Do We Need a February Break?

A recent headline in the Globe & Mail highlighted the most universal of all Canadian greetings: Bon jour, cold eh? For whatever reason, winter 2003 has witnessed a deep freeze of unprecedented proportions. This conclusion has been proven by record breaking cold temperatures throughout the Maritimes. Even the weather forecasts have heightened our awareness of the cc-oo-ll-dd by their emphasis on the wind chill factor. To add insult to injury the January cold snap was followed by a Groundhog Day ice storm. For many of us, there is little consolation in the conclusion of author Robertson Davies that … its winter that establishes the character of Canada.

There have been a variety of explanations for the recent erratic weather patterns. These range from global warming, melting of the polar ice caps, to the long range impact of El Nio. Others, who may be reading too much science fiction, attribute weather swings to visitors from outer space. Its worth noting that strange and unusual weather is by no means limited to Canada; as shown by the drought and alarming bush fires so prevalent during the present Australian summer.

Nor is Winter 2003 an exception. When it comes to recalling past weather conditions, our memories tend to be selective and unreliable. More often than not, cold winter memories remain the sharpest. The Tantramar region has had its share of every swing of the weather pendulum. For example: in January 1932, spring like conditions prevailed in January. The mercury soared well above freezing, and skipping ropes and baseball games were enjoyed on school playgrounds.

Possibly as a result of our cold weather preoccupation, Canadians have, for several years, been debating the possibility of a midwinter statutory holiday. Recently the Saint John Telegraph Journal decided to sample on the street opinions on the matter. Heres two interesting responses: Other than Canada Day, we dont have anything to celebrate who we are. Winter is such a part of our heritage we should have something to mark winter. Another respondent expressed similar views: Winter is a big part of our national fabric. We should have a holiday thats celebrating the fun of snow some kind of Winter Festival Day.

Its a reasonable assumption that a mid winter holiday would be welcomed by many Canadians. Further there is a consensus that it should occur sometime between Christmas and Easter and fall on either a Friday or Monday to create a long weekend. Since the date of Easter fluctuates, this means that mid-February would appear to be the ideal time. How about this coming weekend its still cold eh?

For the record, other reasons for a winter holiday have been put forward. Many countries commemorate the lives of famous personalities through statutory holidays. January 11, 1815 was the birth date of the leading Father of Confederation and first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. Another important Prime Minister and the first French Canadian to hold the post, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, died on February 17, 1919; creating the possibility of a Macdonald Laurier Day. Others have pointed out that such a holiday should honour all Prime Ministers; however, since some have been eminently forgettable this might not be too popular.

Another suggestion that would have resonance on the Tantramar is the raising of Canadas National Flag Day to the status of a civic holiday. The now familiar red and white flag with a stylized maple leaf in its centre, was approved by Parliament in late December 1964. The Royal Proclamation, officially designating the flag, was signed by Queen Elizabeth II and took effect on February 15th, 1965. Personally, this is a date that I will always remember, as I witnessed the ceremony when the new Canadian flag was unfurled at the Commonwealth Institute in London, England. Many readers will recall that the late Dr. George F.G. Stanley, former lieutenant governor of New Brunswick and Sackville resident, was responsible for the design of the flag.

For a number of years, the town of Sackville has celebrated its natal day on the first weekend in August. This is appropriate, since summer is the season when many people have their vacations. For this reason, the weekend has become a time for family gatherings and reunions. The weather is also more conducive to outdoor activities such as parades and athletic events. The date neatly coincides with New Brunswick Day, enabling more people to have time to travel for a homecoming. A second civic holiday, as suggested below, is not meant to interfere with this summer celebration.

2003 is Sackville’s Centennial year. This event will be celebrated, as it should be, in a variety of ways. The anniversary of the towns incorporation might be marked in the future by combining the existing Heritage Day, which usually falls on the second weekend in February, with a civic holiday to mark the incorporation of the town. Technically Sackvilles natal day is Feb. 5th; however, a holiday that coincides with a mid-February weekend might be a welcome antidote for the February blahs.

In proclaiming this occasion a civic holiday, two objectives would be achieved: the provision of a winter break as mentioned; and the focussing of attention on the towns unique history and heritage.

In recent years, an important initiative in this direction has been undertaken by the Tantramar Heritage Trust in their marking of Heritage Day. An outline of the creative program to take place Feb. 15th, at Tantramar Regional High School, will be found elsewhere in this issue of the Trib. A Winterlude atmosphere could well be combined with seasonal sports activities, such as hockey, to provide a focal point for the holiday. Since there is lots to celebrate, this might well become an annual event.

For many years, Sackville was known as a hockey town. Few people are aware that the first New Brunswicker to play on a winning Stanley Cup team was a native son. Bill Red Stuart was born in Sackville in 1900 and went on to play defense for the Toronto St. Pats. In 1922, the team won the NHL championship. During his career, Stuart played seven seasons in the NHL, first with Toronto and then Boston. Later he turned to coaching. Two of his teams in Halifax and Sudbury went on to win the Allan Cup.

More recently, during the 1950s through to the 1980s, Allison Gardens was often filled to the rafters with cheering hockey fans. This was the heyday of the game; when teams such as the Sackville Combines and Sackville Eagles, along with the Mount Allison varsity hockey team would attract 1200 or more people to games. Many a provincial and regional championship came to Sackville as a result of the efforts of these talented teams.

What better centrepiece for Sackville’s first Heritage Winterlude Weekend in 2004, than a Centennial Hockey Tournament in the new rink? Remember it’s winter that captures the character of our town as well as our country.