Confederation Centre should be nationally celebrated

CONFEDERATION CENTRE of the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, first opened its doors in 1964. It was an ambitious project, with a lofty mandate “to engage and empower the imagination of our youth; to honour the vision of the Founders of Canada; to strengthen our national identity; and to increase the cultural wealth of all Canadians.”

There is no doubt that over the past 49 years, Confederation Centre has successfully fulfilled this mandate. What lessons does it hold for us, as Confederation enters its fourth half-century and the Confederation Centre of the Arts its second? In his forthcoming book Cradling Confederation: The Founding of Confederation Centre of the Arts, historian Dr. Ed MacDonald says, “Contrary to the famous quote, (history) does not actually repeat itself. But it teaches and informs, entertains and explains, and, now and again, it even inspires.”

MacDonald recounts a now sacred Island story of how on October 6, 1964, Queen Elizabeth II herself, “looking like a fairy tale Queen,” (as described by the Island Magazine) came for the Royal opening of Confederation Centre. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson escorted HRM through a regal night of Canadian musical entertainment, including a taste from the Centre’s soon-to-be crown jewel musical, Anne of Green Gables—The MusicalTM. During the official remarks, Pearson declared the complex to be “a tribute to those famous men who founded our Confederation. But it is dedicated also to the fostering of those things that enrich the mind and delight the heart, those intangible but precious things that give meaning to a society and help create from it a civilization and a culture.”

MacDonald remarks, “It was the conjunction of those two touchstones, culture and heritage, that soon coined the catch-phrase ‘a living memorial to Confederation’.”

However, when a national arts centre is situated in a regional market and, in this case, Canada’s smallest province, certain challenges become evident. In 1964, when Lester Pearson was Prime Minister, the Government of Canada along with all 10 provinces made the commitment to build this living memorial to the Fathers of Confederation. The formula at the time had the Federal Government paying 50 per cent of the costs and the provinces agreeing to cover the other 50 per cent, contributing their share based on population. Now, nearly 50 years later, only some provinces continue to contribute to the ongoing operation of this national memorial.

In 2012, a total of $977,500 was contributed by the provinces: PEI provided $760,000; Ontario $200,000; the rest came from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Yukon Territory. At present, the remaining provinces and territories (including Newfoundland and Labrador) do not contribute anything to Confederation Centre. The Government of Canada continues to contribute, through the Department of Canadian Heritage, to the national monument’s operating expenses each year with at least $3 million to support various activities at the Centre.

In order to make ends meet, Confederation Centre of the Arts earns 50 per cent of its revenue through the work and operations of the Centre itself, in particular through theatre ticket sales. Forty-nine years later and still growing and thriving, Confederation Centre of the Arts has defied the odds by applying creative management, a strong community spirit and a will to succeed. Almost 65,000 tickets were sold to performances at the 2012 Charlottetown Festival with a value of a healthy $2.5 million.

In 2012, Confederation Centre invested more than $12 million into the local community and Canada’s arts industry, while generating revenues of $13 million. Half of the expenses were spent directly on programming, supporting Canadian performers and artists, creative staff, and crew. The Festival creates 486 jobs, worth $12.4 million in wages, each summer. It also generates, on average, $5.1 million in incremental federal income taxes, $2.7 million in provincial income taxes, and $130 thousand in municipal taxes.

Fourteen years ago, in 1999, I was invited to join the board of directors of the Fathers of Confederation Building Trust (also known as the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown). Every country of any stature and significance in the world has a monument or memorial to those who were responsible for creating their particular country. This Centre is our living memorial tribute to Canada’s Fathers of Confederation. It was the roman Cicero who was first given the title of “Father of his country” by the Romans Cato and Catullus and we must continue through our memorial in Charlottetown to honour our own national Fathers.

While many memorials take the form of a statue or a plaque, Confederation Centre has continued to opt for this engaging role as a living and breathing memorial. Much more than a Centre for arts and culture in P.E.I., this complex is the single memorial to the courageous leaders who first met in Charlottetown in 1864. These same delegates took the germ of an idea – one great nation – and went on to create this country in 1867 with the passage of the BNA Act, our constitutional document, signed originally by Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things, and Confederation Centre of the Arts is an institution that reminds Canadians of the process involved in creating a country, all the way from the first discussions in 1864 to the last entry on March 31, 1949. Although Newfoundland did not join our Confederation until 1949, both Sir Frederick Carter and Sir Ambrose Shea of Newfoundland attended the second meeting in Quebec and became Confederates (but were unsuccessful in a later election in persuading the electorate in our province to authorize joining Confederation at that time).

As a living memorial to the founding of the nation, Confederation Centre of the Arts, under the direction of current CEO Jessie Inman, has embraced cultural sustainability as a major priority. The Centre seeks to engage local, provincial, and national governments to explicitly include a solid cultural policy (culture as a driver of development) and to advocate for a cultural dimension in all public policies (culture as an enabler of development). The Centre fulfills the pillar of cultural identity through its commitment to celebrating place; acting as a living monument to the Fathers of Confederation and the founding of Confederation; and forming an integral and dynamic part of the cultural fabric of Canada.

We have a fine living memorial to the Fathers of Confederation at Charlottetown. This is not just a P.E.I. asset. Rather, this is a national asset and all 10 provinces should contribute accordingly, as they agreed to in 1964. To renege on that commitment is regrettable and hopefully will be reversed.

Honourable John C. Crosbie
About Honourable John C. Crosbie

The Hon. John C. Crosbie is a retired provincial and federal politician who was a regular Atlantic Business Magazine columnist from 1998 to 2008. He resigned to take up a new position as Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador. He rejoined us in November 2013 as an official essayist, offering his always-forthright point of view on topical issues.

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