Canada Day will be marked by some Saturday as 150 years of nationhoood, by others as merely a ‘reason’ to be festive. But there will also be those who see it as a time to ponder the history this statutory holiday represents.
People are fond of calling it Canada’s 150th birthday, but as any Canadian who’s cracked a history book can tell you, 2017 is simply the 150th anniversary of Confederation. In other words, we’re marking the anniversary of a political act that made a country out of a set of colonies established by Britain or acquired as spoils of war.
A century and a half ago, Confederation was seen as an opportunity to provide economic development for a burgeoning population, many of them immigrants. But it was as much driven by a reaction against America’s 1865 repeal of its free-trade agreement, supposedly a punishment for Britain’s tacit support of its trading partners in the southern states during the U.S. Civil War.
Many had watched with horror as America tore itself apart during that bloody four-year conflict — and, even before that, we had provided a home for refugees from slavery. By 1867, there were growing fears that America’s expansionist doctrine of ‘manifest destiny,’ no longer stymied by civil war, would again advocate encroachment on Canadian territory.
It follows that on July 1, we’re either singing Happy Birthday to the concept of economic nationalism, or celebrating 150 years of abhorrence of someone else’s politics.
All facetiousness aside, there is plenty to celebrate about the nation of Canada, the natural wonders and sense of independence that distinguish our country.
It’s so very Canadian to want to blaze a different trail into the future, even while celebrating our ties with the past. So, perhaps, while marking 150 years of Confederation, we should be making a philosophical commitment to the future of Canada – and its continued independence from more controlling nations.
Maybe we can reaffirm our belief in food security, renewable resources and climate science over short-term profit motives. Maybe we can continue to support the era of reconciliation with our indigenous peoples. Maybe we can renew commitment to global human rights, freedom of religion and embrace of cultures, and to a form of security that does not involve a slavish surrender of personal rights.
Such tenets are cornerstones of our Canadian identity – as symbolic of our core values as the maple leaf.
And they may just be our best guarantee that Canada is still around for another 150 years.