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Monday, July 14, 2014

Defining Moments In Canadian History: Sir Robert Laird Borden

It’s been said that if America is a country brought about by revolution, then Canada is a country brought about by evolution.

And that’s not a bad thing. Perhaps we do not have quite the flair or make quite a splash as our neighbours but we, as a country, are stalwart and steadfast,  hardworking and hearty. Not prone to violence but unwaveringly brave when called upon.

I was often told that Canadian history was a terribly boring affair, however I have come to believe that the only thing boring about Canadian history is the way it has been portrayed - or perhaps, received. The real stuff is exciting and dramatic and epic. There are many stories of courage and sacrifice, innovation and excellence,  and, every once in a while, a Canadian insisting that we be recognized as such.

One such a Canadian was our eighth prime minister, and the face on our $100 bills,  Sir Robert Laird Borden. He was a conservative Anglican born in Grande Pre, Nova scotia in 1854 and he guided our country through a massive turning point in our history -  “the Great War.”

 “Canada entered the war a colony, she emerged from it close to an independent state” Historian Arthur Lower

“It is a myth that Canadians won their independence without bloodshed. Certainly, there political independence was won at great cost in the crucible of World War 1” Will Ferguson

Borden and Winston Churchill - 1912

Borden, like any other man, had his faults and made his mistakes (there was the Conscription Crisis and , of course, the “temporary” Income Tax), however it was his unrelenting push for Canadian equality with other countries that helped shape who we are today.  It is worth noting that Borden was also responsible for women’s suffrage in Canada.

In 1917 Borden took the lead for all of Britain’s Dominions when he drafted “Resolution IX”  insisting that all dominions receive full recognition as “autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth”.  After this resolution was passed, at some consternation to Britain, Jan Smuts, The South African minister of defence said to Borden “You and I have transformed the structure of the British Empire.”

Furthermore, after the Great War and Canada’s proportionally immense contribution, Borden refused to let Britain sign the Treaty of Versailles on Canada’s behalf but took his own pen to it in a symbolic but historically altering fashion.

“It can hardly be expected that we shall put 400,000 or 500,000 men in the field and willingly accept the position of having no more voice and receiving no more consideration that if we were toy automata” Robert Borden

When the Americans resisted the Canadians and Australian having their own seat on the newly formed League of Nations, it was the British PM who pointed out that each country had lost more men than the U.S.A.  and from a much smaller population.

Nearly 620,000 Canadians served in World War 1 and over 66,000 died in it – another 172,000 or more were wounded. The latter group included my great grandfather who suffered the effects of mustard gas for the duration of his life and his brother who lost a limb at Vimy Ridge.

Robert Borden, just one of our citizens who have made this country a great one!  

Sources: Canadian History For Dummies ( Will Ferguson), , 
  1. Had some feedback from a Teacher friend and I realize that I probably didn't word that properly - I didn't mean to single out teachers so much as those who make the curriculum. Also I was home-schooled so my experience may have been different than others ( although many others talk about how boring Canadian history is). Perhaps the problem also lies with how we, the students, choose to engage or not in it.

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