1967: Canada’s 100th Birthday
I’ve had the fortune to be in Canada for two really big birthday parties. I lived through the Centennial year bash when I was five, and I unintentionally encountered the Sesquicentennial celebration last year on one of my rare visits back to Toronto.
If you read about the Centennial online, you’ll see the word “optimism” used again and again. The zeitgeist of the mid-60’s in Canada was prosperous, contented, future-focused, innovative. This was reflected everywhere you looked and listened.
It was seen in the architecture of the day like the space-age New City Hall built in 1966.
Or Ontario Place, on which construction started in 1969. The jewel of Ontario Place was, and still is, Cinesphere, the world’s first permanent IMAX theatre.
The entire country aspired to the skies or the stars. City Hall was a spaceship; and the CN Tower, which would be the world’s tallest free-standing structure for decades to come, would be built in the early 1970s.
The soundtrack to Centennial ’67 was a song, Ca-na-da written by Canadian musician Bobby Gimby and sung by the Young Canada Singers, who, of course, were children like me, which was awesome!
(One little two little three Canadians)
We love thee
(Now we are twenty million)
(Four little five little six little Provinces)
Proud and free
(Now we are ten and the Territories sea to sea)
North south east west
There’ll be happy times,
Church Bells will ring, ring, ring
It’s the hundredth anniversary of
Ev’rybody sing together!
(Verse in French begins)
Rah! Vive le Canada!
Three cheers Hip, Hip, Hooray!
That’s the order of the day
Frère Jacques Frère Jacques
Merilly we roll along
Together all the way
(Repeat second chorus)
It was the #1 pop song in Canada that year. We had more than one Centennial-themed school assembly that year where we all got to sing along. Bobby Gimby himself might have even shown up at one of our assemblies, because all through 1967 he travelled coast to coast visiting schools and getting children to sing the song – a patriotic Pied Piper. He was actually called that.
It’s a terrible ear worm. I dare you to get it out of your head once you hear it, especially when sung by children as it always is. Every time I see it or hear it, I have to perform an exorcism by pushing it out of my head with two or three pop songs, repeat as necessary.
Up in Canada, it’s true that we borrowed most of our pop hits from our neighbors to the South, but no one will ever take Anne Murray or Gordon Lightfoot away from us, and Ca-na-da, for better or for worse, was our song that year.
The symbol adopted for the Centennial was the winner of a contest. It was a stylized maple leaf composed of eleven multi-colored triangles, each representing a province; the Yukon and Northwest Territories were – as usual -shortchanged by being given just one triangle to share.
All schoolchildren were given a brass medal commemorating the Centennial, that was handed out to us one day at an assembly. Each one came in a crinkly cellophane sleeve, like…
A lollipop, of course. What else?
Sadly, even in its original packaging (which is rare, because most of us immediately unwrapped it and started playing with it when we got it), one of those medals today is worth no more than than a couple of bucks.