Celebrating the Centennial

An Alberta museum showcases western Canadian life in 1967.

Written by Moriah Campbell

May 10, 2017

This year “our home and native land” celebrates 150 years of being a country — but how unified was Canada in 1867?

The answer is: not very.

While the eastern colonies of British North America were creating Confederation, the First Nations and Métis peoples of the West were growing increasingly wary of intrusions on their traditional territories.

Within a few years, in 1870, Manitoba would be born in the wake of the Red River Resistance. Meanwhile, it would take the promise of a transcontinental railway to coax British Columbia into Confederation in 1871.

Since 1867 doesn’t hold as much significance in the West, an Alberta museum has decided to celebrate a more recent national milestone — the 1967 centennial of Canada.

“People didn’t really start settling in High River until the 1880s, so I got the idea to bring it forward and do an exhibit about the centennial in High River in 1967,” said Irene Kerr, director and curator of The Museum of the Highwood, in High River, Alberta.

Unlike 1867, the centennial year was filled with excitement, nationalism and pride from coast to coast, Kerr said. 

“Everybody jumped on the bandwagon right away,” she said. “There are ads in old High River newspapers that say ‘Centennial sale’ or ‘Sale of the century!’”

The 1967 celebrations in High River included centennial teas, picnics, essay contests, and barbeques, as well as a day coined “Billy Henry Day,” in honour of a local pioneer rancher who turned one hundred in the centennial year.  

Initially, the exhibit was going to feature specific events and celebrations in High River in 1967, said Kerr, but it has grown to depict what life was like fifty years ago.

“It’s shocking how much the world has changed,” said Kerr. “It will be nice for young kids to come and see what High River used to be like.”

Visitors to the museum will be able to explore the pop culture of the 1960s. Plenty of memorabilia will be on display, including special centennial coins, stamps, photos, and even Expo ’67 passports (used during the Expo 67 world’s fair in Montreal that ran in 1967 from April to October). There will even be a silver tray given to Bill Henry by the Alberta government to mark his 100th birthday.

Museum visitors will also be able to listen to recordings from an oral history study that was conducted in partnership with Ambrose University in Calgary. The clips feature High River residents recalling memories from 1967.

To mark the wider anniversary of Canada’s sesquicentennial, Kerr said the museum will offer a separate exhibit on Confederation-era trading posts and whiskey forts, and will also showcase First Nations heritage in High River during that time period.

Both exhibits at The Museum of the Highwood will be opening on May 24th, 2017 to all visitors.

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