Canada Day 2021
Are national holidays times for celebration and fireworks and raucous parties? Or, are they occasions for serious reflection on who we are as a people? Probably a bit of both.
Many people in my home Province of Newfoundland and Labrador consider July 1 to be a day of mourning. That is not because of Canada Day, but rather, because of a place known as Beaumont- Hamel. There is a memorial site in France that is dedicated to the commemoration of forces from the Dominion of Newfoundland who were killed during World War I.
The Newfoundland Regiment made an unsuccessful attack on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1, 1916 (that was many years before Newfoundland joined confederation with Canada in 1949.) Most of the regiment was wiped out.
Thus, July 1 is a day of mourning and has been for a long time. Beaumont-Hamel is a symbol of sacrifice and a source of identity. It is is marked as Memorial Day in the province.
It turns out that there are others who want to see July 1 as a day of mourning. I am composing this post in mid-June. Just a few days ago, I read an op-ed in a Toronto newspaper with the headline, Canada Day is an Indigenous day of mourning. The writer, Stephen Paquette, is a member of the Ojibway-Anishinaabe Nation.
He speaks of the history of the treatment of the First Nations in the history of this country, culminating in the shocking discovery of the burial grounds of 215 children in Kamloops, BC. Paquette’s main point is to say, “I do not apologize if you experience discomfort in reading this. Consider the discomfort of those children who died all alone.”
I hate to rain on our July 1 parade. But we live in complex times. COVID is just one part of it. But there are also uncomfortable conversations about race and gender and culture and justice and equality and sexual orientation and almost every aspect of our common life on this planet.
There is a dialogue with our past that is making many of us uncomfortable. And we discover that even in such a quintessentially Canadian city as London, ON, an innocent Muslim family out for a stroll can be victims of racism.
Is it possible to have summer celebrations and days of mourning, both on the same day? I suppose that we must try to find a balance here. No doubt, our festivities and official speeches will include conversations about the issues that matter to this country.
We will have strong views. Many of us will opt for silence, just sipping on our beer and avoiding serious conversations. It’s okay for us to have discomfort about significant issues in our country.
I’ve always been grateful for the fact that I was born in Canada. That gratitude grows more fervent and sincere as I grow older and discover just how fortunate and blessed we are as Canadians. I’ve mentioned before in a post on igNation that we live in one of the safest, healthiest and wealthiest nations in the world.
Canada regularly places high up on lists of desirable places to live. Of course, anyone who is aware of reality knows that there are far too many Canadians who are missing out on that safety, health and wealth.
We have so much to be grateful for on this Canada Day. Even as we continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic and the evident injustice in this land, let’s pause to be grateful today. Let’s allow that gratitude to spur us on to appropriate actions that are marked by compassion and justice.