Moira Dann is a writer living in Victoria. She's written a book about the Mothers of Confederation.
For many, today is the day off attached to the national holiday observed on Saturday, July 1. It was a significant Canada Day, in a counting-things sort of way: 150 years since Confederation in 1867. Many Canadians might be suffering a hangover today, either of the too-much-fun-and-fireworks variety or its did-I-miss-something? cousin.
People might start to look for the trinkets and T-shirts bearing the multicoloured, many-polygoned Canada 150 logo to start going on sale soon (along with Canadian flag press-on, wash-off tattoos), unless the realization sets in that Saturday was the just the start of the sesquicentennial. It really doesn't end until July 1, 2018.
So – good news! There's still time to … do something. Special.
The tick-tock countdown to this notable July 1 didn't seem to engage many people, initially. It was meh. It felt as if it got a late start and it didn't appear to have a focus the same way centennial year did in 1967. Although, in his book The Year Canadians Lost their Minds and Found Their Country: The Centennial of 1967, author Tom Hawthorn writes "At first, Canadians showed little interest. The announcement of a federal program to plan the celebration was met with silence and indifference." But Mr. Hawthorn notes how things changed in the dark December days leading up to January 1, 1967: Canadians started to get on board and conceive their own centennial projects (my somewhat eccentric dad grew a beard as his centennial project) to augment those developed by "government largesse."
Part of the problem is the anniversary number, I think. The number 150 feels very in-between. It's not smooth and glinting, like a silver, gold or even diamond anniversary. And there's nothing gem-like or richly metallic about its name: sesquicentennial. It sounds more like a (mumbled) notable Sasquatch birthday.
The United States had similar engagements problems with its sesquicentennial in 1926. Like Canada's 1967, a centrepiece of the American event was a world's fair in Philadelphia. Predictions of 30-million visitors turned to disappointing, money-losing attendance figures of just 6.4-million, despite the lure of a Liberty Bell replica standing 80-feet (27 metres) high and lit up by 26,000 light bulbs.
I fondly remember 1967 and its centrepiece, Expo 67, in Montreal. Not yet a teenager, I was lucky enough to attend regularly with my family and, in a few short months, experience myriad sights (the Czechoslovakian pavilion! Les Feux Follets! The Red Army Chorus!) tastes, textures and aromas, as well as meet all kinds of people from around the globe. Later, when I had context, I understood it had been a lifetime of static travel lived in a long, luxuriant summer. My father pointed out that I would most probably be around to celebrate Canada's 150th. Pshaw, I thought; I couldn't imagine what high school was going to be like, let alone anything 50 years down the road. (I couldn't imagine being that old.)
I did promise myself in 1967 I would be in Ottawa, on Parliament Hill for the celebrations in 2017. That didn't work out and I'm disappointed. But I know there was historical precedent.
And on the actual day in 1867 (that first Dominion Day was a Monday, so Canadians got their first long weekend as a country), some players were upset that the new Governor-General, Lord Monck, didn't show up in full viceregal regalia, but in plain clothes, for the official goings-on (no real ceremony) at the Privy Council chamber. He had only arrived in Ottawa on Friday and he hadn't requested a social event; there was no reception, no party with women invited. Sir John A. Macdonald later wrote that Lord Monck was a good man but unable "to rise to the occasion."
There's always something. A fly in the ointment. A nick in the paint. Without disappointment for comparison, how would we know when things are close to being perfect?
So embrace this off year, mid-range anniversary of this country's start as a political reality and get yourself some wash-off tattoos of the Canada 150 logo. Wear them (discreetly) any day you want! Think about all the great things we are as a country and all the things we need to improve. Write your name in the air with a sparkler on a Monday night, be grateful for the long weekend and remember: Canada's 150th has just started.