How Canada 150 is becoming a discussion rather than an anniversary celebration.

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The most important thing to come out of the Canada 150 celebrations may be the critical discussion that’s happening across the country about how we tell Canada’s story.

The City of Vancouver decided to modify the Canada 150 title by adding a plus sign so that it reads Canada 150+ to acknowledge the thousands of years of history that occurred before 1867.   Vancouver’s official web site says “Canada 150+ will be a uniquely Vancouver commemoration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, acknowledging an ancient past and looking toward a future where all communities, nations, and peoples are walking together as a society, stronger than ever before. “

In a recent story called, How Indigenous People are Rebranding Canada 150, MacLean’s Magazine comments “So, far from being another hurrah for Canada, the event is deliberately challenging our collective amnesia.”

University College, the founding College of the University of Toronto, has taken a leading role in the discussion by marking Canada’s 150 with Kent Monkman’s “Shame and Prejudice: a Story of Resilience” an exhibition that premiered at the University of Toronto Art Centre location and is now travelling across Canada. Doug Ainslie, Principal of University College, writes in this months’ alumni magazine, that Monkman used art and carefully curated historical artifacts to tell the story of Confederation from a queer indigenous perspective. He required us to see what is too often erased in national histories: those who have been subjected to violence, to cultural genocide, to ongoing displacement. In doing so he exemplified what the University can offer during this sesquicentennial year; not further celebration, but historically informed investigations of what it means to be Canadian and where our country is heading.

Last Sunday CBC devoted its national Cross-Country Check-up program to the question: “Should we change the names of streets and monuments that honour contentious figures?”  What followed was a thoughtful discussion about the nature of public celebration and commemoration.

And then there is the disappointing Story of Us broadcast on CBC in early April to celebrate Canada 150. So far both the governments of Quebec and Nova Scotia are asking for apologies, stating that the 10-part series ignores key historical events and feeds into prejudices. Others have called it an anglo centric production that condenses 12,000 years of aboriginal history and 150 years of New France into one hour.

This is all a far cry from 1967 when celebration of 100 years of history was never questioned. Perhaps the celebration of Canada 150 or Canada 150+ is that both the celebration and the 150 years are being questioned.


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