By Noushin Ziafati/CTVNews.ca Writer
Toronto, Ontario (CTV Network) — The planning of Canada Day festivities in a few major Canadian cities has sparked controversy — and one professor says it’s not surprising given the country’s complicated history.
Matthew Hayday, a professor and chair in the department of history at the University of Guelph, said the lesson from history around July 1 is that the day is contentious.
“Canada Day has always been controversial,” Hayday told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
“And it’s because Canada has a fractious history. It’s a country that is the product of a variety of different compromises and different types of groups that live together. It’s not surprising that the day celebrating the country is also going to be full of debate and controversy and some compromise as well.”
CITIES, PORT AUTHORITY PLAN CANADA DAY EVENTS In recent days, the City of Calgary and City of Toronto said they would not be going ahead with certain Canada Day festivities.
The City of Calgary initially said it would be replacing its fireworks celebration with a pyrotechnic show featuring a display of lights and sounds launched from the main stage at Fort Calgary.
Among other things, the city cited reconciliation efforts, noise complaints, disruption to wildlife and the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Immigration Act, which banned the entry of Chinese immigrants into Canada for 24 years, as reasons for not setting off fireworks on Canada Day.
The City of Toronto, on the other hand, said it was exploring Nathan Phillips Square, which it activated once before for Canada Day in 2017 for Canada 150 celebrations, as a potential venue to “enhance” its planned Canada Day programming, but decided not to proceed with hosting festivities at the square outside of city hall due to “resource constraints.”
Days later, after receiving backlash and an online petition that called on Calgary to bring back its fireworks celebration and called the cancellation of fireworks “virtue signalling,” both cities reversed course.
In a news release Thursday, the City of Calgary said it would host a fireworks display after all, while remaining “committed to considering cultural sensitivities.” And the City of Toronto said it would continue to work with its partners to deliver Canada Day celebrations across Toronto, including at Nathan Phillips Square and the annual fireworks celebration at Ashbridges Bay.
“While specific details on July 1 are being finalized, the City is actively planning the Na-Me-Res Pow & Wow and Indigenous Arts Festival on June 17-18 as part of Indigenous Peoples Month,” the City of Toronto said in a written statement.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority said it decided in 2022 that it would permanently discontinue its evening fireworks display for July 1 at Canada Place “primarily due to rising costs.”
In an emailed statement, the port authority said it also decided to take its July 1 event in a “new direction, following national conversations about how to best celebrate Canada Day in light of the tragic findings at residential schools.” To date, more than 1,800 confirmed or suspected unmarked graves have been identified at former residential school sites across the country.
“The event was re-named Canada Together and is planned collaboratively with representatives from the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations under the theme of ‘weaving together the fabric of a nation.’ It was a huge success in 2022, attracting an estimated 150,000 people,” the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority told CTVNews.ca.
“We look forward to welcoming everyone back in 2023 under the same theme — chosen to honour Canada’s diversity and set an intention for the day to gather, celebrate, learn and share.”
‘MEANINGFUL ACTION’ NEEDED As Hayday pointed out, celebrations to mark Canada Day — or Dominion Day as it used to be called — don’t always happen in every city and every year.
He said people have proposed cancelling Canada Day festivities for various reasons in the past including financial constraints, noise complaints, environmental disruption, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as concerns around the disregard of the country’s colonial history and oppression of Indigenous peoples when marking the day.
In recent years, Hayday said, there has been more discourse around reframing Canada Day to factor in the country’s history and its ongoing reconciliation efforts.
“There are different ways that you can observe national days. It doesn’t always have to just be fireworks — you can have cultural programming, you can have speeches, you can use it as a day for dialogue and intercultural exchange,” he said.
Michelle Robinson, host of the Native Calgarian podcast, who is Sahtu Dene, called the cancellation of fireworks displays in the name of being culturally sensitive “performative.”
“I think that the (City of Calgary’s) rhetoric is missing the point as well. So they’ve said that they want to be culturally sensitive to both Chinese and Indigenous communities without any follow-up on how it is exactly they’re being culturally sensitive,” she told CTVNews.ca.
“To use equity-seeking groups to try to explain why we’re not having fireworks was an incredible disservice to both groups.”
Moving forward, Robinson said, she would like to see governments take concrete action to bring about meaningful reconciliation, pointing to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action and the 231 calls for justice that came from the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
This, she said, would give more people a reason to celebrate Canada on July 1.
“If we have meaningful dialogue and meaningful action the other 364 days of the year, then we do have something to celebrate,” Robinson said.
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