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Victoria Day and the life and death of traditional Canada

By Mark Wegierski
web posted May 24, 2004

In Canada, Victoria Day (formerly also called Empire Day), falls this year on May 24. Victoria Day is formally celebrated as the "official birthday" of Canada's Sovereign -- as opposed to the Sovereign's natural birthday. If more Canadians were aware of their history, Victoria Day could be a day for remembering the deep British roots of Canada -- especially in regard to the British (and Canadian) Monarchy. (Queen Elizabeth II now officially holds the title of "Queen of Canada" -- among her numerous other titles.) However, the traditional and British roots of Canada have now been mostly forgotten.

Indeed, in the wake of the "Trudeau revolution" -- carried out from 1968-1984 -- Canada's British heritage has been under increasing assault -- from Americanization, French-Canadian and Quebec power, multiculturalism, mass dissimilar immigration, and aboriginal militancy. As British identity atrophies even in Britain, English (or British) Canadian identity is dying along with it. It could be argued that English-speaking Canadian traditionalists and conservatives are now virtually bereft of a country. It is indeed an important question what possible significant symbols and rituals of national allegiance can more traditionally-minded Canadians look to.

It often seems that the tedious, tendentious debates convulsing Canada today are characterized in essence by arguments about how best to "divvy up the loot" -- or increase the size -- of Canada's aggregate economic resources -- and little else. They must certainly appear as distinctly surreal, to those who -- unlike the present-day Canadian ruling classes -- consider themselves advocates of a true cultural pluralism, i.e., of what has been called the "pluriverse" of distinctive peoples and nationalities (such as Poles, Catalans, or Zulus), each with a meaningful, cherished history and vital existence.

The heroic efforts of Canadians during the Boer War, the two World Wars, and the Korean conflict, where their fighting spirit was much praised and appreciated, as at Vimy Ridge and during the Normandy campaign, seemed to have (ironically) only weakened the country, by the loss of its bravest and most courageous men. The English-Canadians of those days certainly did not fight with the image of a multicultural Toronto of the 1990s -- where their male descendants would be subject to formal discrimination in employment, and be the victims of constant jibes in the mass-culture -- in their hearts and minds. Nor, one doubts, even today, would Canadian troops (the overwhelming majority of whom are either English or French) be willing to die for the sake of all of Canada becoming another region of the Third World.

Peter Brimelow has pertinently discussed many of the issues around the construction of the so-called "new Canadian State" in his 1986 book, The Patriot Game. It could be argued that, with the death of the living, breathing body of Canada, the country today is a wholly artificial entity, like Frankenstein's monster, kept supposedly "alive" only by the narrowest economic self-interest, and by massive state subsidies to the aptly-named "cultural industries" (which, incidentally, few today notice is itself a quasi-Stalinist term). Most Canadians would rather shop in America and vacation and retire south of the border, so long as they receive their "Canadian benefits." Proposals for anything approaching real sacrifices -- whether in institutional budgets, or personal lifestyles -- are rarely made, and greeted with derision or evasion in virtually every sector of Canadian society.

With what is probably the most extensive system of bureaucracy and inverted preferment in world-history, any talk of "competitiveness" in Canada is plainly comical. For the past three decades, Canadians have been utterly content in selling primary products and non-renewable natural resources to maintain, for the vast majority of the population, what -- in the context of the planet today, and the rest of human history -- is a grotesquely inflated lifestyle. Indeed, there seems to be nothing to Canada today but the continued maintenance of a high standard of living and the vaunted social programs (especially the healthcare system); and the proclaimed right of anyone living or arriving here to enjoy all these benefits without one iota of responsibilities. There seems to be absolutely no sense of community closeness, of real "ties-that-bind," across the culturally arid vastnesses of Canada. It is, in the words of John Muggeridge, "the impossible country."

However, it could be argued that the ghosts of the old Canada may be discovered -- for those few who still seek them -- in whatever architecture has been saved from the post-Fifties frenzy of development -- splendid churches, the grave buildings of public squares and old universities, traditional homes built in solid style. The Anne of Green Gables stories (recently reprised by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in one of its very few acts of kindness) are an excellent, if very nostalgic -- and, by the measuring stick of contemporary norms, plainly risible -- picture of that lost world. The Royal Canadian Military Institute on University Avenue in Toronto is also a good place for memories. The heterogeneous populations of the megapolitan areas -- with a few rare exceptions -- have no knowledge or affection for the old Canada, in either their hearts or minds. They are effectively dead to the stone and wood relics in their midst, and to whatever old writings, paintings, or other records of the prior period exist. The "discourse" of the old Canada has no meaning for them.

But there is some hope, however slight, that in places like Kingston and London, Ontario; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Fredericton and Saint John, New Brunswick; St. John's, Newfoundland; and Victoria, British Columbia -- as well as in most of the small-towns and countryside -- something of the old Canada survives. And it is almost sure that much more of the old Quebec has endured. Quebec, although effectively secularized, can sustain itself on a proud and haughty nationalism in the mode of Continental Europe, which is probably stronger and more authentic than any traditionalist nationalist sentiments to be currently found in English Canada. The irony, however, is that the mutual conservatisms of Canada and Quebec have largely worked against each other, in Canada's electoral and societal politics, reinforcing progressive drives in both English Canada and Quebec.

With federal election fever currently gripping Canada, it remains to be seen whether the newly reconstituted Conservative Party can mount a significant challenge to the Liberal Party (which continues to be massively driven by the anti-traditional, anti-national, and socially liberal ideas of Pierre Elliott Trudeau) and whether authentic Canadian traditionalism can be given some  honourable place of refuge in the Conservative Party.

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

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