Happy Canada Day!
It’s been a while since we’ve been able to celebrate our national holiday together. This year is the first in three years that we can gather in large crowds again. I went down to Canada Place this afternoon to have a look. It’s almost other-worldly to see so many people all together in one place.
Typically, on Canada Day, I post a photo of the Canadian flag. We call it the Maple Leaf, our flag, and we’re rather proud of it. Last year, however, I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t the pandemic or the fact that we couldn’t celebrate together that made me reluctant to post about Canada Day.
No, it was because of the grief. And the horror.
The horror was learning, only a few weeks prior to Canada Day, that there were more than 200 unmarked graves at the former residential school at Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc, near Kamloops, BC. In the year since, many more unmarked graves across Canada have been detected using ground-penetrating radar — and many more will be in the future.
Indigenous peoples have always known about these graves, but, sadly, it took other Canadians — those of us who chose to come to Canada or were brought here by others — a lot longer to accept that truth.
And that was the root of my grief. How is it our country went through an entire Truth and Reconciliation Commission and I still didn’t understand that children had died?
So that’s where I was a year ago. I wasn’t sure how or even if I should celebrate a country that exists because it colonized, exploited, and murdered other peoples.
A year on, our country is fumbling its way towards acknowledging the truth part of truth and reconciliation. And many communities across the country found ways to celebrate Canada Day while honouring that truth in our path towards reconciliation. Today’s festivities at Canada Place were planned with the Indigenous peoples of Vancouver on whose unceded and ancestral territory we live: the Squamish, the Musqueam, and the Tsleil-Waututh.
We have a long ways to go, but it’s a start.
I’ve been thinking today about that Canadian flag we’re all so proud of. It’s become a symbol of the so-called Freedom Convoy that occupied and terrorized Ottawa last winter for several weeks, and is trying to again this weekend. When I saw a car drive by me this morning with two small Canadian flags attached to each window, my initial reaction was to cringe. Because the flag in Canada has become a symbol of protest.
And so, this year again, I was wondering how to celebrate our flag and this day.
But then I listened to the Canada Day message of our Prime Minister. He made a point of talking about our Canadian flag, the Maple Leaf, and reminded us that it is more than a symbol. It is a promise: “a promise of opportunity, a promise of safety for those fleeing violence and war, and a promise of a better life.”
I thought about all those people who have come to Canada on the basis of the promise that they could be free. That includes the most recent refugees to arrive — from Ukraine, from Afghanistan, from Syria — as well as the many others that came before them, for generations.
A few years ago, I had the honour and privilege to witness 57 people from 18 countries take the oath of citizenship and become new Canadians, including a dear friend of mine. The citizenship judge had a lot to say, but these words I will remember forever:
Canada didn’t happy by accident.
Diversity is our strength.
If that judge’s words aren’t a much-needed antidote to current world events, I don’t know what is. And so I will once again proudly celebrate Canada Day, and our flag, while acknowledging that our country is a work-in-progress.
As all countries should be.