Feb. 10, 2009
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the second in a series of five feature articles prepared for Heritage Week, Feb. 9 - 13, 2009. This article was prepared by Ian Andrews. For more information on Heritage Week activities throughout the province, visit the Heritage Week 2009 website.
New Brunswick at 225 - A Province Celebrates
New Brunswick turns 225 this year, and the celebrations will begin. But what, exactly, should we be celebrating, and why?
In 2009, we will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, the legislation which placed English and French on an equal footing in New Brunswick. (More information on the language rights may be found on the I Have A Dream: Language Rights in New Brunswick website.)
In 2009, we will be celebrating heritage when the Acadian World Congress meets during the summer on the Acadian Peninsula.
But why and how will we be celebrating New Brunswick's 225th birthday?
In 1784, New Brunswick became a separate and distinct British colonial province. Mi'qmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy natives had already lived here for thousands of years when Europeans from France arrived to fish and farm in the early 17th century. European rivalry over the Maritimes led to an exodus of Acadians in the 1750s, and the entrance of New England Planters in the 1760s.
In the 1760s, Sunbury County was the name the British gave to what is now New Brunswick, and they considered it a part of the colonial province of Nova Scotia (key dates in the creation of New Brunswick may be found online). But the influx of United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolutionary War led King George III to establish New Brunswick as a separate province on June 18, 1784, and to appoint Col. Thomas Carleton as the first governor on Aug. 16 of that year (more information on the type of government established in 1784 may be found on The Most Gentleman-like Government on Earth website, and a list of subsequent New Brunswick lieutenant-governors may be found here).
Although most Loyalists were of British descent, there were also many Germans, Swiss, and Dutch, as well as groups of Quakers, Mennonites, Indians and blacks among the arrivals. However, neither those living here when the Loyalists arrived, nor the Loyalists themselves, did much celebrating in 1784 - their major goal was survival.
Although Canada Day and New Brunswick Day are celebrated annually with parades, dances and speeches by politicians, the more elaborate festivities usually coincide with the commemoration of fiftieth or hundredth anniversaries, or multiples thereof.
The most important event during New Brunswick's diamond anniversary (50th anniversary) was not a celebration, but the official abolition of slavery within the British Empire, of which New Brunswick was a part, on Aug. 1, 1834, although many people at the time were not so aware of its significance. This legislation formally outlawed a practice which had existed, but had not been followed for over a decade, in New Brunswick. (More information on slavery in New Brunswick may be found at Black Woman Ann Otherwise Called Nancy and The Ward Chipman Slavery Brief.)
Although English-speaking Loyalist descendants celebrated New Brunswick's centennial (100th anniversary) in style, Acadians marked 1884 by adopting a distinctive Acadian flag and national anthem (Ave Maris Stella), and Aug. 15 as a specific day for celebration. But much greater public attention was reserved for the later celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1887.
It was not until New Brunswick celebrated its sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) in 1934 that tangible evidence of this milestone was recorded for the masses. The Canadian postal service issued over five million copies of a 2-cent commemorative stamp featuring the provincial Great Seal and entitled New Brunswick 1784-1934. Little fanfare accompanied the stamp's release, although this was the first time the province had been so honoured. Indeed, the first Canadian commemorative stamp had recognized the Quebec tercentenary (300th anniversary) in 1908, only 26 years earlier. (More information on the New Brunswick sesquicentennial stamp may be found on the Canadian Postal Archives website.)
The City of Saint John staged the most elaborate sesquicentennial celebrations with the official re-opening of the New Brunswick Museum on Aug. 16, 1934, an event attended by Prime Minister R. B. Bennett, Lt.-Gov. Hugh McLean, and Premier L.P.D. Tilley. In addition to the customary parades, dinners and dances, the Saint John Fusiliers were presented with new colours. But in the midst of the Great Depression, celebrations of New Brunswick's 150th birthday were muted at best.
Some interesting photographs featuring the celebration of New Brunswick's sesquicentennial in Saint John may be found in the Louis Merritt Harrison collection at the New Brunswick Museum. These have been placed online in the Artefacts Canada site of Canadian Heritage. A few noteworthy photos include:
Muted celebrations were not to be the case for the bicentennial celebrations of 1984. Premier Richard Hatfield was determined to mark the occasion in style. His government appointed a bicentennial commission, designed a specific logo, established a $5-million budget (half provided by federal funds) and requested that specific objectives be met. The bicentennial celebrations were:
The successful Canadian centennial celebrations in 1967 provided a model to emulate, but on a smaller scale.
Again Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp, over 19 million copies this time (more information on the New Brunswick bicentennial stamp may be found on the Canadian Postal Archives website).
Queen Elizabeth II made a state visit, and Pope John Paul II appeared before 75,000 at Moncton's Magnetic Hill. In addition, the bicentennial commission acted as a catalyst in organizing dozens of family reunions, the publication of over 100 books dealing primarily with local history, the promotion of special events and projects, and the dissemination of grants to municipalities and unincorporated areas throughout the province. Notable among the lasting contributions are the Bicentennial Tapestries, a unique series of 27 colourful tapestries that depict the history of New Brunswick's capital, and are permanently displayed in Fredericton's city hall.
Hatfield commissioned a new provincial coat of arms, which was subsequently granted by Queen Elizabeth II to coincide with the celebration of New Brunswick's bicentennial. Distinctive characteristics include fiddleheads, purple violets and a leaping Atlantic salmon.
Perhaps the most unusual commissioned work (a grant of $500) went to nine New Brunswickers who arranged for racing pigeons to deliver a special bicentennial message from Gov. Gen Jeanne Sauvé to Lt.-Gov. George F. Stanley on Canada Day.
Although elaborate celebrations are not being planned for New Brunswick's 225th birthday, there will be recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act and many events planned for the Acadian World Congress. We have 25 years to prepare for the 250th anniversary in 2034, and 25 years to decide whether to call it a semiquincentennial or a bicenquinquagenary. And the unearthing of a time capsule prepared at the 1984 bicentennial will be a major event to anticipate during New Brunswick's tercentenary celebrations in 2084.
MEDIA CONTACT: Danielle McFarlane, communications, Wellness, Culture and Sport, 506-457-6445.