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  • Statues in Time:Canadian Days and Holidays
  • Colin M. Coates (bio)

CITIZENS AND GOVERNMENTS USE ANNIVERSARIES AND HOLIDAYS to confirm a connection to a past and to gaze towards a future. These special days embody values that serve as lessons and guides, but they may also serve goals unintended by the promoters and sponsors. In a self-referential twist, Celebrating Canada, Raymond B. Blake's and Matthew Hayday's two-volume collection of essays examining the history of remembering in Canada, represents a project linked to the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation: these books about commemoration are themselves a product of the commemoration process.1 Aiming at a publication to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the country's current constitutional framework, the authors presented their papers at an initial workshop at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau in 2014.

Holidays and commemorative events, as these volumes illustrate, have often produced a lot of fodder for analysis, but it is hard to predict how much tangible evidence the sesquicentennial will leave behind. For those of us in Ontario, one of the most newsworthy features connected to the anniversary was the tour of a huge, plastic yellow duck to various towns around the Great Lakes. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's statement on the anniversary was a balanced and limited endorsement of the state of the nation, including his reflections on the relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples: "As we mark Canada 150, we also recognize that for many, today is not an occasion for celebration. Indigenous Peoples in this country have faced oppression for centuries."2 In 1967, many Canadians chose to celebrate different avenues into what they termed "modernity," but 2017 was a low-key affair. It is worth noting [End Page 241] that Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson's Dominion Day address on 1 July 1967 also struck a cautionary note: "As the world, to survive the nuclear future, must become a community of peace for all mankind, so must our country be a true homeland for all Canadians as it moves into its second century."3

In 1967 Centennial building projects changed the face of urban Canada, but there will be few lasting legacies of Canada 150. Perhaps a 150th anniversary does not have the same cachet as a centenary or the fairly recent change in the federal government may have made it difficult to plan events (although Robert Cupido notes that the committee to celebrate the 60th anniversary was only incorporated in February of the same year).4 Clearly, the community enthusiasm that sparked so much of the energy of the 1967 Centennial was not as apparent in 2017. Whether this reflects apathy or honesty about the project of "Canada" is a subject worthy of debate.

Nonetheless, in scholarly work, a certain number of projects, like this one, will leave their mark. Universities disbursed federal funds that galvanized some collective works, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council targeted scholarly conferences linked to the anniversary.5 It is true that for historians there was nothing on the academic scale of the Canadian Centenary Series, which began with Tryggvi J. Oleson's 1963 study of the early European exploration of what later became Canada and which ultimately came to completion with Morris Zaslow's The Northward Expansion of Canada, 1914-1967 in 1988.6 Perhaps historians today wisely anticipate the long timeframe involved in such projects. Equally likely, historians may shy away from synthesis and globalizing statements about nation even when divided into the regions and discrete time periods reflected in the Canadian Centenary Series. [End Page 242] Blake and Hayday's two-volume collection of essays reinforces the difficulties of seeing a unified approach to the project of "Canada."

Moreover, we live in a time when we, appropriately, apply critical analysis to the commemorative process and therefore we academics may hesitate to engage in it ourselves too deeply; in contrast, historians like George Wrong and A.G. Doughty were fully involved in the 1927 Diamond Jubilee planning. Today we may recognize more clearly how contingent and arbitrary the designation of specific dates for the purposes of rekindling and enshrining historical memory may be, and...


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