Source: Toby Webster/Flickr

A recent article by the CBC reveals that 330 Sussex Dr. in Ottawa—where the Parliament, the National Canadian Gallery, and the Canadian Royal Mint stand alongside other national landmarks—hides the horrors of Canadian history in its skeleton. The Global Centre for Pluralism, a government organization that conducts research on marginalization, released these findings about the architecture of its location: the mortar used for Parliament buildings and adjacent buildings is composed of sand derived from one out of four Algonquin burial grounds. There are actual human remains of Indigenous people in these buildings. 

Karl Marx once said that capitalism comes into the world “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt”. In the case of Canadian capitalism, this is more than a figure of speech. Federal funding for resources that improve living conditions for Indigenous people continues to fall short, while the buildings of the Canadian state are literally standing with a genocide for a backbone.

Canada is one of the world’s top 10 richest countries, with over 6 trillion dollars in private wealth and over 40 individual billionaires. How was this wealth created? At whose expense was it accumulated? Let us follow the money and reveal the real history of this country that is so often portrayed as “peaceful” and “moderate.” 

It is often claimed by bourgeois historians that the establishment of the Canadian state was a cooperative and collaborative effort between traders of French, British, and Native origins, as opposed to the violent confrontations between Indigenous populations and Europeans that occurred south of our border. The truth is that the birth of Canada in 1867 was made possible by the continuous theft of Indigenous territory, with the Hudson Bay Company being the main culprit. Since 1670, this trading company has monopolized all sorts of raw material, foodstuffs, and fur, and exploited local Indigenous communities to load ships to European markets. It also stole from local fur traders by using alcohol to keep them intoxicated during peak hunting times and undermine their community relations. The company made an equivalent of today’s $1.6 billion, investing those profits in English industry; similarly to the exploitation of African slave labour for the production of cotton in the United States. In fact, capitalism in England would not have flourished the way that it did had it not been for the brutal enslavement and exploitation of these communities, who suffer the consequences of oppression to this day. 

While Hudson Bay made all these profits, Indigenous people did not see a cent of that wealth. The company later sold over 8 million square kilometres of land to the Canadian state, in addition to 50,000 acres around its various trading posts. Historian W.L. Morton said of this event, “One of the greatest transfers of territory and sovereignty in history was conducted as a mere transaction in real estate.” Were Indigenous people consulted in this transaction? No. Did they receive any of the $300,000 paid by the Crown for the territories? Also no. What they did get was John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, calling them “a flock of sheep” handed over with unceded land that was stolen from them. Canada’s founding act was an act of theft.

This was essential to the creation of Canadian capitalism. As we have described in our document on the Indigenous struggle in Canada: “With enormous profits from the fur trade and alcohol monopolies as well as the sale of stolen land, the Hudson’s Bay Company was essential in the formation of the Canadian bourgeoisie and capitalism in Canada. In fact, HBC was the starting point for the development of the big bourgeoisie in Canada in terms of land development, the railways, shipping and banking. Thus it is clear that the exploitation of Indigenous peoples was key to the development of Canadian capitalism, and provided the necessary basis for the formation of the nascent Canadian bourgeoisie.”

It also must be remembered that the creation of the Canadian state through tying the country together with the Canadian Pacific Railway only happened through the dispossession and violent repression of Indigenous peoples. In addition to suppressing a mass democratic revolutionary movement of the Metis, Macdonald also deliberately starved thousands of Indigenous people to clear them off the land. He ordered officials to withhold food rations from First Nations until they moved into federally designated reserves. Indigenous people were pushed out into reserves which they could not leave without the permission of the government that starved them– everytime they complained, their rations would be cut even further. 

Another “great achievement” of Macdonald was the introduction of the Indian Act. Canadian capitalism had entered a new stage: with the disappearance of fur-bearing animals, the fur-trade went into decline. After seizing territories and developing the railways, the capitalist class needed to direct its attention into land development and promoting agricultural production. All they needed to do now was to put a large pool of cheap labour under a system of land tenure. The Indian Act gave the Canadian state unlimited authority over all aspects of the lives of Indigenous people, including forcibly relocating them onto the reserves, replacing traditional forms of Indigenous governance, and stripping them of their culture by banning their traditional dress, native language, and any form of traditional spirituality. It also introduced the residential school system, which removed Indigenous children from their families, distanced them from their traditional ways of living, and encouraged assimilation into bourgeois society. Sweeping evidence in the last two years has shown over 6,000 unmarked gravesites of Indigenous children in these schools, where they experienced horrific abuse and death at the hands of the Church and the State. All of this was done in the interests of developing Canadian capitalism. 

The findings about the construction of 330 Sussex Dr. are a grimly literal reminder of what we already know—that Canada is built on the death and exploitation of Indigenous peoples.  This structure has begun to show signs of weakness and decay. Recent years, particularly the public response to the discovery of mass graves at former residential schools, have demonstrated that the Canadian working class is no longer taking the oppression of Indigenous people lightly. The resulting movement to tear down statues of Canada’s founding figures showed what we can expect in the future as Canadian capitalism continues to decline and its history is exposed. 

Trudeau can try to give Canada a new coat of paint with crocodile tears and empty promises about reconciliation, but that does not change the mortar that holds Canada together. He no longer fools anyone. His recent attempt to “indigenize” the office of Governor General, a colonial hold-over representing the very monarchy behind the genocide of Indigenous peoples, cannot erase history. A system built on the bones of exploited peoples will have to be torn down and buried for good. It must be replaced with a new socialist society that is free of oppression and exploitation, and instead, is full of life.