Canada Day, is not an “independence day” equivalent to July 4th in the U.S.A.; rather, it is a national holiday commemorating a 1867 event when the remaining North American British colonies unified & reorganized themselves (by mutual agreement of the British and their Canadian colonists) into a confederated single country called Canada, but one that remained for another 115 years part of the British Empire, until 1982.
This commemoration event made me realize that my knowledge of Canadian history is woefully and embarrassingly non-existent; I actually had no idea that Canada Day even existed, nor for that matter its date, nor did I fully understand what it was about; so, it was by happy accident that I began my one month stay in downtown Victoria, B.C., the day before this event.
(That said: I am currently looking on Amazon.com, both the US and Canadian ones, in an attempt to rectify that, and just not finding much.)
This ignorance (a state of being I have little tolerance for) was brought home to me when one of my oldest friends, asked me ‘what is Canada Day’ and I didn’t know the answer. Gina — who looks like she could be my better looking, much thinner and slightly taller sister — and I have known each other since kindergarten. She’s been visiting me from time to time as I’ve been doing my road trip, since she likes to travel, but her hubby not so much, and she has neither the time nor inclination to travel intensively, the way I have been doing it. So, from time to time she takes a few days off from work and comes to where ever I happen to be — usually after I’ve been there long enough to have a sense of what she might want to see, and she crashes at my place and I become her local guide. When she therefore asked me, “what is Canada Day” I realized that I genuinely had no clue on how to answer that (it was annoying), other than that I was sure it was NOT an Independence day. Canadian independence from the British Empire happened when I was a Junior in High School, and I remembered it. It was a really big deal at the time particularly in my home, since a lot of my family is British (and by birth, technically, so am I).
So what follows is in answer to Gina’s question of, “well if it isn’t an Independence day, what is it?”…..
Originally called Dominion Day (a choice of words I find interesting), Canada Day Celebrates the confederation in 1867 of the two colonies (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) into a whole, named Canada, which was then immediately broken into FOUR Provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.
This however was not ALL of what is now Canada, as there are actually ten provinces and three territories (not just four provinces), and these are:
Provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador (which apparently count as one), Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.
Territories: Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.
The major difference between the two categories seems to be whether their power is derived from the constitutional act of 1867 (also known as the British North America Act of 1867 — territories) that Canada Day commemorates, or whether their power is delegated by the central government (which I assume means the central government maintains the prerogative to revoke them at some future time, I assume after the territories are more densely settled — must investigate further).
The province of British Columbia, where I currently am, didn’t join until 1871 when it became the sixth Canadian Province, after the negotiation of a few legal and economic points. From my perspective, this sounds a lot like what happened with the Crown colonies joining the US — with North Carolina and Rhode Island being hold outs until their terms were agreed to, or the current on-going and in the news example of European countries and EU membership.
And that said, I am about to go off on a HUGE historical tangent, which this brings to mind: namely, the historical question of, “Did the Southern States have the legal right to secede from the Union?” (And what the fuck does this have to do with Canada, is what I assume you’re currently thinking to yourself. No really, bare with me.) The answer is predicated on, do you consider the U.S. Constitution to be a contract or a treaty. No seriously, it makes a HUGE difference from a legal standpoint… and MOST legal scholars tend to agree that Lincoln, as a lawyer, must have known that he had no legal right to stop secession, precisely because the constitution was initially ratified in 1789 with only 11 of the 13 colonies/states agreeing to it, and the holdouts adding on later by 1790 — not to mention our ability to add more states as needed without having to write up a new constitution. (Point of fact, one wouldn’t know unless you majored in law or political science: legally, no one can enter a contract after the fact; for that to happen the old contract has to be broken and a new one created that all current members sign. This is not so with a treaty, where others can join on the agreement after the fact, and more importantly, in a treaty signers reserve the right to leave at will with no major repercussions, which you don’t get to do with a contract.) Most legal scholars consider the constitution to be a treaty for this reason. However, that said, since all of the Canadian colonies were under British control (sort of like teenagers legally, rather than full adults) I don’t think British Columbia would legally have the right to secede, but it is an interesting thought anyway.
From the little I’ve read, while prepping to write this — again, I am looking for some good general readers on Canadian History — the reorganization, and the general semi-independence granted to Canada by the British was definitely influenced by what had happened in what were, then, the United States, in an attempt to keep Canada in the Empire. For the most part it worked, and Canada was kept at least legally dependent on the British Empire for another 115 years, or in other words until just 34 years ago in 1982.
So, back to the fun part:
There was a whole schedule of events lined up for the day, but where Americans seem to be married to the concept of 4th of July parades, followed by music, food, and then fireworks… the Canadians seem to really enjoy forming ‘human flags.’ Apparently — from what I was hearing — every major city in Canada does one of these, and there’s a sort of unofficial rivalry for who can do the biggest one… which Winnipeg seems to hold the record for, and the fact that it included free Canada T-shirts was a definite draw from my perspective.
Unfortunately, by the time we got done brunch (dim sum, not great), and dragged our asses the five or six blocks from my apartment to the lawn in front of the British Columbia Parliament building (the majestic building with the green rooms), they had already handed out all 1,500 t-shirts. We did however get there in time to see them forming the flag by herding people, based on t-shirt color, into specific locations that were marked by bright yellow strings. There were multiple TV stations and Newspapers taking shots, both from the ground, and from elevated positions.
Along with this, there was also live music (really good live music I might add), activities and a bouncy castle for the kids, many folks touting red maple leaf temporary tattoos on their faces, and no shortage of adults embracing their Canadian Identity with a geeky fervor that I just loved.
Just off to the side of this were food trucks, and public service groups advertising everything from efforts to revive nearly extinct species specific to Canada, to public service groups. Gina and I are both very Jewish (in our own ways), we met at a Jewish Kindergarten, and were really happy to see that there was a Jewish contingent being represented.
From them we learned that there are a few different synagogues in town; apparently, the conservative one is not only just up the street from my rental, it is also the oldest surviving synagogue in Canada (I will endeavor to stick my nose in late this month); they had mistakenly said it was the oldest in all of North America — but I knew that couldn’t be right because I (rightfully) thought that one is located in Rhode Island, but I didn’t correct them. However, according to Wikipedia the one in Victoria is the oldest West coast synagogue in North America… Unfortunately the congregation is so small that they only do Saturday morning prayers regularly, with Friday night prayers only happening once a month. There is also a reform, a Chabad (of course), and a spiritualist new age type community.
Besides this we found rows and rows of local artists selling their wares. Products ranged from hand made native american art, to bucket loads of jewelry and clothing, to bizarre garden gnomes.
One item for sale kind of freaked us out. If you’ve been shopping lately you’ve noticed that fossilized ‘life’ of various forms, and quartz seem to have not only become all the rage, but seem to be selling as jewelry that range in prices from $180 to an almost identical item selling for $5. At one such table I picked up a necklace that appeared to be a fossilized leaf… really pretty, and it slipped from my hand and hit the floor and shattered. I showed it to the guy managing the table and apologized saying, “you break it you buy it” and he waved me off saying not to worry about it, “we guarantee what we sell, so if it broke from one drop, don’t worry about it.” Both Gina and I just “LOOKED” at each other, and walked away a bit freaked out. We both mentally went to, ‘if that cost them so little that they don’t care customers break them, then none of that stuff we’re seeing in stores must be real.’ As in I think the Chinese have figured out how to mass produce this stuff, and the product selling for $200 a pop might be the same crap that’s selling for $5 a pop.
Buyer beware is all I can say about that.
After that Gina and I were both utterly warn out, and headed back to my Airbnb rental to crash. On the way back we passed a very hunky looking Canadian policeman (seriously, hubba hubba), and I asked him where the best places to see the fireworks from were, describing about where my rental was. He suggested a location much closer than the one advertised, and we thanked him… we went back to my place and we both fell asleep for a few hours before heading out to the fireworks.
Afterwards Gina noted that this had been two firsts for her: firstly, watching fireworks from an angle where you can actually see the track of the fireworks, and secondly, she had never really watched them fully over water before. It was quite lovely.