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Canada 150: A toast from political scientist Rob Vipond

A toast to “our dear, dear Canada — that cold country with a warm heart”

Professor Rob Vipond of the Department of Political Science gave this toast at a gathering of colleagues, friends and fellow editors of the forthcoming Roads to Confederation, The Making of Canada, 1867 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the grant of royal assent to the British North America Act, 1867.

Professor Rob Vipond of the Department of Political Science.


My great-great uncle was a man by the name of James Alexander Macdonald, who served as editor in chief of the Toronto Globe from 1903 to 1915. He was a stirring Presbyterian preacher, fancied himself what we would now call a public intellectual, and was the author of several well-known books on public affairs, the most important of which were Democracy and the Nations and The North American Idea.

His family, which is my mother’s family, was Scottish by origin and had been forced from the Highlands, in his words, “to make room for the landlord’s sheep and for the Duke’s big-horned stag.” The Macdonalds left Inverness-shire in the early 1770s, found themselves in the midst of the American Revolution in North Carolina, and ended up, on the rebound, first in Nova Scotia then in Upper Canada.

This family story seems to have framed his political views. The Old World his family had been forced to leave was defined, he argued, “by autocrats and despots and the war lords and all that damning system of militarism that has cursed Europe for two thousand years.” Canada, on the other hand, was based on an Idea the idea that a nation-state could achieve self-government peacefully, without going to war, dedicated to “ideals of freedom and principles of justice.” As he put it pithily, North America was “Europe’s second chance.”

Truth be told, Canada has not always lived up to these ideals when indigenous peoples were displaced, when head taxes were imposed, when those trying to escape what became a Holocaust were turned away, and when fellow citizens were interned. But through it all, Canada has remained a beacon for those who, under many and different circumstances, have looked to make a better life for themselves here. They represent Canada’s second chance.

My daughter is one such immigrant. She arrived here in 2002 at the tender age of 9 months. Now 15, she describes herself as a Jewish, Chinese, feminist Canadian  who  wears socks emblazoned with Union Jacks and who does Irish dancing on the side. Her favourite season is winter, and when I asked her recently what she likes best about Canada, she answered:  “it’s pretty progressive.” No doubt there:  She knows what it means to be Canadian.

This description put me in mind of a recent article in The Guardian, which profiled a cluster of Syrian refugee families who have found new homes in Yellowknife. The article, not surprisingly, focused on the difficulties faced by families used to torrid heat in adapting to an arctic winter. Yet the Syrians were extraordinarily upbeat. As one put it, “It’s not warm in weather, but it’s warm in emotions.” Here, I submit, lies the essence of Canada.

So I wish to propose a toast to our dear, dear Canada that cold country with a warm heart. May you shelter us from the cold of winter and kindle the warmth in our hearts for another 150 years.

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