The two nations’ historical trajectories as rival exploiters of the 19th century North American continent may be more parallel than intertwined but they still remain inseparable. That’s especially true if one considers the American influence that helped spur the province of Canada – plus Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – into forming a Dominion in the first place.
Looking back, what might not be commonly recognized about our own Confederation is that one of the motivations to get a deal done was a fear that the post-Civil War United States would be emboldened and look to annex the isolated British colonies remaining to the north. It certainly was not lost on the Fathers of Confederation that the newly-reunited U.S. might seek to indulge a threatening expansionist agenda.
It’s fascinating then that Canada, even at its very inception, was casting a wary eye southward and speculating at the desires of its much larger cousin. Sound familiar? In defeating the Confederacy, Lincoln’s northern army had proven to all that it could be a mobile and formidable force. Americans had also not forgotten that there was still the small matter of the British having descended from what is now Canadian territory to set the White House ablaze in the War of 1812 or that the British supported the South in the Civil War.
So, there was the fear of festering American resentment that could manifest itself in retribution, along with the realization that countries – at least in those days – did not become great through contraction or maintaining their existing territorial boundaries. In fact, both countries – the U.S and the now formed Canada – would engage in an orgy of expansion in the decades that followed July 1, 1867.
Canadian introspection at perennially obsessing over who we are as a nation and as a people may have been forever set by our constant awareness of the behemoth to the south which, by its very existence, could not help but influence and shape our national character in a way that few other countries have ever experienced.
Yet, as Canadians, we have never engaged in open conflict with them – not in the military sense. It is the fact of our peaceful coexistence that most defines our character and the Canadian spirit of cooperation and compromise that has given us a worldwide reputation as reasonable, sober and, above all, reliable allies.
What makes the relationship between Canada and the United States so unique is our own sometimes confounding obsession to always look southward and, in many ways, define ourselves in the negative. We are not always sure who we are, but we are absolutely certain that we are not Americans. What’s more, we very keenly feel the need for the rest of the world to likewise recognize our distance from them, if not geographically at least their actions and their own self-proclaimed manifest destiny.
We are a part of them yet apart from them at the same time.
The United States is as associated in Canada’s history and makeup as is our land’s natural beauty. We cannot separate ourselves from it nor should we even try; we should neither deny it nor resent the truth of it. It is not so much an American influence that is felt in Canadian affairs – and Canadian daily life – as it is an American omnipresence.
We are so intertwined as to be inseparable. Whether it be in the cold, hard economics of cross border trade and shared continental security – or in the more easily seen and felt matters that occupy us as we go about living our lives – the two countries together form a continental union that remains the envy of the world.
For better or worse, the future is one we will always be destined to confront together.
Gavin MacFadyen is a U.S based writer and occasional lawyer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.
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