Canada Day 2021 a conundrum

Canada Day 2021 presents many Canadians with a decision to make, including this writer.

Will they celebrate the day with family picnics and get togethers with friends and families and evening fireworks as is tradition, or will they choose to forego this year’s planned festivities in light of the tragic discoveries of unmarked Indigenous graves in the weeks leading up to the holiday? Or somewhere in between?

While a longtime Canadian nationalist (going back to the 1960s when it meant being virulently anti-American) and Canadian History teacher, I have never really gone in for the fervent one-day flag waving, almost American style, patriotism many people seem to relish. And I have nothing but disgust for the drunken louts with Canadian flags painted on their faces who insist on singing Oh Canada at the top of their lungs, off key and devoid of the correct words.

For me, Canada Day (or as it used to be called, Dominion Day) has always been about giving thanks for being a citizen of what I thought was a shining example of a tolerant, multicultural diverse nation — an exemplar for the rest of the world, if you will.

I regularly attended New Citizenship Swearing In Ceremonies in my community so I could witness immigrants from other countries embracing Canada as their own. And I was known to sing Oh Canada proudly at public events. And, yes, I know the correct words.

That was then; this is now.

Since the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. and now the discovery of what are believed to be 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school in Saskatchewan, like many other Canadians, I have been doing a lot of soul-searching about this year’s Canada Day.

Writer Shari Graydon summed up her feelings succinctly in an Opinion piece in The Toronto Star this week:

“I can no longer celebrate Canada Day, and I’m at a loss as to why anyone else should, either. The holiday has become for me a reminder of the unspeakable wrongs my ancestors visited upon those who inhabited this land for many centuries before white settlers arrived. Wrongs that many governments have continued in my lifetime.”

“Every cent earmarked for Canada Day celebrations — the concerts, the fireworks, the speechmaking — should be multiplied by a thousand and invested instead in the reconciliation efforts repeatedly called for not just by Indigenous peoples but by government reports documenting the indefensible acts carried out in our names.

No doubt it would still be a drop in the bucket relative to what’s required, but at least it would remind us every year that we cannot in all conscience, celebrate ‘Canada’ until our actions live up to our commitments to human rights,” she continues.

[You can access the entire article here

Indeed, some communities like all the cities in New Brunswick and Belleville, Ontario have cancelled their planned Canada Day activities altogether in recognition and respect for the plight of the nation’s Indigenous Peoples, calling instead for a day of reconciliation for the relationship between Canada’s Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Peoples. Some communities plan on flying the Indigenous flag alongside the Maple Leaf.

(Note: At the time of writing, the City of London had not issued an official statement regarding its intentions for the day.)

No matter how communities and individuals end up dealing with Canada Day this year, one thing is certain.

It will not be celebrated with the apparent past willful ignorance of the plight of the nation’s Indigenous Peoples and the horrific legacy of the Residential Schools which existed throughout Canada from the 1870s to the 1990s.

No amount of flag waving will ever erase that legacy.

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