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Scaled-down Canada Day promised as movement grows to scrap celebrations

A man stands on the corner of Coldstream Ave. and Veteran's Memorial Parkway on Canada Day in Langford, B.C., on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

CALGARY — With Alberta set to remove all COVID-19 health restrictions by the start of July, a return to Canada Day celebrations looks like a reality after everything was called off last year.

A fireworks show has already been promised, but Mayor Naheed Nenshi said they will still be cautious with the festivities.

“We’ll be making an announcement about Canada Day on Monday. It’s going to be small and largely virtual for this year,” said Nenshi.

But this comes as there is also a growing movement to cancel the traditional celebrations, especially in the wake of the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country and the criticism being lobbed at the authors of Confederation.

In Victoria, B.C., officials cancelled celebrations planned for the capital city following the discovery of 215 graves in Kamloops and expressed a desire to explore new possibilities for Jul. 1.

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Nenshi said he doesn’t share the same feelings, but added there should be more space for Indigenous culture and history on Canada Day.

“I have a different point of view on this. Every year at Canada Day, one of my favourite things I do is I attend a giant powwow on Prince’s Island Park. And unlike most powwows, the stands are filled with non-Indigenous people learning about the Indigenous aspect of Canada,” he said.

Nenshi said he is a very proud Canadian, and the day can take on a different meaning for immigrants and descendants of immigrants such as himself.

“There are few places in the world where I can be where I am, my nieces could be where they are. There is a lot to celebrate, even as we are moving to a place of greater reconciliation and greater anti-racism,” he said. “I think Canada Day actually serves as an opportunity for us to tell that full story of Canada and celebrate what we’ve accomplished, but also commit ourselves to doing much more.”

Nenshi said Calgary has always made a point to celebrate Indigenous heritage during the holiday, and foresees that continuing in the future.

A memorial honouring the children found in the unmarked graves at residential schools also remains outside City Hall, and Nenshi said they will be having conversations with people to figure out how the memorial could be moved or preserved by still paying respects to victims and the people that organized it.