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Nellie McClung: Dominion Day deserves all the pageantry we can muster

Dominion Day was a day commemorating the granting of Dominion status in certain countries. It was an official public holiday in Canada from 1879 to 1982, where it was celebrated on 1 July; that date is now known as Canada Day.

This column first appeared in the Victoria Daily Times on June 28, 1941.

Nellie McClung Photograph By TIMES COLONIST FILE

The first of July is upon us again, and a precious day it is, redolent of happy gatherings. It is not just a day of 24 hours, or a date on the calendar set in red. It is a divisional point in the year, a pinnacle, a climax, when school is out, holidays have begun, and high summer with ripe cherries and flaming tiger lilies are breaking in beauty on the Canadian scene.

In the pioneer days in Manitoba, we counted it a grave crime not to “Keep the First.” The man who worked that day, depriving his family and hired help of their birthright as Canadian, was considered our meanest citizen — the incarnation of that poor stick Sir Walter Scott had in mind when he described the man who never thrilled with patriotic pride, and who never said: “This is my own — my native land!”

The Victory Loan programs, parades and celebration have lifted us into a high mood and should bring us a great celebration of Canada’s birthday. But we must celebrate it outside under the trees with wisps of white clouds in the blue skies and long tables filled with salmon sandwiches, potato salad, pickled pears and coffee made on a real fire in black kettles and served with the odd leaf as a token of being genuine picnic coffee.

To get the atmosphere of a first of July celebration, there must be keen anticipation and preparation for the event. It must have new dresses, coloured balloons, bright parasols, and there must be speeches after the supper, with live talent, too — none of this “delayed broadcast” business. I am afraid the radio has weakened our amateur efforts, and there is no doubt that on this day there will be great programs from coast to coast over the national network. But no one who sits in an overstuffed chair indoors, beside a radio, on this great day can get the real feel of Canadian patriotism.

I want to see the nine provinces, appropriately dressed, come in from the wings and join hands to sing O Canada. I want to hear choirs of school children sing, In Day of Yore, from Britain’s Shores — Wolfe the Dauntless Hero Come. And I would like to hear some of the patriotic poems which have been written by our own people, and it might be a good time to learn the second verse of O Canada. On this one great day, I think we should go back to the flag drills, the club-swinging exercises, the patriotic pageants, reviving once more the regional pride that comes from our own efforts.

When I spoke of this some time ago to some teachers, I found I was out of step with the times. The school year ends before the first of July, and by that time the children and pupils have scattered. Summer schools are waiting, vacations have begun, the pace of life has been speeded up.

An age of hard, sound sense seems to be coming to us, when tradition must give way to convenience. But this has its dangers, too — we might be losing something precious. I have been reading with interest of a plan carried out by a company of wise women in this city, who decided that the present way of raising money for charities is cumbersome, impractical and laborious.

So they advertised a bazaar which would be a Barmecide feast, in as much as it would not be a bazaar at all. It would exist only on paper. So no one would have to give anything, and this would save at least a dollar. No one would need to go, so that would save carfare or gas, say 12 cents. No would need to buy any thing and that would save at least $2.

And each of the friends could spend the whole afternoon quietly at home, and that would be a peaceful little island in the stormy sea of the week of great value to busy women. This was all explained in the prospectus and it worked out according to program, and brought in almost $600 for the fund, with a minimum of exertion.

This plan seems to have great possibilities. It opens a new vista — teas could be held this way with fine effect. The invitations might read as follows:

“Dear Mrs. Brown,

“It gives me pleasure to invite you to come and have tea with me on Saturday afternoon. I know you are busy, and so am I, and if you come to my house for tea, you will feel you should have me in return. So let’s meet each other half way. You drink your tea and I’ll drink mine and no circuit this fall. I feel sure, pleasant time, I remain.

“Your affectionate friend.”

No doubt this will be a great saver of time. But there is another side to be considered. It is quite possible for people to be too sensible and so miss a lot of fun. Bazaars held in absentia can never furnish the drama and local colour that has endeared them to the heart of women everywhere. Quite apart from their function as money-makers, a bazaar is an event of social importance and part of our community life. It was at a bazaar that the Jarvis sisters-in-law learned the truth about each other.

Mrs. Thomas Jarvis of Victoria sent a cushion of her own design and handicraft to Mrs. Frank Jarvis of Edmonton. This was in 1925. The cushion was a study in still life, done on black satin, with a deer vaulting a stream. Mrs. Jarvis of Edmonton, the receiver of the gift, did not believe in any cushion which you could not wash and so, when another Christmas came, sent the same cushion to another sister-in-law in London, Ont. The London woman kept it for many years, still in it wrappings, and then last Christmas — in the spirit of War Saving — sent it unwittingly to the designer and maker, her sister-in-law in Victoria. The Victoria Mrs. Jarvis recognized her own handiwork and traced the course of the cushion’s wanderings.

This spring, her two sister-in-laws came to Victoria to visit her and one day recently she took them to a bazaar in the basement of her church, and there in plain sight, sat the black satin cushion with the deer still posed above the stream. She told me the story herself.

“I led the unsuspecting culprits to the scene of the crime,” she said, and watched them closely. “Jessie from London was the first to speak. She pointed to the cushion and clutched my arm. ‘Mary Jarvis,’ she said, ‘you mean thing. I sent you that cushion for Christmas and you gave to the bazaar. You evidently didn’t think much of it.’ I told her I did think a lot of that cushion — more than she would ever know, and I asked her where did she get it. She didn’t seem to be quite clear on that point.

“Then I got in my good work on Sadie from Edmonton. ‘Maybe you could help your dear sister-in-law to remember,’ I said pointedly. Sadie looked at us helplessly with guilt in her eyes, and then we all began to laugh. And the whole story broke and everyone at the bazaar enjoyed the fun. The Women’s Association bought the cushion for $5 and give it to the retiring president, but I know it will never rest contentedly on a chesterfield. It’s a rover, more at home at a bazaar than in a house. It will be on the western circuit this fall. I feel sure.”

I began by saying we should celebrate Canada’s birthday. It is a great occasion. We are Canada-conscious now as never before. We do love our country.


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