Canada Day is what you make it


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Canada Day can’t be cancelled by The Forks North Portage Partnership.

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Canada Day can’t be cancelled by The Forks North Portage Partnership.

I want to be clear that I’m not commenting on whether it should or shouldn’t be cancelled; I’m merely stating a fact. In 1982, its existence was enshrined through an amendment to the Holidays Act, the same piece of legislation under which it was formerly called Dominion Day. (It’s worth noting that at the time, there was some rather loud opposition to that rather innocuous name change, so it’s not terribly surprising that there is some resistance to the more recent rethinking of how the day might be observed.)

While the existence of the holiday itself cannot be changed (i.e., it can’t be “cancelled”) without an act of Parliament, it seems some people aren’t aware that there are no absolutely no rules or guidelines suggesting what anyone should or should not do in observance.

JOHN WOODS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Canada Day revelers watch fireworks at The Forks from the Norwood Bridge.

Quite appropriately, every person is free to decide what they would like to do on July 1, just as they are on their own birthdays — some want a wild blowout party, while others choose to look back and reflect on their lives to that point. On Canada’s birthday, those who want to paint their faces with maple leaves and wear giant red foam “#1” fingers and blast loud music and blow things up and possibly drink to excess are absolutely free to do so.

Those who choose to use the day to contemplate Canada’s history and its place in the world (good and bad), and what they believe it means to be Canadian, are equally free to do that.

The Forks has simply decided to try something new this year, opting for what seems like a quieter approach, featuring “four small pop-up stages located throughout The Forks site with family-friendly, multicultural entertainment including hands-on activities, music, theatre, and dance” and providing a “place to meet and eat with each other, with picnic tables in the field and food trucks nearby” where people can listen to a “Manitoba Music-curated playlist and engage in various games” until 7 p.m.

For those who just want to enjoy The Forks without observing any special theme, the Forks website further notes that “if you want to just come and hang out on the patios or grab some food, all the businesses at The Forks are open as usual.”

I’m sure there are many people who would prefer this new approach to the louder, often rowdy and sometimes violent atmosphere of Canada Days at The Forks in previous years. Having some new and different options available for those who want to spend July 1 at The Forks doesn’t seem like a terribly radical idea — in fact, it sounds a whole lot like “freedom,” doesn’t it?

Rethinking how to “do” Canada Day is not cancelling it. Many people are proud of the neighbourhoods, communities, cities and countries in which they live, and that’s fine. At the same time, we can also recognize the facts of Canada’s inherently racist roots, its history of colonization, the resulting damage done to Indigenous peoples and the actions that must be taken to seek reconciliation and reparation.

These two things are not mutually exclusive; we are fully capable of feeling and managing both. Deciding to cancel fireworks does not cancel Canada Day, nor does it pose any threat to our nation, as some might dramatically claim. (I don’t know why anyone who believes Canada is that fragile would also be so obsessed with loudly celebrating its greatness, but I digress.)

The point is that Canada Day doesn’t have to be a loud, patriotic celebration. It still can be, for those who prefer that, but it can also be observed more quietly, and used as a time for education and reflection. Here in Winnipeg, and particularly at The Forks site, why wouldn’t Canada Day be seen as an opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with the people who first occupied that land?

Whatever your preference, however, one of the great things about Canada is that each of us is totally free to decide how we want to observe its birthday.

Frank Cormier is the head of the department of sociology and criminology at the University of Manitoba.

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