141, 232, 400… and good times

When I was growing up in Detroit, I looked forward each year to the Freedom Festival — a cross-border celebration that included Canada Day (known in English-speaking Canada as Dominion Day until 1982) and the Fourth of July.

The Bluenose II (in the background, under sail) in Halifax harbor

Some Americans don’t know much about Canada (including how to pronounce “Newfoundland”). Maybe, as Pierre Berton suggested in Why We Act Like Canadians, it’s the lack of a revolution or a civil war. So, for those who missed the 15 minutes spent on Canada during high school, July 1st is the anniversary of the 1867 agreement by Upper Canada (now Ontario), Lower Canada (Québec), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia to form what Sir John A. Macdonald and Viscount Monck wanted to call the Kingdom of Canada.

Back to the border: my parents, two brothers, and I had emigrated from Nova Scotia; Detroit and Windsor were and are filled with other members of the Cape Breton Island diaspora. We’d shuttle back and forth over the bridge or through the tunnel, and day trips to watch the massive fireworks (shot from barges in the Detroit River) were a prelude to our annual summer trip down home.

No quotation marks to set those last two words off– like Hemingway’s Paris, Cape Breton Island is a moveable feast. My dad arrived in the States in 1951, but when he says “down home,” there’s only one place he means. Me, too.

So July 1st takes me back home (as do shortbread, fiddle music, and the sound of waves). And as July 4th approaches, I always think of John Adams, wrong in a small thing but on the mark with the big picture, as he wrote to Abigail:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfire and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

To fill out these three days (July 1st, July 2nd, and today), David Hackett Fischer in today’s New York Times adds the name of Samuel de Champlain, who founded the city of Québec on this day in 1608.

Showing he had his priorities straight, nearly two years earlier he founded l’Ordre du Bon Temps. Whichever holiday you mark, and whenever you mark it, may you like Champlain’s companions be joyful and of good cheer.

Photo of the Bluenose II under sail in Halifax harbor by learningful_rcb.