Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Canada Day about celebration and critical examination

  • Print

As a kid growing up in the 1980s in southern Quebec, July 1, Canada Day — or perhaps even Dominion Day to some — was somewhat lost on me.

In my town, St. Jean Baptiste Day seemed to signal a time of joyous collective celebration, or at least the end of the school year.

What I do recall, however, is an annual event held at the local Lions Club park across the field from the local duck farm (poor bastards) that had something to do with this foggy notion of Canada Day. Every year, my older siblings would help me decorate my bike in Canadian flags and patriotic paraphernalia in preparation for a pathetic parade. I would then head down to the park for shuffleboard with veterans, high fructose foods, and a general good time surrounded by older men with moustaches, long tube socks, and bottles of Labatt 50.

Later, when I moved to Manitoba as a teenager, I began to understand this day as the day when Canada became an awkward constitutional monarchy composed of four strange bedfellows petrified of the United States and abandoned by the motherland.

Today, we invest quite a great deal of cultural and financial capital into Canada Day celebrations. Why not? There is much to be celebrated on July 1 beyond Canada Day. For example, in 1858 Canadian currency was first coined. In 1868, the Department of Fisheries was created (we liked science back then). In 1941, Canada brought in unemployment insurance. In 1960, Treaty Indians were granted the vote. In 1968, Medicare was rolled in. In 1996, the Phoenix Coyotes were born — oh wait … never mind. Prohibition was also launched on July 1, 1916, in Manitoba, but let’s not freak out the micro-brew hipsters.

Apart from hockey in the desert and a ban on booze, these events were all marvellous things, including the proclamation of the British North America Act in 1867. But, July 1 also marks some pretty dubious times in Canadian history which should make us pause and think about present-day Canada.

Confederation, including the proclamation by George-Etienne Cartier on July 1, 1870, that the Canadian Pacific Railroad was going to actually happen, didn’t work out for everyone. If you were Métis or First Nations living in the Northwest, you were in Canada’s way and, by force or by duress, your land was going to be taken away so that a long slab of steel could be built across this country and profit a few elites. Sounds like pipeline talk, no?

In fact, on July 1, 1860, before Canada was a sparkle in John A.’s eye, Great Britain had passed over control of Indian Affairs to the then province of Canada. This spelled certain doom for First Nations in British North America, who had some rights with Great Britain under the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Arguably, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples were and are the biggest losers of Confederation.

Continuing with railroads, on July 1, 1923, Canada enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act — a piece of legislation evolved from previous head taxes designed to keep Chinese people out of Canada. An earlier form of a temporary foreign workers program, Canada had enlisted the cheap labour of thousands of Chinese to complete the CPR. Most Canadians were cool with this until said Chinese wanted to stay and create new lives.

In both instances — the rights of indigenous and Chinese people in Canada — progress, industrialization and profit were all placed before people. If we look at our successes on July 1, there is a true sense of taking care of our most vulnerable and making Canada a more equitable and just state. Let’s celebrate this, but let’s also ensure we remind ourselves that greed can make us do the most awful things to our fellow brothers and sisters.


Matt Henderson teaches Canadian history at St. John’s-Ravenscourt School. He can be reached on Twitter at @henderson204


Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Winnipeg Police remove dumpsters from behind homeless shelter

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Winnipeg’s best friend the dragon fly takes a break at English Gardens in Assiniboine Park Wednesday- A dragon fly can eat  food equal to its own weight in 30 minutes-Standup photo- June 13, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A gaggle of Canada geese goslings at Woodsworth Park in Winnipeg Monday- See Project Honk Day 05- May 07, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Ads by Google