This year Canada Day is more a day for reflection than a day for celebration. But as we acknowledge and come to terms with what must be done to right the dreadful wrongs we must also not lose sight of what has been accomplished in the past 153 years. And we must look forward to a future that does not perpetrate and repeat these heinous acts of the past.
The word for July 1st is: Reparation /ˌrepəˈrāSH(ə)n/: [noun] 1. The making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged. 2. (Archaic) The action of repairing something. There is much work to be done in both the modern and the archaic sense of the word.
It’s not an easy task to escape the fact that Charlottetown is considered the “Cradle of Confederation”. Whither it be the Confederation Players enacting the events of September 1864 or tour bus guides pointing out places of interest that first week of September one hundred and fifty two years ago has a major place in Island history. A month or two ago I told a bit of the oh so Canadian story of the events that led up to the seemingly random founding of my homeland in my new home.
Back in 2009 a, to my mind at least, whimsical bronze of John Alexander Macdonald was installed at the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Row – given his penchant for gin cocktails (if straight gin can be considered a cocktail) a not inappropriate location for the wily old bugger. Seated, legs crossed, his beaver hat beside him, his arm resting nonchalantly on the back of the bench, Michael Halterman‘s statue seems to invite you to have a seat and he’ll confide his plans for a united Canada to you – and probably talk you into agreeing to it.
Macdonald was born January 11, 1815 in Glasgow, Scotland.
In 2014 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Conference three other “Fathers of Confederation” took their place in town. As well as being a PEI delegate at the Conference William Henry Pope was the one man “official” greeting committee when the “observers” from the Province of Canada showed up on the HMS Queen Victoria – you may recall that everyone else had gone off to see a circus of another type that day. And as he did on September 1, 1846 once again, and for the foreseeable future, he sets off from Peakes Quay to extend his welcome.
A week or two after the dedication in Charlottetown a statue (left) by Jules Lasalle, the same sculptor, was unveiled on the waterfront in Québec City of a fourth Father of Confederation. Étienne-Paschal Taché is shown greeting the delegates to the Québec Conference in October of 1864. A gift from PEI it is set in a garden that finds its companion garden – a gift from Québec City – at Confederation Landing in Charlottetown
By odd coincidence two of the delegates from the Maritimes, though not related, shared exactly the same name: John Hamilton Gray. One was from New Brunswick and the other was from PEI. Their presence at the Conference is marked by the work of Nathan Scott, placed – perhaps not just serendipitously – outside the Great George Hotel. There has been a hotel on that location since 1846, and though it had served as a general store for a time by 1864 it had been returned to its original purpose as the Pavilion Hotel. No doubt the two gentlemen would have had a few conversations in the salon of this fashionable Charlottetown watering hole.
There are twenty other “Fathers of Confederation” and I’m wondering how many of them have statues or memorial perhaps in their home towns or province? Given that most Canadians can’t name more than a handful I’m guess not that many.
On August 31, 1864 when the S.S. Queen Victoria, carrying the political elite of the Province of Canada, steamed into Charlottetown harbour there was no one working on the public wharf at the foot of Great George Street. In fact her – and their arrival – went largely unnoted by the good people of PEI. Slaymaker & Nichols’ Olympic Circus was in town – the first visit by a circus to the Island in over twenty years. The lure of the daring feats of the “World’s finest riders, acrobats and clowns” was stronger than a gaggle of politicians in silk hats and beaver coats. Besides the delegation was, so they said, only there as “observers” of a planned conference on a Maritime Union; an event that engendered only slightly more interest in the general populace than their arrival.
A reception committee of one gave welcome – William Henry Pope rowed out to greet them to what became known as the Charlottetown Conference. And when it came time to find accommodation for the gentlemen from the Province of Canada there was no room at the inn – folks into see the circus from across both the Island and the Northumberland Straits had taken every available bed in town. Men who were use to throwing political invective and rhetoric at each other were forced to share close quarters and pleasantries on the Victoria.
Whichever version you feel may best capture the founding of our country – and I prefer Crummy’s – it is an event that is much remarked upon in PEI. Charlottetown is dotted with some fun bronzes of various players in the very Canadian drama (what drama? There you see I said “Canadian” didn’t I?) that led to Confederation. More than one tourist has had their picture taken on Queen Street with Sir John A MacDonald.
Back in 1864 the water would have almost come up to what is now our back door – it is named Water Street for a reason – however today there is a landfill park behind us called Confederation Landing. No doubt so named because the SS Queen Victoria anchored just off shore at that point and it was from nearby Peake’s Wharf that Pope rowed out to offer his welcome.
The area is pleasantly treed and planted – Nora finds it a treasure trove of smells – with an old fashioned boardwalk along the waterfront. In a copse of trees is a metal and ceramic sculpture “Celebration – Then and Now” which has become nicely weathered since it was installed back in 1996. The metal work, commemorating that arrival in 1864, is by Christopher Phillis who also designed the piece; his son Carl Phillis created the ceramics, celebrating the Provinces and Territories crowned by our flag. The senior Phillis was born in England but came to Canada in 1956 and is well known for his metal work; his son is a ceramic artist who features in the collections of many galleries.
By 19th century standards the Charlottetown waterfront of 1864 was fairly typical of any seaport – a bit seedy and ram shackled. Located at the foot of Great George Street, Peake’s Wharf was an maze of shipyards, warehouses, docks, taverns and decidedly not the best area of town. But as it does today Great George Street led the eye up past some no unsubstantial home and Saint Dunstan’s Cathedral (later Basilica) to Province House, the seat of the Island legislature.
Built in 1834 the Cathedral was an English style wooden structure that, though it had none of the impressive grandeur of the stone French-Gothic pile that replaced it in 1908, still dominated the skyline.
(A left click will take you to a slideshow of the panel and a few close-up details including a charming rendering of Province House.)
Built in a Scottish shipyard the S. S. Queen Victoria was launched in 1856 and acquired by the colonial government of Quebec as a tug, mail and provisioning ship. It had an iron hull and operated under a combination of sail and steam. Though given yeomen chores it was seen as elegant enough to serve as transportation for the Prince of Wales during his 1860 visit to Canada. It also saw service as vice-regal transportation for Viscount Monck, the Governor-General of the colony. And of course it served as transportation and accommodation for the delegates from the Province of Canada in September of 1864 but more memorably on that journey it was the site that hosted what many consider the turning point in the Conference.
(And once again a left click will take you to a slideshow for a close up of the delegates and William Henry Pope at his oars.)
Initial talks had prove lacklustre with little interest from the Maritime delegates but then that crafty old bugger Sir John A Macdonald invited everyone to an elaborate champagne luncheon aboard the Queen Victoria. Food was plentiful and bubbly even more so. The events of the day were described in a letter to his wife by George Brown, the Toronto newspaper man and a primary delegate:
“Cartier and I made eloquent speeches – of course – and whether as a result of our eloquence or of the goodness of our champagne, the ice became completely broken, the tongues of the delegates wagged merrily, and the banns of matrimony between all the provinces of B.N.A. having been formally proclaimed and all manner of persons duly warned then and there to speak or forever after hold their tongues – no man appeared to forbid the banns and the union was thereupon formally completed and proclaimed!”
(And once again a left click will take you to a slideshow of the delegates – perhaps leaving Province House at the end of the Conference). I’m a little puzzled and haven’t been able to discover what that round building to one side is.)
The twenty-four “Fathers of Confederation” posed for a picture on the steps of Government House on September 7, 1864 – the final day of the Conference. The gentleman seated on the steps in the centre is (the no doubt at this point smugly satisfied) Sir John A. Macdonald; the gentleman jauntily raising his hat – either to shield his eyes from the sun or in salute to the new country – was the youngest member of the group Andrew Macdonald, a delegate from P.E.I.
Though it was the birthplace of the concept of a united British North America Prince Edward Island got cold feet and was not part of the original Confederation. The 1867 terms of the union were seen as unfavourable and it was not until 1873 that they became a Province of the Dominion of Canada. The first Premier of the new Province was James C Pope, the brother of the man who had greeted the Victoria and her passengers that late August afternoon.
On this day in 1940:The first successful west-to-east navigation of Northwest Passage begins at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
In searching for a video of O Canada to celebrate the day I came across this version from the opening of the Vancouver Paralympics in 2010. I found it one of the more moving versions of our National Anthem. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to convert it and trim out the commercials at the end – despite a morning spent attempting to eliminate everything after 04:41 – so I’ll leave that up to you.
This remarkable performance of our National Anthem was a duet of sorts – it was sung by blind vocalist Terry Kelly from Newfoundland and – though it is not obvious from the video – signed by Mari Klassen from B.C. Truly from Sea to Sea.
We celebrated yesterday at the Embassy with a gathering of Canadians and friends from Rome and today we’ll be celebrating with our good friends Marija, Daryl and their boys Tyler Vuk and Devin Ogi.
Happy Canada Day to all our friends everywhere! Bonne fête Canada!
Well given the sort of winter they’ve been having right across the country I’d have to say: NO!
My friend Kev is spending a few months back home on the West Coast and as he was wandering around Lost Lagoon in Vancouver’s west end yesterday, he took this shot with his IPhone. I hope Vancouverites, who are not use to the ice and snow, see the humour in it all?
Telling the stories of the history of the port of Charlottetown and the marine heritage of Northumberland Strait on Canada's East Coast. Winner of the Heritage Award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and a Heritage Preservation Award from the City of Charlottetown