From Centenary to Sesquicentenary: Reflections of an Immigrant

     Something to sing about

1967

***

…Yes there’s

Something to sing about, tune up a string about

Sing out in chorus or quietly hum: of a land that’s still young,

With a ballad that’s still unsung

Telling the promise of

Great things

To come

***

Oscar Brand, 1967

*

From Centenary, 1967

*

Euphoria came to Canada in 1967. To my knowledge euphoria had never visited  this land before. To be sure, some lesser degree of happiness, masquerading as euphoria, had touched down in particular parts of our Dominion, fueled by some intoxicant or the other, but general euphoria, all-out, feel-good-about yourself euphoria, never! We shook off our normal lukewarm approach to national pride and went headlong with all the momentum that our 100 year history could muster, into an American style boosterism for 12 glorious months. We pulled out all the stops, went crazy, or at least as crazy as our then relatively staid Northern European orientation would allow.

The Centennial fever was a fairly widespread national contagion but had its focus in Montreal. Montreal would be the venue to  a celebration of  millennial proportions, a World’s Fair lasting over 6 months. In Canada at that time, only Montreal could successfully have hosted an international event of that calibre. Outside Quebec there was a curious lack of confidence that Canadians could reach beyond our perceived limitations on the international stage. We were essentially untheatrical. Entering Canada, there seemed to have been an agreement that immigrants would check their flamboyance and idiosyncrasy at the door. We did occupy a kind of niche of geopolitical importance, largely created by Lester B. Pearson’s role in the U.N., but outside of the Paris of North America, we had zero credibility as party animals. Curiously though, Caribana made its first appearance in Toronto that year of our Centennial, and a raucous energy was imported to Toronto the good from the Caribbean to add its vibrant colours, piquant flavours and joyful noises to the bland Britannic ambiance of mainstream Canada.

The Province of Quebec in 1967 would lend a disproportionate quota of energy and interest in disclosing parts of the emerging National character up until then hidden to itself. Despite widespread early apprehension about our ability to succeed at this important international undertaking, Jean Drapeau, dynamic Mayor of Montreal, furnished the chutzpah, appearing frequently in the media with a confident and optimistic message about Canada’s commitment to the World’s Fair labeled “Terre des Hommes”/ “Man and his World.” Many were the critics who lacked the courage and vision of  Mayor Drapeau. The stakes were undoubtedly high. This could be our coming out party or we could fall flat on our face.

The successful results of “Terre des Hommes/ Man and his World” were a vindication of those who like Jean Drapeau had the confidence that our Nation had the potential to elevate its game. Over 50 million visitors came to the event called Expo ’67 and 62 nations had representations at the Exposition.

Iranian Pavilion at Expo ’67. Double click the image to see the beautiful details of the pavilion.

In 1967, Quebec would also provide a meteoric,  provocative and influential personality who would seize this moment of our recently expanded imagination and  pull us into unexpected orbits. Pierre Trudeau added “brash” “flamboyant “arrogant” “mischievous” “playful” to our national repertoire of qualities available for our exploration. For about two decades after his ascension from Justice Minister to Prime Minister we Canadians punched way above our weight class on the International stage. His intellect, eloquence and confident independence from servile acceptance of American economic and geopolitical ideals, were more than enough to expand the restricted notions that we had of ourselves. Alas! of course even enthusiasm is unsustainable in the long run and over time the youthful panache he exuded would be tempered by the difficult realities of an increasingly complex world. Apart from the Charter of rights and Freedoms, Pierre Trudeau did initiate through his cosmopolitan world view, a more ambitious Canadian brand,  a less parochial, more outward looking ideal. We were becoming more urbane, more inclusive and dynamic, willing to challenge then current ideas about ourselves. It was easy for newcomers like me to embrace this vision of Canada that they saw embodied in Pierre Trudeau.

In 1967, we were a country of 20 million. Canada’s bi-polar nature, English and French, had not yet reached the critical mass of diversity which would counteract the troublesome notion of two distinct, sometimes mutually antithetical, founding solitudes. Unlike the U.S. our neighbour, which had already arrived at a Nirvana of its own imaginings, we were still en route, a destination yet to be reached, refreshingly incomplete, a nation of constant becoming, “a promise of great things to come.”

At twenty seven years old, 12 years after immigration and still holding the ambiguous  status of “landed immigrant” granted me when I came to Canada in 1955, I was seeking a more secure and permanent relationship with my adopted country.  Like a host of others I was captivated by the creative flood of energy originating in the province of Quebec and motivated to do my little part in adding what I had to Canada’s second century. My first contribution to Canada was not long  in making her appearance. I would be a silent, non participating partner in her birth at Ottawa’s Civic Hospital although I was her founding father. One blustery morning in December 1967, my partner Deanne delivered a girl, Allison, our modest first installment to Canada’s future.

Our Centennial Project

“Yesterday you are Clyde the Punk and today you are a father!,” is the way a friend of mine put it when he had his first child. Fatherhood confers on a young male, status beyond his wildest imaginings. It is metamorphosis, phase change, alchemy and transmutation: tadpole to frog, chrysalis to butterfly, dross to gold. The female undoubtedly also is transformed, but profound external physical and psychological changes take place obviously and incrementally during pregnancy thus alerting her gradually to her calling. For the  young ego driven male primarily seeking self gratification, to be confronted suddenly with responsibilities beyond the self is no automatic process. Fatherhood is serious business, whereas paternity is trivial. Ironically if my father had known this, I may not have discovered it, but his casual approach to procreation was the opportunity I needed to discover commitment.

 

To Sesquicentenary, 2017

Centennial Project at Maturity

Fifty years later, another Trudeau has relaunched the promise of great things to come. This new Canada has potential beyond its less mature stage of fifty years ago. The dominant mega power of the last century appears to be losing its grip on global leadership. The U.S.A. appears to be coming apart at the seams, splitting along the old fault lines of ethnicity and ideology, cracking, fragmenting, attempting to reinvent itself from the reflection it sees in the rear view mirror of the American ship of state, the red, white and powder blue 1955 Cadillac driven by an orange clown, part evil Joker from Gotham City, part Colonel Sanders, part Archie Bunker.

Europe struggles also with complex problems, reconciling the relative past stability of the traditional nation state of relatively homogeneous populations with the complex new reality of integrating diverse groups of people made stateless by war, by persecution, by hunger and by catastrophe. Add to this volatile mixture religious fanatism, ethnic and religious bigotry, ethnocentrism, growing economic inequality, and and the results are sometimes chaotic and frightful!

In the Canada of 2017, uncomfortable clashes, so far only rhetorical, are already taking place between the Indigenous victims of arrogant historical government and religious policies and practices.

Is Canada still a nation ‘to sing about’, a country which holds a ‘promise of great things to come’ ?  We have no international event to galvanize the nation as Man and His World/Terre des Hommes did in 1967:  no single focus like Paul Henderson’s goal of game 8 of the Summit Series in 1972; we have  no Winter Olympics as we had in Calgary in 1988 or in Vancouver in 2010.

Something to sing about, this land of ours‘ ; of course we now have the challenge to work towards justice and inclusion by giving real meaning to the phrase ‘of ours’. Are we up to the challenge?

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s