Dominion Day 2009


Yes, one hundred and forty-two years ago today, the Dominion of Canada was born.  Strictly speaking, Confederation was achieved on March 29th, 1867 after Queen Victoria gave Royal Assent to the British North America Act.  But the legislation itself did not come into force until July 1st, 1867, which is why we now celebrate that day.

Go on, you may as well go outside and enjoy it, before provincial insularity and parochialism split us up into six or seven itty bitty countries.



In 1909, an honest-to-goodness Canadian “cold warrior”—Captain Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, commanding the government steamship Arctic—trooped ashore at Parry’s Rock, Melville Island, and laid claim to the enormous expanse of the Arctic archipelago in a rather straightforward, no-nonsense way that modern audiences will find a bit astonishing.

I first took possession of Baffin Land for Canada in the presence of several Eskimo, and after firing 19 shots I instructed an Eskimo to fire the 20th, telling him that he was now a Canadian. A similar ceremony was observed on July 1st, 1909, when I took possession of the whole Arctic Archipelago between Canada and 90th degree of north latitude.” “Here in Canada we have a rich country, and we should develop every part of it. We want more help, and we will get it when we give the necessary inducements. Look at our mines. Who would have thought 25 years ago that there would be so much wealth on that Transcontinental Railway, which was thought at first to be a white elephant? As you go north it is the same thing; so if the road is opened to Hudson Bay some more territory will be developed, and will bring sufficient revenue to open up that new country. I admit it is very cold up north, but so it is here when you are not properly clothed and fed; but I have been out every day, and have not had a finger frozen.”

— Captain Joseph-Elzéar Bernier.  Speech to the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, October 7th, 1926.

He also went to some lengths to befriend the inhabitants of the north, and rely upon them for his own survival.  Not surprisingly, Captain Bernier (known to this day by his Inuktitut nickname, Kapitaikallak) remains an enormously popular and iconic figure to the inhabitants of Baffin Island today.

“Kapitaikallak helped in a big way. He taught us about rifles. He showed us that by using the binoculars we can see things from far away. He did help.”But people did not understand that the land had been claimed by the government. Inuit learned about this much later. He had warned the people of the change that is coming in the following years,” Nutaraq Cornelius told Cloutier.

From stories still told in Pond Inlet, Cloutier heard how Bernier treated Inuit as equals and how he respected Inuit for their ability to survive in the Arctic. He wore Inuit clothes, and relied on Inuit guides for assistance.

Bernier left behind barrels of sweet maple syrup when he left Pond Inlet. He was also known for handing out great quantities of pilot biscuits, which helped Inuit get through the hard times.

“We’re in the year 2000,” Nutaraq Cornelius told Cloutier. “It’s true, these events happened a long time ago. But even after these many, many years, you can still see the Kapitaikallak isn’t forgotten today. We still remember him. We know about him.”

— Jane George.  “Kapitaikallak’s abiding legacy“, Nunatsiaq News, October 26th, 2001.

Category: Amor Patriae, Historica
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