Today is Canada Day, once called Dominion Day, celebrating the enactment of the British North America Act in 1867, which confederated Canada, and which was publicly announced with the ringing of the bells at the Cathedral Church of St. James in Toronto and “bonfires, fireworks and illuminations, excursions, military displays and musical and other entertainments.” On June 20 of the following year, governor general, viscount Monck, issued a royal proclamation asking for Canadians to celebrate the anniversary of Confederation, but the holiday was not established statutorily until May 15, 1879, when it was designated as Dominion Day, alluding to the reference in the British North America Act to the country as a dominion. The holiday was initially not dominant in the national calendar, with no large celebrations being held until 1917, and then none again for a further decade—the gold and diamond anniversaries of Confederation, respectively.
In 1946, Philéas Côté, a Quebec member of the House of Commons, introduced a private member’s bill to rename Dominion Day as Canada Day. The bill was passed quickly by the lower chamber but was stalled by the Senate, which returned it to the Commons with the recommendation that the holiday be renamed The National Holiday of Canada, an amendment that effectively killed the bill.
Beginning in 1958, the Canadian government began to orchestrate Dominion Day celebrations. That year, then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker requested that Secretary of State Ellen Fairclough put together appropriate events, with a budget of $14,000. Parliament was traditionally in session on July 1, but Fairclough persuaded Diefenbaker and the rest of the federal Cabinet to attend. Official celebrations thereafter consisted usually of Trooping the Colour ceremonies on Parliament Hill in the afternoon and evening, followed by a mass band concert and fireworks display. Fairclough, who became Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, later expanded the bills to include performing folk and ethnic groups. The day also became more casual and family oriented.
Canada’s centennial in 1967 is often seen as an important milestone in the history of Canadian nationalism and in Canada’s maturing as a distinct, independent country, after which Dominion Day became more popular with average Canadians. Into the late 1960s, nationally televised, multi-cultural concerts held in Ottawa were added and the fête became known as Festival Canada. After 1980, the Canadian government began to promote celebrating Dominion Day beyond the national capital, giving grants and aid to cities across the country to help fund local activities.
Some Canadians were, by the early 1980s, informally referring to the holiday as Canada Day, a practice that caused some controversy. Proponents argued that the name Dominion Day was a holdover from the colonial era, an argument given some impetus by the patriation of the Canadian constitution in 1982, and others asserted that an alternative was needed as the term does not translate well into French (jour de domination). Conversely, numerous politicians, journalists, and authors, such as Robertson Davies, decried the change at the time and some continue to maintain that it was illegitimate and an unnecessary break with tradition. Others claimed Dominion was widely misunderstood and conservatively inclined commenters saw the change as part of a much larger attempt by Liberals to “re-brand” or re-define Canadian history. Columnist Andrew Cohen called Canada Day a term of “crushing banality” and criticized it as “a renunciation of the past [and] a misreading of history, laden with political correctness and historical ignorance.”
Canada Day has attracted a negative stigma among First Nations communities and non-Indigenous allies, who feel that it is a celebration of the colonization of Indigenous land. Criticism of Canada Day celebrations were particularly prominent during Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017, with allegations that the commemorations downplayed the role of Indigenous peoples in the country’s history, and the hardships they face in the present day. In 2020, the Indigenous rights group Idle No More organized a series of peaceful rallies on Canada Day against the “ongoing genocide within Canada against Indigenous people”, citing hardships such as missing and murdered Indigenous women, birth alerts, substandard drinking water supplies on First Nations reserves, police brutality, and compulsory sterilization.
In May and June 2021, following the discovery of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at the site of an Indian residential school in British Columbia, calls for Canada Day festivities to be cancelled or modified out of respect for truth and reconciliation intensified, including discussion on social media using the hashtag “#CancelCanadaDay”. If not already cancelled or modified due to COVID-19 restrictions, Canada Day festivities were cancelled in various communities in British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Northern Saskatchewan, while Idle No More announced its intent to again organize peaceful rallies in multiple major cities. Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett stated that she would wear an orange shirt on Canada Day, and acknowledged the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation that will be commemorated as a statutory holiday for the first time on September 30.
Leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh stated that “While there’s things that we can be proud of, absolutely, there are things that are really horrible, and that are a part of our legacy. It does us a disservice when we ignore the injustice, we ignore the bad parts of our history and the ongoing legacy and the impact of those horrible things that have happened, and continue to happen.”
Genuine Canadian recipes are as hard to find as Australian ones (if you think in terms of immigrants only). Here’s one that works– Nanaimo bars: