With Canada Day right around the corner, organizers of celebrations here in Manitoba and across the country say they’re trying to balance celebrations of national pride with reflections on the country’s fractious history with Indigenous people.
Last year, some events nationwide were cancelled or kept on a smaller scale after possible graves were located on the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. — a discovery that opened the floodgates for similar investigations at residential school sites across Canada.
In Winnipeg, thousands of orange-clad people took to the streets in honour of residential school survivors a year ago, as part of a demonstration that ended in the toppling of a large statue of Queen Victoria in front of the Manitoba Legislature.
That statue, along with a smaller one of Queen Elizabeth II, have not been reinstalled, and Manitoba leaders said last week the monument to Victoria was damaged beyond repair and will not be recast.
Organizers of the popular Canada Day celebration at the Forks have renamed the 2022 event “A New Day,” cancelled fireworks and promised activities that are to be reflective as well as celebratory.
Saskatoon, Vancouver and Halifax are among the other major Canadian centres taking a new approach to the national holiday with a focus on reconciliation.
Ethicist Neil McArthur told Global News the debate over how to properly recognize Canada Day is one that may be more resonant in a city like Winnipeg — with the country’s largest urban Indigenous population — than in other regions.
“I think it’s something that Manitoba is really at the forefront of,” he said.
“It’s something that’s happening in this part of the country and will probably be more prominent than other parts of the country, but there’s probably a lot of people who haven’t even heard of this debate.”
McArthur said he feels it’s important for Canada Day to be recognized in some way as a way to unite Canadians, in a time when we’re more divided than ever.
“It’s a source of unity for us at a time when we’re really divided, and that could be the real importance of Canada Day this year,” he said.
“I think the first goal should be making sure we celebrate in a way that brings us together rather than pushing us further apart.
“We do have to balance celebration with reconciliation and with respect… acknowledging the mistakes of the past and acknowledging the harms that are still ongoing is always going to be part of that.”
The holiday, he said, may have become something over the years that it was never intended to be — an excuse for Canadians to get drunk and obnoxious. The sober focus on reconciliation might provide an opportunity for people to acknowledge the party aspect should be dialed back… especially since it’s meant to be a family holiday.
“It’s a great time to talk to your kids about what it means to be Canadian, about what Canada’s history is but also what its future is.”
University of Manitoba history and Indigenous studies professor Sean Carleton told Global News that engaging with these types of difficult topics is part of being Canadian.
“I think everybody is free to celebrate and mark every day the way they want to — that’s one of the many things that Canadians take seriously,” he said.
“What’s happening, though, is that overt celebration that ‘Canada is the best’ — that feeling is not shared by many of our treaty partners… many that still are in mourning about the work that is ongoing and the revelations that are still being made.
“(Canada Day) is an opportunity to perhaps.. find different ways to connect and establish meaninfgul relationships with people on that day.”
— with files from The Canadian Press