Events in Manitoba History: Manitoba Centenary (1970)
In 1963, the Manitoba government of Duff Roblin started making plans for observance of the province's 100th anniversary in 1970 by establishing the Manitoba Centennial Corporation. This Crown Corporation was overseen by a board of 15 people, chaired by Maitland B. Steinkopf, with assistance from a large group of local people around the province. A wide range of activities were undertaken, some of which is summarized below.
The Centennial Corporation sponsored or promoted performances of the US Army Field Band and Soldiers Chorus, Guy Lombardo and his Orchestra, and RCMP Band and Musical Ride. Grants supported provincial, national, and international sports competitions. There were sports banquets, fishing derbies, car rallies, Red River cruises, beauty pageants, and an air show. A competition was held to have a centennial song and the winner was called “Manitoba” with lyrics by Ann Collier and music by Gordon Watson of Portage la Prairie. A 45-rpm record contained three versions, one a choral version in English, the second a choral version in French, and the third a rock version by the group “The Fifth.” Bobby Gimby, known for his Canada centennial song wrote a song called “Manitoba 100” and a 45-rpm record contained a choral version and a rock version by “The Sugar and Spice,” a five-man band with three sisters as vocalists.
The Centennial Corporation arranged for souvenir license plates, pins, coins, medallions, and flags. The Canadian mint issued a Manitoba centennial silver dollar and the Canadian post office issued a Manitoba centennial stamp.
Manitobans over the age of 75 were given certificates inducting them into the Order of the Crocus. A special seal was affixed to the birth certificates of all babies born in 1970. Those babies born on six special days in 1970 would become Directors in a “Foundation of the Future” that would meet on 15 July 2000, chaired by the provincial premier at that time, to disperse the accrued interest on funds contributed by the Centennial Corporation. (A handful of the 305 “Centennial Babies” did meet to spend the accrued $49,000.) The Manitoba Historical Society issued Centennial Medals to over 400 people in recognition of their community service.
The Manitoba Historical Society published two books, one on the history of the province, by historian James A. Jackson, and the other a limited-edition collection of historical maps of Manitoba going back centuries. The Centennial Corporation supported financially the writing of at least five community history books, and numerous other such books were inspired by the 100th anniversary.
Five semi-trailer “Centennial Caravan” exhibit toured the province. There was a canoe brigade travelling to eastern Canada to commemorate our fur-trade history. Student exchanges allowed young Manitobans to see other parts of the world while students from other countries visited our province. A group of railway enthusiasts restored a vintage steam locomotive and its first voyage occurred on 1 July 1970, taking Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his cabinet to Lower Fort Garry. It is now the Prairie Dog Central.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Manitoba in 1970, the longest visit in Manitoba’s history, during which they visited numerous towns around the province. During her visit to Brandon, the annual Winter Fair received the royal prefix to become the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair. A statue of Her Majesty, crafted by sculptor Leo Mol, was unveiled in front of the Centennial Concert Hall. Today, it stands near Government House on the grounds of the Legislative Building.
The Centennial Corporation supported (with additional funds from the federal government, and public and private donors) the construction of the Centennial Centre in Winnipeg that consisted of the Concert Hall, Planetarium (opened May 1968), and Manitoba Theatre Centre (building started 1968). In Brandon, there was the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium. At the International Peace Garden, a Pavilion was constructed. Around the province, funds were used to construct 70 public parks, seven museums, 64 rec centres/halls/curling/skating rinks, eight libraries, and a variety of other facilities.
To remind us of the 100th anniversary, monuments were erected around Manitoba. An abstract statue of Louis Riel that the Centennial Corporation commissioned for the grounds of the Legislative Building proved controversial. It was later replaced by the one that stands there today, and the controversial one was moved to the campus of the University of St. Boniface.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 8 June 2019