Canada Day and our country’s quirky history

(416style / Flickr)

Fireworks are customary, ice cream becomes even more succulent, beer flows, and the atmosphere is unmistakable. It is the ideal time for soaking up the sun and having that much-needed (or greatly-dreaded) family barbecue, or an afternoon on sandy shores. Red and white flags emblazoned with the maple leaf can be seen billowing in the wind in store fronts and adhered to the cheeks of squealing children. That day is Canada Day, and it’s almost here!

Commemorating Canada’s 146th birthday, July 1st is a day for celebrating our country’s accomplishments, and expressing gratitude for our privileges. For a country sharing a border with a superpower infamous for its extreme patriotism and overwhelming influence, this holiday is arguably imperative for Canadian morale. The holiday encourages citizens to set aside their differences and strive for nation-wide harmony. This is also our chance to remember the quirky past of our country and a couple of her most influential leaders.

From the moment of Confederation, Canada’s leader was John A. Macdonald. The man on the ten-dollar bill whose name is all too frequently misspelled, “Johnny” Macdonald implemented many influential policies vital to the growth and survival of a newborn country. A tough Scottish imperialist well-aware of the ever mounting tension between French- and English-Canadian populations, Prime Minister Macdonald wasn’t afraid of compromise or scandal, handling many debates, including notable events like the 1873 Pacific Scandal and both Métis provisional governments headed by Louis Riel. Macdonald has also been credited for the settlement of Canada’s west, the creation of the beginning of our own national economy, and the construction of the Canada Pacific Railway.

Behind his success, which may not have been noted or amply appreciated at the time, was a personal life riddled with death and alcohol abuse. Yet, Macdonald was able to make light of his vices for the most part, and frequently—and successfully—campaigned using comments like, “It goes to show that I would rather have a drunk Conservative than a sober Liberal.”

Another commendably intriguing Prime Minister was Mackenzie King. The longest running leader in Canadian history, King led the country through the horrors of World War II, where a controversial national conscription was enforced and the British Commonwealth Air Training Program was established. A progressive ideologist unafraid of change, he implemented many of the national social programs Canadians now take for granted, or which we at least boast about when socializing with our American neighbors, including old age pension, unemployment insurance, welfare, family allowance, and national health care. Lonely and without family, King filled his free time with… interesting pursuits.

Intensely “spiritual”, King’s uncommon pastimes came to light when a massive volume of personal writings, called the King Diaries, were collected following his death. The numerous boxes of loose leaf paper were typed and made available for public viewing in 1975, and his reputation has since been both praised and criticized. The King Diaries contained extensive and invaluable insight into the private affairs of King’s political life, like cabinet meetings, election campaigns, and confidential meetings with important political figures at the time like American President Roosevelt and German Nazi Dictator Adolf Hitler in 1937. Perhaps the more publicized contents were those detailing his keen interest in contacting the dead. While engaging in séances and Ouija board experimentation with a small circle of friends during his time as prime minister, King “communicated” with and sought political advice from personal acquaintances and historical figures including his mother, Joan of Arc, various Catholic saints, and late Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. In spite of this perceivably troubling hobby, King continues to be regarded by many as the best prime minister this country has yet seen.

However interesting our country’s past prime ministers were, their contributions to our country are more than evident and quite astounding in hindsight, while their imperfections reflect the humanity within us all. (Their stories add a hint of extra excitement to our history, if nothing else.) Neither Macdonald nor King, nor any of the previous men who shared the same title, could have possibly imagined the Canada we reside in today. So as you relax on July 1st, don’t feel ashamed to let your red and white show. There is much to be thankful for. Happy Canada Day, everyone!