Monday, January 02, 2017

The evolution of the Canadian character

The Sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation is being celebrated by the Globe and Mail with a number of special features. The first one is a long thought-piece by Doug Saunders, who was born on the Centennial year. He's got a lot to say about the many changes that took place before 1967 and emerged into public consciousness in the year of his birth.
Highly recommended even if you don't find the argument persuasive.
Me, I am very interested in how Canada stopped being British, so this was an excellent read for me.
Eight hours after I was born, the directors of the Canadian National Exhibition filed into a banquet hall for their annual luncheon. The exhibition’s president, W.H. Evans, asked them to remain standing to sing the national anthem – and then chaos ensued, as half the audience broke into God Save the Queen before the pianist had struck the first note of O Canada. A debate over Canada’s true national anthem, begun in 1964, had been winding its way through a special House of Commons-Senate joint committee all year and filling the media with debate. It wouldn’t fully be resolved until a law was passed in 1980, and many people (especially in Toronto) still considered the British national anthem “official.”
In that light, 1967 can only be seen as the apex of Canada’s postcolonial moment. The wars over symbols were one small manifestation of a larger shift. It’s worth remembering how new this all was. We still remained, in important ways, a colony. In 1967, Canadian citizenship had only existed for 20 years – before January 1, 1947, everyone in Canada was a British subject and had to travel with a United Kingdom passport. But it still didn’t quite exist: That 1947 law creating Canadian citizenship declared in its main clause that “a Canadian citizen is a British subject” (this would remain in place until 1977). That idea was still hotly defended by many in the Ottawa of 1967: The Progressive Conservative leadership still opposed Canadian citizenship, and the flag, and the anthem. There was still a sizable political faction in Canada who supported the idea that all Canadians were simply a slightly different, less important flavour of British people. But the great majority of Canadians had moved on – or moved in – and you could see the centennial struggling to catch up with them.
Back in the 1980s, I told my history class that the disappearance of "the Romans" from Britain was less like an invasion and more like the elimination of "a Canadian citizen is a British subject" from the passport. This passed right over their heads, since they'd never seen such a passport.

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