The following is an excerpt from the book We Are Canada, recently released through Raincoast Books.
Once upon a time, there was a country. Her name was Canada.
She was cold — very, very cold — but she had a fire in her belly.
For most of history, she was covered in ice. What wasn’t covered in ice was filled with forest. And that’s how she rolled, back and forth, ice age to forest to ice age to forest, until so much water was locked up in her ice that ocean levels fell and her first inhabitants walked across a land bridge to Alaska and down the coast, ten thousand years ago.
And the rest is history. We were taught the history of Canada was a struggle between the English and the French. In fact, we’ve been multicultural from the start.
There were hundreds of vibrant cultures across the country in our First Nations. The first European visitors were the Vikings, who landed each year at the tip of Newfoundland in search of fish, wood and pasture for their sheep, about five hundred years before the English or French even set foot on Canada.
It was the Portuguese who named Labrador.
Later, while the French and English were settling central Canada, we had other visitors. In the West, Russians travelled down from Alaska, while the Spanish made their way up the coast from their colonies in Mexico. Americans crossed the border and began settling in the prairies, along with religiously persecuted Europeans.
From the beginning, Canada was a veritable soup of cultures and nationalities. It would turn out to be our greatest strength.
When we tell Canada’s history, we work from right to left. It’s as though nothing happened in the West until after the French and English worked things out in the middle. But the story that Canada had only two founding peoples is a myth.
Why does that myth endure?
How does a nation that doesn’t know its own history survive?