The driving of the last spike – one of the most famous and iconic photos in Canadian history (photo by Ross Best & Co, courtesy Library and Archives Canada).

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.

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B and B Commission

André Laurendeau (left) and Davidson Dunton (right), cochairs of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.

On this day in 1963, Prime Minister L. B. Pearson announced the establishment of a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism under the direction of AndrĂ© Laurendeau and A. Davidson Dunton. All three saw it as a grand inquest, to use Pearson’s term, into the relationships between Canada’s French and English language groups, with the aim of a genuine partnership of the two cultures.

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