Pierre Berton called 1967 "the last good year." In his book of that name, he recreated the sense of pride and wonder all Canadians had in our country in our centennial year. Those of us who are old enough to remember 1967 would probably nod our heads in unison at that notion. It was, indeed, a very good year.
The Canadian Centennial was a year-long celebration of all things Canadian. Schoolkids, natually, got into the spirit in a huge way. I have distinct memories of all of us talking excitedly about the Centennial and how it was to be a party to last all year long. What I don't clearly remember, but Berton describes in great detail, is that there were more than a few detractors who said that the celebrations would be a waste of taxpayers' money, an organizational fiasco, and that we'd not be able to pull off all the things that were being planned. We'd look like fools to the rest of the world.
Well, to say the least, the Centennial went off bigger and better than anyone could have predicted. In many ways, it was a type of Canadian renaissance. Berton describes all the significant achievements of Canadians who were creating, experimenting, building, and doing in that time. Our country progressed in leaps and bounds.
Each town and city encouraged its citizens to begin a "centennial project" , and some of them were among the most bizarre imaginable. A town in the Maritimes began the year by burning all the wooden outhouses: why? Because the centennial project for that town was to install a sewer system and modern flush toilets. A town in the Prairies built a UFO landing pad for its project in order to encourage aliens to visit. After the scoffing laughter died down, people began to realize that aliens had indeed visited: tourism grew enormously because "aliens" wanted to visit this crazy little town with the landing pad. Sheer genius !!
In my home town, Brantford Ontario, we had two centennial projects: an new city hall, which was ultra-modern in design ( for the time, and it still looks sharp today ) and a multi-purpose arena, the Civic Centre. Both were needed because their predecessors were severely antiquated. All across Canada, libraries, schools, hospitals, infrastructure of all kinds, were constructed in a frenzy of modernization. It moved us forward rapidly and spectacularly into the late 20th century.
And then there was the big stuff: the Centennial Caravan and Centennial Train, which visited all parts of Canada, bringing the story of our history, our land, and our people to the people. There were re-enactments of history such as the great coast-to-coast canoe trip, retracing the route of the early fur traders. And the biggest of all was Expo 67, a monumental world's fair that many say is still the best that's ever been. Montreal emerged as a world city because of Expo and the world came to Canada to marvel at our achievements and determination to actually do the fair. Islands were built in the St Lawrence River, and the architecture and spectacle of the fair was like none ever seen before.
When 1967 faded away, we still had the Centennial spirit for a few more years, until the reality of the October Crisis in 1970, the PQ victory in 1976, various economic melt-downs, and regional jealousies reared their ugly heads. For a while, we were united, we were bragging, we were doing great things, and we were looking ahead to a better future. It was fun while it lasted.
In 2017, Canada will celebrate its Sesquicentennial, or our 150th birthday as a nation. For just about all of us over 30, it will be the last meaningful anniversary. In a future blog, I will offer some suggestions how we can mark the occasion, and, in a way, try to recapture the spirit of 67.