July 2, 2010

July 1st is Canada Day, the northern neighbo(u)r’s equivalent of US Independence Day—sort of. Known colloquially as “Canada’s birthday”, Canada Day celebrates the union of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and The Province of Canada, which was later broken up into Quebec and Ontario (the western provinces and Newfoundland would not be on board for many years to come). Canada Day had its genesis in tiny Prince Edward Island, my home province, courtesy of The Charlottetown Conference of 1864, the first meeting leading to the Articles of Confederation and the creation of Canada (1867); however, contrary Islanders found the terms of union unfavorable, and decided not to opt in. Prince Edward Islanders were, in fact, courted by the United States, and for a time there was a very real possibility that the Island would either become part of the US, or go it alone as an independent country. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and in 1873 PEI joined the fledgling nation of Canada.

Canada was a nation born in negotiation rather than in combat. There was little or no Canadian equivalent of the Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death/Don’t Tread on Me/Live Free or Die rhetoric that characterized the months prior to the United States Revolution. Canadians then, as now, were unfailingly polite in their interactions, or so the history books would have us believe. I can rather picture the early negotiations going something like this: “Um, Your Lordships, we were thinking that we might like to try this nation thing on our own, eh? You English have been great, you really have, but things are a bit different here in this wild empty country, don’t you know? We still want to be friends and all that, and you are always welcome to visit here, for sure. Also, we are still crazy about the royal family, and we’d like to continue to be a part of that whole tradition if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. You know, celebrate the Queen’s birthday and all that? And we definitely want to keep on speaking English, well, all except those pesky French. So, um, what do you think, eh?”

Much as the 4th of July in the US, Canada Day is celebrated with fireworks, barbecues, sports and (of course) beer. All in massive quantities. I can personally vouch for an entire case of Alexander Keith’s Light Ale having been consumed over the course of the small party I attended (at which there were but four attendees, only two of whom were drinking). A column of brown glass soldiers lined the kitchen counter by early evening, standing in mute witness to the day’s excesses. I was the designated driver, and I piloted a motley crew of revelers and their dogs on their appointed rounds of the back roads of Hants County, Nova Scotia, culminating in a dockside viewing of distant fireworks from somewhere across the St. Croix River. Kinda low key, all things considered, and yet nonetheless quintessentially Canada Day. I wouldn’t have had it any other way