History

How Catholicism Shaped Canadian History
The Catholic faith has played a large role in shaping Canada's culture and history.

The Catholic faith has played a large role in shaping Canada’s culture and history.

Like other nations in the Americas that began as former European colonies, Canada’s history has been largely defined by exploration and conquest, along with the establishment of religious missionaries. The last National Household Survey revealed that Catholics make up 38.7 percent of Canada’s population, a testament to the legacy of Catholicism in our country. Indeed, the Catholic faith has played a large role in shaping its culture and history.

Did It Begin With John Cabot’s Arrival?

Chronicles of America disclosed that Venetian explorer John Cabot, better known to some as Giovanni Caboto, landed in northeastern Canada in 1497. Depending on who you ask, Cabot’s ship landed in either Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, Newfoundland, Labrador or even the northeastern part of the United States. In either case, his Biography entry reveals that he claimed the territory for King Henry VII of England. Some sources insist that he also raised banners for his home nation of Venice and for the Pope, but some of Cabot’s story has been lost to history and remains in the domain of speculation today.

Samuel de Champlain and French Catholic Settlement 

French navigator and geographer Samuel de Champlain left his own mark on Canadian history as the first to make an accurate map of its eastern coastline. In 1608, he established a Catholic colony that eventually became our modern-day Quebec City. A few years later, he founded a fur trading post and Catholic colony on the Island of Montreal. Known as “the Father of New France,” he spent his time in Canada creating trading opportunities, charting new areas, and furthering relations with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

The Canadian Encyclopedia explains that several Catholic orders came to Canada later in the 1600s, including Franciscans and Jesuits. While the French Canadian Catholic Church’s focus was first on evangelizing Indigenous peoples, it soon had to turn its attention to the growing population of French settlers. With the establishment of parishes and other institutions, the first diocese was formed in Quebec in 1674, and Catholicism had firmly established itself in the region.

British Impacts on Canadian Catholicism

During the same period in which French Canada was developing as a Catholic territory, British Catholics were creating their own presence in Newfoundland. In 1620, George Calvert established the Avalon colony, in which a Catholic ministry was founded by two priests. As part of Avalon’s first charter, Calvert included the concept of religious tolerance to allow all residents, including Catholics, to practice their faiths freely.

However, British influence would not fully play out until the Seven Years’ War and French Canada’s conquest. The Canadian Encyclopedia mentions the 1763 Treaty of Paris, which converted New France over to British rule. The years that followed proved to be somewhat contentious for both French Canadian Catholics and their new British Protestant neighbors. French Catholics worried about conversion attempts from English Protestants, but the right to openly practice their religion was included in the terms of surrender. These liberties were further secured in the Quebec Act of 1774.

Irish Immigration Adds Further Complexities

Irish Catholics began migrating to Canada in the second half of the 17th century. This would set the stage for the later battle over French-language schools in the nation. Siding with Canadian Protestants, Irish Catholics opposed the use of French in public educational institutions, while French Catholics remained staunchly in favor of it. This heated debate led to legislation such as Ontario’s Regulation 17. As TVO revealed, it was enforced until 1927 and repealed in 1944. Moreover, full public funding to French-language schools was not instituted until 1968.

Catholicism’s Legacy in Canada

From initial settlement, to questions of religious freedom, to a battle between cultures, the history of Catholicism in Canada is a long and complex one. Our nation’s religious makeup, the monuments left behind by earlier settlers and even modern public policies all display evidence of its legacy.

 

Sikhs Continue to Make a Life in Canada
Sikhs make a life in Canada.

Sikhs make a life in Canada.

Sikhs make up about 1.4 percent of the current Canadian population, according to the most recent National Household Survey. Those numbers translate to a community with over 468,000 members in a country of almost 36 million people. As part of the global diaspora of Sikhs, Canadian followers of this faith enjoy more opportunities while facing unique challenges.

Sikhs Arrive in Canada in the 1800s

The first Sikh settlers, a group of British Indian Army officers, came to Vancouver aboard the Empress of India ocean liner in 1897. These and later immigrants typically found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway, on farms, and in the lumber industry. They faced discrimination in many aspects of their daily lives. Sikh workers, along with other South Asian immigrants, were frequently paid far less than white workers performing the same jobs. Additionally, ignorance about their religion resulted in these individuals being classified as Hindus, and thus they were accused of observing a caste system. The Sikh religion adheres to principles taught by Guru Nanak, who spoke against discrimination based on caste, creed, or gender and believed in equality for all humans. Thus, such a characterization of the Sikh immigrants was inaccurate.

Growing Racism Yields Disastrous Results

As anti-immigrant sentiment grew among white Canadians and successive laws against Asian immigrants were passed, many Sikhs were forced to leave for the United States, Mexico, and South America. One notorious refusal of Indian immigrants occurred in 1914 when a chartered ship carrying hundreds of Sikhs from the Punjab region of India was turned away by the Canadian government. When the vessel returned to India, British soldiers murdered over a dozen of its passengers. The Wall Street Journal disclosed in 2016 that the Canadian government apologised for the affair, known as the “Komagata Maru incident,” in May of last year.

Fighting for Equality

Throughout the first half of the 1900s, Sikhs who stayed in Canada fought for their civil rights. This included their activism with the Khalsa Diwan Society, an organisation formed for the religious, social, political, and cultural development of the community. This era also saw them contributing to Canadian society. One famous example is World War I veteran Buckam Singh, who served with the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion and was wounded twice in the line of duty. While his story and heroics were almost forgotten for over a century, modern Canadian history now recognises and includes his efforts. Furthermore, all Sikhs had earned the right to vote by 1947.

A New Wave of Immigration Brings Renewed Possibilities

Beginning in the 1950s, educated Sikhs began to emigrate to Canada. These professionals joined the medical, technological, legal, academic, and other advanced fields. Over time, they contributed to making Canada a more diverse nation in several aspects, including entering politics and public service. In a November 2015 Washington Post article, Ishaan Tharoor reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet included four Sikh public officials. However, Trudeau’s announcement, along with his later statements about equality and civil rights for people of colour in Canada, have not stood without criticism. Writer Ramesh Thakur opined in a March 2016 piece in the Globe and Mail that the number of Sikhs in Canada’s cabinet is out of proportion with their percentage of Canada’s population, with greater representation than the 468,000 in the country would warrant.

What Does the Future Hold? 

Canadian Sikhs now pursue career, educational, and other opportunities that were once denied to many of their predecessors. However, they may face new challenges ahead as anti-immigrant sentiment has started to increase. The New York Times reported on this trend in January 2017, revealing fears that the right-wing extremism prevalent in United States politics may be moving northward across the border. What happens next for the Sikhs in Canada remains to be seen.

Who Was Saint Elmo?
Saint Elmo's Fire was also a movie released in 1985.

Saint Elmo’s Fire is a phenomenon when a glowing ball of light occurs because of an electrical discharge in the atmosphere.

Pop culture often has references to objects or people of the past. You might have heard of the movie “Saint Elmo’s Fire,” a 1985 coming-of-age drama from the Brat Pack genre. Maybe you know that Saint Elmo is the patron saint of sailors. David Foster and John Parr composed and wrote the song “Saint Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” for Canadian athlete Rick Hansen to use in his mission to raise awareness of spinal cord injuries. The song went on to be used for the movie of the same name.

Do you know what Saint Elmo’s fire is? It is a phenomenon in weather that sometimes appears on ships at sea during a thunderstorm. A glowing ball of light occurs because of an electrical discharge in the atmosphere. It typically happens at the top of a sharp or pointed object, like the tops of the sails at sea, but it can also occur on aircraft wings, chimneys and spires.

How Did the Phenomenon Come to Be Known as Saint Elmo’s Fire?

To understand the roots of St. Elmo’s Fire, you have to know about Erasmus of Formia, who was also called Elmo. No one knows what year Erasmus was born or died, but it’s thought that he passed away around 303 A.D. He was Bishop of Formium, Italy, during a time when the emperors persecuted Christians. Erasmus hid for a period of seven years before being counseled by an angel to return to his diocese.

On his return, Erasmus met soldiers who questioned him. When he admitted his faith, he was brought to the Eastern Roman Emperor Diocletian. Christians had been discriminated against in the Roman empire before this time, but Diocletian had Christians tortured and killed. He was tortured before being put in chains and placed in prison, but he escaped with the help of an angel.

Arrested?

Erasmus is said to have raised up the son of an important citizen in Lycia, which brought him to the attention of the Western Roman Emperor Maximian. Erasmus was again arrested for his faith. Maximian forced Erasmus to go to a temple of an idol, but when he got to the temple, a fire came. Erasmus was tortured in a barrel of protruding spikes. After his release, he was healed by an angel before experiencing more tortures, from which he was always healed. Finally, Maximian threw Erasmus into prison, expecting him to die of starvation, but Erasmus escaped.

Erasmus Still Preaching

Erasmus did not let the Roman Empire stop him from preaching. He went to Illyricum, which is modern day Croatia, and continued to convert people to Christianity. At his death, legend says that his intestines were wrapped around a windlass, the winch that lifts anchors or heavy weights. In one story, before Erasmus died, he is said to have continued preaching to sailors even after a lightning bolt struck beside him. He is widely associated with the sea due to these two legends.

About 25 years following Erasmus’ death, the Christian Emperor Constantine reversed the persecution of the Christians, returning confiscated property and making Christianity the preferred religion of the region. If Erasmus had lived in a later time, it’s possible that he would not have been a Christian martyr.

References to Saint Elmo

If you read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in high school or college, you might remember this reference:

“About, about, in reel and rout, The death fires danced at night; The water, like a witch’s oils, Burnt green and blue and white.”

In literature, St. Elmo’s fire is associated with a bad omen or divine judgment. The reference appears in “Moby-Dick,” “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “The Tempest.” The next time you hear an allusion to St. Elmo’s fire, you know more of the story and can appreciate its history.

9 Movies for Black History Month
Black History Heading showing Africa and North America.

Here in North America, we dedicate the month of February to celebrating Black History.

Like the United States, Canada celebrates Black History Month during February. This month was chosen because of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The roots of Black History Month began in the early 20th century, but it was in the 1970s when the observance picked up momentum. In Canada, it was in the mid-1990s when the month was officially recognized.

Black History Month has its critics. There are some who say black history is history; it shouldn’t be relegated to one month. Even so, it’s good to remember the contributions of people who often get overlooked in the history books. Not everyone can be remembered in one history text or class. In honor of Black History Month, here are some movies you should see:

Classic Movies About Black History

  1.    “Gone With the Wind” (1939)Margaret Mitchell’s epic book that was made into a movie has its critics. However, what’s interesting to note is that Hattie McDonnell, the actress who played Mammy, was the first black person to receive an Oscar. The producer had to call in a special favor to get permission for McDaniel to be allowed into the no-blacks Ambassador Hotel to accept the prize.
  2.    “Lilies of the Field” (1964)Sidney Poitier became the first black man to receive an Oscar, nearly 25 years following McDaniel’s win. This 1964 classic might seem tame compared to today’s blockbusters, but it’s a great lesson in humility and faith in accomplishing goals.
  3.    “In the Heat of the Night” (1967)Poitier was a big name in Hollywood, and in 1967, he starred as a detective from the North who had to help a racist cop in the South track down a murderer. Through the course of the film, the two men begin to develop mutual understanding. The film represents the changing social-political climate actually occurring throughout the United States.
  4.    “The Color Purple” (1985)This movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, was a highly acclaimed film of its time. It was Whoopi Goldberg’s breakout role, but more importantly, it focused on the plight of the African-American woman. See it in film, read the book or attend the theater version.

More Recent Movies About black History

  1. “Boyz N the Hood” (1991)John Singleton kicked off a decade that gave us many movies about black men just trying to survive in their own urban city under the veil of violence and discrimination. He was the first and youngest African-American to be nominated for Best Director.
  2. “Malcolm X” (1992)This film was placed on the National Film Registry because of its historic significance. Denzel Washington lost the Academy Award for Best Actor that year, but he still took many other awards for his role. The film is highly acclaimed and well received, and it’s a must-see for everyone to understand this man who changed history.
  3. “Hidden Figures” (2016)Released last year, this movie recognizes the contribution of black women to the United States’ space program. It’s based on the true story of three Virginia women who changed history by believing they could.
  4. “Ray” (2004)Ray Charles is one of the most acclaimed musicians in the world, but he came from very humble beginnings. At the age of seven, Charles went completely blind. Still, he overcame his disability and his heritage to become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. This film is a story of his perseverance during a difficult time in history.

There are many other movies that give us glimpses into the history of African-Americans. Spike Lee has made many movies that did not fit on this list. Watch some of these great flicks during Black History Month.