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Canada at 150

Shift in thought

Its separation from Britain wasn’t as sudden or violent as that of the American colonies. But Canada has its own history to celebrate – and ponder – as it marks 150 years as a nation.

Prince Charles shakes hands with locals as he participates in an event in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada, June 29. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited the Canadian Arctic to kick off a royal visit that's scheduled to culminate in Ottawa July 1 as Canada marks its 150th birthday.
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/AP
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  • The Monitor's Editorial Board

One can’t imagine Canadians getting too worked up about the 150th anniversary of their nation’s founding. That occurred July 1, 1867, when three provinces merged to form a “confederation,” the basis of modern Canada.

On the Fourth of July Americans might be moved to dance to “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as fireworks erupt overhead. On Canada Day on July 1 Canadians might just lean back on the chesterfield (that’s the sofa to Americans) and nod in agreement “pretty good, eh?”

Actually America’s northern neighbor is spending roughly a half-billion dollars (Canadian) this year on special events from coast to coast to mark the 150th. Its famed national parks are free to visitors. Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, are making a royal visit, a reminder of the close ties that remain with Britain.

While the American Colonies tore themselves from British control in the late 18th century, a violent and sudden separation, Canada quietly eased away in stages over many decades. Complete independence only came in 1982 with the passage of its Constitution Act.

Today Canada’s story is a multiethnic one; it’s a country that prides itself as a home to immigrants from around the world. Europe and the United States wrangle over setting limits on immigration. In Canada, taking in immigrants is widely seen as a good thing.

The country’s young, charismatic prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has called Canada “the first post-national state” – tied together not by a common ethnicity or race but by “shared values – openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice.”

Not that the 150th celebrations have been without controversy. Canada’s indigenous peoples, the First Nation and Inuit, don’t see much to celebrate. They view the country’s history as much older – long before 1867 or the arrival of European settlers. They hope the anniversary will include a revised history lesson, one that reveals the abuses suffered by indigenous peoples at the hands of the Europeans.

“Asking me to celebrate Canada as being 150 years old is asking me to deny 14,000 years of indigenous history on this continent,” Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, an Inuit filmmaker, is quoted as saying in Britain’s The Guardian.

As much as Canadians are teased about being polite or saying “eh?” they don’t seem to agree on what defines them. Asked in a recent poll for a word to describe their country, the most popular answer was “freedom” or “liberty.” In part it could reflect the views of immigrants on what their new home offers them compared with what they left behind. (A third of Canadians even said they can’t stand ice hockey, the country’s national sport.)

Some Americans may see their neighbors as pretty much like them – except without as many guns and with government-provided health care. But Canadians are much more: They’re known for sending peacekeeping forces abroad, for being good stewards of a land of vast natural beauty, and for being a good friend and ally to the US.

Whatever flaws they’re still ironing out, Canadians still have plenty to celebrate this year.