More Canada Day Memories

Happy Canada Day! We asked The Historica-Dominion Institute staff to share what Canada Day means to them – here’s what we heard:


Canada Day for me is feeling the warm sun on the moss-covered crags of the Canadian shield after a long winter. The smell of gasoline as Dad filled up the car to go on another adventure. A barbecue with 39 cousins and all our friends, speaking French, English, Polish, Mandarin, German and Wolof.


Pour moi, la fête du Canada se passe entre amis (es)! C’est une façon pour nous de se rassembler et de fêter notre beau pays! La journée se termine toujours par des feux d’artifices qui encore à ce jour, m’émerveille!

Joyeuse fête du Canada à tous!


Canada Day is attending a Tragically Hip concert at The Molson Amphitheatre draped in the Canadian Flag; watching the sun set over Georgian Bay surrounded by friends I’ve had since childhood, feeling transported into an AY Jackson painting; attending a Canada Day concert along with thousands of others in London’s Trafalgar Square (complete with poutine).


One night when I was articling in Toronto, I had plans to meet with a group of friends at a bar downtown to start off our weekend.  We grabbed some pizza before heading downtown.  As we were waiting for the pizza, I looked over at my friend and said to him, “Here’s Canada in a nutshell: two friends; one East Indian, one Irish, being served Italian food in an Asian-owned restaurant, heading downtown to meet with a group of Yugoslavian, Italian, Barbadian, and Australian friends.”

To me, Canada is about accepting all people, no matter who they are or where they came from.


When I was a child, I thought every Canadian flag I saw in a public place marked the border between Canada and other countries. This is a misconception my father perpetuated for the chuckle he would get from the driver’s seat as I both bid farewell to and greeted Canada whenever we passed a school or a government building.  While I no longer acknowledge the flags in that same fashion, I never fail to spot them and to see in them something that makes me feel at home.

For someone who is moved to tears whenever groups of people sing the anthem together – whether at a sporting event or, once, in a crowd while waiting for a train – Canada Day is a particularly special occasion.  I am proud to be Canadian, though I recognize that I did little but have the good fortune to be born in this country. We are a country that has been, and continues to be, capable of amazing achievements – but in typical Canadian fashion, we don’t like to boast! We are the country behind the innovative Avro Arrow, the one where Wilder Penfield connected the smell of burnt toast to seizure disorders, the birthplace of Winnie-the-Pooh and the hockey mask. We are the country whose landscape Emily Carr, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven immortalized on canvas. Canada has its share, too, of sad stories, of injustices and intolerance but this is a country that is always striving to be better – it is a country that is working to know its history, and that recognizes and tries to redress past wrongs. It is my home and native land – and for that, I consider myself exceptionally lucky.


I spent Canada Day 2012 on a ferry between Morocco and Spain. So far from Canada, and perhaps feeling a little homesick, I was determined to mark our national holiday in some way. I spent the whole voyage desperately casting about for a fellow Canadian. A maple leaf patch; a familiar accent; some Mountain Equipment Co-op gear;…Anything! I had no luck until the very end of the journey when, as we shuffled off the boat, I finally spotted a couple with Roots backpacks. Before I could lose my nerve, I wished them a happy Canada Day. It was definitely a memorable moment for three Canadians abroad.


I grew up in a town of 5,000 people in the mountains of northern B.C., where entertainment options were somewhat limited. But Canada Day was always a big deal, something the whole town got behind. There were fishing derbies at the lake, baseball tournaments at the ball park, skeet-shooting and axe-throwing competitions (my mom won 1st place in that last one) at the Rod & Gun Club, ubiquitous barbeques and tail-gate parties, and a rodeo when the sun went down (around 10:30pm). It was a full-day affair that brought the whole town together, the kind of close-knit community experience I kind of miss now, living in the big city.


My best Canada Days have been spent in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. The city, which is sometimes regarded as a sleepy place, comes alive with Canadian pride on July 1st. The celebrations are grand, with street parades, free music, fireworks (of course), and plenty of poutine to go around. The festivities are set against the stoic backdrop of the Parliament buildings and the Peace tower making you feel rather important, partying in the streets.


In my opinion, the most striking image of Canada is the Library of Parliament at night, brightly illuminated, perched high above the Ottawa River. Thus Canada Day to me is best spent in Major’s Hill Park, where the views are spectacular, and the musical performances intimate. As dusk falls, you can slip down to the end of the park beside the bridge. There, amidst the trees and nestled between Parliament Hill and the National Gallery, the fireworks erupt overhead. There’s nothing better.


Dusk in Algonquin Park, with Radio One playing on a wind-up transistor. I’m not making this up; the black flies were terrible.


For my family, Canada Day celebrations were always about the lead-up to the fireworks. During the day, we would watch the televised activities taking place on Parliament Hill, or a Citizenship Swearing-In ceremony; the latter often causing a tear or several to shed (for others too, I was assured), as I began to understand the looks of pride on the faces of Canada’s newest citizens. By evening, we would be off to Ashbridges Bay in Toronto, hoping to secure a choice spot to watch the fireworks. It always felt like half the city was on the same highway, for the same reason, as we were all stuck in traffic for most of the drive. But that 15-minute grand finale was always worth it.

While there are so many ways to describe what Canada Day means to me today, as a child it was always about that perfect end-of-day celebration – still my most favourite tradition.


As a child, my hometown of Ottawa never felt more alive and exciting than on Canada Day. People would spill into the streets, draped in flags, and questionable fashions – just because it’s red and white doesn’t mean you should wear it (stop-signs are a no-go if you ask me, but maybe I’m too traditional). Every year, my father and I would ride our bikes down to Parliament Hill to get lost in the celebrations. I remember the special pride I always felt getting my face painted with a maple leaf at Major’s Hill Park. One had to be careful not to let it get smudged by flapping flags, errant arms and melting popsicles. I wore that patriotic little painting like a badge of honour and I took every step as if I was an official flag bearer. And I would always put up a fight when it came time to wash it off. There was something about wearing the flag on my skin that I found truly inspiring. And apparently, I’m not alone. Last year, we asked Canadians how they show their national spirit. It turns out that 40% of Canadians under 55 would take the plunge on permanency and brand themselves with the maple leaf. Every day could be Canada Day.

Would you get tattooed with the flag?

Share your favourite Canada Day memories with us on Twitter! #DearCanada