At the checkout I noticed a basketful of stylized maple leaf pins, commemorating Canada’s 150th birthday.
“Amazing,” I said to the clerk. “I remember when Canada turned 100. We had a similar maple leaf symbol back then. Suddenly I feel old.” She smiled sympathetically. She hadn’t even been born in 1967.
In Canada’s centennial year I was a grade five student. That year we had a young teacher from Liverpool, England. She wore stylish clothing and spoke with the coolest accent, like the Beatles. She brought me C.S. Lewis, poetry and big words.
I recall seeing Miss Byrne angry just once. She left us alone for a few minutes, only to return and find the portrait of Queen Elizabeth covered in spit balls. No one would identify the perpetrators, so our punishment was a class “20/20” – 20 words to be written out 20 times each. Seizing the teachable moment, she assigned words like disrespectful, vandalism, allegiance and monarchy.
We began each school day by singing God Save the Queen, followed by The Lord’s Prayer and then O Canada. (It didn’t become our official national anthem until 1980.)
Beside the Queen’s portrait hung three flags – the Union Jack, signifying loyalty to the Commonwealth; the Ontario provincial flag – an updated version of the Red Ensign; and the newly adopted Canadian flag – the Maple Leaf. It was introduced in 1965 by Prime Minister Lester Pearson under some controversy. Our neighbours from Great Britain referred to the new flag as “Pearson’s dishrag.” I thought it was quite pretty.
Pearson tendered his resignation in 1967, soon to be replaced by one Pierre Trudeau. The rest, as they say, is history.
God keep our land
Speaking of Maple Leafs – 1967 was the last time the hockey team by that name won the Stanley Cup. I remember the series well. I had an older friend (age 12), who cheered for the Habs. More to assert my independence than anything else, I became a Leafs fan. When they won the cup that year she stopped talking to me for the whole summer.
Montreal did achieve worldwide acclaim for hosting the World’s Fair – Expo 67. The city also made headlines after the visit of French president Charles de Gaulle and his infamous quote: Vive le Quebec libre! Francophones loved it. The rest of Canada, not so much.
In those days you could easily tell a Chevy from a Ford from a Chrysler. I fell in love with the ’67 Camaro. To this day the mere sight of one makes me sigh.
My friends and I were also totally enamoured by The Monkees. We watched the show faithfully every week and played their records (those are vinyl disc things) until they were practically worn out. I can still sing most of their songs verbatim. Oddly enough, no one ever asks me to.
Important stuff was going on in my life back then too – more than I realized. I had neighbours who took me to church, public school teachers who read Bible stories and prayed, and church volunteers who worked tirelessly with me through numerous kids’ programs.
One day a man from the Gideons visited our classroom. Every year they gave out New Testaments and Psalms to grade five students. To honour Canada’s centennial, our books had gold covers. He explained how this was God’s word, showed us how it was laid out and then pointed to a page at the back where we could sign our names. “But only,” he stressed, “Only if you want to ask the Lord into your heart.”
I signed mine that evening. Then I read it with a flashlight under the covers.
Fifty years have passed. Queen Elizabeth II is still the reigning monarch. There’s another Trudeau at the helm of our country. Science and technology have wrought incredible changes. Some of what was science fiction back then has become daily reality now.
But the words of Psalm 72 still stand – whether we acknowledge it or not – “[Christ] shall have dominion from sea to sea . . . . All nations will be blessed through him.”. Canadians have much to be thankful for, much to celebrate, not the least of which is the freedom and faith to sing, “God keep our land glorious and free!”
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