As the depths of the Great Depression were starting to wane into the late 1930s, members of the Sherbrooke Chamber of Commerce put their weight behind the idea of throwing a spectacular event to celebrate Sherbrooke’s centenary in 1937, which would serve to boost the local economy and morale during those trying times.  Only, it was later realized that the year 1837 bears no real historical significance and Sherbrooke’s 1937 celebrations were actually for a fake centenary.

It should be noted that the prominent political and business figures in Sherbrooke believed that 1837 was a date of real significance, being the year of Sherbrooke’s incorporation and the year the City’s first newspaper began.  As the details of history have unraveled over the decades since then, however, it was noted that Sherbrooke was not actually incorporated at that time (that would not happen until 1852) but that 1837 was the first time “Town of Sherbrooke” was used.  With more unraveling, it was found that even the first usage of the “Town of Sherbrooke” didn’t occur until 1839, and that the Sherbrooke Gazette was preceded by the St. Francis Courier and Sherbrooke Gazette, which began publication in 1831.

Real or fake, there is no question that Sherbrooke put together an impressive event for the month-long centennial celebrations, which were then rounded off with the Sherbrooke Fair.  From the beginning, the organizers focused on Sherbrooke’s industrial and technological importance in the region, with much of the publicity referring to the “Queen City of the Eastern Townships” and “Electric City.”  These were clear themes throughout the publicity and programming of the celebration. In particular, Sherbrooke’s electrical prowess was highlighted with light decorations and displays throughout the streets.  All of the bridges and the main thoroughfares – King and Wellington Streets – were decorated with thousands of lights, and the programme included nighttime dances organized in the streets illuminated with multicoloured lights and live music amplified through speakers.

The other key theme of the events was the city’s history over the century.  This was highlighted in various ways, beginning with opening ceremonies officiated by Sherbrooke’s Mayor Emile Rioux accompanied by actors portraying Gilbert Hyatt, one of the earliest settlers, and an “Indian Chief,” all surrounded by heralds, criers, a bugler, and a drummer.  The historical theme continued throughout, including a historical pageant presented three times per week, a historical ball with participants in costumes from different periods, and a weekend where the Grand Trunk Railway’s oldest engine from the era when railway service first came to Sherbrooke in 1853 and the newest engine available – Canadian National’s 6000 – were on display.  The historical pageant, itself, was an impressive production, which included 1,500 costumed performers, 270 dancers, and two choirs performing at the new amphitheater specially built for the centenary on the Sherbrooke fairgrounds.

The centenary events also hosted a number of dignitaries, including Premier Maurice Duplessis, Senator John Nichol, and Quebec’s Lieutenant Govenor Esioff-Léon Patenaude, and guests of historical significance, such as the son and daughter of Alexander T. Galt.  Premier Duplessis’ visit included a radio broadcasted address where he praised Sherbrooke for its successes, remarking that “it has been rightfully said that Sherbrooke is the Queen City of the Eastern Townships – and what a graceful and charming Queen she is.” His observations also concluded that the harmony and “entente cordiale” between English and French in Sherbrooke should be an example to the rest of the province and the country.

It’s been more than eight decades since Sherbrooke’s Centenary but the event continues to live on in the collective memory through photographs and memorabilia that still surface regularly, making it an event with lasting importance, even if it was for a fake anniversary!