Canada’s mayors recall energy and optimism of Centennial year
Centennial Year saw many Canadians taking on challenges — both wacky and wonderful — to mark the country’s big birthday. Kurt Johnson, the Citizen’s letters editor, for example, hitchhiked across the country to gather the signatures of the mayors of all the provincial capitals on a scroll.
Now, to mark the 40th anniversary of Canada’s centennial, we invite you to share your stories of 1967, too.
We’ll publish the best on Canada Day weekend.
To kick things off, we contacted the current mayors of Canada’s capitals and asked them to tell us about their Centennial memories.
Some, such as Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee, were just starting school at the time so their memories are more about playgrounds than Expo.
But for others, like Toronto Mayor David Miller, it was a significant year indeed. DAVID MILLER Mayor of Toronto
The summer of 1967 was a heady one for Miller. He was eight years old and, on Aug. 8, his trip across the Atlantic to emigrate to Canada ended in Montreal. The boat docked and a day later, the young lad who’d grown up in Thriplow, a tiny village of 100 outside Cambridge, England, was at Expo 67.
“I’d been to London maybe a couple of times but I’d never seen anything remotely like Expo 67,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘What an incredible country.’ It was just spectacular — such an energy, such an optimism for the future.”
He remembers being told that Expo was taking place on Canada’s 100th birthday.
“It was explained to me, but I saw it as energy, passion, all these exciting things,” Miller says. “There was every country in the world.”
It was a long way from Thriplow, which boasted but one school, one shop, one church, a blacksmith and two pubs.
Miller says his Centennial project was emigrating. About the ocean crossing he remembers little, other than discovering Canada Dry ginger ale, “which is a remarkable tonic for seasickness.”
After his visit to Expo, he and his mother moved to Ottawa where an uncle was already settled. He stayed in Ottawa until 1977.
“I remember everything in Ottawa was (being named) Centennial,” he said. “There were rinks and buildings. It was an extraordinary time for building and recognizing that you need to invest in public amenities, and public space.” ANDY WELLS Mayor of St. John’s
Andy Wells was working for the federal government in 1967.
“And it has been downhill ever since,” deadpans the dry Newfoundlander.
As part of the Centennial celebration, the federal government had created what he remembers as “Centennial caravans.” They were picture exhibits that documented the history of Canada.
Wells was working with the caravan that toured Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Alas, he says he didn’t have any photographs of his own from his time on the caravan. “They will be too depressing in any event, for it was my salad day.” BRAD WOODSIDE Mayor of Fredericton
As Brad Woodside tells it, 1967 is “a little blurry for me. But being a proud Canadian whose father served in the military, I know I was very excited about our Centennial year. In fact, I made my way to Expo 67 and celebrated there.”
Woodside would have been 20 then, and remembers buying a bottle of beer and taking it home as a keepsake.
“It was brewed and bottled in the hills of Galilee near Nazareth,” he says. “That started a beer collection I had for many years. Flashing back to ‘ 67 is a little difficult for me, but I do remember that, and I do remember that bottle of beer although I never drank it because I gave my collection away.” SAM KATZ Mayor of Winnipeg
Sam Katz was 16 during the Centennial Year. What stands out for him?
It was the year Winnipeg hosted the Pan Am Games.
Katz, who emigrated to Winnipeg from Israel with his parents when he was just three months old, has lived in Winnipeg for all but those three months.
In 1967, he had a job at the St. Charles Hotel to make his own money and his “Centennial project” may have been the quintessential 16-year-old pursuit: Getting his driver’s licence.
“I was just a youngster doing what youngsters do,” he says. PETER J. KELLY Mayor of Halifax
Peter Kelly was 11 years old in 1967 and he remembers it well because that summer his parents went to Montreal for Expo 67 — and he didn’t.
His dad, who worked for an insurance company, had won the trip thanks to his high sales.
They wanted to take their children along. However, they had nine, so they couldn’t take them all.
Kelly’s two older brothers made the cut while he and several other brothers and sisters went to their grandmother’s at Eastern Passage, a small fishing village east of Halifax.
“I certainly remember that summer,” Kelly said.
“I would rather have been at Expo, but we had fun anyway.
“They had a beach and miles and miles of wild blueberries and raspberries for picking and a nearby corner store to buy penny candies.”