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Canada Day events including fireworks spark controversy

The planning of Canada Day festivities in a few major Canadian cities has sparked controversy – and a professor says it’s not surprising given the country’s complicated history.

Matthew Hayday, professor and chair of the history department at the University of Guelph, said the history lesson around July 1 is that the day is controversial.

“Canada Day has always been controversial,” Hayday told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

“And that’s because Canada has a turbulent history. It is a country that is the product of different compromises and different types of groups living together. It’s no surprise that the day celebrating the country is also full of debate and controversy, as well as compromise.


In recent days, the City of Calgary and the City of Toronto have said they will not be moving forward with certain Canada Day festivities.

The City of Calgary first announced that it would replace its fireworks celebration with a pyrotechnic show featuring a display of lights and sounds launched from Fort Calgary’s main stage.

Among other things, the city cited reconciliation efforts, noise complaints, wildlife disturbance and the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Immigration Act, which banned Chinese immigrants from entering Canada for 24 years. years as reasons not to set off fireworks on Canada Day.

The City of Toronto, on the other hand, said it was exploring Nathan Phillips Square, which it had activated once before on Canada Day in 2017 for Canada 150 celebrations, as a potential location to “enhance its planned programming for Canada Day, but decided not to proceed with hosting festivities in the plaza outside of City Hall due to “resource constraints.”

Days later, after receiving backlash and an online petition asking Calgary to bring back its fireworks celebration and calling the fireworks cancellation “righteous signaling,” the two cities reversed the cap.

In a press release Thursday, the City of Calgary said it would host a fireworks display after all, while remaining “committed to taking cultural sensitivities into account.” And the City of Toronto said it will continue to work with partners to deliver Canada Day celebrations across Toronto, including at Nathan Phillips Square and the annual fireworks celebration in Ashbridges Bay.

“While specific details for July 1 are being finalized, the city is actively planning the Na-Me-Res Pow & Wow and Indigenous Arts Festival for June 17-18 as part of Indigenous Peoples Month,” said said the City of Toronto in a writing. statement.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority said it decided in 2022 to permanently discontinue its evening fireworks display on 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 nationwide conversations about how best to celebrate Canada Day at the light of the tragic discoveries in the residential schools”. To date, more than 1,800 confirmed or presumed unmarked graves have been identified at former residential school sites across the country.

“The event has been renamed Canada Together and is being planned in collaboration with representatives of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations under the theme of ‘weaving together the fabric of a nation’. It was a huge hit in 2022, attracting around 150,000 people,” the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority told CTVNews.ca.

“We look forward to welcoming everyone into 2023 under the same theme – chosen to honor Canada’s diversity and set an intention for the day to come together, celebrate, learn and share.”


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 every year.

He said people have offered to cancel Canada Day festivities for a variety of reasons in the past, including financial constraints, noise complaints, environmental disruptions, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as concerns about the disregard for the country’s colonial history and the oppression of indigenous peoples during branding. the day.

In recent years, Hayday said, there has been more talk about reframing Canada Day to reflect the country’s history and its ongoing reconciliation efforts.

“There are different ways to observe national days. It doesn’t always have to be just fireworks – you can have cultural programming, you can have speeches, you can use it as a day of dialogue and cross-cultural exchange,” he said. -he declares.

Michelle Robinson, host of the Native Calgarian podcast, who is Sahtu Dene, called the cancellation of fireworks in the name of cultural sensitivity “performative.”

“I think the rhetoric (from the city of Calgary) also misses the point. So they said they wanted to be culturally sensitive to the Chinese and Indigenous communities without any tracking on how exactly they are culturally sensitive,” she told CTVNews.ca.

“Using equity-seeking groups to try to explain why we don’t have fireworks was incredibly wrong to both groups.”

Going forward, Robinson said she would like to see governments take concrete steps to achieve meaningful reconciliation, pointing to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and the 231 Calls for Justice that emerged. of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. and the 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 have something to celebrate,” Robinson said.

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