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'Oh Canada!' The History and Meaning Behind the Canadian National Holiday

© REUTERS / CARLOS OSORIOPeople watch from the sidewalk as a drive-by parade makes its away around town, during Canada Day celebrations in Newcastle, Ontario, Canada July 1, 2020.
People watch from the sidewalk as a drive-by parade makes its away around town, during Canada Day celebrations in Newcastle, Ontario, Canada July 1, 2020. - Sputnik International
Each year, Canadians come together in celebration to mark their nation's holiday - Canada Day. Falling this year on Wednesday, the country's 153rd birthday will be uniquely quiet, as it makes moves to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

Canada Day is a federal national holiday that falls on 1 July every year, marking the day of the formation of the country by the formal union of three separate British colonies under the British empire in 1867.

The unification of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into a single nation marks a significant historical step towards independence for the former colony and is celebrated throughout the country and by Canadians across the world.

​The Origins of Canada Day

The move followed a rise in independence sentiment throughout Canada. Residents of the colony demanded an interlinked transport network, control over national defence, and sought to end the conflict between French and British empires looking to colonise the region.

In 1866, a series of meetings between Canadian delegates in London and the British state led to the passing of the British North America Act on 1 July, establishing its self-governance.

​Manitoba and Prince Edward Island subsequently joined the federation. in 1885 the nation's first transcontinental railroad, the Canadian Pacific Railway, was finished, facilitating settlement across the entire area.

A Controversial Name?

Originally called 'Dominion Day', the holiday celebrates the day when Canada became a self-governing region as part of the empire. An attempt to establish the day as 'The National Holiday of Canada' in a 1946 private members bill was defeated.

It was eventually renamed with the passing of the 1986 'Canada Act', which gave the country full autonomy from London.

'Canada Day' had been used informally for years, while sentiment that the original name had colonial connotations pushed the eventual official renaming. 

Supporters of the previous name argued that the name change was an infringement on tradition and previous attempts to drop the original title were rejected.

​Some suggested that Liberals were attempting to re-brand or re-define Canadian history. Columnist and professor Andrew Cohen described 'Canada Day' as a "crushing banality" and criticised it for its rejection of the past "laden with political correctness and historical ignorance".

Activists today use the date as mark of remembrance, to reflect on the construction of Canada as a country, as well as darker parts of the countries past like the 'Residential Schools', designed to "assimilate" native Canadian peoples into European colonial culture.

​How do they Celebrate?

Following the passing of the British North America Act, historical accounts claim that the bell of the St. James Cathedral in Toronto rang out amid a display of fireworks and bonfires.

​Today, Canadians mark the date with outdoor activities: parades, parties, fireworks, sharing of food between friends and family, and festivals.

Sporting events also used the day to light up stadiums with red and flag maple flags and patriotic flare.

​A Covid-19 Canada Day

As with most major events around the world, this year's celebrations have been hampered by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic currently enveloping the globe. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an official address praising the work of people coming together throughout the difficult pandemic period.

​​While the government has lifted certain aspects of the lockdown, high summer temperatures have seen people, dressed in national colours, head to bars, restaurants, and beaches across the capital of Ottawa. Large-scale festivities planned at Major's Hill Park and Jacques Cartier Park, and smaller events in Barrhaven, Kanata and Orleans have been cancelled, however.

​In their place, Canadian Heritage put together a virtual Canada Day Daytime Show and Canada Day Evening Show on social media which will see a series of national artists and collaborative performances for an online audience. 

​The Toronto Zoo, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Agriculture and Food Museum and the Aviation and Space Museum, will all host a virtual event with exclusive looks into aerospace organisations, arts and crafts, facts about animals, and historical testimony unique to the country.

​Law enforcement will also police regulations at parks and beaches throughout the holiday, to make sure social distancing is adhered to during parties and celebratory events.

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