December 28, 2012

Canada: the dominion of comedy


He goes on to insult the beaver in the same asterisk, but the damage has already been done.

For starters, Dominion of Canada is still the official name of Canada, or at least it probably is. Let’s just say it’s complicated. The British North America Act, which created the country in 1867, makes it quite clear Canada is a dominion. No act since then, including the major constitutional reform package of 1982, has altered that.

The name may not be as fashionable as it once was — partly because it lacks a precise equivalent in French — but it has never been replaced.

How Canada came to be a dominion is somewhat apocryphal. The story goes that Scottish-born anglophile Sir John A. Macdonald, the main stick-handler of Canadian confederation, was pushing for the Kingdom of Canada. This was shouted down as possibly provocative to the United States, which was not feeling kindly to the Royal Kingdom, what with its meddling in the Civil War and all.

The person who gets the credit for coming up with the word “dominion” is New Brunswick’s Sir Leonard “Lennie” Tilley, son of American Loyalists, temperance advocate and faithful Bible-reader. The story goes that one morning during the Confederation negotiations Tilley had read Psalm 72, which reads in part, referring to you-know-who: “He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”

The psalm goes on to say: “They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust,” but we don’t need to go there.

Anyway, “dominion” stuck with the Confederation delegates, and Canada has been stuck with it since — as have Australia and New Zealand, without attracting the ridicule of Vanity Fair.

So Happy New Year, from this country, where, to borrow from Dylan Thomas, comedy has dominion.

Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg The friendly Commonwealth Games

    The 20th Commonwealth Games are now underway in Glasgow, Scotland, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Quebec's proliferation of festivals

    Woodstock en Beauce celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Quebec City's English paper a survivor

    In a city stocked with beautiful, interesting and historic buildings, the five-story gem located at perhaps the busiest corner in Old Quebec doesn't attract much attention, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    June 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Canadian hockey Kings

    As of this writing, the Los Angeles Kings have either already quaffed from their second Stanley Cup or are on the verge of closing out the New York Rangers, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    June 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Remembering the forgotten Empress

    The Titanic gets the most attention, what with the epic drama of the 1912 sinking of an incomparable luxury liner, stocked with celebrities, on its maiden voyage.

    May 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Canadians among TV conspirators

    Call me weird, paranoid, a child of Watergate and Contragate or just a connoisseur of tense political drama, but my current three favorite TV programs are about conspiracies in America, each in a different era of U.S. history, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Hurons gamble on Quebec

    When we were kids, our parents took us to visit Sainte Marie among the Hurons, the restoration of the settlement French missionaries built in 1639 in what is now central Ontario, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    May 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Canadiens are Canada's team

    The National Hockey League playoffs are underway, and for Canadiens fans, many of whom likely reside in the Montreal "suburb" of Plattsburgh, it is a time of hope and joy.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Big shift in Quebec vote

    Being a man of science, Philippe Couillard, premier-designate of Quebec, chose to use a geological term (though his field is actually medicine) to describe what happened in Monday's election, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Trench warfare in Quebec elections

    I've seen many a Quebec election in my day (I'll skip the "by cracky"), writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    April 4, 2014 1 Photo