How Magna Carta came to Canada.


Let us begin with a confession. When presented with the opportunity four years ago to become involved in bringing Magna Carta to Canada for its 800th anniversary commemoration, we were not very well-versed in what exactly Magna Carta was. For starters, we were still calling it "the Magna Carta" which, now that we have had our knuckles rapped a few dozen times, we realize is tantamount to sporting t-shirts that read "IMPOSTERS!"

We knew it had something to do with the rule of law and habeas corpus, was English in origin, was written in Latin, was really old, and ... that was about it.

The reason we were involved at all is that an English friend had asked us, "Would your country be interested in hosting an original copy of Magna Carta if a loan of the document from the U.K. to Canada could be arranged?" Our answer was "of course." But given that our tastes do not always run with the crowd, we thought it best to ask some of our 35 million fellow Canadians.

Given that it was 2011 and, south of the border, the U.S. presidential primary season was in full swing, we did what everyone else seemed to be doing: we formed an exploratory committee. We canvassed members of the legal community, cultural community, corporate community and, of course, academic community. A resounding "absolutely!" was the consensus. And so, with zero experience in the world of museums, fundraising, committees and priceless treasures hailing from the Middle Ages, we jumped in.

A Magna Carta and a Charter of the Forest, both issued by King John's grandson Edward I in 1300, have left the grounds of Durham Cathedral for the first time in 715 years and travelled across the Atlantic under heavy security and secrecy so that they may be put on display in four Canadian venues over a six-month period. To say we are excited is an understatement. Actually a misstatement. What we are is terrified. What if we are imposters?

We are not academics, nor are we historians. But we do possess a keen awareness and fervent belief that when the gifts of the past reveal themselves, they are worth a moment (or four years) of our time. As a result, we committed ourselves, as willingly as unwittingly, to the task placed before us. We say unwittingly because it never occurred to us what lay ahead. We assumed that we would find a capable and enthusiastic organization to which we would simply supply our recently acquired charitable foundation number and email contact list for the folks at Durham...

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