Canada Day celebrations across the country from coast to coast on Saturday saw thousands of Canadians don national colours, give impassioned cheers to patriotic speeches and showcase artistic and cultural performances.
Several festivities held in honor of the 156th anniversary of Canadian Confederation marked a return to normalcy after years of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But some regions still had to celebrate without traditional decorations like fireworks, as ongoing wildfires and resulting smoke have prompted several municipalities to call off displays due to poor visibility and compromised air quality.
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The most prominent Canada Day celebrations took place in Ottawa, with the main entertainment taking place at Lebreton Flats, just west of the city centre.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon were present for the morning’s events at the site.
“People are coming to Canada to proudly call it home and to build their lives, our communities and our country,” Trudeau told the cheering crowd.
He said that the country has faced challenges like wildfires and wars in Europe by showing compassion, commitment, openness and democracy.
“Now more than ever, it’s a win-win for Canada in the world,” he said.
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In her speech to Canadians, Governor General Mary Simon said she is proud to live in a country that is working on national and global challenges while striving to be better.
He said, “If we work hard, if we do this together, there’s nothing we can’t do.”
The morning’s program also included musical performances, public oaths of citizenship by newcomers from France and Cameroon and remarks from Ontario-born astronaut Jeremy Hansen, who is set to travel to the moon next year as part of a NASA mission. A nightly show at Lebreton Flats will feature performances by other artists including Jane Arden, Roxane Bruneau and Eysanabi.
Ottawa’s Sparks Street was packed with vendors and Canada Day partygoers during the afternoon, with music playing in the area and patrons filling local bars and restaurants.
The city’s big fireworks show is scheduled to take place at 10 p.m. ET despite concerns about air quality and smoke over the past several days, but not all of Canada’s major cities.
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority cited rising costs for canceling its fireworks display last year, saying the move is now permanent.
Around Ontario, including Niagara Falls and Pembroke, shows are being canceled due to the effects of the wildfires.
Following a ban on fireworks during last weekend’s Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations, the party will be especially quiet in Quebec, where wildfires are still raging out of control and fires are banned.
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Montreal and Quebec City have canceled fireworks shows in a show of solidarity with the province’s relentlessly burning northern regions.
Several of the city’s island suburbs said they were canceling Canada Day celebrations because of the poor air quality.
But for the first time since 2019, a one-day Canada Day parade was held in downtown Montreal.
Despite the rainy weather, people lined dozens of blocks along the parade route to watch participants representing more than a dozen cultural communities, including large Iranian and Chinese contingents.
Organizer Nick Cowen said it was good to have the parade back.
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“Once you’re on the ground, once you walk through there, the memories come flooding back, I’ve been doing this since I was 13,” he said in an interview before the parade began. “It’s a little small, but it doesn’t matter. Look at all these people here, they are all living together and they are all living in harmony.”
For Adriana Shervan, who was watching the parade with her mother, it was an opportunity to celebrate Canada’s independence and diversity.
“My parents are from Iran, but I was born here. I love the fact that this place is culturally diverse and appreciates all cultures and that is what makes this country beautiful,” she said.
Meanwhile, a silent celebration took place at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square under cloudy skies, with indigenous drummers spread across the area. Members of the crowd – many dressed in red and white and wearing temporary maple leaf tattoos – applauded and waved Canadian flags during the performance.
Elsewhere, festivities in the historic port city of Halifax took place under a thick blanket of fog. These conditions led to the cancellation of a performance by the Canadian Forces aerobatic flight demonstration team, the Snowbirds.
During his speech, Trudeau thanked the people fighting the wildfires.
“Thank you to the members of the Canadian Armed Forces who put their lives on the line to protect our citizens and our values at home and abroad,” Trudeau said. “And thank you to the first responders and brave firefighters, including friends around the world, who are keeping our communities safe during this difficult time.”
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Team leader and Snowbird 1 pilot Maj. Brett Parker said he was disappointed the air show had to be called off.
“But it’s great to meet people in downtown Halifax,” he said while signing autographs at Founders Wharf. “They’re very excited and excited about Canada Day, just like I am.”
This year’s events in Halifax, including free concerts, were developed in collaboration with indigenous communities in honor of the Mi’kmaq Nation. Ashley Augustine, a member of the Sipeknekatik First Nation, said she is thrilled with the program.
“It’s wonderful that we are being recognized on Canada Day,” said Augustine, manager of the Treaty Truckhouse, which was selling handmade Mi’kmaq items on the coast. “We’ve finally come out… it’s definitely a matter of time.”
Halifax resident John Kenny said he moved his family to the city because they “didn’t want to be under house arrest, and we wanted to be included.”
His teammate, Mace Guarin, said Saturday was his second Canada Day as a Canadian.
“I am so thankful and grateful for this country because it gave me a better life,” said Guarin, who came to Canada from the Philippines seven years ago.