Prior to 1850, fugitive slaves who escaped from the southern United States to the northern states were considered to be free. However, after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, the northern states were no longer a safe haven. Escaped slaves could be captured by slave-catchers and returned to their owners. This also meant that people who had escaped slavery by entering a free state years earlier could be returned to slavery. Because of racism in American society at the time, it was much easier for a white slave owner to claim that someone was their escaped slave than for a black person to prove they were not. The same threat existed for all free blacks. The Act Against Slavery, passed in 1793, made Upper Canada (part of what is now Ontario) the first British colony to prohibit slavery. Once crossing into Upper Canada, all men, women, and children, were free.

It was a strange scene in Dawson City in the summer of 1897. Amidst the ramshackle wooden buildings, the muddy streets, and the grime covered prospectors, a large white circus tent covered the space of a city block. Inside were such luxuries as a portable bowling alley, a soda machine, two dozen pigeons, and fine silver and china. The owners of the tent were two wealthy American ladies, Mary Hitchcock and Edith Van Buren, who had come to Dawson City not to make their fortune, but to experience first-hand the excitement of the Klondike Gold Rush.

The experiences of Hitchcock and Van Buren were far from common, however they illustrate the fervor of excitement that came with the discovery of gold in the Canadian West. When news broke of gold in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia in 1858, and again in the Klondike region of the Yukon in 1897, thousands of hopeful adventurers rushed to these remote corners of the Empire. Due to the close proximity of the United States, many of these people were Americans, representing such diverse backgrounds as farmers, merchants, and even some experienced miners from the California Gold Rush of 1849. The people who came, the life they made in the gold fields, and their impact on Aboriginal peoples all shaped the region for years to come.

In the 1920s, a large influx of immigrants from Czechoslovakia came to Canada in search of industrial work and available land for agriculture. Interwar ethnic associations were predominantly led by individuals of Slovak origin. Czechoslovakia maintained contact with its nationals in Canada through its diplomatic officials. Their consular offices promoted loyalty to Czechoslovakia’s policies in the hopes that Slovaks and Czechs would adopt their home government’s pro-“Czechoslovak” ideology, and eventually defend their homeland in the event of a war. The Czechoslovak Consulate General in Montreal oversaw all diplomatic activity between Prague and its nationals in Canada. With Slovakia’s declaration of independence and Germany’s occupation of the Czech lands in March 1939, the Czechoslovak Consulate General in Montreal used its local diplomatic discretion in an attempt to unite Slovaks and Czechs as a “Czechoslovak” national community. However, although nationalist Slovaks supported Canada’s war effort, they opposed the Czechoslovak Consulate General’s pro-Czechoslovak agenda. Czechoslovak diplomats lobbied the Canadian government for political recognition of the Edvard Beneš-led Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London to legitimize their efforts to re-establish a postwar Czechoslovak Republic. After British recognition, Canada became the last Dominion to recognize the London government-in-exile.

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