Gabrielle Scrimshaw offered a personal look at what the past, and Canada Day, means to indigenous Canadians in the Times’s Opinion section.
For many French-speaking Quebecers, the Fête Nationale on June 24, originally a feast day in New France honoring St. John the Baptist, is a day of patriotic celebration for the province, if not Canada. (In Montreal, a city of renters, July 1 is better known as moving day.)
It took some time for Canada Day to become a holiday, let alone a moment of national flag waving.
As 1927 neared, William Lyon Mackenzie King, the prime minister, believed that the 60th anniversary of confederation was a pivotal moment, “as if God were bringing to a crowning fruition grandfather’s work of nation building in Canada.” He ordered the government to put on the first large-scale Canada Day (or as it was then, Dominion Day) celebrations, not just in Ottawa but around the nation.
Among the biggest productions was a pageant at Toronto’s Massey Hall produced by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, a charitable group. All of the parts, mainly men from Canada’s past, “were played by 600 bearded, cross-dressing Daughters of the Empire,” wrote Robert Cupido, a historian at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick.
Another government-sponsored Canada Day push came with the centennial in 1967. As I wrote this week, its signature event was Expo 67, the wildly successful world’s fair in Montreal. The 150th anniversary has not brought anything on the scale of Expo. Instead the government is promising just a bigger and better slate of the usual fireworks and entertainment for the main celebrations in Ottawa. And since it’s 2017, that includes more security.
Often Canada Day is described as Canada’s birthday, although it doesn’t really mark the start of a fully independent nation. On July 1, 1867, a law from the United Kingdom, the British North America Act, set up the federal government and joined three of its colonial provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Canada (which was divided into Ontario and Quebec that day) into the Dominion of Canada. A federal government was placed atop of them to create a confederation. But Britain still retained some legislative and legal controls, ran foreign affairs and kept Canadians as its subjects.
Why did confederation take place on July 1, 1867? Queen Victoria signed the British North America act on March 29, 1867, and the law gave everyone over in Canada six months to prepare before it came into effect. On May 22, it was officially proclaimed that July 1 would be the big day.
I asked several historians, including Professor Cupido, why that day was chosen. They didn’t know. The Department of Canadian Heritage, which is in charge of the Canada 150 celebrations, drew a blank. And the research branch at the Library of Parliament, which is currently displaying one of the original copies of the B.N.A. Act, replied that “there doesn’t appear to be a clear reason for the choice of date.”
Perhaps it was simply because the arrangements were all in place by July 1. Or maybe it was because the fiscal year of the former province of Canada ended on June 30. Ah, the workings of bureaucracy.
The New York Times’s contribution to Canada 150 has been to showcase our coverage of the country over the last two weeks.
The Times’ Interpreter columnists weighed in on how the presence of the United States helped make Canada a wellspring of comedians, and how Canada has largely escaped the global wave of political populism.
Canada Day has inspired strong opinions. The writer and recent law school graduate Omar Aziz wrote in The Times that growing up in suburban Toronto as the son of immigrants from Pakistan, he found Canadian multiculturalism to be a “veneer.” More optimistically, and also in Opinion, the commentator Jonathan Tepperman argues that if President Trump wants an immigration system that works, he should copy Canada.
Also in the area of multiculturalism, Dan Levin visited Mississauga, Ontario, where ethnic diversity has led to culture clashes over religion.
One of my colleagues in Styles, Vanessa Friedman, is the mother of children who, in no particular order, are Canadian, American and British “but now the Canadian part is on the rise.” She also keeps a close eye on the connection between politics in fashion — which led her to examine Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s socks.
I probably should avoid picking favorites but, for me, a highlight of the Canada showcase was David Dunlap’s article about The Times’s role in the creation of Kapuskasing, Ontario, the town you can’t avoid when traveling the northern route of the Trans-Canada Highway in Ontario. (I drove there a while back to write about how it turned being snowy and cold into a source of jobs.)
An Unfortunate Parallel
Some of you may be aware that, like Canada, The Times has stepped up its efforts in Australia. As part of that, John Eligon, who usually writes about race in the United States, spent a month visiting indigenous communities in Australia. As in Canada, Mr. Eligon found that much needs to be done to eliminate prejudice and come to terms with the past there. His report, and a television documentary that grew out of the project, are both nuanced and compelling.
And for those of you who will be marking at least part of the holiday weekend in front a screen, the people at Watching, The Times’s guide to television and film, produced their monthly advice on Netflix in Canada. As always, remember that Netflix sometimes changes its programming plan without notice.