Canada Day good time for change
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This is apparently what happens when you cancel fireworks on Canada Day.
The tri-lateral organization that oversees the land and facilities at The Forks has drawn criticism for “reimagining” its July 1 programming this year to include a new focus on Indigenous people and reconciliation.
There will still be a lot of content familiar to fans of the nation’s birthday: Folklorama-inspired multi-cultural events and demonstration, lots of child-friendly activities, and a Manitoba African Cup of Nations soccer tournament. And, for the first time, Canada Day at The Forks will feature prominently Indigenous healing ceremonies, powwow dancers and drummers.
However, what “New Day at The Forks” won’t have is fireworks, a Canada Day staple.
That omission seems to have sent more than a few Winnipeggers off the deep end. Within a day of announcing the new format, naysayers starting scurrying about, howling about the injustice of Canada Day without fireworks.
Some of the fuss came from most unexpected sources.
Former federal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy said the changes in format show how The Forks has become too focused on “minority grievances,” while ignoring the broader benefits of a more traditional celebration.
It’s hard to know exactly why Axworthy was so upset. Take a long, hard look at the Forks Canada Day lineup and you will see a whole bunch of stuff that is consistent with the events in years past, with two notable differences: a much greater emphasis on Indigenous reconciliation, and no fireworks.
Could the failure to ignite hundreds of incendiary devices at the end of the evening really prompt Axworthy to suggest that Indigenous reconciliation — the only new content this year — is a “minority” grievance? Whether or not he meant to say that, his personal brand will never be quite the same.
What Winnipeg mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk said, however, seemed very much in keeping with the personal and political brand she established four years ago in the 2018 campaign where she finished second to Mayor Brian Bowman.
On Twitter, Motkaluk said she would be “proudly celebrating Canada’s birthday because I love my country unconditionally. I guess I can’t do that at The Forks because I’ve recently learned that it’s cancelled. P.S. — I’m currently accepting invitations to actual Canada Day parties.”
Personally, I love it when white, privileged Canadians take the time to express their unconditional love of a country that has not demonstrated unconditional love for all its non-white citizens. I’m less enamoured with her suggestion that if you do have conditions, you are somehow less than truly Canadian. Shame.
As for the reference to “actual Canada Day parties,” anyone who wants to be mayor of Winnipeg should know that anyone who takes time July 1 to celebrate the fact they live in this country, no matter how and where they do it, is Canadian and their event is an “actual” Canada Day party.
Oddly, in the rush to categorize Canada Day parties, Motkaluk seems to have ignored the fact fewer and fewer groups or facilities in the city are hosting July 1 events.
In 2018, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy cancelled its fireworks because new developments (primarily the still-under-construction Diversity Gardens) had taken over the area from which they were launched. Canada Day at Assiniboine Park has since become less like a mass celebration and more like a community club carnival.
The Osborne Village street party was also a traditional gathering place July 1. But this year, the Osborne Village Business Improvement Zone cancelled the event because it was too loud, too unruly and, to some, of little value to the surrounding businesses.
With expectations The Forks would remain the largest, traditional Canada Day celebrations, the decision to eliminate fireworks undoubtedly triggered a disproportionate amount of concern. But in rushing to condemn that omission, the naysayers are sending an awful message to Indigenous people.
The Forks is hosting what is undoubtedly one of the most unique and most poignant Canada Day events in this country, at one of the most unique locations, at a critical moment in the history of the country.
The past several years have been a painful journey of discovery for many Indigenous people. From the release of the Truth and Reconciliation commission report, to the discovery of hundreds of unmarked gravesites at former residential schools across Canada, there has been a lot of pain and a lot of reminders about what this country did to destroy Indigenous culture.
The Forks’ New Day comes one year after Canada Day protests in downtown Winnipeg, which resulted in acts of vandalism that drew national attention. No one has to approve of the vandalism to acknowledge the protesters, the majority of which were peaceful, were sending a strong message to non-Indigenous Canadians: until true reconciliation occurs, Canada Day is not for us.
Thankfully, the Forks got that message.
The Forks issued a statement late on Friday standing behind its plans for Canada Day with a promise that the decision to cancel the fireworks will be “reviewed for 2023.” That’s a smart thing to do.
As for this year, the bottom line is that Canada Day at the Forks will be different than it has been in the past. And that’s a good thing.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.
Updated on Friday, June 24, 2022 5:52 PM CDT: Update from city desk