Dominion Day

By Henry Gray (AIMS on Campus Student Fellow)

Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley is hardly a household name, but he is one of Canada’s great Fathers of Confederation. Hailing from the great province of New Brunswick, Tilley – a descendant of United Empire Loyalists on both sides of his family – represented the Loyalist Province at the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864 as well as the London Conference of 1866. These three conferences culminated in Confederation in 1867.

According to Sir Samuel’s son Leonard (who later served as the 21st Premier of New Brunswick), it was Tilley who originated the word ‘Dominion’ in Canada’s formal title. While discussions were in progress over what prefix Canada should bear, Sir John A. MacDonald, who shared Tilley’s fierce loyalty to the Crown, had suggested the title “Kingdom of Canada”. Tilley came across the word “dominion” in the King James Version of Psalm 72, verse 8, which reads: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” Tilley thus suggested the title “Dominion of Canada” at the London Conference. With their goal being to have their new nation reach to the Pacific Ocean, and from the St. Lawrence River to the North Pole, the Founders found the name fitting and adopted it. When the colonies of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia united on July 1, 1867, Canada was adopted as the legal name for our nascent country, and the word Dominion was bestowed on us as our title.

The English word ‘dominion’ comes from the Latin word dominus, which means ‘master’. It evokes sovereignty, dignity, and honour. The old celebrations of Dominion Day – what the July 1 holiday had always been called prior to Trudeau the First rebranding it in 1982 as the blander “Canada Day” – paid tribute to Canada’s rich history and caused us to reflect upon the unlikely prosperity and development our nation has enjoyed, our remarkable trajectory from a motley collection of colonies to one of the most stable, peaceful, and prosperous nations in history.


Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s Liberal government vandalized this venerable Canadian tradition when it unilaterally erased and betrayed a century of our country’s history. The passing of the bill in the House was scandalous. Liberal MP Hal Herbert presented the bill—C-201—a day before Parliament was to adjourn for summer recess. Only 13 members were present even though the quorum was 20 members. Mr. Herbert and the Deputy Speaker of the House rushed the bill through as fast as possible once the absence of Conservatives was noted. According to The Prince Arthur Herald, the bill went through second reading, through committee, and through the third and final reading in a matter of seconds. In an episode that made a mockery of democracy, the bill that vandalized Canada’s national holiday was passed without any input from the Official Opposition, let alone from the Canadian people to whom the holiday rightfully belonged. The fact that this outrage is practically unknown to Canadians is itself a scandal.


Since the 1960s, the Canadian government has quietly erased Canada’s heritage, dismissing our traditions and obscuring our past. No one quite knows what Canada stands for anymore. Our sitting Prime Minister has even made the bizarre claim that Canada has “no core identity, no mainstream”. No longer do we keep faith with the men and women who established our country and laid the foundation for the freedoms we enjoy today. Turning Dominion Day into Canada Day was not merely a semantic act: it was meant to make Canadians forget about the Canada of pioneers and risk-takers and to replace it with Pierre Trudeau’s social democratic vision of a Canada of bureaucracy and big government.


In addition to making Canadians more ignorant of their history, the term Canada Day is remarkably uninspiring and vacuous. Americans remember their Declaration of Independence on Independence Day, and the French have Bastille Day which explicitly commemorates the Storming of the Bastille. Canada Day, on the other hand, seems to be little more than a day off work. There is seemingly nothing particular or noteworthy to celebrate. We should do our country justice. Celebrate Dominion Day and use it as an opportunity to tell your friends and family about Canada’s history—that of its heroes and its villains.

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