Travels with Myself

A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author

12. Bring Us Back Our Dominion Day

As we come to celebrate the 154th anniversary of the creation of the Dominion of Canada I thought it necessary, once again, to educate my readers of the importance of a national holiday worthy of its rightful name: Dominion Day.

Fireworks over Parliament Hill

As many of you will know, I have an abiding love of Canada and an enduring respect for the achievements and sacrifices of our forebears in bringing this country to the successful society it is today. Even with its warts and faults and ongoing struggles to deal effectively with the issues the country faces in the first half of the 21st Century, it is a country worth celebrating. And a history remembered. 

The French philosopher, André Comte-Sponville, in his book, A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues, reminds us that Fidelity is one of the Great Virtues as set out by Western Philosophers over the centuries. Virtue, Sponville tells us, is not merely ‘intention’, it is ‘action. You cannot just ‘be’ virtuous, you must ‘do’ virtue. That is why to live a virtuous life is hard, constantly hard. Fidelity may one of the hardest because it is so intangible and difficult to sustain by our actions. 

According to Comte-Sponville,

Fidelity is the virtue of memory – it is memory itself as a virtue. (And the opposite, infidelity as vice – forgetfulness, or worse, the denial of memory!) Fidelity struggles against forgetfulness, against the forgetfulness that infidelity ultimately entails: first you betray what you remember, then you forget what you betrayed.

There is no moral subject without fidelity of oneself to oneself, which is why fidelity is an obligation: without it there would be no such thing as duty. Such is the duty of memory: compassion and gratitude for the past. The difficult, demanding, imprescriptible duty of fidelity. But Fidelity is more than a duty; it is also an excellence through faithful love. It is not love, but all fidelity is loving. Fidelity is to honour that which was good about the past.  

Which brings me back to Dominion Day. 

“Dominion Day”, July 1st, was officially declared and made a public holiday in 1879 to celebrate Canada’s birth. And for decades since, community gatherings, bagpipes, a few songs, parades and fireworks helped mark the day.

It was called Dominion Day because the British North America Act of 1867 that brought the Dominion of Canada into being, so named this new country The Dominion of Canada. Moreover, it was one of the Fathers of Confederation, Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, Premier of New Brunswick, (and not Sir John A. Macdonald, who wanted to call it ‘The Kingdom of Canada’) who suggested the term Dominion, inspired by Psalm 72:8 (from the King James Bible): “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” This is also echoed in Canada’s motto: A Mari Usque Ad Mare (Latin for ‘from sea to sea’).

By the 1960s however, many Canadians, led by the likes of Mike Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, sought new symbols for Canada’s identity in the world: a new flag in 1964 and Canada’s growing confidence expressed at the Expo of 1967 in Montreal. 

The days for Dominion Day were numbered. For many Liberals “Dominion Day” smacked of colonial connections that were passé, but the name persisted until a Liberal rump, only 13 Members sitting in Parliament one hot Friday afternoon in July 1982, a mere three months after the Queen signed the Constitution Act on April 17 1982, passed an amendment in three readings, of the Holidays Act renaming Dominion Day, Canada Day. A Liberal controlled Senate allowed this highway robbery to stand and thus we had the national holiday ignominiously renamed. Many Canadians wept; many others shrugged.

Talk about disrespecting the virtue of Fidelity.

As much as it irritates me, many Canadians seem to love the eponymous national holiday, or have never thought about it. But it is awkward sounding and uninspiring to my mind. Scroll through google (for example here: infoplease) and see how many other countries name their national holiday after itself: I can only find two others: Australia and Russia! And the way broadcasters mindless chirp ‘Happy Birthday Canada!’ is enough to make one nauseous. Talk about an unserious country.

For many years William Thorsell and Michael Valpy of the Globe and Mail quietly championed via an annual editorial for a return of Dominion Day as the name of Canada’s national holiday:

“That is what is really at stake here: can we conceive of our nation in terms of the poetic and the historic? Or are we the people of the eternal now, not daring to imagine a greater future, nor caring to remember a glorious past? To object to the obliteration of historic symbols like Dominion Day is not to retreat into the past. It is merely to suggest that we have one,” (July 1, 1993)

They even made t-shirts available to the loyalist: Give Us Back Our Dominion Day it had printed thereon, one of which I wore each July 1 till it wore out.

Finally in 2002 Thorsell seems to have given up the fight with this quiet announcement in the Globe and Mail: “Michael Valpy and I may have to consider the possibility that we have lost the battle to sustain the lovely moniker, “The Dominion of Canada”, and with it, Dominion Day.”

But maybe not. We may have a new champion of Dominion Day in the personage of Father Raymond J. de Souza, contributor to the National Post and Rector at Queen’s University. In an article in the Post Saturday June 25, de Souza decried the announcement by the folks at The Forks in Winnipeg: ‘We are reimagining a Canada Day, a new day, that includes a reflective, inclusive and fun day for everyone to come together.’ reporting that

There will be pop-up stages’ and ‘pipe ceremonies’ and ‘picnic tables’ and so forth, but nothing about Confederation, the country or Canada itself. Canada Day has been reimagined right out of existence.”

De Souza then reminded his readers, bless him, of the importance of history in honouring our past:

‘We have been on this road for a long time. Our national day used to be called Dominion Day, which expressed something concrete about our history. Confederation made us a dominion — a term rich in British history and with biblical roots (Psalm 72).‘In 1982, Parliament, flush with the frisson of renaming the British North America Act the “Constitution Act 1867,” waved through on a voice vote the change of Dominion Day to Canada Day. It remains an embarrassment, a country so devoid of imagination that its national day is “insert name here” Day. Can you imagine a United States Day, a United Kingdom Day, or an Ireland Day? Do you think Bangladeshis would prefer Bangladesh Day over their Victory Day?

Canada Day is the most uninspired national holiday name, save for the practice in Quebec, which went from St-Jean-Baptiste to la fête nationale. What is your national day? It’s called “national day.” Marvellous.’ 😏(emoji for emphasis, in case you missed the irony. (DJ)

De Souza concluded thusly:

Declaring a “new day” instead of “Canada Day” is a shorthand — perhaps even underhanded — way of lamenting our history and then attempting to ignore it. But history cannot be replaced with an alternative story; it can be complemented, contextualized, corrected. But that takes a measure of courage and imagination beyond those doing the reimagining at The Forks.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

And so to my faithful readers, if you are Canadian, please take a moment on July 1st to honour your country’s history and celebrate Dominion Day. (If you are not Canadian you can celebrate your own National Holiday in your turn: Bastille Day (France), Liberation Day (Jersey – but note, liberation from German Occupation in 1945, not liberation from the British Crown), Independence Day (USA, Israel, Jamaica, The Philippines and dozens more countries.) (Curiously, the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is the only country without a national holiday, though it does have dozens of ‘bank holidays’.)

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata, Canada

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

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