Fifty years ago as Bobby Gimby and a choir of children regaled us with C-A-N-A-D-A and this nation prepared for the magnificent EXPO 67 Centennial celebration on Montreal’s Ile Notre Dame, the future of C-A-N-A-D-A seemed limitless.
Still in my teens as 1967 began and living in Montreal, much, but not all was celebratory. A deeply concerning terrorist bombing campaign by the Front De Liberation du Quebec(FLQ) predated 1967 and continued into, through and beyond Canada’s Centennial year.
As July 1, 1967 approached rumbles of discontent from Quebec nationalists became pronounced, but the wonders of EXPO 67 and excitement over Canada’s 100th birthday drowned out the demands for la liberation du Quebec.
It was on July 23 the rumbles turned into a roar. A roar which began as an aging icon of La Francophonie General Charles de Gaulle, doubling as le President de la France and riding in a Montreal motorcade accompanied by Quebec Premier of the day Daniel Johnson, was greeted by massive throngs of wildly cheering Quebecois. The motorcade wound its way to City Hall, where de Gaulle spoke words which would quickly lead to the French president’s virtual expulsion from Canada.
General de Gaulle wasn’t scheduled to speak that evening, but implored Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau that he be permitted to address the crowd calling his name. The Mayor acceded the General’s request. De Gaulle likened his Montreal motorcade experience to the Allied military liberation of Paris in 1944.
“All France knows, sees and hears what is happening here and I can tell you that it will learn from it.” With arms thrust skyward the General/President roared defiant and fateful words “Vive Montreal! Vive Le Quebec! Vive le Quebec (lengthy pause) libre!” The throng erupted after a moment’s stunned silence. Few heard Charles de Gaulle’s conclude with “Vive le Canada Francais! Vive La France.”
Canadians were outraged. Prime Minister Lester Pearson on national television told de Gaulle his words “were unacceptable to the Canadian people” and a newly minted Federal Minister of Justice, Pierre Trudeau, would ask what French reaction would be if a Canadian Prime Minister were to visit France and shout “Brittany to the Bretons.”
Monsieur le President de Gaulle cut short his Canadian visit.
Here we are some fifty years removed from this unforgettable moment of Canada’s Centennial year. Much has happened. The children who sang C-A-N-A-D-A with Bobby Gimby are likely eligible to collect from the Canada Pension Plan.
In Canada’s 150th year terrorism has returned and again claimed Canadian lives, although not related to Quebec separation from the national federation and the Prime Minister’s name is Trudeau.
As we contemplate the next fifty years for this Canada we must ask for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s definition of Canada today, as well as his vision for the nation going forward?
Days following his 2015 election, Justin Trudeau told the New York Times “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada. There are shared values, openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice. Those qualities are what makes us the first postnational state.”
Confusing? Mr. Trudeau contradicts himself in his New York Times statement as he argues Canada is devoid of core identity, only to immediately list component parts of what forms the core principles of an identity. And some time following Trudeau’s “Canada is the world’s first postnational state” remark 75% of Canadians informed pollster Angus Reid a “unique Canadian culture” is indeed what binds this nation.