Residential school victims remembered across Greater Toronto Area during Canada Day

Click to play video: 'Marking Canada Day with reflection instead of celebration'
Marking Canada Day with reflection instead of celebration
WATCH ABOVE: Many Canada Day celebrations were halted this year after the discovery of unmarked graves near residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Rallies were held right across Ontario as many called for accountability and a more inclusive future. Morganne Campbell reports – Jul 1, 2021

The City of Toronto and many surrounding municipalities are reframing the way Canada Day is celebrated in the wake of the discovery of almost 1,000 unmarked graves at residential schools in the country.

Residents across Canada have expressed anger and grief following the discovery of an estimated 751 unmarked graves at a former Saskatchewan residential school site followed by 182 more on Wednesday at the site of a former school in Cranbrook, B.C. This came just weeks after the remains of 215 children were found at another former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.

In Toronto, hundreds participated in a walk organized by the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre Thursday morning. Participants began the walk at the Toronto Council Fire located near Dundas and Parliament streets before going to Yonge-Dundas Square for a round dance. Attendees then went to Nathan Phillips Square.

Read more: Canada Day arrives as country reels from residential school discoveries

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Participants wore orange shirts and held signs in honour of the residential school victims as chants of “every child matters” could be heard throughout the event.

Flags were lowered at half-mast and the Toronto sign was scheduled to be lit orange instead of the usual Canada Day colours of red and white in solidarity with Indigenous communities.

“This Canada Day we’re blessed with the ingenuity and the compassion and the values and the resources to be able to do more,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory from Nathan Phillips Square.

“The question is whether we choose to take advantage of that and do more.”

Click to play video: '‘Every Child Matters Walk’ honours former residential school students on Canada Day'
‘Every Child Matters Walk’ honours former residential school students on Canada Day

For the Banberkel family, Patrick and Scarlett said it was important to bring their children so they can learn where they come from.

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“So in the future, we can make better strides to be supportive of all communities, especially the Indigenous community. They’re our First Nation and they deserve equal rights and they deserve to be treated with respect and truth and reconciliation,” Scarlett told Global News.

Allison Ahumada echoed that sentiment as to why she brought her eight-year-old son Sebastian with her.

“As a parent I think we can all relate to the heartbreak that’s felt in this moment right now,” she told Global News.

Read more: ‘No pride’: Growing calls to cancel Canada Day amid residential schools discovery

“We cheer for Canada but we cheer for the best Canada possible that we’re not seeing right now and that’s one that takes accountability for its actions that’s transparent about its past and looks forward to a better future.

“The proudness comes from finding a new way forward that’s inclusive and respectful and transparent about who we are.”

Ahumada also said she believes Indigenous studies are missing from Canada’s school systems and that curriculums should updated to increase educational awareness.

In Mississauga, Mayor Bonnie Crombie said the City will be marking Canada Day “differently” and be changed from a celebration to a “time of reflection.” The Clock Tower, usually lit in red and white, will also be lit orange.

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Click to play video: 'Numerous GTA municipalities opt out of Canada Day festivities'
Numerous GTA municipalities opt out of Canada Day festivities

“I grieve for the thousands of children in the unmarked graves who never had a full life … for the parents whose children who never came home again and the residential school survivors who still live with so much pain. In Mississauga, we stand in solidarity with all Indigenous peoples impacted by these tragedies,” Crombie said in a video message on Thursday.

“The residential school system was one of the darkest chapters in Canada’s history and the recent discoveries remind us that we still have so much work to do as a country to truly reach reconciliation.

Brampton will be hosting a virtual event showcasing Indigenous artists and leaders, including Twin Flames and iskwe.

“As this year marks Canada’s 154th birthday, the City recognizes it is a time for reflection on the country’s past and how we can work together to build a stronger, more inclusive future. In Brampton, we are honoured to live, work and enjoy this land,” officials said in a news release.

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Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan said the municipality’s Canada Day programming will be one of “education, reflection and reconciliation.”

“This Canada Day we invite you to contemplate Canada,” he said in a video message, adding the flag of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nations will fly at city hall and all other flags will be at half-mast.

With confirmation that the Rotary Club of Guelph has cancelled its annual Canada Day celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Guelph urged its residents to use the day for awareness and reflection.

Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that Canada Day should be a time for Ontarians to reflect.

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“There is no question that Indigenous peoples have suffered injustices throughout Canada’s history,” he said in a statement.

“So today, as we each mark Canada Day, I ask that we all take time to remember these children, mourn their loss and acknowledge the impacts of the terrible legacy of residential schools that continue today. I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities to work toward a better future.”

With files from Saba Aziz


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