1967 Are we going to be late for our own birthday party?

Hal Tennant November 16 1964

1967 Are we going to be late for our own birthday party?

Hal Tennant November 16 1964

1967 Are we going to be late for our own birthday party?

A Centennial Non-Progress Report

Hal Tennant

THE MEN who are paid some of your tax money and mine to Think Big about Canada’s Centennial in 1967 can already show you, on paper, how it's beginning to shape up into the biggest and best birthday party any of us will ever live through.

Certainly if you judge a party by how long it lasts, the size of the tab and the number of guests, this one could be, as they say, a real swinger. In theory at least, the frolicking and rejoicing are to go on the whole year, with augmented cheering scheduled for July I, the hundredth anniversary of Confederation. The tab, to be picked up by government, industry, associations, clubs and private citizens, could amount to a billion dollars. Ottawa will spend half a million or more just on medals for school kids. As for guests — well, if Centennial planners have their way, some celebrating will be done by every one of the twenty-one million men, women and children who will make up the nation by then. So many extra goods and materials and the services of so many thousands of people will be needed in the celebrations that planners are already worrying about a manpower shortage, and promoters and businessmen are eagerly assessing the market possibilities.

But no question about it — for any ordinary citizen w'hose taste runs to flags and firecrackers, brass bands and bunting, military tattoos and marching majorettes, pioneer exhibits and historical pageants, essay contests and corporate histories, patriotic sermons and politicians’ platitudes, 1967 could be a real fun year.

Between times, if you can get to Montreal, you’ll be able to see a fair ten times bigger than the one in Seattle in '62 and, quite possibly, far better than the one in New York this year. And if you make your way to Winnipeg in midsummer, you'll be on hand for the Pan-American Games — the biggest athletic event in North America since the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Canadians will, besides, have the chance to complete enough permanent commemorative projects to change the architectural mood of hundreds of communities, enrich the living habits of their people, and alter the character and face of the nation.

As its federal projects, Ottawa is building a National Library, a Canadian Museum of History, and a National Centre For The Performing Arts. Each province will have at least one big project. Prince Edward Island has already built some of its new arts centre and used it in the centennial of

the 1864 pre-Confederation conference. British Columbia and Alberta will build archives and museums. Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec will put up centres for the performing arts. Ontario's monument is to be a museum of science and technology. New Brunswick has decided on a Centennial building for government administration. Nova Scotia will add a medical building to Dalhousie University. Newfoundland will build an arts centre.

In Montreal, Expo 67 will leave, for permanent use, perhaps half a dozen spectacular buildings, plus a 25,000 - seat stadium, a substantial piece of the new Montreal subway, and the revolutionary $40-million housing complex known as Habitat 67.

And if our cities, towns and villages follow through with most of the ideas they’re talking about, we’li wind up with a whole countryful of new libraries, museums, municipal buildings, police stations, fire halls, theatres, arenas, curling rinks, swimming pools, hospitals, conservatories, parks, roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, causeways and assorted other structures and developments, cultural attractions and tourist traps.

The combined worth of all these projects is anybody's guess at the moment, but a conservative one would put it somewhere between a quarter billion and a half billion dollars. (This doesn’t include projects that may be undertaken by private companies and citizens’ organizations, or exhibits and events that won’t continue after 1967.)

Beyond this, there are ambitious plans in the wind for national and provincial events not intended to last indefinitely — such as a massive travel scheme for young people, a Centennial train to carry historical exhibits coast to coast, visits from VIPs, trips abroad for Canadian performers.

In short, the Centennial is supposed to be a something-for-everybody birthday party, and at the moment there’s only one thing seriously wrong with it: it’s mostly just on paper, and there are only twenty-six months to go.

If the Centennial is to become what we say we’re going to make it, we‘11 need a whole army of workers — fulltime and part-time, paid and voluntary — and a whole Centennial industry will have to spring into existence. And yet as I tried to discover how such an army is being recruited and how this unique industry might be taking shape, I found myself gathering what amounts, in balance, to a sort of non-progress report. It’s true that three provinces have crown corporations set up to handle Centennial

matters, and there’s scarcely a spot in the land without a Centennial committee. But the fact is that outside Ottawa there is still only a handful of people devoting any appreciable amount of time to Centennial work. And in Ottawa, where a Centennial commissioner and his staff of sixtyodd planners, administrators, consultants and office workers have a keener awareness that time is running out, they have their problems. A slow start didn't help. The government got the first Centennial act passed in 1961 but never got around to appointing anybody to do anything until January 1963. Another six months passed before federal - provincial Centennial agreements were signed, and until then the Centennial staff could do little.

Some problems exist simply because it is a hundredth anniversary and not a two-hundredth. “There are no guide lines — we’ve never had a Centennial in Canada before,” says Peter Aykroyd, the commission’s director of special projects. This has led to some unprecedented floundering. When the government first tried to settle on a name for what is now the Centennial Commission, it called it the National Centennial Administration. Quebec objected. To French Canadians, “national” smacked too much of centralism. It wasn't possible to use “Canadian” either because, as various nit-pickers pointed out, it isn’t the centennial of Canada — it’s the centennial of Canada's Confederation; Canada existed long before 1867. Then, for finely shaded reasons not readily understood by anyone not thoroughly versed in civil-service jargon, it was decided that the body in question would not be an “administration” after all, but a “commission.” So the word centennial, at least, was salvaged, and the group became the Centennial Commission — a name as homely and serviceable as some of the least imaginative projects it is inspiring.

Without a rulebook of precedents to follow, the commission has had to tread cautiously to avoid causing serious constitutional upsets. Ottawa can’t order the provincial governments or their municipalities to do this or not to do that to celebrate the Centennial. Yet it is the wish of the federal government — and part of the commission’s job — to arouse, at the right times, appropriate action and hosannas out in the provinces. “At this stage,” says John Fisher, the Centennial commissioner, “we want them planning, not shouting.” Fisher and his colleagues are convinced the whole affair just won’t be the kind of birth-

Jay party Canada ought to have unless a strong urge to celebrate develops at what they like to call “the grassroots level.”

Inducing spontaneous cheers and effective local action from a grassroots level of several million people — especially several million Canadians — wont be easy. And there are other problems to solve first.

For one thing, there’s the delicate matter of a Centennial symbol. People in Centennial work feel the need of some identifying design or mark that will instantly say “Centennial” the way a crown says “government.” Some provinces have gone ahead and created their own Centennial symbols, but the commission has been more cautious. Last spring it announced a contest, offering to graphic artists a first prize of twenty-five hundred dollars for the best design for a symbol. On July 31 a newspaper report said the results would be announced “soon.” Six weeks later, when I asked about the outcome, I got a most unFisher-like response from John Fisher. Once famous as the ebullient “Mr. Canada” of broadcasting and the after-dinner speaking circuit, Fisher normally radiates an almost irresistible charm and confidence. But when the question of the design contest came up, he squirmed in his chair and sputtered, “These things take time, you know.”

I took this as the best confirmation 1 could hope to get of something I had already heard on the grapevine: the judges had picked a winner but the commission was keeping it a secret because of two recent situations. Having seen the flag debate drag on in Parliament and having watched Expo 67 suffer sharp criticism for its choice of a symbol, Fisher and his colleagues (said the grapevine) were just a little timid about announcing any choice of a national — sorry, Centennial — symbol. Perhaps by the time you read this, they will have recovered their courage.

Actually, they could use the publicity. For another of their problems is the number of people who confuse the Centennial with Expo 67. Every few days somebody knocks on Fisher’s door to ask permission to sell hot dogs or novelty hats at the Montreal fair. Expo, of course, has its own administration. (Ironically, there’s another body, the voluntary Canadian Centenary Council, which has to keep explaining to people that it is not the Centennial Commission. The council’s job is to stir up enthusiasm for the Centennial among companies and organizations, chiefly by circulating in-

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Some provinces are deliberately stalling — not just with the shouting, but with the planning

formation and ideas for new projects.)

While it is sharpening its own image, the better to galvanize the nation from Nootka to Newfoundland, the Centennial Commission has to plan and carry out many of the biggest federal projects and approve all the projects proposed by municipalities under a three-way cost-sharing scheme. The scheme provides up to two dollars per capita — one dollar each from the federal and provincial governments — for every dollar put up by a municipality for a permanent project. In practice, the provincial governments decide whether a project is suitable.

Aykroyd, the special-projects man who must process these municipal applications. is probably being fairly realistic when he estimates that five hundred to six hundred municipalities (or groups of them) will take part in the per capita scheme. He is encour-

aged by word from little places such as Kamsack, Sask. There are onlyeleven thousand people in and around Camsack; yet with grants totaling $40,000 they are planning a Centennial community centre worth $250,OOO. Aykroyd can cite enough cases like this to show that the Centennial idea really is exciting people in a lot of cities and towns — especially small towns. But speed is another matter. The municipal applications have to go through provincial-government offices and then to Aykroyd before the grants are made. By October 1. Ontario and Alberta were the only provinces that had submitted any projects to Ottawa, and only Ontario actually had any approved.

Some provinces are deliberately stalling, not just with the shouting, but with the planning, too. "We've got lots of time yet — two full years.” says Laurie Wallace, the deputy provincial secretary who directed B. C.’s own highly sucessful centennial in 1958 and is now general chairman of a new Centennial committee. Wallace plans to hold hack the provincial and federal money for municipal projects, even ones that get approved early, to make sure they won’t he finished any earlier than the latter part of 1966.

Otherwise, Wallace says, "by 1967 they're not going to have much significance."

In other provinces, some towns have delayed their applications because their plans are ambitious and it's taking time to raise the money. Richmond Hill. Ont., a town of fewer than nineteen thousand people, is planning a $100,000 swimming pool but so far has raised about $40.000. Others are making mundane decisions — or none at all. Several Ontario

municipalities arc building fire halls and police stations, and Wetaskiwin, Alta., has been wavering between a chiming clock on the city-hall roof and a new picnic-and-camping site.

Some municipal politicians sec the federal-provincial grants as a dandy way to make local improvements without raising the mill rate. Several municipalities have had to be gently persuaded not to install Centennial mortuaries, pave a Centennial Drive into an ordinary subdivision, renovate

the old town hall in the name of Confederation, or put up a Centennial garage for the town garbage trucks.

Provincial governments are weeding out the most flagrantly unsuitable proposals, but since they won't want to seem too tough, a number of towns will say happy birthday with a Centennial police station, fire hall or municipal office building.

Once a provincial government has said okay, Ottawa is likely to go along. “If the people of some town

just want to light their main street for 1967,” says Aykroyd, "who are we to deny them the right?"

Anyway, police stations and municipal offices sound good in comparison with some of the ideas which never quite made it through town council. Jules Morin, an Ottawa city controller, said he couldn't think of anything his city needed more than twenty-five outdoor toilets. In Nova Scotia somebody wanted to reinstitute the pony express that linked Halifax and Digby in the 1840s, before the telegraph was hooked up. A Victoria citizen thought an antismoke campaign would be a fitting Centennial memorial, and other B. C. citizens have plumped for an extra week's paid vacation for everybody, and sidewalk ramps for mothers with baby carriages.

While some Canadians obviously haven't quite got the hang of what a national birthday party is all about, many businessmen have grasped its commercial potentialities. One of the most forceful and farsighted of these entrepreneurs is Tom Joy, a lanky thirty-five-year-old bachelor who, as an associate puts it with admirable candor, is “out to make a buck out of bunting." As president and general manager of Consolidated Centennial Services Ltd., Joy is better prepared, perhaps, than anybody else in Canada to meet the challenge of the Centennial with practical fervor. (“We'll give you any kind of flag you want, but costwise the Red Ensign would be more expensive to produce.”)

Plotting Centennial strategy

Joy likes to chalk out his Centennial plans on a little blackboard that hangs on the wall of his sixth-floor office on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto. And as he appraises the market possibilities, his arms flail excitedly, his already loud baritone voice rises several decibels, and his eyes gleam with what is surely the insight of a visionary. (“Why, the flag business alone should be a ten-milliondollar industry!”)

Joy can hardly wait to develop the markets he sees ahead in flags, bunting, banners, streamers, fireworks (“if there’s really a demand for them”), souvenirs (including Centennial premiums and giveaways), bumper stickers, flag-holders (some made to mount on parking meters), balloons, toys, calendars, costume jewelry, and assorted items he thinks will sell fast at Expo: inscribed T-shirts, pennants, novelty hats and footwear such as moccasins.

In fact he isn’t waiting. He's convinced the market for almost any one of these items will be too big for any established manufacturer to handle alone. He's already signing up firms to handle portions of the large-volume orders he expects to sell.

Before the end of the year, Consolidated will be out with a fifty-item catalogue of Centennial paraphernalia. By the middle of next year Joy will be out on the road with a “traveling showroom” of samples calculated to appeal to city managers and town councilors. He and a small staff experienced in outdoor displays and public events will set up shop for a week or two in each of thirteen cities

across Canada. Then they'll return, he hopes, with a mountain of orders to be filled in '66 or '67.

When it comes to imaginative and daring ventures, Consolidated's directors are usually content to let Joy be unconfined. At one stage he even had his own Centennial flag designed and was about to ask the commission in Ottawa to bestow its official blessing on it. Then the directors decided they'd probably wind up with a great fat headache if they tried to open that can of worms.

A likelier Joy ride at the moment is a traveling wax museum that w'ould depict Canadian military history ("Research shows Canadians are proud of their record in wars”). It would cost $250,000 but if it’s promoted properly, he says, it should be self-liquidating. ("It doesn't take so many schoolchildren's quarters to make up a million dollars.”) But Joy hasn't even a quarter of a million in school - children's quarters yet. so he’s looking for a sponsor for the museum before any wax is poured.

“We’ll sell them bunting!”

Joy and his eleven business partners didn't intend to get into the bunting business or the self - liquidating wax-museum business w'hen they set up the company a year ago with three thousand dollars apiece. Two of the partners arc film executives (they and the other nine are still in their regular jobs) and the idea, originally, was to get an early start in the publicity and promotional branch of the Centennial industry.

Then, last spring, a high-powered group called Centennial Celebration Consultants Ltd. announced its formation to go into somewhat the same field. Consolidated's directors took a look at their rival's roster of big names: it included journalist Pierre Berton, former Ontario cabinet minister Robert Macaulay, who devised the province's “trade crusade,” publisher Jack McClelland, architect John C. Parkin, and Tom Patterson, the founder of the Stratford Festival. Since it looked to Joy and his partners that they might finish a very poor second, they decided to take a cue from something Macaulay said in announcing formation of the CCC. His firm, he declared loftily, would provide “imagination — not bunting and firecrackers.”

"So,” recalls Gerry Keeley, one of Joy's partners, “we thought, 'Why buck them? We'll sell the hunting!' "

So far, the imagination that Berton. Macaulay et al arc offering threatens to be a tougher commodity to sell than Joy's bunting. Certainly it needs a softer sell. CCC's potential clients are. chiefly, big corporations, municipalities of various sizes, and small companies who want to co-operate on a single Centennial project in any one town or region.

Typically, the CCC will meet w'ith a town council, come to an initial agreement, then turn a couple ot bright young history graduates loose to research all the available tacts about the community. With this research in hand, the CCC's brainstrust will decide on a suitable theme for the community to use in a unique Centennial project — and as a con-

tinning “image” for years afterward.

Mervin Kaye, an advertising and photo-engraving executive who is the CCC's general manager, says many municipalities have colorful characters and events in their past which they have ignored and all hut forgotten, and these are assets which can be legitimately exploited. His favorite example is a comparison between Orillia, Ont., which has exploited itself as Stephen Leacock's home town, and Toronto Township, a suburb near

the city, which has never bothered to tell the world that it was once the home town of Buffalo Bill Cody.

Not all the CCC imagination will necessarily come from its board of big names. Kaye is building an evergrowing file of writers, artists, illustrators. designers anti others available for Centennial assignments.

Since circulating five thousand copies of their own promotional booklets — largely around southern Ontario — Kaye and his colleagues

have landed contracts with several big companies (the details are still hushhush) and are negotiating with many others. But their success with municipalities so far has been, to put it gently, less than overwhelming.

The most exasperating councils aren't the ones that turn him down, Kaye says, but the ones that just say, "We'll see" — and do nothing. CCC has also run afoul of councilors Kaye calls "the nice old ladies” who resent outsiders, especially ones from To-

ronto, and resist any idea of professional planning, on principle alone.

Kaye believes such reactions could be a tragedy, not just for his company, but for the whole Centennial program. “If it’s left to local volunteer citizens,” he says, “it will never get off the ground. Many people are fond of their community but haven't the time or the know-how to plan a proper project.”

Kaye and his associates claim to have both, and if they can sell that notion to enough councils around Ontario, they may develop subsidiary companies in other provinces, including a French-speaking affiliate in Quebec.

Although their entry into this field scared away one of their few potential rivals at the time, Kaye says he would welcome some competition, for the sake of seeing the Centennial a success. “1 think it would be a good thing if there were twenty other companies like our own,” he says. At the same time, with his file of available talent he claims to have a great advantage in providing the creativity he believes will be in great demand as 1967 approaches.

In his concern over a shortage of manpower — particularly specialized or creative talent, Kaye is not alone. John Fisher, the federal Centennial commissioner, admits he is “frankly worried” about the shortage of skilled personnel he believes will develop when the great mass of Centennial projects gets underway. Fisher plans to assess the problem in January, at a meeting with representatives of the Canadian Conference On The Arts. Richard Toth, a Toronto landscape architect who has a contract for work on Expo 67, predicts an enormous shortage of people versed in landscaping — architects, technicians, draftsmen and skilled gardeners. An Ontario committee of librarians, concerned over a chronic shortage of trainees has estimated that by 1967, the province’s universities alone will have three hundred and fifty more librarians' jobs than exist now. Members of the Canadian Museum Association are already arguing over the best way to overcome what they foresee as a drastic shortage of curators and other museum personnel. At a recent meeting of the association, reports showed a dozen important museum jobs unfilled, and it will take more people to organize and set up the new Centennial museums than it will to operate them once they’re established. At the moment, nobody knows where these extra people will be found or how many other fields will be seriously affected.

Tom Joy is one of the few people I talked to who is willing at this stage to estimate any aspect of the manpower question in hard round numbers. He has figured out that the work he helps generate in the flagand-bunting branch of the Centennial industry will call for an extra three thousand to five thousand workers in the companies that make or sell the goods he’ll be dealing in.

“We're getting geared for a lastminute scramble,” he says.

That “last minute” is nearer than a lot of people realize. But at the moment, nobody is getting killed in the rush. ★