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Happy Canada Day!
Happy Canada Day!
After a long and difficult slog north from Boston General Benedict Arnold discovered much to his dismay that His Majesty’s loyal subjects had no interest whatsoever in joining the colonial uprising. He retreated, and today, near a charming coffee shop in Quebec City, there is a marker that notes the failed American invasion of Canada.
During the first half of the 19th century the great European powers competed against each other for the riches and spoils of the North American continent. The newly formed United States quickly became the dominant continental power, expanding westward and south, at the expense of Spain, France and Mexico. The dominant ideology of the era was called “Manifest Destiny,” and it claimed a divinity that mandated the United States expand until she was a continental nation as much a Pacific as an Atlantic empire. It was American expansion that fueled the inevitable civil war over an irreconcilable issue that had been postponed, but not resolved. Slavery would cause the greatest and most deadly war in American history.
By the mid-point of the 19th century, only the British remained entrenched in North America. The border that runs along the 49th parallel was fixed in 1846 after years of American bluster that included the infamous campaign slogan of “54-40 or fight!” which would have annexed most every inch of present day British Columbia as part of the Oregon territory, and made Vancouver an American city.
Sometimes our modern era and its comforts, which include relatively easy access to every inch of North America obscure how new the discovery of every inch is. The US Army was still mapping west Texas mountains in the second decade of the 20th century. At any rate, maps of the Pacific Northwest were sketchy to say the least in 1846. The last and best maps of the region were drawn by George Vancouver and they were incomplete. The boundary line was disputed because in reality there were two possible straits through which it could be drawn. The first is present day Rosario Strait that runs through the San Juan Islands. The second is Haro Strait that separates the San Juan Islands from Vancouver Island. What this meant as a practical matter was that the last unsettled land dispute between the British and the United States was over idyllic and beautiful little San Juan Island.
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The negotiations over the joint claims of sovereignty continued at a languid pace through the 1850s with neither side willing to budge off their claims. By the end of the decade, the Hudson Bay Company had set up shop and there were upwards of 50 American farmers on the island. One of them was named Lyman Cutlar, a beet farmer. While likely untrue, it is claimed that in the year 1859, Mr. Lyman Cutler, American, said the following to Mr. Charles Griffin, manager of the Hudson Bay Sheep Ranch, loyal subject of the King and nascent Canadian:
“It was eating my potatoes,” to which Mr. Griffin replied,” It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig.”
Of course these positions are completely irreconcilable, and therefore it was war. The Pig War to be exact.
The two farmers could not agree on compensation for the pig, and so Royal Marines were sent to arrest the American farmer who was soon protected by scores of American soldiers. Both sides set up camp on opposite sides of the island and got ready for battle.
Within a short span of time the situation escalated completely out of control until there were hundreds of heavily armed American soldiers and Royal Marines spoiling to provoke the other into firing the first shot. George Pickett, a Virginian who graduated last in his West Point class, and would lead his divisions into complete annihilation during “Pickett’s charge” at the battle of Gettysburg four years later, was the American commander.
Eventually word reached horrified officials in London and Washington that war was about to break out over a small island in the pacific northwest. The situation was quickly de-escalated and the American and British forces decamped to opposite ends of the island where they quickly settled into a peaceful island lifestyle filled with sports, competition and all manner of socializing. Yet, the sovereignty of the islands remained in dispute. Ultimately, both sides submitted the matter to international arbitration and both agreed that the wisest statesman of the time should hear the case. Of course that was Kaiser Wilhelm, and in the end, he awarded the islands to the United States and set the boundary lines for what had become the longest, peaceful border in the history of humanity.
Each day American park rangers raise and lower the British Flag over their old camp with full honors. It is one of the few places on Earth where a foreign flag is raised and lowered by Americans like that. It is done to denote respect, affection and our shared story.
There were many consequences from the Pig War, including a growing unease with decision-making from far away London. One of the results of the dissatisfaction was manifested on this day, July 1, 1867. Three colonies became the Dominion of Canada, and the world became a better one.
Every American should appreciate the giant country that spans the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Rocky Mountains to the Arctic. She is the world’s oldest bilingual, pluralistic, parliamentary democracy and a force for human dignity, rights and liberty around the world. Wherever the Canadian maple leaf flies, it is as a symbol of tolerance, freedom and equality.
Canadians and Americans have fought and died with each other from the killing fields of the First World War, Normandy Beach, the Pacific, Korea and Afghanistan. Our peoples have married and raised families together (including me!) that have strengthened the bonds between our countries. We share sports leagues and a vast economy that trades more than a trillion dollars a year across the most prosperous border in the world. The bonds between America and Canada are unbreakable.
More than 50,000 Canadians volunteered to serve in the US Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. Canadians rescued scores of Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980, and sheltered thousands during the terrifying hours of 9/11. Canadians are our friends, colleagues, partners and spouses. They are our family, and we are theirs.
The Canadian nation is 40 million strong and growing. It is a land of great and modern cities filled with the energy of new immigrants. It is a country of ephemeral beauty. Across her cities, towns, and villages from the Atlantic to the Pacific a great and worthy celebration will take place today. It is Canada Day. The birth of Canada is among the most momentous events in human history for it means a land where justice, peace and prosperity was born.
Happy Birthday, Canada, and happy birthday to my beautiful Canadian stepdaughter, Chloe. Like Canada, she makes the whole world a little bit bigger, brighter and better.
Every American should take a moment today and look north to our neighbors and wish them a happy day. May we live in peace together for all time. We will.