Long-awaited Canada Day dream fulfilled

I went to Charlottetown, P.E.I., the birthplace of Confederation, to celebrate Canada Day this year.
I was very excited. It felt like an act of patriotism; something I’ve wanted to do since 1967.
That year was a big deal for me and, of course, most Canadians. At age 12, the idea of our country being exactly 100 old was almost impossible to grasp.
Our school, Alberton Central, led by my mother the principal, saw no end of ways to celebrate the magic of being Canadian. We dressed in period costumes and studied the details of what a hundred years of Canada looked like.
Our entire four-room school—even the little ones—learned “The Centennial Song” partially in French and I felt incredibly worldly at the notion of being bilingual—so much so that most of July in 1967, I spoke my pretend version of French and nearly drove my family crazy.
Dressed as Sir John A. Macdonald, I rode my bicycle in the July 1st parade down Scott Street, with streamers flowing from my handlebars and red and white crepe paper woven through my spokes.
It felt sensational.
Then the Voyageurs, 10 canoes departing May 24, 1967 in a race from Rocky Mountain House in Alberta to Montreal in September, where Expo was in full swing, eventually went by our farm on July 14 and stopped to have their lunch before making their way to Fort Frances.
This was Day 52 of their trek and they were a hardy bunch. That race still holds the record for the longest canoeing race in history. They travelled 5,283 km in 104 days and spent a half-hour on the grass beside the Rainy River that flowed by our house.
These pretend courier-de-bois flexed their muscles and posed while my Grandpa Stewart took photos—their tanned bodies not worrying about the harmful sun in those days.
So being in Charlottetown, 148 years after the Charlottetown Conference in 1864 that paved the way for Confederation, surely will go down as a significant event in my life.
The idea of the conference was borne from the idea of a maritime union—an idea that had been on the political agenda for quite some time. Britain encouraged this notion so the colonies would be less dependent on the Crown.
The topic changed to one of a British Colonies Union, when the Province of Canada heard about the discussion and invited themselves to participate, and the rest is, as they say, history.
There was a circus in town, the first of its kind on the Island, in 1864 and all the accommodations had been booked by the Maritime delegates and the Island’s residents taking in this circus excitement.
Most of the dockworkers and Province House workers were off to the big tents, leaving no one to greet the ships arriving with the delegates from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada.
So one of the P.E.I. representatives paddled out to the ships to welcome the delegates, a rather noble gesture I think. Politics and the circus; an interesting analogy.
I stood on the steps of Province House this past Canada Day. It’s not a grand structure, not ornate in any way, but strong and sturdy and clean, as if everything that was discussed inside was straightforward and honest.
I stood on the very steps where Sir John A. Macdonald and the other delegates stood on Sept. 1, 1864. And as I walked through the hallowed halls, I imagined the voices raised with excitement of the idea of something bigger than its parts—the idea of Canada.
And I am ever so grateful that three years later, the idea saw reality. I can’t wait to go back to Prince Edward Island.
wendistewart@live.ca

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