As Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday on July 1, I’m taking a look back at my 44-odd years in the country. This is the last of seven parts.
I’ve now lived in Canada much longer than I did in the United States.
Yet, I’m afraid, I will always view Canada from an American perspective.
I know what July 4th is – it’s American Independence Day.
But what is July 1st?
That’s a bit more complicated.
The Fathers of Confederation – John A. Macdonald and 18 other lawyers – spent about three years yakking and hatched a scheme to create something of their own out of the British colonies in North America.
There would be four provinces – Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – which they proposed to call the “Kingdom of Canada.”
But that didn’t sit well with the Brits, who were still in charge and would be for another century or so. They came up with the Dominion of Canada, a made-up word with roots in Middle English, which, roughly translated, meant frigid stepchildren.
Since the Brits would still have dominion over Canada, their Parliament passed the British North America Act, which was given royal assent by Queen Victoria on March 29, 1867.
It did not take effect until July 1, 1867 since, as Queen Victoria noted, “Our subjects across the sea prefer to go to the cottage and set off fireworks after the ice melts and the black flies lose their sting.”
July 1 was not proclaimed a statutory holiday, Dominion Day, until 1879, when the governor general, Lord Lorne, the Duke of Argyll, and his wife, Princess Louise, Victoria’s daughter, hosted a wiener roast at Rideau Hall.
By then, there were seven provinces, from the Atlantic to Pacific, breweries were bottling beer from Saint John, N.B.. to Victoria, and Sir John A. had sent the Mounties out to tame the west.
But there were still more beavers in Canada than people, the last spike had yet to be hammered in a transcontinental railroad, and hockey was a new game played by dilettantes at McGill.
When I first moved north of the border in 1973, I figured Canada’s birthday – it was still called Dominion Day – was celebrated on July 1st just to get a three-day beat on the Fourth of July.
I also didn’t understand why Thanksgiving was in October or why Queen Victoria’s birthday was a national holiday.
Or why Canadian kids didn’t get off school on Yom Kippur like I did in New York. Or why I never met a Jew in Vancouver.
Why did Canadians call November 11th Remembrance Day instead of Veterans Day? What’s with the poppies?
And what the hell was Boxing Day?
Why was it the Grey Cup and not the Gray Cup? Why did two of the seven teams in the Canadian Football League have the same name?
I never bought the explanation that one was the Rough Riders, the other the Roughriders. Why did they name teams after Teddy Roosevelt’s cavalry unit, anyway?
Also, if Canada is so damn politically correct, why is there still a football team called the Eskimos? And why is it the Toronto Maple Leafs and not the Maple Leaves?
Why can’t I get an edible pastrami sandwich in this country? And what the hell is a New York steak?
But Canada is my home and I’ve learned a damn sight more about this country than most Canadians.
When I was teaching college journalism in Toronto in the early 2000s, most of my students didn’t know John Diefenbaker from a ’49 Studebaker.
The other day, at a Canadian Tire store near my home in Mississauga, I was greeted by a gabby old clerk and a large banner heralding Canada’s 150th birthday.
While I wanted directions to the aisle where I could find something to clean my computer screen, the clerk had his own agenda.
“Where you from?” he asked, apparently detecting a remnant of my American accent.
“New York, originally,” I replied.
He chuckled. “What do you think of Trump?”
“I’m not amused as you seem to be.”
Driving home, I thought I should have been more polite, more Canadian, changed the subject, maybe asked the old chap why I was taught the War of 1812 was a draw and Canadians say they won.
Or, asked: How about that sesquicentennial, eh?
This piece and the rest in the series inspired me to write my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.