A NATION OF LINKAGES © David Watts 18/04/2010

In the Stan Rogers song that became an unofficial Canadian anthem we find the words:

“Tracing one warm line” and “make a northwest passage to the sea.”

Québec poet laureate Gilles Vigneault does something similar with “mon chemin” (“my path”)

Rogers’ lyrics point to an underlying reality. Canada exists as a transcontinental country not as a result of a single resource, culture or industry nor as the result of a defining moment or encounter but as a series of carefully contrived connections.

Many other countries have such connections but with an essential difference. They built their roads, railways and communications to solidify an existing state. In Canada these came first.

Canada did not create these linkages: the linkages created Canada. Let’s start with railways:

Without the Canadian Pacific Railway, Canada would not be a nation from sea to sea but a patchwork of provinces along the Saint Lawrence and the east coast.

It was the Railway that opened, developed and built the Canadian West, and the Company’s founding General Manager wielded more power than most provincial premiers. .

Confederation would not have taken place in 1867 without the promise of an Intercolonial Railway linking the Maritime Provinces to Canada on the Saint Lawrence and the Great Lakes.

We can take this a step further. Comments from the 1830’s make clear that the dream of a transcontinental railway preceded that of Confederation itself.

In the international view of the Railway as the land link in a ferry series from Europe to Asia, Confederation was a prelude, the land assembly stage lining up the real estate for the line.

The search for a link to the Western Sea goes back to Champlain and the voyageurs, and earlier seagoing explorers that charted much of our Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic coasts.

The land in the middle they could not get around—Canada to us—they traveled over and built through, to reach the Far East. This became a bridge between hemispheres and continents.

Other links paralleled the steel: telegraph lines, hotels and resorts that became national parks. Irrigation canals for farmers. Coal mines, oil and water wells to supply locomotives.

From the telegraph lines of CN Rail in the 1920’s and 30’s came Radio Canada, the CBC or, as it first called itself, “the trans-Canada network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.”

“Trans-Canada” was a common phrase until the 1960’s. There was Trans-Canada Airlines, now Air Canada, founded as the airborne arm of Canadian National Railways.

There was the Trans-Canada Highway that follows the original route of the CPR.

There was the Trans-Canada Pipeline built in an early attempt at energy self-sufficiency.

There’s the Trans-Canada Trail, built over old roadbeds of rail lines that have been abandoned.

Most of these links—railways, telecommunications, pipelines—are physical and technological.

Cultural and spiritual linkages grew from transport and communications ones. Satellite and feeder stations created a French speaking network that made the bilingual policies of the 1960’s and 70’s a reality, and opened similar possibilities for our aboriginal peoples as well.

This electronic highway replicates the network by which aboriginal and French-speaking voyageurs traveled the country three centuries ago: a network that persists in the names of forts, settlements and northwestern lakes, streams and waterways.

This multi-stand network including internet facilitated the growth of a multicultural society:

Chinese and others who came to build the railways stayed to live in the land they had built.

Their descendents and others shaped the country in ways once unimaginable. Canada, Iroquois for “village,” became a global village: a microcosm of the United Nations she helped set up.

Seen this way, it’s no surprise that international affairs is a strong part of the Canadian legacy.

That’s because Canada, a Nation of Linkages is a natural model in a world seeking connections.

It’s no surprise that the best known Canadian photo, the driving of the last spike on the CPR, is about completion of our first major link, one that physically made us a country, and more.

Before that had been the search for a northwest passage as a trade route: a search now at an end

From completion of that project new ones arose: the growth of a Canadian consciousness, and a reaching out to establish new links abroad.

The railway joined at Craigellachie later adopted the slogan “Canada Pacific Spans the World.”

The meaning behind this was originally economic: the CPR as a global transportation system.

It came to mean something symbolic and spiritual, as the red-and-white checkerboard flag of the CPR calling in foreign ports gave way to the presence of the red-and-white Canadian maple leaf.

The international village has become a peaceful empire. Kanata is a spirit and influence human-kind can relate to, because it is a reflection of fundamental human values and diversity.

That kind of linkage is the kind of nation we are. That, and not old style, top-down imperialism, is the meaning of our motto:

“Dominion from sea to sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”