Why Canada's national holiday is no longer Dominion Day

After bringing home Canada's Constitution in 1982, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau wanted July 1 to be known as Canada Day.

Parliament thwarted Pierre Trudeau's goal to call it Canada Day before July 1, 1982

Name change for Canada’s national holiday

40 years ago
Duration 3:02
Dominion Day is no more when July 1 becomes Canada Day in 1982.

For more than a century, every July 1 in Canada was called Dominion Day. 

But after patriating the Canadian Constitution on April 17, 1982, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau wanted to change the name of the national holiday to Canada Day.

As the CBC's Jason Moscovitz reported for The National on July 15, 1982, that didn't happen in time for July 1. 

"The prime minister didn't make the speech he planned; he didn't make any speech at all," Moscovitz said as the camera showed Trudeau lighting a torch from the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill on July 1.

That was because negotiations with the Official Opposition "broke down" in June, said Moscovitz. 

A late-night session in the House of Commons on June 22 failed to get the bill passed.

According to the Globe and Mail, a "procedural squabble" led the Progressive Conservatives to "storm out" of the session. 

Moscovitz said while the NDP supported the bill, the party was not in favour of how the government was trying to get it passed.

"Madam Speaker, I think in the absence of the Official Opposition that would not be an appropriate move this evening," said NDP House leader Ian Deans. 

July 1 came and went, but the government didn't give up trying to make Canada Day happen.

'Dominion Day became Canada Day in five minutes'

Man with torch in front of Parliament in Ottawa in 1982
Pierre Trudeau lights a torch from the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill on July 1, 1982. (The National/CBC Archives)

July 9, 1982, was a Friday and, Moscovitz said, a "very hot" day. Fewer than 20 MPs were in the House, and it was "very late" when the Liberals introduced a private member's bill amending the Holidays Act.

"The bill was passed. Dominion Day became Canada Day in five minutes," Moscovitz said. "The few Tories in the House allowed it to go through."

That night during a speech in Kingston, Ont., Trudeau made an announcement.

"The national Holidays Act was changed so that the first of July forevermore would be called Canada Day," he said. A loud cheer went up from the crowd.

Moscovitz said the following Monday, July 12, the Tories who missed the vote "complained loud and long."

Deputy whip Gordon Taylor said it was a "sneaky, arrogant way of governing the country." 

The bill that passed was just three paragraphs long compared to three pages for the original bill, said Moscovitz. And, he added, some senators hinted they might send it back to the House for amendments.

According to the Globe and Mail, 44 senators voted in favour of the bill at the end of October 1982, allowing it to become law. 

Crowd with banner reading Proud to be Canadian Thank you Pierre
One of two banners that were displayed on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont. April 17, 1982 after the signing of a proclamation giving Canada independence from Britain. (Ryan Remoriz/Canadian Press)

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