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Monday is a national holiday in Canada. Canada Day is officially July 1, but it is celebrated on the following day when July 1 is a Sunday. Canada Day commemorates the passage of the British North America Act in 1867, which united four provinces into the Dominion of Canada.

Today Canada is composed of 10 provinces and two territories, but the relationship between those regions is much different, much more fragile, than the relationship between the states in the United States. Indeed, the province of Quebec may very well secede and become an independent nation, in which event some other provinces may seek to become new states in the United States.The winds of change are blowing not only across Eastern Europe but just across our own northern border as well. And the effects upon all of us, and upon our children, of political upheaval in Canada will be far more immediate and clear than are the effects of German unification or the independence movement within the Soviet Union.

It is times like these that point out so plainly the importance of "family learning," that is, learning that takes place outside the traditional classroom. Our children know almost nothing about Canada, save a few wistful images of Eskimos, ice hockey and red-coated Mounties. The textbooks and curricula in our schools cannot (and cannot be expected to) keep up with the frenzied pace of change that is altering the face of our world almost every day.

Our general ignorance about Canada, however, is especially vexing in that our two peoples are so closely tied, sharing as we do the longest undefended border on the planet. After we won our independence from the British, for instance, more than 40,000 colonists who remained loyal to the king fled to Canada. When these Loyalists demanded a colony of their own, the British government carved out a section of Nova Scotia for them and called it New Brunswick.

Canada Day itself - the unification of the Canadian provinces into a single country - came about, in part, because the end of our Civil War created a fear among many that the United States would seek to control all of North America and would soon mount an invasion against the disunited colonies to its north.

We can help introduce Canadian history to our children through library books (look in the 971 section of the juvenile collection), but our first duty is to help them understand where Canada is in the world and where it is in relation to the United States. Once again, a basketball-size globe of the Earth becomes a most valuable home learning aid, for here you can see the immensity of Canada's territory. It is the second largest country in the world and contains three of the world's 10 largest islands (Baffin Island itself is as large as Spain). It has over a million lakes and contains about one-tenth of all the fresh water on earth.

The maps of Canada in an inexpensive road atlas will be even more useful in helping you and your children become familiar with the names and positions of Canada's provinces and major cities. Family questions and games can then be generated by any mention of a Canadian baseball or hockey team (In what province do the Expos play their home games? Answer: Quebec), or by such common images as the Labrador retriever (part of Newfoundland lies on the Labrador Peninsula) and Niagara Falls (it separates the province of Ontario from the state of New York).