Canada Day 2021

I think of myself as a northerner. I’ve lived most of my life in states that share a border with Canada: Montana, North Dakota, Idaho and Washington. During our North Dakota years, our church conference included congregations in Canada and I traveled to those congregations on occasion. It wasn’t until after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that crossing the border between the US and Canada required a passport, but even after that time, we’ve made several crossings without incident. I sometimes refer to my new home as “almost Canada” as we regularly are within just a few miles of the border and there are plenty of places where we go that afford a view across the border.

As a result, I’ve known about Canada Day for much of my life. July 1 is the date of the holiday. It isn’t the same as the US Independence Day on July 4 because the history of the two countries in relationship to British colonial power is much different. Canada didn’t experience independence as a sudden or single event, but rather moved away from British control toward independence gradually and slowly. Still there are plenty of similarities. The beginning of July is celebrated with fireworks on both sides of the border. And Canadians sing their national anthem as part of the celebration as we sing ours.

I memorized the words to the old version of the Canadian national anthem at one point, but they have been revised. The song has official versions in both French and English and a bilingual version in which some lines are sung in English and others in French. The English version is this:

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all of us command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

The fact that Canada has two official national languages is caught up in its history and the story of Canada Day. July 1 marks the anniversary of the Canadian Confederation. On July 1, 1867, the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were united in a single dominion. The treaty that established the dominion also provided for the division of the colony known as Canada into two provinces: Ontario and Quebec. That division recognized the language and cultural differences of the provinces and the strong French colonial influence upon the history of Canada.

It took a few more years for other areas of Canada, including Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories to become a part of the dominion.

The official languages of Canada, English and French tell the story of the European colonization of the land. None of the traditional indigenous languages spoken before the arrival of European settlers are official national languages.

This year Canada Day is inspiring serious reflection as the nation struggles with both its history and its present condition. As the process of discovering the truth about its history continues to unfold there have been many revelations about the practice of mandatory residential boarding schools and the physical and cultural damage they caused. Recent discoveries of the burial sites of children and of hundreds of unmarked graves tell a grim story of those schools. A lot of additional investigation will be required for the full story to emerge, but we now know that hundreds of children were forcibly taken from their homes and families and died while in custody of the schools. Tests are being conducted to determine the cause of the deaths and attempts are being made to discover the truth of what happened. Some of the graves were probably never marked. A few were shallow. Some contained multiple bodies. Others had at one time had wooden markers that have since deteriorated and been lost.

As Canada mourns the deaths of the children and seeks to discover the truth of its history, it is sweltering under an unprecedented heat wave. Many areas of Western Canada have experienced heat that is even greater than that experienced in Washington and Oregon in recent days. In the past five days 486 fatalities were recorded in British Columbia alone, a 195% increase from previous years. The town of Lytton recorded Canada’s highest ever temperature at 121.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Then the entire town had to be evacuated because of a raging wildfire. The whole town burned in less than 15 minutes.

In Vancouver, a city we can see from the town of Blaine, Washington, just a few miles from our son’s farm, 65 people have died since Friday.

Although it is difficult to make direct connections between any singular weather event and the process of global climate change, there is strong evidence that the extreme situation being experienced in Canada has its roots firmly in human-caused climate change.

So today, as we recognize Canada Day, we acknowledge the complex and often tragic history of the colonization of our northern neighbors. We share their grief over historic deaths of so many children and we acknowledge that we have our own history of boarding schools and that we too could benefit from a closer examination of that part of our story. And we have shared some of the weather extremes that our northern neighbors have suffered - enough to remind us that we are all in this together and what affects one country affects us all.

Canada is not my home. I am a US citizen and have no desire to be otherwise. But I think of my neighbors on this day and I pray that they will find the courage and strength to face the times and to work with the other nations of the world to move towards justice and to seek solutions to the crises of these days. It doesn’t make sense to use the concept of “Happy Birthday,” as Canada Day isn’t really a birth day at all, so I will say, “May the recognition of Canada Day this year be a time of meaning and healing for our neighbors.”

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