TORONTO - We are celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary. If truth be told, in a tone stripped of the enthusiasm and optimism of a youthful nation that burst forth at the Montreal’67 Centennial to capture the imagination of the world.
For 2017? Very little of substance. The Government issued a commemorative stamp, a new ten-dollar bill and selected the Maple Leaf bud as the official flower of the anniversary. It commissioned 150 murals and offered free entrance into national park. The Film Board followed suit with some [perfunctory] documentary and the city of Windsor erected a 150 feet flagpole from which to fly a gigantic flag.
Bob Hepburn, in the pages of the Toronto Star, posed the usual question illustrative of the stupor and widespread indifference to the topic: ”could this 150th anniversary be the year when Canadians finally shed the Monarchy?” The Aboriginal community lament the sparse and grudging references to their contribution to the development of this country.
Canada is a young country slowly and seemingly successfully developing a sense of identity. One of the foundation stones upon which it has built its successes is the contribution made by the millions of Italian immigrants who have literally built the country brick by brick.
A classic example of this is Toronto. Until the Second World War, Toronto was a sleepy and boring provincial outpost where Victorian values prevailed, and the administration of the city was in the firm grip of a masonic order [Family Compact] bound tightly to the Orange Order and celebrated proudly in its annual parade.
The unstinting sacrifices and creativity of the post-war immigrants, principally Italian in origin, transformed it into a metropolis that is consistently among the foremost cities in the world for its quality of life, cultural vitality and economic promise. In none of the official celebrations is there ever a mention of the many anonymous protagonist-architects of progress in this country nor their sacrifices, which too frequently included their lives. Just in Ontario, the memorial commemorating those who suffered fatal accidents on the job has already registered a regrettable 1500 names verified so far. It is somewhat ironic that the Senate would have considered commemorative medals to honor the “unsung heroes”, reserving some for themselves, who are anything but anonymous, as well. It would have been nice to have set aside a number of them for those contributed to “Canada’s lustre”. Why not begin with recognizing Giovanni Caboto, the Italian explorer identified as the first European to reach Canadian shores in 1497. He was a prototypical Italian who emigrated from his homeland to secure employment in the court of the English, that of Henry VII (Tudor) who financed his expedition which purpose was to “search and explore new lands for England”. And so he embarked on his mission aboard a ship, the Mattew, (named after his wife Mattea) accomplishing his task for the king of England and paying an excessive price to History for his success. The English appropriated his name and he has forever been known as John Cabot. It is with that name that a statue has been dedicated in “his” honour at both Cape Bonavista, Newfouldland, as in England.
A similar outcome even for Guglielmo Marconi. Whoever visits Cape Breton and travels from Louisburg to Glace Bay will come upon the Marconi National Historic Site where the Italian scientist engaged in research that would revolutionize the world of mass communications in which Canada, according to the BBC, played a pivotal role. It is from here that on the 17th of February in 1902, Marconi sent his first trans-Atlantic message to Podhu, Cornwall, utilizing a 150- metre tall antennae supported by four gigantic wooden towers. The cement foundations, the model of the original “table head station”, a replica of a radio transmitter and a chronology of Marconi’s success are contained in Glace Bay’s tiny museum. Signal Hill in Newfoundland is where Marconi first succeeded in receiving a trans-Atlantic signal.
Marconi had been born in Italy in 1874 of a wealthy, landed, aristocratic family in the province of Emilia-Romagna. Even as a young boy he cultivated intense interest in science, particularly the physics associated with electricity, and early on worked on the concept of wireless transmission. He too needed to emigrate to find financing for his project. At the age of twenty, accompanied by his Irish-Scottish mother, he landed in England where he cobbled together the financial resources to finance his experiments which eventually led to the results at Signal Hill and Glace Bay. In 1903, from a station in South Wellfeet, Massachusetts, then President Theodore Roosevelt sent a message via radio signals to King Edward VII of England thus giving birth to mass communications technology, am crucial system for ships in peril – including the ill-fated Titanic. Marconi received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1909 for his work in Physics.
The names Caboto and Marconi are part and parcel of the Canadian experience. Surely in this 150th anniversary they deserve a commemorative medal like the Senators?