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Today In History
On July 8, 1939
Henry Havelock Ellis, English physician and author, died

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IF YOU’VE GOT QUESTIONS ABOUT SOLAR ENERGY ... Not all that long ago now President Barack Obama "announced that ... grants will be available for those wishing to do research in renewable energy ... such as wind [and] solar." The next day "German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG said ... it will acquire a 28 per cent stake in Archimede Solar Energy S.p.A. to expand its expertise in solar thermal power plants." Meanwhile, for mere mortals who just want to know more the OpenSolar blog in the San Francisco Bay Area has been expanding its resources for letting you "ask questions about solar technology and get personal answers from experienced solar professionals and installation owners." All this remains one big piece in the big new clean-energy future that lies ahead. You can check it out in depth at ABOUT OPEN SOLAR!

CANADA DAY 2008 .. does the old British North America Act have any kind of future?   PDF  Print 
Written by Citizen X  
Thursday, 26 June 2008  

"Toronto," the local historian Percy Robinson wrote in 1933, is "the citadel of British sentiment in America, and Ontario, the most British of all the Provinces." An even 75 years later things have changed. Early in 2008 Angus Reid Strategies asked Canadians: "Would you support or oppose Canada ending its formal ties to the British monarchy?" Supporters of ending these now extremely vague and mysterious ties at last ranged from a mere 25% in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to 43% in each of Alberta and Atlantic Canada, 52% in British Columbia, and 54% in Ontario (second only to 71% in Quebec). A June 2008 headline in the Calgary Herald has similarly proclaimed: "Calling London: Calgary's hiring ... Faced with ongoing staff shortages and a tight labour market, city recruiters will spend the next few weeks in England ..." Once upon a time headlines of this sort haunted Toronto newspapers too. But though the Union Jack remains in the top left-hand corner of the current Ontario flag, it is another fading symbol. And you do have to wonder. In the early 21st century, in any part of the country, just how much longer can the old British North America last?

Surprising strength of British attachments in some parts of Canada outside Quebec today?

If you live in the Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver city regions, you might feel that the most surprising recent Angus Reid statistics tell how 36% in BC, or 38% in Atlantic Canada and 39% in Ontario — to say nothing of 48% in Alberta and 59% in Manitoba and Saskatchewan — actually want to see the British monarchy in Canada today continue.

Under the terms of the Canadian Constitution, Queen Elizabeth II holds the position of Canada’s head of state. Would you support or oppose Canada ending its formal ties to the British monarchy? February 2008.

























Not sure








[SOURCE: Angus Reid Strategies . * 52% if rounded numbers for strongly and moderately support are summed. The Angus Reid pdf file reports 51% — which presumably reflects a rounding of the sum of the un-rounded strongly and moderately support numbers.]

All this speaks to the continuing power of the British North American past in Canada — even as so much of what once made this past so real has now disappeared.

The provinces, Ontario Premier Oliver Mowat declared in the early 1890s, "are not yet sufficiently welded together to form Canada into an independent nation ... the strongest tie which up to this moment binds the provinces together is their common British connection."

In the 1950s, even or especially in places like Toronto, such quite tangible things as fish and chip shops, British movies (shown in Odeon theatre chains, where they still played "God Save the Queen" before each movie, and some movie-goers even stood and sang along), British cars (unsuited to Canada’s climate and vast distances, but intriguing machinery all the same), and veritable hordes of recent British immigrants with fresh accents, helped give some depth and practical meaning to a last altogether golden colonial age of British North America.

Roots of the old British North America in the 19th century ...

The old British North America had some of its deepest roots in especially 19th century Canadian immigration trends.

"Canada" itself is, almost certainly, an aboriginal word. And aboriginal Canada in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries was of course not British. (Although the Six Nations Iroquois of the Great Lakes were declared British subjects in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. And the Iroquois in Southern Ontario today apparently still have a silver communion service given to them by the first officially British (as opposed to English or Scottish, etc) Queen Anne, in the early 18th century.

Some British immigrants had arrived in what is now Atlantic Canada as early as the 17th century. But most of the European immigrants in the more official "Canada or New France" that became headquartered on the banks of the St. Lawrence River were French. The so-called Loyalists (and others) who migrated to the new British North American Canada that arose in the wake of the American Revolution (1776–1783) were, in some cases at least, "British" politically — but socially, culturally, and economically they are more aptly described as Anglo-Americans. It was not until the 1820s that large numbers of British immigrants, direct from the United Kingdom, suddenly began to appear in various parts of what is called Canada today.

Changing Origins of the Canadian Population, 1871–1971


1871 %

1921 %

1971 %

















All Canada




[SOURCE: F.H. Leacy et al., eds., Historical Statistics of Canada, Second Edition (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 1983), Series A125–163.]

So the venerable British historian G.M. Trevelyan explained some time ago now: the "second quarter of the nineteenth century" was "the period in the settlement of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand which decided that those lands should be peopled mainly from Britain and should become parts of a free British Commonwealth of Nations."

By 1871, just a few years after the modern Canadian confederation of 1867, more than 60% of the Canada-wide population reported themselves as people of British national or ethnic origins. Another 31% had French origins, and British and French together accounted for close to 92% of the total population.

Since most of the French were concentrated in the Province of Quebec, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, in the English-speaking part of the country outside Quebec people of British origins accounted for a quite decisive majority. (Although in the as yet largely "undeveloped" West aboriginal people were still more prominent — and constituted a clear majority of the British Columbia population when it joined the Canadian confederation in 1871.)

The end of the empire and the new global village demography ...

No doubt, the most crucial ongoing fact that made Canada even after 1867 a British North American place was its political status as the first self-governing dominion of the global British empire. But people of British national or ethnic origins also remained at least a bare majority of the Canadian population down to the end of the Second World War — and the first Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947.

(Before 1947 there was no such legal status as a Canadian citizen. Canadians had simply been British subjects resident in Canada.)

Then the empire began its noblest act of dismantling itself more or less gracefully — starting with the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, and gradually carrying on with, e.g., Ghana in 1957, Nigeria in 1960, Jamaica in 1962, Kenya in 1963, and Malta in 1964.

In Canada this old British imperial winding down also helped promote the rise of a new francophone Quebec sovereigntist movement in the 1960s, culminating with the establishment of Rene Levesque’s Parti Quebecois in 1968. The federalist French Canadian Pierre Trudeau became Canadian prime minister in the same year. And Canada’s capital city Ottawa began to exchange some of its old British North American colonial ambience for a new French and English bilingual elan — in some slight degree at least.

Meanwhile, changes in Canadian immigration policy, beginning in 1967 and reinforced in 1976, began to undercut earlier privileges of British immigrants, and open the country up to people from all around the new global village, a term invented in the 1960s by the Edmonton-born Toronto resident, Marshall McLuhan.

(Even before this the privileged position of British subjects from such places as Hong Kong, India, and the West Indies had already begun to diversify Canadian demography — to say nothing of various Southern and Eastern Europeans, who began to arrive in both eastern cities and western prairies in the earlier 20th century.)

Origins of the Canadian Population 2001



Single Origins












Multiple Origins


All Canada


[SOURCE: Statistics Canada.]

By the start of the 21st century Canadians with so-called single British origins accounted for no more than 9% of the Canada-wide population — and those with French origins for only 3.6%. It was now possible to report "Canadian" as your national or ethnic origin. In 2001 just under 23% did so — and this was the single largest group of single origins. The largest category of all origins was simply known as "Multiple Origins" (i.e. mixed-race or even "Metis," as an earlier Canadian generation said: Italian and British, French and English, Jamaican and Japanese, Pakistani and Kenyan, and on and on and on).

So ... Canada today is no longer the first self-governing dominion of the British empire — because among other things, the empire no longer exists (and even if it did Canada has been altogether free from any kind of colonial control emanating from the United Kingdom, since the Statue of Westminster in 1931).

Even the bare majority of the population nowadays is certainly not British (though it is English-speaking of course, as in the USA to the south). Canada today, on its citizens’ own reporting, has what can only be called a new "Canadian-Multiple Origins" majority.

(And no one can figure out just what Canada’s apparently ongoing "formal ties to the British monarchy" nowadays mean practically — beyond relieving tired politicians, too fraught with worry about such more urgent matters as carbon taxes in Alberta and biker girls in Quebec, of any immediate need to change various worn-out sentences in the old Constitution Act 1867, through a contentious and difficult process of constitutional amendment, with no immediate cash benefits at the end for anyone.)

What is English-speaking Canada if it’s not British North America any more?

There are of course still those who say that if Canada cannot just carry on pretending to be the old British North America in the year 2008, then there is not really anything else it can be. And it might just as well apply for admission to what is possibly going to become Barack Obama’s new More Perfect Union down south this November, and give up at last.

French Canadians everywhere and especially francophones in Quebec do not have quite this problem of course. For the most part, most of them never have liked the British monarchy in Canada anyway. (See the Angus Reid poll results above.) They are different from citizens of the United States because they speak French instead of English. (Or at least they can and will among themselves, or on visits to France, etc. There are far fewer unilingual French Canadians in Quebec than there are unilingual English Canadians in the rest of the country, despite several decades of French immersion classes in the schools (mostly attended by girls not boys, etc, etc).

Ten largest single origin groups in Canada 2001


% of all Canadians









South Asian












Total Top 10


Other Single Origins


Multiple Origins


All Canada


[SOURCE: Statistics Canada.]

Yet it seems to me eminently arguable that, even in Quebec (and even in French as well as English), giving up on the quiet but fascinating unique, "indigenous," and independent modern Canadian story and spirit — starting with the aboriginal peoples now mentioned in the Constitution Act 1982, in both current official languages (and the language of the Inuit, which is now official in Nunavut too), and among the literally hundreds of different groups of people who have come to settle in Canada over the past 500 years, or however long it is — is just a counsel of weakness for the sake of weakness, with no good reason behind it.

Over the past 50 years or more, there have been innumerable individuals and groups who have done their best to point to what a multicultural and bilingual Canada of the future will and ought to look like — beyond the old British North American colonial cocoon that has now grown terminally obsolete. It is even not too much to say that, in one way or another, people have died for the Canada of today — which is among the more stable and hopeful "free and democratic societies" of our time. (To use the language of the Constitution Act 1982 — which unlike the still essentially unamended old colonial Constitution Act 1867 does have some spark of the higher human spirit about it, and, even if we have been only half aware of it, has been a notable achievement of a recent past through which many of us still alive today have lived ourselves.)

Anyway, this is my wish for Canada Day 2008. That we all get on some hill or other height of land, in the part of Canada where we ordinarily reside, and politely wave goodbye to the old British North America. It has done, I think myself, many good things for Canada (as well as some bad ones: nothing is perfect). But its day has come and gone. We shouldn’t be going on trips to England, to get new recruits for our public bureaucracies any longer. (Maybe if I lived in Calgary I might think differently, but I don’t. And I wonder how many of the people I do know who live there now think this way too?)

Then, having waved goodbye to the old British North America that did some good as well as bad things to shape Canada’s past, I would like to see us all turn around on the hill or height of land we are occupying, and wave hello to the new Canada that is rising. It is a remarkably diverse, and still more or less optimistic place. All current things considered (and in some suitably modest but intriguing way of course), it could just evolve into one of the more interesting countries of the world over the next 100 years. In any event, Happy Canada Day to everyone who wants to entertain some similar hopes for a brave new future, and all that — in the midst of these quite beautiful and diverse (if still sometimes somewhat terrifying) vast stretches of northern global village geography. (And Happy Canada Day too if you’re just out for beer and hot hogs. Or wine and cheese. Or whatever other food and drink you like. Why not?)


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