Welcome to Canada 150

The University of Alberta celebrates Canada’s sesquicentennial.

“Boundless Dominion,” a Canada 150 winter illustration by Jordan Carson.
“We do ordain, declare, and command that on and after the First day of July, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty-seven, the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, shall form and be One Dominion, under the name of Canada.”

With that royal proclamation from Queen Victoria on May 24, 1867, the confederation of Canada was born. One hundred fifty years, six provinces and three territories later, the village of “Kanata” remains, complete with its contradictions and paradoxes. One country, with three founding peoples. A nation born of empire, now a middle power wedged between two superpowers. The world’s second largest country, stretching from sea to sea to sea, yet mostly empty of humanity, with the vast majority of its citizens living in outposts along the 49th parallel. A nation tied together by plains, trains, and automobiles. A nation of first peoples and new peoples. A nation born not from the spark and fire of revolution, but from a slow, persistent commitment to peace, order and good government.

It has not been a perfect union. Beneath Canada’s genial and polite reputation lie the scars of history: slavery under French, British and First Nations rule; the head tax and use of Chinese temporary workers to build the Canadian Pacific Railway; compulsory sterilization laws in Alberta and British Columbia; the internment of Austrians, Ukrainians, Germans and Japanese during the first and second world wars; the October Crisis and the peacetime use of the War Measures Act in 1970; referenda on Quebec separation and sovereignty in 1980 and 1995; and the historical mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, most acutely seen through the horrors of a residential school system that didn’t end until 1996.

And yet the union remains. In 2017, Canada celebrates its sesquicentennial. Other notable anniversaries will be marked and celebrated throughout the year: the 160th anniversary of Ottawa as a capital city, the 100th anniversary of the Canadian attack on Vimy Ridge, the 75th anniversary of the Raid on Dieppe, the 70th anniversary of the first drilling at Leduc №1, the 45th anniversary of Paul Henderson scoring for Team Canada, and the 35th anniversary of the repatriation of our Constitution. The year also marks the 375th anniversary of the city of Montreal and the 140th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 6.

For 109 of Canada’s 150 years, there has been a University of Alberta. And during the formative moments in our nation’s history, men and women from the U of A have been present and made their mark: 484 students and staff members served at Ypres, Vimy Ridge and other fronts during the First World War. Eighty-two died serving their country. Famous Five appellant Irene Parlby spoke often on campus while president of the United Farm Women of Alberta. She was also a member of the university’s board of governors and the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from the U of A.

A senior planner for the invasion of Normandy, Ernest Côté, ’38 LLB, was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by King George VI, as well as France’s Legion of Honour Award, in recognition of his military service. George Stanley, ’29 BA, was a Rhodes Scholar who in 1964 designed the Canadian flag. Susan Nattrass, ’88 BPE, was the first woman to compete in the Olympic trap-shooting event. Garry Lindberg, ’60 BSc EPhys, built Canadarm and oversaw the creation of the Canadian Astronaut Program. His friend and fellow alumnus Lloyd Pinkney, ’52 BSc EPhys, created Space Vision System, which played an important role in the construction of the International Space Station.

Peter Lougheed, ’51 BA, ’52 LLB, and political science professor Peter Meekison were critical to the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1982, Lougheed as premier of Alberta and Meekison as the creator of its amending formula. Beverly McLachlin, ’65 BA, ’68 LLB, ’68 MA, was the first female chief justice of Canada, and is the longest serving chief justice in Canadian history. Kim Campbell, principal of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College, is Canada’s first and only female prime minister. Deborah Grey, ’78 BA, was the first female leader of the opposition in Canadian history. Wilton Littlechild, ’67 BPE, ’75 MA, ’76 LLB, was the first Treaty Indian Member of Parliament, and one of three commissioners for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Merna Forster, ’76 BA, led the petition that resulted in black civil rights activist Viola Desmond being the first woman to be featured on Canada’s $10 bill.

Our university is one of the world’s finest, with a mission and mandate reflecting the democratic and egalitarian values of our country. It is a place where the free exchange of ideas, civil discourse and a plurality of opinion are not only welcome, but encouraged. It is a setting where, as Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau noted at a special convocation ceremony at the U of A in 1968, “There is a predisposition to open-mindedness and enquiry; a place not tied up in a monotone culture or restricted by narrow horizons; a place with an outlook as broad as your prairie landscapes and an awareness as high as your skies.”

Over the next year, in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we are proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation. Through stories, photos, videos, events and more, we will shine a light on the individual and shared histories that have become part of Canada’s national fabric and its diverse sense of place and self. We invite you to join with us in that celebration.