It is 2017 and Canadian Confederation turned 150. There have been parties, books, television specials and commemorative things – tons of commemorative things! As a historian I can look on these items as representative of a vision of Canadian identity, and recognize that not everyone invests in the celebration and the souvenir items the same values. And certainly I am aware of the conflict of identity particularly evident in the celebrations of 150, as I feel some of it myself. But the stuff, people, the stuff. I am not immune to the draw of the commemorative item.
I was born in 1967, so I have always been drawn to 1967 stuff. As I was not aware of the significance of the events in that year, so I started to collect items from ’67 a lot later on.
As you can see from the above I have a rather eclectic collection of things – two pins, a Blue Mountain mug, a souvenir brochure and a bunch of the coins taken from circulation. Of course 1967 was also Expo ’67, and I went there with my parents, in my pram, as a very wee babe. I don’t remember it, but it was apparently quite wonderful. Mom and Dad saved the souvenir programme, which I still have. And, over the years I have added things from Expo to my collection of commemorative stuff (aided and abetted by the fact that I worked at Value Village for a year).
So what is the attraction? I guess it is a way to reinforce the fact that the year I was born in was special. It was special because I was born that year, but it had that extra something – something. And so having things which speak to that special-ness is important to me.
Fast forward to Canada 125 – and of course my twenty-fifth birthday. That year I decided to celebrate my birthday with a party with the theme of the “Silver Anniversary” of my birth, and Canada had another party in Ottawa, and the Queen was there. All good, in my mind. I was becoming politically aware by this time, and so I was more realistic about what I was celebrating. I didn’t get many items commemorating the anniversary, but I do remember that I felt I should get something, and the Canadian government actually had a way for you to order official souvenir items. So I bought some stuff. I also had a pin which was not so official…..
A rather modest haul, but there weren’t that many items actually available in that year. I don’t think that people were as keen to celebrate, or didn’t recognise the number as being particularly special. And I was (and still am actually) rather cheap about things so I wasn’t go to be extravagant anyway.
It is now Canada 150 and really this year, the number of items you can purchase is almost obscene. Really, I am a bit flummoxed by the quantity and variety of items available. There are a lot of items that have been produced that perhaps are tacky, some which are expensive, some which are both, but then there are also the vanilla items, which I am strangely drawn to. And those are the ones I have bought. I have acquired a few pins and the commemorative coins put out by the Canadian mint. I am not sure why there is a glow in the dark coin in the mint’s collection, but okay.
There is this impulse, I think for people, like myself, who collect things. Events such as anniversaries are marker moments which we need to physically hold onto. I have bought things that commemorate Canada 150 in order to remember the significance of the event. I think that it is a special moment to remember and I am proud to be Canadian (To be clear though, I am also realistic about Canada, and well aware that there are things that are not praiseworthy). It is also my 50th year. And it is something that I am both happy and rather freaked out about at the same time. So these things mark the passage of personal time, and of place and memory.
So I confess, I have commemorative items. A fair number if taken altogether. I think I have some pretty neat stuff, and there it is. I understand not everyone is going to understand my fascination for commemorative Canadian things, and I am alright about that. I have invested in them a personal history which stands both apart and a part of the event which they commemorate.