Canada 150 or 409?

Celebrating Canada: Confederation and the Founding

Dedication: to Le Sieur de Monts, Founder of Acadia and Patron of Samuel de Champlain who Founded Canada on July 3, 1608

 Niagara  historian, Dr John Bacher, when we were discussing the great divisions and controversy over celebrating 2017 as "Canada's 150th Birthday" told me that the Iroquois established Canada under The Peace Maker, Dekonawida, who hailed from the Bay of Quinte. Hiawatha was his spokesman. 

That the Americans also regard those Iroquois Articles of Confederation as a precursor for their own country, is no great problem for me. "My Canada" includes large parts of what much later became the State of New York.  For example, Fonda NY, Auriesville, and Sir William Johnson's mansion, are New York State landmarks of my Canadian perspective. They rank with the Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, the Astrolab in Ottawa, and the Peace Tower as symbols of Canada.  The entire Great Lakes region, back to the time of our founder, Samuel de Champlain, and before, was part of Canada. (see second footnote)

The statue of Lord Cornwallis, hailed as founder of Halifax, has been covered over with tarpaulins.  It cannot be unifying for this country to honour someone who put a bounty on the heads of people who were there before him. There were times in the British rule when the “Acadiens” were not much better treated.  The mass deportations, which were encouraged by the same Cornwallis, are the most notorious example. He is not, however, the Cornwallis who surrendered the loyal cause of protecting the Thirteen Colonies from the rebels, at Yorktown in 1781.

On June 30, 1867, there were the three inaugural colonies, Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.  The next day, what had been Canada was split into the Provinces of Ontario and Québec, for a total of four provinces in the federation. Our Governor, Lord Monck, went from governing the colony of Canada, to being Governor-General of a sovereign country, which was named Canada and included those four provinces, Québec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario. Were those who had been living in Canada since 1608 required to forget their history, re-set it to 1867, and celebrate 1867 as their "Birthday"? What about those who established Windsor some 190 years later, departing from Détroit to protect their language rights, or the English speaking, largely German, “Loyalists” who escaped to Canada at the same time? 1867 followed four generations of their being Canadian. Clearly, the residents of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia woke up as Canadians for the first time on July 1, 1867, but no one else did.  For each province that joined later, there is a different day to celebrate.

We used to call the July 1st holiday "Dominion Day".  At some point, for political reasons, "Dominion" was discarded as a symbol of being subordinate to a Mother Country.  From time to time, some of the apron strings are untied.  What other political reasons?  Until we had our own flag, and until we agree on all the words of a national anthem, (one that affirms the same values in the official languages, rather than being so completely different in meaning) we are still taking steps toward becoming truly sovereign.  One of those steps was “repatriating” the British North America Act in 1982.  Yes, we were somewhat sovereign and could have said "no" to British requests to help in the Boer War and in World War One.  But we took our marching orders from Britain.  As well as getting together on the national anthem, we need to get more consent to the repatriated constitution, from at least one jurisdiction, and from autochtone nations.  Reverting to the old British badges of rank in the military was a very recent step in the opposite direction.

Canada was founded on July 3, 1608 by our founder, Samuel de Champlain.  Champlain was, even earlier, a founder of The Order of Good Cheer which is as much a base for our Canadian priority on helping each other, as the Iroquois Articles of Confederation were a base for the mutual protection of the Thirteen Colonies. Where he did this, however, was in Port-Royal, Acadia, which became a separate colony, and was not part of Canada (see first footnote). It seems to me that July 3, 1608, should be considered Canada's "Founder’s Day".

Debate about this should occur, and the founding of Acadia, or even of L'Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland, (which did not join Canada until 1949} might well be chosen for celebrating some sort of "Founder’s Day". Perhaps a July 1-5 Heritage Festival or a Semaine de la Patrimoine, would result from such a debate. Newfoundland settlement began at Cuper’s Cove with John Guy on July 5, 1610, giving us at least three foundational events to celebrate in that week. They are: becoming an independent democracy with the British North America Act as our Constitution on July 1, settlement beginning in Canada on July 3, and settlement beginning in Newfoundland on July 5. If there is a date in early July pertaining to Acadian history in 1604, 1606, or some year in which it could be agreed there was a constituted colony, and even if there is no such date, Acadia can certainly be celebrated.

I know that there are people who say that it was not Canada that Champlain founded, that it was New France.  But (see first footnote) de Monts founded New France and Acadia, while Champlain founded Canada as part of New France under the patronage of de Monts. Acadia was part of New France, but not of Canada. The name Canada was used before Champlain became the first governor, right back to Cartier's exploration in 1535. Other attempts were made (for example that of Roberval), but Champlain's settlement was permanent. Canada began at Québec on July 3, 1608. Due deference is owed to those who were already here, so was there anything that Champlain did that they had not already done?  Yes.  Eventually, hospitals, libraries, and educational systems, an economy with international trade, stone buildings, city planning, and colonial status, which included a military, a comprehensive legal system, taxation and a financial system.  If not better in all these elements, it was certainly different from what was here before 1608.  Champlain, being a geographer, also pioneered mapping. The changes brought by the colonists in 1608 were at least as important as the achievement, in 1867, of independence from colonial status.

Why, you might wonder, does any of this matter?

The Americans get by, nicely they think, learning the distorted history that calls 1776 a Revolution, rather than a civil war.  Elementary school children in Buffalo are not taught that the Niagara Frontier was on the other side of the uprising. It was part of Canada.  In fact, it remained so, you might conclude, until the British garrison marched out of Fort Niagara in 1796.

They don't learn that their part of what is now called New York, was never part of the Dutch colony. They are taught in the elementary school history text (which is thought to unify the country by teaching the same history everywhere), the Dutch history and the English takeover of the Dutch colony. The French history of the Canadian part of what became New York State (the western part of which was earlier claimed by Virginia), is ignored.

Those Niagara Frontier students are not taught that there were more American colonists in the loyal army, than in the rebel Continental Army.  They certainly are not taught that The First American Regiment (the Queen's Rangers, in which I served 200 years later, the regiment of Robert Rogers and John Graves Simcoe) was on the loyal side, and went to Canada in the aftermath of that civil war in the Thirteen Colonies. Queenston was named after them, and Toronto was built by Simcoe’s "Queen’s Rangers". They are even taught, in the Science text, that thermodynamics pioneer Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) was a traitor because he served in the loyal forces against the rebel army. The majority of people in the United States imagine that virtually "all" the Americans rose together to throw off the British yoke. History is written by the victors.

In Ontario, as in New York, few people have heard of Louis-Thomas Joncaire, the founder of colonial Canada in this area.  Some would say that what he did was on the other side of the river, not in Canada.  But Fort Niagara was very much a part of Canada. The Niagara River was not foreseen as an international boundary when Joncaire was founding Lewiston/Magazin Royal, and re-creating Fort Niagara, from which the Senecas had starved out an earlier French garrison. Joncaire was the king’s ambassador to the Iroquois, spoke their languages, and was adopted with the name “Sononchiez”.

True to form, when the British took over in 1763, the French history was put down.  Joncaire Creek, which runs into the Niagara River at Niagara Falls, was renamed Gill Creek, and was later covered over.  The memory was best preserved by the Buffalo Historical Society, whose Frank Severance wrote "Joncaire, His Life and Times on the Niagara", in 1906. That book should be used in schools on both sides of the Niagara River.

In Détroit, Sulpician Father Gabriel Richard is a hero.  To the culture of the Canadiens there, he was no hero.  He went to Détroit in 1798 serving at L'Eglise Ste-Anne de Détroit, which had been founded in 1701, in the time of Cadillac and Tonti.  Few Détroit habitants had accepted US citizenship.  Jury trials had to be held in Windsor, across the river, where many were moving to avoid the impending cultural genocide of the American regime. There had not been twelve US citizens to form a jury, so trials were held in Windsor.

The Canadiens had rights to their language and religion in Canada, by the treaty that ended the Seven Years War   Father Richard eventually made those French people who stayed in Détroit go to the nearest church, refusing to let them cross parish boundaries and thereby preserve French parishes and schools.  Cultural genocide occurred throughout Michigan and the Great Lakes, the British having failed to negotiate aggressively when giving all that territory to the Americans, for such rights as the use of the French language, a right that Britain had guaranteed the habitants in 1763.

Trusting in those guarantees, the Canadiens had not risen up when asked by the rebels to do so, when Benjamin Franklin and General Montgomery came to Canada during their revolution. Franklin was a military governor in Montréal, and is credited with founding the Montreal Gazette and the postal system, while his son, paradoxically, was loyal, the royalist governor of New Jersey.

"So what?”, you may still ask.  Isn't it convenient for newcomers to have history start in 1867 or, south of the border, in 1776?  This obfuscation certainly facilitates immigrants qualifying for citizenship, but it engenders no love for history.

Why did I have to get my love for Canada from outsiders?  An American, Thomas B. Costain wrote "The White and the Gold" when I was learning to read.  I read it, and "my" Canada's heroes are Champlain, Laval, Talon, LaSalle, Radisson, LaVérendrye and many other explorers.  I deplore the line in "The Maple Leaf Forever", (which I would love to see adopted as the national anthem if the lyrics be changed), the line which says, “Wolfe the dauntless hero came".  Did Wolfe enhance Canada? Was he not a cause of the demise of the colony?

Why did I have to learn from the Bostonian Francis Parkman's 1878 book "Montcalm and Wolfe" the whole story?  Why?  I suggest because English writers in Canada were not interested in promoting pride in the whole story of Canada. The regime wanted to suppress francophone pride. Why did we have to wait until 2008 for an excellent biography, "Champlain's Dream", of our founder, to be written by David Hackett Fischer, an American, born in Baltimore, professor at Brandeis, and Pulitzer Prize winner.

On such symbolic matters, in 2017 "inclusion" (of women, for example) in the National Anthem is an issue. I formerly replaced “in all thy sons command” with "in all thine own command". Now that Parliament has come close to approving "in all of us command", I sing that controversial line with those words, and am proud to do so. I sing the last line of the anthem in French, the language of “O Canada” composer, Calixa Lavallée, eliminating the last of the repetitious “stand on guards”. “Protégera nos foyers et nos droits”.  Another Canadian symbol, the Beaver, known as a builder, is synchronous with Canada’s Patron Saint, St Joseph “The Builder”.

For the national flag, My “druther” would be to see blue at the two sides in keeping with the motto "from sea unto sea". After contests and much discussion in 1965 the Liberal Party adopted the red and white flag (their colours) and rejected the red white and blue, (the colours of the Conservative Party). I well remember the protests about replacing the Canadian Ensign with a national flag, with britishers pretending they had flown it when in fact they preferred the “Union Jack” (Great Union Flag), and “God Save the Queen”. I would applaud further removal of foreign symbols from regional flags. Nunavut has our most beautiful flag.

Getting back to the subject of this paper, let's call July the First "Confederation Day", "Canada Day" or, possibly, "Constitution Day". Let us not diminish Canada's history from 409 to just 150 years.  We can celebrate becoming democratic, rather than opening an annual protest about who did what to whom, which is an unfortunate consequence of pretending that July First is Canada's Birthday.

If anyone other than Champlain should be considered a founder of Canada, the Scots-African from Guyana, Sir James Douglas who founded British Columbia and saved it from likely American takeover, and de Monts, are contenders.  Frontenac, the preserver-protector, Talon, who set up an economy for Canada, and Laval, pioneer of education, saintliness and justice, are equally important to the foundation of this country. So, it would seem, is Dekonawida, The Peacemaker.

Russell Baird, Niagara Falls, August 2017

First.The following text was written by Arthur G. DOUGHTY published 1916 in "The Founders of Acadia", which can be seen online:

“The name Acadia, which we now associate with a great tragedy of history and song, was first used by the French to distinguish the eastern or maritime part of New France from the western part, which began with the St Lawrence valley and was called Canada. Just where Acadia ended and Canada began the French never clearly defined – in course of time, as will be seen, this question became a cause of war with the English – but we shall not be much at fault if we take a line from the mouth of the river Penobscot, due north to the St Lawrence, to mark the western frontier of the Acadia of the French. Thus, as the map shows, Acadia lay in that great peninsula which is flanked by two large islands, and is washed on the north and east by the river and gulf of St Lawrence, and on the south by the Atlantic Ocean; and it comprised what are to-day parts of Quebec and Maine, as well as the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. When the French came, and for long after, this country was the hunting ground of tribes of the Algonquin race – Micmacs, Malecites, and Abenakis.

By right of the discoveries of Jean Verrazano (1524) and Jacques Cartier (1534-42) the French crown laid claim to all America north of the sphere of Spanish influence. Colonial enterprise, however, did not thrive during the religious wars which rent Europe in the sixteenth century; and it was not until after the Edict of Nantes in 1598 that France could follow up the discoveries of her seamen by an effort to colonize either Acadia or Canada. Abortive attempts had indeed been made by the Marquis de la Roche, but these had resulted only in the marooning of fifty unfortunate convicts on Sable Island. The first real colonizing venture of the French in the New World was that of the Sieur de Monts, the patron and associate of Champlain.” 

Second.  The Peacemaker did not call the “country” he brought together by the name “Canada”.  Hiawatha, his spokesman, died in 1595, between the time of Cartier’s 1535 explorations, and Champlain’s 1608 founding of continuous settlement at Québec.  The Dekonawida name is revered and is not normally used. The Peacemaker may have departed his mortal frame hundreds of years before Hiawatha, who might be considered a prophet as much as a spokesman.  The Peacemaker may be an aspect of what Joseph Campbell called “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”.  Another of those thousand faces is called “The Prince of Peace”, Jesus, who inspired the colony and France. “The Jesuit Relations” inspired the youth of France as much as would the journal of a modern trip to the moon. Auriesville and Fonda NY are places of pilgrimage for followers of Jesus, containing the birthplace of The Lily of the Mohawks, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, and the Auriesville martyrs shrine. Canada’s Secondary Patron saints are “St Isaac Jogues, St Jean Brébeuf and Companions”. They are known in Canada as The Canadian Martyrs and in the US as The North American Martyrs.  There is another site of pilgrimage for the first autochtone saint, the Lily of the Mohawks, at the world’s largest cross, Indian River, Michigan.

The mystic Jesuit saint, Jean Brébeuf, wrote “The Huron Carol”. For me these places and facts tie together a mystical view of Canada, which transcends borders as much as does Gérin-LaJoie’s inspiring poem and song “Un Canadien Errant”. (“A Wandering Canadian, I " in Leonard Cohen’s cover. 

Canada is much more than the enclosure formed by its borders.

Third. Before the British raj in Canada, Quebec and Montreal were rival cities.  No Montrealer would have called himself a Quebecer.  The British extended Quebec in a manner of speaking, when they passed "The Quebec Act" partly to hem in the Thriteen Colonies, and this was a cause of the American Revolution.  But the British also imposed the terms Upper and Lower Canada, and, later, Canada West and Canada East with their floating capital city.  This history is so much forgotten that I recently was told by a Quebecer that the English came up with the name Canada, that his homeland was called Quebec until June 30, 1867, and that it did not become part of Canada until July First, 1867. But in fact it was always Canada, back to July 3, 1608, and before that time, when it was a name on maps and, perhaps, an idea of The Peacemaker.