Arthur Milnes admits he’s a bit of an odd duck.
He loves history so much that he’s convinced every living former Canadian prime minister to plant a tree — each with its own commemorative plaque — in his backyard in Kingston.
So perhaps it’s not so strange after all that, in anticipation of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Milnes conjured up something really special, something that took hundreds of hours of work, as well as money from his own pocket.
Milnes loves Canada and thought the rest of the world ought to know about our sesquicentennial. And so he began writing letters — lots of letters. I mean, really, a lot of letters promoting the 150th. And then the responses started to come in. Lots of responses.
Milnes wrote the mayor of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where Abraham Lincoln gave his unforgettable address in 1863, and told him a future Father of Confederation, William McDougall, had sat on the platform during that speech. So, to celebrate the connection between Canada and Gettysburg, the mayor declared July 1, 2017, Sir John A. Macdonald-Canada Day in the town.
Then Milnes heard back from the mayor of Kingston, Tennessee, who was also happy to proclaim July 1 Sir John A. Macdonald Day in recognition of the friendship between two Kingstons — one in America, and Macdonald’s hometown in Canada. Then Kingston, New Hampshire, did the same.
Because Milnes was a fan of the political drama The West Wing, he wrote to Bartlett, New Hampshire, the town that inspired the name of fictional president Jed Bartlet. And that town, too, proclaimed July 1 Canada Day.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower was from Abilene, Kansas, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s so-called Little White House was in Warm Springs, Georgia, where FDR soaked his polio-stricken legs in the warm waters. Both towns have proclaimed July 1 Canada Day, because Milnes requested it. The governors of Alabama and Maine have done so, too.
Mayor Theodore H. Streeter of Gettysburg, PA, proclaimed July 1, 2017 Sir John A. Macdonald-Canada Day in his community.
Timothy F. Neal, mayor of Kingston, TN, proclaimed July 1, 2017 Sir John A. Macdonald Day in his town.
The Board of Selectmen of Bartlett, NH, declared that July 1, 2017 be recognized as Canada Day.
Abilene, KS, President Dwight D. Eisenhower's place of birth, proclaimed July 1, 2017 Canada Day.
New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art offered free admission to Canadians on July 1.
Patsy Reddy, governor-general of New Zealand, offered greetings to Canada in honour of the country's 150th anniversary.
The U.S. Navy offered to fly the Canadian flag on a ship visiting Canada in honour of the 150th anniversary.
The speaker of Prince Edward Island sent a flag flown outside the island's provincial assembly to Milnes for his Canada 150 efforts.
Hage G. Geingob, president of Namibia, sent Milnes a letter in honour of Canada Day.
Former prime minister Robert Borden once taught in a small New Jersey town. This Canadian connection was celebrated by the Borough of Matawan, NJ, with a Sir Robert Borden-Canada Day proclamation.
Milton, Massachusetts, is the birthplace of George H. W. Bush, and given the president’s relationship with Brian Mulroney, Milnes managed to get Milton to proclaim July 1 “George H. W. Bush-Brian Mulroney-Canada Day.”
The world renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, thanks to a request from Milnes, granted free admission to Canadians on July 1, again to celebrate the 150th.
Milnes wrote the Parliament of New Zealand and asked them to fly the Canadian flag on July 1. And they agreed.
Milnes was on a roll. So why not aim higher. He contacted the United States Navy and asked the Navy to fly Canadian flags on its ships visiting Canada on our sesquicentennial. Astonishingly, the Navy said yes, and even offered to send a ship to Kingston for Canada Day — although in the end, it was too logistically difficult to arrange the visit in time.
Milnes also started to get gifts back from some of those he wrote, such as a United Nations flag and a Canadian flag, both of which flew at the UN Headquarters in New York; the flag of Prince Edward Island, where the original Confederation talks began in 1864; and a letter from the president of Namibia, wishing Canada “good health and continued success in your noble endeavors.”
Yes, there were some pretty terrific public ceremonies across the country on July 1. They were the result of plenty of money spent, teams put together, and resources brought to bear. But my hunch is that all those efforts combined won’t put a bigger smile on Art Milnes’s face than the one that’s there now, thanks to his quiet, individual campaign to celebrate our sesquicentennial.
Well done, Art — and happy Canada 150.
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