This year has certainly been a year of British national celebration with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics in London, even the Euro Soccer Cup must have generated a lot of flag waving, yet unlike many other nations we do not have a National Day… A patron saints day, yes, even a Queen’s birthday along with many other traditions which only take place in the UK. I am deeply disappointed to have missed out on spending time in the UK with all that Union Jack bunting, street parties and general Britishness but, I am in Canada now and as a potential future citizen I thought I’d better take part in their National Day – Canada Day.
The notion of National Identity in Canada is to put it simply, complicated. As a relatively new country; officially 145 years old it’s almost as though there is still a real need to assert the Canadian identity. I see this every day with the compulsory singing of the national anthem in schools and the flag – a symbol which hangs high above many public buildings, in parking lots and in towns. Made in Canada is proudly stamped on a myriad of objects (if it’s not made in China of course!) and everyone knows that they do love their hockey. In some countries this show of national pride may be seen as oppressive, exclusive a contrast between Canadian and ‘other’ yet it is not… Most Canadians I meet are proud to be Canadian although they’ll tell you within two sentences that they are also English, Irish, German, First Nations, Metis, Ukranian, Chinese… I don’t think I have met a Canadian yet who doesn’t have some ‘other’ identity. It’s almost as though that even after generations of living in Canada and over a century of the official formation of the united provinces and territories, the Canadian identity has not been entirely created. It’s a work in progress that takes on aspects of no end of countries and cultures of the world. It’s an idea – of freedom, open space, democracy and equality.
So, much like on any other day, the Canadians waved their flag proudly and as I surveilled the crowd I was aware of the patchwork of race, nationality, language and culture; all seemed happy to be part of Canada’s day. With a national holiday forming a long weekend it stands to reason that spirits were even higher than usual in friendly Manitoba, and where better to celebrate than in the heart of the continent? So we headed down to the Forks to get in on the action: live music, happy people and fireworks. Last year I observed the fireworks on ‘Bastille Day’ (Fete Nationale Française) and what a contrast! I’ll admit that the Parisian fireworks were spectacular but the ambience of the Canadian crowd could not possibly be rivalled. I even heard a lively rendition of ‘Oh Canada’ by a group of people enjoying the festivities as the fireworks wizzed and crackled above the river. Happy Canada Day, Canada!