Holidays Around the World: Canada’s Independence Day

Canada observes its independence day in the same month we do in the United States. Theirs is earlier, July 1.

The date is only one difference between the significance of independence days of these neighboring countries.

Where in the US, we observe July 4 as the anniversary of our announcement of independence from Britain, true independence came later. The settlers had to go to war in order to gain that independence. In Canada, however, independence came slowly, without wars.

First in 1867, as a result of the British government passing the British North America Act, three provinces joined together to form the Dominion of Canada within the British Empire. This is the official origin of the July 1 date for Canada day, but it didn’t mark independence from Britain. In addition, those provinces did not include all, or even most, of what we now know as Canada. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Canada province (later breaking up into Quebec and Ontario) made up the new dominion of Canada, but all those western and northern areas remained under control of the Hudson Bay Company, and the residents considered themselves British, not Canadian. The dominion of Canada consisted only of the areas around the Great Lakes, the Maritimes, Newfoundland, Labrador, and some Arctic Islands.

Since 1670, the Hudson Bay Company had administered nearly all the rest of the land we know of as Canada, known then as the North-west Territory and Rupert’s Land, through a charter from the British in order to operate their fur hunting and trading business. Two hundred years later, in 1870, the Hudson Bay Company transferred the property back to Britain, which in turn transferred it to Canada.

Over the years, the Territory was broken up further to expand existing provinces or to create new ones. Ontario and Quebec expanded northwards in addition to a portion in the east added to Ontario. Manitoba gained territory in the north. In 1866, a portion of the western edge was added to British Columbia before it joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871. Both Ontario and Quebec absorbed land to the north. In 1898, Yukon was made a separate territory because of the Klondike Gold Rush, relieving the territory government of responsibility to administer that rapidly growing but distant population. In 1905, the three prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskachewan, and Alberta were formed. And in 1999, an area to the east of the territory was organized as Nunavut.

In 1872, after having negotiated treaties with the First Nation tribes in those areas for the lands, the Canadian government created the Dominion Lands Act, modeled on the US Homestead Act, in order to encourage Europeans, Canadians from the east, and Americans to settle the western lands, at least in part to keep the US government from considering taking over the land. Like too many treaties between European settlers and First Nation tribes in the Americas, the promised money to pay for the land never materialized.

Initially settlers could register a 160-acre piece of land for $10 with the understanding that they would develop 40 acres of the land as a homestead. In a departure from the US model, the Canadians also allowed the settlers to register, for the same $10 price, a second, adjoining 160 acres once the first 160-acre piece had been developed. To American settlers, limited to just 160 acres at affordable prices, the move was attractive.

And this explains why my grandfather and several of his brothers moved their families into Alberta in 1910. The area my grandfather settled in was part of an arid region that was difficult to grow enough to live on when settlers had only the first 160 acres the Canadian government made available. My grandfather chose to remain until he had completed developing the 40 acres, but he explained that the family nearly died of starvation while he worked to develop those acres, so he brought his family back to the US within five years. By then, both my grandparents had become British citizens, a state my grandfather never attempted to change at least in part from fear that he might be sent back to Canada. He also never traveled to Canada to see his brothers and their families from fear the US officials would not allow him back into this country.

While July 1, 1867, marks the initial break from Britain, Canada’s full independence didn’t come until 1982 when the UK Parliament passed the Canada Act of 1982. Until that time, the British pariament had the power to amend the Canadian Constitution. The Canada Act of 1982 was passed at the request of the Canadian Senate and House of Commons. The British Queen remains the monarch of Canada as a separate role from that as the British monarch. Her image continues to appear on Canadian currency.

The Canadian flag was adopted in 1965. While the national anthem, O Canada, was written in 1880, it wasn’t until 1980 that it was officially adopted.

Canada Day, July 1, is Canada’s observation of its independence as a soverign nation. It doesn’t mark the declaration of a war or the end of a war. It marks the gradual shift in power to the people who are governed to make their own decisions through democratic processes.

Happy Canada Day, neighbor.

Featured image credit: Photo by Nathaniel Bowman on Unsplash

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