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Canadians highlight national diversity, freedoms at Canada Day celebrations

Air quality warnings blanketed much of Quebec and prompted the cancellation of fireworks displays in Montreal
People attending Canada Day celebrations at LeBreton Flats hold a toy wearing RCMP style uniform in Ottawa on July 1, 2023. Canada’s capital city will see some festivities around Parliament Hill, but the main entertainment will be at LeBreton Flats, just west of downtown, where celebrations are expected to return to a sense of normalcy this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The sounds of Indigenous drumming rang out alongside songs and cheers in honour of Canada Day on Saturday as Canadians from coast to coast gathered to celebrate the diversity and freedom they say make the country special.

Municipalities across the country marked a return to the kinds of celebrations seen before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted years worth of cancellations, though for some the return to normalcy was marred by air quality and weather conditions that forced them to nix marquee events like fireworks shows.

But at the parades, concerts and tributes that did proceed, Canadians and dignitaries alike took time to highlight traditions from Indigenous peoples and cultures around the world.

“People are coming to Canada to proudly call it their home and build their lives and our communities and our country, all together,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a cheering crowd at a Canada Day ceremony in Ottawa.

READ MORE: 30 new Canadians take citizenship oath at Vancouver ceremony on Canada Day

He said the country has withstood challenges, like wildfires and war in Europe, by showing compassion, engagement, openness and democracy.

“That’s Canada’s advantage in the world now more than ever,” he said.

Many of the festivities held in honour of the 156th anniversary of Canada’s confederation unfolded under hazy skies clouded over with smog from recent wildfires.

Air quality warnings blanketed much of Quebec and prompted the cancellation of fireworks displays in Montreal and many of its on-island suburbs. But in the downtown core itself, hundreds of people packed a 12-block route to take in the city’s first Canada Day parade since 2019.

“It’s a little bit smaller, but it doesn’t matter. Look at all these people here, they’re all living together and they’re all living in harmony,” said organizer Nick Cowen.

For Adriana Shervan, who was watching the parade with her mother, it was an opportunity to celebrate Canada’s freedoms and diversity.

“My parents are from Iran, but I was born here. I love the fact that this place is culturally diversified and appreciates all cultures, and that’s what makes this nation beautiful,” she said.

Seeing people come together is what also brought Keirth Sivaarjah out to celebrations in Ottawa, despite now living in Texas.

“It’s good to see it a little more diverse now,” he said, recalling the time he used to attend the festivities as a child.

Ottawa marked the occasion by featuring francophone artists and holding public oaths of citizenship from newcomers hailing from France and Cameroon. The morning event where Trudeau spoke also featured an appearance from Ontario-born astronaut Jeremy Hansen, who is slated to travel to the moon as part of a NASA mission next year.

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon also took the stage, saying she is proud to live in a country working on national and global challenges while striving to be better.

“If we put in the hard work, if we do so together, there is nothing we cannot do,” she said.

Festivities in Ottawa were later suspended due to severe weather advisories, which came hours after local Indigenous leaders spoke about the need to protect Earth and take climate change seriously.

Meanwhile, a muted celebration took place under cloudy skies at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square, where Indigenous drummers were dispersed throughout the area.

Members of the crowd — many clad in red and white and sporting temporary maple leaf tattoos — clapped and waved Canadian flags through the performances.

Yawn Wi, who emigrated from China, said the day reminds her of the freedoms she now enjoys.

“Freedom of speech, freedom of environment,” she said. “Compared to my home country, (Canada) provides me a much better living environment and also freedom, not only physically but mentally.”

Elsewhere, festivities in the historic port city of Halifax played out under a thick shroud of fog. The conditions prompted the cancellation of a performance by the Snowbirds, the Canadian Forces aerobatic flight demonstration team, as well as a fireworks display planned for the evening.

Halifax’s other events, which included free concerts, were developed in collaboration with Indigenous communities to honour the Mi’kmaq Nation. Ashley Augustine, a member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation, said she was thrilled with the program.

“It’s amazing that we’re being recognized on Canada Day,” said Augustine, manager of the Treaty Truckhouse, which was selling handmade Mi’kmaq items on the waterfront. “We’re finally out in front …. It definitely is about time.”

Halifax resident John Kenny said he took his family downtown because they “didn’t want to be cooped up in the house, and we wanted to be involved.”

His partner, Mace Guarin, said Saturday marked her second Canada Day as a Canadian citizen.

“I’m very 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.

— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax, Jacob Serebrin in Montreal and Kiernan Green in Toronto

David Fraser and Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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