In Canada, the celebrations have been in full swing since 2005. But for our fellow denizens of “The New World” south of the 49th parallel, the fourteenth of May, 2007 was the Big Event that launched the festivities of what they have referred to as the 400th anniversary of “the Birthplace of American Democracy” in 1607.
Their inaugural bash was a John Phillips Sousa-like affirmation of U.S. history and independence called Jamestown 2007, in Virginia. Ours was Port Royal in what today is Nova Scotia; a much touted and significant event but by comparison relatively low-key.
I don’t want to get into a tussle over who can throw the best party or whose 400th birthday takes precedence, but I must … ahem … say that we Canadians actually got the ball rolling.
The only slight reservation I have about that boast is that our 400th anniversary of the founding of the first permanent settlement in The New World (in 1605) was long before les Anglais got their hands on the lucrative fur trade in North America. Until 1605, it was as much about beaver pelts as settlement. And when we established our first permanent settlement here, the place was called La Nouvelle France; but all that would change.
Remember that nasty Seven Years War in Europe at the end of which the two aforementioned European colonial powers sealed the fate of this continent? Britain took the lion’s share in a 20-minute battle on the Plains of Abraham outside Québec City, leaving France with only the area west of the Mississippi which eventually one day would be bought on the sly from the French. The latter acquisition is known as the Louisiana Purchase; and fortunately or unfortunately, Napoléon was preoccupied on the Eastern French when two U.S. senators who did not have the legal authority to do so, got a lot of good real estate at a very good price.
Now in terms of the Jamestown 2007 celebrations, you do have to read the fine print carefully. Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.
But let’s not quibble; whether it be 1605 or 1607, the point is that we in The New World have begun a rotating series of birthday celebrations that have refocussed a lot folks’ attention on North American history — and it’s been really good for business too. Commemorative celebrations sell the destination quite nicely, fill up the hotels and restaurants, and the message hits home. The folks in Jamestown, Virginia should know; they’ve been having a celebration every 50 years since 1807.
But once the actual anniversary date passes, I can ensure you that the parties and the investment-heavy refurbishments, reconstructions, and roads will be there for a long time to come.
And then there are the spin-offs; 400th anniversaries seem to happening all over the place. Québec City is gearing up for 1608 and a reaffirmation that the French Régime is not totally a thing of the past — what a fête that will be. And even places such as Albany, New York (the state capital) are getting the rooms ready for 2009, 400 years after Henry Hudson set sail from Amsterdam, arrived in New York Harbour five months later, and as the promotional material says, “… eventually gave rise to a thriving settlement on what is today New York, in many ways the capital of the world.”
So before y’all come over and help celebrate, eh, let me give you a quick historical primer.
Port Royal is the epicentre and crucible of Nova Scotian history; marking not only the territorial effects of 150 years of struggle between Britain and France for control of the New World, but also the place where in 1605 Pierre du Gua Sieur de Mons — and the man who came to be known as the Father of New France, Samuel de Champlain — established the first permanent European settlement in North America. Today it is a sublime town in the fertile Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, and a safe harbour that leads to the Bay of Fundy, known for having the highest tides in the world. Here you will also see “Canada’s oldest thoroughfare.” When Port Royal was founded it was also in essence a kind of commercial and agricultural research station; more than just fur hats for Europe.
Jamestown, on the other hand, is really three sites in one: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorkton. This is the “Historical Triangle” where “Europeans, American Indians, and Africans first lived together and became the seed of the American people.” Three ships sailed into Chesapeake Bay on April 26, 1607 and disembarked their settlers on Jamestown Island on May 14.
From a commercial perspective, theirs was a much more ambitious and — despite great hardship — eventually lucrative enterprise based on the exportation of tobacco to Europe and the selling of shares of stock by the Virginia Company to anyone wanting a piece of the action in the New World. Oh and there was the slave trade too.
I of course have not made reference to the indigenous people of the Americas who had been going about their business here for thousands of years.
For more information, visit www.americas400thanniversary.com http://www.americas400thanniversary.com and The Legacy of Port Royal
This article was first published in Emag, the inflight magazine of Eastern Airways, one of the UK’s principal regional airlines.
To download a PDF copy of this inflight magazine, click here.
Québec City: 400 Years of Distinct North American History
The year 2008 marks the anniversary of Québec city and the first permanent settlement in North America. Québec is always “a moveable feast” but 2008 will be something very special. We at Travelosophy highly recommend that you save room in your travel schedule for this wonderful event.
For more information visit the website MyQuébec2008.com.