At Camp Tanamakoon, one of the classic rustic summer girls’ camps in Ontario’s Algonquin Park, Canada 150 was marked over the weekend by a special evening campfire, a procession of voyageur canoes, a camper “parade of the provinces” and the reading of quotes from former prime ministers at the morning flag raising. A few days later the Fourth of July will be marked in a far more restrained way. The handful of American campers spending their summer holiday on Cache Lake will be given special permission to wear red, white and blue outfits instead of the customary green camp uniform, but otherwise camp activities will proceed as usual.
Usually, of course, it’s the other way round in North America – muted commemorations in Canada, boozy holiday revelry and patriotic anthems, capped with ear-splitting fireworks displays, south of the border. But this year is different. Canada is marking 150 years of confederation, a crisp round number, and though backyard barbecues and large municipal pyrotechnics are planned below the 49th parallel, the United States is marking 241 years of independence – a prime number, to be sure, but a figure not favoured by the decimal system.
But there is one other element shaping the twin celebrations covering the bulk of this continent early this month. Canadians feel pretty good about themselves as they celebrate their 150th, and the world feels pretty good about Canada. Neither can be said about their southern neighbours. Americans are in a sour mood, and hardly anyone below the border is sporting the sort of patriotic body jewellery sold to Canadians in the past fortnight.
Indeed, Canada Day and the Fourth of July are separated by more than 72 hours.
One represents the confederation of a country that retained its ties to Great Britain, the other represents the breaking of ties with Great Britain. One is a slightly artificial date – not much different from the Queen’s official birthday, which doesn’t occur on her real birthday – commemorating the document Queen Victoria had signed more than three months earlier in 1867. The other is an only slightly more authentic date, commemorating the formal adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 – though Americans have no cause to be smug about their holiday accuracy. The Second Continental Congress actually voted to declare independence two days earlier, on July 2.
And in a video bouncing around the Internet titled “Neighbours’’– note the Canadian spelling, that distinctive “u” that divides the two countries as much as any douane station or doughnut obsession – two cross-border acquaintances discuss the two holidays. The Canadian explains to his clueless American associate that Canada Day is “kinda like July 4th for you guys,” adding that Canada has much to celebrate, including universal health care, bagged milk, poutine, and “actual beer, not yellow water.” Fortunately Duffy’s Beer, in Pleasant Hills, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh, has a 30-pack of 12-ounce cans of Labatt Blue on sale this holiday week at $25.93 CAD, plus tax – a reduction of $3.89 CAD.
Most years the difference between the two holidays reflects the differences not only between the two countries’ beers – connoisseurs believe there is no comparison; advantage: Canada – but also between the two countries themselves.
This year the two countries present far different profiles. The United States is in upheaval over the role of government in healthcare while the issue is widely regarded as settled in Canada. President Donald J. Trump has roiled American allies around the world while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has won friends overseas (and especially in the United States, where Trudeau gets better ratings than Mr. Trump).
Canadian politics, while sometimes raucous – and recently fuelled by debate over the treatment of Indigenous peoples – has not reached the bitterness that now characterizes American politics.
“We admire Americans but are extremely conscious of our own values and our need to stay independent,” former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said in an interview. “We have an attitude of confidence about Canada that has kept the country whole and a prosperous, modern, civilized and leading democracy. In many, many aspects of our national life we are much more temperate than the Americans, even though we have a great vision: to produce a country that is fair, tolerant, and dedicated to the protection of minorities.” Mr. Mulroney said the two holidays reflect the different character of the two countries, allied but far from identical. “The American holiday is boisterous,” he said. “Canadians are less boisterous. Canada, perhaps as a consequence of living next to the world’s greatest superpower, is much more cautious and restrained.”
This year, however, an American town, Milton, Massachusetts, drew the two countries together, designating July 1 as “George Herbert Walker Bush-Right Honorable Brian Mulroney-Canada Day,” a gesture of appreciation in a season that includes the Broadway play “Come From Away,” saluting the Canadians who comforted Americans during their Newfoundland sojourn after the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“When I was President, my most trusted friend, confidant, and adviser was Brian Mulroney,” Mr. Bush, who was born at 173 Adams Street in the town in 1924, said in an e-mailed response to a question about the celebration. “He had been prime minister for a while, and although I, too, knew all the major players, he had sat at the same table as them. His judgment was impeccable. His first concern was, of course, Canada. And my guess is we had a few disagreements, although at age 93, I can’t remember them.”
Mr. Trump, who has been engaged in a storm of angry tweets at week’s end, nonetheless took a breather from attacks focused on cable television commentary to send “Happy Canada Day” greetings to Canadians, with a special homage to his “new found friend” Mr. Trudeau. The president and prime minister have disagreements on issues such as immigration and cross-border trade but, mindful of the size of the border and the trade relationship, each has made special effort to keep communications open between Ottawa and Washington.
“These two holidays are like everything else involving the two countries,” said James Stein, a Canadian businessman operating in Montreal and Edmonton who has spent several Fourths of July in the United States commencing with his undergraduate years at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. “Here in Canada, we’re a little bit understated. It’s just our style – particularly these days.”