High Commissioner for Canada Mrs Janice Charette looks ahead to celebrations of her country’s 150th anniversary
My office in Canada House boasts what must be one of the United Kingdom’s finest views – overlooking Trafalgar Square, it takes in the fountains, the lions and Lord Nelson’s Column. It offers a true slice of London, familiar to millions around the world. With every glance out the window, I am reminded of how fortunate we are to be based in the very heart of London.
The reason the High Commission of Canada is located on Trafalgar Square speaks to our shared history. In the early part of the 20th century, this neighbourhood was known as ‘Little Canada’ with the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Grand Trunk Railway and Sun Life Assurance Buildings all built nearby to represent key Canadian industries. When the High Commissioner of the day was asked to find a suitable diplomatic home for our country, Peter Larkin rose to the occasion and negotiated the purchase of the former Union Club.
Canada House was officially opened by King George V and Queen Mary on the 29 June, 1925 and it was Canada’s very first foreign diplomatic mission – and a first step on a journey of international diplomacy for a young country that had come through World War I having earned the respect of our allies. Our Prime Minister of the day, William Lyon Mackenzie King proclaimed it “the finest site in London and, being in London, the finest in the world.”
Today, Canada is a very different place – and this year, 2017, is a special one for us as we celebrate 150 years since Confederation when the Dominion of Canada was created.
Canada is a country with a globally competitive, innovative economy and a diverse, multicultural population. Canada is a leader in key areas of global policy, not least our development efforts that target improving the lives of girls and women around the world. We take our place at the table for the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth, and we are actively pursuing a seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2021-22 term.
Canada’s UN candidacy is an opportunity to further strengthen our existing work with the UN to protect the most vulnerable, advance women’s empowerment and gender equality and champion respect for diversity and inclusion.
The great team at Canada House has been busy supporting the plans for celebrating our 150th anniversary throughout 2017. One of the highlights of our sesquicentennial is our 1 July event where we mark our national day, Canada Day. We are delighted to have worked with the Mayor of London to bring a Canada-sized celebration to Trafalgar Square. The theme for the day is ‘Bring a Brit’ as we want to ensure that we not only lure Canada’s thriving expat community for a day of Canadian food, music and activities (yes, I mean hockey!), but that the day presents a chance to take the messages of modern Canada to as many of our friends here in the UK as possible.
Canada Day also allows us to showcase some of the best Canadian culture. The Polaris Music Prize – Canada’s equivalent of the UK’s Mercury Prize – curated the music to include the mesmerising voice and style of contemporary Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, and Quebec’s Flip Fabrique circus troupe will take a break from their run at the Underbelly Festival to join us on stage and remind the world, yet again, of the spectacular pool of circus talent that Canada continues to export around the globe.
Our Canada 150 celebrations will continue into the amazing party that is Pride London and we are so pleased that a Canada float and a designated Canadian cheering section outside Canada House will add to the revelry.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ‘London is Open’ message resonates with Canadians now more than ever. We know that our diversity is our strength and Canada continues to benefit from the rich mix of cultures, languages and communities that all see themselves as distinctly Canadian. We look outwards to the world for not just ideas, but people who want to move to our country and enhance the fabric of our cities and towns. For Canada, it is our model for social, cultural and economic success.
Throughout this special year, we continue to work with some of the United Kingdom’s most treasured institutions in our bid to celebrate all facets of Canada.
The venerable British Museum is hosting an exhibition of artifacts from the First Nations communities of the Northwest Coast and The British Library has unveiled an exhibition of archival Canadian photographs from the early post-Confederation years.
July also marks the launch of the National Maritime Museum’s much-anticipated Death in the Ice: The Shocking Story of Franklin’s Final Expedition in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of History. Together, these world-leading museums will bring us the story of Captain Franklin’s long lost ships – rediscovered after more than 150 years.
Just down Whitehall, in the Palace of Westminster, the original British North America Act that created Canada in 1867 has been on display to mark the significance of Confederation here in UK.
I could go on about all the ways to celebrate Canada here in London but it would be decidedly un-Canadian of me if I did not pause to issue a heartfelt invitation to visit Canada during this special year.
Parks Canada is offering free entry to all of Canada’s National Parks, Historic Sites and Marine Conservation Areas throughout 2017. The range includes everything from the famous Banff National Park in Alberta to a visit to the SS Klondike in the Yukon, the last commercial steamboat to work the mighty Yukon River long before road travel was an option.
Canadians are collectively very proud of the hospitality we have to offer and it is not a coincidence that major travel guides around the world have all looked to Canada as their ‘top pick for 2017.’ They make an impressive list that includes the Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, National Geographic and The New Yorker.
This is Canada today, a vast country, rich in natural resources and talented, creative people, touched by three oceans, ready to shape our future and build on the traditions and friendships of our past. Our many connections here in the United Kingdom have contributed to building the very fabric of Canada today and I do hope you are able to celebrate with us!