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Celebrating Citizenship in Westmount, Canada 150

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--July 11, 2017.

The public displays of Confederation’s 150th anniversary have created an air of heightened pride among Canadian citizens. The symbol of the geometric maple leaf has found itself in virtually every corner of daily life, from street banners to lapel pins. It is even proudly branded on the microfiber wipe I’m using to dust the pollen off my computer screen. The symbolic representation of Canadian patriotism collectively compels those who bear witness to embrace their fortunate position as Canadian citizens.

larger_westmount.1_0.pngIn the countdown to Canada Day, we were all reminded daily of our uniquely situated position as those lucky enough to belong to such a diverse and accepting nation. Traditionally, Canadian citizens have not only celebrated Canada Day by throwing parties and posting status updates on social media, but also through legally binding ceremonies during which the citizenship oath is taken and a public demonstration of allegiance is performed. This year, I found myself in attendance at Westmount’s first ever citizenship ceremony on July 1st. The display of Canadian values and the sense of unwavering gratitude echoing throughout the room made up for the gloomy weather hanging over us, reminding me more movingly than any emblematic souvenir that being a citizen of Canada is a magnificent status to bear

The history of Canadian citizenship ceremonies dates back to the aftermath of the Second World War. As the population was growing more multicultural yet remaining regionalized in its diversity, the desire to express a common sense of national identity was desperately sought after (Blake and Antonishyn, 307). In 1945, Paul Martin Sr., a federal cabinet minister and father of the future namesake Prime Minister, visited a military cemetery in France. While there, he remarked upon the diversity of nationalities that the Canadian tombstones represented, noting that “nothing has since epitomized the concept of our nation more poignantly for me than that cemetery. Of whatever origin, these men were all Canadians.” (Kaplan, 8). When he returned home, Martin championed the cause for implementing Canadian citizenship, as up until then, Canadians had been considered British subjects under the law. On January 1, 1947, the Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect. Prime Minister Mackenzie King was the first person to participate in the ceremony, receiving the first citizenship certificate and boasting how “without citizenship, much else is meaningless” (CBC Digital Archives, “Mackenzie King Is Canada’s First Citizen”).

larger_westmount.3.pngBuilding a singular collective identity for a country so diverse in its interests and cultural makeup proved a daunting task. Implemented in 1947, The Oath of Allegiance for Purposes of Citizenship proposed that new Canadian citizens swear allegiance to “His Majesty, King George the Sixth, his Heirs and Successors, according to law,” and “faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen” (Senate of Canada, Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs Issue 21). In the mid-1970s, it was thought that more emphasis ought to be placed on the reigning monarch’s role, specifically as the Canadian head of state, as opposed to the head of state of the United Kingdom. In 1977, the oath was changed to “I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada” (Senate of Canada, Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs Issue 21).

Following this amendment, many subsequent changes have been proposed, often due to the debate as to whether allegiance should be sworn to the Crown, Canada, or both, and in what order. Many sought to remove mention of the monarch from the oath, including Sergio Marchi, Citizenship and Immigration Minister under Jean Chretien. Two decades ago, he came close to altering the Oath of Allegiance, until Chretien advised that he hold off for fear of further dividing the country following the rise in Quebec separatism (Perkel, “Chretien Nixed Axing Oath to Queen at Last Minute, Ex-Minister Says”). Despite controversy, the building of a strong sense of citizenship through public ceremonies provided Canada with a firm platform for which newcomers could profess their commitment to Canadian values, and participate in the construction of a collective Canadian identity.

larger_westmount.4.pngThis year, Westmount chose to kick off their July 1st celebrations not with a festive bang, but a touching tribute to the Canadian tradition of hosting citizenship ceremonies on Canada Day. Held for the first time inside the Westmount Recreation Centre, the city of Westmount welcomed people from all over the world, joining them together through a public proclamation of their promise to be loyal to the Queen and the laws of Canada. The event was presided over by Judge Johnson, and attended by other dignitaries including the MNA for Westmount-Saint Louis, Jacques Chagnon, and the Mayor of Westmount, Christina Smith. During the ceremony, 40 people from 19 countries were sworn in as new Canadian citizens (RMR Foundation, “RMR Welcomes New Canadian Citizens”). While many of those involved had already been living in Canada for several years, their exuberant smiles were derived from the pleasure of finally being able to call themselves official citizens of the country they have chosen as their home.

Among the hubbub of Canada 150 celebrations, simple ceremonies such as this one often find themselves overshadowed by dazzling displays of glitzy attractions. I chose to attend this event not because I thought it would be the most attention-grabbing demonstration of Canadian patriotism, but because of its focus on expressing the types of Canadian values that can’t be demonstrated through flashy lights and music. The overwhelming adoration of our country reverberated across the room, and as everyone came together in the singing of our national anthem, the sense of belonging to a singular kaleidoscope of nationalities united us all.

Sources:
CBC Digital Archives, “Mackenzie King is Canada’s First Citizen,” CBC/Radio-Canada, www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/mackenzie-king-is-canadas-first-citizen, accessed 2 July 2017.
Colin Perkel, “Chretien Nixed Axing Oath to Queen at Last Minute, Ex-Minister Says,” Global News, 12 July 2013, http://globalnews.ca/news/714304/cautious-chretien-nixed-axing-oath-to-q..., accessed 3 July 2017.

Raymond B. Blake and Bailey Antonishyn, “Dreams of a National Identity: Pierre Trudeau, Citizenship, and Canada Day,” edited by Matthew Hayday and Raymond B. Blake, Toronto, 2016, pp. 306-335.

RMR Foundation, “RMR Welcomes New Canadian Citizens, The Royal Montreal Regiment Foundation, 1 July 2017, www.royalmontrealregiment.com/rmr-welcomes-new-canadian-citizens/, accessed 2 July 2017.

Senate of Canada, Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Issue 21, 26 September 2000, https://sencanada.ca/en/Content/Sen/committee/362/lega/21eva-e, accessed 3 July 2017.

William Kaplan, Belonging: The Meaning and Future of Canadian Citizenship, Montreal, 1993.

*Rebecca Firiend is an Honours student in Public History at Concordia University in Montreal. She interned at QAHN in 2017. This is the first installment in her series focusing on community celebrations taking place this year in Montreal neighbourhoods in honour of Canada's 150th anniversary.