Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hearts aglow for our country

Living Flag event draws eager crowd despite chilly weather

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Winnipeggers participate in the 2014 living flag at The Forks.

DAN HARPER / DOWNTOWN WINNIPEG BIZ Enlarge Image

Winnipeggers participate in the 2014 living flag at The Forks.

The remnants of a storm that flooded parts of Manitoba and made Winnipeg wet and windy during the weekend kept many people inside on Canada Day.

Though the city had no shortage of things to do -- with festivals at The Forks, Osborne Street, Assiniboine Park, St. Boniface and more -- the events weren't exactly teeming with people on a cool, soggy Tuesday afternoon.

The annual Living Flag event at The Forks was the exception.

The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ drew 2,500 enthusiastic participants, all wearing red and white, snuggling up to form Canada's biggest human flag.

"People from all walks of life came downtown, stood shoulder to shoulder, in red and white, to celebrate our love for our country and to appreciate the values that bind us together as a nation," said Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, in a release.

Each year, Winnipeg has defended its title as having the largest living flag, but it remains to be seen whether the city beats the likes of Victoria, Calgary, Ottawa and even Brandon this time around.

In previous years, Winnipeggers gathered for the event by the Manitoba legislature -- and it became a very popular aerial picture (even making it onto a Canadian stamp in 2013 when the event drew more than 3,500 people). But this year, the venue was shifted closer to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, said Downtown BIZ events and sponsorship manager Scott Stewart.

"The legislature has been a great site. It's a gorgeous site, but after three years we felt like we had that photo," Stewart said.

Several newcomers to Canada helped make up the living flag. Many celebrated Canada Day for the first time, and took it as a chance to do something they considered truly Canadian.

Gladelee Salarzon moved with her family to Canada from the Philippines on June 10. She said she wanted to show her children how Canada celebrates its special day.

"We want the kids to experience the holiday. It's important for them to know how Canada celebrates," Salarzon said.

Anne-Florence L'âcolier, from France, described her experience of Canada so far: "Everything is bigger, including people's hearts.

"I think it's important. If I want to be a part of Canada, I have to be a part of this," she said.

Some people became Canadians at a citizenship ceremony that happens every year at Assiniboine Park.

For others, it was the first stop of a long day out with family. Pauline Black, with her four children and husband, said she was hoping for fireworks in the evening, but not expecting much because of the cool weather. The flag is a chance to make some memories more exciting than a normal day out would give, she said.

"In a few years, we can show (the children) a picture of it, and they'll go, 'Oh yeah, remember when,' " Black said.

While people trudged through mud and braved rain and a biting wind, organizers on megaphones kept reminding them that this was the coldest, wettest and toughest human flag Canada had ever seen.

Some eyes were moist for reasons other than the rain. Mandy Barrott said some people shed tears, overwhelmed by emotion.

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2014 B4

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