The bilingual, bi-national federal state that turns 150 this year wasn’t the preference of Canadian founders like Sir John A. Macdonald. He and others wanted a unitary state, one that wouldn’t be at risk of falling into sectionalism and civil war, as was then happening in the United States.
But the country that we have today was a compromise—between Macdonald’s vision and that of the rebels who had overturned the existing order in the colonies.
A rebellion by a French minority helped shape the country into something very different than what Macdonald had in mind. Today, Canada’s Indigenous minority are playing a similar role, pushing the country beyond the structures put in place at the time of Confederation, and making space for a third founding nation.
Thirty years before Confederation, the colonies that would become Canada were thrown into turmoil by the 1837 Patriote Rebellion. The most important battle of the rebellion was fought in the village of Saint Eustache, in what is today Quebec. There, a militia of 200 French-speaking farmers made their last stand against 1200 heavily armed and well-trained British soldiers. By dawn, the Patriotes’ defeat was absolute.