Alex Beam

Happy birthday, Canada!

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 20: Fans enter the arena for the Canada to take on USA during the World Cup of Hockey at the Air Canada Center on September 20, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

North of the 49th parallel, Canada has started celebrating its 150th birthday with great fanfare. For instance, their mint has stamped out a new version of the “toonie,” Canada’s rapidly depreciating $2 coin, counterpart to the “loonie,” Canada’s rapidly depreciating $1 coin.

The loonie has a picture of loon, while the new coin bears images of a canoe and a lot of fir trees, which is sort of Canada in a nutshell.

The official “Canada 150” website has a delightfully dopey “On This Day” feature, which will run throughout the year. On Jan. 5, 1967, we are told, “American folk singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester avoids the draft during the Vietnam War by crossing the border and settling in Canada. In August 1970, his song ‘Yankee Lady’ will reach number 13 on the Canadian popular music charts.”


Soon afterwards, Winchester became a Canadian citizen.

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Some predictable grousing attends the festivities. “It is a fake anniversary,” Toronto Post columnist Joseph Brean has warned, quite correctly. The vagaries of Canadian history are hard to parse. Depending on who is counting, Snow Mexico is either 150, 35, or 18 years old.

One-hundred-fifty years ago, four provinces — Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick – merged to form the Dominion of Canada, part of the British Commonwealth. That accounts for only about one-third of present-day Canada.

Thirty-five years ago, the glamorous Pierre Trudeau, father of Canada’s current glamorous prime minister, Justin Trudeau, finally repatriated the country’s Constitution from London, which had reserved the right to approve amendments to Canada’s charter. In 1999, Canada became what we now call Canada when it incorporated Nunavut as a new territory governed by the indigenous Inuit. So some party poopers argue that Canada is 18 years old at best.

The barely week-old anniversary has engendered some un-Canadian grumpiness. Nineteen-year-old Ariana Cuvin , a digital arts student who won a contest to design the logo for the mouth-filling sesquicentennial, got some heat for her beautiful, albeit amateur, creation.


Mark Busse, managing director of a Vancouver design firm, told the Ottawa Citizen that Cuvin’s design “meets the minimum criteria of a usable logo.” By relying on a student contest to select the logo, Busse said, the government “basically flipped a double bird at what is arguably one of the most important industries in the emerging knowledge economy.”

More bad vibrations piled up when Prime Minister Trudeau issued a New Year’s Eve message to his countrymen: “Tonight is 150 years in the making, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ring in the New Year together.” Trudeau promptly vanished to an undisclosed Caribbean location (it turned out to be the Bahamas), leaving Canadians to celebrate together without him.

Trudeau did record a video message before he left, hailing his administration’s accomplishments in gender rights, climate change, and free trade. “I will always stand against the politics of fear and division and focus on what brings us together,” he said.

Trudeau mentioned that “we will soon have an extraordinary woman on our $10 bill” — Viola Desmond, a black businesswoman from Nova Scotia who might be called the Canadian Rosa Parks. Desmond will appear on Canadian currency in 2018, two years before Harriet Tubman shows up on our $20 bill.

Comparisons are odious, but let me be clear: One can always poke fun at Canadians and their overweening, ineffable Canadian-ness. Yet the native land of Mike Myers, John Candy, and Senator Ted Cruz looks more alluring by the minute. Come Jan. 20, it will radiate reasonableness and decency like a shining city on a hill.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.