Celebrating 150 Years of Canada

One staff writer reflects on Canada’s history during Canada Day festivities 

By Javan Latson

July 1st marked a very important milestone in Canadian history, the 150th anniversary of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada becoming a confederation. Every year, millions of Canadians gather in towns and cities to celebrate this anniversary, now commonly called Canada Day. The signing of the North America Act in 1867 put the then British colony on the path to becoming the prosperous nation that it is today. This piece of legislation not only created Canada as a nation, but also gave Canadians greater control over their internal affairs, although it was not until 1982 that Canada became fully independent from England.

Although a relatively young nation, a lot of change has happened in Canada in the past century and a half. Once a colony, Canada is now one of the world’s most successful countries and is ranked 10th on the United Nation’s Human Development Index. Thousands of brave Canadians fought and died alongside American soldiers in the First and Second World Wars, playing their part to help combat fascism and totalitarianism. When the world was anticipating a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, Canada was one of the founding members of NATO in order to preserve peace. As nations around the globe descended into civil war and anarchy, the Canadian Government ended nearly a century of racially discriminatory entrance requirements with the passage of the Immigration Act in 1976. Ending years of quotas and exclusionary policies, this law opened the gate for non-Western Europeans to enter the country. Hungarians fleeing communism, Iranians escaping the Ayatollah, and Chileans seeking freedom from Pinochet found refuge on Canadian soil. The Immigration Act and the subsequent revisions have helped the lives of thousands and have transformed Canadian society into the diverse and pluralistic country that exists today.

This is not to say that the nation has been without problems. Canada’s history with its indigenous population is shameful and the relationship between the government and the First Nations is still rocky. A legacy of discrimination, land theft, and boarding schools has caused many aboriginals to associate Canada Day with white supremacy and injustice. Things have been only slightly better with the French population over the issue of sovereignty and the place of the French language in society. During the 1970s, things had gotten so bad that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had to enact martial law in Quebec following the murder of a government official by Quebecois separatists. Today, there is less unrest, and with the passage of the Multicultural Act of 1971, the Canadian government has officially recognized French as one of its two official languages.

I had the privilege to witness the Canada Day celebrations this year in the Canadian capital of Ottawa during a mission trip with friends it was truly remarkable. It was a vibrant display of the history and culture of the young nation, with the pomp of a formal event. Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, were there, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to celebrate the occasion. Millions of people descended upon Parliament hill to hear speeches, eat food, and enjoy live performances from U2, Alessia Cara, and Ruth B. While there I asked friends two questions: What does it mean to be a Canadian, and what makes Canada great?

I was told that to be a Canadian means, “being one in diversity in a land of diversity” while another told me being Canadian is “being a friendly citizen who is respectful of differences others might have.” In a time when nations are more divided more than ever, the common theme that I noticed in my conversations and in the festivities, was the importance of community. Whether someone is West Indian, Sikh, Quebecois, English, or Inuit, they are all Canadian and that diversity is something that many people take pride in. Although not without its problems, Canada shows that successful and diverse societies are possible if people have respect for one another. One of my friends told me that Canada is often referred to as a, “tossed salad” and this is an accurate statement. For my second question, the responses were more varied with some saying free universal healthcare, low crime rates, and beautiful landscapes are what make the country great. However, there was one person whose answer really stood out. She told me that she loved Canada’s “humble attitude” and the “friendly smiles and welcomes you’ll get from our fellow Canadians, and that Canada will be sure to make you feel at home.”

What makes Canada stand out as a nation? Is it its wealth, the Charter of Rights of Freedoms, poutine, or free healthcare? Yes all of these things are key things that many Canadians love and enjoy. However after 150 years the one thing that truly makes Canada great is the people whose efforts have helped build a successful and vibrant society.