A Brief History of Canada

From 1534 to 1967

During the 1995 referendum campaign, I personally could find only one sustained reference to the reality of our past …

As for the language used by Daniel Johnson, Jean Charest and Jean Chrétien, it was as if the country had popped out of an egg the day before fully formed… Lucien Bouchard’s repeated reference to the past referred only as far back as 1982.

Our future was debated and decided as if we had no past. No experience. Therefore no reality. And yet Canada is not a new country. In legal terms it is one of the oldest in the world. In constitutional terms it is one of a tiny handful of stable, long-lasting democracies.

John Ralston Saul, Reflections of Siamese Twin

It is the winter of 1534. Jacques Cartier and his band of explorers are slowly dying from scurvy. In a show of compassion, a common trait of the local inhabitants, they give Cartier the cure for the disease and the little band of brave men from France are rescued from certain death.

The next two hundred and twenty-nine years are marked by conflict as the French and English bring their never-ending wars to the New World and the Natives choose sides. The exception being the western interior which for most of the eighteenth century remains in relative peace thanks, in part, to that great Canadian explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Vérendry who, between 1730 and 1749 negotiates a series of treaties with the local inhabitants. One of these would be an alliance with the Cree-Assiniboine-Ojibwa against the Dakota to the south thereby preserving the great plains for the future country of Canada.

In 1763, France decides that its colony is not worth the trouble and abandons it to the British. Guy Carleton, the second Governor of the former French colony, convinces the British government to allow the inhabitants "the Canadians" to practice their religion and keep their language.

When the American war of independence begins in 1775, most of the Iroquois Nations under the great Mohawk chief Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) fight the Americans denying them the land that would become the province of Ontario.

When the Americans under Benedict Arnold try to wrest Quebec and the entire St. Lawrence River valley from the British, they erroneously assume that tens of thousands of French-Canadians will gladly join the thirteen colonies in rebellion. He meets his Waterloo in front of the city of Quebec on the Plains of Abraham on a cold snowy December night.

In the war of 1812, the British, French-Canadians or simply Canadians as they are called at the time and Natives again join together to preserve the integrity of the territory that will become Canada. Tecumseh, the famous Shawnee warrior and leader and the Iroquois nations are again instrumental in denying the Americans the land that would become the Province of Ontario. The Canadians deny the Americans the land that would become the Province of Quebec.

Following the war, Natives surrender most of their lands in Upper Canada to the British Crown in formal treaties. Further bloodless surrender of native lands will follow as the European settlers move west. For this extremely generous act, the British Government guarantees in writing that it will always look after their needs it terms of food, shelter and general well-being.

In 1851, it’s the Métis who fight and defend the territory that would become the country’s breadbasket. In the Battle of Grand Coteau, the Métis defeat the Sioux from further south for the control of key buffalo hunting grounds. For close to a century the Métis defend, dominate, settle and farm the prairies.

In 1867, the former French colony and the remaining English colonies put their differences aside and join together for the greater good and security of all in a Confederation.

In 1878, John A. MacDonald and the Conservatives are re-elected to continue in their nation building ways. During the election campaign MacDonald promises to protect the country’s fledging economy from being completely dominated by its southern neighbour by the adoption of a national economic policy or as it was called the National Policy to, in MacDonald’s own words "benefit the agricultural, the mining, the manufacturing and other interest of the Dominion". The National Policy is a success.

1896, it’s the Liberals turn to continue the nation building process. Under the Leadership of Wilfrid Laurier, the first French-Canadian Prime Minister the prairies are opened up to massive immigration thereby creating a new generation of Canadians and ensuring that the West will remain Canadian. At Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in the summer of 1897 he rebuffs Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain proposal to bring the former colonies into a proposed imperial, military, economic, and political federation thereby setting the stage for the creation of the Commonwealth and Canada achieving full independence.

The next eighty or so years are an exercise in strengthening the union and continuing the co-operation among the three founding people while promoting everyone’s welfare and creating a country spanning a continent and bordering three of the world’s five oceans. Its southern neighbour fought a revolutionary war and a civil war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives to achieve what Canada did with little loss of life.

This new country’s attitude to nation building, such as looking for the stuff that unites as opposed to that other stuff, leads it to create laws that would make all its citizens feel at home anywhere in the vastness of Canada, culminating in the Official Languages Act.

In looking for the stuff that unites, the government became more involved in the welfare of the less fortunate leading to universal and equal access to medical care and the elimination of the morally repugnant practice where one group in society could profit from the pain and suffering of another.

In looking for the stuff that unites, it embarks on ambitious projects alone and with the private sector that test the metal of the young country.

In looking for the stuff that unites, it creates national institutions to provide equal service to Canadians, whether they be in the city or labouring somewhere in the vast hinterland.

In looking for the stuff that unites, it accomplishes incredible feats of engineering and organization that are even more impressive when you consider the size of the country and its small population:

1. At 9:22 am on November 7, 1885 at Craigallachie, British Columbia, Donald Smith hammers the last spike that completes the Canadian Pacific Railway. With a population of less than 5 million souls, Canada has built a transcontinental railway.

2. During the First World War Canada, with a population approaching nine million souls, raises and equips an army of over 500,000 men and women and sends them to fight and achieve victory an ocean away.

3. On November 2, 1936, Canada creates the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. For the first time all Canadians will be able to share in the Canadian experience delivered to them by their own Canadian broadcasting network.

4. On April 10, 1937, a bill is passed in Parliament to create Trans-Canada Air Lines. The airline initially created to provide even remote communities with air access would become Air Canada, an international carrier with a world wide reputation for good service and safety. The government purchased the aircraft, hired and paid the employees and grew the airline that would become Canada’s premier domestic and international carrier until its bankruptcy 50 years later and at the hands of its American management.

5. During the Second World War, with a population of slightly more than thirteen million people at its outset, Canada again rises to the challenge and then some. Not only does it provide for its own fighting men and women but it supplies so much war material to its allies in the struggle that it earns the distinction Arsenal of Democracy. To get the war material and supplies to the battle fields, it creates the second largest merchant marine in the world.

6. On August 10th 1949, the Avro C-102 jet transport, designed and built in Malton, Ontario, better known as the Jetliner, makes its first flight. It’s the first passenger jet flight in North America, and follows the first in the world, which was the Comet flight in the UK, by only 13 days.

7. During the 1950’s Canada builds the Avro Arrow Supersonic Interceptor, the most advance fighter/interceptor of its time. Population of Canada, 1956 census: 16,801,000.

8. In 1962, Canada introduces nationalized health care. Every Canadian will have accessed to quality health care no matter what their social status or income level.

9. February 15, 1965, the country gets it own flag.

10. In 1967, which author Pierre Berton referred to in a novel of the same name as The Last Good Year, Canada holds a grandiose, majestic, inspiring world fair.

Just when the country was finally getting it all together a change happens. Rather than continue building symbols to the can-do attitude of the country, succeeding insecure leaders slowly but inexorably transform a dynamic citizenry into freeloaders.

Instead of looking for the stuff that unites, governments begin looking for that other stuff. Rather than acknowledge the contribution of its founding partners, it minimizes them.

One posting about Canada from each year (except for 2007)

that Boreal was not mostly about religion.


A Question of Honours and Karla Homolka


Air Canada

On a Wing and A Prayer


The Pamphlet

The Pamphlet is the story about how the Red Cross took almost five years to develop and distribute a simple pamphlet that correctly identified those who should not give blood because of the risk that they were carriers of the AIDS and Hepatitis C virus.


National Unity

René is a riveting six-hours mini-series on the life and times of René Lévesque. When it was first broadcast on both the French and English networks of the CBC, less than two-hundred-thousand Canadians outside Quebec tuned in.

In René, the CBC, unlike in a previous production featuring a Canadian hero, appears to have been faithful to history and given an accurate portrayal of the central character in this quintessential Canadian drama (one Québec television critic did complain that the series spent to much time on René’s love interests).

If more English-Canadians had watched René, many more prejudices might have been dispelled as the viewers got to know, perhaps to belatedly fall in love with an honest, simple man, a patriot in the best sense the word. He not only loved Québec but he also loved Canada.

In a way, it is unfortunate that Québecquers did not vote for independence when he was in charge, for he was a reasonable and thoughtful man who, even when he was promoting the interest of French-Canadians, fought to protect the rights of English-speaking Québecquers.


2007 marked the beginning of the CBC's sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie about a Muslim community interactions with mainly Christians in the fictional prairie town of Mercy, Saskatchewan. That same year I made a pitch to the CBC for a comedy series called The God Dammed Show.

It is just as well that the CBC turned me down. Like Little Mosque On The Prairie, they probably would have hired a religious expert to make sure no believers were offended and the whole thing would not have made any sense as a comedy or as a slice of life.

Season I and II Reviews


It is a cliché in this country that this costly strategically dubious victory was Canada's baptism of fire. Vimy's legacy was the massive senseless lost of Canadian lives at Passchendaele. If Canada had come of age at Vimy, there would have been no Passchendaele!


Air India Flight 182


Cod Chronicles

Where Have All the Fish Gone?


The Toronto G20

Not your usual observations


Japan In The Interviews

With the unfortunate events in Japan (the tsunami and reactor incident), a short excerpt from the Boom-Boom Singh interview about the first Japanese immigrants seemed appropriate.


William Sampson

April 17, 1959 – March 28, 2012

Sampson's Homecoming



The Canadian media bemoans the fact that the Oscar winning best picture, Argo, does not give enough credit to the Canadians who first sheltered then helped the Americans get out of Iran after their embassy was taken over by student radicals. Canada could have told their story in a major motion picture, but that was before Popcorn, Maple Syrup and the American Way


Who's Dead Are They Anyway?