by William Kendall @WilliamKendall1
A century and a half on and still looking fresh faced.
2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation for Canada. In 1867, the British colonies of North America were united into the Dominion of Canada after years of negotiation and work between delegates of all parties. What started with four provinces- Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick- has grown to become ten provinces and three territories in a country known around the world for breathtaking scenery, friendly people, hockey, maple syrup, and a wry sense of humour- among other things.
Our Fathers Of Confederation came from different backgrounds, with different concerns for their part of what would end up becoming Canada. Their differences were mitigated in the first half of the 1860s by what they were seeing south of the border- open war between the North and South, and the ambitions of Americans to look north to annex British holdings. While the Civil War reunited one country, it inadvertently helped foster the creation of another, one that retains the Westminster style of parliamentary democracy and ties to the Crown that remain strong today.
This anniversary year is a big one for us to celebrate. The celebration does bring with it some introspection, because the history of the country goes back much further than 150 years. Ten thousand years and more, when you factor in the First Nations presence on this continent- something that we often have overlooked, and the legacy of the past is something we still have to come to terms with. In another way, this year marks the centennial of a pivotal battle- Vimy Ridge- as part of a war in which the country came into its own. More to be introspective about.
I live in the national capital region, and Ottawa and Gatineau are certainly busy in the lead up to Canada Day. This is home base to several national museums and numerous local museums, and each are playing a role in the occasion. There are projects that are either finished or scheduled to be finished for the day, while others are longer term. Our Parliament Buildings, something that first comes to mind when one thinks of this city, are undergoing a multi-year renovation and restoration process that will see the work continue on for another decade. Scaffolding and work sites there are to be easily found around some of the buildings.
Other projects have had the anniversary year in mind. Our National Gallery has finished up a re-organization of its Canadian galleries, integrating First Nations works from time immemorial with the more conventional landscapes and portraits Canadian artists had been doing since the days of New France. Where before the two collections had been kept separate, now they are part of the same cohesive whole, and that reflects itself in the new direction, which has just re-opened to public viewing.
Our Museum of History has spent some years on a major reorganization of its permanent gallery, Canada Hall, bringing in the First Nations architect who designed the building in the first place to consult on the new way of telling the story of our history. During that time, other parts of the museum have been open, most notably the First Nations halls and spaces for temporary exhibits, but having Canada Hall re-opened will be a welcome sight.
Our National Arts Centre, which was a legacy of our centennial year, sits a short walk away from Parliament, and in the last few months has been the scene of much work. While concerts and performances have continued inside the building, a glass structure has gone up around parts of the building, something that as it has progressed has done well in off-setting the Sixties era architecture. That new structure will be accessible to the public for Canada Day, with the orchestra putting on an annual concert inside.
While a lot of the celebration is coming from the federal government as a whole, the city governments on both sides of the Ottawa River have gotten in on it as well, in activities and events that are taking place over the course of the year. That includes hosting embassies throughout the year to present aspects of their own countries for a day. It also includes special events such as MosaiCanada, a horticultural show set to open on the Quebec shore for the summer on Canada Day, or the winter event Crashed Ice. It includes public access to the mighty Chaudiere Falls in the river, something that has long been held off at a distance for the public. And it includes a summer long multimedia show taking place in what will, next year, be an underground LRT station.
What does it mean to be Canadian? I think a lot of what makes us who we are is defined by the vastness of the land. The wide prairies, the endless tundra and rough Canadian Shield. The rivers and valleys. The coastal landscapes. The rugged mountains. It’s shaped our national character in many ways. A mature country can both look at itself critically while marking its history and the path it has taken in a positive way. This anniversary year has something of each- sombre reflection, commemoration, and celebration. Where the next 150 years takes us? We shall see.
Odds are, though, that there won’t be a Toronto Maple Leafs team winning the Stanley Cup in that time though. Sorry, Leafs fans, but it’s not going to happen.
What will your area celebrate this year?