The Underknown Stories That Defined Canada Over 150 Years
Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, and there’s a lot to love about our neighbours to the north. It’s filled with quirky canucks, hilariously polite people who argue by apologizing, and tons of beer. But we wanted to take this chance to see the other side of Canada.
The hidden side filled with accomplishments gone unsung and dark chapters swept under the rug—we want to share that with the world.
Canada has been called “a loft apartment overtop of a great party,” but there’s a party of its own happening—like a speakeasy we didn’t even know about. See Canada like never before.
- The Real Canadian Bacon
- Immigration and Canada's Ellis Island
- When Pierre Trudeau Flipped Off the Nation
- Winter Surfing and Beards of Ice
- The SESQUI 360-Degree View of Canada
- Canada's 14,000-Year-Old Settlement
- Newfoundland's Secret Nazi Weather Station
- When Canada Housed Britain's $300 Billion in Wealth
- Canada Burned Down the White House. It's True.
- How The North Remembers
- Canada's Ellis Island
- Nazis Seriously Couldn't Get Enough of Newfoundland
- The Northern Neighbour's Dark Sides
- The Gold Mining Scandal You're Too Young to Remember
- St. Thomas, ON Killed the World's Most Famous Elephant
- 100,000 Empire Children Doomed in Canada
- When a One-Legged Hero Rallied a Nation
- The Newfoundland Town That Saved Stranded 9/11 Passengers
- Mind-Boggling Facts About Canada
- The Territorial Dispute Fought With Gifts of Whiskey
- Guess How Many Lakes Belong to Canada?
- Nova Scotia's Ballad of Tanner Fishermen
- $Where Will You Celebrate Canada 150?
- Canadian Facts and Trivia
Celebrate Canada's quirky culture, rugged landscapes, and hidden histories. Welcome to the Loonie Bin.
The quintessential Canadian experience: turning a potential police ticket into a shared experience over the Rankin Family music and a local cafe. It just doesn't get more Canadian than that.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi recounts his favourite Canadian moment, and we can all relate. You might remember his rise to celebrity status during the 2015 Federal Election. He's back with a story that puts some of our stories to shame.
Every nation needs a foundation for immigration, and Pier 21 served as Canada’s immigration hub in Halifax. Like New York’s Ellis Island, Pier 21 marked the first steps towards new beginnings for thousands of immigrants looking to make a better life.
From the late 1920s to the early ‘70s Pier 21 welcomed over one million future Canadians into the country, now housing impressive displays of the Museum of Immigration as we enter Canada 150 celebrations.
Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, witnessed Canada’s political scene since he was knee-high to a prairie dog during his father's 15-year stint as Prime Minister. He got to see how the system worked from the inside at a young age.
The downside? Getting blindsided by a kid asking why your father flipped off Western Canada, known as the “Salmon Arm Salute.”
Canadians have never shied away from eccentricity over the last 150 years, including the most bizarre surfing. While technically you don’t need freezing temperatures to grab your surfboard and take to the waves one of Canada’s five Great Lakes, it certainly makes things a little more exciting.
The low-pressure systems between November and March create 20-foot waves on some shores, along with some bitchin’ ice beards.
"The future is all around us."
From the red-sand shores of Prince Edward Island to British Columbia's vast hiking trails and everything in between, SESQUI is touring across Canada in 2017 to celebrate every piece of the cultural mosaic we call home in immersive 360 degree video.
Don't forget to check out the cinematic dome from Toronto.
Canada’s contributions to the world started long before 1867, and it’s accomplished a lot since then. The world just wouldn’t be the same without it (including the White House).
For Canada, 150 years seems like a decent length of time to make your mark on the world stage. But thanks to the recent unearthing of some tools, fish hooks, and spears along the Central Coast of British Columbia dating back approximately 14,000 years, those “Canada 150” bragging rights loses a teensy bit of luster.
Where Canadians want to boast of their accomplishments, they can now claim to be home to one of North America’s oldest settlements, and one that’s three times older than the Pyramids of Giza.
Not everything in Canada’s history is sunshine and lollipops, even if some of the country’s darker ties do have a weather connection. During World War II, weather patterns could go a long, long way in providing a battlefield advantage—which is why the Nazis sent a U-boat to to Newfoundland with a small crew in 1943 to set up a cutting-edge weather station (for the time).
Those clever Germans hid everything in plain site by sticking Canada’s name on the equipment, and it wasn’t until just decades before Canada’s 150th anniversary—in the ‘80s—that anyone put two and two together.
World War II also provided Canada an opportunity to help out an old pal from back in the day— Britain. In 1940 those pesky Germans were making enough noise about invading England that Britain decided it ought to move whatever wealth the country had to safer shores, and those shores just happened to Canadian.
Executing ‘Operation Fish’ meant hauling $300 billion worth of gold and securities from the Bank of England to Canada (adjusting for inflation) through U-boat infested waters and stored at locations in Montreal and Ottawa. During a time when boats were being sunk daily by the Nazis, not one ‘fish’ was lost during the transfer. Our hats are off for Canada 150.
150 has just flown by between Canada and the United States. But before Canada left Great Britain’s wing, it was a pawn in the struggle between the British Empire and it’s rebellious child, The United States.
The War of 1812 never began with the intent of the United States conquering Canada, but the possibility was considered an added bonus by American leaders (Thomas Jefferson called it “a mere matter of marching”).
The British colony known as Canada sent in troops to burn the White House to the ground. At least America saved the George Washington portrait, right?
Rumour has it that they painted it white to hide the fire damage, and the name stuck. Canada 150 says: you’re welcome, America.
Canada 150 celebrations come with a dash of solemn memories. Remembrance Day is observed across the U.K., Canada, and several Commonwealth countries, but why? Most people would agree that war really sucks, and the 17,000,000 who died in the First World War deserved our undying respect. What better day to remember than the anniversary of the day the Great War ended?
November 11th became Canada’s official day of remembrance from then onward. The number of wars it covers has grown, and France and the United States have their take on things with Armistice Day and Veterans Day, but Canada makes sure those that have fought for its freedom are never forgotten.
What was it with Nazis and Newfoundland during World War II? At the time Newfoundland hadn’t officially hitched its trailer to the Canada 150 train we’re all celebrating, but it was still an honorary member.
Newfoundland’s Bell Island was a major source of high grade iron ore vital to the war’s shipbuilding effort, and because of that German U-boats noticed. Dozens of lives were lost as a result of the torpedo attacks, but at least today the sunken boats act as a thriving anchor for the area’s biodiverse artificial reefs.
The most polite nation in the world also has some dark chapters. These are hard to talk about, but the unfiltered view is key in making amends.
Amongst its list of shame items, Canada’s mistreatment of its indigenous population through history ranks around the top of the list. The idea seemed noble in the 1880s: offer an education system specifically targeted at First Nations, Métis and Inuit children between the ages of 4 and 16-years-old.
The privileged WASPs of the day thought they were educating the ‘uncivilized’ youth on the glories of European culture.
The results were nothing short of cultural genocide.
Physical and sexual abuse were rampant throughout the system, and deaths were so common that newer schools came with graveyards. Not everyone in the indigenous community will be celebrating Canada 150 because of this legacy, which continued until 1996.
There's a seedy side to Canada's 150th anniversary, and it's not just about indigenous relations.
To start, slavery was a big thing for wealthy landowners 200 years ago, though it stopped early enough to service the Underground Railroad.
Canada still has an annual tradition called the seal hunt, where half a million balls of cuteness get clubbed to death for pelts. To each their own on this last point, but it’s the skinning-them-alive part where most people draw the line.
You have to give Canada credit for one thing as we look at some of its misdeeds: its citizens sure can get creative when they want to—especially when there’s copious amounts of cash to be made.
Calgary, Alberta’s Bre-X Minerals will forever remain linked to one of the biggest mining and stock market scams in history.
While the geologist who spiked the core samples that Bre-X used to rise from the realm of penny stocks to Wall Street darling was technically Filipino, Canada will forever be linked in this torrid tale as the country where billions of investor dollars just seemed to melt away.
You’ll never guess what happened to the geologist.
“The Greatest Show on Earth”, Barnum & Baileys’ circus extravaganza, left a big foot print in the southern Ontario town of St. Thomas thanks to its main attraction, Jumbo the giant African elephant.
Today, St. Thomas is home to a massive statue of Jumbo, erected in honor of the beast’s selfless final performance in the railway town over 130 years ago.
Rumor has it Jumbo stepped in front of an oncoming steam train on track to obliterate the Greatest Show on Earth’s other famous star, dwarf elephant Tom Thumb.
At least that’s how PT Barnum spun the events of that night... and we’re still talking about them now, right? Don’t let people sweep this one under the rug for the Canada 150 celebrations.
Between 1869 and 1948 the British Home Children Program brought 100,000 kids to Canada from overseas. The program’s creators intended to give a glimmer of hope to orphaned or homeless British children by teaching them trades and getting them adopted into loving Canadian homes.
Instead, it resulted in frequent and blatant abuses of the system.
While some children did find families with open homes and hearts, many of the program’s participants were treated as expendable sources of cheap labor and forced into emotionally and physically abusive scenarios.
However, welcoming 40,081 Syrian refugees between November 2015 and July 2017 suggests Canada has stepped up its game for the 150 celebrations.
Yet we all love Canada because it steps up when the world needs it, despite dealing with its own challenges.
In 1977, 19-year-old Terry Fox lost his right leg to cancer, and took it to heart. Terry’s tale of generosity and fortitude is one that shines brightly across Canada’s 150 years, as one might expect from a story about an amputee runner rallying an entire nation.
And what a spectacle it was, attempting a coast-to-coast Marathon of Hope to raise money and awareness in the fight against cancer.
Terry ran across Canada for 143 days before his fatal cancer spread to his lungs, but he inspired millions to donate more than just cash—but to get more involved in the global fight against cancer in all forms.
This is the Canada we know and love.
You’ll be pleased to know that not all stories about Newfoundland involve covert Nazi operations. As events unfolded on the fateful day that was September 11, 2001, Canada showed why the world loves and trusts it.
Operation Yellow Ribbon involved Transport Canada taking on the responsibility of safely landing stranded air passengers stuck mid-flight as US airspace shut down following the attacks of 9/11. Gander, Newfoundland, saw 38 planes carrying over 6,600 people land in their backyard in the span of a day, and with only 500 hotel rooms available the town’s residents opened their doors to strangers from around the world.
There are 6,600 people really celebrating Canada 150 outside of the country today, and we salute them.
Did you know Canada can get as cold as Mars? Or that Canada’s Great Lakes—the same lakes that folks are surfing on in the dead of winter—contain almost 20% of the planet’s fresh lake water?
150 years of Canada as we know it has allowed it to build up some pretty impressive statistics, most unknown to the world at large.. Are you a nature lover? Canada has parks bigger than some countries. History fan? It has North America’s only walled city.
The point is this: Canada is big and beautiful, even with the 176 billion barrels of oil stashed around the place. There’s a lot of weird and wonderful things to celebrate this year.
There’s a tiny unpopulated chunk of rock stuck between Canada and Greenland that is technically an island, but really only because the word is in its name. Hans Island, situated in the Nares Strait, sits at the center of a territorial dispute between Canada and Denmark, two of the most polite countries around.
Both claim ownership of Hans Island. Starting in the mid-1980s, Canadian troops decided to make the claim official by raising the Canadian flag, leaving a welcome-to-Canada note for the next visitors (no doubt representatives from Denmark’s military) and a bottle of Canadian Club whisky. The rest, as they politely say, is history.
Cheers to the country that holds territorial disputes with gifts of whiskey.
We’ve already mentioned that Canada has a pretty big claim to fame when it comes to parks, lakes, and natural resources. In fact, Canada houses about 20% of the world's fresh water. The other 80% is probably somewhere in the Arctic and Antarctic ice shelves, so you should be nice to Canadians whenever you meet them.
But just in case the point hasn’t been properly illustrated, here’s a little reminder in case you find yourself surrounded by concrete and traffic: Canada has more lakes than the rest of the world combined.
Want a nature-filled escape? Canada 150 might be the time to find one. There’s plenty of space!
Canadians know how to poke fun at themselves like no others. Take Fraser Young's trip to Nova Scotia. Nowhere else in the world will you find groups of people laughing at their own historic misfortune.
Remember how everyone's last name was "Johnson" in Blazing Saddles' Rock Ridge? Everyone in this Nova Scotia fishing community has the last name "Tanner."
We're guessing their families never worked at the Tannery in Kitchener, either--once the largest tannery in the British Empire.
Stay hilarious, Canada--and pay your respects to the Tanner clan next time you're in Nova Scotia.
Celebrations were happening all across the country: Fredericton, Gatineau, Toronto, Saskatoon, Yellowknife, Whitehorse, Victoria, Halifax, Quebec City, and even Moncton were hosting parties.
And that's only half of them. Canada's best musicians were rocking out for the nation's 150th birthday.