No, Canada Day is not ‘cancelled’

The Forks, where the Red and Assiniboine rivers join in the heart of our city, has been a meeting place for thousands of years.

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The Forks, where the Red and Assiniboine rivers join in the heart of our city, has been a meeting place for thousands of years.

It makes sense, then, that this meeting place has been the site of Winnipeg’s largest Canada Day celebrations in years past. But it also makes sense that this meeting place would want to focus on a renewed commitment to inclusivity and community.

The July 1 festivities at the Forks will look a little different this year, which has upset some folks — including some mayoral candidates. The Forks is offering up what it billed as “A New Day,” developed in Indigenous-led community consultation, featuring soccer and basketball tournaments, powwow dancers, drummers, craft stations, theatre performances and live music by local artists, with dedicated spaces for ceremony and healing.

There will be no fireworks, and the word “Canada” was conspicuously absent from the event’s title.

After days of polarized public reaction, The Forks’ board of directors issued a statement late Friday stating it “never intended to minimize or eliminate the idea of Canada Day but use it as an opportunity to reimagine how we recognize and celebrate the day together.”

What The Forks is trying out this year feels like a logical extension to last year’s protests following the discovery of what is believed to be hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites all over the country. Orange ribbons were affixed to fences; colonial figureheads were toppled from their plinths. Canada Day 2021 was a muted affair, eschewing flag-waving patriotism and focusing instead on reflection and reckoning.

Many Canada Day events across the country were cancelled. This year, however, a vocal contingent feels it is time to go back to Canada Day as usual.

First, some perspective: the absence of one fireworks display at a single retooled event does not mean Canada Day, itself, is cancelled. If you require a fireworks display to celebrate the nation, there are other options for that. If you want to host a backyard barbecue or dock party, you are free to do so.

But if this country is serious about its commitment to reconciliation, there needs to be room for multiple ways to celebrate, commemorate or contemplate Canada Day, which means the look and feel of certain Canada Day celebrations — especially at meeting places with deep significance to Indigenous people — will change.

It is an act of reconciliation to cede space in a national statutory holiday that can be viewed as a paean to colonialism.

Canada Day could be a chance to dig deeper than the one-dimensional, Molson Canadian definition of what it means to be a Canadian, a chance to set aside the maple syrup-soaked stereotypes and engage in real conversations about how — and on whose backs — this country was built.

There are many things that make this country great, and that make this country appealing to the thousands of newcomers who make Canada their home every year. But there are also many wounds from which this country still needs to heal, and for which it must take responsibility.

Loving your country isn’t about blind patriotism or some warped, white nationalist-flavoured jingoism, the likes of which was on display during the so-called “freedom convoy” occupations. It’s about wanting your country to be better, for everyone, so all can benefit from its best features.

If people are unwilling to re-imagine one day, one might be inclined to question their ability to reimagine a whole country. The work, as ever, continues. But those who go to The Forks on July 1 might be surprised to find it still feels like a celebration.


Updated on Monday, June 27, 2022 7:10 AM CDT: Adds tile photo, reformats article

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