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Rethinking Canada

How our country got its name

On July 1, the citizens of this country will try to celebrate what we call Canada Day, having decided that we were born out of the colonial mist on this day in 1867.

At the same time, we will do so with the ear-ringing verdict issued by our Prime Minister declaring that the majority of Canada’s responsible class of citizens and our forebears are a continent-invading horde of genocidal tax evaders.

That got me to thinking – what does the word Canada mean? And who decided our country should be called by that name?

Firstly, the word Canada is apparently of Huron-Iroquois derivation (kanata) meaning a village or community and was ‘officially’ first used by Jacques Cartier in 1534 in reference to the Iroquois community of Stadacona (later Quebec City).

Secondly, in the mid 1600s, following King Louis XIV taking control of the administration of New France from financially failing trading companies (Crown corporations), Europe’s maritime merchants used the name ‘Canada’ as the popular designation for the colony to distinguish it from the eastern Maritime colonies which they referred to as ‘Acadie’. And the term Canada continued to be used popularly after the British took control and changed the name New France to the Province of Quebec. Then in 1791, the term ‘Canada’ became officially recognized as the Constitutional Act divided the Province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada.

And then came Confederation in 1867. As we all know, this event arose out of a breakdown of money and power sharing between Upper and Lower Canada, while simultaneously there was a crisis over a proposed merger of the Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Sir John A. MacDonald, now reviled by some historical revisionists, then led an Upper and Lower Canada coalition government to talk with the feuding Maritimers about the merits of a union of the British North American colonies to counterbalance the aggressive American Republic.

After three years of debate and negotiations, a political merger was agreed to by all except PEI and a name for the new Confederation of Provinces was needed. Initially it was proposed that Queen Victoria should select the name. That was rejected when it was recalled that she had previously chosen the remote lumber town of Ottawa as Upper and Lower Canada’s capital. The press favoured New Britain, Laurentia or Britannia. The names Acadia, Albertia, Cabotia, Columbia, Canadia and Ursalia (country of bears), among others, were kicked around and out. It was then decided that the two largest provinces would abandon the name Canada and use it to describe the new Confederation and these two would find new names – eventually Ontario and Quebec.

As for what type of country we then were, Lower Canadians (i.e. Quebec) liked the title Kingdom of Canada. The British Foreign Secretary Lord Stanley (of the cup) rejected it as likely to upset the republic-oriented Americans. It is rumoured that a Bible-reading member of the Confederation conference clinched the matter by prophetically quoting Zechariah — "And his dominion shall be from sea even unto sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth". That sealed it – the Dominion of Canada.

What is Canada now, eh?

Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.