Through history, and into the future
Graduation addresses normally focus on the next steps in the lives and academic careers of our graduates. In 2017, at Canada’s 150th anniversary as a nation, I would like to offer you a perspective on the last century and a half, and the balance of this century, your role in all that, and see if I can do it in about two minutes.
Canada was home to about 3 million people in 1867. Ontario then contained about as many citizens as Mississauga and Brampton do today. Ontario in the early 19th century had adopted a policy that education was not merely a right, but an obligation. We were the first place in the world, in the history of the world, to do that.
That meant folks in 1867 were having an informed discussion about a union between Upper and Lower Canada, now Ontario and Quebec, along with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Folks in 1867 were concerned that the victorious Union Army in the United States, at the end of the American Civil War, an army then marching westward across the North American plains might just keep coming north into Canada.
The British didn’t seem concerned one way or the other. Canadians needed to make a decision, and made one. We became an independent nation, all three million of us.
It worked. Manitoba became part of Canada in 1870, British Columbia in 1871 with the promise of a transcontinental railway. Prince Edward Island joined in 1873, and Saskatchewan and Alberta were formed in 1905. In the end, the American stayed on their side of the border.
Fifty years later, in World War One, British officers had never heard soldiers and junior officers speak as Canadians did to their superiors. Nonetheless, the dialogue worked then too. The Canadians emerged as the conflict’s elite force. Nearly all 600,000 soldiers who wore the uniform of the Canadian Corps served as volunteers. No opposing unit that ever fought the Canadians wanted to do so again. Canada’s population was 8 million during the Great War.
Canada was 20 million strong in 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year, as normal global migration pattern resumed following more than half a century of conflict, recession and conflict again.
Canada celebrated being a society without social classes, a nation that had learned to provide for ourselves in a fair and compassionate manner, as we embraced global languages and cultures in a way not seen anywhere in the world, before or since.
There are 36 million Canadians today, in Canada’s Sesquicentennial Year. Now it’s your turn. There are some challenges ahead. None of those challenges are to be feared. You are equal to all of them, as those who came before you were in their day. You are the pride and the flower of the future of our families, our communities, our institutions, our Provinces and our country of Canada.
Most of today’s graduates will be around to celebrate Canada’s 200th birthday, our bicentennial, in 2067. Many of you will see the entire 21st century through, and be alive and vibrant to breathe the air of the 22nd century.
Going forward is about being bold and daring, just like the generations before you, and the generations you will raise to follow you. Have fun. Take Canada to new heights of excellence during your lifetime.
The Province of Ontario is proud of you. Congratulations on your graduation. Thank you very much.