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The Dear Confederation Centre

Tuesday I was at an announcement of support by the Federal Government to Confederation Centre. It was a commitment of $5 million for "overdue repairs for the building". Poor dear Confederation Centre. Officially opened with "pomp and circumstance by Her Majesty The Queen' in October 1964 it was a building landed in our midst with much hope and promise. The important issues were that if the city and the Province packaged the land and deeded it over to this new and glorious complex, all would be looked after by the other Provinces and the Federal Government.

In those days when it was taking shape there were no middle men in Ottawa. Issues were discussed directly with the Prime Minister himself - starting with Diefenbaker and moving on to Pearson. The calls would be made directly to the PM office from the board room at Confederation Centre. Oh, those were glorious days.

The Trust was made up of VERY important people from each of the Provinces. The artistic people were on side with the likes of Mavor Moore and they had vision. Everyone was optimistic. Now it didn't exactly work as promised for the Islanders. When it was shaping up Frank MacKinnon had attended all the meetings of the important groups in town : Little Theatre, Arts Society, Historical Society and promised them the moon. We'd have an art gallery , a museum and a stage with the best of facilities for our local productions.

Alas, all that didn't happen, but other things did and for quite awhile a number of us, through the newly formed Women's Committee, supported the belief and direction of the place. We were connected with the art scene in the rest of the country. One day I had Jack Shadbolt out for a ride in the country, another time taking dear Norman MacKenize and his wife on a trip to the sand dunes at Tracadie or fixing up an apartment for Mavor and his family. Or travelling in the double decker bus down to Howard Webster's farm with Eric Harvey, Frank Sobey, Charles Scott, Sam Freedman and other important Canadians. We felt it was our responsibility to share our Island and learn from these people who were giving their time and energy to our collective cause.

The one thing that did happen rather quickly was that everyone was content with the Summer Festival direction and the excitement of building an important new art gallery in our country. The memorial to the Fathers of Confederation was not exactly addressed. It seemed good enough to live in the present and not address our history in any serious manner. And then what happened? Anne of Green Gables, that fictional redhead took over and ran the Fathers into the ground!

Anne of Green Gables is wonderful, but the challenge that the Fathers offer is really something. Questions float around about this country, and all we had to do was listen carefully to the Peter Goswski tributes to know how terribly concerned Canadians are about what this country is about and where it is going in the bigger picture of things!!!!

No better place in this country could there be than to centre discussions on "country evolving" than in Charlottetown where our Fathers of Confederation came to do exactly that for .... days in September 1864. They talked, they partied and they enjoyed the peace of this gentle Island while they shaped the beginning of our Confederation.

. Now back to the event I was at the other day. In the last few years as dollars became tighter and other provinces recognized their own cultural needs, the Confederation Centre of the Arts became less important to each of them.. As a matter of fact I am sure they saw us as being just another cultural centre with little distinctiveness in the boarder Canadian way that their own Province. So they began to withdraw support.

Ottawa itself has faced a national review in the arts. They have the National Art Centre, The National Art Gallery and they have developed an area of funding called "building patriotism" where they have passed out flags, fireworks etc., but still nothing on a serious intellectual discussion anywhere as to what it is to be Canadian. I think that is the role of Confederation Centre and though I am very happy to see the Feds recognize a responsibility toward the fabric of this building, that they played a role in placing in our midst, they still MUST encourage the programming to reflect a review on Country Evolving - while still encouraging all the happy party times to occur just like they did in 1864. We have an important role to play and we must hold hands to see that it is done.

When I went to that press conference the other day I was more than I little taken back to see on the table in front of the VIP's - three of our M.P's and The Chairman of The Board and The Executive Director of the place - a collection of RED hard hats. I jumped to the conclusion that this was over kill by some Liberal underling and I devotedly wished they had not been so crass. Today I learned differently. It was all just an accident. Apparently hard hats come in many colour now. Tradition has it that the white ones are used by officials - architects, foreman and the like - and no worker worth his salt would be caught in one. The general workers have in the passed used orange, but today those hats come in blue and RED etc.... So I truly believe it was all an accident. I really do. But when I asked a contractor friend of mine today 'who uses red hats?' the answer was "the lesser lights" . I'll just leave it at that.

This money is very important to Confederation Centre and we must be very gratiful that the needs of the place have been recognized. While it is being spent; however, me must be sure that the integrity of this important Canadian piece of architecture is carefully treated.

Written Friday, February 15, 2002 at 12:07 AM

(c) 2000 by Catherine Hennessey. Questions or comments? Email me@catherinehennessey.com

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