Guest Column

Walter Huebert is a retired high school history teacher from Penticton.

Have you ever wondered why Canadians use the distinguished word “eh”? Or, have you ever wondered how Canada got its name? You need wonder no longer. Let me explain.

When the Fathers of Confederation (there were some mothers and daughters as well) met in Quebec in October 1864 one of the crucial questions was what to call this new country?

John A. Macdonald the mastermind in this visionary enterprise came up with an ingenious idea. He proposed the idea to put 26 pieces of paper into a jar each one with a different letter of the alphabet. George Brown, Macdonalds’ archrival and Reformer from Toronto, who had begun the newspaper the Globe in 1844, insisted on fair play and mixed up all the papers by shaking the jar. John A. Macdonald was to reach in first. He reached into the jar, pulled out a slip of paper and proudly exclaimed… “C, eh!”

George-Etienne Cartier, representing the French, was to make the next selection. He reached into the jar and proclaimed “N, eh!” Next, it was Dr. Charles Tupper’s turn. Not to be outdone he reached his surgeons hand into the jar and loudly announced his selection “D, eh!” amidst great laughter Darcy McGee, the silver tongued orator shouted: “C - eh, N - eh, D - eh”, or C-A-N-A-D-A.

So much for this imaginary story from Canadian folk lore. According to Duncan McArthur in the History of Canada (p.1)

“The name ‘Canada’ is probably of Indian origin and was understood by Jacques Cartier to be the Indian word for town or village.”

Following the initial result of using the name Canada the Fathers of Confederation ran into a bit of a snag. The proposal was to call the new country the Kingdom of Canada. However, it was known that our neighbour to the south, the U.S.A. would never tolerate a “Kingdom” on the North American continent. President Monroe had announced by the so-called Monroe Doctrine that the United States would not tolerate any kingdoms or dictatorships on this continent.

One of the delegates Samuel Leonard Tilley from New Brunswick took this to heart. Tilley, a devout Christian had a custom of reading a chapter from the Bible each day. The chapter he read the morning of naming our country was Psalm 72 and the portion that particularly caught his attention was verse 8.

Psalm 72:8

“He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.”

That morning Samuel Tilley recommended the name The Dominion of Canada. Together with the 72 Resolutions, the name was adopted by the delegates at the Quebec Conference on October 28, 1864.

The British Parliament passed the British North America Act (based on the 72 Resolutions) and as a result the Dominion of Canada, consisting of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, was formally introduced to the world on July 1, 1867. Canada’s coat of arms proudly displays the latin words:

“A MARI USQUE AD MARE” which means as the psalmist had written – we will have “dominion from sea to sea”.

How much more Canadian can we get?!



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