The Canada block emerged from a slowly developed process that sought to represent the spirit and nature of the people of this great land. The result is a simple, yet powerful motif of the country’s emblem – the maple leaf –that softly whispers Canada’s story, its nature and history. Tiny glass beads sprinkled on a red velvet background, recall earlier times when the first Europeans traded with Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples. The iridescent beads, like Canada’s people, reflect a wide range of colours. They also reflect the geography of Canadians who either live densely clustered together in a few areas or sparsely sprinkled across large distances. Gold threads trace the veins of the leaf’s stem to complete the understated design, echoing the nation’s soft-spoken, peace-loving character. Canada’s foundations were laid by people from many different backgrounds, and so too, this block was a collaborative effort. Individuals took turns adding beads to the maple leaf whose contours, sometimes defined, other times left open, speak of unbounded space, freedom and a history that is still young.
Canada, made up of 10 provinces and 3 territories, is located in Northern North America and is a land of vast distances and rich natural resources. Living up to its motto, “A mari usque ad mare”, Latin for “from sea to sea”, it borders the North Atlantic Ocean on the east, the North Pacific Ocean on the west, and the Arctic Ocean on the north. The earliest human presence in Canada dates back 15,000 years. These early inhabitants crossed over the Bering land bridge from Northern Asia to the Yukon. The land bridge flooded over 13,000 years ago . From the Yukon, people gradually spread across the entire continent, branching out to form distinct Aboriginal groups. The estimated Aboriginal population in Canada reached 500,000 people by the 17th century.
The first Europeans to come to Canada, the Norsemen, arrived around 1000 AD but failed to establish a permanent settlement. During the 15th century, they were followed by the English, the Basques, the Portuguese and the French. The French tried to establish the first colony in 1541 in Québec City. Though unsuccessful because of harsh winters, this first European outpost paved the way for further settlements in present-day Québec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. As was the case with many colonial settlements around the world, conflicts between the French and British nations meant that entire areas of the new colony changed hands from time to time. Settlers cultivated the land, fished the seas, traded furs and exported lumber. The final colonial war occurred in 1763, when the French ceded the entire colony to the British.
Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 while still retaining ties to the British crown. Economically and technologically, it has developed in tandem with the United States, its neighbour to the South. Since World War II, the impressive growth of the manufacturing, mining, and service sectors has transformed the nation from a largely rural, agricultural based society into a primarily industrial, urban one.
Canada’s name comes from a St. Lawrence Iroquoian word meaning “village” or “settlement” and although the country was known as the “Dominion of Canada” until the 1950s, it has been called simply “Canada” since 1982. It is the second-largest country in the world (next to Russia) with 9,971,000 square kilometres of land. It boasts both the world’s longest coastline (over 243,000 kilometres), and its longest national highway, The Trans-Canada Highway, 7,821 kilometres, stretching from St. John’s, Newfoundland on the Atlantic coast to Victoria on the Pacific coast .
Canada is an ethnically diverse nation—immigration records reveal that at least one person from every country in the world lives in Canada. According to the 2001 census by Statcan, Canada has not only smaller ethnic groups but also 34 ethnic entities numbering more than one hundred-thousand members each. The largest group is English, followed by French, Scottish, Irish, German, Italian, Chinese, Ukrainian and First Nations. The official languages are English and French, which are the languages most spoken at home by more than half the population. Non-official languages however, including Chinese, Italian, German and Punjabi are also important.
Canadian culture, historically influenced by the British, French, and Aboriginal Peoples, has also been impacted by American customs due to its proximity, and by immigrants from all over the world. From these roots, Canadians have succeeded in establishing and maintaining their own unique identity. In 1920 a group of landscape painters called the “Group of Seven” developed the first distinctly Canadian style of painting (large, brilliantly coloured scenes of the Canadian wildnerness) Since the 1930s, Canadian painters, such as Emily Carr and David Milne, sculptors, in particular the Inuit who carve walrus, ivory and soapstone, writers such as Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood and actors have developed an international reputation. Many Canadian pioneers, such as Louis B. Mayer (co-founder of MGM Motion Pictures Studios), Jack Warner (co-founder of Warner Brothers) and Mary Pickford (co-founder of United Artists) made significant contributions to the creation of the motion picture industry in the early 20th century. Canada has since developed its own strong film industry.
A variety of arts and crafts are practised across Canada. First Nations continue their own traditional art forms, from beading and leatherwork to the carving of totem poles while the Inuit have become recognized for soapstone sculpture, printmaking and textile art. Some Canadian handicrafts are acknowledged as being unique to the nation. Québec’s ceintures fléchées, or arrow sash, are finger-woven in a variety of traditional patterns. The skills to make the sashes are thought to have been first used by Aboriginals who then taught them to French settlers, who reinterpreted them to produce their own, brightly coloured sashes that became emblematic of the province. The hooked rugs of Newfoundland are also an important crafts. They have been made across the Maritimes for centuries. These rugs provide warmth during long winter months, while being an ingenious way to recycle old wool clothing. Quilting is a popular a highly developed tradition that has been practiced for centuries. Skillful examples can be found at fairs, museums, shops and homes across the nation. Virtually every town and region of Canada has its own quilt guild.
Canada has also made its mark on the sports world through such athletes as Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux (hockey players), Kurt Browning and Brian Orser (figure skaters), Jacques Villeneuves (Indy car driver) and James Naismith (inventor of basketball). Contributions from Canadian inventors range from snowmobiles to baseball gloves, from walkie-talkies to zippers and include IMAX and the game of Trivial Pursuit.
The Canadian psyche is, arguably, greatly influenced by its natural settings. The long harsh winters teach people to look out for one another and work together. The vast territory probably also helps Canadians to be welcoming and open for there is enough space for everybody to live in peace. At the same time it fosters an independent spirit. Canadians are creative and love a good joke, especially if it’s about themselves. They are a people with a generosity of spirit who value integrity, family and work hard to achieve success. Cultural variations and distinctions can be seen from province to province and from region to region, but unlike many areas of the world where traditional costumes are worn at festivals or holidays, Canadians do not have distinctive folk wear. Except for the characteristic clothing of First Nation groups, their dress is not based on the preservation of patterns or crafts.
People have been migrating to the geographic region of Canada for thousands of years in varying patterns. According to the federal government, the country currently has the highest per capita immigration rate in the world. Canada has welcomed more than 13 million immigrants since 1901, with more than two million arriving between 1991 and 2000 alone. Many are attracted to the major urban areas of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Canada is known as a champion of peace and democracy. It owes its secure and prosperous place in the world in large part to the diverse, energetic and hard-working immigrants who make significant contributions to the Canadian fabric.
Sponsor: Quilt of Belonging | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons