Monday, June 30, 2008

Canada Day - Looking back on 50 years of government-sponsored celebrations

Tomorrow will be Canada Day, the 141st anniversary of Confederation. It will also mark the 50th anniversary of an annual tradition of federal government-sponsored celebrations on July 1st, a tradition begun in 1958 by the Progressive Conservative government of John Diefenbaker to honour what was then known as Dominion Day (the name was changed in 1982, but some die-hards persist in using the original nomenclature). Tomorrow, top Canadian artists such as Blue Rodeo, Hawksley Workman, Paul Brandt, Kevin Parent and Diane Dufrense will perform on Parliament Hill.

In honour of the occasion, here is a brief glimpse back on celebrations over the past half-century:

1958: A small-scale, formal event was organized for Ottawa under the auspices of Secretary of State Ellen Fairclough. Military pageantry predominated, in addition to a carillion concert from the Peace Tower. Governor General Vincent Massey delivered the first-ever simulcast television message across the country.

1968: The mid-60s featured a series of multicultural variety shows from Parliament Hill, building up to the Centennial of 1967. 1968, in contrast, was a bit of a let-down. Amateur performing artists were flown in from across the country, but the CBC declined to televise the events, citing budget constraints. Ottawa residents were treated to a very bourgeois flotilla of personal watercraft on the Rideau Canal.

1978: In the panic of the pre-1980 referendum era, a massive Canada's Birthday Celebration was organized, under the theme of "Canada - it's you and me/Canada - c'est toi et moi". About a million dollars was spent on a national television spectacular featuring satellite hook-ups to stages across the country featuring performers such as Tom Jackson, the Irish Rovers, Tommy Hunter, Rene Simard and Maureen Forrester. Millions were also distributed as seed money to local communities that wanted to hold events. The same pattern was repeated the following year, with the addition of a concert to be held on June 30th in Montreal. Notably, several Quebec separatist artists insisted that their contracts contain a clause stating that no mention would be made of Canada Day during the concert. One of those artists was Diane Dufresne, who will be performing tomorrow at the noon and evening shows on Parliament Hill.

1988: After a series of fairly low-key Canada Days in Ottawa, but a sustained period of community sponsorship, federal organizers returned to the Ottawa-based TV special, kicked off by the "Canada Gold Ensemble". The program also featured singer Paul Janz, athletes Rick Hansen and Elizabeth Manley, comedian Andre-Phillipe Gagnon, and a special performance by David Foster of "Winter Games" the theme song for the Calgary Olympics.

1998: Paul Gross (yes, the actor) and Lara Fabian sang at the formal noonday show. The evening gala, hosted by Elvis Stojko and Sonia Benezra, included performances by Paul Brandt, the Philosopher Kings, Leahy, Michel Pagliaro, Lara Fabian, and Buffy Ste-Marie.

Happy Canada Day!

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