Canada Day was named in 1982, to commemorate the last step in the severance of Canada from United Kingdom by making Canada an independent sovereign nation.
Prior to that time, Canada Day was known as “Dominion Day” (also the First of July or July First) when Great Britain established the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867, under the British North American Act. This act declared that the colonies forming the new confederation (comprised New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada) would be “one dominion under the name of Canada.” The Province of Canada was composed of two colonies: Upper Canada, which was English speaking, became Ontario and Lower Canada, which was French speaking, became Quebec.
Although Dominion Day was promulgated as a day of celebration on July 1, 1868, by Governor General (the King’s representative) Lord Monck, the day held little significance for most Canadians who felt they were more British than Canadian. In fact, the holiday was not established by statute until 1879 when it was designated as “Dominion Day.”
With the First World War, when Canadian troops volunteered to help England, a sense of Canadian nationalism emerged. On July 1, 1917, the new center block of the Parliament buildings, which was under construction, was dedicated to the Fathers of the Confederation and to the Canadian soldiers fighting in Europe. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the Confederation.
A decade later, on the Diamond Jubilee of the confederation, the Carillon in the Peace Tower was installed, and they laid the cornerstone of the Confederation Building.
Thirty years were to go by before the government made Dominion Day an annual event celebrated on the front lawns of the Parliament building in Ottawa, Ontario. These were formal ceremonies with speeches by the Governor General and other dignitaries, Trooping of the Colors at noon and at sunset, band concerts and fireworks.
In 1967, her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II attended Canada’s Centennial celebrations. She was present to witness the raising of the new Canadian national flag in front of the Parliament building. The new flag held no suggestion of a link to Great Britain, as had all previous flags. It was a new design, selected from thousands of suggested entries, signifying that Canada was an independent nation.
The centennial celebrations marked a turning point for Dominion Day, introducing a month long event called “Festival Canada” featuring multicultural events, concerts, and parades which were televised across Canada. For the first time, Canadians did not have to travel to Ottawa to see the festivities.
It wasn’t until 1980, however, when the government began providing small grants to provinces, territories and municipalities, that interest was sparked in having local celebrations on Dominion Day and July 1st had a more personal impact upon Canadians. Communities could create their own unique celebrations that reflected their heritage. Dominion Day parades, sporting and dance competitions, musical entertainment and fireworks have become part of Canada’s traditions.
Windsor, Ontario, for example, annually celebrates July 1st and July 4th with its American neighbor, Detroit, Michigan, with spectacular fireworks displays across Lake Erie.
Nova Scotia holds annual festivities from July 1st through July 8th with an International Tattoo similar to the annual Tattoo in Edinburgh, Scotland, reflecting Nova Scotia’s Scottish heritage. The festival features Scottish food, dancing, music, and games. Entertainment includes military marching bands, skirling bagpipes, and the Trooping of Colors. For those few days, everyone in Nova Scotia is a Scot.
They achieved the separation of Canada from Great Britain in stages, rather than as a single date. Independence came through acts of Parliament, rather than rebellion, the first being the formation of the confederacy in 1867 and the last following the adoption of the Canada Act in 1982. In 1982, they changed Dominion Day to Canada Day.