British Journal of Canadian Studies

The delightful revolution: Canada's medical expedition to Easter Island, 1964-65

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2014), 27, (2), 181–194.

Abstract

Planned as a study of the isolated inhabitants of the mysterious Easter Island, the 1964 Canadian-led Medical Expedition to Easter Island (METEI) was an example of military and civilian interests uniting to promulgate Canadian values in a global context. Conceived and led by McGill University's Dr Stanley Skoryna, the four-month Expedition was sponsored by the World Health Organization and the Medical Research Council of Canada. Skoryna convinced the Canadian Navy to lend its ship, the HMCS Cape Scott, to the enterprise. Thus on 16 November, the Cape Scott sailed out of Halifax harbour with officers, sailors, physicians, botanists, sociologists, anthropologists and translators aboard. While the scientific team analysed the people, flora and fauna of Easter Island, the crew of the HMCS Cape Scott continued on a goodwill tour of Chile, engaging in soft diplomacy with a country whose newly elected government was implementing comprehensive democratic, social and economic reforms. Unknown to the Canadians, Easter Islanders were increasingly discontented with their colonial status in relation to Chile. Before long the earnest scientists in the expedition were embroiled in a revolution that saw the hijacking of the island's only bulldozer, the fugitive rebel leader hiding within the expedition's compound and gunshots fired on a darkened night. Following the ‘Delightful Revolution’, as it was labelled by Life Magazine, the Easter Islanders had achieved important concessions from the Chilean government and the expedition was able to continue its work. The incident demonstrates how both civilian and military understandings of Canada's role on the international stage evolved with global postcolonial trends.

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Tector, Amy