The "British" Character of Canada

At a time when the forces of so-called political correctness would certainly excoriate, and possibly bring down legal consequences upon the head of anyone maligning another individual or group on the basis of race, colour and so forth, one ethnic group in Canada has continued to remain fair game for mockery. The hypocrisy of such an attitude, and the substantial pride every Canadian should feel in the British aspects of our Dominion, is passionately argued by Editors Arthur Bousfield & Garry Toffoli in their April, 1996 Monarchy Canada article.


Newspaper editors, media commentators, ordinary citizens -- all these and others had a go at venting their outrage over the Government of Canada’s decision reported June 27th 1995 to allow the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Foundation to license and market the image of the RCMP through a commercial firm. The subsequent purchase of exclusive marketing rights of Canadian Mounties by Disney Productions was clearly perceived as government privatisation run amok. Vocal and unanimous as it appeared, however, public outrage failed to change the decision. Although it was said this was not a Disneyfication of the RCMP, the Mickey Mouse jokes at the expense of the force were not quieted when the Mounties, who traditionally lead the Calgary Stampede, were in fact preceded by Mickey Mouse at the 1995 event.


The public indignation showed one thing: Canadians still see certain things as vital to their identity as a country. What after all makes people think of Canada more than the Mountie? If anything is thoroughly Canadian it is the RCMP uniform. At the same time, while they may not have been aware of it, what the angry people protesting the debasement of this part of Canadian identity were doing was defending the "British" character of Canada. For the red coat as much as the Union Jack is the symbol of "British" heritage and tradition. The red uniform was deliberately chosen for the RCMP in 1873 because it was the respected colour of the British army, respected as British not only by Canadian subjects of the Queen but by the First Nations of the West who contrasted it, as a symbol of the British Empire they respected, with the blue coats of the American cavalry, whom they feared and hated. Thoroughly Canadian and basically British: the combination is a reminder of how much of our national heritage and character is in fact "British".


Had the Mounties’ image been defended as part of Canada’s "British" heritage, however, there would have been denials, protests, accusations of colonialism or demands for the removal of this "foreign" element from Canadian life. Since the 1950s confusion, misunderstanding and plain lies have surrounded the "British" character of Canada. For thirty years Canadians have been taught to neglect, ignore, forget, reject, debase, suppress, even hate and certainly treat as foreign what their parents and grandparents, whether spiritual or blood, regarded as the basis of Canadian nationhood, autonomy and history.


To treat the substance underlying the outward signs of the "British" character of Canada as indigenous while rejecting the symbols themselves is two-faced to say the least. Canadians desperately need to get this matter staight and come to terms with it in order to be a healthy country, to value and strengthen their identity and recover the sense of purpose and mission that they began to abandon in the fifties. If they do not, they will be for ever tearing themselves apart and threatening their culture and very existence as a country.


Just what is "British" about Canada? The easiest way to answer that question would be by listing what is not "British", for almost every Canadian governmental, political and legal institution is of "British" creation or inspiration. Our chief written constitutional document, the Constitution Act 1867 (between 1867 and 1982 known as The British North America Act) proclaims our resolve to have a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom. Canada’s Parliament, her Common Law and Civil Service derive from the United Kingdom. Even Quebec civil law, which is the best known of Canada’s institutional endowments from royal France, is actually the same law that exists in Scotland. Only the concept of Monarchy is part of our "French" as well as "British" character. And the monarchy was the pivotal institution which allowed the introduction and adjustment of the inhabitants of Canada to the other institutions. And even though shared, it too is very much a "British"-style monarchy.


Canada’s "British" character includes not only national institutions but also national attitudes and outlooks. Very important among these is the belief in political evolution as opposed to bloody confrontation (though many Americanised Canadians now actually and publicly lament the fact that Canada did not come into being through a revolutionary bloodbath or murderous civil war). Canadians’ attitudes towards community and public welfare are also of "British" origin. Immigrants to Canada constantly express surprise at how much public work is still done here by people volunteering their time in service clubs, hospitals, organisations such as the Red Cross, St John Ambulance, Boy Scouts, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, militia, committees, boards, trusts and foundations. Canadians owe that to their "British" character.


Canadians are justly proud of their health care system. It owes its origin to the welfare state that came out of British Fabianism and the sense of community fostered by the Monarchy, according to which society is perceived as a kind of extended family rather than just a corporate or social battlefield as in republican philosophy. The story is the same with Canada’s big public (that is Crown) corporations. The CBC was not only modelled on the BBC but had BBC personnel help in its establishment. The same developmemt of social programmes and community -- or publicly -- owned corporations (in which the ownership is symbolically but significantly vested in the Crown) can also be seen in other states based on the British tradition, for example Australia and New Zealand, and developments in this British communitarian sense were obviously not all in one direction. The Bank of England was "socialised" only in 1945 following the creation of the Bank of Canada in 1935, and British Rail and British Airways were developments along the lines of Canadian National (also originally administered by a Briton) and Air Canada.


Privatisation may now be the order of the day, but public broadcasting and public transportation undoubtedly have played a beneficial role in Canada. Other important concepts that are part of our "British" character are the rule of law and the court system (judges in the British tradition, as servants of the Queen, who by definition is devoted to justice among her people, are not elected in politically-motivated contests), loyal opposition (by which you can oppose government measures without being suspected of disloyalty to the state -- "No person shall be deemed to have a seditious intention by reason only that he intends to show that Her Majesty has been mislead or mistaken in her measures", Criminal Code of Canada, Section 60, Revised Statutes of Canada 1985, Chapter 46), and the idea of fair play in public life. (If anyone thinks fair play is inherent in the concept of democracy, that person need only look at the democratic republics of South America to see that it is not.) And with these go the Canadian attitude towards authority and its embodiment in groups such as the police. Unlike Americans, Canadians are not basically hostile to either authority or police -- one reason they do not accept "the right to bear arms" the way Americans do. This attitude has much to do with the long parliamentary tradition of accountability of authority, which was transferred to Canadian soil by Britain. Above all there is the basic general belief that the welfare of the community should come ahead of vested or special interests.


Many British concepts only came to fulfilment here. When Catholicism was a proscribed religion in Great Britain and Ireland, the rights of Roman Catholics in Canada were recognised in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and the Treaty of Paris in 1763 concluded by Britain. Thus the Canadian experience helped develop the "British" concept of religious freedom, which came about concurrently in the two parts of the Empire. On the other hand, those TV "Heritage Minutes" we have all seen give you the impression that Canadians invented the concept of "responsible government", whereas the reformers of 1837 who demanded responsible government made it clear that they were merely asking for what was already operating in Parliament in London. The other "British" concept Canadians should be proud that they helped develop was that of Dominion status -- the method whereby colonial empires could devolve peacefully. (Far from being proud of this, present day Canadians actually suppressed the name of their national holiday, “Dominion Day”, because they pretended it represented colonialism!)


The Canadian Armed Forces, which have earned an enviable reputation in war and peacekeeping, and their traditions are fundamentally based on British models. Canadian ceremonies and holidays such as Boxing Day and the August Civic Holiday (a "bank holiday") are derived from our British roots. Hockey was started by British soldiers based in Canada and the Stanley Cup donated by a British-born governor-general. Canadian football is different from American football because it is closer to its British rugby roots and the Grey Cup was donated by another British-born governor-general. The Peace Tower in Ottawa, a definitive symbol of Canadian government, and the parliament buildings reflect the gothic symbolism of Big Ben and Westminster, equally definitive symbols of the United Kingdom government. They are unique but similar symbols of each country expressing a joint British heritage.


In 1995, the day after running its usual Canada Day hype, the Toronto Star had a page devoted to why people love Canada. There is a lesson in that. You can shout Canada as loudly as possible and paper your walls with maple leaves, but the moment you are required to look at the reason for your devotion to Canada, a great part of what you find to admire and cherish is involved with the "British" character of the country.


The "British" character of Canada has nothing to do with ethnicity. In the days of the Empire, being "British" was a question of allegiance to the Crown. "I am an Englishman (i.e. British subject of the Queen) who speaks French", said Sir George Etienne Cartier.There certainly was never anything essentially racial about it, despite talk about "the British race" at the high point of the Imperial Federation Movement in the second half of the 19th century. Sir John A. Macdonald was both a Scot and a passionate supporter of the mission of Canada as British North America. While famous for his remark that he was born a British subject and would die a British subject, he is reported as having remarked on at least one occasion that he did not intend to be governed by over-washed Englishmen.


Why are some Canadians so hostile to the "British" character of their country? Perhaps one reason is that they think being against Canada as "British" is a way of fuelling Canadian nationalism -- the way the same sentiment fuels American nationalism. They therefore created the myth of British imperialism. According to this, Britain first occupied and later attempted to keep Canada in colonial subjection and ethnic oppression. But can such a notion be squared with the fact that Canada was basically an empty land apart from the scattered Indian nations which were not states in the usual definition of that term? After all Canada was not like India when the British Empire became involved with and eventually ruled that land. India was a populous country with a long history as an empire itself. And can this myth of "British imperialism" be squared with the fact that the British government paid for the defence and much of the settlement of Canada? Canada was not conquered by the British; it was created by the British. Canada could at any time have obtained independence. Colonies after the American Revolution were very unpopular in London, "millstones about our neck" as one British statesman described them. Many politicians in London would have been glad to have them go. All the same London did not abandon Canadians. The British diverted troops to defend the North American provinces in 1812 when they themselves were locked in a life and death struggle with Napoleon on the European continent, where those forces were most needed. The reason that California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas are American, and no longer Spanish or Mexican, while Canada is not American is the 19th Century British Army and Royal Navy. And if the British attemped to keep us in colonial subjection, how can we explain the fact that the people who created the Dominion of Canada in 1867 out of the separate provinces were also enthusiastic about being part of the British Empire? That enthusiasm did not prevent them from conceiving the idea of Canadian nationhood. Nationhood and Empire were really not antithetical. Another factor cited against the "Britishness" of Canada is resentment over the fact that Canadian interests sometimes seemed to be sacrificed to the interests of the Empire to which it belonged. The Alaska Boundary settlement of 1903 comes to mind. But Canada’s chief interest during the 19th century, the thing that was most necessary to its continued existence and growth, was peace with the United States. If Americans had to be occasionally placated by unpalatable territorial adjustments, that was surely in Canada’s best interests. Had war broken out between Canada and the United States, Canada itself might have been annexed fairly easily. Canadian nationalists also tend to forget or deny that the Americans had a very good case and the current boundary of British Columbia and Alaska is probably quite fair.


Nor does the view that Britain was trying to keep Canada in colonial subjection hold water. If it did, how could the Imperial Federation Movement at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century be accounted for? Support for Imperial Federation -- the idea of having a closer-knit Empire with an Imperial Parliament and Cabinet -- had most of its followers in the Dominion of Canada and the colonies of the Empire. Its rejection was by the British public not by the rest of the Empire. Indeed many French Canadians supported Imperial Federation.


There is no logical or even emotional reason for rejecting Canada’s "British" character or for pretending they made a declaration that the sum of British law as of a certain date was the law of the province and in force until the new jurisdiction legally added to or altered it. Magna Carta, the Act of Succession, the Royal Marriages Act are our laws as much as those of the United Kingdom (subject to interpretation of course in light of subsequent legal developments such as the Charter of Rights). No event in Canada has ever suddenly declared that our grandfathers or grandmothers are now foreign. It is immature to behave as though there had been such a break in the continuity of this country. Young people when they grow up and set up their own households do not -- at least young people who are considered normal, balanced and well adjusted -- sever relations with their parents and families and declare them to be foreign.


How fortunate for Canada that it did stay part of the Empire. The question of slavery shows the two courses that could be taken and the advantage of choosing the evolutionary method. Legal grounds for ending slavery were established by the Mansfield decision in Britain in 1772 -- before the American Revolution. After the parting of the ways, the Americans set up a state based on the declared principle that all men were created equal but they continued both the slave trade and slavery. When Simcoe came to Upper Canada in 1792, he was able to have the slave trade prohibited. By 1834 slavery was officially abolished in the British Empire. The United States, despite its written philosophy of the equality of men, had to have a second civil war, in which it killed more of its own people than were ever killed in any foreign war it took part in, before slavery could be abolished. No wonder Canada in the meantime had become the terminus of the underground railway and escaping American slaves could sing (to the tune of Old Susannah):


I heard old Queen Victoria say if we would all
Our native land of slavery and come across the
That she was standing on the shore with arms
extended wide
To give us all a peaceful home beyond the
rolling tide.
Farewell, old master, this is enough for me.
I’m going straight to Canada, where coloured
men are free.


Were we wrong? Are we now going to say that American institutions and attitudes are actually better than the "British" ones we have inherited? Would we have been wiser to have adopted them instead? The basic economic success of the United States has blinded admirers of it to its extensive failures and faults. Two civil wars (the American Revolution and the War between the States) in two centuries of a country’s existence are not exactly proof of success. In addition, after the second of those civil wars, black Americans were effectively deprived of civil rights for another century. This marginalisation of minorities in the United States is a direct result of its worship of the state and its republican philosophy. At this very moment, a Republican presidential candidate in the United States is saying that he wishes to introduce a law making English the only official language of the country -- a country with a sizeable (10%) Spanish-speaking minority.

Why has the anti-British case been swallowed so easily by many people in Canada? There is no doubt that it has. There are Canadians living today who in the the 1940s or 1950s waved their Union Jacks enthusiastically but now disparage this banner of their history as a “foreign” flag -- and not just foreign in the meaning of outside and benign, but foreign in the sense of hostile and hated. Not long ago in an Ontario community which has a sense of its roots, a community where the population is still largely Anglo-Celtic ethnically, and where the city hall flies the Union Jack together with the National Flag, a passerby entered the city hall and demanded that “that foreign flag” be taken down. Cowed by his vehement attitude, city officals removed it, only to experience protests from the community as soon as its absence was noted until they put it back.


What has been the result of downplaying or rejecting legitimate pride in Canada’s "British" heritage? There can be little doubt that it has caused a general weakening of the country. For one thing Canadians are no longer allowed to feel proud of the only history they have. They cannot draw upon the great figures of their past for strength and inspiration. Brock or Macdonald or Salaberry are now not considered to be real Canadians either because they were not born here or because they belonged to one of the “occupying powers”, e.g. Britain or France. Who could today sing the Canadian words about the Battle of Queenston Heights written for the tune The British Grenadiers without being made to feel embarrassed and awkward?


Upon the Heights of Queenston one dark Octo-
ber day,
Invading foes were marshalled in battle’s
dread array.
Brave Brock looked up the rugged steep and
planned a bold attack;
"No foreign flag shall float," said he, "above
the Union Jack!"


His loyal-hearted soldiers were ready every-
Their foes were thrice their number, but duty
must be done.
They started up the fire-swept hill with loud,
resounding cheers
While Brock’s inspiring voice rang out "Push
on, York Volunteers!"


But soon a fatal bullet pierced through his
manly breast,
And loyal friends to help him around the hero
"Push on" said he, "do not mind me", and ere
the set of sun
Canadians held the rugged steep, the victory
was won.


Each true Canadian soldier laments the death
of Brock;
His country told his story in monumental rock;
And if a foe should e’er invade our land in
future years,
His dying words will guide us still, "Push on
brave volunteers".


One could quote other examples such as "The Maple Leaf Forever" by Alexander Muir. Or "Canadian Born" by Pauline Johnson, the nationalist Mohawk poetess of Canada:


We first saw light in Canada, the land beloved
of God;
We are the pulse of Canada, its marrow and its
And we, the men of Canada, can face the world
and brag
That we were born in Canada beneath the
British flag.


Few of us have the blood of kings, few are of
courtly birth,
But few are vagabonds or rogues of doubtful
name and worth;
And all have one credential that entitles us to
brag -
That we were born in Canada beneath the
British flag.


We’ve yet to make our money, we’ve yet to
make our fame,
But we have gold and glory in our clean colo-
nial name;
And every man’s a millionaire if only he can
That he was born in Canada beneath the
British flag.


No title and no coronet is half so proudly worn
As that which we inherited as men Canadian
We count no man so noble as the one who
makes the brag
That he was born in Canada beneath the
British flag.


The Dutch may have their Holland, the
Spaniard have his Spain,
The Yankee to the south of us must south of us


For not a man dare lift a hand against the men
who brag
That they were born in Canada beneath the
British flag.


But of course the British flag does still fly over Canada, whether in the form of the six provincial flags that incorporate all or parts of the Royal Union Flag, or in the Royal Arms of Canada, where the Royal Union Banner is held by one of the supporters. Even the Maple Leaf flag itself with its colours derived from the Canadian Royal Arms and through its creation by the “British” parliamentary process of joint resolution of Commons and Senate, executive action and proclamation by the Queen is a product of our "British" heritage. There is no valid reason we should not be able to regard something such as "Upon the Heights of Queenston" as a perfectly legitimate expression of Canadian patriotism, as an inspiration and statement of our Canadian purpose. Any viable country must have a past or be weak and ephemeral as a result.


The writer and political theorist John Farthing pointed out a dilemma for those who deny our “British” heritage: "... if one assumes that the words Canadian and British have no meaning beyond a reference first to geography and second to governmental power, then it is not only possible but quite inevitable that one should interpret our past and present as our nationalists now do; but note that in depriving the word British of any further meaning we are exerting a like effect on the meaning of the word Canadian also. We are assuming that it not only has, but can have, no further meaning than that which identifies inhabitants of a certain terrain who have now full control of their own government."


Yet even when faced with the separatist threat to Confederation it is clearly not politically correct to evoke our glorious past. A past that not only shows co-operation of English and French Canada but really refutes the arguments of separatists. Instead, this history is suppressed or subjected to blatant revisionism based on ideology. Consequently it is soon forgotten as something alive for the public, despite the countless museums and restored historic sites across the land that bear silent witness to its truth. Any treatment of the Canadian past on TV or in film now talks about "British" and "Canadians" as if they they were not the same, whereas being Canadian was then regarded as part of being "British", just as being Welsh is part of being present-day "British".


Any viable country has to have a past. The United States certainly does. American patriotism of today is firmly grounded in the events of 220 years ago, the American Revolution. It is said that Americans continue to elect George Washington as President every four years! Ignoring or rejecting that past would call their existence as a country into question.


The "Britishness" of Canada was a kind of underlying philosophy for Canada. It was never an ideology. Disappearance of this philosophy has weakened the resolve of Canada. Undoubtedly some snobbery on Canada’s part was involved in thus dismissing its "British" character. When the Empire disappeared and the United Kingdom declined as a great power, the advantages of "Britishness" were not so obviously important in terms of global politics. But to apply this to Canada’s essential nature was a mistake. For Canadians who have no interest in them can avoid the many English-style pubs that have sprung up across the land, just as they can keep away from Ukrainian dancing or Italian food or any of the other things the various ethnic groups have endowed Canada with. But no Canadian can escape daily contact with the institutions and attitudes with which Canada was endowed through its "British" origin.


Rejecting its "British" character has also weakened Canada vis a vis the United States. If you travel in the province of Ontario you notice that whereas you once used to see Union Jacks here and there, you now see in place of them United States flags flying with the Maple Leaf flag (sometimes even ahead of it, occasionally by themselves). The Separatist Declaration produced before the referendum begins "We the people of Quebec". What could be more colonial-minded than such an obvious, slavish imitation of the American Declaration of Independence? And in the very name of Quebec identity and self-determination! Those who listened to Lucien Bouchard’s speech on referendum night heard him say "Two hundred years ago we gave ourselves democracy". What does he mean "we gave ourselves"? The first representative assembly in Quebec was created under the Constitution Act of 1791, an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament. Certainly Quebecers took to parliamentary government like a duck to water, but they did not originate it or give it to themselves. They got it from the Crown (George III took a close personal interest in the framing of the Act of 1791). Prior to that, under the French Crown, they had no representative institutions at all. (The French monarchy was an authoritarian -- though it should be emphasised also a benign -- monarchy, not a limited kind with parliamentary institutions.) Bouchard’s statement was simply not true. Distorted history of this kind makes very effective propaganda. If Canada had not abandoned its awareness and pride in its "British" character, this slippery politician could not have got away with such a big lie.


Nor are such distortions confined to Quebec leaders. In a recent issue of Maclean’s, Peter Newman, one of the self-appointed gurus of English Canada, called for the abolition of the Monarchy . We "should name our own head of state", he said, "who would reflect our own, instead of imported, values". Get rid of the Monarchy because it is foreign and keep our own values? What are our own values? Parliament, the rule of law, putting the public welfare ahead of individual greed? But as has been pointed out, they all came from Britain. How could we deceive ourselves by thinking that the Monarchy was foreign but everything else (including Canadians?) sprang ready-made out of the Canadian shield or the prairies?


Rejecting Canada’s "Britishness" has left a vacuum. What is filling that vacuum can easily be seen. "We the people of Quebec" says it all. The vacuum is being filled with ideas that are contrary to the traditional ones held by Canadians. Sovereignty in Canada has never been vested in the people. Canada has had democracy married to royal authority. The moment you adopt a different concept you run into trouble worse than you are purporting to correct. How could separatists claim to be "the people of Quebec"? Even if they won a referendum they could only claim to be a majority of the people. But the fact that they have adopted this republican idea by which they could claim to be the people tells you something about what fate the minority in an independent Quebec could expect.


Other concepts moving in to fill the vacuum are worship of the land and an ideology of Canadianism. For a country whose geographical lines run north and south rather than east and west, worshipping the land may prove to be a time bomb rather than an possible alternative. Canadians certainly love the land, but they love their own piece of it -- a Newfoundlander loves Newfoundland, a British Columbian British Columbia. The ideology of Canadianism includes the pretence that Canada has suddenly become multicultural and therefore its "British" character must be supressed in the interest of justice and fair play towards the new groups ("British" ideals by the way). Canada however has always been multicultural with native peoples, French-Canadians, German-speaking Loyalists, Gaelic-speaking immigrants from the United Kingdom and others.


So far these intended replacements of Canada’s traditions have not been a success. Repeating the word Canada over and over again like a mind-purifying mantra and plastering the flag everywhere have not noticeably brought about a greater sense of national unity or national purpose. The Maple Leaf flag was chosen because it had no symbols of either our "British" character or our "French" heritage. But the National Flag has now been burned in the streets of Montreal. What it has become is entirely different from what it was intended to be. It has in fact been adopted as the symbol of English Canada and thereby has enhanced the "them" and "us" polarisation in the country. Quebecers are now symbolised by the fleur de lys flag and English Canada by the National Flag.


If you start playing games with history and pretending something is or was so when it was the contrary, the logic of history catches you out. English-Canadian nationalists who were so eager to sweep the British Empire under the carpet and gleefully fanned the flames of the nationalism that led to its dissolution are now aghast when national groups within the Canadian Empire, e.g. French Canada or the Indian peoples, make similar claims for self-determination.


What is the connection of all this with the Monarchy? Anyone doing media interviews on the Crown or taking part in radio phone-in shows quickly becomes used to the arguments used by opponents of the Monarchy. Some people will always believe that Canada pays money to keep the Queen and Royal Family in luxury despite the fact that this is entirely untrue. Others claim monarchy by nature imposes a rigid class system -- even though Canada is a monarchy and has not or ever has had such a system. Recurrent as they are, none of these arguments will ever really convince the Canadian public to oppose the Crown. The only one that does any damage because it is a broader, subtler and more plausible notion is the idea that because the Crown is "British" in origin it is somehow foreign and ought to be removed.


But if the Queen and the Monarchy are foreign because they are British, so are Parliament, the Common Law and the English language. What the English language makes people think of first is not Canada but either the United States or the United Kingdom. You could not carry on a conversation using only the words that the Canadian experience has contributed to the English language. It is a cultural symbol as much as the Crown and is also shared with other countries. (The same argument would of course logically have to be applied to the French language as well. Because it is "French" it would also have to be looked upon as foreign.) Of course we know all these things are not foreign, they are Canadian. They all came to be Canadian in the same way -- by being brought here by settlers who became Canadian and by being rooted here and having functioned here for generations. No one can come along and suddenly declare something foreign when it patently is not. If some one does, that person’s motives should be looked at closely because they are likely to be grounded in ethnic hatred or prejudice.


Once the "British" character of Canada is understood, then arguments on that score against the Monarchy simply fall to pieces. People see how they got the Monarchy and realise that it came to them out of their own history and is tied up with the sense of purpose Canada as a separate country posesses.


What then should be the attitude of Canada and Canadians in 1996 towards their "British" character? First there should be realisation of the fact that the "British" character of Canada is not an ethnic heritage. It is the heritage of all Canadians whether born here or not. That is the reason attempts to support the "British" character of Canada on an ethnic basis have always been a failure. It is also the reason that the argument that Canada's "Britishness" will disappear as the percentage of Canadians of non-British background increases is simply not true. (And it is well that the "British" character is not an ethnic heritage, or Canada would be seen to contain some of the most racist people in the world, judging from the bigotry, prejudice and slurs that are regularly directed against that "Britishness".)


Slovenian-born Aloysius Ambrozic, Archbishop of Toronto, the largest Roman Catholic diocese in Canada, once noted that although Toronto has become multicultural, its fundamentally "British" character has remained and will continue unchanged because communities as a rule retain their initial identity. The Archbishop felt that that "British" character was a good character and Torontonians benefited from it.


Acknowledging and being proud of the "British" character of Canada in no way keeps us from being ourselves because it is a large percentage of what we actually are at this very moment. Accepting the "British" character of Canada does not mean that Canadians should go around saying that they are “British” or founding nostalgic societies to lament the passing of the Empire. They should not however let "pure-Canada" proponents get away with the untruths they keep telling. Nor does it mean that we should talk about our "British" Monarchy instead of our Canadian one or simply our Monarchy. Of course not. But it does mean being aware of the fact that this character is the foundation and most important factor in the existence and development of Canada -- and that such recognition involves no ethnic superiority or corresponding subservience whatever.


Unless Canada changes to the point where it is no longer recognisable, its "British" character will always be the single most important element of its composition. Ethnic groups that join the Canadian family have the right -- indeed the obligation -- to add whatever they can to the riches of the country from the abundant store of their own cultural heritage. What they do not have the right to do is take away any part of the Canada that has, in the Queen’s words, extended to them the gentle invitation of citizenship. Since Canadians are not racists and easily inter-marry with the many people of other ethnic or racial origins who make their homes in Canada, more and more new Canadians will as time goes on actually acquire British ancestors by blood, in the same way that the families of British settlers in Canada over two hundred years acquired French ancestors. Though it is not necessary for them to have such a blood link in order to be inheritors and benefit from Canada’s "British" heritage, they will most likely eventually have the link of blood as well as that of spirit.


We must come to terms with the question of our "British" character. If we do not, it will, like all such ingrained things, come back to haunt us in some unexpected way. And ignoring or reviling it is not coming to terms with it. Once the "British" character of Canada is properly understood and accepted, then arguments on that score against the Monarchy are shown to be the unnatural thing they are. People will see how we got the Monarchy. They will understand that it was not imposed on an already existing country but brought here by the settlers who created Canada, just as all the other institutions we enjoy were. They will then appreciate that in standing on guard for the red-coated Mounties they are in fact cherishing a Canadian development and manifestation of their "Britishness". And it will be impossible for even the most stupid or malicious individual to say that the Queen and her family are foreigners, since all will see that not only do they come to us out of our own history but that they are also linked "forever" -- the word is Sir John A. Macdonald’s -- to the sense of purpose that underlies Canada.