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A Salute to Canada’s Sesquicentennial Anniversary
Canada is partying with “unanimity” and “heartiness” like it’s 1867
On July 1, 1867, with passage of the British North America Act, the Dominion of Canada (a confederation of four provinces – Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) was officially established as a self-governing entity within the British Empire.
The Hartford Daily Courant reported two days later that “every city, town and village in the dominion agree in the unanimity and heartiness with which the confederation day was celebrated. No previous event has called forth such universal rejoicing.”
On July 1, 2017, Canada celebrates 150 years of history and culture.
“One Dominion under the Crown”
“Yesterday, the New Dominion of Canada was proclaimed…[with] much show of rejoicing, with roar of cannon, and clangor of trumpet, and profusion of military parade, and civic display,” observed the New York Tribune on July 2, 1867.
The cause of so much revelry: the British North America Act was passed into law, declaring Canada, “One Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom.”
“An experiment in government”
The British North America Act had a radical impact on world events in 1867.
A New York Tribune article explained the “nominal connection” the new Canadian government would maintain with the “mother country.” Aside from keeping strategic military forces in place in British North America, and appointing a Viceroy, England was severing the umbilical cord, and a new nation, a kingdom in its own right in which “the bonds of union must now be sought in identity of race, similarity of government, and the reciprocal advantages of commerce” was born.
“It is the first instance in which England has conceded practical independence of any of her Colonies, accepting the old dependency in the new character of an ally,” the paper proclaimed. “England has learned moderation and wisdom since the period when the destinies of the British Empire were ruled by King George.”
“The establishment of this Dominion is confessed in the nature of an experiment in government,” the Tribune surmised.
Dissent in Lower Canada
Despite the general spirit of jubilation that swept the new nation, inhabitants of Nova Scotia, descended from French colonists who had been settling the region since the 17th century, expressed dissent against the new Canadian Dominion.
“In Nova Scotia, where the Confederation has been forced upon an unwilling people,” the French Canadians reacted to the British North America Act “with striking manifestations of public sorrow,” according to the New York Tribune, expressed via “newspapers in mourning, shops closed and flags at half-mast.”
The French had started to settle the region known as Lower Canada nearly two hundred years before the British arrived, however, this colony was ceded to the British Empire after the Seven Years’ War (known in the U.S. as the French and Indian War). After the war, French culture and lineage still prevailed in Lower Canada, while some British-Canadian nationalists sought to create a country with English as the dominant language and British as the dominant culture.
Overall, the British North America Act commemorated a fresh start and a unified way forward for all of the colonies, but many French Canadians remained cynical.
Pomp and patriation
Following the establishment of the Canadian confederacy, July 1st was primarily known throughout the county as Dominion Day, customarily marked with picnics, parades and festivals. Over the next century, Canada gradually gained increasing independence from England, culminating in the passage of the 1982 Constitution Act. This act introduced several amendments to the British North America Act, granting Canada the power to amend its own Constitution.
The Act was signed into law by Queen Elizabeth II and Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (father of the country’s current prime minister) on April 17, 1982, “during a three-day royal visit that promise[d] to be an unparalleled social event for the country’s social establishment,” according to the Globe and Mail (March 27, 1982).
With the passage of this Act, Canada attained full sovereignty. On October 27, 1982, the Canadian Parliament officially changed the name of Dominion Day to Canada Day, which continues to be observed on July 1.
CHARLOTTE MONTGOMERY Globe and Mail Reporter. (1982, Mar 27). Pomp, parties mark patriation on april 17. The Globe and Mail (1936-Current). pp. 1.
Telegraph to, T. C. (1867, Jul 03). FROM CANADA. Hartford Daily Courant (1840-1887). pp. 4.
THE DOMINION OF CANADA. (1867, May 25). New - York Tribune (1866-1899). pp. 4.
The British North America Act – a lengthy, 50 page document, searchable in ProQuest’s House of Lords Parliamentary Papers – outlines the specifics of this diminished political connection between the new confederacy and the Imperial Government.
The original British North American Act encompassed 147 clauses, most of them defining the structure of the new legislature, the judicature and financial concerns. In addition to being able to study and explore this document in its entirety, ProQuest’s Parliamentary Papers collection also include numerous amendments to the act, as well as related government documents that preceded and followed its passing. A search with the keywords “British North America Act” in the database yields a whopping 372 results, including documents in Hansard, Command Papers, House of Commons Papers, Bills and Acts, and House of Lords Papers for comprehensive research opportunities.
Celebrating the sesquicentennial