The Land of the Strong and Free

By Silvana Sangiuliano in Places, Events, & History

It was a journey that left her wanting more. Liberty set out to learn all she could about her country—the land, the gift, her birthplace—Canada. The year 2017 marked the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Canada became a nation in 1867 when the Dominion of Canada was formed consisting of four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. In 1870, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories joined, followed by British Columbia in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, Yukon in 1898, and Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. In 1949, the last province to leave British rule and join Canada was Newfoundland. In 1999, Nunavut became a province.

Liberty began her journey in Ontario. She travelled to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. The Canadian flag swayed in the wind marking the land of the strong and free. The red resplendent eleven-point maple leaf rested on a white background, red bands on either side.

There was substantial deliberation surrounding the design of the Canadian flag which took place prior to December 15, 1964. That day, the vote for the single maple leaf flag was accepted. It was approved by the senate the following day. The proclamation was signed by Queen Elizabeth II on January 28, 1965. The national flag officially unfurled on February 15, 1965 on Parliament Hill.

Liberty stood before the Parliament Buildings, mesmerized by their enormity and magnificence, the Peace Tower reaching nearly 98 metres into the sky. The tower was adorned with stone carvings of gargoyles, grotesques, reliefs, and bosses to ward off evil.

Near the base of the tower, stood the Memorial Chamber, a marble room dedicated to those who died in battle. The altar rests on steps made of stone quarried from Flanders Fields. Liberty silently recited John McCrae’s poem. She envisioned red poppies springing up among graves of the dead. Tears streamed down her pallid cheeks when she thought about the brave and courageous souls who fought for their lives and the freedom of others. When she turned to leave, carillon acoustic bells rang commemorating the Armistice of 1918 and the sacrifice made by Canada during the First World War.

Liberty stood tall, glorious and free, serenely singing the national anthem, stopping and starting trying to catch her breath between emotions. Words from “O Canada” reverberated in the cold air across the landscape of her home and native land. This song became an official anthem in 1980.

Liberty was proud to be Canadian. She was grateful for the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1946 and the Immigration Act of 1962 that allowed her parents to settle in this beautiful country, saving them from poverty and heartache. If not for these laws, none of them would be here creating future generations. She was reminded of her parents embracing their new country with such pride.

Liberty looked at her Canadian passport with the coat of arms embossed on the blue cover. She ran her fingers over the crown, crest, and helm. A lion in its majestic presence held a lance with a Union flag. A unicorn flew a Fleurdelisé flag. The escutcheon between them contained lions, the Irish harp of Tara, fleurs-de-lis, and maple leaves. Beneath, a wreath of roses, thistles, shamrocks, and lilies resided. The Latin proverb a mari usque ad mare, meaning from sea to sea, was inscribed below a ribbon.
Fascinated by her country, Liberty immersed herself in history, dedicating her time to travelling through Canada.

In Quebec, Liberty boarded a Via Rail train headed for British Columbia. She reflected on what she had learned about the inception of the Canadian Pacific Railway. She closed her eyes imagining 1836, almost hearing the cheers as a wood-burning steam locomotive chugged out of La Prairie, Quebec, pulling the first train on the first public railroad in Canada.
She thought of the blue flag iris, yellow birch tree, and the snowy owl native to Quebec. Quebec’s motto, I remember, seemed appropriate.

Liberty pictured herself back in Ottawa, skating on the Rideau Canal stopping to enjoy hot chocolate and a deep-fried pastry resembling a beaver tail sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, smothered in maple syrup tapped from magnificent maple trees.
She waved au revoir, grateful that in 1968 French and English became official Canadian languages.

Liberty continued her journey looking out the window at the expansive Canadian landscape, feeling the steel tracks beneath her. She envisioned railroad labourers, among them Chinese workers, toiling, wondering what life was like before the Trade Union Act was legalized in 1872. People lived and worked in poor conditions. The Industrial Revolution was the impetus for unions to protect people’s rights.

Liberty wore comfortable jeans and a sweater. Her attire was casual, unlike the fashion that rose in response to the extravagance and decadence of the prior century. Women wore wrenching corsets, cage crinoline, hoops, petticoats, or bustle skirts underneath dresses. Bonnets with flowers, feathers, and bows were placed upon their heads. Men dressed in suits, cravats, and top hats. Double-breasted waistcoats or vests and frock coats with trimmings of velvet or fur with V-form lapels were worn over medium-width trousers closer fitting to the legs.

The call of the common loon brought Liberty back from her daydream. She was reminded of how peaceful it was portaging in the fresh water lakes of Algonquin Park. A blanket of delicate, white trilliums graced the wilds of the Ontario deciduous forests, the eastern white pines among them.

Liberty preferred the quiet of the countryside, but welcome side trips to Toronto offered a glimpse into a busier lifestyle. Ontario is recognized for its vibrant multiculturalism, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, forestry, and services industry. Its pronouncement, loyal she began, loyal she remains, is honest and true.

Its neighbour, Manitoba, glorious and free, is where the Prairie crocus grows. White spruce trees and the great grey owl are symbols of this province. Manitoba’s economy relies on agriculture, tourism, energy, oil, mining, and forestry.

Churchill, Manitoba is an ideal place to see the Northern Lights. Unique tundra vehicles take people to see polar bears as they gather along the shores of Hudson Bay. Zodiacs and larger passenger boats take visitors to observe beluga whales. Liberty would have loved to do all of these things, but they were dependent on the time of year.

The train continued its travels to Saskatchewan. Liberty was captivated by the vastness of wheat fields, the prairie and the boreal landscape. It is the only province without natural borders. Its truism is strength from many peoples. The provincial flower is the western red lily, with the paper birch being the official tree. The sharp-tailed grouse is its symbolic bird.

Historically, this province was mainly associated with agriculture. However, expansion has brought about forestry, fishing, and hunting. Saskatchewan is known for mining potash and uranium and producing oil and natural gas.

Liberty looked forward to visiting the historical sights, museums, art galleries, and parks. She contemplated an adventure tour ziplining and wondered what people did long ago to get an adrenaline rush.

Alberta became a province, splitting from the Northwest Territories, in 1905. Its maxim is strong and free. Here, the wild rose flower and great horned owl reside surrounded by the rugged Rocky Mountains, deep canyons in the badlands, mixed prairie, and boreal forests. Alberta is recognized for its supply of crude oil, grain, and dairy farming.

Liberty was excited to explore the dinosaur museum and hike the Yellowstone, Jasper, and Banff parks during her stay. She relaxed in the hot springs in Banff nestled in the Rocky mountains.

She continued her Canadian tour on to British Columbia. As the modern train pulled into the station, Liberty remembered a photo from 1885 when the last railway spike was driven in Craigellachie in Eagle Pass, British Columbia connecting lands coast-to-coast from the Atlantic to the Pacific. British Columbia agreed to join Confederation based on a promise that a transcontinental railroad be built. Railways played an integral role in the process of industrialization.

This westernmost province is known for its Pacific dogwood, the western redcedar that maintains its place in native traditions, the energetic and mischievous Steller’s jay, and the mining of jade gemstone—a favourite medium for sculptors, artists, and jewellery makers.

The words splendour without diminishment reflect its dramatic coastlines, breathtaking Rocky Mountains, botanical gardens, scenic parks, and Vancouver Island.

Liberty had a long list of things to see in this awe-inspiring place. Although afraid of heights, she decided to venture to the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge perched in the treetops in Vancouver. On another occasion, she relaxed with a glass of wine in the midst of lush vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. Liberty vowed to return someday to ski Whistler—something she would have to build up courage to do.

Liberty wanted to take a bush plane to the colder climates of the Yukon and Northwest Territories and Nunavut. She wanted to experience something unique.

The Yukon Territory with its fireweed flower, subalpine fir and common raven is famous for the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Liberty visualized what it must have been like back then. She thought about all the winter activities she could partake in: dog sledding (pulled by Canadian Eskimo dogs), snowshoeing, skiing, and snowmobiling.

The Northwest Territories with its mountain avens, tamarack larch and gyrfalcon is home to Virginia Falls in Nahanni National Park Reserve where a spectacular white water river rushes. Other sights include Great Slave Lake and the turbulent Rapids of the Drowned, the northernmost pelican nesting site in the world. Liberty sought to observe the birds snatching fish out of the swirling waters.

Nunavut’s adage is our land, our strength. The purple saxifrage is the figurative flower and the rock ptarmigan is the representational bird. Mont Thor features earth’s greatest vertical drop, thus making it a popular rock climbing site. Mount Asgard, located on Baffin Island, is a twin-peaked mountain named after the realm of the gods in Norse mythology. Musk ox, tundra swans, walrus, and polar bears can be sought out. Here, the herd of caribou is the world’s largest. Many species roam the tundra in the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary. Liberty took an exhilarating trip across the frozen tundra by dog sled with an Inuit guide in Iqaluit and spent a night in a genuine igloo.

It was now time for Liberty to journey to the Maritimes.

New Brunswick’s saying is hope restored. The purple violet grows in wet meadows and woodlands. The balsam fir is a staple of the province’s lumber industry. The black-capped distinctive chickadee’s song is heard throughout the year. Liberty experienced such wonderment when she went whale watching. She stood before quaint fishing villages on the Bay of Fundy. Fly fishing for salmon on the Miramichi River was something she never imagined doing.

Liberty stopped to read the plaque before crossing the 13-kilometre Confederation Bridge, built in 1997, connecting Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

Prince Edward Island’s statement, the small protected by the great, is fitting. Their flower is the pink lady’s slipper, with the red oak and blue jay being their emblematic tree and bird. Clam digging is a favourite pastime, an activity that Liberty immersed herself in whole-heartedly.

Liberty had read Anne of Green Gables and was excited to see its magical setting described in the book by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Nova Scotia’s adage is one defends and the other conquers. The official flower, tree, and bird are the mayflower, red spruce, and osprey. Points of interest are Peggy’s Cove, Bay of Fundy, Annapolis Valley, Lunenburg, and Digby, famous for scallops. Liberty feasted on seafood offered in ample amounts.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s slogan is seek ye first the kingdom of God. The pitcher plant, black spruce, and Atlantic puffin are representations of this province offering hiking and museum excursions. Liberty especially enjoyed watching the orcas and humpbacks and taking in the views from the lighthouses dotting the charming landscape.

Liberty embraced her journey through the most picturesque provinces in Canada with its fresh water lakes, forests, prairies, mountainous regions, and vast coastlines.

Liberty was home. Canada, the land of the strong and free.

This story won first place in the Wellington County Historical Society’s 2017 writing competition, themed “Canada’s 150th – What it Means to Me.” The original version is filed at the Wellington County Museum and Archives.