Thursday, 12 January 2017


Dear Prudence

In remote St. Paul, Alberta there is a circular concrete UFO landing pad on the main street. Provided the aliens arrive in a shuttle craft no larger than an SUV it should serve its purpose. The pad is a giddy relic of the Space Age, one small town’s goofy way of marking Canada’s 1967 centennial year with a cash infusion from Ottawa. God help us all, the then-Minister of National Defense cut the ribbon.

Next July 1st will mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation. As far as nation-states go we’ve had a pretty good run, a few insurgencies but neither a civil war nor a revolution. Reports in the national news sections of the papers I read indicate there is half a billion dollars available in the federal pork barrel to encourage Canadians to celebrate six generations of ‘peace, order and good government’ in a vast, regionalized and diverse land that existed ‘long before the white man and long before the wheel.’ Here we are now; all of us included, book-ended in a sense by a phrase from our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a lyric from a treasured Gordon Lightfoot epic.

I needn’t cite studies to prove that people are inflamed by peculiar passions and prone to spending money foolishly. During the last year of the Harper government’s reign there was a ‘Mother Canada’ initiative, a Stalinist statue in design and scope to be erected on a Maritime promontory to greet visitors to this country. Halifax’s famed Pier 21 is now a museum and anyway nobody arrives in Canada aboard a Cunard or White Star ocean liner anymore. Meanwhile, in the nation’s picturesque capital prime downtown real estate was earmarked for an expansive and elaborate memorial to ‘Victims of Communism,’ an ideology that has barely registered a peripheral impact on Canada. Fifty years ago in St. Paul a few crazies with access to funding believed constructing a UFO landing pad was a great notion, genius.

Parties are fun. The best ones I’ve attended or co-hosted (that I can remember) were organic. There was nothing firm beyond the date and the suggested start time. There were no themes or scheduled activities. Nobody cared if the guests congregated in the kitchen or milled around outside with the smokers. Parties are not permanent states, just fleeting events, here and gone, and momentarily immortalized in the wreckage of the morning after. You wake up to find a guest utilized your patio furniture to build a UFO landing pad because it was a really good idea at the time.

Saturday evening I moseyed into the den to find the Montreal at Toronto hockey game on TV. I didn’t bother turning on the sound because inane, painfully obvious commentary on any subject has become unbearably annoying. I noted the time left in the period and the score and then left the room to do something useful. When I returned for an update the tilt was in intermission. Three analysts sporting blue turbans were apparently discussing the highlights. I’d stumbled across a Punjabi broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada. I paused and chuckled at the incongruity because it wasn’t quite cricket, but where else in the world? This is us.

I associate overly orchestrated national fetes with countries that stage military parades on May Day. In the alternate universe that is this immediate era, Canada is regarded as something of a progressive redoubt by thoughtful people who do not read nor report fake news. Nationalism in this country is soft: we’re kind of proud to be lucky; we don’t feel compelled to whip out our red and white banners, flags and pennants. The Canada 150 logo is just one more graphic icon in the relentless and shrill white noise of marketing, advertising and public service announcements.

Half a billion dollars are burning a hole in the Heritage ministry’s breeches. Why spend it on a moment, a lost weekend, a nation-wide howler and possibly a new UFO landing pad? History may or may not repeat but it surely lengthens. Why not consider the next 150 years? Why not present all current and future Canadians a gracious gift by directing that money into the preservation and restoration of our national parks, our national historic sites and our UNESCO World Heritage sites? If Canadians feel compelled to celebrate a significant anniversary of Confederation, friends and neighbours will chip in for the two-fours, hamburgers and hot dogs. This is us.

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