Today is Canada Day and being a Canadian native living in the United States I have been fielding many questions about the holiday. A lot of my friends are aware that it is Canada Day (it’s on their calendars, or Canadian friends living here in the Deep South have wished them a happy one), but none of them know why today is Canada Day, or what it’s all about. A few years ago a friend asked me if Canada Day was in fact a Hallmark creation – that is to say, made up as an excuse to celebrate and give each other greeting cards; another person wondered why we would decide to hold our national holiday so close to that of the United States – a pretty bizarre notion if you think about it (this person obviously did not think about it). Most people believe that July 1st is Canada’s Independence Day, but that’s not quite true either – Canada did not become independent on the day we celebrate as Canada Day. So what’s it all about?
The Constitution Act of 1867
On July 1, 1867, the British North America Act, 1867, or BNA Act, was signed, officially creating the Dominion of Canada. This act brought together the three provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada (which later became the provinces of Ontario and Quebec) into a Confederation.
As a federal dominion, Canada was a semi-autonomous collection of provinces under British rule, constituting a part of the British Empire and British Commonwealth. As such, while it had its own rule, it was not truly independent from Britain.
It is this day, July 1st, that Canadians celebrate their national holiday. The holiday became a Statute in 1879 called Dominion Day, and was celebrated in Canada as Dominion Day until 1982.
The Statute of Westminster 1931
On December 11, 1931, the Statute of Westminster 1931 was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom to establish legislative equality for the dominions (with some exceptions, notably India) of the British Empire. The Statute marked the beginning of the legislative independence of Canada and five other British colonies; the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, Irish Free State, the Union of South Africa and the Dominion of Newfoundland (which was at this point not yet a part of Canada). From this point on Canada was under its own rule; the British Parliament no longer had the ability to legislate for Canada or the other dominions indicated within the Statute.
The Constitution Act of 1982
The final chapter in the story of Canadian independence took place in Ottawa, Ontario on April 17, 1982 as a part of the Canada Act 1982. On this day Queen Elizabeth II came to Ottawa to sign a proclamation that ended the remaining British rule over Canada, thereby patriating the country. The name of the country was officially changed from The Dominion of Canada to Canada.
While British rule over Canada ended on this day in 1982, the Queen’s position in Canada did not; she remains the Queen and Head of State of Canada to this day. The Queen’s role as monarch of Canada is separate from that of her role as monarch of Britain; Canada retains its rights as an independent country.
So as you can see, Canada did not truly become independent until 1982! Regardless, we continue to celebrate the day that Canada first became a dominion under British rule, as we have done for decades. And it was in 1982 that the name of the holiday, Dominion Day, became known as Canada Day.
Celebrating Canada Day
I lived in Ottawa for several years; while living there I attended one of the country’s oldest high schools, Lisgar Collegiate Institute, and spent several college co-op work terms working for the Government of Canada. As such, I have celebrated several Canada Days in Canada’s capital city, and have some very fond memories of those times.
On Canada Day Parliament Hill, the home of the Canadian Parliament and the center of government in Canada, is crowded with Canadians (and visitors) celebrating the holiday. There are fireworks and jet planes and plenty of flags and face paint. Afterward my friends and I would head down to the Byward Market, a four-block area of Ottawa featuring plenty of bars, restaurants and shops, and quaff down a few beers. There was, and still is, plenty to celebrate about being a citizen of such a vast, free and beautiful country so rich in heritage and full of opportunity.
Happy Canada Day!