If things had gone Richard Rohmer’s way in the 1960s, the Canada of 2016 could have been home to as many as 70 million people. Canada would have had a GDP rivalling that of the United Kingdom and new highways, new railways and new metropolises, all built in the sparsely populated boreal forest region that Rohmer came to call “Mid-Canada.” He would even help to spawn an entirely new type of citizen: The hearty, winter-loving “Mid-Canadian.”
Rohmer — a lawyer and decorated RCAF Wing Commander — was leading a charge to build a “second Canada” on top of the old one. “It was a very simple concept; the country needed long range policies and plans for the future orderly development of this vast land that we have,” said Rohmer, 92, speaking by phone from his home in Collingwood, Ont. This wasn’t just some dashed-off 60s-era flight of fancy, either.
In its heyday, Rohmer’s Mid-Canada plan attracted the attention of a who’s who of powerful Canadians: Captains of industry, bank CEOs, labour leaders, scientists and Aboriginal leaders and the patronage of former Prime Minister Lester Pearson and the Governor General.
“Canada’s future is inseparably linked with the development of Mid-Canada,” read a preliminary report. More zealous boosters even claimed that a Canada without the moxie to develop its boreal forest might as well meekly surrender to U.S. annexation.
Field surveys were conducted all across the Canadian North. Fact-finding trips were organized to Siberia. A 1969 Mid-Canada Development Conference was convened in Thunder Bay, with membership costing the modern-day equivalent of $26,000.
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