Were we sincere as a nation when we jammed our capital cities streets with flag waving crowds, sang our national terminal anthem in robust chorus, consumed junk food by the ton and maybe welcomed John Barleycorn too frequently in the name of God Bless Canada Day?
I ask the question seriously. In Victoria, British Columbia, where I scribble these meanderings, the largest crowds were on the streets bordering the Inner Harbour where the historic Empress Hotel towers over the Harbour Causeway on one side and the provincial Parliament Buildings. (The Legislature) another.
The crowds lined up for hours under clear sky summer sun to join celebrating thousands and create a living Maple Leaf flag on the front lawn. Their reward 15 seconds of fame on the TV evening newscast and a red or white t-shirt to keep.
A somber statue of Queen Victoria presided over the occasion. A summer fountain offered a picturesque, splashing, refreshing relief. Across the street at harbour-edge Street vendors plied their trade, bands played, jugglers juggled, and buskers of every kind performed.
And tucked in one corner, its 13 pillars as proud as in the days they were the glorious stamp of the Canadian Pacific Steamship terminal on the West Coast of Canada, the old gateway in and out of BC sat mute in all the clamor. Externally the old CPR building remains much as it has always been. Inside it had been substantially renovated after serving for years as busy terminal, then a wax museum. Today at serves multi purposes today as home for an art gallery, a restaurant and offices.
There had been hope early in 2015 that the old terminal, the heart and hub of transportation since European’s discovered the safe waters First Nation’s had known and used for centuries, would again beat with maritime pride this summer as the new home for the Maritime Museum, until recently housed uncomfortably in the old Victoria Court House in Bastion Square. The proposal to move the museum from the perceived unsafe historic Court House to the modernized and safe equally historic CPR steamship terminal received all-round warm approval when first broached.
Negotiations began with the landlords of the old terminal – the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority created in 2002. It was thought the decision to welcome the Museum would be a slam-dunk. Alas, although GVHA justifiably boasts on its website http://gvha.ca/h_history,php it had “achieved financial sustainability more quickly than it anticipated” it didn’t appear willing to share its good fortune with the Maritime Museum.
Talks commenced with such optimism collapsed when the landlord demanded a rent the Museum could not afford. Most of the priceless collection of maritime artifacts is now heading for storage. A fraction of the best exhibits will find a crammed store-front home; a precious but humiliating moment in what has been a proud history.
On Canada Day the crowds happily jostled ate and drank and danced and waved flags and sang with gusto “Oh, Canada, our home and native land, true patriot love in all thy sons command….” With gusto for sure – but without a thought for the mini betrayal or heritage taking place across the street.
The GVHA web page says it “envisions a harbour where people can live, learn, work and play….As the leading advocate for an ‘alive, accessible and dynamic harbour’ GVHA is passionate about the power of the harbour to act as a catalyst for Victoria to fulfill its destiny as one of the most outstanding experiences in the world.”
To “live, learn, work and play”, worthy objectives to always be voiced with passion, but much better and stronger when advanced with passion backed by action.
The GVHA, to be praised for many harbour improvements since 2002, missed an opportunity with the Maritime Museum. With its “financial sustainability” from commerce it could, and should, have offered inducements not obstacles.