Peter Black: Canada’s Sesquicentennial – Party Like It’s 2067

Peter Black: Canada’s Sesquicentennial – Party Like It’s 2067

LiQM_Mar2017_CoverThis column first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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Canada’s Sesquicentennial: Party Like It’s 2067

By Peter Black

Ca-na-da, one little, two little, three Canadians. We love thee.

If those lyrics send a thrill (or chill) through you, chances are you were alive 50 years ago when Bobby Gimby’s centennial theme song was omnipresent, even en français. 

 Allons Canadiens, très unis,

 Le centenaire de la Confédération

 Les enfants du pays, ensemble!

Without getting into the thorny question of how très uni the country was in 1967 (it wasn’t), the fact is that Canada rocked out for the national milestone. After all, this unlikely country, forged in the crucible of British expedience, American expansionism, railway exploitation and, let’s say it, English-French exasperation, had somehow clung together for 100 years.

Prime Minister Lester Pearson presided over the celebrations, although it was Judy LaMarsh, as Secretary of State – a post now under the Ministry of Canadian Heritage – who had the daunting task of organizing them. LaMarsh was only the second woman to serve as a federal cabinet minister, and the first Liberal.

LaMarsh is remembered for her quip, caught on tape at the 1968 Liberal leadership convention, exhorting her candidate, Paul Hellyer, to “get out now and we’ll stop the bastard,” referring to Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Had Hellyer dropped out of the race, the anti-Trudeau forces within the Liberal Party may have formed a united front, and chances are the son of the “bastard” would not today be the MC of the sesquicentennial party. But we digress.

Surely, the Centennial highlight was the Expo 67 World’s Fair in Montréal. L’Expo had not actually been intended as an official centenary project, but Montréal mayor Jean Drapeau was happy to play along in the spirit of national pride and federal funding. Expo 67 also marked this scribe’s first visit to La Belle Province, and je me souviens… the geodesic dome pavilion of the United States, the monorail, and my dad getting lost in the backwoods of Québec in the blackness of night as we drove back to Ontario.

The dome is now the Biosphère, the French pavilion is now the Casino de Montréal, and there are many other structural reminders of the big bash scattered throughout the province. Two that immediately come to mind are Le Grand Théâtre in Québec City, which, thanks to politics and construction delays, didn’t actually open until 1971, and Centennial Theatre at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, which opened in January 1967.

Nationwide, five other performing arts centres were built with Centennial cash, as were 538 parks, 442 community centres, 312 recreational centres, 188 municipal buildings, 144 libraries, 71 museums and art galleries and 30 memorials and monuments. All told, the Centennial Commission funded some 2,500 projects across the land.

So now, as 36 million or so little Canadians launch into Canada’s sesquicentennial year, the Governor General will award a specially minted medallion to all citizens who can say “sesquicentennial” or “sesquicentenaire” 150 times without stumbling. (Kidding.)

Barring advances in cryogenics, gene manipulation, full-body transplants, geriatric hyper-longevity or immortality gifted by aliens, it’s more than likely that most people who were alive for the 1967 Centennial will have ascended to the great Dominion in the sky by the time Prime Minister Ella-Grace Grégoire-Trudeau presides over the Bicentennial celebration in 2067. That’s assuming global warming has not turned the planet into Waterworld by then.

Therefore, it is commanded of all sons (and daughters) to get with the patriot love and join the sesquicentennial party. The federal government has budgeted about half a billion dollars for the bash, or $13 for every man, woman and child, or approximately the cost of one replacement Super Hornet fighter jet.

For those who think that’s a lot of scratch to blow on Confederation 1.5, consider that the previous federal government spent an estimated $30 million to commemorate the bicentennial of the inconclusive War of 1812. One thinks, en passant, that there might be renewed interest in burning down the White House, given the belligerent bent of that building’s current occupant (assuming you-know-who is still president when this magazine hits the stands).

Some $210 million of the sesqui bucks will go to community projects that promote the themes of “diversity and inclusion, reconciliation with indigenous peoples, the environment, and young people,” such as a new exhibition at the Musée du Bronze d’Inverness, near Thetford Mines, where artists are invited to submit works exploring the theme “Myths, Tales and Legends of Canada.”

In the grander scheme of sesquicentennial extravaganzas is the Rendez-vous 2017 naval regatta. Some 40 tall ships are scheduled to launch in Hamilton, Ont. on June 30 and spend five days in Québec City at the end of July.  The tall ships will stop at 14 towns and cities along the St. Lawrence.

But what about a Gimby-like earworm to have the nation humming in happy unison all sesquicentennial year long? No such luck. Such musical marvels happen, it seems, but once a century.
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About Author

Peter Black

For years Peter Black was the producer of Breakaway, on CBC Radio One in Quebec City. Before arriving in Quebec City in the 1990s, he lived and worked in Ottawa and Montreal. Peter is married and has two sons.

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