TORONTO – For some people in Toronto the significance of Simcoe Day is hollow.
“I don’t know anything about it but I have the day off so I’m pumped,” says Ashley, a Toronto resident who was grabbing a coffee in the Bloor West Village area Thursday.
The first Monday of August is a civic holiday across Canada that goes by various names. In Manitoba it’s simply referred to as Civic Holiday.
Premier Greg Selinger is looking to inject some meaning and character into the generic reference by having the day renamed “Terry Fox Day” in honour of the Manitoba-born athlete who embarked on his Marathon of Hope in 1980.
Manitoba politicians will present a bill to rename the holiday in the fall that is expected to pass with little opposition.
Selinger hopes to see the change spread across Canada, and the idea is being backed by high-profile supporters like Rick Hanson.
“I think it would be fantastic for the entire country to step up and embrace Terry’s day and really make it go beyond and bigger than just the cause for cancer,” he said.
There’s broad support for renaming Simcoe day in Toronto but it may be fueled by widespread ignorance of what the civic holiday is all about,
“I have a few people in the family who have cancer so why not support it, and make that change,” says Jet, a young man with a personal connection to the horrible disease.
But once people learn about the man who is being honoured by Simcoe Day, their sentiments often shift.
John Graves Simcoe was Upper Canada’s first lieutenant governor. He played a key role in abolishing slavery in Canada by introducing legislation preventing the purchase of new slaves from the United States of America.
Simcoe lived during the 18th century and helped found the city of Toronto, which was known at the time as the town of York.
“It was a very important start, you can’t support a whole slave capital if you don’t have more slaves coming in, so it was a really big step,” says Rosemary Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society.
At the time, several members of the legislative assembly owned slaves of their own and resisted the change.
“Now I feel we should keep it [as is]. I feel so bad that I didn’t know that,” says Ashley.
But she can be forgiven because the vast majority of people we approached knew little of the civic holiday and the man it was meant to honour.
“I honestly think that when we get a holiday we think: ‘yeah, holiday’ and we don’t question it,” noted Trish, a young teacher who also admitted not knowing who John Graves Simcoe was.
“Being a teacher we get to do so many activities around Terry Fox in September. For me, it really feels like he’s already pretty well honoured at that time.”
“We pride ourselves on our knowledge of history but our knowledge of history is of that which took place ten years ago, or that which took place since we were born,” added Sadlier.
“The reality is you have to go deeper, you have to go further; and Canada has a really rich history.”