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Happy Canada Day

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Today, July 1, is Canada Day when Canadians celebrate their independent nationhood, which began July 1, 1867.

On this day I thought I could share a few random facts about Canada.

Canada may be the second largest country in the world, but the population of 35 million is slightly smaller than that of California.

The country’s name is derived from Kanata, a St. Lawrence Iroquoian word for village. Canada came into usage after Jacques Cartier’s first voyage into the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1534.

Cartier was not the first European in these waters. Vikings arrived about the year 1000 and established a settlement at the top of Newfoundland’s northern peninsula. The short-lived community at L’Anse aux Meadows witnessed the first European birth in North America when Snorri was born to Thorfin and Gudrid.

Another 500 years passed until Basque whalers arrived on the south coast of Labrador at Red Bay, which took its name from the broken red tiles used to ballast the ships. The ballast was dumped as barrels of whale oil were slung into the holds.

The Basque traded with the local indigenous people, who traded with others. A piece of a Basque iron tool, identified by a makers mark revealed by x-ray examination, was found a few miles northeast of Toronto at a Huron village archaeological dig.

The Mantle site is famous for the piece of metal that takes contact history back to 1530. The discovery lops 50 years off the perceived arrival time of European artifacts around the Great Lakes.

Newfoundland was England’s first overseas colony and the last province to join Canada in 1949. Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed English possession in August 1583, although the cod fishery had been established here decades earlier.

In 1497 John Cabot reported the cod were so thick off the coast they slowed the passage of his ship.

In 1527 a letter sent from the island by John Rut to Henry VIII was likely a North American first.

There are a few Canadian firsts. Paper from wood pulp was developed in 1841 after three years of experimentation by Nova Scotian Charles Fenerty.

Among Canadian inventions you’ll find Standard Time, Kerosene, insulin, the electric cooking oven, the electronic organ, the electron microscope, the IMAX film system, the Blackberry and the snowmobile. Add to this the discovery of stem cells.

There is basketball created by James Naismith of Almonte, Ontario as a winter indoor sport while he was working at the YMCA in Springfield, Mass.

Also, thank us for your greenbacks. The green ink on American currency came from a lab at Montreal’s McGill University in 1857.

Slavery was abolished in Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1793. When the Loyalist regiment Bulter’s Rangers settled in the Niagara region after the American Revolution, there were free men and slaveholders in the ranks.

Unlike the American experience, settlement followed the law into the Canadian west. The North-West Mounted Police, the original name of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, were formed in 1873 to deal with American whiskey traders peddling gut rot booze to Indians living on the Canadian Prairies.

We supposedly have the world’s longest undefended border, which is true if we ignore the sidearms worn by the officers of the Canadian Border Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The International Border, the official name, is 5,525 miles long.

As much as we share a border and the English language, we have different accents and jargon. Yes, I use “eh” for about 30 different purposes.

My vocabulary includes wobbly pop, two-four, pogie, gorby and tool. I have eaten Kraft dinner, Nanaimo bars, Tim Bits, Beaver Tails and jam busters. I don’t drink double-doubles. I have been to Van, The Peg, T.O., but not The Rock.

I have been known to wear a touque. I always wear gitch, never gotch.

Our 301 federal electoral districts are called ridings or constituencies. The largest in Ontario is Kenora at 182,000 square miles with 41,000 voters. A larger area than California

The largest in Canada is Nunavut at 1.17 million square miles and only 17,000 voters. Twice the area of Alaska.

Currently the riding with the longest name is West Vancouver — Sunshine Coast — Sea to Sky Country.

In closing, I want to return to the undefended border to note Canada has been invaded by forces from the United States on more than one occasion.

There was 1775 when General Mongomery and General Arnold attacked Montreal and Quebec City respectively.

The War of 1812; we got the first lick in at Mickinac in 1812, the same year as General Hull’s failed attack from Detroit and American forces crossing the Niagara River to defeat at Queenston Heights.

The year 1813 was active. William Henry Harrison crossed the Detroit River, pursued and defeated General Proctor’s withdrawing army. York (Toronto) was attacked twice and burned on the second. Fort George at the mouth of the Niagara River was taken by an amphibious landing.

Gananoque in 1812 and Brockville in 1813 were raided. Late in 1813 General Wilkinson’s army was defeated at Crysler’s Farm, just weeks after Wade Hampton’s defeat at Chateauguay.

In 1814 Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott crossed the Niagara River for an undecisive campaign.

Later there was the so-called Patriot’s War in 1838 and the Fenian Raids after the Civil War.

The Fenian Raids bring us back to where this column started. They were the final impetus for British North American Colonies to unite as a single nation.

So thank you, America, for kickstarting the drive to create an independent Canada.

Michael Whittaker resides in Bishop’s Mills, Ontario, and is a former member of the Fort La Presentation Association Board of Directors. He currently serves on the association’s marketing committee. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the association.

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