The Centennial and Expo

Canada came of age in the second half of the century. They were years of great pride and achievement.

July 1 1999

The Centennial and Expo

Canada came of age in the second half of the century. They were years of great pride and achievement.

July 1 1999

The Centennial and Expo



Canada came of age in the second half of the century. They were years of great pride and achievement.

In 1967, Canadians gave themselves a spectacular yearlong 100th birthday party. “From ocean to ocean,” Pierre Berton enthuses in his book 1967: The Last Good Year, “the country went centennial crazy as each community tried to compete with its neighbours in the scope and ingenuity of the birthday binge. The nation indulged in an orgy of sports events, folk dancing, historical pageants, parades and youth exchanges.”

Governments joined in. Art galleries, arenas, theatres and town halls were erected as centennial projects by provinces and municipalities, usually with matching contributions from Ottawa. The federal government built the National Arts Centre in the heart of the capital as its own special enterprise and launched the Centennial Train, a travelling museum of Canadian history with a whistle that played the opening of O Canada.

The purple train was greeted at each provincial border by musician Bobby Gimby, who was hired by the federal government to promote the Centennial for 18 months. His trademark song, Canada, was written to evoke sentimental patriotism. Everywhere he went, with his Pied Pipers cloak and sparkling trumpet, Gimby was followed by a line of singing girls and boys. Canadians snapped up 200,000 copies of the recording.

At the centre of the national celebration was Montreal’s glittering Canadian Universal and International Exhibition —Expo 67. It almost didn’t happen. Preparations began

late. Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau and the capable team of organizers and builders had to deal with huge obstacles along the way, not least the challenge of creating islands in the St. Lawrence River to serve as the site. But the world’s fair came together, all in a rush, brilliantly.

Sixty-two countries were represented at Expo 67, and it attracted more than 50 million visitors. The theme, decided upon by a group of intellectuals that included writer Gabrielle Roy and scientist Tuzo Wilson, was “Man and his world.” Expo was a true groundbreaker—in architecture with Moshe Safdie’s Habitat and Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, in film with Imax and in design with a clean, unified vision.

The Washington Tori concluded that “Canadians, whose ego, individualism and sense of personal worth have long suffered in the shadow of the colossus of the south, will take a prideful look in the mirror and exclaim, ‘We did it!’ ”

Something else was happening as Canada came of age that memorable year. A half-hour after Prime Minister Lester Pearson lit the centennial flame on Parliament Hill at midnight on Jan. 1, a terrorist bomb of the separatist Front de libération du Québec exploded in a Montreal mailbox. This was the dark underside of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, and not in the least representative of public opinion.

But Quebec nationalism was growing fast.

French president Charles de Gaulle, visiting to mark the Centennial, tapped into that vein by proclaiming to a huge audience at Montreal city hall: “Vive le Québec. Vive le Québec libre.”

De Gaulle was sent packing by Pearson, shocked by his interference in Canadian internal affairs, but the cheers that greeted the war hero of France still reverberate today.

Nevertheless, the Centennial and the world’s fair brought out a new Canadian pride and confidence. As author-journalist Peter C.

Newman exclaimed after a visit to Expo: “The more you see of it, the more you’re overwhelmed by a feeling that if this is possible, that if this sub-Arctic, self-obsessed country of 20 million people can put on this kind of show, then it can do almost anything.”

The Quiet Revolution changed Quebec forever

One of the most turbulent periods in Canadas coming of age, as the nation evolved into a modern, secular industrial state, occurred in Quebec in the 1960s, during what is known as the Quiet Revolution. Across the province, Quebecers turned away from the Catholic Church and towards the state—a movement that, combined with nationalism, produced a potent force that changed the province forever. “Masters in our own house,” became one of the favourite slogans of the new Quebec.

It was a time of social and political upheaval—a revolution that was quiet in name only. As historian

Ramsay Cook notes, Quebec was in ferment, “a noisy and tumultuous place” where the sound could be heard “of builders renovating, if not wholly reconstructing, a society.” The agent and political engine of the Quiet Revolution was the Liberal government of Jean Lesage, elected in 1960 and defeated in 1966. With strong ministers and confidence to burn, the Lesage team promoted the welfare state and overhauled the education system in just six short years. It expanded the role of the government exponentially. It carved out an international presence for Quebec. Perhaps more important, it nationalized the provincial power companies to create a great collective

symbol: Hydro Quebec. And with that symbol, a new political star was born—the enigmatic, charismatic René Lévesque, the Liberal cabinet minister (and future sovereigntist premier) who was the architect of the energy policy.

Suddenly, Quebec had the initiative and the passion. Ottawa was set back on its heels, confronted by demands from Quebec City for more powers, more status, more money, more autonomy. A few Quebecers began to demand independence itself.

In response, the federal Pearson Liberal government established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which warned that Canada was passing through the greatest crisis in its history. And Pearson moved in 1965 to increase his party’s credibility in the new Quebec by recruiting the triumvirate of Jean Marchand, Gérard Pelletier and Pierre Elliott Trudeau— The Three Wise Men, as they were quickly dubbed.

Trudeau himself became prime minister in 1968, at a time when French was a second-class language in the federal government. He immediately instituted an official languages policy designed to make French as much the language of the national government as English. Popular in his home province, he nonetheless made his reputation in the rest of Canada as a leader who was prepared to be tough on Quebec and to resist its more audacious demands.

The apparently endless debate over Canada’s future, which began with the Quiet Revolution, has sapped and destabilized the country. Too often it has seemed as if the Canada-Quebec dialogue is the sum total of the country. The economy has suffered from uncertainty over the direction of the province and country. The backlash to francophone nationalism has often revealed the worst side of English-Canadians, while in Quebec there are some who see two levels of citizenship, with the French on top and everyone else far down the scale. Outside the country, foreigners, watching Lucien Bouchard’s Parti Québécois set the stage for yet another referendum, almost exclusively associate Canada with “the Quebec problem.”

Yet the Quiet Revolution modernized Quebec and strengthened the French language. Quebec’s renaissance brought the French fact forcefully to the attention of Canadians across the country, so that hundreds of thousands of families have enrolled their children in immersion programs. Challenged constantly by the threat of breakup, Canadians value their country more than ever before.

Look, we finally got a flag!

Lester Bowles Pearson had been a soldier, a diplomat and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, all under the British flag or the Red Ensign, featuring Britain’s Union Jack. As foreign minister in 1956, he felt humiliated when Egypt’s President Gamal Abdul Nasser refused to have Canada’s Queen’s Own Rifles as peacekeepers in the Suez because they bore the Red Ensign and wore very British-looking uniforms. Canada was almost 100 years old, yet it did not have an official flag of its own.

Mackenzie King, who was prime minister most of the time from the 1920s to the 1940s, liked the notion of a distinctively Canadian flag as a symbol of Canadian nationhood. But only in theory. In practice, the issue was too emotional and divisive. Although the Red Ensign was rejected by French Canada, many anglophones would accept nothing else.

When he became prime minister, Pearson promised, Canada would have its own flag. The flag was admittedly

not the highest priority of Pearson’s minority Liberal government, which took office in April, 1963. Within a year, however, the administration was in trouble on several fronts, and the prime minister decided the country needed distraction and an injection of patriotism. It was time for the flag.

A brutal flag debate dominated the Commons for six months, with Conservative leader John Diefenbaker and other traditionalist MPs obstructing the flag legislation every way they could. Pearson favoured three red maple leaves on a white background with blue bars at the sides to represent the Atlantic and the Pacific. Dief ridiculed the “Pearson pennant.” A group of academics made public their “despairing feeling” that a maple leaf flag was insipid and “will subdy undermine the Canadian will to survive.” Hundreds of designs flowed in from across the country, and the batde of the symbol was on. Was there to be a fleur-de-lis? A beaver? The Canada goose? Crossed hockey sticks and pucks rampant?

Finally, it came down to three possibilities: the Red Ensign, the three-maple-leaf idea, or a large red maple leaf with red bars on a white background. Although a parliamentary committee endorsed the single maple leaf, Diefenbaker fought on. But he was deserted by his MPs from Quebec. Sensing victory, the Liberals moved to cut off debate by invoking closure to force a vote in the early hours of Dec. 15, 1964. In one of the most dramatic moments in parliamentary history, MPs who supported the new flag joined in singing O Canada, while the diehards responded across the aisle with God Save the Queen.

On Feb. 15, 1965, the flag was raised for the first time in front of the largest crowd to assemble on Parliament Hill since the end of the Second World War. Defence minister Paul Hellyer watched, recording in his diary: “This will be Pearson’s greatest achievement.” Pearson agreed. In a 40-year public career, the flag was his proudest accomplishment. It went with him when he was carried to his burial place in Wakefield, Que. When Diefenbaker died, both the old and new flags were placed on his coffin. In a final gesture of defiance, Dief s beloved Red Ensign was, on his instruction, placed so that it covered part of the hated Maple Leaf flag.

Those ancient battles are long forgotten. Today, the flag is Canada’s most recognizable symbol—worn on backpacks, waved by schoolchildren, flown at homes and cottages in a profusion that belies quiet Canadianism. Macleans reader Chris Young of Guelph, Ont., writes he saw the flag flown on Canada Day, 1965, in Trafalgar Square in London—“I’m not an overly emotional individual, but I still get a bit weepy thinking about the pride I felt then, pride that has never diminished.”

Who will ever forget The Goal?

Canadians were confident—and why

not? Sure, the Soviet Union had been regularly whipping Canada at world and Olympic hockey championships. But wed never been represented by first-class professionals, mostly sending teams of amateurs who had little hope of ever making the National Hockey League.

Now, in September, 1972, there would be an eight-game showdown between the Soviet national team and a group of Canadians drawn from NHL clubs.

Their best against our best. This time Canada must win, would win.

“I had to play, it had become a matter of national pride,” said the Boston Bruins star centre Phil Esposito, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who had scored a record 76 goals during the 1970-1971 NHL season. “It was our society against theirs, and as far as we were concerned, it was a damn war.”

In the first game, at the Montreal Forum, Esposito scored 30 seconds into the contest and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Paul Henderson upped it to 2-0 before seven minutes had passed. But by the end of the first period, the score was tied and the Canadians realized the Soviets were going to be formidable. Montreal Canadiens’ Yvan Cournoyer exclaimed to a teammate:

“You can’t believe their strength and conditioning.” The Soviets won the game decisively, 7-3.

“We were awed by what we were seeing,” recalled Minnesota North Stars’ J. P. Parise from Smooth Rock Falls, Ont. “I really felt like an outsider with the way the Russians handled the puck and the speed they had. I mean, we were all just thinking, ‘Holy Cripes.’ It was like the world was coming to an end.”

Game 2 was in Toronto two days later. Team Canada played tight defensive hockey, got good goal tending from Esposito’s brother Tony, and won 4-1. Game 3 in Winnipeg was a 4-4 tie, but when the team lost 5-3 in Vancouver, Canadian fans booed their team. Phil Esposito told the television audience the team was hurt and angry by the crowd’s response. “We’re doing our best.”

The series shifted to Moscow, with Communist party secretary-general Leonid Brezhnev in attendance for Game 5. The Soviets edged Canada 5-4 and had three victories to Canada’s one with one game tied. Canada could not lose again and still win the series. The NHL players, their conditioning improving as the Summit Series went on, registered tight wins in Games 6 and 7, with Henderson

scoring the winning goal both times. Everything would be riding on the series finale.

Moscow, Sept. 28, Game 8. Canada trailed 5-3 at the beginning of the final period, but goalie Ken Dryden could not find a negative feeling anywhere in the dressing room. Esposito scored early in the third frame and set up the tying goal by Cournoyer a little past the midway mark of the period. Then, in a chaotic last minute of play, Cournoyer relayed the puck to Henderson who was barely able to get off a shot before falling into the boards behind the Soviet net. Esposito retrieved the puck and fired it at goaltender Vladislav Tretiak. Tretiak kicked the puck out. Back on his feet, Henderson grabbed the rebound and fired along the ice. Tretiak stopped that, too, but Henderson took his own rebound and flipped the puck into the net.

THE GOAL, as the legendary Montreal sportswriter Red Fisher called it, the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history, had been scored with only 34 seconds remaining. It won the game 6-5 and the series 4-3-1.

Close though it was, the celebration was on, and the series persists as a touchstone of Canadian nationalism three decades later. But the question that Jack Ludwig posed in an article in Macleans in December, 1972, was right on the money: “ ‘Were number 1,’ right? But for how long?”

Adopting a Constitution—without Quebec

Making federalism complicated is a national speciality. Canadians had a Constitution, embedded in a British statute called the British North America Act, right from the start. As Canada slowly achieved its independence after the First World War, however, nobody could quite figure out a way for Canada to get control of its Constitution. In order to “patriate” the Constitution, a formula had to be devised to allow the document to be amended. That meant negotiating an agreement between the federal government and the provinces. Otherwise, the BNA Act would remain in Britain, and Canadian politicians would have to approach London, cap in hand, to request constitutional changes.

It was not until 1981, following more than a half-century of trying, that agreement was finally reached on an amending procedure.

Even then, the government of Quebec did not concur—and it still doesn’t.

Signed by the Queen in April, 1982, the Constitution had a new contraption attached: the Pierre Trudeau-inspired Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The charter legally entrenched certain well-established prerogatives of citizenship, such as the freedom of association and expression and the right to a fair trial. More contentious, in part because they were so vaguely worded, were guarantees of aboriginal rights, sexual equality and “the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.”

In the words of Manitoba historian J. M.

Bumsted, the charter “was somewhat less concerned than the American Bill of Rights to define the individual rights of Canadians, and somewhat more concerned to delineate their collective rights.” This effort at balance between J individual and collective rights is reflected in 1 Section 15 of the charter. Every individual is 1 accorded the right to the equal protection and j benefit of the law without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or disability. But then no law, program or activity is precluded that has the objective of bettering the conditions of disadvantaged groups or individuals.

Many of the hundreds of Macleans readers who nominated the charter as one of the century’s crucial events claimed that the bias since 1982 has been in favour of non-whites, criminals and other minorities. Aneita Strauss of Victoria wrote: “While undoubtedly human rights abuses occurred before, I believe that we went overboard in protecting the rights of those who yell the loudest, often at the expense of the ‘rights’ of the average Canadian.”

Other readers echoed Alberta Premier Ralph Klein’s

recent assertion that there is now far too much “judgemade law” in Canada. As Dan Stavert of St. Thomas, Ont., put it: “Our Parliament is no longer supreme; parliamentary sovereignty has been replaced by judicial decisions which override laws passed by Parliament.” Recent Supreme Court rulings on gay rights and aboriginal land claims lend apparent weight to the critics’ arguments. And in January, a British Columbia judge used the charter to rule that the possession of child pornography was consistent with freedom of expression, igniting an explosion of criticism.

Yet the Supreme Court’s charter decisions are much more conventional than usually depicted. An Osgoode Hall Law School study found that the court struck down laws in only nine of 76 charter cases from 1996 to 1998—and it usually gave legislatures plenty of room to modify the law without changing its thrust.

One side-effect of the charter has been to turn judges into public figures. This has led to further concerns about judicial activism, as judges in various provinces find themselves in hot water with controversial comments about women, natives and other subjects.