Canada 365: Learn Something Canadian Every Day

If you weren’t fortunate enough over the holidays to receive a copy of Canada 365 – Every Day Tells A Story, you should know that it was published to mark the 150th

Canada 365, HarperCollinsCanada

Canada 365, HarperCollinsCanada

anniversary of our country which, of course, we celebrate this year, 2017. On 1 July 1867, the Province of Canada, (Ontario and Quebec) and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick came together to form the Dominion of Canada. Ours was a country born, “not out of revolution or a sweeping outburst of nationalism” but through a series of negotiations and meetings and conferences, including the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864 and the London Conference of 1866-67. The desire for union came from the need for “economic expansion and the ever-looming threat of American expansion.”

Canada 365 chronicles many events from our history, as well as people who contributed to the life of a country that, as Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie said, in a 1936 speech,“ has too much geography and not enough history.” Well, Canada 365 proves him wrong, I would say. We have a tremendous history that should be celebrated, especially throughout this year, and so I present some facts and figures to encourage readers to do just that. They won’t be presented in chronological order but more or less as they caught my fancy.

The Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect on 1 January 1947, defining citizens as Canadians rather than as British subjects. The first citizenship ceremony took place on January 3 and 26 people received certificates. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms became law on 17 April 1982 and stated that “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

Did you know that a 1921 nickel is the most valuable of Canadian coins? The nickel was redesigned that year and fewer than 500 of the original nickels are thought to exist today. The word “nickel” by the way, means “devil” from “old nick.” Miners often mistook nickel for the more valuable copper and when German miners realized their mistake, they called it Kupfernickel or “devil’s copper.” Do you remember “The Plouffes?” Canada’s first TV station was CBFT (Radio-Canada) in Montreal and it began transmitting in 1952 on September 6. The first English-language TV station went on air in Toronto two days later. No mention is made of those who stood on Charlotte Street in Sydney, watching the test pattern on a television in a downtown store window!

Mrs J.W. Perry and daughter Sheila aboard SS Letitia en route to Canada (Photo via Pier 21)

On a much more serious note, of a population of 8 million, more than 600,000 Canadians served in the Armed Forces in The Great War of 1914-1918 (“the so-called war to end all wars”). Of those, 425,000 served overseas, 60,661 were killed and 172,000 wounded . Hostilities ended with the Armistice on November 11, 1918. During the course of the First World War, 79 Canadians were awarded The Victoria Cross, (including John Bernard Croak of New Aberdeen).The Second World War, 1939-1945 saw Canada declare war on Germany on 10 September 1939, the first time Canada had declared war on another nation. Germany capitulated to the Allies on 7 May 1945 although VE Day is officially celebrated on May 8. The First Canadian Army moved forward to liberate Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the western Netherlands. With the surrender of the Japanese on 14 August 1945, the Second World War was effectively over. The two World Wars figure largely in Canada 365.

Maple syrup is a staple in Canada and most of it comes from Quebec. Quebecois often refer to imitation maple syrup as “pole syrup” because they say it is produced by tapping wooden telephone poles! Baby Bonuses were introduced in 1945 with parents receiving $5.94 per month for each child aged 15 and under. On 1 October 1961, the television quiz show Reach For The Top first aired on a CBC affiliate station in Vancouver.

On 13 May 1937, Roch Carrier, author of the famous story “The Hockey Sweater” was born in Beauce, Quebec. The story grew from a CBC Radio request that Carrier reflect on the culture and desires of Quebec during a time of unrest and “separatist sentiment” and became Carrier’s most enduring. As Carrier said,“The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places – the school, the church and the skating rink – but our real life was on the skating rink.” Like so many Canadian kids!

Some other memorable authors featured in Canada 365 include: Mavis Gallant, Northrop Fry, Pierre Burton, Margaret Lawrence, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Leacock and Mordecai Richler. Some of Canada’s more famous entertainers are also included: John Candy, Ian and Sylvia, Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Catherine O’Hara, Guy Lombardo, Martin Short, Rick Mercer, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Rita MacNeil and Stan Rogers. Politicians coming in for special mention include Louis St. Laurent, Mike Pearson, Tommy Douglas, John Diefenbaker, Pierre Trudeau, René Lévesque, Joe Clark, Flora MacDonald, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and Lucien Bouchard.

Canada 365 doesn’t shy away from Canada’s more shameful moments, some of which pre-date Canada.

Mi'kmaq girls in sewing class at the Roman Catholic-run Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie. (Photo via Library and Archives Canada, Online MIKAN no. 3193832)

Mi’kmaq girls in sewing class at the Roman Catholic-run Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie. (Photo via Library and Archives Canada, Online MIKAN no. 3193832)

In 1755,  more than 10,000 Acadians from Nova Scotia, PEI and New Brunswick were displaced for refusing to swear allegiance to Britain. An unknown number perished from hunger, disease and exposure during the expulsion, and ships full of exiles sank at sea.

Then there’s the story of Maurice Duplessis’ Orphans. As premier of Quebec in the ’40s and ’50s, Duplessis arranged for thousands of healthy orphaned or abandoned children to be declared mentally incompetent. This, so they could be placed in psychiatric hospitals, which received more generous federal subsidies than orphanages. They suffered terrific abuse, some subjected to lobotomies and electroshock. On 30 June 2001, each orphan was compensated for the horrors that had been inflicted on them.

Canada’s infamous Residential School System that separated Aboriginal children from their parents and placed them in government-funded schools has to be one of the worst atrocities ever inflicted on a people, and it happened here in Canada. About 150,000 children were taken from their homes with the stated purpose of removing them from their culture and assimilating them into the Canadian way of life. While the schools were funded by the Canadian government’s Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, they were administered by members of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Churches of Canada. There were 136 such schools and while most closed in the mid-1970s, the last one was open until the late 1990s. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up to investigate the system, produced its report in 2015, although compensation had been paid out and apologies from the various involved churches received by survivors.

Tim Horton hockey card (Photo via Diamond Cuts and Wax Stains)

Another sad story is that of Africville, an African Canadian village founded on the southern shore of Bedford Basin by Black refugees from the War if 1812. Settlers purchased land in the 1840s, built homes and paid taxes to the city of Halifax but received no essential services such as paved roads, running water, public transportation, garbage collection or adequate police protection. The city decided in 1962, to tear down the “dilapidated” structures of Africville under the guise of “urban renewal.” The “home for home” promise was never realized and compensation was inadequate. In 1996, the site was declared a National Heritage site and in 2010, then-Mayor Peter Kelly apologized for the destruction of the community.

“O Canada” was first performed at a Quebec City banquet on June 24, 1880. The anthem was composed by Caliza Lavalee, with lyrics by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. An English version was written by Robert Stanley Weir in 1908 but wasn’t officially proclaimed the country’s national anthem until 1 July 1980. Changes to the lyrics of the anthem have been sought over the years and the line “in all thy sons command” finally became “in all of us command”obviously after Canada 365 was put to bed. On 15 February 1965, the brand new Canadian Flag flew over Parliament Hill, following years of discussion as to what a new flag should look like. Unfortunately, Canada 365 failed to credit George Stanley with the Maple Leaf design so I had to Google it!

2017 also marks the 150th anniversary of the National Hockey League, established on 26 November 1917 with five original teams: the Montreal Canadiens, The Montreal Wanderers, The Ottawa Senators, The Toronto Arenas, (later The Maple Leafs) and the Quebec Bulldogs. The first games were played on 19 December 1917 but unfortunately, the league lost two teams early in the season. The Toronto Globe‘s prediction that “Pro hockey is on its last legs” was, obviously, wrong. The Montreal Canadiens won 24 Stanley Cups between 1916 and 1993. (Just sayin’.) Some of the great players mentioned in Canada 365 include Wayne Gretzky, Guy LaFleur, Tim Horton (yes that Tim Horton), Rocket Richard and others. The word “puck,” by the way, was first used in The Montreal Gazette on 7 February 1876. Some say the word came from the Irish “poc” which means to punch or poke.

Immigration has played a huge role in the history of Canada. From 1776 to 1979-80, 832,700 immigrants arrived on our shores including, Black Loyalists, New York State Loyalists, Scots, Ukrainians, Italians, Displaced Persons from Central and Eastern Europe, Hungarians, Czechs, Ismaili Muslims from Uganda and “Boat People” from Vietnam. And we mustn’t forget the “war brides” who married Canadian servicemen during the Second World War. The Canadian government provided the brides with free sea and rail passage. By 1948, over 43,000 wives and more than 20,000 children had arrived in Canada.

What, no Gzowski? (CBC Still Photo Collection via Rewind)

Of course, everyone who reads Canada 365 will find events and/or people who are not mentioned as did I. Although the CBC is referenced many times throughout, there is no history of the corporation given. As a supporter of CBC, especially radio, I was dismayed that it was missing from such an important review of Canadian history. If I were to mention one person who should have been mentioned, it would be Peter Gzowski and his Morning Side show, which brought news and views and tremendous involvement from Canadians across the country.

Canada 365 is a wonderful reference book or just a great read. It doesn’t have to be read by the month or the day or the year but can be read randomly and will always provide interesting and useful facts about Canada and its people.


Dolores Campbell


Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.



The Cape Breton Spectator is entirely reader supported, consider subscribing today!