OTTAWA – Newly disclosed documents show federal officials wanted to mark key contributions by aboriginal people and women to Canadian history as a way to expand Canada 150 celebrations that had largely focused on military events.
A list of potential milestones that could be celebrated on the road to 2017 was delivered to the top official at Canadian Heritage in mid-March and included 17 pages of lists and details for potential commemorations leading up to, and beyond, the country’s 150th birthday.
The list includes the centennial of when women received the right to vote in federal elections, legislation almost 200 years old that ended slavery in Canada and the births of key aboriginal figures, including the late Tommy Prince, one of Canada’s most decorated aboriginal veterans.
Combined, the extra milestones would highlight “accomplishments of minority ethnocultural groups, recognize the contributions of women and celebrate the role of Aboriginal Peoples have and continue to play in our country,” reads a report accompanying the list of recommended milestones.
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obtained a copy of the list and accompanying report through the Access to Information Act.
Canadian Heritage declined an interview request about how the milestones were chosen.
The department says no decision was made to add these milestones to the Canada 150 plans and any anniversaries beyond 2017 “will be identified and communicated in due course.”
University of Guelph history professor Matthew Hayday says the list glosses over much of Quebec’s contributions to Canada and Confederation, while celebrating aboriginals who challenged government programs of assimilation. Officials suggested marking the founding of Montreal, the anniversary of a museum built for Canada’s centennial and the passage of the Official Languages Act.
“These are not about anniversaries of Quebec’s major contributions to Confederation,” said Hayday, who researches how Canadians celebrate their history and culture.
The list avoids more contentious parts of French Canada’s history, while celebrating aboriginals who were key figures in the battle for First Nations rights, Hayday said.
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“It makes sense that in the 150th anniversary there is going to be an impulse towards a more national unity narrative and a desire to downplay points of intense conflict,” Hayday said. “That’s pretty typical with what governments do, but it’s interesting that there is more acknowledgment of some of the fraught history with First Nations in that list and less when it comes to French Canada and Quebec.”
The list still touches on the themes of Canada’s military efforts and Arctic sovereignty that the outgoing Conservative government put a heavy focus on.
That could change under a Liberal government. The creation of a national medicare program in 1966 or the 60th anniversary of Lester Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize for his work in creating a peacekeeping force with the United Nations could all be on the list of milestones with the Liberals now calling the shots, Hayday said.
The Liberals may also add the anniversary of one of their MPs, Marc Garneau, becoming the first Canadian in space. The list from March suggested marking the 25th anniversary of Chris Hadfield becoming the “first Canadian member of a space shuttle team” in 2020, but no mention of Garneau’s 1984 flight aboard the space shuttle Challenger.
“I wouldn’t necessarily assume that this is going to be the be-all and end-all of what we’re going to see commemorated or that the priority list might not shift quite significantly within the next few months,” Hayday said.