Canada’s 150th birthday an opportunity to showcase diversity of country’s citizens

Published: January 14, 2013

BALWANT SANGHERA
VANCOUVER DESI

In this 2011 file photo, a small group representing the Head Tax Families Society of Canada gathers at the Monument to Chinese Railway Workers and War Veterans in Vancouver, B.C. Friday, July 1, 2011 for the sixth annual Canada Rally. The group seeks an apology and redress from the federal government for head taxes imposed on Chinese immigrants from 1885 to 1923. Jason Payne/PNG files

Canada will be celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017.

The federal government has done the right thing by getting the process started well ahead of time. Planning for this big celebration throughout Canada is going to be quite complex and time-consuming. It will be a major milestone in this country’s history.

Canada’s 100th birth anniversary celebration that concluded with the Expo in Montreal in 1967 is still fondly remembered by Canadians. It gave a big boost to this country’s profile around the globe. The celebration in 2017 would give Canadians another opportunity and excuse to reflect and celebrate this country’s history, natural beauty, cultural diversity and a lot more. This year-long celebration will be an opportune time to encourage Canadians – young and old – to appreciate what a wonderful country Canada is.

In this context, the Canadian Museum of History will be a great setting to showcase Canada’s past. This museum is reported to already have a very large number of historical documents on display. However, there is one important document still missing from the archives. It is the 47-page British North America (BNA) Act of 1867. This is the document that gave birth to Canada. Thus, in a sense, it is Canada’s birth certificate. A birthday party won’t be complete without it. Let’s hope that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government, with the support of Canadian people, will prevail upon David Cameron and his government in London, to repatriate the BNA Act of 1867 to Canada as soon as possible. It will be a great gift from Great Britain to Canada.

Another thing that needs to be kept in mind while celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial is the drastic change in its demographics that has taken place during the past 50 or so years. Canada of 2013 is totally different from Canada of 1867 and even that of 1967. For the first 100 or so years of its existence, this country was made up mostly of the Aboriginals as well as people of European heritage in general and British and French heritage in particular.

The Aboriginal population, despite being the first settlers in this country, were marginalized to some extent. They didn’t even have the right to vote till 1949. They were joined by people of Chinese heritage in the 1850s. Later on, immigrants from Japan, India and few other countries called Canada their home. Unfortunately, along with the Aboriginals, immigrants from Asia had to suffer a lot of institutionalized discrimination, harassment, abuse and racism.

The Chinese Head Tax, residential schools for Native children, the Asian Exclusion Act, the Komagata Maru tragedy and treatment of the Japanese citizens during the Second World War are just some of the unfortunate chapters of Canada’s past.

However, this is all in the past.

All of these communities have moved on and contributed immensely to the growth and development of Canada. Today’s Canada is a great model of multiculturalism, multilingualism and intercultural harmony. Today, 35 million people belonging to more than 200 communities and speaking more than 200 languages from every corner of the globe proudly call Canada their home. This is what we should celebrate. 2017, Canada’s 150th birth anniversary, will be a great time to celebrate all of this from coast to coast to coast.

In order to do so the federal government should ensure that all of these communities are well represented in these celebrations. It will be an excellent time to showcase what Canadians have been able to achieve in every sphere during the past 150 years.

In this regard, a recent Ipsos-Reid poll of 1,021 Canadians conducted exclusively for Postmedia News and Global Television found that a vast majority of Canadians would like ordinary citizens, business leaders and private groups to plan the activities for the sesquicentennial. Of course, the federal Department of Canadian Heritage, along with the provincial and local governments, can greatly assist and support the citizens in making the festivities a truly grassroots, historic and memorable celebration.

Balwant Sanghera is a retired school psychologist and community activist.

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