A soldier and a girl fervently embrace on an otherwise empty railroad platform at night, the lamps in the background blurry, the tracks sweeping past clean and precise. A dark horse gallops along a railroad track at dusk, while a train slowly grinds toward it across a treeless expanse, steam trailing off into a cloudy sky. Both Soldier and […]
I had been looking forward to this day for weeks. On Friday, 28 June 2013, a fleet of Tall Ships sailed into Hamilton Harbour on Lake Ontario as part of the War of 1812 bicentennial. I had arranged to leave work early, catching the bus from Toronto to Hamilton in time to see the ships arrive. What […]
Happy Canada Day! We asked The Historica-Dominion Institute staff to share what Canada Day means to them – here’s what we heard: Dominique: Canada Day for me is feeling the warm sun on the moss-covered crags of the Canadian shield after a long winter. The smell of gasoline as Dad filled up the car to […]
Just in time for Canada Day, The Historica-Dominion Institute’s President Anthony Wilson-Smith shares his memories of being a Canadian overseas: In 1988 I had just moved to what was still then the USSR for the start of a three year journalism posting in Moscow. When the time arrived for my first visit to the Kremlin, […]
Just in time for Canada Day, our own Richard Foot shares his memories of Canada Day as a member of the Governor General’s Foot Guards: Most of us have at least one special Canada Day memory: a July 1st weekend at a lakeside cottage when the weather was just perfect, or a night of fireworks […]
On June 7th, 1939, Canada denied entry to over 900 Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis. Seventy-two years later, Canada’s part in the fate of the MS St. Louis was officially remembered with the unveiling of Daniel Libeskind’s “Wheel of Conscience” monument, at the Canadian Museum of Immigration. As Canada assumes chairmanship of the […]
69 years ago, on June 6, 1944 Canadians, alongside their fellow Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen, participated in D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, France and the first step towards the liberation of continental Europe in the Second World War. Canadians performed a wide variety of tasks on D-Day. In advance of the invading force, paratroopers […]
A nation is a group of people who share the same illusions about themselves. Academics call it imagining a community. Vancouver cyberpunk novelist William Gibson calls it “consensual hallucination.” Whatever you call it, April Fools seems like a good opportunity to think about some of the illusions Canadians have about ourselves.
One illusion we share is that we don’t know enough about our own history. The arrival of Canada Day invariably brings with it another poll showing how few Canadians can name three prime ministers, or know the words to the national anthem, or some other piece of national esoterica. The implication being a) this is a bad thing and b) people in other countries know more. Both these assumptions are wrong. The same polls, with the same results, appear with regularity in the United States and I imagine in other countries as well. Canadians may not know much history, but neither does anyone else.
On February 15, 1965, at hundreds of ceremonies across the country and around the world, the red and white Canadian maple leaf flag was raised for the first time.
In Ottawa, 10,000 people gathered on a chilly and snow-covered Parliament Hill. At precisely noon, the guns on nearby Nepean Point sounded as the sun broke through the clouds. An RCMP constable, 26-year old Joseph Secours, hoisted the flag to the top of a specially-erected white staff, and a sudden breeze snapped the maple leaf to attention.
Canada’s national anthem was first heard one fine June evening in 1880, on the campus of Laval University in Quebec City. Joseph Keaney Foran and some fellow law students were relaxing in one of the buildings when they heard a commotion at the front door. They saw Father Pierre Rouselle, the university secretary, and three other men enter the building and head straight for the piano. In the lead was a small man with a halo of black hair around his balding dome. “He was very excited,” Foran later wrote of the little man, “and kept tapping his hands and saying ‘I’ve got it! I’ve finally found it; I’ve succeeded; come, listen.” He arranged himself at the piano and the others perched on a nearby dais. “Throwing back his head he played for us, for the first time, the masterpiece of his genius – it was Calixa Lavallée; he played O Canada.”
Naming a country is no small task. The name should evoke feelings of pride and strength and reflect the character of the land and its people. The explorer Jacques Cartier generally gets the credit for naming Canada; he documented the name in his journal, describing the “Kingdom of Canada” and noting that the entrance to the St. Lawrence River “is the way to and the beginning of…the route to Canada.” However, the story of the country’s naming is not his alone.
There were celebrations that first day, July 1, 1867, for the new “Dominion of Canada.” But neither the date, nor the name nor the designation was a sure thing even a few months before. The celebrations were hardly a spontaneous public outpouring.
After all, confederation had been strictly a political process that took place in the backrooms of Quebec City and Charlottetown, with the colonial politicians being urged on by their distant masters in London. “Here in this house,” wrote Agnes Macdonald, the new prime minister’s wife, “the atmosphere is so awfully political that sometimes I think that the very flies hold Parliament on the kitchen tablecloths.”