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

CCA Bulletin 16/12

October 11, 2012

Just the facts


After 37 meetings, spanning from fall 2011 to spring 2012, the Standing Committee on Heritage published on September 24th 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.”

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 the 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 exists 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 the commissioning of commemorative works of art as such 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.