“All the rocket ships are climbin’ through the sky” Leonard Cohen, Marshall McLuhan, Gratien Gélina, & Canada’s Anik Satellite

Anik Satellite Launch


The Leonard Cohen – Gratien Gélinas Photo Conundrum

This post began as an attempt to figure out a puzzle set forth in A Belated Happy Birthday to Leonard Cohen by Pat Donnelly (Gazette: Sept 23, 2014); the pertinent excerpt follows:

It’s an old photo [the referenced photo can be viewed at the Vancouver Sun site] which I accidentally unearthed in the Montreal Gazette archives while looking for files on actress Huguette Oligny who died on May 9, 2013… which shows Leonard Cohen in conversation with Quebec actor/playwright Gratien Gélinas, (Oligny’s husband.) This image has intrigued me ever since I found it. It was filed as a photo unattached to a story or cutline. The only information to be gleaned from it was the date (1969) and the fact that is was published in the now-defunct Montreal Star. If anyone has any idea what the occasion was that brought these two Canadian cultural icons together on that day in 1969, please share with the rest of us.

A bit of cyber-sleuthing about that Leonard Cohen-Gratien Gélina photo led to this excerpt from Present at the Creation: The Telecommission Studies and the Intellectual Origins of the Right to Communicate in Canada (1969-71) by AI Dakroury:

Now, it seems likely to the point of certainty that “the occasion… that brought these two Canadian cultural icons together on that day in 1969” was a discussion between two judges of a contest about the naming of a satellite, thus solving the photo mystery. But, there is more that is of interest.

The Anik Satellite

Inspection of an Anik A in the early 1970s

To recap, the Canadian Department of Communications ran a contest to name the country’s first domestic communications satellite, and the three judges for that contest were Leonard Norman Cohen (poet, musician, and writer from Montreal), Gratien Gélinas (actor, author, director, playwright, producer and writer from Montreal), and Herbert Marshall McLuhan (theorist, philosopher, guru of mass communications and director of the Center for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto).

The winning entry was submitted by Julie-France Czapla:

Julie-France [Czapla] is the Canadian who found the name of our first communications satellite. She suggested “Anik” and “Anik” which means [little] brother in [Inuktitut] was retained. Julie-France (a charming name) will receive a trip at the expense of the government to Cape Kennedy, where she will attend the launch of the satellite. The 24-year-old is a bookkeeper at the Miracle Mart of the Centre commercial de Dollard-des-Ormeaux. She speaks three languages ​​but does not understand [Inuktitut] at all.1

More details follow:

Leonard Cohen indicated that the jury also thought of choosing the Inuktitut word anaq. It quickly changed its mind. You see, anaq means… excrement / shit in Inuktitut.


It was in November 1969 that the Minister of Communications released the name of said satellite, at a press conference, in Ottawa, Ontario, a few days before Czapla went there to meet him. Eric William Kierans could not help but do a bit of politics at the press conference, stressing how anik / little brother was an appropriate term, given the circumstances.

…The suggested names would have to work in both French and English. Names in Indigenous languages ​​were also welcome. In either case, the suggested names had to be distinctively Canadian.

…If I may be permitted a brief anecdote regarding the aforementioned press conference of November 1969, one of the 3 members of the jury who examined the suggested names for the first Canadian domestic communications satellite, author composer interpreter, musician, painter, poet and writer Leonard Norman Cohen, of Montréal, indicated, with a slight smile, that said jury also thought of choosing the Inuktitut word anak or, more precisely, anaq. It quickly changed its mind. You see, anaq means… excrement / shit in Inuktitut.2


It’s worth noting that Peter Gzowski, known colloquially as “Mr. Canada” or “Captain Canada,” wanted to name the satellite “Leonard Cohen.”3


The choice of Anik reflected a desire felt by many Canadians to pay homage to one of Canada’s native peoples.4


Leonard Cohen

Anik A1 and its sibling satellites, Anik A2 and A3, were launched from Cape Canaveral on a Thor Delta rocket in November 1972, April 1973 and May 1975. With these satellites, Canada became the first country in the world to have a domestic communications satellite system.5

Beam Me Up, Leonard

Years later, Leonard Cohen – or at least his music – had another outer space experience.

Canadian Astronaut Takes Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah Into Space (2012)

Excerpts from Chris Hadfield’s top list of must-hear songs while living and working aboard the ISS (Canadian Space Agency website: Dec 12, 2012 – Update: No longer online) follow:

On December 19, 2012, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield launched aboard a Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). On March 2013, he became the first Canadian Commander of the ISS.

Chris Hadfield has put a lot of music on International Space Station (ISS) already, directly from his iPad ─ thousands of songs. Here are his favourites and what he has to say about them:

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen: Poetry emotion, a classic that so many people have recorded, one that our band has loved and sung with harmonies and soaring leads for years. I played it in Star City, Russia, inside the new wooden Orthodox cathedral while it was under construction, with guitar and flute accompaniment.

Of course, some of us weren’t surprised.

See The Leonard Cohen Intergalactic Tour


Credit Due Department: Chris Hadfield photo by NASA/Robert Markowitz – Public Domain via Wikipedia


I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This core content of this entry was originally posted Sept 23, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric


  1. La Patrie of Montreal, Quebec: Nov 23, 1969 []
  2. From A satellite called Trudeau, Satty Chatty, Rendez-vous, or… Anik by Rénald Fortier Ingenium (Ingenium Channel: Nov 25, 2019) []
  3. Peter Gzowski: A Biography by R.B. Fleming (Dundurn, Aug 27, 2010) []
  4. The Canadian Space Program: From Black Brant to the International Space Station by Andrew B. Godefroy (Springer, May 3, 2017 []
  5. From A satellite called Trudeau, Satty Chatty, Rendez-vous, or… Anik by Rénald Fortier Ingenium (Ingenium Channel: Nov 25, 2019) []

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