Mount Pleasant Don Thurston

View from the Street

Two thousand and seventeen marks Canada’s One Hundred and Fiftieth Birthday.

As part of the celebration, FDC University at Mount Pleasant’s Faculty of Political Science and Faculty of  Communications are asking citizens to write about their personal Canadian experiences. A panel of journalists and political scientists will select five of the best entries for publication on the FDC website and in the Mount Pleasant Observer.

Canada will be seen through multiple lenses as citizens spin personal tales of a diverse, complicated, irksome and awesome land.

Following is one such story.

My personal Canadian journey began about sixty years ago.

By nineteen sixty  Montreal was my new home. After completing engineering and business degrees  in Ontario and British Columbia, employment in Quebec provided a perfect spectrum of technical, business, cultural and social challenges. My employer was a diversified, multinational company. Corporate headquarters were in New York.  Canadian operations were distributed from coast to coast. Head office was in Montreal.

So the stage was set….. everything was new, exciting, and intimidating.

Imagine the forces at play including professional challenges, differing economic, political and social circumstances plus a new perspective on Canada. Working and playing in two languages added to an already full agenda. Such a steep learning curve.

Sometime into my journey, signs of worsening business conditions appeared.  Within the conglomerate on both sides of the border, accelerating international competition influenced Canadian and American operations alike. In Quebec antiquated facilities, feudal organizational practices and a branch plant mentality interfered with business success.

Political policies of the day encouraged establishing small Canadian operations.  Good for nationalism but not good in the face of changing international landscapes in which size mattered.

Personally my life in Quebec, particularly Montreal, could not have been more fulfilling.

To be sure the well-known French-English divide influenced every nook and cranny. Anglo domination in commercial enterprises aggravated an already difficult environment.  Long standing norms were not changing at a pace commensurate with the rest of Canada nor around the world. With the full benefit of hindsight these issues festered, only to erupt several years later as nationalistic fervor took a nasty turn.

Expo 67, as a festival, mesmerized Quebec, Canada and the world. In retrospect the celebration was a diversion away from escalating  social, political and economic problems.

We all know what happened next.   Altering circumstances  accelerated with the emergence of the Parti Quebecois, the FLQ events, the separation referendums, the migration of financial institutions, wealth transfers and citizens with long term roots leaving Quebec. What a dismal era for all.  I left as well.

Canadians had little appreciation for the difficulties facing Quebec, and soon to threaten  the country’s very existence. Charles de Gaulle ignited decades  of turbulence on July 24, 1967 by shouting for all to hear “Vive le  Quebec Libre”.  This single proclamation was the catalyst for what was to follow Changes  were no longer optional. All that remained was their extent and what they were going to be.

Well many happened and continue to do so.

 Have a look in this one hundred and fiftieth year since Confederation. Now new buildings, refurbished old ones, street side eateries, parks, new and old, looking fresh and user friendly. Construction cranes dominate the skylines  More subtle are the attitudes. Highways and byways over flow as individuals and crowds exude senses of belonging and inclusion. Quoting a friend who accompanied me on this journey “The road has been long. I am heartened that with reconciliation we now have a day when we can say wow I never sthought this was possible”.

 My tale is not based on learned research. Sometimes one has to go with observations and feelings, eschewing essays concerning the state of the nation and speculation about the future, good or bad.   All the evidence is anecdotal, pointing to a city and province now content in their own skins.

More than anything this has been – and remains a personal journey,  moving from concern to alarm to shock to despair to optimism and now to gratification that much has changed for everyone’s benefit.

 The Canadian Confederation remains a work in progress—so far so good