Canada is the greatest country in the world. We have beautiful mountains, rolling plains, clean rivers and pristine lakes. Our people are some of the kindest, most generous on the globe. We’ve also made a fair dent in the history books, and the international community is finally starting to view Canada as a real player on the world stage.
When you think about it, it’s really a wonder Canada ever became a country at all.
“The fact that such a huge country with such a small population stretching across three oceans actually manages to exist at all and to work is nothing short of remarkable,” said James Opp, associate professor with Carleton University’s department of history. “The fact that it’s rich in multiculturalism and bilingual to boot is even more interesting.”
Canada has been known as a peacekeeping nation, a mediator in conflicts, the home of hockey and rich in spirit and joir de vivre.
“Canada serves as a model federation for other countries, the notion of a kind of tolerant, level democracy,” he said.
Looking back on our intricate history, here are 10 moments that helped define the country and the people we are today, put together with the help of professor Opp and Sun staff.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge April 9, 1917:
Canada was getting dragged into the First World War whether they liked it or not, clinging to the coattails of the British empire. But at Vimy Ridge, Canadians got a real chance to show their mettle. With a brutal snowstorm raging overhead, 100,000 Canadian troops rushed and overcame the German forces, capturing the ridge and allowing French forces to catch the nearby town of Aisne under-defended. It was a pivotal moment for Canadian nationalism.
Universal health care:
The debate over offering Medicare to every Canadian citizen was a fiery one in 1960. Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas believed every province owed their residents a basic level of care and fought tooth and nail to make that happen. But doctors were up in arms over the thought of being under government control and went on strike for 23 days as the province was thrown into disarray. But at long last, the protest caved, and as Douglas went on to lead the newly formed NDP, within 10 years every other province adopted the same model.
Discovery of Insulin, 1922:
Before insulin, getting diabetes could often mean a death sentence. But in 1920, Dr. Frederick Banting, an unknown in his field, thought he’d found the cure to diabetes. And it all revolved around a dog’s pancreas. Working out of a tiny lab, Banning and his assistant Charles Best removed the pancreas from dogs, and when they got diabetes, they injected the dog’s own ground up pancreas to treat the disease. Seriously.
Their blood sugar dropped, and a treatment was born. After years of testing, they perfected a formula, winning a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.
Who’d ever believe that a bunch of aging politicians with wicked chops and exaggerated curls could ever actually accomplish much? But lo and behold, this merry band of men (sorry gals, your part comes later) managed to form the federal Dominion of Canada on July 1, now our great nation’s birthday. Ontario and Quebec were formed and united with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. But bitter bickering would mean our country as we know it today wouldn’t be finalized until Newfoundland joined in 1949.
Terry Fox, 1980:
If Canada has one gleaming hero, it must be Terry Fox. No other Canadian — man or woman — so captivated a nation. “He sparked an imagination of what is possible,” said Opp. “It’s connected to that sense of conquering geography to conquer a disease.” He ran 5,733 km in 143 days on one leg during his Marathon of Hope before cancer finally claimed him. But his legacy has raised more than $500 million for cancer research and he continues to be a beacon of inspiration for all Canadians.
Gender equality wasn’t always top-of-mind in Canada’s founding years. After all, there were wars to fight, lands to explore. And while women who owned property were allowed to cast a ballot as early as 1925, it wasn’t until 1951 that any woman was allowed to vote and enter as an election candidate. And that was only because of the thousands of women who fought for women’s suffrage, just a short few years before women started burning their bras in the U.S.
Second World War:
Finally a card-carrying member of the Big Boys’ Club, Canada made its own decision to join the Second World War decimating much of Europe. Canada showed its allies they were a force to be reckoned with, gaining respect across the globe.
2002 women’s hockey gold:
Hockey at the Olympic Games in Utah was a tale of two bitter rivalries. The Americans and Canucks were in a brutal battle to capture the top of the podium. While the men won their own gold medal that year, the true test of Canadian spirit played out on the women’s rink. After rolling through much of the round robin, Canada was pitched against their arch-rivals from the USA in the gold medal game. The U.S. had beaten Canada in the last eight consecutive games they played, and their odds seemed slim. But a historic goal by Jayna Hefford rocketed the team to the top of the podium and gave a boost to the men’s team, who clinched their own gold.
Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982:
Pierre Elliot Trudeau may be the first politician to publicly hurl an F-bomb at a fellow MP (Look up the fuddle duddle incident), but he’s also credited for penning the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which granted greater political and civil rights to all Canadians and paved the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005.
Paul Henderson, 1972 Summit Series:
Played out during the height of the Cold War, the 1972 Summit Series was much more than a contest between the world’s two greatest hockey nations. It was a battle of wills, a contest for supremacy, pitching Western mores and values against those of Communist Russia. Canadian cities virtually shut down to catch the games, and 50 million viewers tuned in back in Russia. Paul Henderson became a national icon when he scored the winning goals in the sixth and seventh games, finally scoring the last goal with 34 seconds left in the final game of the intense series.
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