O! Canada

| June 22, 2014 | 0 Comments
The day-long Canada Day celebration on Parliament Hill often draws crowds of more than 100,000 people.

The day-long Canada Day celebration on Parliament Hill often draws crowds of more than 100,000 people.

We often say a particularly mature young person is “not as old as he or she seems.” Canada, on the other hand, is not, by several important measures, nearly as young as it is often thought to be. Every July, we celebrate Canada Day, marking the confederation of the British North American provinces into Canada on July 1, 1867. However, our pre-Confederation history dates back thousands of years to the arrival of the first indigenous peoples. The most recent evidence was the discovery earlier this year of stone walls deep below the surface of Lake Huron that date back to the end of the Ice Age, about 9,000 years ago. In fact, indigenous peoples likely settled in what is now Canada thousands of years before that.
Other visitors and settlers arrived long after, but still many hundreds of years before Confederation. The first Norse settlement existed in L’Anse aux Meadows, Nfld., sometime between 990 BC and 1050. British and French settlers came much later — and have stayed much longer. The settlement of New France dates to 1534. An early British settlement was established in 1583 in what is now St. John’s, Nfld.
Yet, even if we use 1867 as a benchmark, our history still pre-dates that of countries we think of as much older. What is now Germany, for example, was founded in 1871. Italy, established in 1861, is only six years older than Canada.
From 1879 until 1982, July 1 was known as Dominion Day — although that designation always had some detractors. The first formal attempt to change the name to Canada Day came in 1946 when a Québécois MP, Antoine Philéas Côté, tabled a private member’s bill to rename Dominion Day as Canada Day. The Senate instead suggested a change to “National Holiday of Canada,” but when it became impossible to achieve consensus, the status quo prevailed. After the passage of the Constitution Act in 1982, which fully and formally made Canada an independent nation, Dominion Day was renamed Canada Day.
Over the years, the scope and volume of celebrations have steadily grown, and the day-long events on Parliament Hill — the biggest of the venues countrywide — often draw more than 100,000 people, along with a television audience of many times that. At the same time, commemorative events and programs now extend beyond July 1 itself. For example, at our organisation, Historica Canada (www.historicacanada.ca), our Ottawa-based Encounters with Canada program holds a seven-day Experience Canada week open to new Canadians and permanent residents aged 14 to 17 at our Terry Fox Canadian Youth Centre, located close to downtown. This year’s program, from June 29 to July 5, offers youth a window into Canadian history, culture and heritage through visits to Parliament Hill, a trip to a wildlife preserve and tours of other relevant sites in Ottawa and nearby. As with all our programs, it is fully bilingual. (For information, please see www.ewc-rdc.ca.)
We also support several important measures taken by the federal government to better promote Canadian history. These include the renaming and new content planned for the Museum of Canadian History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization) in Gatineau, Que., and Canada History Week, which runs from July 1 to 7 each year. During this week, Canadians are encouraged, as the federal heritage department says, to “visit a museum, tour one of our great national historic sites, or speak to a veteran.”
That’s good advice for any time of the year. What matters most about Canadian history, after all, is not whether our country is considered young or old, but whether we keep learning and improving as we move toward the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. On that note, Happy Canada Day!

Anthony Wilson-Smith is the president of Historica Canada.

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Anthony Wilson-Smith is president of Historica Canada

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