Historian Matt Hayday on the Invention of Canada Day

1 07 2011

Today is Canada’s national holiday. “Canada Day” is actually a recent invention– the name was adopted only in 1982 and the start of federal subsidies for the celebrations coincided with the rise of separatist sentiment in Quebec in the 1960s. (Quebec’s national holiday falls just a week before Canada Day). Until the 1960s, “Dominion Day” was an ordinary day of work in Canada. In fact, in the 1950s some Canadians expressed pride at the fact that the national day wasn’t a day of leisure and nationalistic bombast, unlike the Fourth of July celebrations south of the border.

Like many invented traditions, Canada Day has a fascinating history. The expert here is University of Guelph history professor Matthew Hayday. His article “Fireworks, Folk-dancing and Fostering a National Identity: The Politics of Canada Day,” appeared last June in the Canadian Historical Review. Hayday is the author of Bilingual Today, United Tomorrow: Official Languages in Education and Canadian Federalism.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be attending this year’s event on Parliament Hill, but this  won’t be the first time that British ties played a prominent role in the federal government’s celebration of Confederation.

Hayday reminds us that July 1st was originally called Dominion Day. That’s the name Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was trying to honour back in 1958, shortly after he was elected. Diefenbaker was critical of the previous Liberal party’s attempts to distance Canada from British connections and symbols, and thought an enthusiastic celebration of Dominion Day might strengthen the ties.

Read more here.

To all of my readers in Canada, “Happy Canada Day”. Enjoy your long weekend!

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