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Then & Now: Looking back at the 1967 centennial

Sudbury celebrated Centennial with more than 225 special events
As part of Canada's centennial celebrations in 1967, Sudbury Jaycees constructed a Centennial garden at the foot of the city's new Greek-style amphitheatre (since replaced with the Grace Hartman Amphitheatre). The garden had 11 concrete triangle flower boxes and it was arranged in the shape of the Centennial maple leaf logo. The first garden featured flowers from the provinces and territories. It was removed from Bell Park in 2007.

Ten babies were born in Sudbury on July 1, 1967 and their arrival made headlines in the local newspaper.

They have the distinction of being Centennial babies, born on Canada's 100th birthday, and today they are blowing out 54 candles.

In 1967, there was an outpouring of national pride by a country that was insecure about its identity until then. Canada's population at the time was about 20 million people, and the country adopted its distinctive red maple leaf national flag just a few years before.

Canadians enjoyed special events, parades and fireworks from January to December.

The federal Centennial Commission set aside $100 million for building projects, and a grant program of $25 million encouraged community initiatives with each dollar spent by a municipality matched with $1 from Ottawa and $1 from the province.

This resulted in the building of some 860 "Centennial" libraries,  public administration offices, museums, concert halls and arenas. 

More than two million people visited the Centennial train, a rolling museum, and another seven million crowded into the Centennial caravans, eight convoys of trucks touring communities not served by rail. 

Author Pierre Berton sold nearly 600,000 illustrated books on Canada's history. 

Manufacturers reported selling 700,000 small Centennial flags and 85,000 full-sized flags. 

The Centennial Commission distributed 10,500 large flags and 225,000 table flags for dinners and other functions. They sent out 1,400 giant banners, 30,000 posters, 96,000 stick-on emblems and 4.5 million lapel pins and tie tacks.

Even though Sudbury, founded in 1883, was only 84 in 1967, the centenary of Canadian Confederation was enthusiastically celebrated here. 

The 138-member Centennial Celebration Committee went to work several years earlier to plan 25 events including art exhibits, plays, opera and ballet performances, a military tattoo with 250 performers, and the RCMP musical ride.

This was in addition to 200 events staged by various groups and organizations.

Communities that are now part of the City of Greater Sudbury such as Lively, Copper Cliff, Levack and Capreol also held their own celebrations.

Sudbury's year-long party started with a display of Indigenous dancing Jan. 14, followed by a posh ball at Laurentian University Jan. 20, and an "a-go-go" dance for teens at Sudbury Arena Jan. 21.

Record crowds turned out to watch a 90-minute parade July 1, which was then called Dominion Day. The parade started on Notre Dame Avenue proceeded to Sudbury Arena. 

Finnish-Canadians enjoyed a steam bath on their float while members of the Onaping-Falconbridge police service, wearing 1917 uniforms, rode in a vintage automobile. The Town of Coniston's float was a replica of Canada's first nickel and copper smelter. The Fathers of Confederation were featured on the City of Sudbury's float.

Earlier in the day, an estimated 10,000 people visited the International Food Fair and Festival at the arena. It would be the first of many Canada Day extravaganzas. (Dominion Day became Canada Day in 1982.)

The city's multicultural groups entertained with their traditional music and dancing.

Food, prepared by 17 ethnic groups, ran out in two hours. Citizens tasted German, Danish, Ukrainian and Jewish food, many for the first time. 

More than 100 French-Canadian meat pies were consumed. The Caledonian Club served Welsh cakes as well as scones and tasty pub food.

Members of the Caruso Club hosted a popular outdoor cafe near the arena that inspired one fan to claim, "Who needs St. Mark's Square in Venice?"

Thousands of egg rolls were served by members of the Chinese-Canadian community. They also took home the prize for best parade float, an exotic creation of blossoms, 20 young women in silk costumes, and a large paper dragon.

Later at the new Centennial Museum and Fine Arts Centre at Bell Mansion, Mayor Grace Hartman gave the keys to the facility to Laurentian University. Restoring the building to create an art gallery was a project spearheaded by the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. 

Dominion Day ended with a "hootenanny" and dance at the arena and a firework display over Ramsey Lake.

The city's official 1967 projects included a new police station on Larch Street – now an emergency centre – which caused federal funders to pause. 

"Sudbury's request for a Centennial grant to build a ‘municipal administration building’ was regarded with suspicion: the building includes a jail ‘and a Centennial jail isn't exactly the spirit we’d like to create’,” a commission staff member told  Macleans magazine in December 1967.

Under the watchful eye of the mayor, Bell Park was extended toward York Street, and a Greek-style amphitheatre with room for 2,000 people, was built. 

In 2009, the amphitheatre was ripped out of the park to make room for a modern 500-seat entertainment venue. 

Sudbury Jaycees constructed a Centennial garden at the foot of the amphitheatre. The garden had 11 concrete triangle flower boxes and it was arranged in the shape of the Centennial maple leaf logo. The first garden featured flowers from the provinces and territories. It was removed from Bell Park in 2007.

Everyone had personal Centennial projects such as making quilts, hooking rugs, growing beards, carving totem poles, planting gardens, taking canoe trips, keeping scrapbooks, and having babies.

Ted Szilva's project was bigger than most. With the help of funders and friends, including artist and designer Bruno Cavallo, he built the Canadian Centennial Numismatic Park, which included the Big Nickel, when he could not get the city interested in the project. 

In Sudbury, Centennial events inspired an arts and culture explosion that a few years later led to the establishment of English and French professional theatres, a folk music festival and a symphony.

The events of 1967, including a world exhibition, Expo 67, in Montreal, gave birth to a new Canada. The country would become officially bilingual in 1969 and begin to celebrate and promote multiculturalism in the early 1970s.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. Join her for a short tour of historic downtown Sudbury Saturday, July 17 as part of the Downtown Jazzed Up events. Meet at the corner of Elm and Durham streets at noon. Then and Now is made possible by our Community Leaders Program. 

The Sudbury Star, July 3, 1967
Macleans, Dec. 1, 1967
Inco Triangle, February 1967


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Vicki Gilhula

About the Author: Vicki Gilhula

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer.
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