History, Canadian history, is in the news these days. 2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday.
Now, in terms of human history, a century and a-half is just a blink of the eye — but to us as Canadian citizens, none of whom were around in 1867, it’s a pretty big deal. If you give even a few moments’ thought to the nation-building events of that time span — the building of a unifying transcontinental railway, the addition of new provinces and territories, the Great Depression, two world wars, and the leaps-and-bounds social progress we’ve made, it’s mind boggling.
Each and every one of them a damn good reason to be proud to be Canadian, eh?
Make no mistake: For all our errors and omissions we are blessed to live in one of the most fortunate countries in the world. Perfect, no. But nothing is. The fact remains, and we should never forget this for a moment, there are billions — billions — of people on this planet who’d swap places with each and every one of us, whatever our personal challenges or hardships, in a nano-second — and be better off than they are now.
So what are local governments planning to do to mark this epic event? Back in ‘67, when I lived in Victoria, our Canadian Centennial was widely celebrated with public events. A great hit of the day was the six-coach Confederation Train, a travelling showcase of Canada past and future. Despite waits of two to three hours 40,000 people boarded it during its week-long visit which was officially opened in the Russell Station railyard by Secretary of State Judy LaMarsh. With the blast of the steam whistle and the roar of RCAF jets overhead, summer-long celebrations were off to the races.
There was even a Confederation Caravan of transport trucks which toured communities lacking easy access to any of Canada’s railways.
Quoting a recent editorial in the Times-Colonist, we also had “special coins, special stamps, commemorative medallions for school students, Centennial projects from sea to sea to sea and Expo 67 in Montreal, “not to mention books, calendars and maps. Led by former city of Victoria manager Clifford Wyatt and well-known entertainer Jerry Gosley, and with a $1 million budget provided by the federal, provincial and municipal governments, Centennial-related events were begun almost eight months in advance.
Events such as a folk arts festival, the world-famous RCMP Musical Ride, the Canadian Military Tattoo, and a massive folk arts festival, all climaxed, on New Year’s Eve, by a spectacular fireworks display on the Inner Harbour Causeway.
The celebration of Canada’s Centennial drew international dignitaries, too.
Tangible legacies from this exciting time are the University of Victoria’s Centennial Stadium and Victoria’s Centennial Square and Centennial Park. Even the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre, the result of collaboration by the western communities, owes its genesis to the 1967 Centennial, as did Nanaimo’s Centennial Museum (since moved to a new location and debranded to Nanaimo Museum).
Under community projects, the Canada 150 website lists only 13 B.C. communities (so far) that have plans to celebrate the centennial. Duncan is there and I quote: “Cowichan Valley residents and visitors will be given a unique opportunity to try their hand at carving a totem pole in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.
“Funded by the Government of Canada through the Canada 150 Fund, the totem pole will take shape throughout the year in a central and highly visible location in downtown Duncan, where the public will be able to watch the carver at work and view the totem progress. Schools and community groups will be invited to participate in the carving process, and the totem will travel to community events to engage even more of Cowichan’s communities and residents in the project.”
“…The Cowichan Valley’s cultural identity is inextricably linked to Coast Salish First Nations heritage, and this new totem will be a lasting reminder not only of the milestone event, but also of Cowichan’s important place within Canada during the nation’s first 150 years, said Mayor [Phil] Kent.”
“The 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017 marks an important moment for our nation,” said the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage. “The ‘Carving a Connection in Cowichan — a Commemorative Totem for Canada 150’ is a unique project that will help strengthen the links that unite Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Thousands of people will witness the carving of this totem, which will focus on the history of the Cowichan Valley in British Columbia, up until 2017. Together, we will celebrate our past and look toward the future in order to leave a legacy for future generations.”
Well, that’s a start. Over to you North Cowichan, CVRD and all other Valley councils and boards, museums and service groups. And, most importantly, our schools. This isn’t a private party, it’s open to one and all. It’s not too late for individuals and groups and civic leaders to implement plans for celebrating our 150th birthday. And I don’t mean a one-day, July 1 event, either.