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CANADA: SOMETHING GOT LOST IN THE TRANSLATION « Douglas Fisher

Fisher

 

CANADA: SOMETHING GOT LOST IN THE TRANSLATION

Just over 20 years ago not even a genuine quorum of MPs was in the House of Commons when it passed into law a private MP’s bill changing the holiday on July 1 celebrating the anniversary of Canada’s formal creation from “Dominion Day” to “Canada Day.”

It angered me then, and it stirs up my history-keeping each and every July 1. I cherished Dominion Day. I enjoyed the fact my country was “the Dominion of Canada.” I believe many other Canadians felt that way, but most kept quiet because the Liberal line was that most Quebecers didn’t like the word “Dominion.” In French, it signified “domination” or “authority.”

Nevertheless, for a few years I had a dislike for David Smith, the Toronto Liberal MP (now a senator and long a liege man to Jean Chretien). He was the chief perpetrator of the passage which ditched the proud “Dominion.” He’s still not my favourite Grit, but I gave up trumpeting his slyness when a friend pointed out an analogous Commons happening. Could I myself not be accused of abetting “Dominion’s” passing?

Well, it was true that when I was an MP in 1964 I helped a little known, newish Liberal MP, Jean Chretien, slip through a bill of his own at a crucial stage. It changed the name of the Crown corporation Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA) to Air Canada. How was I involved? I had a hand in inveigling out of the chamber two MPs who would have blocked its passage.

Aware of the danger in a pot calling a kettle black, I’ve by and large left Sen. Smith alone, beyond writing he’s not been the strong belt of loyalty around his leader that Sen. Keith Davey was for Mike Pearson and Pierre Trudeau (but not John Turner).

My proprietorial attitude to the Dominion of Canada likely developed in Sunday school through hearing the use of “dominion” in Bible verses such as: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” To kids, that conjured up our own expansive geography. “Dominion” meant being in charge within big boundaries.

For several years preceding Smith’s audacity during his single term as MP, probably stimulated by the bilingual sameness in “Air Canada,” there had been a swarm toward using “Canada” as prefix and as suffix to an identity. In short, Chretien may deserve credit or blame for this “Canada” industry.

I recall how I was stupidly astonished in 1972 when Harry Sinden and Allan Eagleson announced the name “Team Canada” for the club made up of Canadians drawn from NHL teams to play against the USSR in an eight-game series for world bragging rights in hockey. I say “stupidly astonished” because I’d been involved in arranging the series as a director of Hockey Canada, a national organization formed in 1969 to improve Canada’s fortunes in world hockey circles, and I had had no idea this was to be the team’s tag.

And yet, just four years later, I too caught the Canada bug in naming a new trophy the “Canada Cup” – actually, a large, heavy, nickel half-maple leaf (donated by Inco). It was for the winner of a quadrennial hockey series, planned and managed by Hockey Canada, between the USSR, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia, the U.S. and Canada.

Somewhat sadly for me – like the “Dominion Day” case – the Canada Cup was discontinued after several grand series. It had come to be seen by the NHL’s president, team owners and managers as too dislocating and costly, and rather at cross-purposes given the rising presence of stars on their rosters from Sweden, Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany, etc.

My indulgent self-regret about “Dominion” has underlined its eclipse by Canada, Canada, Canada. Perhaps the rise was heralded by Chretien’s Air Canada. Certainly it was massively stimulated by the “flag of our own,” sponsored through Parliament by Pearson in 1965, which got a rapid, broad acceptance – one could say from sea to sea and around the world.

The majesty and the complex history symbolized by the Royal Mail and its crest are gone; so are almost all Union Jacks and Red Ensigns (outside Ontario) from our flagpoles; so are phrases significant of world affairs like “Empire” and “Commonwealth,” or the predominance of imperial red on the maps in our school rooms, or God Save the Queen (or King) as our anthem. We seem as puzzled by what the concept of “the Crown” means as American congressmen are with the exploitation for lumber from the forests on our “Crown” lands.

As I maundered on how to close this lament, a somewhat consoling incident popped into my mind. I was sometimes ahead of modernity’s wave.

At university long ago, a senior history professor had given me a failing mark on an essay explaining constitutional developments in the rule of Edward II (1307-1327). The reign of this son of a great warrior king was scarred by baronial frustration at Edward’s reliance and extravagances on male favourites (one of whom, incidentally, was a champion jouster at knightly tournaments). I had dwelt on Edward’s homosexuality as the prime reason for his eventual deposition and horrible death. The rebuke I got was stern and absolute. Whether or not Edward was “unmanly” was irrelevant in the history of the unwritten British constitution.

Times change, eh?
The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2003, SunMedia Corp

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