Inside Politics

Canada Day vs. Dominion Day - What do you call the July 1 holiday?

As we head into the long weekend, consider, if you will, the quintessentially Canadian conundrum that is the July 1st national holiday.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, it shares a date with Memorial Day, which was established long before the province joined Confederation, and honours those lost on what Rick Mercer sums up as "the bloodiest day in Newfoundland history": July 1, 1916, when the Newfoundland Regiment "was wiped out on the battlefield of Beaumont-Hamel France during the Battle of the Somme."

In Quebec, it's Moving Day for the tens of thousands of renters whose leases expire on July 1.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country celebrates Canada Day ... unless, that is, one happens to be among the small but feisty minority that insists on calling it Dominion Day, in open and wilful defiance of C-201, the private members' bill that officially changed the name from the latter to the former, which was passed by the House of Commons under decidedly murky procedural circumstances thirty years ago this month.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

At 4 o'clock on Friday, July 9, 1982, the House of Commons was almost empty. The 13 parliamentarians taking up space in the 282-seat chamber were, by most accounts, half asleep as they began Private Members' Hour. But then one of the more wakeful Liberals noticed the Tory MPs were slow to arrive in the chamber. Someone -- exactly who has never been firmly identified -- remembered Bill C-201, a private member's bill from Hal Herbert, the Liberal MP from Vaudreuil, that had been gathering dust ever since it had received first reading in May of 1980. "An Act to Amend the Holidays Act" proposed to change the name of the July 1 national holiday from "Dominion Day" to "Canada Day."


The whole process took five minutes. The MPs celebrated by declaring an early end to session at 4:05 p.m. "It is only appropriate that, in celebrating our new holiday called Canada Day, we should at least take a holiday of 55 minutes this afternoon," said New Democrat Mark Rose.

UPDATE: Read the Hansard from that day here: Hansard - July 9, 1982
The controversy continued as the bill made its way through the Upper House.

Courtesy of the CBC archives, here's a radio report from October 16, 1982 that includes a quote from retired Senator Eugene Forsey, who fought a valiant, but ultimately unsuccessful battle to preserve the unique Canadianism that was "dominion":

Download Flash Player to view this content.

For more on the history of the July 1 holiday, peruse the official backgrounders for both Dominion Day and Canada Day on the Canadian Heritage website.

UPDATE: Inspired by this post from Canadian Encyclopedia editor in chief James Marsh, I've added Confederation Day as an option. 

(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' replies.)
Comments are closed.