As you know, I’m writing this blog because I’m a complete ignoramus about Canadian history who decided to learn more, and to share what I learn along the way. Keep that in mind when I tell you — begging your indulgence here — that it is not clear to me how old Canada is, or why we seem to have settled on this 150 number.
This year, Canada marks 150 years since the three British colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and, well, “Canada,” formed a union in order to collaborate economically and build a railroad. That’s a notable anniversary, but why is it the anniversary?
There are a few other places we could start the clock. We could say Canada is as old as its independence, using the same metric as the United States. In that case we’d turn 35 years old this year, the amount of time it’s been since we’ve had control of our own constitution. If that’s too strict a definition of “independence,” then let’s call it 86 years, the time since Canada’s been able to independently pass its own laws.
Then again, even those landmarks, like Confederation, represent incremental changes to a continuous system of British rule and governing structures that go back 254 years. #Canada254🇨🇦! Hey we suddenly got a lot older!
At this point you’ve no doubt noticed that all of these ages are purely colonial. As long as we’re choosing ages related to colonization, why don’t we recognize the ongoing period of continual European colonization and say Canada is 409?
Or we could pick an age that doesn’t pretend the land called Canada was uninhabited before Europeans arrived. This is still going to be somewhat arbitrary, but if we decide to pick a milestone of human civilization — say, agriculture — then now Canadian civilization can trace its roots back something like 1,300 years, give or take, depending on your source, how strictly you define farming, and how many older archeological discoveries are yet to be made.
As a non-farmer though, I feel compelled to point out that even people who don’t farm are people. So if we push the clock back even further, to encompass all human history in this land we now call Canada, that takes us back… uh, I’m not even sure how exactly to interpret this, but we’re talking at least 14,000 years here, maybe as much as 30,000 years, which is a number too big for you or me to understand, and may as well be forever.
This is more than pedantic. The official government website for Canada 150 invites Canadians to discover “150 years of history,” suggesting that’s how much history Canada has. Such a statement excludes not just precolonial Canada, it even places 250 years of colonial history and another 100 years of European exploration outside the borders of our story.
I don’t have a problem with marking 150 years of Confederation, an important bend in a long, winding river with many tributaries. But 150 is too large a number to mark Canada’s independence, too small to hug the full story of a country of nations that is still incubating. What’s important, I think, is not that we all agree on the same age, but that we recognize the many shifting boundaries we’ve placed on our story, and what each set of boundaries means. Canada is thousands of years old, and it is a day old, and it has not yet been born.