It's my pleasure to be with you this morning to talk to you about Canada's 150th anniversary.
It's probably one of the more pleasant occasions to come before a parliamentary committee, to talk about something like Canada's sesquicentennial in 2017. It is, of course, a special pleasure to see Peter Aykroyd again, as well as Colin Jackson.
Peter spoke with almost 20 distinguished Canadians at this conference that we held at the National Arts Centre, and there are actually videos available. Everyone from Roch Carrier to Beverly McLachlin to Peter Aykroyd and more are there, reflecting on what they felt was the significance of 1967 and the import of marking our sesquicentennial in a suitable fashion. So I recommend that to you.
I'm here really today to try to relay to you a little bit about what happened at that conference, and to also talk about some of the history surrounding 1967, which is covered so ably in Peter's book, and also in Helen Davies' research. I understand the committee met with Helen last week. I brought along copies of her dissertation.
It was a funny thing. When we were preparing to do some research for our conference, we found her doctoral dissertation in the musty archives of the University of Winnipeg. I assure you, it's a very pleasant thing for any former PhD student to get a phone call out of the blue announcing not only interest in someone's dissertation but a desire to publish it as well. The reason we did that is exactly because, as Peter has explained, there really are too few materials concerning what happened in what was, I think everyone can agree, a landmark year for this country.
I'd like to talk a little bit about the history there, and then catch you up perhaps on some of the initiatives that have begun since the conference.
I'll start with some of the people who were involved. I suspect Helen has covered some of the details concerning the commission that was set up. My interest is really in the sesquicentennial as an exercise in public imagination. That's also what we titled the report that came out of the conference. Of course, thinking about 1967, I get all of this second-hand from my parents and from their friends and neighbours, and it's striking as well that you really have three generations sitting at the table today, each with their own relationship to the centennial and the sesquicentennial. It served as a kind of high-water mark for a lot of public and political energy in this country.
Just think back to the history of the 1960s, a history shared by both Conservative and Liberal governments, of course. We began in 1960 with Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights. In 1961 the wave of technological change was sweeping across the country. The Prime Minister placed the first transatlantic phone call to the Queen. Only a year later, we launched a satellite into space. We were the third country to do so. In 1964 social insurance cards were issued for the first time. In 1965 we had a new flag. Toronto built a new city hall. In 1966 the CBC flicked the switch on colour broadcasting. We got the Canada Pension Plan. We built the Bloor-Danforth line across Toronto. Montreal got the Metro and Canadians got medicare.
But we're not done yet, because in 1967, of course, the centennial year, we had a new anthem, we built a national library, we awarded the first Orders of Canada, we attended one of the world's great fairs, Expo 67 in Montreal, and only 1,000 people came to see the eight acts that made up the first Caribana festival in Toronto.
Of course, the political record continues from there, but it's important to note that it wasn't just a party, that there was, in my reading, a real sense of momentum about Canada becoming a modern, dynamic country that was starting to articulate for itself a different narrative. I'll just get into a little bit about that. As a country, we started and ended the decade in very different places. It was an era of metamorphosis and reinvention. A little of this was because of the centennial; of course, it's not a causal relationship, but what the centennial did was establish a milestone, a goalpost.
It was powerful, because it focused everyone's attention on three key questions: where are we, who are we, and just where are we going? In this way, I think the centennial was a useful device. It had a political effect. It was catalytic, because it gave us a public occasion on which to ask these questions in an open and free way outside of the sort of public crisis that normally spurs these debates about major change.
Instead, the spirit of the centennial allowed us to propose some new ideas about how as a society we could live together--or at least I think this is what two people, Roby Kidd and Freda Waldon, may have had in mind. So if you get the idea that you have to build any statues to people for our sesquicentennial, I think both Roby Kidd and Freda Waldon would be excellent candidates, because they probably did more to shape the spirit of the centennial than anyone else in Canada did, although I'm sure they'd refuse the credit.
In the case of Roby, many of you may be familiar with his son, Bruce Kidd, who was for many years dean of athletics at U of T and was an Olympic athlete. His father was the first Canadian to get a PhD in adult education. He was what you might call a proto-social entrepreneur.
Freda Waldon ran the Hamilton Public Library. She was also the head of the Canadian Library Association and saw first-hand the transformative power of literacy and education.
Kidd and Waldon each understood the value of what today we might call lifelong, self-directed learning. And this is the connection I'd really like to make for the committee today: the centennial as an opportunity for learning. As soon as you talk about learning or pedagogy, of course, immediately you start thinking, well, that doesn't sound like so much fun; that doesn't sound like a great party. But in fact it was the spark, I would argue, that made the centennial as memorable as in fact it was.
They shared the belief that a good society is one that encourages curiosity, self-discovery, and improvement, and together they were among the first people to recognize the opportunity that a Canadian centennial might contain. I believe that in doing so they helped to set the stage for what would follow.
Ten years before the centennial, in 1957, they organized a conference that drew together 32 different organizations, like the YMCAs and community foundations, teachers groups, and librarians. A year later they met again, and soon they would create the Canadian Centenary Council. It was a voluntary organization the purpose of which was to get people thinking about 1967 and to press the government to get moving. Because it wasn't government that led the way to 1967; it really was citizens like Roby and Freda. They managed to embed this idea that the centennial didn't belong to the government; it belonged to Canadians, and it would be up to Canadians to decide just how they intended to celebrate. Encouraging curiosity, self-discovery, and improvement was what they hoped the centennial would help to do. They envisioned a centennial that would be about the excitement of learning. It would be about learning about yourself, your neighbours, and your country, and you could do this without ever taking out a textbook.
What's so extraordinary is that when Canadians by the millions took up this invitation, exceeding the expectations of anyone in Ottawa, and they staged thousands of community events and initiatives, they began to see for themselves that despite their differences from one region to the next, what they shared was this desire to learn and to celebrate.
For Canadians in 1967, it didn't matter if your way of celebrating was to build a UFO pad in St. Paul, Alberta--just in case--or to stage a bathtub race in Nanaimo, B.C., to launch a Caribbean festival in Toronto, or to host a historic re-enactment in P.E.I. The point was the people were taking charge. They were spontaneously, joyously rip, mixing and burning their own centennials clear across the country. And the government encouraged them in some very interesting ways.
I've submitted to each of you colour copies that I direct your attention to. In the 1960s one of the more notorious publications was a book by Abbie Hoffman, provocatively called Steal This Book.
The federal government, I suspect with Mr. Aykroyd's assistance, placed an advertisement in major publications that looks like this. The top line of it reads:
Take this Centennial Symbol
Put it on a banner, use it on your products, and in your advertising, engrave it on your stationery, paint it on your vehicles, wear it on your lapel, display it on your cartons...stick it on your pay envelopes, stencil it on your coffee cups. Carry it. Fly it. But above all
There was a coupon that you would send into Ottawa and they would send you back photo-ready artwork. I like to joke, just try that with the Olympic rings. This is before open source. This is a government trusting the citizenry to make use of a federal symbol that would visually create some constancy, some consistency, across all of these different initiatives.
We weren't particularly fussed about what you were doing. We were concerned that you were doing it, and we wanted to figure out a subtle but important way to create some connective tissue across these initiatives.
I talked a lot about the importance of Roby and Freda and the emphasis on learning. But when you think about it, what were some of the major events? It was the Canadian train that travelled from one end of the country to the other that launched a new museology, that created opportunities for another generation of curators and theatre directors to stage their own history of the country. If you went to Expo, it was called Man and His World, which may seem, for obvious reasons, a little dated, but it really was about learning. It was about man and technology, man and nature, man and society, and learning about the ways in which our world was changing. I put it to you that in the course of the past 40-odd years, society, of course, has changed dramatically, and we need to think as much again about where we are and who we are and where we want to go.
This advertisement here, “What is Centennial?”, is a fabulous government advertisement, I hope you'll agree. I won't read it all. It says at the end:
It's a time to reflect on past achievements; of our growth into a modern, dynamic country; and to look ahead to a future of prosperity and greatness.
You have to love the confidence of the 1960s, too. They did modernism well.
“What are you planning for Centennial?” It's not saying here's a schedule of events that you should come to, but what are you going to do to make this a major occasion?
This is the last advertisement I want to show you and then I'll start to wrap-up, mindful of the time. This was the final advertisement the government took out, which really commemorated what they had accomplished, so it's covered in memorabilia. Again, I'll only read out the last paragraph. It's very striking because I think any other country in the world would have put it a little differently. It doesn't say that in 1967 we celebrated ourselves as a nation; it says:
In 1967, we've learned a lot about ourselves as a nation. Let's not stop now! Let's enjoy this new knowledge of ourselves. And make every year to come one of excitement and discovery. We'll just call it 1968 “Centennial Plus One” and keep on going!
For me, this isn't an exercise in Canadian boosterism. It's not an exercise in nostalgia. I think the work that was done around the centennial is really instructive because I think the ethos of it is actually as relevant today as it was then.
How do we use 2017 as an opportunity to challenge Canadians to think a little bit more deeply about the kind of society we want to live in and about how this country has changed? Our first 100 years was defined by geography, but I think since 1967 geography has given way to demography. By the time we reach 2017, one-third of this country will have been born abroad. It's time we take this opportunity to have a good conversation about who we are and where we're going.
I'm mindful of the time.