Canada Day looks a little different this year for Winnipeggers

People gather at the Oodena Circle at The Forks in Winnipeg, where more than 300 pairs of shoes were collected and placed to remember those who died in a Kamloops Residential School. Matt Purchase/Global News

Canada Day celebrations will be looking a little different this year in Winnipeg, and not only because many Manitobans are calling for a subdued event in light of recent discoveries at former residential school sites across the country.

Although the province’s vaccination numbers continue to grow and new COVID-19 cases are on the decline, the pandemic means many local celebrations will take place from a safe distance once again on Thursday.

The Forks, typically a popular gathering spot for families to take in a fireworks show and more every July 1, is conducting its celebration of the nation’s birthday virtually.

“Last year was an entirely virtual (event),” Forks strategic initiative VP Clare MacKay told Global News. “We were open, but there was no programming on the site.

“Several months ago, looking at what the numbers were and what the restrictions were in terms of gathering, we decided we were going to go through a virtual show entirely (this year) as well.”

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The Forks event will be broadcast free of charge on Facebook and YouTube throughout the day.

MacKay said this year’s wider conversation around Canada’s relationship with Indigenous People will be an important aspect of The Forks’ itinerary Thursday.

“We really do love being able to showcase the rich and diverse talent that is found in our province, and we really always try to acknowledge the history of our site and its origins. But this year has been different,” she said.

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“We have consulted with Dr. Niigaan Sinclair, who is our Indigenous curator, as well as the elders and the people who are participating in our show.”

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At the beginning of The Forks’ Canada Day show, Sinclair will be talking about acknowledging the hard truth about residential schools and how Canada can move forward as a nation.

“It did change how we were approaching it, even our virtual show,” said MacKay. “And I don’t know what it will mean for next year — I don’t know how the conversation will change next year, but it’s definitely something that we’re open to.

“We are a space for Indigenous People — we’re a space for everybody. But at this moment, it’s really important for us to acknowledge our history and our roots and to strive to do the right thing.”

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Although The Forks site will remain open — according to current provincial pandemic restrictions — none of the Canada Day programming will be happening live on-site, as the performances have been pre-recorded.

Another popular Canada Day destination, the Manitoba Museum — which typically features historical programming on the national holiday — has decided to remain closed in recognition of the victims and survivors of the residential school system.

Museum CEO Dorota Blumczyńska said in a statement Wednesday that all Canadians have a responsibility to speak out against injustice.

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“Today, the story of Canada crumbles under the weight of the truth it has deliberately hidden. News of hundreds of Indigenous children perishing in the name of Canada’s policy of assimilation is finally reaching the awareness of many non-Indigenous Canadians, some of whom have denied the truth, ignored it, or remained silent,” she said. “Silence is never an option.

“In support of, and in solidarity with, Indigenous communities, the Manitoba Museum is not celebrating Canada Day.

“This isn’t a decision I have taken lightly, but is a call to acknowledging we must all do better; as individuals, as a society, and as a country. The only way to justice is through it,” Blumczyńska said.

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