01 July 2012

The Greater Canada of 1962

Canada 1962: The Official Handbook of Present Conditions
   and Recent Progress
Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1962

I missed the better part of 1962; by the time I showed up at Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Marilyn Monroe and William Faulkner were gone and E.E. Cummings looked in rough shape. I wasn't a reader then, of course, but had I been this handbook would've provided a good introduction to the land of my birth. This is Canada as it was just before I came to know it, a country in which bookmobiles rode the rails,

a personable young woman might find employment as a bus hostess,

and mothers and daughters bought groceries from vending machines.

The Grocerette never caught on, but I don't imagine that it's failure was recorded in subsequent handbooks – challenging enough just keeping up with the successes. In 1962, Canada was undergoing great change, as reflected in the caption accompanying this photograph of my hometown.  

Our cities were changing so quickly that it seemed pointless to include new buildings; better to feature models of those under construction. Here's Place des Arts, which would be built to a similar, yet superior design:

And here are the new offices of the Toronto Telegram and Sudbury Star:

While the Telegram is long gone, the Star hangs on. A year ago, the Star building "that once bustled with a library and an archiving service, a press and a pre-press operation, a distribution centre and warehouse, the largest newsroom in Northern Ontario and a full complement of sales agents, circulators and office support staff" was put up for sale. There have been no takers.

Stray tears drawn through nostalgia can blind. In the Canada of 1962, homosexual acts were criminal, employers could pay a woman less than a man for equal work, and Native Canadians had only just won the right to vote in federal elections. Yet that Canada was moving forward; building more than just skyscrapers, concert halls and newspaper offices, it was investing in institutions, education and services. All comes into focus with this photograph:

The uniformed man pictured is a food inspector. While the country's population has almost doubled since 1962, fewer people hold his position today. This year alone, our Minister of Agriculture, comedian Gerry Ritz, a man who finds humour in death from listeriosis, will be overseeing the dismissal of 308 people from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Ours is a contracting Canada. The self-described "Harper Government" would have us believe that we can no longer afford the services and protections offered under the record surpluses of previous governments not ten years past. As these Conservatives run up record deficits, the advantages they themselves enjoyed, the programs from which they themselves benefitted, are being stripped from my generation and denied the next.

We are a smaller country now.

Object: A very well-constructed, remarkably heavy trade-size paperback printed on glossy paper with tipped in fold-out map of the dominion. The cover was a commissioned piece by Kiakshuk.

Access: It  should come as no surprise that Canada 1962, a five-decade-old reference book, has disappeared from our public libraries. Those looking to add it to their own collection should be happy to learn that Very Good copies of the paperback begin at seven dollars. The uncommon, bland hardcover edition is yours for forty bucks.


  1. Bus hostess! I don't think any of the U.S. bus lines had such an innovative job position at any time. Or was it innovative? What exactly did she do? Could she have served food and beverages while en route? Seems it would be very difficult.

    A fascinating time capsule of your country. I would love to make a touristy time travel visit to that Canada of the past. If I ever have the luck to find a copy, the book will have to suffice for my journey back in time.

    1. I know what you mean, John. Hard to imagine someone wheeling a cart down that narrow aisle. All I can add is this from the caption: "Uniformed hostesses have proved an attraction to bus-travellers." Popular, but not so popular that the job existed when I bought my first ticket. Gone the way of the Grocerette, I'm afraid.

  2. They had bus hostesses when I was in England in the 90's, though they were mostly lads. THey wheeled trollies down the isles and charged enormous sums for a tiny packet of crisps.

    1. I'd have preferred a properly uniformed young lady, myself. I like to think that the one pictured would've provided eats and drink gratis, as in 20th-century air travel.

      (Nice meeting you in Montreal. How goes the hunt for Packards?)