THE STORY OF CANADA © David Watts, 18 July 2000


is the story of the Northwest Passage. It has 4 chapters:

The first chapter is that of the explorers looking for the Passage, who ran into Canada and stopped. They include Cabotti, who named “New Founde Lande”, Cartier, who entered the St. Lawrence and named the rapids that blocked him “Lachine” (China), and Henry Hudson, who ended up in Hudson Bay. From the Pacific James Cook, Juan de Fuca and the Spaniards explored openings in the coastline that proved to be likewise disappointing. These all failed in what they set out to accomplish, but gave us some knowledge of the outline and immensity of Canada..

The second chapter, still focused on finding the Passage, has two streams: First were those who continued to try to find a way around the Canadian land mass by sea. These include Davis, Frobisher, Baffin and Franklin, all who failed. From the west, George Vancouver, completing the work of his mentor Captain Cook, did not actually believe there was a passage, but explored the coastline thoroughly enough to finally lay the possibility to rest.

The other stream of this chapter includes those who took up the search by land and traded with the first people along the way. These include Champlain who explored the upper St. Lawrence, La Salle, who went down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, and Peter Pond and Pierre La Verendrye, who explored the western plains. After a detour to the Arctic down the river named for him, Alexander Mackenzie finally made it to the Pacific from Canada by land in 1793—the same time Vancouver was laying to rest the possibility of a sea passage.

These overlanders, collectively, did find a passage. Whether it would be viable for its intended purposes—that of an international trade route—was uncertain. But in the meantime they opened up the interior of Canada for and with the voyageurs of the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Following the routes established by the voyageurs, the Canadian Pacific Railway built the North West Passage and made it viable. This is Chapter Three of Canada’s story. With steamships on both Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Railway became a portage across the continent. Silks and other commodities could by loaded in Shanghai and Yokahama and trans-shipped to Europe by a single carrier. This linkup, foreseen in the 1830’s, provided the impetus for Confederation of Britain’s remaining North American colonies.

Chapter Four is the story of the coming together of the country that sprung up along the way of this sea to sea portage. The disparities in the land were enormous. For many years they took second place to economic nation building. But in the twentieth century it became apparent that this country could not be held together in the way that most nation states had coalesced.

A network of connections—cultural ones—grew up in the CBC, the Canada Council, official bilingualism and multiculturalism. These re-made Canada in a new image—“social engineering”, critics called them. But the pluralistic, international, outward looking state that resulted became the Northwest Passage between East and West that is leading the world into a global awareness.

Canadian born Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “global village” to describe the world. That is what Canada has become. It has been inherent in our story every since Cartier put ashore at an Algonquian settlement by the St. Lawrence. Its name, “Canata”, meant “village or meeting place!