I’ll say it in three words, in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing:
Americans did stuff.
Do you know…wait, I won’t ask you about Canadian history. I don’t want to embarrass you. To which the wiseass American response would be
Okay, you don’t know anything about Canadian history and you’re not embarrassed. But you’re not embarrassed for the wrong reason. You’re not embarrassed because you don’t care. That insults Canadians. To which, the wiseass American response would be a sarcastic
(Wiseass Americans are rarely at a loss for a provocative response, a situation which encourages me to renew my Canadian passport.)
The actual reason not to be embarrassed about not knowing about Canadian history is because
not a heck of a lot happened.
I may be, no, I’m sure I am insulting my Canadian readers with this opinion. For that, I’m sarry. (The American version of “Soh-ry.”) I’m not aware of how much Canadian history is taught in Canadian High Schools today, but when I went, I recall learning considerably more British history than I did Canadian. It’s like there wasn’t enough Canadian history for an entire term, so they threw in a little Battle of Hastings and Edward the Confessor to fill it out.
I don’t know if this is true of the majority of Canadians, but I know more about American history than I do about my own. This knowledge came less from study than from movies and television. They didn’t make many shows about Canadian history. And for good reason. To make entertainment from history, something at least moderately interesting would have had to have taken place.
Consider the comparison:
America became a country by battling the British until Cornwallis gave up. The British said, “We quit. The place is yours. We’ll be back in 1812.” (I’m not sure why they came back in 1812. The only worthwhile thing to come out of it was a hit tune by Johnny Horton. “In 1814, we took a little trip…”)
America became a country by fighting for its freedom. Here, as best as I can remember is how Canada became a country. In 1867, a delegation petitioned the British government for Canada to become an independent country, and the British government said,
Anyone see the makings of an exciting miniseries in that story? A patriotic folk tale? A blood-stirring anthem?
We went to the British
One bright summer’s day
We asked to be a country
And the British said okay…
“Way to take it to ‘em, boys!”
A proud moment in a country’s history, a country that would not have its own flag for another hundred years, and would continue to have to stand for “God Save The Queen” at the end of every movie. (My friends and I always tried to gauge when the movie was about to end and sneak out early. Soh-ry, Your Majesty.)
Canada became a country by legislative fiat. The British North American Act. There’s something to set your heart to pounding.
“My Pappy died for The British North American Act. No, wait, he didn’t. But he did sign the petition. By Gum!”
America fought a four-year Civil War, where, since both combating sides were Americans, the American death toll was disturbingly high. Canada, as I cloudily recall, also had some form of civil-war type confrontation in 1837. I believe it lasted a day.
I remember hearing about the two opposing “armies” marching up (and down) Yonge Street (pronounced “Young Street”) to engage each other in battle, Yonge Street being Toronto’s longest thoroughfare, both then and now.
Apparently, what happened was that, when the two sides came within sight of each other, one of the combatants – p’rhaps nervous about the impending battle, eh? – accidentally tripped, his gun went off, and both sides immediately ran for the hills. There’s likely more to the story than that, but that, because it’s how the teacher told it, is what stayed in my mind – an accidental misfire, and that’s all she wrote.
Once again, no miniseries possibilities. Maybe a short Public Service Announcement. A fifteen-second recreation, followed by an actor playing a “typical Canadian” saying:
“Remember now, if you’re walkin’ with a gun – though I can’t for the life of me think why you’d be doin’ that – make darn sure your “safety’s” on. Holy Geez, you don’t want to trip and fall and accidentally shoot somebody’s eye out. Show some consideration, fer cryin’ out loud.”
Finally, this warning, flashing across the screen:
1837. It happened once. It can happen again.
I know it’s not deliberate, but it almost seems as if Canada was trying not to have a colorful past. Consider this little historical tidbit.
How Canada Became English Rather Than French
1759. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham. England versus France, for all the marbles – beaver pelts, the logging industry – the whole ball of wax. The battle itself, I know nothing about. It could have been magnificent. I have no idea, in no small measure because my teachers had no interest in dramatizing the material. Know when it happened, know how it turned out, and move on to the history of Hudson’s Bay Company.
The only thing I remember about The Battle of the Plains of Abraham – and this just makes me shake my head in dismay – is that by the time the encounter ended, both commanding generals – England’s Wolfe and France’s Montcalm – had been killed.
First question: What kind of generals stand that close? Second Question: Both of them? I know it’s actual history, but Americans wouldn’t stand for such an embarrassment.
“They both got killed?”
“They both got killed.”
Americans would demand a rewrite. You can’t have both generals getting killed. It’s like a joke.
THE FRENCH: “We are surrendering. To ‘oom do we ‘and over our sword?
THE ENGLISH: “D’nno, mate. Our commanding general’s been killed.”
THE FRENCH: “Really? Ours too.”
Sound like Battle of the Bulge material to you?
I know. You don’t make history for entertainment purposes. Although America appears to have had that in mind. The Alamo? Custer’s Last Stand? That’s killer stuff. That’s sure-fire box-office.
What does Canadian history offer by comparison?
I believe we invented insulin.
But it's no Davy Crockett.
* I know there are people who find American history problematic. I speak only from the perspective of its not being excruciatingly boring.