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Throwback Thursday: Dominion Day

  • Sep 02, 2015
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Photo: An illustration from 1990 about Dominion Day. (Photo: Canadian Geographic Archives)

Remember Dominion Day? That’s what Canada Day was called until 1982, when Parliament gave the July 1st holiday its current name.

Alan Rayburn, a geographer specializing in place names who once wrote a column for each issue of Canadian Geographic, penned a 1990 piece titled “How Canada lost its ‘Dominion'”. He looked at the overall decline of the word to describe the country.

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For instance, Rayburn found, the federal government had renamed the Dominion Bureau of Statistics to Statistics Canada. Plus, there were no longer public servants listed in the federal government phone directory as dominion fire commissioner, dominion stone carver or dominion archivist.

Rayburn said he remembered when “Dominion” was heard almost daily in the news and other references to Canada. But by 1990 he rarely heard or saw the word any more.

“To my surprise, I found the title has not been officially dropped; it has only been suppressed, with federal, national and central substituted as adjectives and Canada, nation and country used to replace the noun,” Rayburn wrote.

Dominion Day, however, was officially renamed. A private member’s bill prompted the idea. Although there was debate in the Senate, the renaming passed. Senators were aware of a Gallup poll indicating 70 per cent of Canadians favoured the change, Rayburn wrote.

The country was called the Dominion of Canada after one of the Fathers of Confederation, Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, read a passage in his bible and thought it appropriate. There had been opposition to the alternative term, “kingdom,” partially because it could have been offensive to Americans.

But during and after World War II, Rayburn wrote, there were tensions over Quebec’s relationship with Ottawa. The relationship eased “by quietly dropping references to the Dominion, viewed by (Quebec’s premier) as an oppressive word implying Quebec’s subservience to the government in Ottawa,” Rayburn wrote.


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