The city where I live hosts a Canada Day parade that passes within a few blocks of my house. Apparently it’s the longest in Canada, which doesn’t seem right, but could be. I can wax poetic about my neighbourhood at the best of times, but this parade really is a great thing. The streets are lined with chairs early. The first year we moved to Cambridge, my son and I went to the parade. We’d sit opposite Central Park, which is a charming little park with a gazebo and a splashpad and big old trees. On summer Thursdays, Central Park hosts a farmer’s market with fresh produce and entertainment and kids activities. But on Canada Day, one of the local churches sets up a few popup tents and a few barbecues and serves lunch to the folks waiting for the parade to start. My son, now in the Air Force, walked that parade with his cadet corps as a first year cadet, then in the midsection of the drum corps of his Cadet highland band. He was eventually the Drum Major, the Company Sergeant Major and the Regimental Sergeant Major. I liked the spot opposite the park because it was also opposite one of Cambridge’s three cenotaphs. And every cadet, military or police band, the Canadian Legion colour guard, and the Scout House Band, as they passed, turned their eyes right, with the higher ranking appointments saluting the folks memorialized at the cenotaph.
After the parade has finished, there’s a carnival and entertainment at the riverside park. There’s a fishing derby and a classic car show and later, fireworks. My city does a pretty good job, citizenry decked out in Maple Leaf and Canada Flag shirts, red feather boas and goofy red mylar wigs and slatted sunglasses. It’s one of my favourite things about my neighbourhood.
The last few years, Covid put the kibosh on the parade. A year or two before that, the parade was rerouted because the usual route was under construction for waaay longer than expected when they found part of a corduroy road during the excavation. But now, it’s back in my ‘hood.
And I’m not there to see it, alas, because I’m not even in the country right now.
So in tribute, I give you some of my favourite Canadian touchstones:
- When I was 14, my Auntie V and my grandma took me to Expo 86 in Vancouver. We did a tour that included a stop at Lake Louise and Banff. It took me 30+ years to get back there, but a few years back, my gentleman associate, Child, and I did a Rocky Mountaineer rail trip from Vancouver to Calgary with a stop in both Lake Louise and Banff. Those might be my favourite places in Canada, even after only visiting twice.
- In 2017, the Invictus games came to Toronto. These para-olympic style games are for wounded warriors from many commonwealth countries to conquer their physical and mental injuries, and it was inspiring. Every competitor was there because of a split second at a horrifying day at work. Every one of them transformed by what happened to them, and I had the privilege to watch the culmination of their fight over their injuries. It didn’t matter if they were medal recipients or they struggled to finish, they were all victorious.
- In 1988, when I was 16, I took the oath of Canadian citizenship. I was born in the United States, but spent all but my first year-and-a-bit in Canada. I chose this. I could have remained a landed immigrant, but I chose to take the oath. I don’t remember what encouraged me or inspired me to apply for citizenship; perhaps some nostalgia over only ever having known Canada as my homeland, but not having it as a birthright? I don’t know. But I think sometimes about the overt and hidden biases that some folks have about immigrants, and know that I chose this, just as others with waaay different stories from mine, choose it. We all came from somewhere else, right?
- There were three kinds of Canadian Kids: The Fred Penner Kids (of which my sister is one), the Raffi kids, and the Sharon, Lois, and Bram kids. I was (am?) of the last type. The Newfoundland Jig Medley on the Smorgasbord album was arguably my favourite, so it was a pretty great thing when my best friend got married in The Narrows in St. John’s NFLD, so we all went to Newfoundland for a week. It just so happened that the Kelligrews Soiree was delayed for some reason, so we were able to attend part of it during our visit, including the fireworks. So thanks Sharon, Lois, and Bram, for planting the seed that, 40 years later, brought us to the Soiree. On that trip, we bought an actual dried cod from a fisherman who had a sign at the end of his laneway. His accent was so amazing and thick that we could hardly understand him. But he made his … brother(?) go into the house and get “the good fish” for us to bring back to Ontario. The day of my friend’s wedding was also the opening day of one of the fishing seasons, and my mom went outside for a smoke and got caught up in a season-opening kitchen party next door. Because of course she did. I feel like my friend’s wedding was the best thing of a whole week of really great experiences. The hospitality on the Rock is real, yo.
- On the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, my son took a history course about the first world war and part of the coursework was a trip to France. A friend and I went as chaperones. On our way from one battleground and commonwealth cemetery to another, we passed through Givenchy-en-Gohelle. Most of the houses were flying the Canadian flag, or had maple leaf bunting on their porches and balconies, or small flags hanging from trees or stuck into their gardens. As the caravans of buses drove through, there were residents on their porches and terraces, waving flags at us. Apparently there were more than 500 Canadian flags in Givenchy-en-Gohelle that spring. The 2nd Canadian Division liberated this little village in 1917, and the residents never forgot. They continue to tend the Canadian cemetery nearby as tenderly as they did 100 years ago. Those few minutes as our bus wound through the narrow streets of Givenchy-en-Gohelle were very moving.
- A few years ago, I read in our local newspaper that there was someone in our neighbourhood who had a tattered Canada flag (which I know, isn’t OK). Some mystery benefactor broke into this guy’s backyard to replace the flag. Canadians in my neighbourhood feel so strongly about their nationality that they turn into Flag Hooligans to spread the love of their patriotism. The letter he wrote to the newspaper was equal parts upset (because they trespassed), contrite (because of the sorry state of the old flag) and gratitude (because new flag). Canadians are an enigma.
So, as I spend my Canada Day on Florida Sun Coast, I hope you all have some poutine and butter tarts and bannock over a fire and raise a glass of your favourite summer libation to the Great White North.