Those of us who celebrated our national July 1 holiday before 1983 will likely recall Dominion Day. It marked the day in 1867 when Canada became a Dominion within the British Commonwealth. As someone who came of age during this Dominion Day era, I have to admit to having no vivid recollection of it as a particularly exciting day. It was, after all, already part of the summer holidays and had little impact on my own day-to-day activities. The more exciting celebration in my youth had always been Victoria Day with its extravagant fireworks displays and a genuine break from the school routine.
In the years since the 1982 Act of Parliament that changed the name of the holiday, there has been a tremendous sea change as Dominion Day became Canada Day, aligned with the repatriation of Canada's Constitution, and the celebration began to take on a new tenor.
Admittedly, much of this change is not related simply to the Canada Act, but likely more to the shedding of Canada's colonial roots and ties to Britain and the Commonwealth. The Canada of 2014 is a very different nation in makeup than the Canada of July 1982 -- the one that would have been celebrating the last Dominion Day. Canada in 2014 is a far more diverse and youthful nation, and Canada Day has morphed into an event that feels more forward-looking rather than one commemorating our not-entirely-positive colonial past.
The nature of the day itself has changed, and it did so almost immediately with the 1983 celebration. That year, perhaps, marked the ending of the initial rise of youth consciousness in Canada, and the coming of age of a young nation. The Trudeaumania of the late 1960s, Expo in 1967, the 1972 Hockey Summit Series with the former USSR and the Montreal Olympics of 1976 were among the events that suggested Canada was a nation on the rise. Where Dominion Day had relied on old standbys such as the Mounties' Trooping of the Colour on Parliament Hill, the inauguration of Canada Day revitalized the holiday. Increasingly it is one that has become more youthful in nature. While some of the iconography and stereotypes have been retained, the nature of the entertainment and the excitement of the day have shifted toward a younger demographic.
A large part of this may be down to the influence of American culture, particularly Independence Day celebrations on the 4th of July. Inevitably, American popular culture floods over our border via television shows, advertising, films, music, and of course, the Internet. It is near-impossible to escape the imagery of the American holiday with its patriotism, fireworks and entertainment extravaganzas. The Guess Who may have sung about the "American Woman" and her "war machines," but it is perhaps the culture machine that has been the colonizer.
The positive thing is this does seem to have influenced Canadian expectations of how we should celebrate our own national holiday. Our own vibrant music industry offers up a range of talented young bands and singers who are then able to grace stages from coast to coast. Whether it is the indie-rock stylings of Federal Lights, or the alt-country of Jess Reimer or Del Barber at Canada Day at The Forks, or Serena Ryder, Marianas Trench and Whitehorse on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada Day celebrations in 2014 offer up a current, youthful edge alongside the icons of the nation, the family events and the fireworks.
A lot of this may be due to our own changing conceptions of youth. The young people who were part of the country's 1960s and '70s blossoming on the world stage are now the older generation. Youth culture is no longer simply the purview of youth. The 'kids' who once rocked out to the Guess Who and their ilk are now parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents.
In an era in which popular music's vast back catalogue is readily available to all in digital form, the lines between generations have become increasingly blurred. It would not be at all unexpected for today's youth to 'shuffle' between A Tribe Called Red and Neil Young despite the nearly 40 years between their heydays. It would be hard to imagine the equivalent youth of the 1970s jumping from Young to an act such as Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians.
Popular music trends may come and go, but undoubtedly the acts that excite young crowds still remind today's older generations of the joys of their own youth. With over 30 years of upbeat Canada Day celebrations behind us, there are plenty of people in the crowd who can recall their own past pleasures while enjoying the sounds of contemporary artists. Furthermore, youth culture has often been appropriated and exploited for its dynamism, energy and forward gaze. Advertisers extol the virtues of youth so frequently. In this sense, the youthful dimension of Canada Day feels appropriate. It is exciting to recognize that as a nation we have moved from a relatively muted celebration of our sometimes-dour colonial past into celebrating Canada as the diverse, youthful, vibrant nation it is. Youth are often seen as the hope of our future, so it is most fitting we celebrate Canada Day in a youthful manner as a day of hope for our nation.
Scott Henderson is an associate professor in the department of communication, popular culture and film at Brock University.