Canada’s 150th Anniversary: An Opportunity to Look Backwards

Just the facts

After 37 meet­ings, span­ning from fall 2011 to spring 2012, the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Her­itage pub­lished on Sep­tem­ber 24 a 63 page report on Canada’s 150th anniver­sary. The Com­mit­tee made a total of 19 rec­om­men­da­tions to the gov­ern­ment: a third are essen­tially process related (make sure you con­sult with every­one, report early and reg­u­larly, etc.), a third are exhor­ta­tions to explore pos­si­ble sup­port for var­i­ous ini­tia­tives, and a third par­tic­u­larly con­cern museums.

Based on the pre­lim­i­nary plan­ning infor­ma­tion detailed in the report, it is clear that the gov­ern­ment intends to use the 2017 Anniver­sary mostly to com­mem­o­rate Cana­dian his­tory and serve as an impor­tant nation build­ing event. Whereas cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tions in 1967 were for­ward look­ing to a new and dynamic Canada, the 150th Anniver­sary will appar­ently be steeped in the past, an oppor­tu­nity for the gov­ern­ment to brand Canada using national, polit­i­cal, and mil­i­tary sym­bols from our his­tory. More­over, the years lead­ing up to 2017 will offer a num­ber of other cel­e­bra­tions of our his­tory, includ­ing the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge, the birth of Sir John A. Mac­Don­ald, the Grey Cup Cen­ten­nial, and the cre­ation of the NHL. Like the cur­rent splurge on the War of 1812, these anniver­saries will be rely­ing on the past to define Cana­dian iden­tity and to inscribe in col­lec­tive mem­o­ries a series of tra­di­tional symbols.

As Her­itage Min­is­ter James Moore said when he appeared in front of the Com­mit­tee,

“I think everybody’s using 2017 as a moment to can­tilever on all kinds of really great pro­grams. I think we’ll get Canada’s col­lec­tions, our his­tory, our art, and our incred­i­ble diver­sity of edu­ca­tional mate­ri­als all across the coun­try. Part­ner­ships with local and regional muse­ums are some­thing that every­body is look­ing for­ward to diver­sity of edu­ca­tional mate­ri­als all across the country.”

Accord­ingly, muse­ums will play a crit­i­cal role in the 2017 cel­e­bra­tions and are fea­tured promi­nently through­out the report. At the national and local level, muse­ums will be a key venue for show­cas­ing Canada’s mate­r­ial her­itage and rein­forc­ing the national nar­ra­tives. The Com­mit­tee rec­om­mends the cre­ation of tour­ing exhi­bi­tions to max­i­mize the acces­si­bil­ity of Cana­dian con­tent. The gov­ern­ment is work­ing on meth­ods of increas­ing museum atten­dance to ensure the great­est pos­si­ble num­ber of cit­i­zens is given a chance to engage with Cana­dian mate­r­ial her­itage and cul­ture. Gov­ern­ment agen­cies, includ­ing CBC, the National Film Board, Library and Archives, and Parks Canada will hold their own events and pro­duce con­tent for 2017.

Sev­eral wit­nesses brought up “the won­der­ful artis­tic tal­ent that exits in Canada, a fan­tas­tic resource which can be tapped into through the cre­ation of part­ner­ships”, 2017 being a won­der­ful oppor­tu­nity for the artis­tic com­mu­nity to con­tribute to the cel­e­bra­tion of Canada and pro­mote their con­tri­bu­tion to the nation. It is worth not­ing that the Com­mit­tee does not sup­port as such the com­mis­sion­ing of com­mem­o­ra­tive works of art but merely that the gov­ern­ment “explore ways of pro­vid­ing spe­cial assis­tance with the mar­ket­ing of new works of artis­tic expres­sion cre­ated for Canada’s 150th anniver­sary”. The Com­mit­tee also rec­om­mends that the gov­ern­ment “explore ways of assist­ing with the tour­ing of Cana­dian per­form­ing arts groups dur­ing the 2017 Cel­e­bra­tions”. Still under the head­ing Lega­cies, two con­crete rec­om­men­da­tions: that the gov­ern­ment “con­sider ways to encour­age com­mu­ni­ties and donors to assist with the com­ple­tion of the Tran­sCanada Trail”, an unfin­ished project from the 1967 com­mem­o­ra­tion; and that it “explore projects to dig­i­tize Canada’s doc­u­men­tary her­itage as part of Canada’s 150th anniver­sary celebrations”.

Tell me more

The Com­mit­tee had invited some 70 wit­nesses to give their input and answer the ques­tion: what do you want to cel­e­brate in 2017? Sev­eral key themes came out of the con­sul­ta­tions with the pub­lic and wit­nesses of past national cel­e­bra­tions. The 1967 Cen­ten­nial Cel­e­bra­tion was praised by many wit­nesses for its abil­ity to cre­ate a space for dis­cus­sion on the trans­for­ma­tions in Cana­dian his­tory while dream­ing about the future. Many wit­nesses reflected on their pro­found per­sonal mem­o­ries from 1967 and expec­ta­tions that 2017 could stim­u­late a sim­i­lar excite­ment about Canada’s future. Over­all, wit­nesses wanted to use Canada’s anniver­sary to cre­ate a dia­logue on Canada and cel­e­brate the diver­sity that exists through­out the country

One impor­tant find­ing in the report is that the Cana­dian pop­u­la­tion needs to take an active role in the cel­e­bra­tion for it to have a deep impact on soci­ety. Accord­ing to wit­ness tes­ti­mony part of the suc­cess of the Cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tions can be accred­ited to the active role the pop­u­la­tion played and the result­ing pos­i­tive impact on their lives. The high level of engage­ment gave Cana­di­ans the chance to reflect on their rela­tion­ship with the coun­try and develop a per­sonal con­nec­tion with their citizenship.

Cre­at­ing lega­cies was also an impor­tant topic for many wit­nesses. Sug­ges­tions ranged from com­mis­sion­ing films and plays to build­ing mon­u­ments and bridges. A num­ber of inter­ven­ers rejected the idea of spend­ing money on new build­ings but instead of ensur­ing that those built in 1967 get much needed repairs. Min­is­ter Moore did not give any spe­cific plans but men­tioned the gov­ern­ment wants to sup­port lega­cies that will last the test of time. Marie Lemay, then CEO of the National Cap­i­tal Com­mis­sion, men­tioned along with upcom­ing ini­tia­tives, “…mon­u­ments cur­rently under devel­op­ment include the mon­u­ment to the 100th anniver­sary of the Royal Cana­dian Navy, the Cana­dian Fire­fight­ers Memo­r­ial, and the National Holo­caust Monument.

The Her­itage Com­mit­tee rec­om­mends set­ting up a gov­ern­ment agency in charge of orches­trat­ing the 2017 cel­e­bra­tions. The agency would be respon­si­ble for cre­at­ing clear themes; plan­ning events lead­ing up to 2017; com­mis­sion­ing mon­u­ments; and devel­op­ing part­ner­ships with gov­ern­ment depart­ments (fed­er­ally, provin­cially and ter­ri­to­ri­ally), the cul­tural sec­tor, and tourism to max­i­mize on the poten­tial of the cel­e­bra­tion. The Com­mit­tee com­ple­mented this rec­om­men­da­tion with oth­ers to ensure the cre­ation of a clear frame­work for con­sul­ta­tions from the pri­vate sec­tor, minor­ity groups, and all lev­els of government.

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