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The 1980s was a decade of political and economic transformation. The Canadian Constitution was repatriated in 1982, formally absolving the United Kingdom of any responsibility and jurisdiction over Canada. In 1988, Canada joined the United States in a Free Trade Agreement. The communist system in Europe slowly eroded. In 1989 the Berlin Wall, which had divided Communist East Berlin and democratic West Berlin for over two decades, was demolished. The AIDS pandemic emerged, with the first Canadian case appearing in 1982. By 1990, tens of thousands of deaths were attributed to the disease. In the auto industry, domestic manufacturers experienced increased competition from foreign makers, particularly those in Japan. Chrysler introduced the highly popular mini-van in 1984. By 1989, most governments around the world had made seatbelt use mandatory for front-seat passengers. In this decade, IBM introduced the personal computer, followed closely by Apple.


The 1984 Plymouth Voyager SE used by the National Museums of Canada


Plymouth Voyager—the "Magic Wagon" is a hit with families.

The Voyager minivan arrived on the scene in 1984, overshadowing the station wagon as Canada's favourite family vehicle. It was assembled in Windsor, Ontario along with the near-identical Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country. These minivans handled like regular cars, but had much more seating capacity—and as much cargo space as small trucks. This versatility made them very popular.

Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 1992.2661

Honda engine assembly line, Honda Canada Inc., Alliston, Ontario.


The first Canadian-made Honda rolls off the line in Alliston, Ontario.

In June 1984, Honda announced plans to build a state-of -the-art automobile manufacturing facility in Alliston, Ontario. Two years later, the first Canadian-made car was produced. It also made Honda the first Japanese car maker to manufacture in Canada. By 2010, Honda has become Canada's fourth largest automaker.

Photo: Honda Canada, Inc.

Volvo GLO/ Volvo, Volvo Canada Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia


Volvo GLO—built in Sweden, assembled in Canada.

The Volvo 740 GLO models were designed and developed in Sweden but were assembled at Volvo's Halifax plant. Canadian workers assembled the cars, which arrived by ship in kit form. Few domestic parts were added. In 1998, Volvo redirected its focus to its European assembly operations and the Halifax plant was closed.

Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum 1999.0114

First Canadian-made Toyota sold in Canada – 1989 Toyota, Corolla, Toyota Canada Inc., Cambridge, Ontario


The first Canadian-made Toyota rolls off the line in Cambridge, Ontario.

The world's all-time best-selling automobile, the Toyota Corolla, was introduced in Japan in 1966 and in the U.S. in 1968. They first went on sale in Canada in the 1970s. The Corolla was the first Canadian-made Toyota manufactured at Toyota's new Cambridge, Ontario plant in 1989. It has since remained one of the most popular compact cars in Canada. The same year the plant opened, Toyota built its Cold Research Centre in Timmins, Ontario to test their cars in a "Canadian" climate.

Photo: Doon Heritage Crossroads Museum

In The News

Signing of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act.


The government of Pierre Trudeau introduces the Constitution Act as part of the process of repatriating Canada's constitution.

The bill introduced several new amendments to the British North America Act of 1867, a key element of which was the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter entrenches civil and political rights and freedoms in the Constitution, rather than being a statute that could be more readily amended and modified. Every province, save Quebec who demanded to be recognized as a distinct society, supported the Constitution Act. Attempts to bring Quebec into the constitutional fold, in the forms of the Meech Lake Accord (1987) and the subsequent Charlottetown Accord (1992), both failed.

Photo: 17 April 1982
Robert Cooper, Library and Archives Canada / e002852801

Jeanne Sauvé, Companion of the Order of Canada


Jeanne Sauvé becomes Canada's first female Governor General.

Madame Sauvé was only the second woman in the Commonwealth to be appointed to the office of Governor General, after Elmira Minita Gordon, who was appointed Governor General of Belize in 1981. Sauvé worked as a journalist for the CBC before entering politics. She was elected to the House of Commons in 1972, and served as Minister of State for Science and Technology, as Minister of the Environment, and finally as Minister of Communications before becoming Speaker of the House in 1980. She remained Speaker until she was appointed Governor General.

Photo: April 16, 1987
Harry Palmer/Library and Archives Canada, PA-182418

Canadian Auto Workers union protest free trade agreement.


Canadian automobile workers break away from the United Auto Workers (UAW), to form the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW).

By the mid-1980s, the American and Canadian auto industries faced two very different economic climates and the two branches of the UAW found they had differing objectives. The Canadian branch was concerned that the American union was making too many concessions because of massive layoffs at US plants and intense pressure from Japanese imports. Canadian workers, meanwhile, faced fewer layoffs, but Canada had a higher rate of inflation that made wage concessions much less appealing. In 1984, the Canadian branch, led by Bob White, split away from the UAW. The CAW was formed in 1985.

Photo: 1987
CAW Collection

Boeing 747-237B Emperor Kanishka landing at London Heathrow Airport on 10 June 1985, a few days before the explosion


On June 23rd, Air India Flight 182 en route from Montreal, Quebec, to Bombay, India, explodes in Irish airspace.

The Air India Boeing 747-237B was blown up by a bomb at an altitude of 9,400 metres and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. All 329 people on board perished, among them 280 Canadians and 22 Indians. The incident was the largest mass murder in modern Canadian history. The investigation into the bombing took almost 20 years, was the most expensive in Canadian history, and there has yet to be a single conviction. On June 23, 2010, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, issued a formal apology to the families of the victims for the "catastrophic failures of intelligence, policing and air security that led to the bombing, and the prosecutorial lapses that followed."

Photo: 10 June, 1985
Ian Kirby

A photo from an instruction booklet for the 1989 Volvo 240 demonstrates how to attach your front seat belt.


Alberta becomes the last province to make seatbelt use mandatory.

Ontario and Quebec were the first jurisdictions to enact laws making seatbelt use compulsory in 1976. Transportation authorities decided that legislation was necessary to help reduce the significant number of deaths attributed to the lack of seatbelt use.

Photo: 1989
Volvo North America Corporation

Pop Culture

Terry Fox running by Parliament Buildings


On June 28, Terry Fox succumbs to cancer before completing his Marathon of Hope.

In 1977, Terry Fox had his right leg amputated due to osteosarcoma. He continued to run on an artificial leg, and to participate in sports. In 1980, he embarked on a cross-Canada run, starting near St. John's, Newfoundland, to raise money and awareness for cancer research. He ran for 143 days, and completed 5,373 kilometres before it was discovered that the cancer had spread to his lungs. He was forced to abandon the run in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and he died nine months later. His commitment to finding a cure for cancer has created a worldwide legacy. Since 1981, Terry Fox runs have been held in 60 countries, and have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research.

Photo: 1980
Jeremy Gilbert, Canada Sports Hall of Fame

Mining operations in the Athabasca Oil Sands, in Northern Alberta.


Calgary hosts the Winter Olympic Games, amid an Aboriginal land claims controversy in which the United Nations becomes involved.

Beginning with the signing of Treaty 8 in 1899 and extending to the present day, the Lubicon Cree have fought to be recognized as the traditional occupants of land now covering portions of Northern British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the southern Northwest Territories. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 brought an end to the 1970s oil boom. The conflict in Iran, along with the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, caused sharp reductions in oil production leading to a major oil crisis. The Alberta Government began to look for alternative oil reserves to meet the increased demand and began building roads and wells on disputed territory. In 1986, a boycott of the Winter Games and the cultural showcase of First Nations art and artefacts, The Spirit Sings, was announced by the Lubicon Cree. Some twenty-three international museums refused to participate in the exhibition. In 1987, the Lubicon Cree filed an official complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee. In 1990, the UN reported that Canada's treatment of the Lubicon Cree was in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. While the protests raised public awareness, they were unsuccessful in preventing oil companies from continuing to drill and build new wells on Lubicon Cree land.

Photo: 2009
NASA Earth Observatory image

Ben Johnson of Canada winning the 100-metre sprint at the XXIV Summer Olympics.


Sprinter Ben Johnson sets a world record, winning gold at the Olympics in Seoul, Korea, before testing positive for steroid use.

The use of drugs to enhance athletic performance has a long history at the Olympics, with the first documented case recorded in 1904. By 1999, the World Anti-Doping Agency became the authoritative body on the use of performance enhancing drugs in competition. The agency's key activities include scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and monitoring of the World Anti-Doping Code—the document harmonizing regulations regarding anti-doping in all sports and countries. It also produces an annual list of prohibited substances that athletes are not allowed to take or use.

Photo: 24 September, 1988
Ted Grant/Library and Archives Canada, PA-175370

Front and back of the last one dollar bill issued by the Bank of Canada


The Royal Canadian Mint issues a coin – the Loonie – to replace the one-dollar bill.

In 1996, the Mint introduced a second coin, this time to replace the two-dollar bill. The "Toonie," as it is popularly known, is intended to last 20 years, while a two dollar bill would be expected to last only one year. The name "Toonie" became so popular that the Royal Canadian Mint secured the rights to it.

Photo: 1973
National Currency Collection, Currency Museum, Bank of Canada