Canadian History: Pride and Adversity
On July 1st, 1867, a new country was born. From then on, she has been through moments of glory, pride and warmth, and moments of darkness, defeat and helplessness. All these moments have made Canada the nation as it is. A nation’s identity is not only forged in moments of victory, but also is defined in moments of adversity. There are no historical events that better formed the Canadian national identity than Vimy Ridge, or the October Crisis. There is a common saying:” Nations are made in war. According to many, Vimy Ridge was the first time when Canadians really felt a sense of national identity. Just like the famous comment made by Brigadier General Alex Cross “It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought …that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation. ” The Ridge was a key position of the German defence system in northern France. Here the four divisions of the Canadian advanced side by side for the first time.
Here the young volunteers from across the nation trained and fought as “Canadians”, not just a part of the Empire. Here the commanders invented the “rolling barrage”. Here a full-scale replica of the battlefield was built and the soldiers trained day and night. At Vimy Ridge, the Canadians captured more ground and prisoners than any previous British attack. However, the battle at Vimy came at a high cost: the 16,000 casualties brought devastation to home while victory was celebrated and the conscription debate shook the fragile unity in the country.
Anyway, Vimy Ridge showed that although Canada has never had a huge army or talked about patriotism all the time, her people can fight, and fight well when they need to. In the fall of 1970, Canadians underwent their biggest crisis in peacetime. A radical Quebec separatist group, the Fronte de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ), kidnapped British trade commissioner James Cross from his residence in Montreal. The FLQ demanded the release of “political prisoners” and that their manifesto to be read on national television.
While the provincial and federal government considered granting these requests, another group of abductors kidnapped Quebec cabinet minister, Pierre Laporte. The two abductions aroused fear nationwide. The Trudeau government realised that compromising was no longer a possibility, and upon the request of the government of Quebec, invoked the War Measures Act on October 16th for the second time in history. This gave the government extraordinary powers to search and arrest without warrants and prolonged detention without charges.
Thousands of armed force rushed into Quebec, and arrested anyone who was connected to the FLQ. It was regarded as taking away the basic civil rights of the people. The terrorists killed Laporte the next day in response. Finally Cross was released and his abductors were trailed and punished by law. Today, the October Crisis and its resolution remains one of the most controversial issues in Canadian history. However, there are reasons why it should not be considered merely a chapter of shame. The people did not become more radical. The crisis did not turn into a national wide conflict.
The people of Canada, no matter they are Francophone or Anglophone, separatists or federalists, loved peace, and abhorred the actions of the FLQ. Canada did not separate, nor did the conflict escalate. The Crisis was resolved, but after years of arguing and two referendums, the problem is still far from settlement. A very important part of the Canadian national identity is bilingualism and biculturalism. There has always been, and always will be this subtle issue of the English-French relationship and this is also what makes this country unique.
French historian and philosopher Ernest Renan said to his students:” Nations are made by doing great things together. ” And Canadians surely have done a lot of them. In France in 1917 and in Quebec in 1970, the Canadian identity was best demonstrated. Canada was proud when the Allies took Vimy Ridge. Canadians should also be proud that they have overcome adversities such as the October Crisis. In moments of victory, a nation’s identity is felt and celebrated. But it is in moments of adversity that it is tested and written into eternity.