Historicist: Ringing in the Centennial Year

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Historicist: Ringing in the Centennial Year

How Toronto said goodbye to 1966, hello to 1967.

Cartoon by Al Beaton, the Telegram, December 31, 1966.

Cartoon by Al Beaton, the Telegram, December 31, 1966.

“Canada’s Centennial year, beginning at midnight, will be a time for pleasure, a time for pride, and a time for some purposeful thought about this country’s second century.”—editorial, Toronto Star, December 31, 1966.

We’re not sure how many Torontonians were in a contemplative mood as the final hours of 1966 ticked away. But, like the rest of the country, people across Metro were caught up in the enthusiasm and optimism surrounding the dawn of Canada’s Centennial year. Whether sitting at home, participating in community celebrations, or sampling festivities downtown, there was a sense that this night was ushering in something special.

Saturday morning newspaper readers shook off their grogginess by browsing special coverage of the year to come. The Star dedicated its edition to “Canada—beginning the second century” with cultural and historical analysis. Looking at future trends in books, Robert Fulford predicted that libraries would function as community centres, and that “the distance between educated and uneducated, between avant-garde culture and mass culture, will continue to shrink” despite improvements in educational techniques and access to materials. Surveying the federal political scene, many of Ottawa editor Peter C. Newman’s predictions for 1967 (scrapping the position of Governor General, the NDP overtaking either the Liberals or the Progressive Conservatives as a major force in the House) failed to materialize.

From the January 5, 1967, edition of the Richmond Hill Liberal.

From the January 5, 1967, edition of the Richmond Hill Liberal.

The Telegram countered with hopes for the new year from local dignitaries. Some wished for world peace, while others, such as Ed Mirvish, promoted their projects (in Honest Ed’s case, his plans for a basement pub in his King Street restaurant, for which he joked “I need the publicity”). Among those surveyed:

“I hope to see a City Council which will work together as a team, with decisions made in harmony and carried out effectively.”—incoming mayor William Dennison.

“Survival—just survival, that’s what I’m hoping for in 67.”—U of T professor/prominent egghead Marshall McLuhan.

“We get through the Centennial Year without getting so jaded that the whole thing falls apart.”—Saturday Night magazine editor Arnold Edinborough.

“I hope for the repeal of the universal franchise because I’m tired of being equal with men.”—TV interviewer/Toronto Life‘s debut cover model Barbara Amiel. Given her future path, we’re not 100 per cent sure if this was meant to be tongue in cheek.

The most accurate hope was expressed by Maple Leafs centre Red Kelly’s wife Andra: “I hope Toronto wins the Stanley Cup.” Unfortunately, the Leafs lost at home that night to the Chicago Black Hawks 5-1.

East York Mayor True Davidson expressed her wish that residents of her community would “realize their unity and pride.” Her call for coming together likely referred to East York’s absorption of Leaside, one of a series of New Year’s Day amalgamations across Metro which saw Forest Hill, Long Branch, Mimico, New Toronto, Swansea, and Weston disappear as independent municipalities. Reports do not indicate if moments of silence were held for the fallen towns and villages that evening.

From the January 3, 1967 edition of the Telegram.

From the January 3, 1967, edition of the Telegram.

To avoid interfering with anyone’s midnight plans, downtown’s main event, the official provincial celebration in Queen’s Park, was scheduled early in the evening. It began at 8 p.m. when a torchlight parade left Union Station. People lined along University Avenue to watch a torchlight procession which included cadets and other members of the forces equipped with wax torches, bands, baton-twirlers, mounted police, ethnic communities dressed in traditional clothing, and others who joined the procession on its way to Queen’s Park. “It’s just like going to a baptism,” one onlooker told the Telegram.

Up to 50,000 people showed up at Queen’s Park, far surpassing government estimates. Faced with ankle-deep snow, some attendees found better views from ladders, trees, or the recently opened Frost Building. Following a trumpet fanfare from the second-floor balcony, a civil service choir sang hymns. Despite problems with the sound system, which failed to work for most of the crowd, Premier John Robarts was cheered loudly when he declared “We believe there is a future for Canada worth working for.”

When Robarts lit the province’s Centennial flame (which was only used that night), Mayor Dennison rang a cowbell, prompting the crowd to yell “showoff” and Robarts to double over laughing. The assembled stared into the flame as they sang “O Canada.” Finally, Robarts switched on a stylized electric Centennial maple leaf symbol, followed by fireworks around 9:30. Tourism and Information Minister James Auld asked the crowds to stand back, lest they be injured by works such as a reproduction of the portrait of the Fathers of Confederation which shot flares into the sky.

From the January 2, 1967 edition of the Globe and Mail.

From the January 2, 1967, edition of the Globe and Mail.

Around 5,000 people made their way to Nathan Phillips Square for a midnight skating party. The Globe and Mail depicted the scene:

Hundreds of persons skated shoulder-to-shoulder to the tunes of the 48th Highlanders band, while others strolled about Nathan Phillips Square, or stood in groups to study the strange shapes of The Archer…Noisemakers and paper hats began to appear in the crowd shortly after 11 p.m., and revellers watched the clock on the tower of Old City Hall. One group of about 100 persons sang “Alouette” led by a man in a big sombrero, and children set off strings of firecrackers. A snake dance of singers got started, and a tiny girl jumped up and down, shouting “one more minute to 12 o’ clock.” One minute later the first bright red shell burst high in the sky over the City Hall’s twin towers, followed by red, green, blue, and white starbursts.

The clock tower of Old City Hall may have indulged in too much New Year’s cheer, as it didn’t ring until three minutes into 1967. Elsewhere, church bells rang across Metro at midnight, while residents were urged by civic officials to leave on their Christmas lights, bang pots and pans, and enjoy a moondance on their front lawns.

Besides ringing their bells at midnight, some churches offered special Centennial services. The longest was likely held at Oriole-York Mills United Church in North York, where a 12-hour vigil for world peace began at 11 p.m. Each hour local dignitaries, including North York Mayor James Service, read scriptures.

From the January 3, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star.

From the January 3, 1967, edition of the Toronto Star.

In Yorkville, the Star reported public displays of affection that nowadays, at a minimum, would be considered incidents without consent:

The long-haired youths, many bearded and dressed in baggy sweaters and denims, wandered aimlessly and by midnight outnumbered the unattached girls by about 10 to 1. The shouting and cheering that signalled the beginning of Canada’s centennial year was also the signal to kiss every girl in sight. Any girl venturing down Yorkville Avenue in the next hour was accepting an invitation to be mauled. And they were. One girl, asked how many times she had been kissed after she struggled through the crowds on Yorkville Avenue as far as Hazelton Avenue gasped “a thousand times.” Then she was pulled into the tangle of clutching arms of three youths and her score rose to 1,003.

Teens who didn’t hit the pavement marked the New Year amid more serene surroundings. Organizers of the Inferno nightclub at the North York YMCA at Bayview and Sheppard promised a lively evening of refreshments and live bands. The dress code of jacket and tie for boys, skirts or dresses for girls may have been too square for some.

Partying went on in homes across the city. University of Toronto president Claude Bissell devised a game for his guests (which included McLuhan) where they had to guess the names of important Canadians of the previous century. At a gathering of journalists in broadcaster Gordon Donaldson’s apartment, the emotion of watching the telecast of the national ceremony on Parliament Hill prompted CBC newscaster Norman DePoe to jump from his seat and urge everyone in the room to sing “O Canada”. All joined in except for Alan Edmonds, who had recently arrived from England and was puzzled by what he was witnessing. “At this cavalier treatment of a sacred Canadian moment,” Pierre Berton later recalled, “DePoe went berserk. He lunged at Edmonds so ferociously that he had to be pulled away before doing him serious injury.” Edmonds fell into line. As another attendee remembered, “it was really a special moment, because we all had such pride in being Canadian and such anger at this Brit making fun of us.”

From the January 3, 1967 edition of the Telegram.

From the January 3, 1967, edition of the Telegram.

City hotels and other traditional New Year’s venues were booked long in advance. The LCBO barely loosened its regulations, allowing drinks to be served until midnight instead of the usual 11:30 cutoff. In the days leading up to the Royal York Hotel’s spectacular, musical director Moxie Whitney and his staff couldn’t figure out what the young woman hired to jump out of a three-tier, lit Centennial cake would wear—a miniature flag? A trio of mini maple leaves? In front of attendees like former mayor Allan Lamport, she emerged wearing a sash marking her as Miss 1967.

To maintain public safety, 200 extra police officers patrolled downtown, and office towers were urged to keep their lights on. One minute after midnight, the city’s new free ambulance service attended its first call. The first patient was a man who fell at Queen and St. Patrick. Over its first day 150 calls were handled, and officials were pleased with the speedy service. Nearly 100 drivers in the city were arrested for impaired driving.

Scenes from parties around the city. The Telegram, January 3, 1967.

Scenes from parties around the city. The Telegram, January 3, 1967.

In the rest of Metro and its suburbs, as in many communities across Canada, celebrations offered fireworks and 100-gun salutes. Clothing from the Confederation era was not an uncommon sight—for his municipality’s official event, North York Mayor James Service looked as if he’d stepped out of a 19th-century portrait, complete with fake chin whiskers. Other Centennial salutes included a bonfire in Stouffville where residents were asked to donate their Christmas trees to fuel the blaze.

For those still recovering from the night before, on New Year’s Day CBC offered the television special 100 Years Young. Amid an all-star cast, the highlight was the debut of Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railway Trilogy. Also on hand were 70 members of North York’s Appian Public School choir. Chosen due to their win at the 1966 Kiwanis Festival, applications to join the ensemble rose following the broadcast. The children sang a song written by Bob Jarvis, father of two choir members. “It’s time to brag and wave the flag,” the song began, reflecting sentiments which lasted all year long.

Additional material from 1967 The Last Good Year by Pierre Berton (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1997); the January 4, 1967 edition of the Don Mills Mirror; the December 28, 1966 edition of the Enterprise; the January 2, 1967 edition of the Globe and Mail; the December 28, 1966, December 31, 1966, and January 3, 1967 editions of the Toronto Star; and the December 31, 1966 and January 3, 1967 editions of the Telegram.


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