Without big events, British Columbia's 150th anniversary in 2021 will be a quiet one

Jan 28 2021, 12:28 am

The human, economic, social, and cultural toll of COVID-19 continues to grow, and within British Columbia it will likely rob communities in this province of any major celebrations and events marking BC’s 150th anniversary of joining Canadian Confederation.

BC officially transitioned from a British colony to becoming a part of Canada on July 20, 1871.

“It’s the 150th anniversary of BC joining Confederation, becoming part of Canada. That would be something we’d normally like to celebrate, but we’re not making plans right now, and British Columbians should not make any plans right now,” said Premier John Horgan in a press conference last week.

“We should focus on staying safe, being kind, being calm, and as we get more information on the vaccination program, as it rolls out and we see the impact on case counts, we’ll be in a better position to make those decisions [on relaxing restrictions].”

In an emailed statement to Daily Hive, the BC Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport also reiterated that BC’s 150th anniversary will certainly look much different than past major anniversary celebrations in the country.

“While we aren’t planning any large, in person celebration, we are looking [for] appropriate ways to mark the milestone that acknowledge both our commitment to reconciliation and the very unique and difficult time we are all facing,” stated the Ministry.

Restrictions on large gatherings and events could potentially be lifted towards the end of 2021 at the very earliest, based on the provincial government’s vaccination timeline and assuming COVID-19 case numbers will flounder. By the end of summer, mass vaccinations will reach young adults — the last cohort to be vaccinated.


Canada 150 sign at Canada Place in downtown Vancouver. (@olivaender_/Instagram)

The last time there were major celebrations marking a major anniversary was in 2017 for Canada 150, the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Over $300 million was spent by the federal government alone to support the enhancement and expansion of existing events, festivals, and arts and cultural programs across the country, including some funding for enhancements to the Pacific National Exhibition and Celebration of Light.

This federal program did not include the separate Canada 150 investments made by provincial and municipal governments, including $7.6 million from the BC government just for museums and heritage sites throughout the province.

That same year, the City of Montreal celebrated its 375th anniversary, with funding support from the federal and provincial governments and private sponsors. It spent $110 million on new and enhanced events and festivals throughout 2017, and there were also about $800 million worth of cultural infrastructural investments timed with the celebrations, such as a new amphitheatre and special lighting on the old Jacques Cartier Bridge.

Olympic cauldron

Vancouver 125 festival at Jack Poole Plaza in April 2011. (City of Vancouver)

For Vancouver 125 in 2011, commemorating the 125th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Vancouver, the municipal government spent about $6 million throughout 2011 on the anniversary celebrations and initiatives, including two large-scale celebration festivals held at Jack Poole Plaza in April and Stanley Park’s Brockton Oval in June.

2021 would have been British Columbia’s second official BC 150, after the major celebrations and initiatives throughout 2008 by the provincial government that marked the 150th anniversary of the formation of BC as a colony.

For BC 150 in 2008, millions of dollars were spent to enhance existing events across the province — everything from small community events to large-scale events in Vancouver. The PNE and the Celebration of Light were some of the largest recipients for event funding.

That year, the Celebration of Light’s final night saw an eight-minute extension of its fireworks show to celebrate BC 150.

The provincial government also set aside another $150 million for the BC 150 Cultural Fund to provide long-term, stable funding for arts and culture. The largest investments from this fund were $9 million to restore and revitalize the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, now known as The Cultch, and $50 million towards the construction of the new facility for the Vancouver Art Gallery, which is still short of its fundraising goal.

In 1986, Vancouver’s staging of the Expo ’86 World’s Fair coincided with the city’s centennial.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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