminism and their overall movement. The commission against violence of women was a starting point in Canadian history towards a positive feminist movement, that has stirred emotional responses from men along the way. With that being said, a promotion in media coverage and overall awareness of feminist views has been a mainstay in today’s world, which makes anti-feminist actions somewhat farfetched. Marc Lepine’s action will go down in Canadian history as one of the most horrific events and placed a microscope on women’s rights along with an emphasis on societal change. Relieving barriers in the workplace as well as overall equality has been a focus point for the feminist movement which has had a immense amount of support from the government along with support from the citizens of this great country. Lepine looked at his own misfortunes as a product of women taking away power from men. However, equality has always been a Canadian mainstay which should be supported and promoted as a positive movement. The deaths of the Polytechnique massacre should not be in vain, but used as motivation for future change in Canada.



[1]  Eglin, Peter and Hester, Stephen. The Montreal Massacre- A Story of Membership Categorization Analysis, Waterloo: Wilfried Laurie University Press, 2003. P. 14.

[2] O´Neil, Maureen. ”Why we need more Royal Commission: 30 years later”, Herizon Vol 15, Iss.2 (2001). 22/03/18. <>

[3] Bradley, Maureen. ”Reframing the Montreal Massacre: Strategies for Feminist Media Activism”, Canadian Journal of Communication Vol.31, Iss.4 (2006): 929-936. 26/02/18.

[4] Government of Canada. ”Status of Women Canada.” 29/03/18. <>

[5] Wilson, I.P (Trish).”Reading the ´Montreal Massacre`: Idosyncratic Insanity or The Misreading of Cultural Cues”. In Ethnographic Feminism: Essay in Anthropology, edited by Sally Cole and Lynne Phillips, 259-278. McGill-Queen`s University Press, 1996.

[6] Montpetit, Charles and Rathjen, Heide. ”Up in arms [excerpt from december 6: From the Montreal massacre to Gun control, the inside story]” in Chatelaine Vol.72, Iss.10 (1999): 86-92. 02/04/18. <>

[7] See: Simon de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (London: Jonathan Cape, 2009).

[8] Denise Baillargeon, W. Donald Wilson, A Brief History of Women in Quebec (Waterloo: Wilfried Laurier University Press, 2014), 174—175. 3 Ibid, 175.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid, 170—172.

[11] James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (New York: Random House, 1993), 89.

[12] Fanny Bugnon, “J’hais les féministes. Le 6 décembre 1989 et ses suites,” Recherches féministes 23, no. 2 (2010) : 192.

[13] Ibid., 194.

[14] Hélène Charron, “Retour sur un attentat antiféministe,” Recherches Féministes 24, no.2 (2011) : 219.

[15] Maureen Bradley, “Report: Reframing the Montreal massacre: Strategies for Feminist Media Activism,” Canadian Journal of Communication 31, no. 4 (2006): 929-930.

[16] Ayala, Dario. « Polytechnique massacre: Lives forever changed.” Montreal Gazette, December 7, 2015.

[17]Young, Katherine K.; Nathanson, Paul. Legalizing Misandry: From Public Shame to Systematic Discrimination Against Men. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press (2006).

[18] Sourour, Teresa K. Report of Coroner’s Investigation. (1991)

[19] Rathjen, Heidi; Charles Montpetit. December 6: From the Montreal Massacre to Gun Control. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. (1999)

[20] Rebick, Judy. “Where’s the funding for abused women?”. CBC. (December 6, 2000).

[21] Steyn, Mark. “A Culture of Passivity”. National Review. (April 18, 2007)

[22] “Se souvenir de Polytechnique”. Radio-Canada. December 6, 2014.


[1] “Reflection on the 28 years of remembering the Montreal Massacre.” 04/04/18.  < >

[2] Morris, Cerise. “Royal Comission on the Status of Women in Canada,” Historica Canada. Edited 22/03/16. < >





The Gomery Commission


Historically, Canada’s relationship with Quebec has been tumultuous. Spanning back to the years of colonialism, the province of Quebec has always maintained a unique position in Canada. Whether it be because of linguistic or cultural differences, it is undeniable that Quebec holds a vastly different relationship with the Canadian government than any other province. This distinct relationship that exists between Quebec and the rest of Canada is something that can be traced back to the friction between the British and French Empire in the colonial era. The English takeover of Quebec, a territory previously under French jurisdiction, heightened tensions between French and English people, and ultimately became one of the root causes of unhappiness within Quebec’s French population.


This tension came to a head during the 1995 Quebec referendum, in which the Quebec population narrowly voted to remain a part of Canada. As a response to this perplexing statement made by the Quebec population, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government created a “sponsorship program” in 1996.  The goal of this program was to encourage Canadian values and culture in Quebec. While the program initially appeared to have good intentions, what emerged was a program riddled with corruption and dishonesty. This program became the cause of public scrutiny in 2004 when an investigation was launched by then Prime Minister Paul Martin in order to further inspect the Canadian government’s “sponsorship program” in Quebec. This investigation became formally known as “The Gomery Commission,” and revealed all the wrongdoings of the program and its misuse of power.

Canadian history is filled with many instances which can be seen as important and monumental moments. We selected the Gomery Commission as our moment of impact because it covers societal aspects that we felt were important to discuss. The Gomery Commission has ties to Canada-Quebec relations, and in addition to addressing instances of corruption in the government, also allows for a better understanding of the language tensions that existed in full force before the inquiry was launched. This is an event in Canadian and Quebec history that we feel does not get the attention it deserves. This blog will therefore serve as a means to shed light on an important Canadian moment that is often overlooked.


Quebec’s first referendum on sovereignty occurred on May 20, 1980[1] with 59.6% voting against it and 85.6% participation[2]. Two years after the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1982, which Quebec did not agree to [3], Brian Mulroney of the Conservative party won federal elections, promising in his campaign to work towards integrating Quebec into the Constitution[4].

Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper

The Parti Quebecois, led by Rene Levesque, took “le beau risque” and promoted the Conservative party to bring down the Quebec Liberals and open up the possibility of amending the Constitution[5]. The later “Meech Lake Accord” of 1987,[6] which was to be signed by all ten provinces and ultimately garnered the support of seven in June of 1990, was to address inclusion of Quebec in the Constitution[7]. Should it have been successful, Quebec would be recognized as a “distinct society” within Canada, official bilingualism would be returned, a veto would be returned to Quebec, and additional powers would be accorded to provinces in determining Supreme Court Judges and Senators, all of which were demands by Quebec’s Premier Robert Bourrassa[8].

Meech Lake Accord

The “Charlottetown Accord”, drafted on August 28, 1992, was approved by the prime minister and the provincial and territorial leaders, and would have also granted Quebec recognition as a distinct society, the capacity to elect members of the Senate, and would have ensured it at least 25% of the seats at the House of Commons[9]. This was rejected in provincial referendums with 54.3% voting against it outside Quebec and 56.7% within[10]. Jacques Parizeau, leader of the Parti Quebecois, won the provincial election on September 12, 1994 and promised a second referendum on sovereignty[11]. Quebec’s second referendum occurred on October 30, 1995 with 50.6% voting against sovereignty and 93.5% participation[12]. This close result motivated government to prioritize management of Quebec separatism.


In the 1980s, under prime minister Brian Mulroney, there was a shift from past public policymaking which featured transparent decision making between public servants and outside experts, to reliance in favour of non-public expertise for policymaking[13] in an initiative called “PS2000”[14].

Brian Mulroney

This lead to a reduction of government bureaucracy and came to be known as New Public Management (NPM)[15]. There was a cultural shift in public administration by the adoption of market culture into government, where citizens were progressively seen as “clients” and services were increasingly privatized[16], with the intention to improve the efficiency of public services[17]. Consequently, the regulation of the public service was more difficult as activities were performed by private institutions[18]. The growth of media corporations provided government with better means to communicate with its citizens and change their positions on policies[19]. Methods used for the promotion of federalism was advertising at public fairs and exhibits, with imagery of the Canadian flag and the label “Canada” placed where visible, and the distribution of leaflets, or “service guides”, to Canadian households[20]. By 2003, annual advertising costs amounted to 111 million dollars[21]. The growth of government communication and the need to address Quebec’s discontent with the federal government led the path to the creation of the corrupt federal government sponsorship program in 1994[22].


The Gomery Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities was a monumental moment in Canadian, as well as Quebec, history. This moment led people to the conclusion that “[Canada] ha[d] an immediate problem that badly need[ed] fixing”[23]. This commission explored and exposed instances of “individual malfeasance”[24], as well as really got to the root of what exactly was plaguing this “sponsorship program”. As was previously mentioned, the “sponsorship program” was a direct response to the sentiments that surfaced after the 1995 Quebec Referendum. After this perplexing moment in Quebec, there was a push to increasingly promote Canadian interests and values to Quebec society. While this program appeared to have good intentions, the outcome instead resulted in a major “abuse of public trust”[25].

The Gomery Commission was initially requested after information emerged that “alleged that hefty fees were being paid to advertising firms…that had close connections to the Liberal party”[26]. In addition to this, there was evidence that the firms that were being given these large amounts of money “sometimes did very little work” when compared to what they were being paid[27]. The media played a key role in publicizing these wrongdoings and raising awareness about what was going on with the government’s sponsorship program. These alleged misdeeds became so popularized that in 2004, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin gave in to the “enormous public pressure,” and launched an inquiry into the allegations that were being reported[28]. Justice John H. Gomery was tasked with examining “what happened to the funds spent”[29] over the course of the program, as well as determining “who was responsible for the mismanagement of the sponsorship program”[30]. In addition to determining the root issues of the sponsorship program, Justice Gomery was also given the mandate to “make recommendations on how to prevent future mismanagement of government advertising activities”[31]. The Commission lasted until 2006, and during the two years since its launch, the Commission garnered lots of different information pertaining to exactly what went wrong.

Over the course of the two years in which the Gomery Commission was active, two reports were released: The Phase I Report (2005) and the Phase II Report (2006). The Phase I Report revolved around “assigning responsibility and blame for the abuse of office and misconduct” that was observed during the sponsorship program scandal[32]. The Phase II Report instead focused on making key recommendations about “restoring accountability” and ensuring that scandals such as this one do not occur again. The reports did indeed find that there was a misuse and abuse of the power instilled in certain people by virtue of the sponsorship program. A 2003 report by the Auditor General had found evidence of abuse of power, however the Gomery Commission noted that “in many cases, the irregularities and mismanagement were clearly worse and more widespread than the Auditor General learned or imagined”[33].These reports changed the dynamic that previously existed between the Canadian government, provinces, and advertising firms. The Gomery Commission is therefore responsible for addressing a culmination of abuses of power, and remedying an issue that had been plaguing Canadian societal functioning for years.

In response to the Commission’s findings, Jean Chrétien, the Canadian Prime Minister who founded the “sponsorship program” in 1996, stated:

“I regret any mistakes that might have been made in the course of this program, or any other government program… Those mistakes that were made in good faith can be excused. Any that were made in bad faith are inexcusable.”[34]

By this statement, it is evident that while the “sponsorship program” may have initially had good intentions, this notion did not translate to what was actually done. This moment in Canadian history can therefore be used as a reference for misuse of power, as well as abuse of public trust.


The significance of the Gomery Report was to publicize how the Liberal government misused the money of the taxpayers in the sponsorship program.[35] Prime Minister Chrétien mentioned that the sponsorship program was useful in reducing the support of Quebec separatists during the 1995 referendum, and for encouraging national unity in Canada. However, the Gomery Commission explained that it was beneficial for the Liberal Party because of the illegal payments between the advertisement companies and the Liberal government. The companies who received sponsorship contracts gave donations to the government. The Commission states that there were over one hundred million dollars funded by the Liberal Party illegally.[36] Therefore, the Gomery Inquiry was vital because it revealed that “the program went beyond legitimate federal visibility promotion and was used “for purposes other than national unity.” The lack of accountability within the public service came under criticism as well, characterized in the report as “insufficient oversight,” “a veil of secrecy,” “an absence of transparency,” and “deliberate actions to avoid compliance with federal legislation and policies.”[37]

PM Chrétien

Accordingly, three consequences were presented in the Sponsorship Scandal that made it considerable to the Canadian citizens. The first risk was that the government was misplacing their expertise to the private sector. The second risk was the lack of accountability towards the federal government because there were too many actors involved that it made it difficult to find those who were responsible. Lastly, the problem was the growing power of the Prime Minister’s Office in the Parliament while disregarding the other political parties.[38]

Moreover, Prime Minister Martin called another election as soon as Gomery’s results were out because of the pressure coming from their opposition parties. The findings of the Gomery Inquiry played a significant role in the outcome of the election because of the use of “game framing”.[39] They presented the news with drama and conflict, instead of being objective and showing both sides of the story. “According to Cappella and Hall Jamieson, the use of the strategy or game frame can have an impact on the public’s cynicism about politicians.”[40]  Additionally, the Gomery Commission exposed all the misconducts of the government, but they did not focus on the solutions that the political parties would take. The Commission gave many suggestions for improvement, but it does not necessarily require them to follow it which enhanced the mistrust towards the politicians.[41]

Also, the Sponsorship scandal is an important moment in Canada because it had a huge impact on the January 23, 2006 election. The Liberals lost for the first time in twelve years to the Conservatives.[42] As a result, the Conservative Party was able to gain ten seats in Quebec; thus the new Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, declared that the scandal under the Liberal government caused “enormous damage … to the image of federalism”.[43]  Many Quebecois did not want to vote for the liberals because the scandal had affected their perception of them as a reliable and dependable government.

All in all, the sponsorship program and the politicized communication will continue to exist in the future in various forms within the political game frame. According to Kozolanka, it is impossible for them to eliminate the government’s dependence on strategic communication.[44]


In conclusion, the Gomery Commission is significant because of its relevance with Quebec’s desire for sovereignty and Canada’s response, and because of its role in reforming government in light of the use of public funds for partisan goals. The release of the Commissioner Gomery’s reports in 2006 has provided the foundation for public mistrust of the Liberal Party and the federal government more generally and pointed out the failings of government accountability measures and required solutions.

Quebec Sovereignty

The sponsorship scandal was costly to the Liberal Party, in that following Gomery’s reports, former Liberals were feeling the heat of the scandal, such as David Dingwall, who was forced to resign from his position at the top of the Royal Canadian Mint[45], and his resignation may serve to further emphasize the extent of citizens’ discontent with the Liberal Party’s actions. An investigation of the consequences of the Gomery Commission following the 2006 election can be made, possibly in terms of how the voter base changed for the Conservatives, the New Democratic Party of Quebec and the Parti Quebecois, as well as the manner in which Gomery’s proposed solutions were carried out by the Harper Government.



[1] Yale, F., & Durand, C. (2011). What Did Quebeckers Want? Impact of Question Wording, Constitutional Proposal and Context on Support for Sovereignty, 1976-2008. The American Review of Canadian Studies, 41(3), 242.

[2] Ibid, 243.

[3] Ibid, 243.

[4] Savage, L. (2007). Organized Labour and Constitutional Reform under Mulroney. Labour, (60), 143.

[5] Ibid, 143.

[6] Ibid, 143

[7] Yale, Durand, 243.

[8] Savage, 143.

[9] Ibid, 158.

[10] Yale, Durand, 243.

[11] Ibid, 244.

[12] Ibid, 244.

[13] Kozolanka, K. (2006). The Sponsorship Scandal as Communication: The Rise of Politicized and Strategic Communications in the Federal Government. Canadian Journal of Communication, 31(2), 346.

[14] Hodgetts, J.E. 2007. “Royal Commissions and Public-Service Reform: Personal reflections”. Canadian Public Administration. 50 (4): 533..

[15] Kozolanka, 347.

[16] Hodgetts, 533.

[17] Kozolanka, 346.

[18] Hodgetts, 533.

[19] Kozolanka, 348-349.

[20] Ibid, 350.

[21] Ibid, 350.

[22] Ibid, 344.

[23] Thomas S. Axworthy. “The Responsibility Crisis in Canada.” Canadian Parliamentary Review (2005), 8.

[24] Ibid., 10.

[25] Ian Greene & David Shugarman. “Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities, Phase I Report and Phase II Report.” Canadian Public Administration (2006), 220.

[26] Ibid., 221.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ian Greene & David Shugarman. “Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities, Phase I Report and Phase II Report.” 221.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid., 222.

[34] CBC News Online. “Gomery Inquiry: Jean Chrétien: A Former PM Testifies.” CBCnews. February 8, 2005. Accessed April 05, 2018.

[35] Shannon Sampert, “All Things Gomery: The use of the strategic frame in the coverage of Gomery in

English Canadian newspapers,” York University, n.d.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Kirsten Kozolanka, “The Sponsorship Scandal as Communication: The Rise of Politicized and Strategic Communications in the Federal Government,” Canadian Journal of Communication 31, n. 11 (2006).

[38] Ibid.

[39] Shannon Sampert, “All Things Gomery: The use of the strategic frame in the coverage of Gomery in English Canadian newspapers,” York University, n.d.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] “Federal Sponsorship Scandal,” 2006, CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Kirsten Kozolanka, “The Sponsorship Scandal as Communication: The Rise of Politicized and Strategic Communications in the Federal Government,” Canadian Journal of Communication 31, n. 11 (2006).

[45] “Dingwall Receives $417,780 in Severance for Mint Ouster”, CBC News, February 4, 2006,

Richard Riot in Montreal of 1955


The timeline of Canadian history features an array of events that underlie the evolution of the country as it approached its contemporary form. These events not only defined the country, but influenced its unique identity within the North American political and social climate following the Second World War. Through its years of isolation during the Duplessis era in Quebec, the divisions of language became central to establishing a contrast between French and English-Canadians. As an influential symbol to the Quebecois in the middle of the twentieth century, the Montreal Canadiens were viewed by French-Canadians in Quebec as a symbol of national identity, especially with their star player, Maurice “The Rocket” Richard. In a defining moment in both the histories of the National Hockey League and that of Quebec, the Richard Riot of 1955 were a moment within a series of moments towards the eventual reclaiming of French-Canadian land during the Quiet Revolution. This will be explored through understanding the context of 1950s Quebec and the traditional regime of Maurice Duplessis; followed by a discussion of the moment on March 17, 1955 in Montreal; and finally, by evaluating this moment’s influence in the larger structure of the context in Quebec’s national movement towards modernization with the Lesage government elected in 1960 and the following Quiet Revolution.



Maurice Richard dressed in his Montreal Canadiens hockey uniform.

In the search of finding moments that matter within the larger context of Canadian history, historians apply the Moments Approach whereby the moment is chosen based on its local community impact, its structural influence, and its problematic historiography.1 The Richard Riot present an important moment in the process of Canadian nation-building parallel to converging national movements developing in the province of Quebec. The local community impact of the Richard Riot were both economically damaging and socially frowned upon but an influence towards larger structural change occurring in Quebec through the national divergence of French-Canadians from Canada. The problematic historiography of this moment is muddied through the different perspectives of French and English writers discussing the event. This blog post will use the Moments Approach to demonstrate the Richard Riot of 1955 as an event among a series of political and social changes, marking the beginnings of a national movement in Quebec as it approached its period of modernization and developing a unique identity.



Maurice Duplessis, the 16th Premier of Quebec.

In the case of riots, these events are frequently stemmed from long term internal conflict. Each riot must have some pre-existing and widespread understanding and shared perception of a common identity. This was demonstrated through Quebecers in the Richard Riot of 1955. French-Canadians had for a long time developed anxieties of being dominated by the British presence during colonial and post-confederation Canada.2 Since the nineteenth century and the influx of a British presence in Quebec, British merchants had taken hold of the economy in the province thus establishing the anglophone dominance of the Quebec economy. This was Maurice Duplessis’ basis as to his isolation of the province of Quebec during the “Grand Noirceur” lasting his regime as premier. Duplessis was elected under the Union Nationale twice: first between 1936-39 and 1944-1959. Duplessis was known for his distrust of the federal government, having stated that the federal government was the child of the provinces and not the other way around.3 Following the Great Depression and the Second World War, Maurice Duplessis sought to economically remove the province from the control of the federal government in order to avoid any more manipulation from outside the province.4 This decision came from his refusal of sending French-Canadians overseas upon conscription and was reflective of developing nationalist initiatives in the province.






Moreover, rather than provide significant economical progress to the province, Duplessis stunted economic development because of his conservative ideologies. Through his focus of developing rural regions and in refusing to create trading relationships outside of the province, Duplessis isolated the province and thus impeding modernization.5 The issue with Maurice Duplessis was his refusal to grow the province and his insistence on attacking federalist decisions and creating a further political divide between anglophones and francophones living in and outside of Quebec. Instances of Duplessis’ attacks on the federal government are the appointment of the Tremblay Commission of Inquiry on Constitutional Problems in 1953, which studied the division of tax revenue between the different levels of power in the country.6 Through this commission Duplessis argued for changes in the constitution that should be made and thus further developed tensions between the anglo-dominant federal government and the French-Canadian minority living within the borders of Quebec.

March 17, 1955


An image of the smoke bomb set off near Clarence Campbell, the head of the NHL.

The Richard Riot are, on the surface, based on the sport of hockey. The Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens have an on-ice and off-ice rivalry that any long-time hockey fan would be able to discuss, as it is often considered to be the best rivalry in all of hockey history. In a late-season game, March 13, 1955, an on-ice confrontation happened between Bruins player Hal Laycoe and Maurice Richard of the Canadiens. While the Bruins player was about to have a penalty called against him, Richard had his “wires touch.”7 He slashed the Bruins player in the head and proceeded to attempt to hurt one of the on-ice officials. He ended up punching linesman Cliff Thompson in the face twice, knocking him unconscious. Richard was kicked out of the game and immediately fined $100.8 Boston police then attempted to arrest Richard before both the Bruins and Canadiens teams turned the police away, stating that the league was going to take care of the incident and not law enforcement. A hearing for the incident happened at the league commissioner’s office, Clarence Campbell, in Montreal, three days later. Present at the hearing were Richard, Laycoe, Thompson and management from both the Bruins and the Canadiens.9 This being Richard’s second major offense of the season, Campbell suspended Richard for the rest of the season and the playoffs. Montreal fans were immediately enraged, some even expressing their anger by calling the NHL’s head office, which at the time was in Montreal, and issuing death threats to the NHL’s commissioner. Feeling around the league, however, believed that the punishment was more than fair and could have even been worse, considering Richard’s past violent history with players and officials dating back to seven years prior.




The riot then occurred. “Montrealers” rioted as their favorite and best player had just been suspended for the rest of the hockey season, ending their championship hopes immediately. Part of the reason they rioted was due to the French population of the city believing that the English elite of the NHL had taken advantage of their majority status by punishing the best French-Canadian player in the NHL.10 Campbell attended the next home game for Montreal where over 6000 non-ticket holders showed up in the lobby of the Montreal Forum (the home arena for the Montreal Canadiens at the time). The crowd was raucous but when police began to intervene, the crowd became violent, resorting to throwing bricks and ice chunks through windows and at passing street cars. After the first period of the game, Montreal trailed 4-1. The fans responded by booing Campbell, throwing eggs and other debris at him and one fan even managed to attack Campbell landing a slap and a punch on the league’s commissioner.11 A riot had broken out in the arena and Montreal’s fire department ordered an evacuation of the building, effectively suspending the game. Montreal would end up conceding the game to punish its fans. As the fans left the arena the riot outside grew bigger, leading to injuries in the police force and over twenty civilians injured as well. The riot would only end at 3 AM, seeing multiple stores on St. Catherine Street being looted, amounting to over $100,000 in damages.12 Over 40 arrests were made and has gone down as one of the most dangerous nights in Montreal’s long history.


The significance of the Richard Riot is its demonstration of a cultural division between French and English populations in the province of Quebec and therefore was an active factor in the development of the Quiet Revolution. The Quiet Revolution was an era in Quebec history which began in 1960 with the election of Jean Lesage’s Liberal Party. This period is marked by Lesage’s saying: “maîtres chez nous,” instigating that Quebecers were to run their province, separated from the federal government.13 The riot, as suggested by Shoalts, was not so much a movement towards separation entirely, but more so the French minority of Canada reclaiming their power within their own boundaries.14 This establishing of boundaries of French-Canadians living in Quebec signified the establishing identity aligned with taking control over internal matters.

These movements towards self-government within the province was essentially an economic reclaiming. This reclaim saw Lesage try to claim more provincial powers in order to effectively renew the economy in Quebec whereby it was run by the French majority.15 This assertion was the foundation of the Quiet Revolution which in time developed into a full-force nationalist movement towards separation brought by the growing presence of the Parti Québécois by the end of the 1960s. The Quiet Revolution’s theme of breaking away from central structures is also displayed by the provincial government’s divide with the Roman Catholic Church.16 The Church had consistently held a significant hold on social and political structures in Quebec and thus it represented a drastic renewal of the provincial government. The significance of the Richard Riot is in its drastic splitting of Canadian culture through which is brought about major nationalist moments in search of a sovereign Quebec.


Although some scholars agree that the Quiet Revolution began in 1959 after the death of Premier Maurice Duplessis, to many French speaking Quebecers, the 1955 Richard Riot sowed the seeds of provincial sovereignty, secularization, and the creation of welfare states in the years that followed.17,18 However, to argue that the riot categorically led to the revolution would be an overstatement. What the riot did create was the perceived perspective of the French-Canadian experience during 1950s. A typical Quebec French Canadian saw an Anglophone president of an Anglophone league suspending a French player, unfairly, symbolically mirroring the power dynamics occurring in the province. Prior to the Quiet Revolution, French Canadians were inherently disadvantaged within Quebec. Politics were still being dominated by the traditional middle class, which was circumscribed by the Anglophone business sector.19 Presently, Quebec is a dramatically different province than the pre-1960 era. The efforts of the Quiet Revolution have shown results as Quebec’s political landscape is currently dominated by a new francophone business class.20 There is, however, one major factor that should be noted, as Quebec proceeds into 2018. The province will soon be holding the 42nd general election in the fall to elect members of the National Assembly of Quebec. According to the Montreal Gazette, for the first time in about 50 years, the old federalism-versus-sovereignty debate will not be main point of debate. All three parties, including the main rivals of the Liberals, have put that issue aside. The Coalition Avenir Québec has decided to run on a Federalist platform, while the second party in opposition, the Parti Québécois, says it will not hold a referendum if it gets a mandate.21 Federalism, however, contradicts the narrative that the Richard Riot and Quiet Revolution promoted.

The Quiet Revolution is often conflated with Quebec sovereignty, and could be argued that it triggered the two ensuing referendum votes to separate from Canada. However, the main objective wasn’t concerning sovereignty but rather to reclaim provincial power allowing French Quebecers to be heard. During the Richard Riot, French Quebecers took to the streets of Montreal to assert themselves as they were tired of being dismissed from the provincial elite. The suspension of Maurice Richard was not only an injustice to the player, but also an injustice to all French Quebecers alike.

1 “Welcome to HIST 203,” History 203, January 10, 2018, McGill University.

2 R. M. Burns, ed., English-Speaking Quebecer in a Separated Quebec vol. 6, 12 (Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1971): 122.

3 Gervais Stephan, ed., Quebec Questions vol. 4, 29 (Oxford University Press, 201): 49.

4 Herbert F. Quinn, “The Role of the Union Nationale Party in Quebec Politics, 1935-48,” The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science / Revue canadienne d’Économique et de Science politique 15, No, 4 (November, 1949): 524.

5 Herbert F. Quinn, “The Role of the Union Nationale Party in Quebec Politics, 1935-48,” The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science / Revue canadienne d’Économique et de Science politique, 526.

6 Ibid., 524.

7 Jean Béliveau, Chris Goyens, and Allen Turowetz, Jean Beliveau: My Life in Hockey, (Toronto, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart, 1994): 89.

8 Jean Béliveau, et al., Jean Béliveau: My Life in Hockey, 92.

9 Ibid., 91.

10 Todd Denault, Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey (Toronto, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart, 2009): 157.

11 Todd Denault, Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey, 159.

12 Ibid., 160.

13 Les Perreaux, “Riots Erupt After “Rocket” Richard Suspension, Globe and Mail, March 16, 2015. McGill University Library.

14 David Shoalts, “Quebec Unrest Over in Richard,” Globe and Mail, March 17, 2005. McGill University Library.

15 Les Perreaux, “Riots Erupt After “Rocket” Richard Suspension.”

16 Sidney Katz, “The Strange Forces Behind The Richard Hockey Riot,” Macleans’, March 17, 1955. McGill University Library.

17 Hugh Bingham Myers, The Quebec Revolution (Quebec: Harpell’s Press, 1964), 3.

18 Alain G. Gagnon and Mary Beth Moncalm, Quebec: Beyond the Quiet Revolution (Ontario: Nelson Canada,1990), 23.

19 Hugh Bingham Myers, The Quebec Revolution, 5.

20 Alain G. Gagnon and Mary Beth Moncalm, Quebec: Beyond the Quiet Revolution, 197.

21 Philip Authier, “The year ahead in Quebec politics: Brace for what could be a historic general election in 2018,” Montreal Gazette, Jan. 1, 2018. Accessed February 27,2018.


How many scores equal to the Canadian citizenship? -The Point system in 1967

By Elise Weber, Julie Yoon, Sara Riad, Wang Nexus, Zhang Han 

Feeling nervous about upcoming exams? Immigrants in 1960s might face more anxious examinations when they first came to Canada than yours on the campus.

In some immigrants’ eyes, the history of Canada can be seen as the history of themselves. From “Head taxes” to policies restricting Asian immigrants in the early 20th century to Citizenship Act changes in 2017, the story of Canadian immigration is not a smooth path.

Chinese Immigration Certificate[1])

After the Second World War, there was an increasing appeal for more skilled professionals into Canadian society. Also, a series of reformed human rights legislation forced the Canadian government to eliminate racial, religious or ethnic barriers to Canadian immigration. The immigration regulations introduced in 1967 were a watershed event which firmly abolished discrimination by race or nationality, and adopted an objective calculating system to attract a new labour force into Canadian society. By the following analysis, we can figure out what were the specific requirements of a Canadian citizen at that period, and how the form of point system influences future immigration regulations.


Post-war Canadian immigration

The Canadian history is a chronicle of integration and multiculturalism. In fact, Canada is built upon different cultures, and this diversity has always been a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian identity. Therefore, immigration is an essential method for providing new and distinct values and cultures to help define Canada as a unique nation. In addition to the cultural aspect, Canada draws its strength from the immigrants in a workforce and economic perspective. With this highly valued concern for immigration, the primary goals of the Canadian immigration policy are updated continuously to adequately address the interests corresponding to different time periods.

Between the end of the second world war to the early 1960s, the regulation of immigration to Canada is based on the country of origin of the immigrant.[2]The Immigration criteria for immigrants from England, France, United-States, and some other preferred nations are kept to a minimum. However, the other immigrants must undergo more complicated procedures as their approval depends on the immediate need of their personal and technical skills in Canada. In the late 1950s, the high level of demand for labour has reduced the admission restrictions for non-preferred country immigrants. As a result, in 1956 the sponsorship rights are extended to all immigrants from Europe instead of just those coming from the preferred countries.[3]It is critical to understand that the sponsored immigrants were mostly unskilled and they quickly became the dominant inflow of immigrants.
To address this issue, the Canadian government has shifted the processing priority of the individual based on his skill level instead of the country of origin by adopting Order PC 86 in 1962.[4] This new Order has also created two categories in the sponsorship. The first being that skilled and qualified individuals can be sponsored by direct Canadian citizen relatives (fiancé(e), parents, and parent-in-law). The second is the sponsorship by any Canadian citizens or landed immigrants for their immediate dependents and relatives. The application of this Order has generated a few problems. In fact, there is no specific method to clearly define the type of skills that are in need, there is no guideline for officers to determine if the immigrant possess the skill, and this new policy has granted too much unlimited power to immigration officers.[5]The Canadian government is equally aware that the universal sponsorship rights will pose a threat to the skill-focused immigration policy by further increasing the inflow of unskilled immigrants.

To address these issues, the Canadian government tried to propose a 1966 White Paper on immigration that restricts the practice of sponsorship for non-citizens. However, this proposal is eventually dropped due to the negative response of the immigrant community.[6]It is in such a context that the Point System was introduced in 1967.

The 1967 point system

In 1967, Canada became the first country in the world to adopt a points system for immigrants. The Pearson government during Canada’s centennial year, set new regulations where potential immigrants were no longer discriminated based on their race.[7] The new policy indicates that based on these nine categories: education and training; personal character; occupational demand; occupational skill; age; pre-arranged employment; knowledge of French and English; the presence of a relative in Canada; and employment opportunities in their area of destination, new immigrants were given points and their final score determines if they are eligible to immigrate to Canada or not.[8]Moreover, under the point system, immigrants were divided into three categories: independent, nominated and sponsored. However, immediate relatives of Canadian citizens or permanent residents were considered sponsored. Therefore, they were not qualified based on the nine categories mentioned above. Also, for those who accumulated 50 points or more out of a 100, they were admitted as independent immigrants. However, in some special cases based on the character of the applying individual, their admission was denied.[9] On the other hand, the new policy was beneficial for visitors as well. They could apply for immigration while in Canada. In case an applicant was denied, the Immigration Appeals Board(IAB) could receive their appeal if they decided to do so.[10] The Point System not only emphasized family reunification and humanitarian concerns but also focused its immigration benefits toward potential immigrants with characteristics that coincide with Canada’s evolving needs and interests during that time.[11]

Part of Immigration Act 1976[12]

Moment that matter

The changes in the regulatory system in 1967 were substantial and were to form the framework for immigration policy for the next three decades. The newly instated point system was the first immigration policy in Canadian history that didn’t consider race, nationality or colour, shifting immigration away from any “of-origin” bias in eligibility. Therefore, it is not surprising, that since 1967 the source of Canadian immigrants has shifted away from developed countries (e.g. Europe and the United States) to developing countries (e.g. Africa, Asia and Latin America), shifting Canada’s ethnic composition and encouraging diversity. For example, evidence collected in 1968 shows us that 79.7% of arriving immigrants were from developed countries and by 1990, just 30 years, this share had declined to 28.1%8 (Wright&Maxim). As evident, these policies contributed to a changing Canadian nature. During the mid 20th century, Canadian society was witnessing a shift towards young and educated immigrants and families, which emphasized Canada’s drive towards gaining human capital and skills development. The nature of this new system also shows us the fact that immigration was and is an economic policy tool in Canada rather than a human rights effort.[13]

At this point, Canada was now a society that encouraged diversity and resisted “American melting-pot policies,.” During this time there was a solidifying national identity of Canada being a “Cultural mosaic,” with the diversification of national identity and influx of immigration.[14]The year of 1967 was a formative one for Canadian immigration and immigration policy. The Point System was a unique approach to addressing the Industrial post-war era of Canadian society. Not only did the system work to bring in skilled labourers but be selective in value over particular skills in which corresponding fields were in high demand. For example, if there were a high demand for civil workers such as electricians or plumbers, prospective immigrants with similar skills would be given more value within the point system. Therefore, this selection ability demonstrated that the specifics of country’s immigration policy and the mechanics of the system in place has an effect on the type of immigrants that are attracted and accepted at a given time.

A key takes away point regarding postwar immigration policy is that this was also a time when emerging special-interest groups played a central role in shaping that policy. In 1959, 1966, and again in 1988, immigrant lobby groups in Canada successfully altered government policy.[[15]]  1967 marked the creation of a formal framework within which immigration policy has been conducted ever since. That does not mean, of course, that immigration policy stagnated. During the 1970s when Canada, like other countries, experienced lower rates of growth, inflation, and consistently high unemployment, the government substantially reduced the level of immigration. Due to the wavering patterns of the domestic Canadian economy, especially the recessions throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, had a severe impact on lowering immigration rates as well as the implementation of strike skill selection for new immigrants in 1976 (Green & Green). Since then, there has been an ongoing debate on the efficacy of the system and the value system of skills, but it continues to be the framework for Canadian immigration today.

The story of Canadian immigration is not one of orderly population growth; it has been and remains both a catalyst to Canadian economic development and a mirror of Canadian attitudes and values.


Further influence

The innovative point immigration system of 1967 has since admitted millions of people into Canada. The path has not always been smooth; it remained the subject of criticism and was questioned for problems such as the discrepancy between the immigrants’ credentials and their actual translation to the Canadian market (Beach). Especially in professional fields such as legal or medical, the process of recognizing and exchanging certifications have not been all successful. Significant revisions have been made to the system in 1978 and 2002, yet the system still leaves much room for improvement.

The Point System nonetheless has brought much success as well. It decreased discrimination of races and country of origin and recognized individual skills and qualifications. It helped to increase the ethnic diversity of Canada and brought in individuals who significantly contributed to the economy. Many scholars studied the system and praised the lasting impacts it brought. Millions of people earned the chance to enter Canada and had opportunities to live new lives. In 2016, 1 in 5 Canadian citizens was foreign-born (who are or have been landed immigrants or permanent residents in Canada) (Statistics Canada). Selected and qualified individuals have they been through the system, these immigrants have contributed to the economy, culture and political spheres of Canada as successful members of the nation. Canada is proud to be called a mosaic of multiculturalism thanks to the Point System that has provided the opportunity to many diverse individuals to live in this beautiful country.




[1]The Canadian Encyclopedia, Immigration in Canada, photo, certificate issued to Ching Ng (Chin Ng Jai), 1918. Retrieved from:

[2]Alan G. Green and David A. Green, “Canadian Immigration Policy: The Effectiveness of the Point System and Other Instruments,” The Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue Canadienne d’Econonomique 28, no. 4b (Nov. 1995): 1010-1011, accessed February 23, 2018,

[3]Alan G. Green and David A. Green, “Canadian Immigration Policy: The Effectiveness of the Point System and Other Instruments,” The Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue Canadienne d’Econonomique 28, no. 4b (Nov. 1995): 1011, accessed February 23, 2018,

[4] Alan G. Green and David A. Green, “The goals of Canada’s Immigration Policy: A Historical Perspective,” Canadian Journal of Urban Research 13, no. 1 (Summer 2004): 116, accessed February 23, 2018,

[5]Alan G. Green and David A. Green, “The goals of Canada’s Immigration Policy: A Historical Perspective,” Canadian Journal of Urban Research 13, no. 1 (Summer 2004): 117, accessed February 23, 2018,

[6] Alan G. Green, Immigration and the Postwar Canadian Economy (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1976), 36-42.

[7] Jan Raska, Monica MacDonald, Erica Gagnon, Lindsay Van Dyk and Steve Schwinghamer, “Immigration Regulations, Order-in Council PC 1967-1616, 1967,” Canadian Museum of Immigrtion at Pier 21,  accessed February 16, 2018,

[8] Jan Raska, Monica MacDonald, Erica Gagnon, Lindsay Van Dyk and Steve Schwinghamer, “Immigration Regulations, Order-in Council PC 1967-1616, 1967,” Canadian Museum of Immigrtion at Pier 21,  accessed February 16, 2018,

[9] Jan Raska, Monica MacDonald, Erica Gagnon, Lindsay Van Dyk and Steve Schwinghamer, “Immigration Regulations, Order-in Council PC 1967-1616, 1967,” Canadian Museum of Immigrtion at Pier 21,  accessed February 16, 2018,

[10]Jan Raska, Monica MacDonald, Erica Gagnon, Lindsay Van Dyk and Steve Schwinghamer, “Immigration Regulations, Order-in Council PC 1967-1616, 1967,” Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21,  accessed February 16, 2018,

[11]Alan G. Green and David A. Green, “Canadian Immigration Policy: The Effectiveness of the Point System and Other Instruments,” The Canadian Journal of Economics / Revue Canadienne d’Economique 28, no.4b (1995): 1008,

[12]Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Immigration, 1976. Retrieved from:

[13] Alan G. Green and David A. Green, “The goals of Canada’s Immigration Policy: A Historical Perspective,” Canadian Journal of Urban Research 13, no. 1 (Summer 2004): 120, accessed February 23, 2018,

[14] William T. Stanbury and Ilan B. Vertinsky, “Economics, Demography and Cultural Implications of Globalization: The Canadian Paradox”, MIR: Management International Review 44, no. 2 (2004): 133.

[15] Alan G. Green and David A. Green, “Canadian Immigration Policy: The Effectiveness of the Point System and Other Instruments,” The Canadian Journal of Economics / Revue canadienne d’Economique 28, no.4b (1995): 1015,




Jan Raska, Monica MacDonald, Erica Gagnon, Lindsay Van Dyk and Steve Schwinghamer, “Immigration Regulations, Order-in Council PC 1967-1616, 1967,” Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21,  accessed February 16, 2018,

Alan G. Green and David A. Green, “The goals of Canada’s Immigration Policy: A Historical Perspective,” Canadian Journal of Urban Research 13, no. 1 (Summer 2004): 116, accessed February 23, 2018,

Charles Beach, Alan G. Green and Christopher Worswick, “Impacts of the Point System and Immigration Policy Levers on Skill Characteristics of Canadian Immigrants,” Queen’s Economics Department Working Paper, no. 1115 (2006): p.

Statistics Canada, “Immigrant population in Canada, 2016 Census of Population”, Accessed February 23, 2018.

Alan G. Green and David A. Green, “Canadian Immigration Policy: The Effectiveness of the Point System and Other Instruments,” The Canadian Journal of Economics / Revue canadienne d’Economique 28, no.4b (1995): 1008,

William T. Stanbury and Ilan B. Vertinsky, “Economics, Demography and Cultural Implications of Globalization: The Canadian Paradox”, MIR: Management International Review 44, no. 2 (2004): 133.

The Canadian Encyclopedia, Immigration in Canada, photo, certificate issued to Ching Ng (Chin Ng Jai), 1918. Retrieved from:

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Immigration, 1976. Retrieved from:

Sir George Williams Affair


The 1960s was a time of change in many ways all over the world. In Canada, there was the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, a new Canadian flag, First Nations people were granted the right to vote, Leonard Braithwaite, a Black Canadian man, was elected into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps some of these events were previously unknown to many people, even to Canadians. However, one thing that many people are familiar with that went on in the 1960s is the civil rights movement. The decolonization of Africa, in which they were on their way to gaining independence from Europe, was also ongoing throughout the ‘60s. Although these things were happening in other countries, they did give a context for Black Canadians to work towards change as

“Justice” was done by black militants, to the Computer Center entrance. Note piled up furniture (smashed), broken door glas etc. (Accessed 25 February 2018)

well. As stated by Benjamin Talton, “the year 1960 is a significant symbolic marker for the start of many processes tethered to African political autonomy, including a more Black centered struggle against White supremacy fought on the continent and in the United Nations”[1]. An important moment for Black Canadians in Canadian history was the Sir George Williams Affair of 1969, a peaceful protest-turned riot that took place at Sir George Williams University in Montreal, now known as Concordia University. The reason for selecting this as an important moment is because it brought attention to the issue of racism in Canada. It promoted progression of thought by raising questions about how the country was treating minorities, and how racism was being handled. In addition to demonstrating discrimination and injustice and bringing attention to these things, it is relevant to us because we are students in a university, and although this moment happened decades ago, it has influenced the way our schools are run today; they are more open and welcoming, and do not tolerate racism. In 1969, the professor accused of racism got away with it, but with the progress that has been made, a professor in today’s society would hopefully not be able to get away with something like this. In 2015, a film called Ninth Floor premiered, documenting the lives of different individuals whose lives were changed by what happened at Sir George Williams University in 1969. The Sir George Williams Affair is a moment that had profound impacts at the time, and it still has an impact, even all these years later.



The largest student riot in Canadian history did not materialize out of thin air. To fully grasp why this riot took place, one needs to contextualize it on a provincial and global scale. The province of Québec, specifically the city of Montréal, was no utopia for Black Canadian immigrants during the 1960s. Racism, coupled with anti-immigrant sentiments, were daily stumbling blocks for the latter to overcome. For example, Black Canadians were often made to feel inferior as they entered restaurants in downtown Montréal. Their sense of inferiority was most acutely felt when they were looked down upon by customers of European descent or refused service by restaurant owners.[2] Job discrimination was another common reality for many in the Black community as they often worked below their paygrade. Thus, due to their perpetual status as victims of bigotry in Montréal during the 1960s, many Black Canadians deemed it necessary to mobilize themselves and fight the good fight – that is, against racial discrimination. Multiple committees, such as the Caribbean Conference Committee, were established by persecuted immigrants of African/Caribbean descent. These committees varied in their size and scope. However, most shared the same long-term goal: raising the overall plight of Black Canadians in Montréal and elsewhere. Some committees had a larger societal impact than others. Members of the Caribbean Conference Committee arguably had the largest societal impact when, following a peaceful “sit-in” on the ninth floor of the Henry F. Hall Building (SGWU), they violently clashed with police.

During the 1960s, immigrants of African/Caribbean descent were not exclusively influenced to take action by provincial realities of racial discrimination. They were also heavily influenced by global realities of monumental change in the fight against imperialism and systemic racism. Unlike the 1950s, the 1960s was a decade of great upheaval on the global stage. Many, though not all, European colonies in Africa and Latin America gained their independence.[3] Examples include Nigeria (1960), Algeria (1962), Jamaica (1962), Barbados (1966), and more. Black Canadians were largely moved by these successful claims to self-determination. In the United States, the civil rights movement – spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and others – also moved the latter. The combined effects of the decolonization and civil rights movements further inspired many Balck Canadians to actively, rather than passively, seek justice. As stated earlier, they did so through various means. The establishment of multiple (Accessed 25 February 2018)

Computer print-out paper hangs from lamp standard on McKay Street after being tossed out of 9th floor windows. (Accessed 25 February 2018)

committees, such as the Caribbean Conference Committee, is one example. Members of these committees took it upon themselves to invite guest speakers on college campus and stage protests against racial discrimination, including one peaceful “sit-in” that went violently awry. This led to the largest student riot in Canadian history, which had long-lasting repercussions for immigrants of African/Caribbean descent.







11 FEBRUARY 1969

Arrested occupation force awaits fingerprinting, questioning and booking in labs on 9th floor prior to being taken to cells. (Accessed 25 February 2018)


On February 11th, 1969, at Sir George Williams University in downtown Montréal, a group of aggressive students, in support of a political cause surrounding racism, destroyed a 1.4-million-dollar main computer and set fire to a data center.[4] Black and White students of both sexes occupied the data center for two weeks and were peaceful until the morning of February 1st, where they decided to set fire to the center.[5] The affair derived from distrust between student radicals and the university administrators that allegedly allowed an assistant biology professor named Perry Anderson to carry out a racist operation of continuously failing his black students. The policemen arrested 21 white women, 12 black women, 32 white men and 28 black men along with 3 juveniles.[6] These students will be charged with conspiracy to commit mischief and arson. Though the number of students does not come close to equaling the amount there truly was during the riot. When they received information that a police squad received the right to barge in and arrest whomever they see, around 200 of the rioters escaped never to be caught or charged for what they took a part in.[7] Montreal firemen arrived shortly after and water was war was poured from both inside and outside until it was completely put out. The first disturbance that morning came from the faculty lounge at 4 a.m. where the students smashes furniture, turned on fire hoses and barricaded any use of elevators.[8] It started when they found out that the racism charges were planned to be dealt with by the school creating a committee with teachers and students to negotiate these kinds of situations. This angered the students because they felt like their charges weren’t being taken seriously. 250 Back and White men and women stood outside the school chanting how they did not want violence though many white students did not see how the riot was worth the school being destroyed for they were just there to receive an education and couldn’t relate to the rioters.[9] Some parents were worried about their children rioters whom were stuck inside the building and weather they were safe or not. Montreal police handled the situation as peacefully as they could have with ensuring the safety of the students and staff.[10]



The crowd grows as smoke and water pour out of the Hall Building. (Accessed 25 February 2018)

The Sir George Williams Affair is a moment of great significance for the Black community both on the local and the international level. Many scholars describe this event as being a spark leading to a Black renaissance in the city of Montreal[11]. Although Black resistance against White repression had been deeply present in the city long before the riots took place, the affair helped the Black community take a stand and challenge the consensus over the White supremacy in the Canadian capitalist society[12]. In fact, students targeted the computer room of the university with the belief that these technological objects symbolized the Western imperialism’s capitalist power over poor nations[13]. The Sir George Williams Affair can therefore be understood as an illustration of the Black militancy in the face of white racism and abuse of black populations[14]. Because of their broad socio-political agenda against discrimination, the student protests resulted in the coming together of various Black communities of Montreal[15]. In fact, a great number of activists decided to translate this student movement into the community level by creating different organizations and institutions that would have the celebration and protection of Black identities as their main goal[16]. There were also weekly meetings that were organized, known as the “Thursday Night Rally”, where guest speakers and community members would discuss on issues related to race and racism[17].  The creation of communication media such as Black is Television also helped the community rally around the same cause and create a pan-African sense of unity[18]. What has perhaps been the greatest local legacy is the foundation of the UHURU, a newspaper led by Black activists articulating the claims over justice of the black community[19]. This provided a platform for Black ideas challenging the assumptions of the Western society without being censured or controlled by Whites[20]. Thus, the Sir George Williams affair contributed to the formation of a pan-African solidarity movement that was consolidated through the creation of institutions promoting the identity and the voice of the Black community in Montreal.

However, the repercussions of the affair weren’t limited to the local level. In fact, the intense media coverage of the events and their worldwide broadcast led to the eruption of protests against symbols of Canadian power throughout the Caribbean[21]. An example would be how Canada’s Governor-General was confronted by hostile students in his visits in several countries of the region, especially in Trinidad where he had to be removed from the University of West Indies campus[22]. Thus, a certain pan Africanism-Black Power that manifested itself through mass protestations and newspaper publications was activated overseas by the affair[23]. Moreover, the 1970 trial of ten Trinidad nationals in Montreal accused of destroying the computers during the Sir George Williams affair sparked a series of mass demonstrations in Trinidad, which eventually threatened to overthrow Williams’ government[24].



To conclude, the Sir George Williams affair was an important moment in Canadian history. The event was not a stand-alone occurrence, but rather a response to Canadian racism and long-established racialized conditions in Canada.[25] Although the initial protest and riot only occurred in the beginning months of 1969, events leading up to it had been brewing since 28 April 1968.[26] Moreover, Black radical politics in Montréal had gained a foothold since the 1960s. Although the riot never led to firing of Professor Perry Anderson, it had long lasting effects in Canada and abroad. The protest brought race relations to the forefront of the public’s attention. The public no longer had the luxury of turning a blind eye to racial discrimination in Montréal and the rest of Canada. With the aftermath of the riot, a multitude of Black organizations emerged with the goal of improving the quality of life of African Canadians through various means of social uplift, such as the establishment of committees and organizations. Some of these organizations included the following: Cote des Neiges Black Community Association; Black Coalition of Quebec; Notre-Dame-de-Grace Black Community Association; LaSalle Black Community Association; Quebec Black Board of Educators; Black Study Centre; Black Theatre Workshop; Black Is Television; Black Action Party.[27] The creation of these organizations had a profound influence on the political and social attitudes of Canadians with respect to race relations. African Canadians subsequently lived in a more, though not fully, inclusive, equitable society.

Thus, the riot, though unsuccessful in its initial goal, had a monumental and lasting impact on Canadian history. It illuminated the mistreatment of Black Canadian immigrant Black Canadian students at SGWU and throughout Canada. Looking back at this moment in history through a contemporary lens, it is also important to note that police brutality has a long history in North American and, unfortunately, has yet to be fully eradicated. Racial discrimination against Black Canadians is still a reality for many individuals. However, race relations in Montréal and the rest of Canada were forever changed – that is, arguably for the better – as a long-term effect of the Sir George Williams affair.




Austin, David. “All Roads Led to Montreal: Black Power, the Caribbean, and the Black Radical Tradition in Canada.” The Journal of African American History 92, no. 4 (2007): 516-539.

Balfour, Clair. “1.4 million loss at Sir George Williams Students Destroy Computer.” Accessed March 1, 2018.

Benjamin Talton, “1960s Africa in Historical Perspective: An Introduction,” Journal of Black Studies 43, no.1 (2012):

Dorothy W. Williams, The Road to Now: A History of Blacks in Montreal (Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1997)

Forsythe, Dennis. 1971. Let the Niggers burn: The Sir George Williams University affair and its Caribbean aftermath. Montreal: Our Generation Press.

Mills, Sean. 2010. The empire within: postcolonial thought and political activism in sixties Montreal. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.


[1] Benjamin Talton, 1960s Africa in Historical Perspective: An Introduction, Journal of Black Studies Vol. 43, (2012), 4.


[2] Dorothy W. Williams, The Road to Now: A History of Blacks in Montreal (Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1997), 39.

[3] Benjamin Talton, “1960s Africa in Historical Perspective: An Introduction,” Journal of Black Studies 43, no.1 (2012): 4.

[4] Balfour, Clair. “1.4 million loss at Sir George Williams Students Destroy Computer.” Accessed March 1, 2018.

[5] Ibidem

[6] Ibidem

[7] Ibidem

[8] Ibidem

[9] Ibidem

[10] Ibidem

[11] Mills, Sean. 2010. The empire within: postcolonial thought and political activism in sixties Montreal. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

[12] Austin, David. 2007. “All Roads Led to Montreal: Black Power, the Caribbean, and the Black Radical Tradition in Canada”. The Journal of African American History. 92 (4): 530.

[13] Mills, Sean. 2010. The empire within: postcolonial thought and political activism in sixties Montreal. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

[14] Austin, David. 2007. “All Roads Led to Montreal: Black Power, the Caribbean, and the Black Radical Tradition in Canada”. The Journal of African American History. 92 (4): 533

[15] Mills, Sean. 2010. The empire within: postcolonial thought and political activism in sixties Montreal. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

[16] Ibidem

[17] Ibidem

[18] Mills, Sean. 2010. The empire within: postcolonial thought and political activism in sixties Montreal. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

[19] Ibidem

[20] Ibidem

[21] Ibidem

[22] Ibidem

[23] Forsythe, Dennis. 1971. Let the Niggers burn: The Sir George Williams University affair and its Caribbean aftermath. Montreal: Our Generation Press.

[24] Forsythe, Dennis. 1971. Let the Niggers burn: The Sir George Williams University affair and its Caribbean aftermath. Montreal: Our Generation Press.

[25] Austin, David. “All Roads Led to Montreal: Black Power, the Caribbean, and the Black Radical Tradition in Canada.” The Journal of African American History 92, no. 4 (2007): 535.

[26] Austin, David. “All Roads Led to Montreal: Black Power, the Caribbean, and the Black Radical Tradition in Canada.” The Journal of African American History 92, no. 4 (2007): 530.

[27] Austin, David. “All Roads Led to Montreal: Black Power, the Caribbean, and the Black Radical Tradition in Canada.” The Journal of African American History 92, no. 4 (2007): 535.



Extract 1 of Ninth Floor. (Accessed 25 February 2018)

Extract 2 of Ninth Floor. (Accessed 25 February 2018)

Arrested occupation force awaits fingerprinting, questioning and booking in labs on 9th floor prior to being taken to cells. (Accessed 25 February 2018)

Computer print-out paper hangs from lamp standard on McKay Street after being tossed out of 9th floor windows. (Accessed 25 February 2018)

“Justice” was done by black militants, to the Computer Center entrance. Note piled up furniture (smashed), broken door glas etc. (Accessed 25 February 2018)

The crowd grows as smoke and water pour out of the Hall Building. (Accessed 25 February 2018)




The Legalization of Abortion

1969 witnessed a radical and revolutionary transformation in terms of women’s reproductive rights in Canada: the Criminal Code was modified, making abortion an act which was no longer defined as illegal.[1] Primarily, this momentous resolution allowed for women to use their voices to speak of issues relating to their health, as prior to the 1969 refinement of the Criminal Code, any woman who received an abortion could have been tried in court and imprisoned for up to two years.[2] In deciding what moment we as a group wanted to discuss, one issue was agreed upon consensus: women’s rights. A multitude of moments make up what Canada is today, however the history of women is long rooted in canadian history, and is essential when discussing the biography of this country. 2018 still represents a world in which inequality is present amongst men and women, and in order for the public to understand why feminism is still relevant and necessary today, it is necessary for them to have knowledge of the everlong fight women have endured. The government once had the power to tell women what they were and were not permitted to do, though this essay will show one of the first steps taken to allow for female agency over their bodies.

Since the decade of Confederation, abortion in Canada has been a topic of debate. In 1869, under section 251 of the Criminal Code, Canada passed a law stating all abortion was illegal.[3] [4] This law punished health professionals providing the service to women more severely than it did the individual obtaining the abortion.[5] The 1879 trail of Doctor Emily Stowe, for which she was acquitted, was a high-profile case in which she was accused of performing an abortion procedure.[6] Health concerns for the women having abortions monopolized the discussion on the issue in Canada as they encouraged the procedure to be considered illegal in order to have control over who could perform the procedure, certified rather than faulty doctors, and to avoid a declining birthrate.[7] Another hurdle regarding the abortion laws was the intersection between the federal and provincial government responsibilities. While the Criminal Code is federal jurisdiction – health care, which includes abortions, is under provincial jurisdiction.[8] This proved difficult for sentencing and decriminalizing the procedure. However, women’s reproductive health was being impacted by the absence of abortion services. The medical discourse and emphasis on population growth as sustaining the nation in addition to the jurisdiction struggle continued into the 20th century.[9]


A Changing Status

After their significant role in Second World War, Canadian women continued to demand equal rights with a renewed fervour.[10] Equality between men and women began to be considered a necessity rather than a choice.[11] Although women’s salaries were significantly less than men whilst performing the same job, their role in the war as paid labourers in non-traditional fields contributed to a rise of women in the workforce, breaking gender boundaries.[12] With their changing role in society, women were calling for change and a controversial topic was the right to abortion.

Women taking part in a demonstration in New York demanding safe legal abortions for all women. Accessed February 28th 2018.

Second wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s fostered a climate in which the pro-choice perspective and distaste for anti-abortion criminal nature was growing.[13] A Royal Commission on the Status of Women was created by the government in 1967 and organized by Judy Marsh, the sole woman cabinet minister.[14] They demanded reforms in “education, employment, immigration, criminal and family law, and child care” that were not being implemented straightaway.[15] Throughout the 1960s, Doctor Henry Morgentaler advocated for the abolishment of the criminal law to the government health and welfare committee as a spokesperson for the Humanist Association of Canada.[16] As he lobbied for the parliamentary group, he propagated his message to ensure that abortions were performed securely, and free from any hazard.[17] Upon multiple requests from women in need, he later opened up abortion clinics across the country despite the fact that performing abortions was still a crime.[18] In 1967, the Women’s Liberation Movement and Canadian abortion Law Reform Association petitioned for “abortion on request”[19] and a national referendum so that women could vote on this issue.[20] These women felt that government grievances regarding abortion stemmed from disapproval of women having sexual freedom.[21]


Laws Finally Changed

The Canadian Criminal Code was amended on August 26, 1969, decriminalising homosexuality, the sale of contraceptives, as well as making gun laws more strict among other amendments. Within those was the decriminalisation of abortion. This was proposed by Pierre Trudeau in December of 1967, who was the Justice Minister at the time. He claimed that “the state had no business in the bedrooms of the nation.”[22]  At the moment of passing the amendment, John Turner was the Justice Minister who brought Trudeau’s propositions to Parliament and implemented them.[23] There were extensive debates in Parliament on the issues before the amendment was passed, with the bill receiving some strong opposition.

With evidence that both women and children’s health improved with more easily accessible abortions – as underground abortions proved unsanity and dangerous, the government made the decision to make abortions more readily available, however specific conditions were required for an abortions to be allowed. The conditions necessitated the procedure to be performed in an accredited hospital by a physician, as well as the permission of a Therapeutic Abortion Committee consisting of at least three physicians. The approval of the abortion consisted upon the evidence that there were health endangerments to the pregnant woman if an abortion was not to be performed.[24] The number of these Therapeutic abortions performed greatly increased following the amendment of the Canadian Criminal Code, and deaths due to illegal abortions dropped immediately following this.[25] Furthermore, the number of births in Canada also rose despite an increase of legal abortions by over 10,000. Apart from secular reasons, there was fear of abortion becoming the primary method of contraception, as it had become in Eastern Europe and Japan.[26] Through allowing certain cases to be approved, the government was acknowledging the rise of women’s rights movements, with one of their demands being the loosening on restrictions of abortion.

The changed Criminal law under Section 251, allowing women who were experiencing potentially threatening pregnancies access to abortion, represented far more than the decriminalization of abortion in Canada. In a nation-wide context, having a large population with roots in Catholic French rule and a decreasing birth rate, this moment demonstrated a successful push from the 60s feminist and social justice movements toward a globalizing and modernizing cold-war society.

Early Christian Writings Against Abortion. Accessed February 28th 2018.


Deeply Religious Roots

Having a considerable Catholic population as the foundation of Canada, conservative and religiously-influenced policy making was more common than one might believe[27]. With the election of liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to office in 1968, this legislative change was a symbolic moment for the secularization of women’s rights and the modernization of family planning policy in Canada. In the context of post- World War Two culture and capitalist ideology standpoint, women’s ability to family plan was crucial, as women became increasingly integrated into the workforce and pursued greater degrees of education. This is an example of legislative change being delayed[28], as with the use of contraceptives became widely used since the late 1930s[29].

Despite the decriminalization and the amendment on abortion, it continued to be a taboo and hard to access. However, while the significant reduction of maternal mortality rates due to illegal abortion [30]in a developed country such as Canada seemed unusual, this gained the attention of the expanding human rights and women’s liberalization movements from the 60’s and identified illegal abortion as being a serious public health policy problem.  The push to legalize abortion for the sake of maternal sanctity represented a liberal shift in public policy – especially in the context of the falling birth rate in Canada for the greater extent of the beginning of the century, having a tendency to reinforce ‘protection’ of the family rather than to undermine it. This ‘first step’ created public consciousness and capacity for direct demand toward the government to go further – unifying feminists to fight for abortion without restrictions for those under 12 weeks of pregnancy, and therefore gaining momentum for women’s sovereignty over reproduction processes.[31]

In many ways, the decriminalization of abortion also represented the effects of globalization and capitalist neoliberal ideals– with the Abortion Act of 1967 “loosening its restrictions on abortion [in England]” [32], and the legalization of abortion in many other countries such as Japan and Switzerland[33] – middle and upper-class Canadians began to travel to access legal abortion services. With neighboring countries such as the United States experiencing similar demands of action – the increase in technology and media access can be seen as a projection of global development creating international pressure on Canada to modernize. This pressure also existed within the medical field, with doctors “lobbying for the removal of reference to contraception and abortion from the criminal code” [34].  Doctors were willing to come forward to defend fertility control because their British and American counterparts were supporting it and employed a large number of professional doctors – and the development of ‘the pill’ in the late 1950s having such a great profit, luring in the business and medical developers into the fight for ‘pro-choice’ policies.

The legalization of abortion also saw a significant amount of backlash, raising several important questions surrounding access to abortion post 1969 and the problematic drafting of the amendment itself. Inequalities became increasingly pronounced as data collection grew showing that women who lived in more urban areas had a much higher approval rating from a physician committee as a result from the lack of physicians in rural areas – posing systematic inequalities for women in less populated areas[35]. Discrimination against religious and socioeconomic status also became apparent, as wealthy protestant women saw the highest approval rate, towering over Catholic, as well as, middle to lower class women. The clear beneficiary population was reflective of the WASP women’s liberation movement, but nevertheless, the intersectionality of social movements magnified a diverse voice throughout the 70s and 80s pressuring government for legislative reform.

Photo by Steve Rhodes. Accessed February 28th 2018.

In conclusion, the 1969 legalization of abortion was a moment that greatly impacted Canadians, however, it is imperative to acknowledge that this moment did not attain its full potential. This action was an example of the secularisation of government policy: the church was a great supporter of the pro-life argument, yet the Canadian government did not fully allow the church to influence their decision. Instead, the government adopted a new policy despite their knowledge that the church held a completely opposite view. Moreover, even after 1969 doctors were still not exempt from being taken to court for performing abortions. Dr. Henry Morgentaler was charged with performing abortions illegally, and his case made it to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988 where it was ruled that the Criminal Code’s law on abortion infringed on women’s rights as they were stated in the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[36] This case demonstrates that the 1969 decision did not have as much of an impact on Canadian society as some people thought it would have, though simultaneously showed that women did not really have the option to get an abortion unless their pregnancy was truly life threatening. Finally in 1990, the House of Commons passed a law with a vote of 140-131, that would have made abortion illegal again.[37] However  luckily in January 1991, the Senate did not pass the bill, thus ending the proposed law.[38] This failed attempt to re-criminalize abortion, which occurred after the Supreme Court ruling in 1988, indicates the view of certain individuals in government who continue to believe they exercise the ability to control women’s bodies. Furthermore, the scare of re-criminalization provides proof that feminism is as necessary as ever in showing that women’s rights must be recognized. This moment should be celebrated, but should also be looked at with a certain level of scrutiny – 1969 was less than 50 years ago, and if we look at the big picture, there is still a great deal of progress to be made regarding women’s rights.

[1] Linda Long, “Abortion in Canada,” The Canadian Encyclopaedia, Government of Canada,

[2] Linda Long, “Abortion in Canada.”

[3]Fertile Ground: Exploring Reproduction in Canada, ed. Stephanie Paterson, Francesca Scala, and Marlene K. Sokolon (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014), 234.

[4] Ibid., 244.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 234.

[8] Kathryn McCannell, Claire McCarthy, and Barabara Herringer, “Images of Women in Canadian Social Policy: Em-bodying Patriarchy,” in Anatomy of Gender: Women’s struggle for the Body, ed. Dawn H. Currie and Valerie Raoul (Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992), 179.

[9] Fertile Ground, 4.

[10] Margaret Conrad, Alvin Finkel, and Donald Fyson, Canada: A History 3rd Edition, (Don Mills: Pearson Canada, 2012). 416.

[11] Ibid., 416-417.

[12] Ibid., pp. 366-367, 417.

[13] Fertile Ground, 235.

[14] Conrad, Finkel, and Fyson, Canada: A History, 417.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Barbara Kermode-Scott, “Henry Morgentaler,” BMJ: British Medical Journal 347, no. 7923 (2013): 27,

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Moira Armour and Pat Stanton, Canadian Women in History: A Chronology (Toronto: Green Dragon Press, 1990), 84.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Corelli, Rae. “State leaves bedroom but little has changed.” Toronto Daily Star, August 27, 1969. Accessed February 28, 2018.

[23] Burns, John. “Abortion, homosexual changes become effective in 3 weeks.” The Globe and Mail, August 6, 1969. Accessed February 28, 2018.

[24] McCannell, Kathryn, Claire McCarthy, and Barbara Herringer. “Images of Women in Canadian Social Policy: Em-bodying Patriarchy.” In Anatomy of Gender: Women’s Struggle for the Body, edited by Currie Dawn H. and Raoul Valerie, 175-88. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992.

[25] Schwenger, Cope W. “Abortion in Canada as a Public Health Problem and as a Community Health Measure.” Canadian Journal of Public Health / Revue Canadienne De Sante’e Publique 64, no. 3 (1973): 225.

[26] Schwenger, Cope W. “Abortion in Canada as a Public Health Problem and as a Community Health Measure.” Canadian Journal of Public Health / Revue Canadienne De Sante’e Publique 64, no. 3 (1973): 223.

[27] Angus McLaren and Arlene Tigar McLaren, The Bedroom and the State: The Changing Practices and Politics of Contraception and Abortion in Canada, 1880-1997 (Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 1997), 132

[28] McLaren, The Bedroom State, 9.

[29] McLaren, 13.

[30]Cope W. Schwenger, “Abortion in Canada as a Public Health Problem and as a Community Health Measure”, Canadian Journal of Public Health Vol. 64, No. 3 (1973): 226.

[31] McLaren, 160.

[32] Christabelle Sethna, Beth Palmer, Katrina Ackerman, and Nancy Janovicek “Choice, Interrupted: Travel and Inequality of Access to Abortion Services since the 1960s” Labor Issue 71, Spring 2013 (2013): 32.

[33] Sethna, Palmer, Ackerman, and Janovicek, “Choice, Interrupted”, 31

[34] McLaren, 133.

[35] Schwenger, “Abortion in Canada”, 225.

[36] Linda Long, “Abortion in Canada.”

[37] Linda Long, “Abortion in Canada.”

[38] Linda Long, “Abortion in Canada.”

A bird, a plane? It’s the Alouette!

Listening to the radio, watching television, and using our GPS navigation systems are all forms of technology that today’s society considers to be the norm and takes advantage of. Yet, all these privileges would not have been possible without Canada’s initiative to study the Earth’s atmosphere and launch its satellite, the Alouette 1, in 1962.

The Alouette
(Accessed February 28, 2018)

The launching of the Alouette is a significant moment in Canadian technology, nationalism, and international relations. The Canadian satellite, successfully launched in California on September 29, 1962, provided valuable information on the ionosphere for ten years. The program was headed by the Canadian Defense Telecommunications Establishment in association with a NASA program that was interested in mapping the ionosphere. The program successfully strengthened Canada’s position in space exploration, technology, and made it one of three nations, at the time, to have a satellite in orbit. Canada’s involvement in early space exploration connected the country to Great Britain and the United States under the Diefenbaker government- a controversial partnership, but one that was hoped to secure Canada a share in American and British developments. Canada’s involvement with the United States’ space program also has relations to the Cold War and the two country’s territorial proximity. Regardless of the relationships used to create the Alouette, the launch consolidated Canada’s position as a powerfully, advanced country- particularly because of its research on the ionosphere. The satellite, which was removed a decade after its launch, showed the international community that the country of less than a century old was an influential force in international relations and technological development. The 1962 launching of the Alouette is significant in marking Canada as a major technological player within the international community and promoting a new shift in direction, from European partnerships to one with an American focus.

What is the Alouette?

How Satellites Work
(Accessed: February 28, 2018)

The Alouette was the first spacecraft to be designed and constructed entirely by Canadians. It was built to study the ionosphere, an electrically charged layer of the upper atmosphere, with aims of advancing communication possibilities. The idea was to have radio waves bounce off the ionosphere, thereby allowing information to be transmitted over long distances. Previous methods of communication were also unreliable because signals were often disrupted by the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights. The Alouette was designed to understand such phenomena and develop methods to improve communicative technology.

With its unique structure of a 150-foot antenna, it remains the “longest aboard any space vehicle to date.”[1] This structure, designed by the Canadian, George Klein, allowed the satellite to receive and transmit radio waves over a wide range of frequencies.

After the First World War, Canada’s science program was largely undeveloped. However, starting in the 1930s, as the Second World War was transpiring, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) began researching the ionosphere, as improvements in communication technology could benefit the Canadian Navy.[2] During the 1940s, much of the research was conducted by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). However, with the emergence of the Cold War, a separate board was set up, the Defence Research Board (DRB). Its branch, the Defence Research Telecommunication Establishment (DRTE), was responsible for studying the lower layers of the ionosphere. After understanding these lower layers, interests to study the upper atmosphere garnered national attention in 1957, especially following the Soviet Union’s successful launch of their satellite on October 4, 1947.[3]

1961: Alouette engineering team                      (From the left to right: C.A. Franklin, R.K. Brown, J. Barry)                      (Accessed: February 28, 2018)

John H. Chapman                              (Accessed February 28, 2018)

As a result, Canadians and Americans united to discuss possibilities of building a satellite that could bounce radio waves off the top of the ionosphere, working with knowledge already understood involving ground-based radio waves and lower levels of the ionosphere. In 1958, the DRB then proposed building the “topside sounder” which would satisfy such objectives.[4] Together, America’s NASA and the Canadian government began working on launching a vehicle, which they named Alouette 1; Canada would design, build, and fund the satellite, while NASA would be responsible for launching it. Thus, a team of scientists under the direction of John H. Chapman, a physicist at the DRTE, would be responsible for developing Canada’s first satellite. The official launching of the satellite further marked this historic moment.

3-2-1: Blast off!

By September 29, 1962, the Canadians had successfully constructed the first satellite that could reach Earth’s furthest atmosphere. The Alouette 1 was launched into space from Point Arguello, California near Vandenberg, an American air force base.

Vandenburg Air Force Base
(Accessed February 28, 2018)

It was a black and silver satellite, 34 inches high and 42 across, weighing 320 pounds. At 2:05 am Toronto time, only 14 minutes behind the estimated time of launching, the missile lifted. At first, it flamed into life in the 95-foot American Thor-Agena B rocket on the launching pad. Then, it slowly began to rise in the airs in a cloud of orange and blue flames. As it accelerated, it made a monstrous noise and went straight up, too bright to be looked at with bare eyes, until it quickly faded in the sky and disappeared. Six minutes later, it was 600 miles downrange, running perfectly well. At 3:01 am, the Alouette went into orbit high over the coast of Madagascar. A US tracking station established in College, Alaska watched over the satellite as it began to probe the ionosphere. The satellite now circled the earth every 105 minutes, never getting closer than 150 miles from Toronto and never again visible to the eyes.[5]

Canadian and American Scientists celebrated the launch that they described as a “complete success.”[6] They expected the satellite to send information about the ionosphere for at least a month. Although the Alouette was designed to operate for an entire year, scientists were cautious to make such claims, as they were wary about raising expectations. After all, it was Canada’s first major satellite. To NASA, they stated that it would operate for three months; to the public, they shortened its life expectancy to one month. Collected ionospheric data was sent directly to multiple stations around the world: ones in Britain, America, and Canada.

The Alouette project began in 1959 when Canada joined the NASA program regarding ionosphere mapping. This program, contributions made by Chapman and his scientists, and the successful launch of Alouette immediately strengthened Canada, as it gained an international reputation for its advancement in science and technology as the third nation to enter space.[7]

1960s Canada: Beginning a New Era

Due to the technological advancements exhibited through the launch of the Alouette, a powerful, modern Canadian identity was established. As previously discussed, Canada was not a leader in the scientific world prior to the Second World War; it was severely lacking and inferior to other countries, especially when compared to the United States. With the discovery of the ionosphere making a headway at the end of the Second World War, Canadian governments quickly recognized the importance of scientific developments.[8] Furthermore, Canada had attained considerable recognition and reputation amongst its allies as a leader in this field, and both the United States and the United Kingdom took a serious interest in supporting further efforts after the war.[9] The Alouette had exceeded worldwide expectations; It marked the beginning of Canada’s recognition as a respected country, especially in the field of science and technology. Canada continued to progress throughout the decade, which propelled Canada’s ranking in the realm of science.

“For a brief period, Canada surpassed all other Western allies and nations … with a demonstration of advanced technical capability then matched only by the Americans and the Soviets. Not even the launch of the British experimental satellite Ariel 1 in April 1962 attracted as much attention as Alouette 1… Arguably, it was among Canada’s best technological achievements in the early post-war era.”[10]

Today’s Technological Success
(Accessed February 28, 2018)

As a young country, the launching of Alouette 1 in September 1962 was most significant to Canada because it affirmed Canada and its capabilities as a nation. This was an achievement worth honoring; even NASA and the National Academy of Sciences, once skeptical about the launch, complimented Canada on its success and contributions.[11] Broadcasts to private homes over a long distance were now possible; television programs could be distributed across the nation and a trans-Canada telephone system was feasible.[12] Canada’s 1962 achievements allowed society to become more interconnected and instant, making today’s technology possible.

Following its immediate noteworthy achievements in 1962, Canada continued to amaze the world. In February 1967, a 258-page report proposed by Chapman, Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada, laid out blueprints for Canada’s future space science program; it advocated for the creation of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), a Canadian communications institution with Canadian launching abilities.[13] Through the CSA, research to understanding the Ku-band, a more complex frequency wavelength, began in the 1970s with the satellite Hermes.[14]  Additionally, Canada began to contemplate with the notion of humans in space. It seemed like an outrageous agenda at the time, but on the twentieth anniversary of the launching of Alouette 1, Canada stunned the world once again, with the establishment of the Canadian Astronaut Program.[15] Going from a nation with few expectations to one capable of creating something spectacular and extraordinary that not even technologically advanced nations, like the United States and the United Kingdom, could achieve, the launching of Alouette 1 marks an important point in Canadian history for nationalism and science.

Canada and the United States: “United we stand, divided we fall”

Although the launch of the Alouette marks a turning point in Canadian society, one of the most noticeable effects can be found by looking beyond the Canadian border, to our southerly sister. Canada’s presence in space is intimately connected with its change of focus in international partnership from Great Britain to the United States. Although Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker was elected on a staunchly anti-American platform, he was well aware that he would have to make some concessions if “Canadian industry is to have a reasonable chance at securing a share in the benefits of the expected United States effort”.[16] In hopes that “Canada may claim status as a junior partner” with the United States, Diefenbaker’s cabinet refused space partnership offers from European countries, who were also excited to use Canada’s north for tests.[17]

Canada and the United States partner up for space
(Accessed February 28, 2018)

In light of this, it is noteworthy that the head of the Canadian Space Program was not a man with scientific know-how but rather the former ambassador to the United States, Norman Robertson.[18] He might not have been a rocket scientist, but he had already rubbed elbows with American diplomats. Considering the constant threat of a nuclear attack posed during the Cold War, it makes perfect sense that Canada wanted to ally itself closely with the United States of America – Russia would not have been an appropriate option. Further, it can be suggested that this partnership was unavoidable (like a conjoined sister) given the territorial proximity of both nations and the necessity of protecting the continent, as a whole, from airborne missiles. Nevertheless, it was understood from the beginning that Canada was not going to be the biggest spender in this partnership. Indeed, “complex space research, orbital research, space stations and lunar and planetary exploration were all politically perceived at the time as well beyond the scope of Canadian financing or national necessity.”[19] Thus, Canada would seek to increase its military proximity to the United States without overspending – a source of grievance felt by Americans even today. As a symbol of the increased importance attached to an American partnership (and this idea of piggy-back riding) as space operations amplified, we would like to reiterate that the Alouette was actually sent to space on the back of a US launcher that took off in California. Despite the Cold War being over and the declaration of space as an international zone, the Canadian shift in focus towards the United States continues to be apparent. The process and result of the Alouette were symbolic on an individual (scientists) and national level (Canada and its partners).

Final Thoughts:

While the launching of a satellite into space is not a celebrated accomplishment in today’s society, that does not appropriately demonstrate the feat of the Alouette in 1962. After the launch of the Alouette, Canada’s contribution to space exploration proved beneficial; Canadian parts were involved in the Apollo 11, Voyager 2, and the space station. Many Canadian astronauts have since voyaged into space and played an incredible role in the understandings of space and science. The Alouette stands out as a moment that matters in Canadian History for multiple reasons. First, the incredible achievements of the Canadian Defense Telecommunications Establishment are, in large, due to a strong partnership between Canada and the United States at this time. Second, the accomplishment of the Alouette itself marks a scientific leap that acted as a pivot in Canadian history. Lastly, the Alouette recognized Canada as an important player in the international community. At a time of tense international relations between countries, Canada, a country of only a few years of age accomplished extraordinary achievements upon the launching of the Alouette, a moment with lasting impacts on technology, international relations, and national identity, still palpable today.


[1] J. O. Thomas, “Canadian Satellite: The Topside Sounder Alouette,” 139, no. 3551 (January 18, 1963): 229.

[2] Christopher Gainor, “Canada’s space program, 1958–1989: A program without an agency,” Acta Astronautica 60, no. 2 (2007): 132.

[3] Ibid.,133.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Paul Rush, “Canada third to have satellite”, Toronto Daily Star (1962, Sep. 29), 1. Retrieved from

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 4.

[8] Andrew B. Godefroy. Defence and Discovery Canada’s Military Space Program, 1945-74, (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011), 8.

[9] Ibid., 22.

[10] Ibid., 95.

[11] Ibid., 109.

[12] Rachel Gotlieb, “”Instant World”: Canada and Space-Age Design in the Sixties,” in Made in Canada: Craft and Design in the Sixties, ed. Alan C. Elder (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005), 32.

[13] Gainor, “Canada’s space program,” 133.

[14] Ibid., 135.

[15] Ibid., 136.

[16] Andrew B Godefroy, The Canadian Space Program From Black Brant to the International Space Station (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2017), 32

[17] Ibid, 75

[18] Ibid, 21

[19] Ibid, 33.


Alouette Canadian satellite, ca. 1962. NASA/Science photo library.

Atlas Missiles on Alert, 1960. Vandenberg, Ca. Wikiwand.

CRC 61-RPL-0479, 1961. FriendsofCRC. Canada.

Gainor, Christopher. “Canada’s Space Program, 1958–1989: A Program Without An Agency.” Acta Astronautica 60, no. 2 (2007): 132-39. Accessed February 15, 2018. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2006.07.006.

Godefroy, Andrew B. Defence and Discovery Canada’s Military Space Program, 1945-74, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011.

Godefroy, Andrew B. The Canadian Space Program From Black Brant to the International Space Station. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2017.

Gotlieb, Rachel. “”Instant World”: Canada and Space-Age Design in the Sixties.” In Made in Canada: Craft and Design in the Sixties, edited by Alan C. Elder, 29-39. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005.

How Satellites Work, July. 2017. ScienceABC.

How Has Technology Changed the World Today in Communications, March 29, 2016. The World Beast.  

John H. Chapman & his Satellite, ca. 1962. Western University.

Luncheon to Promote Cross Border Partnership- Register Today, February 14, 2012. Pacific Customs Brokers Ltd.

Thomas, J. O. “Canadian Satellite: The Topside Sounder Alouette.” 139, no. 3551 (January 18, 1963): 229-32. Accessed February 15, 2018. doi:10.1126/science.139.3551.229 .

Ufoguy1962. “Alouette 1- Canada’s First Satellite”. Youtube video, 1:25. Posted [November 2010].

Rush, Paul. “Canada third to have satellite.” Toronto Daily Star (1962, Sep. 29). Accessed February 16, 2018.






The Dionne Quintuplets: Canada’s Favorite Babies

By Ava Sanaye, Audrey Santerre, Romane Savard-Guzman, Maddie Tanenbaum, Maya Tinoli and Alexandre Renaud


The Dionne Quintuplets: Annette, Cécile, Émilie, Marie and Yvonne, in 1936. [36]


In the 21st century, nothing seems to surprise us anymore. We have various television shows about big families like “Kate plus 8” or “Quints by surprise”, while social media barely blinks at the fact that Kim Kardashian West is having her third child by surrogacy (not that it is that interesting).  In the 1930s however, the arrival of the Dionne quintuplets during the Great Depression was something so out of the ordinary, and the population was so desperate for “good news”, that the media hounded the children and the family. It was a miracle, a little bit of light in the darkness; a moment of joy for Canada. The story of the Dionne quintuplets is “a moment that matters” in Canada’s history because it was and still is deeply controversial. That is why we chose it. Some see it as a story of exploitation, government over-reach, parental abuse, showing a society who used innocent children for personal gain,[1] while others see it as a joyful and entertaining moment, as part of the Canadians’ collective memory.[2] Therefore, we argue that the Dionne “Quints” left their mark on the political, economic, and social spheres of influence in Canada. Before explaining their story as well as its significance for the country, we will begin with the bigger socio-economic context: The Great Depression.


The Great Depression in Canada

The Great Depression had immense impacts all over the world, including in Canada. In 1929, when the market crashed in the United States, it left millions of Americans unemployed and unsure of what steps to take next – the same happened to their Canadian neighbors. Before the Wall Street Crash, consumers were facing enormous amounts of debt, while many markets depended on these customers to purchase what was being put on the market. Whereas people were trying to deal with their debts, “speculators began to manipulate stock prices, buying and selling, in order to increase their returns.”[3] Consumers expected the stock prices to grow, therefore they would be able to repay their debt. This method was indeed thriving, until the “stock decreased in value.” Canada’s unemployment reached 27% and the GDP dropped by 40% between 1929 and 1939. While people in the city tried to figure out what to do next, farmers in the Prairies were also struggling because of the downfall of wheat prices. Canada’s economy at the time was just starting to move from “primary industry (fishing, farming mining, and logging) to manufacturing,”[4] when exports of raw materials dropped – “prices fell in every sector.” As people in the workforce struggled to get their lives back on track, women’s jobs became that much harder. During this time, a women’s primary role was to be a housewife. Ultimately, a family without a stable flow of income would force a woman to find a job and also to keep dealing with food, clothing and medical care. Because of this increase in labor for women, the birthrates in Canada dropped, causing even more economic concerns.[5]

        In fact, the economic crisis had as much impacts in the city as it did in the rural areas, but it especially hit poorer families. The federal government, led by the Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett, generally refused to provide work for the jobless, insisting that this issue was “primarily a local and provincial responsibility.”[6] In the case of Ontario, a province known to be comprised with a French-Canadian community, the Depression hit much of the region’s economy and population. Among the French and English-speaking people, social and ethnic divisions were common in the region and resulted in significant economic tensions between both communities. Accordingly, the prosperous service centres were more likely to be English speaking, whereas the French-Canadian towns often remained less developed.[7] Typically, in northeastern Ontario, the rural economic life was still based on a mixture of lumbering and agriculture, where most of the French-Canadian community lived in farming villages. [8] Much of the region’s economy was devastated, with the closing of pulp and paper mills, a considerable slowing of mining activity and the closing of the lumber camps. However, some families were able to survive the crisis, especially if “they possessed land and remained on it,” as had most of Franco-Ontarians.[9] Ultimately, the Depression resulted in an expansion of state responsibility for the welfare of its citizens, as well as for the economy of the country, though it had taken time for the federal government to acknowledge the amplitude of this economic crisis.[10]


The Dionne quintuplets

The Dionne quintuplets, Annette, Émilie, Yvonne, Cécile and Marie, were born on May 28th, 1934 in Ontario, to French-Canadian farmers Oliva and Elzire Dionne. The birth of the identical sisters was attended to by Dr. Allan Dafoe who, according to some sources, only arrived after the birth of the second child. In part because he did not intend to come at all and in part because he realized what sort of miracle was going to occur during an “age when records [were] being broken.”[11] Interestingly enough, he had declared after the births that the five girls would not survive.[12] Later on, in many of his articles he boasted about his accomplishments, stating that he dealt with the birth “extremely efficiently” and won the “epic struggle.”[13] Accusations against him had also been laid, with one writer saying that he was only present in the lives of the girls because of the possibility of financial gain and fame.[14] In any case, after their survival was guaranteed, their existence quickly became synonymous with financial exploitation, as predicted by The British Medical Journal, which was conviced of their entertainment success mere days after their births.[15]

          On May 27th, 1934, the parents of the quintuplets had signed a contract stipulating that in exchange for profit, the girls could be exhibited at the Chicago’s World Fair.[16] While the father is typically blamed for the exchange, the contract had been discussed between the mother and the parish priest of Corbeil, Father Daniel Routhier. Father Routhier, interested in building a parish in Courbier, agreed to take 7% of the profits, in exchange for representing the Dionne sisters, while the Dionne family themselves would take 23% of the profits.[17] It was after this moment that the government stepped in, taking guardianship of the quintuplets, declaring them wards of the Crown. Under the leadership of Dr. Dafoe, who was given the responsibility of taking care of the quintuplet’s health, the five girls were moved to the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery to ensure their survival.[18] While they had been protected from exploitation at the Chicago fair, they were going to be exploited by the government instead. At the nursery, the girls would be brought to the balcony to be viewed by the crowd of people, which averaged about 6,000 a day.[19] Attending Quintland was free, but profits were still garnered with a nearby store which sold postcards, dolls, etc. Furthermore, the quintuplets would star in advertisements for companies like Madam Alexander Doll, Quaker Oats and Palmolive oils. They also starred in four movies about their story, though not as the center focus. Over two decades, the quintuplets brought in a revenue of $500 million, saving the province from bankruptcy.[20] Of the profit, the quintuplets only received $1 million as part of their trust fund which they would be able to access after the age of 21. At the age of 9, after a long custody battle, the girls were returned to their family. However, they were still exploited for their labor. Later on, in adulthood, the women also spoke out about sexual abuse at the hands of their father.[21] At the age of 18, they left their home and broke all contact with their parents. But their lives did not get any better. Émilie became a nun and died in 1954 while Marie died in 1970 due to a blood clot. Yvonne died in 2001. The remaining two sisters are currently living in financial difficulty in Quebec, even after having won a $4 million settlement with the government.[22]


A moment that matters

All things considered, the controversial story of the Dionne quintuplets clearly left its mark on Canadian society. This moment is significant in the history of Canada because of its political, economic and social implications. Politically, even if governmental aid was scarce during the Great Depression, social welfare was expanding and state intervention for child-care started to become part of the government’s priorities.[23] For instance, the government took custody of the quintuplets and provided them with a safe environment as well as the best specialists to assure their survival.[24] Yet, as mentioned earlier, the paradox is that they were moved away from their family for fear of exploitation, while the children became major assets for the province itself.[25] Actually, the government and Dr. Dafoe came to be seen as saviors, while the Dionne parents “came to be seen as semi-villains, standing in the way of a better life for their children.”[26] Moreover, the fact that the twins generated massive revenue to the province as a tourist attraction[27] demonstrates the economic impact of their story. Equally important is the role they played in entertainment media, since their life story was hard to beat. For instance, it was said that they joined the ranks of young Hollywood star Shirley Temple.[28]

        Nonetheless, the social aspect of this moment is undoubtedly the most mesmerizing for Canada’s society. The “Quints” provoked some kind of euphoria in the entire nation and even worldwide. They were in every single newspaper and everyone talked about them. Indeed, when talking about the girls, complete strangers referred to them as “our babies” and some had gone as far as to say that they felt like they knew them. Not to mention that people came by the thousand just to see them.[29] Some hanged pictures of them in their living room and there was even a Quintuplets’ Fan Club. They also attracted the interest and sympathy of many Canadian mothers, who surprisingly donated breast milk to the girls for as long as they needed it.[30] Furthermore, the fact that they were the first known quintuplets in history to survive past a few days accounts for the developments in expertise and technology for child-care at that time.[31] Therefore, not only did they become a cultural phenomenon in the 1930s, but they also grew to be part of the Canadians’ collective memory. Even today, and for many people, the Dionne sisters “represent the innocence and joy of childhood and the wondrous possibilities of human life; for others, the miracles of science and modern medicine; and for still others, the illusive promise of fame and riches.”[32]



To summarise, structural changes experienced during the political and economic turmoil of the Great Depression severely affected the Canadian population. This economic devastation had caused an increase in unemployment rates, along with food insecurities through the entire nation.[33] However, in the midst of this chaotic downturn, the arrival of the Dionne quintuplets had left a significant impact across the country. Whereas many denounced negative intentions from the family and the government[34], others played along with the “Dionne sensation”. [35] They have left their mark on the Canadian political, economic, and social spheres for many reasons, including governmental aid, tourist revenue, entertainment media, exploitation and medecine progress. But more importantly, they are now part of the collective memory of the Canadian citizens. After facing child labor and sexual abuse, the five sisters took different paths, where two of them are currently living in Quebec.



[1]. Dennis Gaffney. “The Story of the Dionne Quintuplets,” PBS (2009). Accessed February 25, 2018.
[2]. Katherine Arnup. “Mothering the Dionne Quintuplets: Women’s Stories,” In Framing Our Past: Constructing Canadian Women’s History in the Twentieth Century, edited by Sharron Anne Cook, Lorna R. Mclean and Kate O’Rourke, McGill-Queen’s University Press (2001): Accessed February 26, 2018.
[3]. Christina D. Romer. “Great Crash and the Onset of the Great Depression” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford Academic (1990): Accessed February 26, 2018.
[4]. “The Great Depression,” History Museum, accessed February 26, 2018.
[5]. “Great Depression in Canada,” Wikipedia, accessed February 26, 2018.
[6]. James Struthers. “The Great Depression,” Canadian Encyclopedia (2013): Accessed February 27, 2018.
[7]. David Welch, “The Dionne Quintuplets: More Than an Ontario Showpiece- Five Franco-Ontarian Children,” Journal of Canadian Studies 29, no. 4 (1994): Accessed February 27, 2018,
[8]. Ibid.
[9]. Ibid.
[10]. James Struthers. “The Great Depression,” Canadian Encyclopedia (2013): Accessed February 27, 2018.
[11]. “The Quintuplets,” The British Medical Journal, no. 8346 (1934): Accessed February 25, 2018.
[12]. David Welch. “The Dionne Quintuplets: More than an Ontario showpiece-Five Franco-Ontarian children,” Journal of Canadian Studies, 29, no.4 (1994): Accessed February 25, 2018.
[13]. “The Quintuplets,” The British Medical Journal, no. 8346 (1934): Accessed February 25, 2018.
[14]. Katherine Arnup. “Mothering the Dionne Quintuplets: Women’s Stories,” In Framing Our Past: Constructing Canadian Women’s History in the Twentieth Century, edited by Sharron Anne Cook, Lorna R. Mclean and Kate O’Rourke, McGill-Queen’s University Press (2001): Accessed February 25, 2018.
[15]. “The Quintuplets,” The British Medical Journal, no. 8346 (1934): Accessed February 25, 2018.
[16]. Dennis Gaffney. “The Story of the Dionne Quintuplets,” PBS (2009). Accessed February 25, 2018.
[17]. David Welch. “The Dionne Quintuplets: More than an ontario showpiece-Five Franco-Ontarian children,” Journal of Canadian Studies, 29, no.4 (1994): Retrieved from
[18]. Dennis Gaffney. “The Story of the Dionne Quintuplets,” PBS (2009). Accessed February 25, 2018.
[19]. Ibid.
[20]. Ibid.
[21]. Clyde H. Farnsworth. “Three Dionne Quintuplets Say Father Sexually Abused Them.” New York Times (1995): Accessed February 25, 2018.
[22]. Ian Austen. “2 Survivors of Canada’s First Quintuplet Clan Reluctantly Re-emerge.” New York Times (2017): Accessed February 25, 2018.®ion=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well.
[23]. James Struthers, “Great Depression” last modified March 4, 2015.
[24]. Katherine Arnup. “Mothering the Dionne Quintuplets: Women’s Stories,” In Framing Our Past: Constructing Canadian Women’s History in the Twentieth Century, edited by Sharron Anne Cook, Lorna R. Mclean and Kate O’Rourke, McGill-Queen’s University Press (2001): Accessed February 26, 2018.
[25]. J.M. Bumsted, The People of Canada, A Post-Confederation History (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2013), 272.
[26]. Ibid.
[27]. Ibid.
[28]. Ibid.
[29]. Katherine Arnup. “Mothering the Dionne Quintuplets: Women’s Stories,” In Framing Our Past: Constructing Canadian Women’s History in the Twentieth Century, edited by Sharron Anne Cook, Lorna R. Mclean and Kate O’Rourke, McGill-Queen’s University Press (2001): Accessed February 26, 2018.
[30]. Ibid.
[31]. J.M. Bumsted, The People of Canada, A Post-Confederation History (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2013), 272.
[32]. Katherine Arnup. “Mothering the Dionne Quintuplets: Women’s Stories,” In Framing Our Past: Constructing Canadian Women’s History in the Twentieth Century, edited by Sharron Anne Cook, Lorna R. Mclean and Kate O’Rourke, McGill-Queen’s University Press (2001): Accessed February 26, 2018.
[33]. “The Great Depression,” History Museum, accessed February 26, 2018.
[34]. Dennis Gaffney. “The Story of the Dionne Quintuplets,” PBS (2009). Accessed February 25, 2018.
[35]. Katherine Arnup. “Mothering the Dionne Quintuplets: Women’s Stories,” In Framing Our Past: Constructing Canadian Women’s History in the Twentieth Century, edited by Sharron Anne Cook, Lorna R. Mclean and Kate O’Rourke, McGill-Queen’s University Press (2001): Accessed February 25, 2018.


Photo credits

[36] 20th Century Fox Film Corp, The Dionne Quintuplets: Annette, Cecile, Emilie, Marie, Yvonne, photo, Everett Collection, 1936. Retrived from




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