A Brief History
of Canada

1980 to 1999


Jeanne Sauvé became Canada's first female Speaker of the House.

Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, helped 6 Americans escape from Tehran on January 28, making him an overnight international celebrity.

On April 12, Terry Fox dipped his right (prosthetic) foot into the Atlantic Ocean at St. John's, Newfoundland, to begin his Marathon of Hope: a cross-Canada run to raise money for cancer research. On September 1 (Labour Day), after running the equivalent of a marathon a day, Terry made the heart-wrenching announcement from the back of an ambulance in Thunder Bay, Ontario, that the cancer had spread to his lungs. Terry would have to put off the remainder of his Marathon of Hope until later. (see 1981)

Canada boycotted the Moscow Olympic Games following Russia's invasion of Afghanistan.

A referendum in Québec rejected sovereignty association on May 22.

O Canada was officially adopted as Canada's national anthem on June 27. (Detailed history of O Canada) The Supreme Court of Canada recognized 'palimony', the equal distribution of assets in failed common-law relationships.

Acid Rain: An International Joint Committee between Canada and the United States concluded that acid rain was one of the most serious problems plaguing North America. Ontario began liming its lakes in an attempt to neutralize the acid.


Terry Fox died of cancer at the midpoint of his cross-Canada Marathon of Hope on June 28. Terry's efforts raised almost $25 million (Canadian) for cancer research. His 'Marathon of Hope' continues to be an annual event in nations around the world. Terry was only 22 years old.

Québec banned all public signs in English on September 23.

Except for Québec, the federal government and all provincial governments agreed on a method to repatriate Canada's constitution on November 5.

Acid Rain: U.S. President Ronald Reagan's Department of the Interior disagreed with Canada's claims of the seriousness of the problem and demanded more research before committing to any action. The Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain became the first Canadian lobby group registered in Washington DC.


The offshore oil rig Ocean Ranger sank, killing 84, on February 15.

Bertha Wilson became Canada's first Justice of the Supreme Court on March 4.

The government of Québec's demand for a veto over constitutional change was rejected on April 7.

Canada gained a new Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Despite opposition by Québec Premier René Lévèques, PM Trudeau managed to patriate Canada's Constitution. The Constitution Act was signed by Queen Elizabeth II during a special ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, on April 17.

The worst recession since the Great Depression began.

Acid Rain: Canada committed to reducing sulphur emissions by 50% by 1990. The U.S. government announced that more time was needed to do the same thing and began to deregulate prior pollution programs.


Pay TV began operation in Canada on February 1.

Canadians protested the government's approval of U.S. cruise missile testing in western Canada.

Jeanne Sauvé was appointed the first female Governor General of Canada on December 23.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a 'rape-shield' law was unconstitutional. (see 1990-1993)

Acid Rain: 19,000 Ontario lakes were found to be biologically damaged due to acid rain.


Liberal John Turner succeeded prime minister Pierre Trudeau on Trudeau's retirement, June 30. Turner gambled and called a new election but lost the election on September 4. Turner had been prime minister for only 2 months.

Conservative Brian Mulroney won the election of September 4 and achieved an even larger majority than Diefenbaker had in 1958 (211 seats in the House of Commons). (read Mulroney's biography)

The Pope visited Canada from September 9 to September 20.

Marc Garneau became the first Canadian in space when he rode along on the U.S. space shuttle Challenger on October 5.

French-Canadian performers Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier created the Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun). (There are currently 7 groups on tour around the world with permanent facilities in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Disney World in Florida.)

Acid Rain: Canada re-affirmed its pledge to reduce sulphur emissions by 50% and formally requests that the United States do the same. Again, the U.S. requested more time.


Inspired by Terry Fox, Rick Hansen began his Man in Motion Tour around-the-world tour, departing from Vancouver, British Columbia on March 21 in a wheelchair. (see 1987)

The United States challenged Canada's sovereignty over the Arctic by sending the ice-breaker Polar Sea through the Northwest Passage.

Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan declared mutual support of the orbital Strategic Defense Initiatives (Star Wars) and Free Trade at the Shamrock Summit in Québec City on December 2. The Summit was so named because of both Mulroney's and Reagan's ethnic backgrounds.

Forty years of Conservative Premiership ended in Ontario with the election of Liberal David Peterson. (see also 1988 & 1989)

Lincoln Alexander became Canada's first black Lieutenant-Governor.


The Canadian dollar hit an all-time low of 70.2¢ U.S. on international money markets, January 31.

Expo '86 opened in Vancouver on May 2. (Closed on October 13.)

The United States imposed tariffs on some imported Canadian wood products on May 22.

Canada adopted sanctions against South Africa for its apartheid policies on August 5.

Tamil refugees were found adrift off the coast of Newfoundland on August 11.

Canada received a United Nations award for sheltering world refugees on October 6.

Canadian John Polanyi shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.


Two years and one day after starting his Man in Motion Tour, paraplegic Rick Hansen arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 22. During his tour, Hansen had wheeled across (or within) every continent except South America and Antarctica.

PM Brian Mulroney and the provincial Premiers agreed in principle to the Meech Lake Accord which would bring the province of Québec into Canada's new Constitution on April 30.

A tornado ripped through Edmonton, Alberta, killing 26 and injuring hundreds of others on July 20.

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson set a new world record for the 100-metre dash on August 30.

Canada and the United States reach a Free Trade agreement on October 3, but the agreement still required ratification.

Meanwhile, stock prices plummeted throughout the world on October 19.


The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that existing legislation against abortion was unconstitutional on January 28.

The Winter Olympics in Calgary opened on February 13.

During the summer, marathon swimmer Vicki Keith swam across all 5 Great Lakes to raise money for charity, covering a total of 253 kilometres (157 miles) in 160 hours and 22 minutes.

David See-Chai Lam, born in Hong Kong, became British Columbia's Lieutenant-Governor on September 9.

Sprinter Ben Johnson set another world record and won the gold medal at the Soeul Olympics in Korea on September 24. However, Johnson tested positive for steroids on September 26 and was stripped of his medal.

Québec's 'French only' sign law was reversed by the Supreme Court of Canada on December 15. However, Qué found a 'loophole' in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the 'notwithstanding' clause) and reinstated the law on December 21. As a result, the ratification of the Meech Lake Accord was slowed by Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon.

The Free Trade legislation between Canada and the United States was passed by both the House of Commons and the Senate in late December.

Acid Rain: Canada and the United States finally met for serious discussions and the United States finally agreed to a significant reduction in sulphur emissions.


Free Trade became effective on January 1.

Heather Erxleben became Canada's first acknowledged female combat soldier.

Canadian one-dollar bills were replaced with the new one-dollar coin, popularly named the 'Loonie' because of the engraving of a loon on the 'tail' side.

The Canadian public protested strongly when the Mulroney government announced cuts in funding to VIA Rail (Canada's passenger rail service) on June 5.

Audrey McLaughlin replaced NDP (New Democratic Party) Party Leader Ed Broadbent to become the first female to lead a federal political party on December 2.

The University of Montreal Massacre occurred on December 6 when 14 female engineering students were separated from their male colleagues and slaughtered by a gunman who had a vendetta against women.


Future prime minister Kim Campbell became Canada's first female Minister of Justice.

Following the student nurses massacre in Montreal in 1989, Kim ammended the Criminal Code to call for tighter gun control measures in 1991.

In 1983, the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled that a 'rape-shield' law was unconstitutional. Kim consulted with women's groups, law agencies and ministry officials before drafting Bill C-49 against sexual assault. By placing the focus of the bill on the meaning of consent, the bill remained constitutional while still protecting victims' rights and passed second reading in the House of Commons with a rare unanimous vote by all three federal parties.


The Meech Lake Accord is slowed further by Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells. However, the Accord was dealt a final and fatal blow by Elijah Harper, a Native member of the Manitoba legislature, who absolutely refused to recognize Québec as Canada's principal (if not only 'distinct society') on June 22. As a result, the Bloc Québecois was created by a handful of disenchanted French-Canadian politicians on July 25.

Bob Rae upset David Peterson with a surprising majority and became Ontario's first NDP (New Democratic Party) Premier in September.

Despite protests and Liberal stalling, the Senate passed the Conservative's highly-unpopular Goods and Service Tax (GST) in December.

The government finally and officially announced that Canada was in recession.


The Goods and Service Tax (GST) became effective on January 1, wreaking havoc with retailers and consumers across the nation. (The GST effectively added a second 'tax' to sales receipts, applying even to the purchase of postage stamps.)

Canadian forces joined the Gulf War, a multinational effort to drive Saddam Hussein's Iraqi troops from Kuwait on January 15.

British Columbia's Premier Bill Van Der Zalm resigned in the midst of a real estate scandal.

George Erasmus, leader of the Assembly of First Nations, resigned at the end of his second term in May. He was succeeded by Ovide Mercredi whose popularity earned him the nickname of "Canada's 11'th premier".

David Schindler, of the University of Alberta, won the first international Stockholm Water Prize for environmental research.

A Six Nations man became the first Native to be allowed to make a traditional native oath instead of swearing on the Bible in a Brantford, Ontario courtroom in November.

The Tungavik signed an agreement with Ottawa which would allow the creation of a new, quasi-independent Inuit territory in the eastern Arctic regions. (Nunavut)

Acid Rain: Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President George Bush signed the Canada/U.S. Air Quality Agreement, requiring the United States to reduce emissions by 40% of the 1980 levels by 2010. The U.S. Clean Air Act was ammended and the Canadian Colaition on Acid Rain was disbanded.


Phase One of the James Bay Project, one of the world's biggest hydro-electric projects, was completed, causing one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in Canadian history. Phase Two (Great Whale) was halted when environmentalists and Indian chiefs convinced New York State and Vermont to cancel their contracts to buy hydro from the project and to purchase it from Hydro-Quebec instead.

Roberta Bondar became Canada's first female astronaut in space.

Ontario lawyers voted in January to no-longer be required to swear an oath to the Queen.

Canada became the first nation to sign the international bio-diversity convention at the Earth Summit in Brazil in June.

The Toronto Blue Jays became the first Canadian baseball team to win the World Series. (Ironically, all the players were American.)

A national referendum held on October 26 saw Canadians voting 'No' to the Charlottetown Agreement, a second attempt to correct the Canadian Constitution after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord.

NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) went into effect.


The Nunavut Settlement Agreement with the Inuit set into motion the plans to divide the Northwest Territories to form a third territory, Nunavut.

Catherine Callbeck became Canada's first female Premier in Prince Edward Island.

Environmental activists demonstrating in Victoria, British Columbia, caused minor damage to the government buildings in March.

Kim Campbell replaced Brian Mulroney as the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and became Canada's first female Prime Minister in June. (read Campbell's biography) Unfortunately for Kim, the Conservative mandate to govern had expired and Kim was obliged to call an election.

Part of north-western British Columbia was set aside as a world heritage conservation site.

Conservationalists protesting 'clear-cut logging' blocked loggers' access to ancient forest areas near Clayoquot Sound during July and August.

The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series for the second year in a row on October 3.

The Progressive Conservative Party was dealt a devastating blow after 9 years in power in the election of October 25. After NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the GST (Goods and Service Tax), Canadians were fed up with the Conservatives and they were reduced to only 2 seats in the House of Commons. They now had less than is required to be recognized as an official party.

Liberal Jean Chrétien won a landslide victory. (read Chrétien's biography)

The Bloc Québecois under Lucien Bouchard and the Reform Party under Preston Manning only one seat apart in distant second and third.


The Canadian pilot of a crashed Korean airliner was arrested for endangering the lives of his passengers.

The government lowered cigarette taxes in an attempt to stem rampant smuggling from the United States.

Inter-provincial trade barriers were reduced.

The Inuit of Northern Québec arranged for self-government.

The Parti Québecois won a narrow majority in Québec.


Following some disastrous military hazing rituals, public outcry caused the disbandment of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.

The Maritime provinces became embroiled in fishery disputes.

The government of Newfoundland took control of schools from the church.

Québec Premier Jacques Parizeau explained the narrow failure of the Québec sovereignty referendum with some very damaging, demeaning and ill-advised remarks against non-francophone voters. Parizeau resigned in disgrace and was replaced by Lucien Bouchard.

The Québec Cree and Inuit peoples held their own referendum and rejected separation from Canada.

Alexa McDonough was elected Leader of the NDP (New Democratic Party) in October.

In November, an intruder eluded RCMP guards and gained entrance to the Prime Minister's residence.


The maple leaf was officially proclaimed the national arboreal emblem of Canada on April 25.

Most provinces announced huge spending cuts in order to balance provincial budgets.

The government of British Columbia settled a major land-claim agreement with the Nisga'a Nation.

The federal government replaced the 2-dollar bill with the new 2-dollar coin in February. The coin was quickly nicknamed 'Toonie' to rhyme with the previous dollar coin, the 'Loonie'. (see 1989)

Mike Harcourt, NDP premier for British Columbia, resigned when allegations of charity funds being diverted to the New Democratic Party plagued him. He was succeeded by Glen Clark.

The Somalia inquiry began.

The federal government passed legislation banning discrimination against homosexuals.

The Chicoutimi region of Québec was hit by devastating floods.

A major international AIDs conference was held in Vancouver in July.

Canadian Louise Arbour became the United Nations chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in October.

Acid Rain: The United States had cut sulphur emissions by 26% of 1980 levels.


The 13-kilometre (8-mile) Confederation Bridge connecting Prince Edward Island to mainland Canada was opened to traffic. Having to deal with heavy winter ice, the bridge is a marvel of engineering.

Massive flooding of the Red River drew very close to the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in May.

Tensions rose between Canada and the United States over salmon fishing disputes in the Pacific Northwest.

Teachers in Ontario staged a huge walkout to protest the highly-unpopular policies of Premier Mike Harris' government.

A murder in Victoria, British Columbia in November drew public attention to the growing violence of teenaged girls.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in December that Native oral history was legitimate grounds for making land claims in British Columbia.

Acid Rain: Canada had cut sulphur emissions by 54% of 1980 levels.


In January, the federal government issued a formal apology to native peoples for past injustices (such as the residential school system in which thousands of young natives were taken from their homes and forced to attend far-away 'English' schools).

A powerful ice storm in February paralyzed huge portions of Québec and Ontario. Some places were without electrical power for weeks. Hundreds of hydro workers from the United States joined in the efforts to repair the damage.

Native loggers protested restrictions in the forest areas of New Brunswick in April.

The Nisga'a treaty fell under controversy when the Nisga'a began to demand some measure of self-government.

A Human Rights Tribunal concluded that the Public Service Alliance of Canada had the right to call for pay equity in July.

The value of the Canadian dollar on international markets reached an all-time low in August.

Swissair flight MD-11 crashed into the sea in September just off Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, killing 229 people. Canada was commended for its rescue efforts.

Map of Canada 19991999

The new territory of Nunavut was created on April 1, changing the map of Canada for the first time in 20 years.

Waves of illegal immigrants arrived on the shores of British Columbia in August.

Native peoples continued logging in the British Columbia interior in defiance of government authorities. Meanwhile, Natives in the Maritimes continued to fish in despite government warnings.

Canadian chief prosecutor for the United Nations Louise Arbour issued an arrest warrant for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for crimes against humanity in May.

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