Creating space for transformative conversations
Canada's World: Historic Timeline (1956-1968)
To fulfill the project’s goal to create a new story for Canada’s role in the world that reflected historical experiences, Canada’s World included an historic timeline exercise in many of its dialogue events, including the national dialogue. This exercise invited participants to document moments in Canada’s history that have contributed to the story of its role in the world.
Below are some major initiatives and events that participants included in their timeline activities that have affected Canadian foreign policy and Canada's role in the world from 1931 to 2009.
Browse the timeline by historical period:
You can also contribute to the Canada’s World citizens’ timeline here.
- Canada and India formally sign Canada-India Reactor (CIR) Agreement. Canada agrees to provide India with a nuclear reactor (CIRUS), which is to be employed exclusively for “peaceful uses”. However, over subsequent years, ample evidence is uncovered that India is using the reactor to enrich plutonium for its nuclear weapons program.
- Canada and the Suez Canal Crisis - A watershed moment in Canadian foreign policy occurrs with Canada's role in the de-escalation of the Suez Canal Crisis of July-November 1956. During the crisis, the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent has, much to the chagrin of many Canadians, refused to unilaterally support the United Kingdom's position. Instead, St. Laurent called upon his External Affairs Minister, Lester B. Pearson, to assist in devising a solution. What followed has widely been termed as the Pearson Peace Plan. On November 4, Pearson suggests to the United Nations that a "United Nations Emergency Force" be deployed. This force, under Canadian command and comprised of neutral states not directly involved in the conflict, was accepted by the General Assembly as a means to "keep the borders at peace until a political settlement can be worked out". Shortly thereafter, the force, under the command of Canadian General E.L.M. Burns, is deployed to secure the cessation of hostilities in the Suez Canal. This action is widely considered to be the genesis of UN and global peacekeeping operations, and as a result, Canada has forever been identified with peacekeeping activities. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Canadian forces take lead roles in peacekeeping operations in Lebanon, New Guinea, Yemen, the Arab/Israeli border, and Cyprus.
- The Progressive Conservatives are elected to a minority government and John Diefenbaker becomes prime minister.
- John Diefenbaker Recurrent Speech Themes:
- Continuity will prevail
- Priorities will remain the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the Commonwealth
- The scope and institutionalization of the priority organizations will be strengthened
- Canadian interests will be placed first with the United States
- Relations will be diversified away from the United States
- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is created by the United Nations with substantial Canadian input. One of two "Regional Safeguard Offices", the most important centres other than the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, is established in Toronto, where it presently remains.
- The first Pugwash Conference on Sciences and World Affairs is held in Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Funded by Canadian-born philanthropist Cyrus Eaton, the conference brings together, as individuals rather than government representatives, influential scholars and public figures concerned with reducing the danger of armed conflict and seeking cooperative solutions for global problems. Significant not only for what was discussed, such as the danger of nuclear war, but also for the co-operation amongst the global scientific community, this conference has spawned over 275 similar gatherings since.
- Lester B. Pearson receives the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the establishment of the United Nations Emergency Force to cease hostilities in the Suez Canal Crisis.
- The first Conference on the Law of the Sea is held in Geneva. With the longest coastline in the world, Canada plays a leading role in the negotiations and the shaping of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which would finally come into force on November 16, 1994.
- In partnership with the United States, Canada jointly establishes the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD), as a response to the threat of Soviet long-range nuclear bombers. Presided over by Canadian and American officers, NORAD was established to provide aerial defense of the continent in the case of a nuclear attack.
- Canada, through the Commonwealth Caribbean Aid Program, establishes the principle of bilateral economic aid (similar to the Colombo Plan) to be focused on Caribbean bodies.
- Following the victory of the communist revolution in Cuba, Canada maintains cordial diplomatic and economic relations with Havana in spite of considerable pressure from the U.S. to have no contact with the Castro regime. This represents a major step in the independence of Canadian foreign policy vis-à-vis the U.S. towards a continental state.
- Prime Minister John Diefenbaker announces that Canada will cancel the Avro Arrow Project (an advanced interceptor aircraft). The Arrow, designed and manufactured by Malton, Ontario-based Avro Aircraft Ltd., is considered to be a significant technological and aerodynamic achievement which would have propelled Canada's aviation industry to be amongst the global leaders.
- The St. Lawrence Seaway, a joint Canada-United States engineering project linking the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean via several locks and canals, opens for ocean-going vessels. As a result, and for the first time, resources and goods produced in the Great Lakes Basin are able to be transported directly by water to international destinations.
- The Canadian government announces the purchase of U.S.-manufactured F-104 fighter aircraft to fulfill its nuclear "strike-reconnaissance" role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
- Canada continues to expand its principle of bilateral economic aid with the inclusion of two Africa Aid Programs: Commonwealth Africa (1960) and francophone Africa (1961).
- Despite a lack of formal diplomatic links, the Canadian government approves sales of wheat to the People's Republic of China to expand export markets.
- The province of Quebec, opens an official office in Paris independently of Canada. In 1960, Jean Lesage's provincial Liberal Party defeats the more conservative Union Nationale, unleashing a wave of modernization in Quebec. The "Quiet Revolution" that follows marked the determination of Quebecers to control their own affairs, and even, for some, to seek independence from Canada. This has implications on the international stage, particularly after French President Charles de Gaulle begins to take an active interest in Quebec.
- Repulsed by South Africa's racist policies against its black majority, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker sides with African and Asian members at the Commonwealth Conference in India, and is the only leader of a predominantly white country to oppose South Africa's application for renewed Commonwealth membership. Consequently, South Africa withdraws its application.
- The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) is established and Canada is a founding member. DAC serves as a forum through which member states address issues concerning relations with developing countries.
- Canada endorses the principle of black majority rule in Rhodesia (currently Zimbabwe) and supports the imposition of economic sanctions against the white minority regime of Ian Smith. This is amongst several foreign policy decisions in the early 1960s where Canada is out of step with the United States. For example, Canada was prepared to provide humanitarian aid to socialist-governed states such as Tanzania.
- Following a period of indecision, John Diefenbaker declares that missiles in Cuba are a threat to Canada and offers support for U.S. actions by aligning Canada's military alert status with that of the United States.
- Canada accepts nuclear weapons for the Canadian Armed Forces. Nuclear weapons for U.S. storage are later approved.
- The Liberal Party is elected with a minority government, Lester Pearson becomes Prime Minister of Canada.
- Lester Pearson priorities (expressed by Paul Martin Sr.)
- Ensuring Western democracies and collective security through NORAD and NATO
- Fostering arms control at the UN
- Responding peacefully to limited wars through UN peacekeeping and mediation
- Reducing economic disparities abroad and instability through multilateral aid
- Developing international peacekeeping as envisioned in the UN Charter
- Canada officially chooses not to participate in the Vietnam War.
- Ottawa negotiates an umbrella agreement with Paris that would allow Quebec City and Paris to sign co-operative agreements. In 1965, Quebec and France sign an agreement on cultural co-operation.
- Canadian peacekeepers are in Cyprus to help restore stability and security amongst the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. To this day, there is a Canadian peacekeeping presence on the island.
- The Columbia River Treaty is ratified in Canada. This Treaty, jointly developed and implemented by the U.S. and Canada, outlines the development and operation of the upper Columbia River basin in B.C. and Washington state for hydro-electric projects and water levels.
- The present Canadian flag is adopted, replacing the Canadian Red Ensign, which included a Union Jack and was considered to be not representative of the Canadian population as a whole.
- Prime Minister Pearson gives a speech in Philadelphia critical of U.S. policy in Vietnam, calling for a suspension of the bombing campaign. President Johnson responds by attacking Pearson for interfering in U.S. domestic affairs. In 1972, Canada would again criticize the bombing in Vietnam.
However, Canadian manufacturers and the Canadian government are involved in filling American defence contracts for shipment to Vietnam. In 1958 Canada and the United States signed a Defence Production Sharing Agreement. Between 1965 and 1973, industry in Canada supplied $2.47 billion worth of war material to the United States. It is also estimated that 30,000-40,000 Canadians signed up as volunteers with the U.S. armed forces in Vietnam.
April - October 1967
- International and Universal Exposition (Expo ‘67) is held in Montreal, Quebec. It is considered to be the most successful World's Fair of the 20th century, with over 50 million visitors and 62 nations participating.
It coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation. French President Charles de Gaulle visits and declares "Vive le Quebec libre" a clear signal of support for Quebec separatism. The speech causes outrage in most of Canada and it leads to a serious diplomatic rift between the two countries.
- Lester Pearson's priorities (expressed by Paul Martin Sr.):
- National Security
- National unity
- Political liberty and social justice
- The rule of law in national and international affairs
- The values of Christian civilizations
- Acceptance of international responsibility in accordance with Canada's interest and ability to contribute to international peacebuilding
- The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is established to manage Canada's growing aid program.
- The Canadian government suspends diplomatic relations with the Republic of Gabon after it invites the province of Quebec, and not Canada, to attend a francophone education conference. Canada threatens to break off diplomatic relations with France at this time as the Gabon invitation is seen to be at the behest of France.
April 20, 1968
- Pierre Trudeau takes office as the fifteenth Prime Minister of Canada. He claims, "Our paramount interest is to ensure the political survival of Canada as a federal and bilingual sovereign state". Federal policy of bilingualism is established in 1969.
- Canada signs the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.