Canada 150: Not the first celebration to spark controversy

150 years

28 June 2017 | | The Conversation Canada

“Being Canadian” has never been easy. While we might “take pride” in being Canadian when we are far from home or winning world-hockey games, the rest of the time (and that is a great deal of time!) many Canadians tend to define themselves by what they are not:  Americans or Natives.

Over the years we have taken a certain amount in pride in the former, and increasing shame in the latter. Shame in that “the Native issues,” first addressed on the fringes of society in the 70s, remain not only unresolved, but barely even acknowledged.

But that is true of most issues in Canada, with each government of the day dictating “what is important” and holding on to those one or two notions without any deviation allowed.

At the moment it is terrorism and socks. Never mind that we have forgone our roles as world-peacekeepers, or the abysmal state of our infrastructure, or the tar sands, or Indigenous issues or…

This government, like the previous ones, is attempting to continue treating all of its citizens as though they are employees of one big, oil-dependent business.

Some Canadians, in rejecting that notion, in defiance to the continued dismantling of what remains of our ‘social contract,’ are left with a typically Canadian reaction to Canada 150: Celebrate if you wish, without regret, but don’t judge me too harshly if you find me sipping a beer on the dock in the bay, quietly pondering what might have been.

James Porteous


“Canada Day is poised to be the high point of celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Ottawa is in Party Central mode, with guests including Prince Charles, Bono and The Edge of U2 and a host of Canadian performers including Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Cirque de Soleil.

But there has been a vocal debate across the country about how celebratory Canada 150 events should be — and even whether it should be celebrated at all.

Indigenous leaders have called the events a “celebration of colonialism.” A clever designer has been marketing T-shirts with an inverted Canada 150 logo over the words Colonialism 150.

On Twitter, hashtags like #Resist150 and #Unsettle150 connect posts calling the celebrations into question. The @canada1504sale account draws attention to how corporations are trying to profit from patriotism.

Dissent about celebrating Canada goes back to the early years of Confederation. Debating an 1869 bill about making Dominion Day a public holiday, Nova Scotia MPs argued that they would rather make it a “day of lamentation.” For these MPs, Dominion Day showed their powerlessness in the House of Commons. The bill was withdrawn, and not revived again until a decade later.

After the passage of the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act, British Columbia’s Chinese communities organized Chinese Humiliation Dayevents to be held on Dominion Day. They wore badges stating “Remember the Humiliation,” organized speeches and handed out leaflets. Their goal was to overturn the law, which banned Chinese immigration to Canada.

In the 1960s, organizers designed the Indians of Canada pavilion at Expo 67 to challenge the celebratory atmosphere of the centennial. The pavilion discussed issues such as language loss through residential schools.

Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Quebec sovereigntists transformed the religiously oriented St-Jean-Baptiste Day events of June 24 into the explicitly nationalist Fête Nationale. This set up the holiday as a rival to Dominion Day events. Québécois artists took sides on the “national question” by deciding at whose party they would perform.

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