In the Year of COVID-19, Canada Day a Mix of Innovation and Tradition

June 23, 2020 Updated: June 24, 2020

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused this year’s Canada Day to go “virtual,” it won’t dampen the spirit of the nation’s 153rd birthday, says the Canadian Heritage official in charge of coordinating the massive online celebration.

“Pivoting to a new direction after the minister (of Canadian Heritage) announced the cancellation of the physical event on Parliament Hill was a challenge, but an exciting one,” says Melanie Brault, director of planning for the National Capital celebrations.

“We had to take a step back and figure out how to enable Canadians from coast to coast to come together.”

Brault’s team has been as busy as Canadian beavers preparing a cornucopia of activities that comprise the first virtual celebration in the 153 years since the British North America Act brought the four provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick into the Confederation that formed the nucleus of Canada.

“We have developed a celebration kit that the public can access any time after June 15 by visiting our website,” Brault said in an interview.

“We have over 40 activities that children and adults can participate in, including a virtual scavenger hunt, workouts with our Paralympic champions, and cooking a truly Canadian burger with chips and cheese curds with Chef Ricardo, the award-winning celebrity chef from Quebec—to name just a few.”

On July 1, Canadian Heritage will offer the public the Canada Day daytime show, a virtual tour of celebrations across the country featuring talented artists from various cities. It will include a salute to the resilience of frontline workers battling COVID-19 and the 40th anniversary of “O Canada” becoming the country’s official national anthem.

The Canada Day evening show will be a special edition of the annual iconic celebration on Parliament Hill. It will feature some of Canada’s most beloved performing artists and will end with a montage of the most spectacular Canada Day fireworks from past years as its grand finale.

“Canada Day is not only celebrated in Canada but also in cities across the world,” says Brault, noting a list of cities from Hong Kong to Rabat, Morocco, on Canadian Heritage’s website where Canadian embassies and missions are preparing activities that reflect the nation’s culture and values.

The public can watch these July 1 events on CBC and on the social media platforms of Canadian Heritage, she said.

This won’t be the first time communications technology has been used to enable the diverse people of the second-largest country on the planet to gather together to celebrate their identity as Canadians, says Matthew Hayday, a historian who has tracked the history of the national holiday and its evolution from Dominion Day to Canada Day, its official name since 1982.

Organizing a national birthday party for Canadians across the country has always been a challenge, says Hayday, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Department of History. Hayday has researched and written extensively on the history and politics of Canada Day celebrations and on the many ways in which Canada’s leaders have used the celebrations to highlight their vision of the Canadian identity.

“From radio broadcasts in the 1920s to which people from coast to coast tuned in, to the first CBC TV broadcast in 1958 when Gov. Gen. Vincent Massey addressed the nation—all these provided a template for this year’s online celebrations,” he said in a telephone interview from Guelph.

Other features that make this year’s celebrations unique are the two themes: Manitoba’s  150th anniversary of joining the Confederation and the Métis Nation’s leadership role in this historic step, along with the 40th anniversary of “O Canada,” which was adopted as the national anthem in 1980.

“We have worked with the Métis Nation to make sure the story is presented from their point of view,” said Brault in response to a question about the sensitivities of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.

The Canada Day holiday this year will depart from a more formal, militaristic observance to a unique celebration bringing people together in a way that circumvents the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

“Singing ‘O Canada’ together at noon in each time zone creates a sense of national community,” notes Hayday.

“With the virtual celebration this year, it will definitely be more participatory,” Brault says.

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