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Louis Cameron (centre) and the Ojibway Warrior Society occupy the Anicinabe Park in Kenora, Ont., in July 1974. Vancouver’s Stanley Park—a place known for its dense forests and primeval atmosphere—was, as recently as 150 years ago, home to Squamish villages. People lived there for thousands of years. On the eastern edge of the park, facing downtown, there is a little island known to the Squamish as “skwtsa7s.” Salish oral histories record that the island was the site of a siege, one that ended with a sacrifice described here by Pauline Johnson in her Legends of Vancouver : Out before a long file of southern warriors they stood. Their chins uplifted, their eyes defiant, their breasts bared. Each leaned forward and laid his weapons at his feet, then stood erect, with empty hands, and laughed forth his challenge to death. A thousand arrows ripped the air, two hundred gallant northern throats flung forth a death cry exultant, triumphant as conquering kings—then two hundred fearless northern hearts ceased to beat. Canadians have always thought of their country as an archipelago of cities in a sea of untouched wilderness. We see this idealized version of the country in everything from paintings by the Group of Seven to the works of Farley Mowat. It’s also a concept that the government likes to promote: forests, mountains, and lakes all feature regularly in Canada’s 150th anniversary promotions. In fact, Parks Canada released much-celebrated Discovery Passes in January, which grant free access to National Parks for the year.

Many Canadians see the collective possession and exploration of this wilderness as a right of citizenship. But the pristine landscapes seen in government promotions—and the very concept of Canada as a wilderness—are unrecognizable to me and to other people. In addition to being the sesquicentennial, 2017 has also […]

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