With minor revisions, as originally published July 1, 2020
I’ve been using the second person plural a lot: “we”, “us”. What I mean is we, the people who belong to the land of towns.
The question of who belongs here, and in what way, quickly becomes complicated.
For starters, let’s consider the sequence of events in the “Celebrate Canada” program run by the federal Department of Canadian Heritage.
It begins with National Indigenous Peoples Day, on the summer solstice.
The traditional Quebec holiday known as Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day happens June 24th.
June 27 is Canadian Multiculturalism Day.
The series culminates with Canada Day.
This is meant to be a benign, feel-good set of observances. But the problems are immediately apparent.
Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day was renamed Fête nationale du Québec in 1984.
The “National” in Indigenous Peoples Day/Month needs some qualifications and explanations. The fact is, with the possible exception of Métis Nation, the Indigenous Peoples are part of, but not confined to the land of Canadas.
The lines that define the various states, provinces and territories of North America, and the border that separates their union of states from our confederated provinces have little or nothing to do with the original nations of this continent.
The international border is enforced with guns and prisons, so it’s best not to defy it, as some brave souls carrying a Haudensaunee passport have been known to do.
The point is, for Indigenous peoples, that border is an imposition, and to some extent, so was the Dominion of Canada. In the beginning, and underlying all, is the land called Turtle Island.
Inigenous Peoples Day, as the Prime Minister of Canada said this morning (I’m writing this Sunday morning, June 21, 2020) “to take time to reflect on the cultures, traditions, languages, contributions, and heritage of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people.”
The contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis to what the land of the Canadas has become are valuable beyond measure. They certainly belong to the land of towns, and the land belongs to them more than to anyone else. However, in both time and geographical space, Indigenous peoples, cultures and nations transcend the Canada that Justin Trudeau is Prime Minister of.
Celebrate Canada covers, in whole or in part, two of three nations that John Ralston Saul describes as the “triangular reality” of Canada: First Peoples, francophones and anglophones.
Francophone Canada is more than Québec. National Acadian Day happens August 15. The Métis Nation is part of Indigenous Peoples Day; Louis Riel Day in Manitoba is February 15.
There are also the people of the Québecois diaspora from coast to coast to coast, and over the border into the lands of the Bostonnais.
The descendents of the Acadians who were expelled to the English colonies, and who made their way to Louisiana when it was part of Spain in the Americas are also part of the story.
But what about all the other peoples and nations that are part of the land of the Canadas?
What about Newfoundlanders. Aren’t they a nation? What about the Capers in Nova Scotia?
What about the Doukhobors and the Hutterites out West, or the Mennonites who originated from the Netherlands and came here via Russia, East Friesland, sometimes even Mexico or Paraguay? What about those settlers that came here to Grand River country from Pennsylvania, looking for land that would allow them to live, work and worship in a place more peaceable than the new revolutionary republic forged in battle?
These aren’t nations, but they are peoples, peoples set apart by their heritage and by choice.
And what about all the rest of us? Is Canadian Multiculturalism Day a big stew pot for all of allophone Canada, including Dutch settlers like me and the Deutsch who came from Europe to build the City I live in? Or do we all get lumped in among the anglophones as soon as we learn to speak and think in English?
And speaking of the anglophone part of the triangle, why is this not part of Celebrate Canada?
In my Waterloo Region Record column, I used to advocate for making Victoria Day part of Celebrate Canada.
I once considered our peculiar habit of observing Queen Victoria’s birth as an opportunity to reflect on the cultures, traditions, contributions, and heritage of British Canada: the United Kingdom as represented in the Union Jack. Fête de la Reine, after all, is about a monarch with palaces in both England and Scotland.
This would cover the thistle and the rose; how the shamrock relates to the Maple Leaf Forever is another matter.
But since the rise and triumph of Brexit, I’ve changed my views. The United Kingdom barely survived a “yes or no” referendum in Scotland not so long ago, just as the land of the Canadas did, not once, but twice upon a time.
“Better together” was the motto of the winning side in the referendum for Scottish independence in 2014. Great personages like Sir Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Sir Paul McCartney joined in the effort to save their country. But that slogan has now lost all credibility.
My fear is that Brexit may prove to be the most momentous manifestation of the separatist impulse since the English settler colonies declared their independence in 1776.
At least that exit made some sense: The colonies had to become a separate entity so that France, their former arch enemy, could fight with and for them. Brexit 2016-2020 makes no sense whatsoever.
English voters were fooled, the same way voters south of the border were taken in to allow the greatest anglophone liar of all time to wear the mantle of honest George Washington.
Appalled with the election of a clown to fill the shoes of Winston Churchill, I began shouting (in text, through social media) Vive l’Écosse libre!
“How this will affect all the other separatist causes around the world,” I wrote, “ — Albertan, Basque, Biafran, Canarian, Catalonian, Flemish, Frisian, Hong Kongese, Kurdish, Londoner, Puerto Rican, Quebecois, Tibetan, Uyghur, Zulu — remains to be seen”.
It is at that point that I started thinking that an evolved configuration of the land of the Canadas might help us steer our way between the Scylla and Charybdis of a motherland besotted by the narrow nationalist separatism, and a brotherland incapacitated by the White Man Republican contagion.
Meanwhile, with regard to the Celebrate Canada lineup, my preference for the main branches of Celtic Canada — i.e. citizens with origins in the lands of the Indigenous peoples the British Isles — are St Andrew’s Day (November 30), St David’s Day (March 1), and the one we all know: St Patrick’s Day.
In Jamaica, the national motto is “Out of Many, One People”. Which is certainly a worthy aspiration. Unity, however, doesn’t suit the Canadas. Unity was the goal of the Durham Report when it recommended the assimilation of the francophone nation into a single, anglo-dominated entity. Unity was the aim when residential schools were set up to assimilate Indigenous youth into the settler mainstream.
Canada is plural: One Land; Many Peoples.
We are not a single unit, nor a twin, not even a triangle: We are multiform, and best viewed through a lens that is kaleidoscopic.
To keep it together, and to prepare for the trials that lie ahead, we would be wise to embrace our manifold past, present and future, and make ours a story of how a land of nations, peoples and towns came to be, to flourish, and perhaps even to be a light to the world.