Archives for posts with tag: Canada Day


10186066The radish had its moment as a symbol of Canada even before the Maple Leaf flag.

The radish is a reliable, tasty quick-growing snack, often the first vegetable in Canadian gardens to be ready to eat by the July 1st national holiday. It is annual proof that we have vanquished winter. Canada Day is celebrated in various, inventive ways, always with the flag with a red leaf on it being waved vigorously. But only once on record did the humble radish ever get any such glory.

For a moment on July 1, 1927 this sidekick at every summer feast reigned supreme.  It was Canada’s Ronald Reagan moment, when Americans chose Hollywood’s most gifted supporting actor to be their president. This was supposed to happen only to maple leaves. Usually the height of a radish’s success is to be carved into something resembling a rose that blossoms when set out on a tray of ice. Joy for a radish is to be nibbled as noisily as possible. 

It happened on the diamond jubilee of Dominion Day ninety years ago. The Spirit of Saint Louis landed in Toronto as Parliament Hill in Ottawa groomed itself to greet guest of honor Charles Lindbergh. Due to miraculous radio technology, Canadians from sea to sea tuned in simultaneously to a nationwide church service with biblical passages selected and read by federal members of Parliament.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles to the northwest, JACK (John Ambrose Campbell Kell), an Ontario farm boy assiduously cultivated into a missionary, was brimming over with patriotism. He wondered how he could create a feeling of joyous belonging in his charges on the Swampy Cree reservation at Oxford House, MB.

He represented a Church that strove to evangelize the ‘Indians’ (as Canadian law called them) and a Government that wanted to make its citizens more homogeneous and had to fulfill treaty obligations. He was preacher, spiritual guide, welfare officer, medical officer, justice of the peace and teacher (if the real one fell sick, as happened, and had to leave the reserve.)

It was a lot for a 29-year-old to handle, but not too much for one energized by good faith and the potential of Canada’s youthfulness, beauty and exuberance. All he needed was a few practical tools:

Proclaiming a holiday

  • JACK gave the men a day off with pay from their work of building a fence around their community garden. When he had arrived at Oxford House he immediately saw the people didn’t have enough to eat yet never grew food in their fertile soil.  They were semi-nomadic hunters who ate meat and baked bannock made from fat and berries. JACK got them to plant four gardens: one for the missionary, one for the teacher, one for the chief and one for the community.

A guest of honor with a connection to royalty  

  • The old guide who had led the Duke of Connaught from Norway House up to York Factory many years ago lived on the reserve. JACK got him to tell the young boys about his adventures and what their lives might be like too.

Educating the Indians in Canadianism

  • ‘Dominion Day’ had to be made relevant to the Indians so they could feel included in this strange thing called ‘Confederation’. JACK told them the word ‘Canada’ was from the Iroquoian word ‘Kanata’, meaning ‘village.’ He reminded them that they were already familiar with the word ‘Dominion’ from Psalms 72: v 8 in the Bible. He told them he dreamed of the day when they would be full citizens of the country and have a vote. (This did not happen until 1960.)

Preaching a Pearsonian vision of Canada’s role

  • JACK told them the Jewish people in the Bible had a vision of what God expected of them. In the same way, Canadians were chosen to show how a nation may be built in peace, righteousness and sincerity. It would be an example of how people of varying religions and races may live together in one nation with tolerance and honor. Nobel peace prize winner Lester Pearson was JACK’s history tutor at the University of Toronto.

Conspicuous shiny, glittering or red objects as symbols

  • Gold ore, not diamonds, lay buried near Oxford House but JACK had an even better idea. The first vegetable of the season had ripened and what was the Indians’ surprise when JACK dug beautiful red radishes out of the soil and gave one to each person. Anyone who really knows radishes knows how good they taste when they don’t get too much sun so aren’t too hot. My old blind Aunt Suzy discovered that if you want them to taste even better, you should eat the wormy ones. Not only that, they are a health food nut’s delight, full of good vitamins and minerals.

O Canada ! If JACK’s story had been revealed in time, what competition the Maple Leaf flag might have had when it was adopted!

Happy 150th anniversary of Confederation this Saturday, Canada!

This and other colorful incidents from Canada’s past are recounted in A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and Kathleen’s Cariole RidePlease press the Home button above to see my archive of blog posts or take a look at or 



  English: Photo by James Ashfield of Canadian a...

The  Charlottetown Conference of 1864 produced the Confederation ofCanada, although its organizers’ goal was to unite just three Maritime provinces with a total population of 700,000.

The hard work, intelligence and debating behind this achievement belong in politics, economics, philosophy, language and history. But the  guests with their own agenda who invited themselves to the party had a lot of fun too.

Those at it were the coalition of Canada East and Canada West (now Ontario and Quebec), New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Each had its own responsible government, two-chamber legislature, elected officials, lieutenant governor, coinage, stamps and customs duties.

These  lighter tidbits are quoted from P.B. Waite’s booklet The Charlottetown Conference, published by the Canadian Historical Association (1963) and accessible on  Library & Archives Canada’s website:

1. The ‘trade’ delegation – 100 Canadians (23 press people, 18 legislators  and 27 others) were invited by the St. John, NB, Board of Trade to make a social visit to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in August, 1864.

“… few Maritimers even knew what a Canadian looked like. And Canadian ignorance of the Maritimes was proverbial.”

2.  A  governing crisis stressed the Canadian coalition in June. They sent a message asking permission to attend a conference on Maritime union that was coming up. They would like to  make proposals for a British North American federal union.

The conference was set to take place on September 1st in Charlottetown, PEI.

This gave the ‘trade’ delegation’s social visit a subtle political purpose too.

3. Getting to know each other

“(The delegation) arrived first at St. John on the steamer from Portland, ME … They were greeted at the wharf — to their amazement — by a huge crowd of about 10,000 people.”

“A fearsome round of entertainment followed. Saturday night, August 6, the Saint John Board of Trade gave an official dinner for the Canadians, the menu of which staggers the imagination of lesser mortals of the twentieth century: a monumental progress through twelve full courses.”

“Monday the Canadians set off up the Saint John river by steamer. That day was a beautiful one, the heat softened by a summer breeze, and the river magnificent with its sumptuous meadows and luminous hills. A military band on board the steamer played airs, and the French Canadians, some quarter of the Canadian party, sang paddling songs in their inimitable style, swinging imaginary paddles on either side of invisible canoes….On their way to Halifax by train from Windsor, NS, the delegates were greeted at Half-Way House by a bunting that read, “Vive les Canadiens“.

“The best party was at the site of Queen Victoria’s father’s house on Bedford Basin, where both McGee of Canada and Howe of Nova Scotia joined in the festivities with a warmth as yet untrammelled by political complications and where sport and speeches, made free with wine, were deftly mingled on a superb August afternoon.”

4. The self-invited  expedition:

“On Monday, August 29 … the Canadian government steamer Queen Victoria sailed from Quebec for Charlottetown. Two-thirds of the Canadian government were aboard, carrying … far-reaching proposals for Confederation.”

5. Days of hard work, fun and success –

(Sept. 1) “The Charlottetown conference was … to discuss Maritime union, so the Canadians were there unofficially (but) within an hour the Canadians were officially invited in”

“That evening the Lieutenant Governor of Prince Edward Island … gave the first formal dinner of the conference to as many of the twenty-three delegates as he could conveniently receive.”

(Sept. 2) “… when the session was over, they all went to W.H. Pope’s house for a grand buffet luncheon … oysters, lobsters and other Island delicacies, all well lubricated with champagne. That evening was a beautiful moonlit one.”

9. (Sept. 3) “… it was to the Queen Victoria .. that the Charlottetown Conference adjourned for lunch … The Canadians had a strong belief then …  in the efficaciousness of good food and plenty of wine to make a party — or a conference — go. The Queen Victoria had come down with cases of champagne in her hold, and there was no stint in their use. At four lunch began. The conference work was over for the week-end, things had gone superbly well and the luncheon rapidly developed a good deal of abandon. Champagne flowed like water, and union talk with it. The occasion took hold of everyone. Champagne and union!”

There was a lot more to come at another conference in Quebec City in October (picture above) but it all worked out rather well.

Happy Birthday, Canada!