Well, it’s January 2, 2017. This year promises to be an interesting one, and definitely an exciting one if you are a Canadian. Canada will celebrate its 150th birthday as a nation on July 1, 2017. I was fortunate enough to see the beautiful lights on Parliament Hill at Christmas.
Canada has been around in some form or another for much longer than that. Our aboriginal peoples were well established when Jacques Cartier sailed into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in 1534 to claim the land for France, but our first permanent settlement didn’t occur until Champlain arrived in 1605.
We were a French colony, Nouvelle France, until the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 when we became a British Colony, Canada. Not wanting to rock the boat since they were having problems with their other colonies in North America, the British allowed the French settlers to basically keep on doing what they’d always done. The laws remained the same as did the position of the Catholic church. Sadly, for those remaining, the French leadership they knew and trusted left, leaving them isolated in many ways. At the time, Canada consisted of the area we know as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Quebec, as well as vast partially uncharted territories to the west.
When the Thirteen Colonies to the south of us declared their independence from England in 1776, people loyal to the British crown, the Loyalists, moved north and settled in what is today Ontario. So we had French to the East and English to the West, each section of the land with its own language, culture and laws. Eventually, good men with an eye to the future prevailed we formed our own country, the Dominion of Canada–not by fighting for it, but through diplomacy, compromise, and hard work. On July 1, 1867, Sir John A. Macdonald became the first Prime-Minister of Canada, in its new capital, Ottawa. Eventually, we grew and stretched from coast to coast. It wasn’t always easy, but we managed. Our flag, the distinctive red maple leaf, wasn’t officially chosen until our 100th birthday! We are a proud people with a lot to offer the world. This year, we will honor all the accomplishments of our past and look to our future. And I will do the same.
Among the interesting gifts I received for Christmas this year was a calendar of Vanishing Vocabulary and Folklore for 2017. Each day highlights and explains a word or a tradition no longer used. Yesterday, January 1, was “WATER HOLIDAY”, sometimes known as Flower of the Well or Cream of the Well. Whoever drew water from the well first on New year’s day would have good luck all year long. Scottish farmers would wash their milking instruments in it in the belief that their cows would give more milk. If a young girl drew the first pail of water, she could expect to marry her true love in the coming year. As far as the water itself went, bottled, it stayed fresh and pure and protected the family from misfortune for the entire year. If you owned your own well, then, you wouldn’t have too much trouble, but it is was a community well, then look out! People used to stay up and wait for the clock to strike twelve, then they would all race to the well. I’m sure there was more than one argument. Once the first water was drawn, the next person tossed a few blades of hay or a few flowers if they had them as both a thank you to the spring supplying the water and a notice that the next person was too late.
In Victorian England, today was Ladies’ Day, the one time a year, ladies could call on gentlemen without raising eyebrows. That passed out of fashion quickly, but the day remains on the books the same as a chance to return visits that didn’t get done before the end of the year. Our word today is “chamberer”, which has 3 meanings: a gallant who visits ladies’ chambers, men of intrigue as in Othello, and effeminate men also known as ‘carpet knights’.
So there you have it. Welcome to 2017!