Happy Dominion Day! Let’s Celebrate the Incoherence of “Canada at 150”

The July 1st Specials

Happy Dominion Day! Or “Happy Canada Day” to the uninitiated. Here are some my articles and blog posts pertaining to the celebrations on July 1st.

You can read about how the Liberals surreptitiously and mendaciously threw Dominion Day into the dustbin of history and replaced this meaningful phrase with the bland and redundant “Canada Day.” And now, thanks to CPAC, you can even see the moment for yourself on the visual parliamentary archive.

In my presentation on Canada’s legal-constitutional continuity before the Constitution at 150 Conference in Montreal in May 2017, I made the case not only that “Canada” as a polity dates back to 1791, not 1867, but that the Imperial Parliament deliberately preserved the legal-constitutional continuity from Upper and Lower Canada, the Province of Canada, and the Dominion of Canada through the Constitutional Act, 1791, the Act of Union, 1840, and the British North America Act, 1867. I’m currently putting the finishing touches on the manuscript from which my PowerPoint presentation was derived and will soon submit it to a reputable journal; hopefully, by 1 July 2018, I’ll be able to point you to the final publication! But I first started exploring this idea in a smaller piece in The Dorchester Review two years ago, called “Canada” Began in 1791: A Critique of the “Canada at 150” Campaign. I also explored some of those themes in Who Is Canada’s Longest-Serving Prime Minister? It Depends Upon When “Canada” Began and in my critique of John Boyko’s book and the broader false “1867 as Year Zero of Canadian History” narrative.

Truly, I do not understand this Teutonic, literal-minded obstinacy and false, too-clever-by-half Jesuitical parsing that causes some Canadians to believe that the Dominion of Canada just sprung up ex nihilo and fully formed in 1867 and that “Canada” did not exist prior to Confederation. By that logic, France didn’t exist until 5 October 1958, when the current constitution of the 5th Republic entered into force. It’s telling that even the French, who invented Year Zero Revolutions, don’t think about the succession of states as obtusely as so many Canadians casually do.

Upper Canada’s SECOND Parliament Building in Toronto 

As my friend Lyle Skinner pointed out to me earlier today, CBC Radio’s Day 6 with Brent Bambury ran an interesting story yesterday on the “Remnants of Upper Canada’s First Parliament Site,” which now sits beneath a parking lot in Toronto.

The only problem is that Upper Canada’s first capital city was Niagara-on-the-Lake, where Upper Canada’s legislature met between 1792 and 1797. Toronto — or York, as it was then known — was the second city to host Upper Canada’s legislature. This plaque from the Archaeological and Historic Site Board of Ontario dedicates the site of the first legislature in Niagara.

Brent Bambury defended the accuracy of his segment, somewhat incoherently, “The first Parliament buildings were in York. In Niagara/Newark parliament met in Navy Hall.”

I suppose that Bambury is arguing that because Navy Hall in Niagara-on-the-Lake was originally constructed for a different purpose, he doesn’t consider it Upper Canada’s first parliament building — which, if we’re honest, is a bit daft because irrespective of why the building was first constructed, the fact remains that it housed the 1st and 2nd parliaments of Upper Canada. This is why I accused Bambury of engaging in some Jesuitical parsing of his own.

ONParl Education added:

Fair enough, but it is still not the first building in which parliament convened and passed laws. Some of Upper Canada’s most important laws, like through An Act Introducing English Civil Law into Upper Canada, 1792 and An Act Establishing Trial By Jury for Upper Canada, 1792, were forged in Navy Hall. And so, too, was The Act Against Slavery, which restricted slavery (though did not ban it outright) and abolished the slave trade in Upper Canada in 1793, 14 years before the Imperial Parliament banned the slave trade throughout the British Empire through the Slave Trade Act, 1807. (The Imperial Parliament then abolished slavery as a whole in 1833).

The fact that Ron Williamson and Rollo Myers uncovered the remnant of Upper Canada’s second parliament building underneath a parking lot in Toronto does not diminish the importance of this archaeological discovery, nor does it denigrate from the building’s historical significance. The second parliament building forms a part of Canada’s and Ontario’s history just as much as Navy Hall, the first legislative edifice, does. I hope that the Province of Ontario allows archaeologists to excavate and historians to study the site properly and eventually fund the construction of a museum on the site.

But the Day 6 with Brent Bambury article also inadvertently demonstrates the incoherence of the “Canada at 150” narrative: “In the leadup to Canada’s 150th anniversary, Day 6 host Brent Bambury joined Myers and Williamson at the site where the surprising discovery was made.”

If “Canada” is only 150 years old, then why would a story about Upper Canada’s parliament building from the late 1790s have anything to do with “the leadup to Canada’s 150th anniversary”?

In reality, the Dominion of Canada (1867-present) is the continuator of the Province of Canada (1841-1867), which is, in turn, the continuator of Upper Canada and Lower Canada (1791-1841). In other words, they are all the same polity — and that is why the discovery in Toronto matters. Today, we celebrate the sesquicentennial of Confederation, not of “Canada” itself.   

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About J.W.J. Bowden

My area of academic expertise lies in Canadian political institutions, especially the Crown, political executive, and conventions of Responsible Government; since 2011, I have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship by having been published and cited extensively. I’m also a contributing editor to the Dorchester Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law.
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