Parading Past

(This is the third in a series of prefaces on collective memory in Canada. "Monumentalités" and "Historied Trees" appeared in Canadian Poetry 32 and 34.)

Most people love a parade, and for reasons that at first seem obvious. A parade is a festive and escapist event, an opportunity and an excuse to forget for a few minutes the cares and concerns of everyday life. To watch, say, a Santa Claus parade either on television or from the sidewalk is to enter a reverie—a waking dream—created by bright colours, loud music, fantastic floats, and, for children especially, a happy anticipation of holidays and feasts and presents to come. But a parade is also a manifestation of communal feeling and an aid to collective memory. Whether the community in ques tion is a city, a province, a nation, or even an empire, a selective and orderly procession of its components affirms a sense of community between and among the participants and spectators. "It [is] a statement unfurled in the streets . . . a social order representing itself to itself" (Darnton 120, 124). It is also a mnemonic device that prompts both participants and spectators to recall previous parades, to remember people and events associated with them, and thus to enjoy a sense of continuity between the past and the present. Not without good reason did Kipling make collective memory the burden of "Recessional" (1897), his cautionary celebration of the great parade of naval power that marked Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee: "Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, / Lest we forget—lest we forget! (325-26). Even a Santa Claus parade can be an occasion for affirming and pondering the nature and history of a community and its values.

     Nowhere in Canadian poetry has the transcendental effect generated by a parade been more poignantly captured than in P.K. Page’s "The Bands and the Beautiful Children" (1946), a poem quoted at length by Desmond Pacey as an example of Page’s special gift for "convey[ing] the world of childhood" (159). At the very outset, the alliterated "b"s of the poem’s title forge a link of sound between the children and the bands whose instruments transform unenclosed space first into a comforting passage and then into a concert hall. Notice how, in the opening stanza, the falling rhythm of "tunnel" and the rising rhythm of "ascending on the strings of sun" mimic the imaginary structures inspired by the band:

Band makes a tunnel of the open street
at first, hearing it;
seeing it band becomes
high: brasses ascending on the strings of sun
build their own auditorium of light,
windows from comets
and a dome of drums.

And always attendant on bands, the beautiful children
white with running and innocence;
and the arthritic old
who, patient behind their windows
are no longer split by the quick yellow of imagination
or carried beyond their angular limits of distance.


The speaker of these stanzas is very much a post-Romantic artist who possesses the balanced combination of imaginative power and analytical distance that is denied to the "attendant . . . children" and the "arthritic old." "[A]ttendant" in two senses (attentive, accompanying), the children lack the detachment that permits their "running and innocence" to be abstracted into a symbolic "white" (see Frye 39). "[P]atient" in two senses (long suffering, receiving medical treatment), the elderly are insulated from the street by "windows" and, in any case, lack the physical and mental vitality to create or enter the moving pleasure dome of the band. Only the speaker can observe and follow the procession, can provide an imaginative and analytical account of its effects.

     The remaining stanzas of the poem envisage the termination of the procession as a Wordsworthian descent from "the vision splendid . . . into the light of common day" (Wordsworth 4:281):

           . . . the children move
in the trembling building of sound,
sure as a choir
until band breaks and scatters,
crumbles about them and is made of men
tired and grumbling
on the straggling grass.

And the children, lost, lost,
in an open space
remember the certainty of the anchored home
and cry on the unknown edge of their own city
their lips stiff from an imaginary trumpet.

The "lost" children and elegiac tone of the final stanza are Blakean, but "the unknown edge of the . . . city" is a twentieth-century location, a site of exile and alienation that could be anywhere or every where and thus becomes nowhere. The "home[s]" that the children "remember" are as unlocatable as their unnamed "city" and their "imaginary trumpets." Here, as in so much Canadian poetry in the high Modern mode, the search for supposedly universal or archetypal patterns like the fall from innocence into experience results in abstraction and placelessness. "[I]f there is such a thing as ‘pure poetry,’ this must be it," wrote Frye of the volume in which "The Bands and the Beautiful Children" first appeared; "Miss Page has a symbolic language of her own . . . and looks for the human situations"—that is, the mythopoeic patterns—"involved in what she sees" (39).

     In sharp contrast to Page’s poem, a wealth of local detail animates Sara Jeannette Duncan’s description of the effect of a march ing band on imaginative children in The Imperialist (1904). Not only does the parade that Duncan describes occur in a highly particularized place (Elgin, Canada West), but it also occurs on a specific day, the "twenty-fourth of May" (4), which was of course "the great Upper Canad[ian] summer holiday" until Dominion Day became well established in the present century (Leacock, The Boy I Left Behind Me 52). "I will say at once, for the reminder to persons living in England, that the twenty-fourth of May was the Queen’s Birthday," explains Duncan’s narrator; "[in] Canada the twenty-fourth of May was the Queen’s Birthday . . . a real holiday, that woke you with bells and cannon . . . and went on with squibs and crackers till you didn't know where to step on the sidewalks" (4-5). "I [feel] the strangeness of this land more [on this] day than any before," E.W. Thomson had written to Archibald Lampman from Boston on May 24, 1892.

Not that I [ever] felt or professed to feel (since I [was a] boy) one particle of loyalty to Her Maj[esty]—except as she’s a very respectable [woman]. But this day has been the day of banging and tooting and hooraying and picnicking with us Canucks ever since the beginning of things, it seems to me, and one relucts [giving] it to work instead of play, or [the] melancholy that comes of trying to. When the old Queen dies and the King’s birthday comes in November (?) what the deuce will the Canadians do? Why, keep the 24th in commemoration of their sentiments for the old 24th! (42)

Duncan would probably have been dismayed by Thomson’s lack of monarchistic feelings, but she would surely have rejoiced at his perception that Canadians would not wish to impoverish their collective and individual memories by dispensing with a holiday rich in patriotic and personal associations.

     In The Imperialist, the "twenty-fourth of May" is an occasion for the exercise of both memory and imagination. "Nobody in Elgin can possibly have forgotten [the Queen’s Birthday]. The Elgin children had a rhyme about it—

The twenty-fourth of May
    Is the Queen’s Birthday.
If you don't give us a holiday,
    We'll all run away.

"[A] day with an essence in it" (4), "the twenty-fourth of May" does more than provoke performances and memories of children’s jingles. "[W]ho had forgotten the time the ancient piece of ordnance in the ‘Square’ blew out all the windows in the Methodist church?" asks the narrator before observing of the "fastened shutters" that lend an air of "ceremonial festivity" to Elgin on the Queen’s Birthday that "the sunny little town sat around them, important and significant, and nobody was ever known to forget that they were up, and go on a fool’s errand" (5). Like the date in the jingle, the protocol of the "fastened shutters" recalls past practices, dictates present behaviour, and shapes future expectations. To eliminate, or even to modify, either would be to strike at the temporal continuities that constitute collective and personal identity.

     Since Duncan’s novel is centrally concerned with the imperial connections between Canada and Britain,1 it is only to be expected that the memories generated by the sights and sounds of "the twenty-fourth of May" are more than local and personal. In the foreground of the festivities is "old Mother Beggarlegs" (1), a character associated by name and appearance with "old" Henry Cruikshank (277) and, hence, with the decrepitude of the British Empire that the novel’s hero, Lorne Murchison, hopes to rejuvenate with youthful, Canadian energy. Together, these two allegorical figures recall the varus and scauvus ("Knock-Kneed" and "Club-Footed") of Horace’s Satire I, iii, 38-95, a genial injunction to acknowledge one’s own failings and to indulge the failings of others. More explicitly, one of the "young country folk" with a "soft felt hat" reminds the narrator of Corydon (5), the typical rustic of the pastorals of Theocritus and Virgil. "[A] dark green hat" proves even more mnemonically and imaginatively productive for the Murchison children,

for such a hat indicated that its owner belonged to the Independent Order of Foresters, who would leave their spring wheat for forty miles around to meet in Elgin and march in procession, wearing their hats, and dazzlingly scatter upon Main Street. They gave the day its touch of imagination, those green cocked hats; they were lyrical upon the highways; along the prosaic sidewalks by twos and threes they sang together. It is no great thing a hat of any quality; but a small thing may ring dramatic on the right metal, and in the vivid idea of Lorne . . . and his sister Advena a Robin Hood walked in every Independent Forester, especially in the procession. (6)

This passage nicely illustrates the reliance of imagination on memory that caused the ancient Greeks to make Mnemosyne the mother of the Muses and persuaded Wordsworth to conceive poetry as the product of recollection (2:400). Without memory, the hats of the Independent Foresters would not even be knowable as hats, but in a mind stocked with memories they become the stuff of historical and mythical associations and implications. That this occurs "especially in . . . procession[s]" is scarcely surprising since even the most rudimentary of costumes and props can become inspirationally evocative when accorded special status by "banner[s] and . . . band[s]" (Duncan 6), ceremonial organization and the distance that lends enchantment. It is precisely because they have the potential to actualize history and myth that parades are a potent force in shaping and sustaining personal and collective identity. As Duncan clearly recognized, parades can play a powerful role in binding individuals to their local and larger communities.

     Another Canadian writer who clearly recognized the communal force of parades was Stephen Leacock. An annual event on an unspecified "July morning"—as certainly Dominion Day as the eve of epiphany is the date of the Misses Morkan’s "annual dance" in "The Dead" (Joyce 175)—"The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias" in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912)2 is a mock-heroic treatment of Canadian patriotism that nevertheless presents a Mariposan equivalent of a parade—a steamboat outing on Lake Wissanotti—as a "microcosmic" affirmation of the values of "community and country" (Lynch 82). Festooned with a "cloud of flags" and sent on her way by the Mariposa band’s rendition of "The Maple Leaf Forever!" (Leacock, Sunshine Sketches 42), the Mariposa Belle is both a "floating Mariposa" and a "symbolic ‘ship of state’" (Lynch 82), a fact made abundantly apparent and "politically telling" when she sinks, albeit in less than six feet of water, just as "the voices of the girls and men blended into [communal] unison by the distance" can be heard singing "‘O—Can-a-da’" (48). That the steamer has been "sunk" and refloated by the Mariposans several times in the past and this time returns to the dock as "the Mariposa band—actually forming in a circle on the upper deck"—plays ‘O CAN-A-DA!’ (54) testifies to Leacock’s faith in the bumbling durability of Canada’s local and national communities. "[T]he annals of settlement," the recollections of individual lives and small communities in which "history . . . and living memory" are inseparable, were always for Leacock the foundation of "Canadian history" ("Author’s Foreword" xxiv-xxv). "‘There will always be an England’ sings the Englishman," he observed in Canada: the Foundations of Its Future (1941), "[b]ut Canadians would never sing that there will always be a Canada—like this one. This is just a beginning. We have hardly started. Wait a hundred years and see. Hence any proper story of Canada, even in narrating the past, must open the windows of every outlook to the sunshine of the future" ("Author’s Foreword" xxv).

     This is not to say that in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town or Canada: the Foundations of Its Future Leacock ignores the "romance of exploration . . . [and] war" that constitutes the "large canvas of Canadian history" ("Author’s Foreword" xxiii). For obvious reasons, his wartime history book is given over to these very aspects of Canada’s past, and in "The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias" he registers some of the same themes in a manner that plays simultaneously on the reader’s sense of humour and knowledge of history. On the day before the excursion, Mariposans converse laconically "on the corner of Nippewa and Tecumseh Streets" and "on the corner of Daihousie and Brock Streets" (40-41). As the Mariposa Belle sinks, the narrator makes passing references to "the old Macdonald Government" and to the "York boat[s]" that were used by furtraders in the Northwest in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (52, 54). The "big Mackinaw lifeboat" (52) that comes to the rescue of the steamer has similar historical associations, for as W.F. Butler writes in The Great Lone Land (1872) such vessels were used by the Hudson’s Bay Company "on every river from the Bay of Hudson to the Polar Ocean" (155).

     But the most sustained and humourous references to Canada’s romantic past occur in a series of abortive history lessons given by Dr. Gallagher as the Mariposa Belle steams towards the intriguingly named "Indian’s Island" (42, 46). At the outset, Gallagher is frustrated by Dean Drone’s ignorant insistence on countering all his references to "Canadian history" with Christian and classical topics: "Dr. Gallagher . . . said . . . that . . . Champlain had landed [at Poplar Point] . . . three hundred years ago; and Dean Drone . . . said . . . that the Almighty had piled up the hills and rocks long before that . . . . Dr. Gallagher said that he . . . wished he could have seen and spoken to Champlain, and Dean Drone said how much he regretted to have never known Xenophon" (44-45). He then takes his interest in the "relics and traces of the [Canadian] past" to Josh Smith with equally egocentric results: "Mr. Smith turned his head and looked at the divide [that Champlain and his party had traversed] for half a second and then said he had crossed a worse one up north . . . and . . . went on playing freezout poker with the two juniors in Duff’s bank" (45). It is at this point that Gallagher resolves to give his collection of "Indian arrow heads" to the "Mariposa Mechanics’ Institute" (45-46). "[F]or the time being," however, the doctor despairs of interesting anybody in the knowledge of Canadian history that he has gleaned from his "books and fravels" (45- 46), and leaves his fellow Mariposans to play Drone’s games and drink Smith’s beer on "Indian’s Island" without sharing with them (or the reader) the origins and significance of its intriguing name. Where ignorance and egocentricity abound, collective memory is impossible, and history remains the purview of scholars and curators.

     A second threat to Canada’s collective memory that Leacock gently satirizes in "The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias" is ethnic factionalism or, as it is known today, multiculturalism. As indicated by the date of their excursion and the classical associations of their name (like the Olympic Games, the Pythian Festival was one of the "four great festivals" that "emphasized the unity" of ancient Greece [Harvey 175-761), the Knights of Pythias is a nationalistic organization that brings people together in the name of Canada. But, while "practically everybody [in Mariposa] belongs to the Knights of Pythias" (37), they also join happily and promiscuously in the national celebrations of other countries, wearing a "green ribbon" and "talking about Home Rule" for Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, for example, and displaying the "stars and stripes" and professing to "know all about Roosevelt and [William Jennings] Bryan and the Philippine Islands" on the Fourth of July (37-38). "[I]f you feel anxious about the solidity of the British connection," advises the narrator, "wait . . . till the twelfth of the month, when everyone is wearing an orange streamer in his coat and the Orangemen (every man in town) walk in the big procession" (38). Where national loyalty rides off in all directions like Leacock’s famous Lord Ronald, collective memory can only be diffuse and centrifugal.3

     A third threat to Canada’s collective memory and national unity that is much more obliquely addressed in "The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias" is the pre-Conquest history and contingent national aspirations of French Canada. In the "Author’s Foreword" to Canada: the Foundations of Its Future, Leacock treats of French Canadian history as parallel but longer than the "heritage" that extends back "through a generation or two of memory and hearsay . . . to the days of the American Revolution and the founding of the Maritime Provinces": "[w]ith our French-Canadian fellows such memories and recollections carry back even further, till they are lost in the golden mist of the royal history of France" (xxv). It is to this longer history that Dr. Gallagher’s repeatedly disregarded remarks about "Champlain [and] . . . his French explorers three hundred years ago" are addressed (44-45), the implication being that on Dominion Day of all days Canadians should attend to the "relics and traces of [a] past" that stretches back through British settlers to French explorers (and, indeed, to Native hunters, for the "narrow canoe track" along which, according to Gallagher, Champlain’s "party of five hundred French . . . made their way" towards Georgian Bay in 1615 is known as "Old Indian Portage" [45]). Gallagher’s Falstaffian inflation of the number of French explorers is, of course, typically Mariposan, but it has the merit of emphasizing through exaggeration the importance of the French contribution to the exploration and development of Canada.

     No more than Dean Drone or Josh Smith have Quebeçois nationalists paid much heed to the accretive and assimilationist view of Canadian history assumed by Gallagher’s generous but suspect remarks. No more is the past of Abbé Lionel Groulx’s Notre maître, le passé (1924-44) the history of post-Conquest Quebec than the "Je me souviens" on the Quebec license plate is an injunction to remember the entwinement of the fleur-de-lis with the rose and the thistle. The "memories and recollections" of French-Canadian nationalists by-pass all but a few incidents of post-Conquest and post-Confederation history to conjure incidents and personages from the "golden mist" of the Ancien Règime—Champlain as the "Father of New France," Maisonneuve as the founder of Montreal, and Dollard des Ormeaux as the saviour of the colony and the city. "Lève-toi donc, ô Dollard, vivant sur ton socle de granit," intoned Groulx at the Monument National in Montreal on January 31, 1919; "[a]ppelle-nous avec ton charme viril, avec tes accents de héros. . . . Ensemble nous travaillerons, nous reconstruirons la maison de famille. Et, pour la défense française et pour la défense catholique, si tu le commandes, ô Dollard, ô chef enivrant et mag nétique, jusqu' l'holocauste suprême nous le suivrons" (Dixans 122).4 When Groulx delivered himself of these "messianic" words (Cook 125) the "cult of Dollard" (Wade 576) was already well established in Quebec. Fuelled by anti-imperialist sentiments in French Canada during and between the Boer War and the First World War, the Association Catholique de la Jeunesse canadienne-francaise (1903- ) had started a fund for "the erection of a monument to the hero" in 1910, and in 1913 the A.C.J.C. decided "to celebrate the memory of Dollard des Ormeaux on May 24" (Wade 577, 636), a date chosen more for its political force than for its historical accuracy since "Dollard and his companions must have perished [at the Long Sault] between 9 and 12 May, 1660" (Vachon 272). The "cult of Dollard" is a particularly striking instance of the way in which—to adapt some observations from E.J. Hobsbawn’s Nations and Nationalism since 1780—the Quebec nationalist movement of the present century has "reach[ed] far back" to an "old kingdom" "beyond the real memory of [Quebeckers] in . . . .search . . . [of] suitable (and suitably impressive) national" heroes (76).

     A more venerable and authentic celebration of the collective memory of French Canada than the commemoration of Dollard des Ormeaux is the annual fête and parade of Saint John the Baptist. "[H]alf religious, half popular," celebrations on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day (June 24) have been held in Montreal, Quebec City and else where since 1843 ("Société"), but they do not appear to have inspired any substantial piece of writing in English until 1948—a fact that may reflect a general English-Canadian lack of interest in French-Canadian popular and religious customs during the century of Canada’s emergence as an independent nation within the British Empire. During and after the Second World War, however, the increasing identification of French-Canadian nationalism with "provincial autonomy" rather than "anti-imperialism" (Ouellet 63) lent a significance to the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day festivities that did not go unnoticed by a Jewish poet who had viewed with dismay and fear the wartime rise of Québeçois racism and its ugly corollaries, anti-semitism at home and indifferentism abroad. "The whole street wears one face, / shadowed and grim; and in the darkness rises / the body-odour of race" (2:658), A.M. Klein had written in "Political Meeting" (1948) after hearing a speech by Montreal’s affa ble and anti-semitic mayor, Camillien Houde, and in "Hormisdas Arcand" (1948), perhaps with an eye on Maurice Duplessis’ Union Nationale (1935- ) as well as Adrien Arcand’s Quebec Nazis: "Hormisdas Arcand, about to found a new party . . . cannot get / beyond the principal first blast A bas les maudits Juifs" (2:681).

     "Parade of St. Jean Baptiste" (1948) takes a more benign view of the "Bannered, and ranked, . . . festive and puissant" (2:691) display of French-Canadian history and unity. Drawing heavily on French to signal his understanding of the culture on display and, less consciously perhaps, to assimilate its otherness to English culture, Klein presents the parade as a contrived and childish "spectacle" for people who are only too willing to substitute a make-believe realm of the "Imagination" for the "Real world" of their "wards and counties," "suburbs" and "factor[ies]" (2:691-92). As tableaux from fairy tales, early Quebec history, and a vanished rural past transport the happy spectators into a never-never land of "animal fables, myths of the crayon’d class, / [and] the nursery’s voyage and discovery," the narrator observes wryly that the floats resemble the illustrations of Edmond-Joseph Massicotte, a French-Canadian artist who is still revered by many Quebeckers for his nostalgic and sentimental depictions of—to quote the title of a recent collection of his work—Les Canadiens d'autre fois (1981). He also observes that the tableaux are presented "courtesy of Simpson’s and Eaton T. and Son" (2:691), the suggestion being that they serve the commercial interests, not of French Canada, but of large English-and pan-Canadian retail companies. It is because they are so emotionally engaging and professionally presented that the floats cast a "veil" of nostalgia over the eyes of the urban crowd, blinding them with imagined memories of the "parish parallelograms" of the habitant and the "mountain liberties" of the voyageurs to the painful realities of the "fumed and pulverous city" (2:692).

     In The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, Robert Darnton draws a sharp distinction between parades in eighteenth-century France and twentieth-century America: "[a] procession générale in [Enlightenmenti Montpelier.. expressed the corporate order of urban society" but "a Rose Bowl or a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade" merely "stir[s] up fans [o] stimulate[s] trade" (120). In Klein’s analysis, a Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade does both. Following a tableau depicting Louis Hébert, the first Frenchman to cultivate land in Canada (Pollock 1021), come four groups in what appears to be ascending order of importance: (1) "the schools and seminaries, potent with race" and representative of the large families encouraged by the Roman Catholic church; (2) the "priest[s] and eminence[s]," carrying their "Crosses" and prompting memories of the role of the Jesuits and other orders in the history of New France; (3) the "mayor" (Houde) and "seniors of the city," "pompous [and] staid" but "familiar" to and with the crowd; and, finally, (4) "the seigneurie / of capital"—the manufacturing, lumber, and fur barons who now rule the province and its people (2:692-93). Escapist, hierarchical, and commercialized though it is, concludes the charitable narrator, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade serves the positive, therapeutic purpose of alleviating and appeasing for "one day" the "gray seasons and the frustrate heart" of ordinary Quebeckers (2:694). As the parade disperses, a single statement—"Departed is the enfilade" (2:694)— appropriately recalls both "Recessional" ("The Captains and the Kings depart" [Kipling 325]) and The Waste Land ("The nymphs are departed" [Eliot 70]), and the narrator imagines the evening’s fireworks shining down like bright stars on two of the mainstays of Quebec culture, the family and fertility: "the pleiades / . . . pyrotechnic will this night illume / pères de famille idyllic and content / and in the dense boskage the ancient intimate experiment" (2:694). To the sympathetic dismay of the narrator (and, presumably, Klein), the "rite and rapture" of the parade (2:694) have served their purpose of reinforcing the values of a not altogether admirable social order.

     Looking back on The Imperialist, "The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias," and "Parade of St. Jean Baptiste," it can be seen that Duncan, Leacock, and Klein saw festive parades as a reflection of the surrounding social order that can work, not just to strengthen the ties between and among members of a society. but also to forge links between the past (history) and the future (children). As well, all three writers recognized that parades are local events that can have wide cultural and political significance as affirmations of provincial, national, and even imperial identities. One of Duncan’s messages is that parades can help to locate individuals in communities whose extent is limited only by the imagination. To belong to a small community (Elgin) is no hindrance to belonging to a larger one (Ontario, Canada) or the largest one imaginable (the Empire, the world).5 One of Leacock’s messages is that ethnic heterogeneity is the enemy of Canadian nationhood when it is either inordinately indulged or selfishly ignored. To fail to privilege national unity or to fail to acknowledge ethnic diversity is to court the imbalance that breeds fascism or anarchy. One of Klein’s messages is that the mind cannot bear too much reality or too much fantasy. To escape temporarily into the "gloss[y]" realm of "allegor[y]," and "symbol" that predominates in some parades has therapeutic value, but "images" from the golden ages of history and childhood should not finally be permitted to draw attention away from the here and now (Klein 2:693-94). A healthy Canadian parade is one that invokes the present as well as the past and the future, the national as well as the provincial and the multinational, the common and the diverse aspects of Canada’s distant and recent history.

     The final lesson to be drawn from Duncan, Leacock, and Klein is that, although parades are open to manipulation by those who wish to inculcate ideological positions and induce political inertia, they can also serve purposes that are positive and appealing, at least to those who believe that the affirmation of confident and tolerant communal values is among the last remaining bulwarks against the shallow individualism and homogenizing multiculturalism whose perpetual parade ground is the suburban mall or shopping centre.

Appendix I: Santa Claus Parade,
London, 1993

The 1993 Santa Claus parade in London, Ontario was somewhat unusual. A climactic event in a year of celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the siting of the city on March 2, 1793 by Upper Canada’s first lieutenant governor, John Graves Simcoe, it was devoted to the theme of "Christmas Past and Present." Among the first elements in the procession were thus a horse-drawn coach carrying actors costumed as Lord and Lady Simcoe and an elabo rate float based on Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Although similar in its combination of historical and literary references to the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade described by Klein, London’s 1993 Santa Claus parade lacked the racial and nationalist element that rightly prompted the Jewish (and Marxian) poet’s dark thoughts about the consolidating and tranquilizing purposes of such an event. Civic rather than national in their emphasis, Santa Claus parades tend to put history and literature at the service of communal spirit and personal nostalgia rather than ethnic solidarity or identity. No doubt Canadians of many ethnicities and religions have ridden on the floats and marched in the bands of London’s Santa Claus parades, but they have done so, not as Orangemen or Ukrainians (or even Ontarians and Canadians), but as members of a civic community whose good qualities they have come together and—as anyone who has built a float knows only too well—worked very hard to celebrate and symbolize.

     The London that "represent[ed] itself to itself" in the 1993 Santa Claus parade was a community of communities. There were floats from such groups as Community Living London, the Memorial Boys and Girls Club of London, the London Professional Fire-Fighters’ Association, the Canadian Red Cross Society, the Whitehills Child Care Association, the London Home Builders’ Association, the Sunshine Foundation of Canada, the Civitan Clubs (motto: "Help People"), and the Block Parent Programme ("which started right here in London"). There were floats and bands from several of London’s municipal and educational institutions—London Transit and Catholic Central Highschool, for example, and the University of Western Ontario. And there were three commentators (Ruta Pocius, Jim Swan, and Bruce Williams) to give explicit voice to the parade’s communal implications: "London [is] such a caring place . . . . Western is so much a part of our life here in the city of London . . . . Christmas is about giving and sharing . . . . [Building a float is] just another way that they all get together . . . . [The parade is] a reflection of the communities we live in: you can get a sense of what th[e] community is and what it’s about by looking at the parade and the organizations and institutions that are represented there" (London Jaycees Santa Claus Parade). With a mixture of company loyalty and social awareness, one of the announcers noted that the television station covering the parade was using the event to "collect . . . food for the London and area food bank" and that "a lot of the parades all over southwestern Ontario [would] be gather ing food for the food bank project."

     It is tempting to be cynical about such unguarded expressions of local pride and communal charity, and even more tempting to take a fashionably subversive approach to other aspects of London’s 1993 Santa Claus parade. Of course, the award for the best float went to the Canada Trust Staff Association. Of course, the award for the best corporate float went to Bell Canada. Only a large company could afford to put together an expensive, prize-winning float, and why would they bother, if not for advertising purposes? To the extent that communal activities almost always involve a degree of more-or-less enlightened self-interest, such questions are valid, but they should not be allowed to obscure the fact that Bell Canada and Canada Trust participated in this particular Santa Claus parade because, more than many other companies, they have historical roots and communal responsibilities in London. For many years, both have employed large numbers of people in the city, and, until recently, Canada Trust had its corporate headquarters (t)here. Klein was probably right to notice the incongruous presence of two Toronto-based retail chains in a Saint-Jean Baptiste Day parade in Montreal, but it would clearly be wrong to censure Bell Canada and Canada Trust for participating in a Santa Claus parade in London. Indeed, it is the absence from the parade of other prosperous companies with roots in the area that should because for dismay and consternation. Do the management and staff of Labatt’s have no loyalty to London?

     A temptation less easy to resist is that of questioning the appropriateness of some the advertisers who sponsored the live telecast of London’s 1993 Santa Claus parade: Nintendo, General Mills Trix, and White Oaks Mall. Perhaps no other sponsors were available, but the presence of advertisements aimed especially at children did much to undermine the efforts of the event’s organizers and commentators to mitigate and redirect the commercialism and consumerism that lie as close as Father Christmas’s bulging sack of presents to the idealistic raison d'être of a Santa Claus parade. A child watching the telecast could be pardoned for thinking that buying and getting gifts would be—as for some people it probably is—the main focus of activity between early November and late December. An adult inclined to Marxian analysis would have strong support for arguing that the effect of the telecast was to inculcate Londoners with the perception of themselves as sufficiently wealthy and leisurely, not only to build floats and to support charities, but also to indulge their children and consume conspicuously.

     More evident to many people, however, would have been the parade’s emphasis on memory. With the way prepared by the Simcoe’s carriage and A Christmas Carol, the parade and commentators returned again and again to the sources and manifestations of individual and collective memory. Prompted especially by the float of the Chelsey Park Retirement Community (a group of "folks who have seen some Christmases come and go") the commentators waxed eloquent on Christmas as a time when "all different generations, and families and friends get together," a time for "special memories that are always there." Ruta Pocius recalled looking at old pictures in a photograph album and remembered visiting Simpson’s with her grandmother. "What would Christmas be without turkey?" she wondered, adding "and with a few Lithuanian treats thrown in along the way." To which Bruce Williams replied, "that would be fabulous." For the occasion, for London, for Ontario, for Canada, that combination seems exactly right. Perhaps it is too optimistic to take four further statements by the commentators as choric: "times have changed, but some things about Christmas always remain the same"; "Christmas . . . is when a house really becomes a home"; "the Christmas spirit is definitely alive and well;" "traditions go on from generation to generation."

Appendix II: Canada Day,
Ottawa, 1994

"Let’s not analyze Canada. Let’s celebrate it."6 Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s words on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 1994 assume a common enough distinction between rational enquiry and emotional enjoyment: to analyze is to dismember and therefore destroy; to celebrate is to praise and thus confirm. To stop analyzing Canada’s problems and, if only for a day, to celebrate her accom plishments and potential might not make those problems go away, but it could help. Perhaps.

     Inevitably (and rightly), the Prime Minister’s passionate plea fell on the deaf ears of numerous newspaper and television journalists. One of these was Robert Mason Lee, "a Vancouver journalist and lawyer" who delivered himself of a scathing analysis of the Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in the July 2 issue of the Globe and Mail. "The West, runt of the cultural litter, sucked hind teat on Canada Day," ran the headline of Lee’s column, which proceeded with heavy sarcasm to condemn the festivities televised on Parliament Hill as a sinister attempt by "Ottawa’s cultural bureaucrats" to foist upon Canadians a "veiled political agenda" made up of "diversity," "patriotism," and communal affection ("love one another"). "The grand finale" of the Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa "was a vision of the country as scripted by Walt Disney and performed by Mouseketeers," proclaimed Lee: "[i]ts centralist vision of Canada struck Western sensibilities as just another French label on the corn-flake box, with patriotism being the contents that were being shoved down their throats." This might have been an astute and telling analysis if its generalizations were not so fatuous (all "Western sensibilities"?) and its rhetorical squibs so wet and underpowered ("scripted by Walt Disney . . . shoved down their throats"). But perhaps there are still some "Western sensibilities" that enjoy reruns of the anti-national, anti-American, and anti-French diatribes of the ‘sixties and ‘seventies. If so, then they would probably have got a special rush from Lee’s assertion that the senior rock band in the celebrations—The Band—"is . . . an undisputed Canadian talent, now that Robbie Robertson has left it and it is fronted by an American."

     What is more dismaying and questionable about Lee’s analysis is his naive notion that any and all celebrations of Canada can and should contain manifestations of every aspect of "Canadian diversity"—that an hour-long concert designed for television, even one with what Lee sarcastically calls "a budget of barely more than $1- million," could possibly be all things to all Canadians. Compounding the naïveté of this notion is Lee’s conscious avoidance (surely not complete ignorance) of the large issues and tensions that dictated the "political agenda" of the 1994 Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa. For reasons that are obvious to the meanest intelligence, "Ottawa’s cultural bureaucrats" did not set out in 1994, as in some previous years, "to demonstrate the thousand petals of multiculturalism" (Lee), but, rather, to extol the geographical and linguistic commonality that made Canada a nation in 1867 despite its regional and racial diversities. With the Bloc Quebeçois sitting in opposition in Ottawa and the Parti Quebeçois gaining in popularity in Quebec, Lee’s "cultural bureaucrats" would have been highly irresponsible if they had failed to give priority to English-French relations in the "political agenda" of the Canada Day celebrations. To have included more Western Canadian content in the hour allotted to them would have been tantamount to fiddling while Rome burned. To his or her credit, the "sheltered . . . Ottawa bureaucrat" envisaged by Lee recognized that there was time for only one fiddle in the Canada Day celebrations—the fiddle of a French-Canadian.

     Despite Mr. Chrétien’s understandable misgivings, an analysis of the "Party on the Hill" ("This Week’s TV Programs," P-115) need not prove inimical to the spirit of celebration that it was designed to embody and encourage. Indeed, it might even encourage that celebration, not least in the West, by enabling a recognition that, far from being simplistically "bilingual" as feared by Lee, the "Party on the Hill" actually represented Canada as a country characterized by a ubiquitous and accommodative Anglo-American linguistic and cultural heritage.

     Consider the design of the set for the "Party" and the opening sequences of the telecast. Framed by a colourful collage of Canada’s provincial and territorial flags and surmounted by a heraldic scroll bearing the nation’s transcontinental motto (A MARI USQUE AD MARE), a huge electronic screen carried still and moving images in a window-bar pattern that evoked the multiple-screen presentations made famous by Canadian filmmakers at Expo 67. Against this obviously and subtly patriotic background, a series of musical performances and accompanying effects bore witness to Canadian diversity and tolerance within an unmistakably North American and English-speaking matrix. "[A] New Brunswick francophone," Roch Voisine, wore a lumberjack-style plaid shirt and "perform[ed] in English" (Lee). A Black choir from Quebec—the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Singers—wore traditional white cassocks and also sang in English. So, of course, did The Band, accompanied by footage of a motorcyclist of the Easy Rider school, with a Canadian flag on his jacket. Both in their dress (jeans, black leather mini skirts) and in their musical styles (rock and roll, country and western), the Native, Quebeçois and Acadian groups and singers who appeared on the stage reinforced the impression of diverse traditions enjoying a comfortably unthreatening and unthreatened relationship with their surrounding Anglo-American culture.

     This impression was none-too-subtly reinforced by the series of live interviews and video vignettes that interspersed the stage performances. Variegated with patches of French, the predominantly English (and almost hysterically up-beat) commentary of the show’s two young hosts suggested that large quantities of French (culture) could be inserted into English (culture) without difficulty or anxiety. Enclosed within a frame inscribed "CANADACAM JULY 1, 1994," the videos bore witness to a commonable ethnic and regional diversity both by depicting different racial groups from across the country and by presenting these groups in a camcorder format that is resonantly "down-home" and North American in its associations. The impression here was of what one of the hosts called "one big family—the family of Canadians"—being, by turns, interviewed by reporters from MuchMusic and filmed by a loving parent or relative. Lee suggests that "[t]here is something false in the attempt to portray Canada as a happy family, something strained in the effort to celebrate things as they ought to be, rather than as they are." Maybe there is, but dreams of tolerance and harmony have always been expressed through familial similes and metaphors. In "The Provinces" (1948), Klein finds a tentative answer to the problem of Canadian "unity" in "the family feature, the not unsimilar face" (2:644). In Nova Britannia (1858), Alexander Morris envisages the country as an "alliance of the . . . hearts and hands" of the Maritimes and the Canadas (56). As even these two quotations suggest, the trope of the family frequently makes its appearance at times of national uncertainty and opportunity Surely the Heritage Minister, Michel Dupuy, deserves more than Lee’s scorn for his thought-provoking and guardedly optimistic state ment on July 1, 1994 that "Canada Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the word family in its fullest sense . . . . Canada Day allows us to come together as a family."

     One of the most potent components of the Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill was the sequence centred on Jann Arden, a singer who, as Lee correctly notes, was the "only one" of the "14 acts in the grand finale . . . [that came] from the West." As Arden sang a ballad with the refrain "I would die for you," the screen behind her showed scenes from the Normandy invasion and fiftieth-anniversary ceremonies. The cameras on Parliament Hill then focused briefly on some of the veterans in the audience and the camcorder splices carried interviews with current members of the Armed Forces. The sequence ended with a bird’s eye view on the large screen of the bow of a Canadian warship cutting through a turbulent sea (an allusion to the ancient trope of the ship of state). Not only did Arden’s soulful ballad and the accompanying visuals recall a great moment in Canadian history in a timely and moving way, but they also invoked a particular historical event—the liberation of France—that speaks indirectly but clearly of a history of Canadian assistance to the French, a history commemorated less than a month earlier on the beaches of Normandy. By activating memories of both the invasion and its commemoration, the D-Day sequence of the Canada Day celebrations suggested an enduring history of Canadian-French assistance and gratitude that might well be capable of prevailing over present tensions and persisting into the future.

     A variation of this message was embodied in the closing minutes of the celebrations when the spotlight fell on some of Canada’s most outstanding Olympic athletes. "What [makes] sport so uniquely effective a medium for inculcating national feelings," observes Hobsbawn, "is the ease with which even the least political or public individuals can identify with the nation as symbolized by young persons excelling at what practically every [one] wants, or at one time . . . wanted, to be good at . . . . The individual, even the one who only cheers, becomes a symbol of the nation" (143). As Nathalie Lambert, Jean-Luc Brassard, Edi Podivinsky, and others assembled on the stage, the large screen carried shots of several athletes in action, and Sylvie Frechette—an icon of the triumph of rightness over error—spoke movingly (and in English) of her feelings on seeing the Canadian flag raised and hearing the national anthem played during the Olympic medal ceremony. Once again, the focus and emphasis fell on Canadians who had given their utmost and shown their flag in an old-world arena. But now the group was not a survival of the rapidly receding past; it was a manifestation of the present and a hope for the future—an accomplished and dedicated group of men and women whose very names spoke of the opportunities and kudos that Canada can afford to young French Canadians. That the climactic singing of "O Canada" was in English simply reinforced the point that English is the language of the circumambient culture in which French Canadians have for centuries grown and prospered.

     Lee concludes that on July 1, 1994, Westerners "watch[ed] a broadcast so intent on inclusiveness that it largely excluded them,. . . lit their loyal fireworks and endured." If so, then perhaps they didn't watch closely enough.


  1. Duncan was far too good a writer to bludgeon her readers with the fact that since 1899 the school day preceding May 24 had been designated Empire Day. The idea of Empire Day, which was "the most important patriotic rite for children in English-speaking Canada" until well into the present century, "originated with Clementina Fessenden of Hamilton, [Ontario] and was published across the country by George Ross, Ontario education minister. [I]t was associated with imperialism, militarism and immigrant assimilation . . . In later years various provinces renamed [it] Commonwealth or Citizenship Day" (Stamp).

  2. When Leacock gave this title to his book perhaps he was remembering Duncan’s "sunny little town."

  3. The parades in Alice Munro’s fictional town of Hanratty are more communal than multinational: "The Orange Walk, on the Twelfth of July; the High School Cadet Parade, in May; the schoolchildren’s Empire Day Parade, the Legion’s Church Parade, the Santa Claus Parade, the Lions Club Old-Timers' Parade. . . . [A]lmost every soul in town . . . would get a chance to march in public in some organized and approved affair" (195). "‘Parades have fallen off a lot,’" observes Flo later; "‘[a]ll the Orangemen are dying out and you wouldn't get the turnout, anyway, people’d rather stay home and watch their T.V.’" (205).

  4. In Ramsay Cook’s anthology of French-Canadian Nationalism, an unnamed translator renders Groulx’s concluding harangue as follows: "Arise, Dollard, and live on your granite pedestal. Summon us, with virile charm, with a hero’s accents . . . . Together we shall work for the reconstruction of our family’s house. And should you command it, O Dollard, O powerful leader, we are ready to follow you to the supreme holocaust for the defence of our French tongue and our Catholic faith" ("If Dollard were Alive Today" 201).

  5. As Hobsbawn puts it, "[m]en and women d[o] not choose collective identification as they choose shoes, knowing that one c[an] only put on one pair at a time. They . . . . have several attachments and loyalties simultaneously, including nationality, and are simultaneously concerned with various aspects of life, any of which may at any one time be foremost in their minds, as occasion suggests"(123). In illustrating this point with a series of attachments that radiate outwards from the personal to the imperial, Hobsbawn confirms that "different attachments" need not conflict with one another unless they coincide in the same stratum. It is difficult, if not impossible, to be loyal to two competing hockey teams or nationalities.

  6. Quoted in Spears. Chnétien’s ensuing comment—"Here’s to the next 127 years. Vive le Canada!"—invoked in order to revoke Charles De Gaulle’s (in)famous "Vive le Quebec libre!"

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