July 1st marks an important day in Canada’s history: It’s the anniversary of our becoming a nation 150 years ago. As we celebrate this milestone by wearing red and white, waving our flags with pride, and spending time enjoying the beautiful land on which we live, let’s reflect on some of the defining moments in Canada’s past. We asked Allison McNamara, our department head in Canadian and World Studies here at VHS, to share with us some of these crucial events in our nation’s history.

1. Confederation, 1867: July 1, 2017 marks 150 years since Confederation, the formal political union of four former colonies turned provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Back then, Canada was much smaller than it is today. What you might not know about Confederation is that Newfoundland did not join Canada until 1949, and Nunavut was created as a separate northern territory in 1999.

Proclamation of Canadian Confederation
Proclamation of Canadian Confederation

2. The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, 1885: While many Canadians see Confederation as the single most important event that unified the provinces from coast to coast to coast, the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 was the physical infrastructure that made the union possible. For example, the promise of a railway was a deciding factor for British Columbia which joined the Dominion in 1871. The completion of the railway did come at a high cost. Historians estimate that approximately 1000 Chinese slave labourers died in the construction of the railroad.   

Canadian Pacific Railway Crew laying tracks (1881)

3. The Halifax explosion: On December 6, 1917, two ships, one loaded with explosives headed for Europe during World War I, collided with one another in the Halifax Harbour. Much of the city was destroyed by the explosion and subsequent tsunami that tore through the harbour. More than 2000 people died, 9000 were injured, and 25000 were left homeless. Some claim the explosion was heard all the way in Prince Edward Island.      

The aftermath of the Halifax Explosion

4. The discovery of insulin, 1922: Dr. Frederick Banting discovered insulin after studying the secretions of hormones in the pancreases of dogs. Banting soon realized that injecting the hormone insulin into a dog lowered glucose levels, effectively treating diabetes.  In 1923, Banting received the Nobel Prize in Medicine. His discovery has saved millions of lives around the world.   

Dr. Frederick Banting

5. The Persons Case, 1929: Officially Edwards v. A.G. of Canada, the Persons Case was a ruling from the Privy Council of Britain that reversed the 1928 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that women were not “persons” and were not eligible to serve in the Senate. The Persons Case provided legal recognition of the equality of women and prevented the denial of their social and political rights.

Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King with the five women whose efforts resulted in the Persons Case, establishing the rights of women to serve in the Senate

6. The creation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), 1936: The Canadian Broadcasting Act was passed in 1936, creating Canada’s first national radio service. Today, more than 4 million Canadians tune in to a wide variety of CBC programming on radio, on television, over the internet, or through mobile apps.  

7. The Great Flag Debate, 1964: In 1964, amid great controversy, the red maple leaf was adopted by Parliament as Canada’s official flag. Prime Minister Pearson campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the maple leaf as the quintessential symbol of Canada. The flag is instantly recognizable world-wide and remains a powerful icon wherever it appears.

8. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982: The Charter of Right and Freedoms is a bill of rights that guarantees basic rights and freedoms for all Canadians. Since its adoption in 1982, the Charter has expanded the rights of minority groups, placed reasonable limits on the investigatory and prosecutorial powers of the state, and provided judicial oversight to the actions of the provincial and federal governments.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

9. Legalization of same-sex marriage, 2005: On February 1, 2005, Bill C-38 legalized marriage between people of the same sex. Canada became the fourth country to legalize same-sex marriages following the Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003), and Spain (2005).

10. Residential Schools Apology, 2008: Only 12 years after the last residential school operated by the Canadian government had closed in 1996, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a long overdue apology from the government of Canada for governments’ support and initiation of residential schools’ programs and the atrocities committed against Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Today, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was created as a result of this apology, is helping to redress historical injustices committed against Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.      

There you have it — 10 defining moments in Canada’s 150 years as a nation!

Wishing a safe and happy Canada Day to all!