Canada’s 150 Party Not For Everybody

Originally published in Shameless Magazine, The Transformation Issue 36, Fall 2017:

Canada’s 150 Party Not For Everybody 

The day before Canada’s 150th birthday, or 150+ years of colonialism as it is also known, I had been reading a lot of different perspectives and thinking about what it means to celebrate 150 years of Canadian history.

I came to the conclusion that this celebration is not for everyone; for many people, 150 years of Canadian history is cause for reflection, for remembrance, for marking perhaps, but certainly not cause for celebration. I tried to come up with my own thoughts and feelings in response, so I wrote this: 

Some Thoughts on Canada 150 …

When my dad and my Polish Jewish grandparents came to Canada they did so fleeing a genocide in Europe. Many relatives didn’t survive, they were sent to concentration camps and murdered; brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. 

My grandparents survived the war by hiding as Christians.

After the war, my dad and grandparents spent some time in a displaced persons camp, before moving to Sweden, and then emigrating to Canada to escape. Canada was a place of refuge and a place to start a new life. But Canada was not welcoming Jewish refugees with open arms—during the war there was a “none is too many” immigration policy. Canada was complicit in the deaths of millions. If those policies had been different, many more people could have been saved.

Though my grandparents were among the lucky ones to have survived, to have escaped the genocide in Europe; a genocide was also happening in Canada. No marking of Canada’s history would be proper without acknowledging that Canada has been built on the oppression of Indigenous Nations and dispossession of their lands and resources, and more importantly that this oppression and dispossession still continues today. 

Maybe when that colonial mindset and exploitation comes to an end, it will be easier for Indigenous peoples to also join the party. Until then I don’t think the marking of Canada’s history can be cause for celebration for many people, any more than my Jewish grandparents would find cause to celebrate German or Polish history—any day marking such an occasion would be cause for remembering those who they had lost. 

Canada’s 150 party isn’t for everyone.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

To mark the occasion of Canada’s 150+ years of Colonial history, me and my brothers shot a film. The film is a cooking show, in which we make a Birthday Cake to celebrate Canada’s “birthday”. 

What did we put into the cake? 

White flour: to symbolize food rations.

A vile of liquid: to symbolize small pox and the introduction of foreign diseases through germ warfare. 

Gunpowder: to symbolize RCMP violence. 

Ripped paper: for broken treaties.

Holy water and the Host: symbolizing Christianity, transubstantiation of the flesh, cannibalism, and greed. 

Chalk: to symbolize the era of Residential schools. 

Rum: to symbolize alcohol and drugs, as well as the fur-trade. 

Then we top the cake with beaver testicles and a picture of Queen Elizabeth’s face: to symbolize the importance of both the Monarchy and the Fur Trade to Canadian history. I think we forgot to include some buffalo bones to symbolize the clearing of the plains, but you get the idea. 


About nathanadlerblog

Nathan Adler is the author of Wrist and Ghost Lake (Kegedonce Press), and co-editor of Bawaajigan ~ Stories of Power (Exile Editions), he has an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC, is a first-place winner of the Aboriginal Writing Challenge, and a recipient of a Hnatyshyn Reveal award for Literature. He is Jewish and Anishinaabe, and a member of Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation.
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