St. Patrick’s Day is a good day to think about the settlement of our country. The Irish were of the early settlers who came to this land. Mark Starowicz eloquently describes the unique formation of Canada in the afterword of the two volume work based on the CBC documentary, Canada: A People’s History. Here are some excerpts:
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… [the past few years from Syria, and today, walking across the American border in the dead of winter’s night].
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.