With political leaders already beginning to electioneer for the federal election coming up in October and a few significant national events happening this summer [the final TRC event in Ottawa in June, the Pan American Games hosted in Toronto in July], I thought it might be appropriate to begin a series of “Canadiana” blogs.
I’ve been interested in Canadian geography and history for as long as I can remember. This appreciation has been enhanced by living in five Canadian provinces from Ontario to British Columbia and visiting nine provinces [Newfoundland and the territories are on my bucket list]. During my summers I often read Canadian history; last summer I read a few Pierre Berton books of short stories and this summer I finished the two volume, Canada: A People’s History based on the CBC television documentary. It was unique in that it told human stories in addition to narrating the significant events of the country’s development. I was just beginning to write a summary of the main themes in my head when Mark Starowicz did so much more eloquently in his afterword. Here are some excerpts that introduce a few themes I want to pick up in subsequent blogs:
Modern Canada was founded by two unwanted peoples. The first: the French of two separate colonies—Acadia and Quebec—both occupied by the British and abandoned by the French, who didn’t even want Quebec back after the Seven Year’s War and traded it for the tiny sugar island of Guadeloupe. The second: their ancestral English enemies from the American colonies, driven from their homes in the years after 1776.
Thus, the experience of refuge is at the core of the Canadian identity. We are refugees, or descendants of refugees, who have come to our shores like the recurring tides: the Scots left landless by the Highland Clearances… the starving Irish families ousted by landlords and famine… Black people who were refugees from the American Revolution and the Civil War… the landless from eastern and northern Europe: Galicians, Mennonites, Poles, Jews, Russians, Scandinavians, Dutch—all fleeing war, persecution, economic devastation, or famine… Chinese [and Japanese] crossing the Pacific to escape poverty… British orphans were sent here in a systematic relocation of the abandoned… after WW2 came the people the war had displaced, and survivors of the Holocaust… Sikhs, Italians, Portuguese [came] in search of a better life… the boat people from Vietnam… [more recently] refugees from war still arrive—from the Sudan, Somalia, the Balkans… [and today, from Syria].
They were all the debris of history: the expelled, the persecuted, the landless, the marginalized, the victims of imperial wars, of economic and ideological upheavals. In a sense we are all boat people. We just got here at different times.
The major diverging current is the story of the [indigenous] people, the only ones who became refugees on Canadian soil. Even the most cursory reading of our history leads one to conclude that the peoples of the First Nations were systematically robbed and degraded in their own homelands. An equally cursory reading of Canadian history will show that there would be no Canada today without Donnacona, who saved Jacques Cartier’s expedition, without the Huron allies of the French, without Kondiaronk of the Great Peace, without Tecumseh’s warriors, who defended Canada’s territorial integrity, without Brant, without the Six Nations Confederacy, without Mi’kmaq, without the Plains Indians who saved the Selkirk Settlers, [without Louis Riel], and the nations of the Northwest who formed great trading empires. The Canadian idea of redemption and equality will never be realized, and the nation made whole, until this great wrong is righted.
The TRC of the past few years was the beginning of this “righting.” This will be the subject of a future post.