Thursday, June 29, 2017

Centennial Year

Headnote: In 1967 there was a fad: a certain stuffed cartoonish arctic snowy owl called an Ookpik (Eskimo word) was selling everywhere; there was even an Ookpik (The owl’s name) comic strip in the newspaper. I’m sure the owls were sold as commonly at Expo 67 as are the stuffed Paddington Bears now selling in the stores near Paddington Station. My sister received one for Christmas holding onto a sign saying, “I hate men.” She said, “That’s what I say when coming home from a date on Friday nights.”

Hello Reader,
Got a favorite year?

This Saturday at Confederation Park, as part of Canada’s 150th birthday, or “Canada 150,” a time capsule will be dug up. It has traveled through time, carrying to us the dreams of fellow Canadians of 1967. I wonder what they were eager to show us? Did they put Ookpik in the capsule? In ’67, as the original Star Trek showed an idealistic federation of peace and harmony, Canadians took pride in their confederation: con is Latin for coming together.

The most popular song that year went: “It’s the hundredth anniversary of… confederation! Every-body sing!” Another line went, “Frere Jacqua, frère Jacqua, merrily we roll along, together, all the way!”

Having a hundred years of continuous democracy was a big deal. The French were on their latest numbered republic, East Germany was still communist, Spain still fascist, and India hadn’t gotten democracy and statehood until the late 1940’s. By world standards, we were doing pretty well. The telephone book cover showed the horse and buggy days, captioned 1867-1967: as our hearts swelled with innocent pride.  

By the next year, innocence was waning, leading to a few years of monotonous bomb threats all across our land, while back east were a few French-speaking “Pure Wool” (white, not ethnic) terrorists, as movies seeped out of Hollywood with pointless violent endings, sexploitation and Blacksploitation.

But the previous year, still innocent, a syndicated newspaper magazine ran a narrative-style article on soldiers of the future, complete with their jet packs and infrared goggles. I think that year had a cover story about a “Top Gun,” a German submarine captain who sunk the most ships in the Saint Lawrence. Today I suspect magazine editors would not present such things, not because Canadians are too liberal, but too squeamish.

The successive year, less innocent, that magazine had a book review, with scary illustrations made for the article, of the novel Killing Ground about a future Canadian civil war. In January of 1968 Middle Americans were to hear Walter Cronkite, their most respected TV newscaster by far say, “What the hell is going on? I thought we were winning this war!” Innocence drained rapidly after the Tet Offensive.

But 1967 was golden.

That year people went to San Francisco with flowers in their hair, (link to song lyrics) while Canadians hitchhiked to see Canada’s world exposition, Expo 67. A man fixing my furnace once told me, “By the next year hippies were hitchhiking, and spoiled it.” In 1967 the Boy Scout magazine, Canadian Boy, did an innocent article about hitching across this land, called “Thumb-ting to Sing About.” The magazine also did an article on the wonders of Expo. Somehow, I doubt the later World Expo of 1986, in Vancouver, held the same cross-country pride and excitement.

As for this year of 2017, let me tell you, I am just not feeling anywhere near the same hoopla for “Canada 150.” Of course I’m older now, not in school, not watching TV as much, so maybe, although I listen to a lot of CBC radio, maybe I’ve somehow failed to notice any prevailing winds of excitement, but still … let me tell you how we celebrated back in my day, for our 100 year birthday.

In schools the children all got a centennial medal—I got heck for taking mine out of the plastic wrapper, as my parents thought it would tarnish. Servicemen in the armed forces all got a campaign medal to show they were in the service that year, while Girl Guides and Boy Scouts all got a special badge to sew on.

School kids in all grades did athletic testing (situps, runs and so forth) and then received a big centennial crest to put on, in gold, silver, or bronze. There was a smaller rectangular one in red to show participation. I don’t know if we would want our kids to be so visibly competitive today: This was before “losing” in Viet Nam led Terry Orlick to devise “cooperative games” such as children surrounding a parachute to bounce a ball with no score, no losers.

As I wrote earlier this month, the Ca-na-da song music video, of a pied piper leading singing children over a grassy field, caused the CBC phone to ring off the hook with requests for lyrics. Also on TV were exciting calls to “Plan your centennial project now.” The clip I still remember is of a few people in formal eveningwear on the top of a mountain playing their symphony instruments. Those TV ads were aimed at individuals.

While individuals “did their own thing,” at our community level we built the aforementioned Confederation Park, while down in Lethbridge volunteers go involved to spend 25 million in 1967 dollars on a real Japanese Garden. (No flowers) A contractor volunteered to work out a cost estimate—he was almost bang on. (Try doing that today) Japanese royalty attended the opening. Some of the emperor’s family will be back to experience the garden for the Canada 150.

Elementary school kids raised money for centennial projects. For example, Project 100—and there was a poster in the classroom showing forlorn children of color—was to raise a hundred dollars for children overseas. That year students created and staged many stage plays and such, while charging a few pennies—back when one cent bought a big candy. I remember a fashion show where many of the girls modeled three-piece bathing suits. The third piece, of course, was a snug strip across their middle. That was back when boys and men were wearing jockey style swimsuits. (non-speedo) There was cultural funding that year for young grownups to come in and do plays with audience involvement… part of why I still remember is that such things didn’t happen in succeeding years. We had just one kick at the can.

Until only a few years ago, downtown, on the sidewalk across from the Hudson’s Bay Company, by the church, stood a turquoise molded one-piece plastic bench. It had the centennial logo: a maple leaf made of triangles. Now, that’s the kind of humble centennial project that warms my heart. The Canada 150 logo is a leaf made of diamonds… I wonder, since our government on Parliament Hill today seems full of young whippersnappers, if anybody on the hill besides the artist noticed the similarity in the two leafs? The golden year of 1967 was so long ago.

My favorite year.

Sean Crawford
Late June

~Some old memories only surfaced in the writing of this essay—how nice, while others I had been reviewing so as not to lose them for the last fifty years. “Reviews it or lose it.”

~For me, the Japanese garden (link to images) alone makes the drive to Lethbridge worth the trip.

~Following a reader’s outrageous suggestion, in 1967 Canadian Boy magazine ran a science fiction story, starring kids from a previous three-part story, called Who Stole Expo 2067? (The expo was orbiting as a space platform; the bad guys turned it invisible) Say, I wonder what the 2067 maple leaf logo will look like?

~I wrote about the centennial song (with links) being ignored by whippersnappers in my essay Sawhorses Blocking the Forum in June of this year. Once again, here is a link to some children singing the song at Expo 67.

~Terry Olick gets a broader mention in my essay-and-book-review of Backfire, about Vietnam, contrasting bureaucrats (civil and military) with citizens, archived September 2010. That essay is one of my top ten for reader stats.

~I so despised the contemptible, cowardly, costly, cover-your-ass paperwork of Vietnam, that one semester at university, without asking my professor first, I accepted a lower mark in university to go do one (of two) of my term papers on “red tape,” instead of on an a proper course related subject. I still passed.
There’s lots of research out there to show that, like cancer, red tape can be beaten. (Of course by “costly” I don’t mean in terms of money or man-hours—you know what I mean)

~As it happened, my course was on “social workers and the medical system.” About the time President Bill Clinton was trying and failing to bring in affordable healthcare, my professor had heard, at a U.S. university conference, a U.S. politician, a name you would recognize, lying through his teeth to his fellow Americans about Canadian medicare. It would seem poor Clinton was doomed before he even started. How President Obama ever managed to pull it off is a mystery to me.  

I sure hope the Yankees, by 2067, will have finally achieved world-class health care. I’m still chuckling at a recent Canadian editorial cartoon of an American health care “draft” manual, covered with shabby post-it notes on rumpled pages, next to a very tall stack of pristine manuals with the names of first world countries… Sometimes, being an arrogant American is its own punishment.

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