‘Everything that I never had at home is here’: celebrating Canada Day in Toronto, and across the country

 Canada Day is Anne-Marie DeSouza’s favourite holiday — next to Christmas — which explained her festive getup, complete with Canadian flag-themed sunglasses, face paint, and red-and-white balloons in her hair. “My brother was laughing at me,” said DeSouza at Nathan Phillips Square, one of several Toronto locations with events marking the country’s 156th birthday.“I’m celebrating 50 years as a Canadian citizen this year, so I wanted to go all out,” explained the Pakistan native. “I think this is the greatest country in the world,” she continued, citing Canada’s multiculturalism and what she described as a general “sense of acceptance” towards others.How, and whether, to celebrate Canada Day has become a recurrent debate as the country reckons with its colonial legacy and ongoing dispossession of Indigenous Peoples.But that painful part of Canada’s story didn’t stop DeSouza and other first-generation Canadians interviewed by the Star from celebrating a country whose identity, to them, is shaped by its diversity. “Why not work together and make this the country that you are proud of?” said DeSouza, who believes everyone should do their part to advance Indigenous reconciliation. In Ottawa, thousands gathered to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, the first Indigenous person to hold the office, deliver a similar message. “If we put in the hard work, if we do so together, there is nothing we cannot do,” Simon said in a speech that touched on her pride to live in a country she said is striving to be better.Two weeks after Canada’s population surpassed a landmark 40 million people, Trudeau emphasized diversity as a strength.“People are coming to Canada to proudly call it their home and build their lives and our communities and our country, all together,” Trudeau told a cheering Ottawa crowd.Many of the country’s festivities unfolded under hazy skies clouded over with smog from wildfires. Air quality warnings blanketed much of Quebec and prompted the cancellation of fireworks displays in Montreal and many of its on-island suburbs. But in the downtown core itself, hundreds of people packed a 12-block route for the city’s first Canada Day parade since 2019.Fireworks in the GTA were set for 10 p.m. sky-wide shows at several locations including Ashbridges Bay Park and Canada’s Wonderland.In Toronto — where celebrations took place in muggy temperatures pushing 30 C — Jacqui L. said she came to Canada from Grenada in 1990. She was originally planning to stay a few years and, after more than three decades, she’s still here. To Jacqui, her chosen home is a microcosm of the rest of the world. That’s especially true in Toronto, of whom immigrants compose nearly half the population — a number that’s rising.“It’s just so amazing,” she said. Instead of travelling to Italy, she can attend the Taste of Little Italy festival on College Street. Interested in Greece? “Go to the Danforth.” Not to mention the Caribbean influence on Toronto, she added.“Everything that I never had at home is here,” she said. As Jacqui spoke, the stage at Nathan Phillips Square outside city hall transitioned from Celtic folk music to West African drumming. Earlier in the day, the festivities began with a blessing and welcome by Ojibway Elder Garry Sault. Mayor-elect Olivia Chow, soon to be the city’s first racialized mayor, also addressed the crowd. “My family came to Canada when I was 13 because they saw Toronto as a place of hope,” said Chow, who was born in Hong Kong. “Toronto is where my family could build a new life.”Jacqui said she hopes Chow will engage with local First Nations — such as the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples — to help advance Indigenous reconciliation in a “genuine” way.“It’s funny,” added Jacqui’s friend, Marcia. The pair had just been talking about Toronto singer Jully Black’s performance of ‘O Canada’ at the NBA All-Star game earlier this year. Black changed a word in the anthem, singing “our home on native land,” rather than “our home and native land” — a subtle but impactful tweak.“Some things are changing,” she concluded. With files from The Canadian Press and Richie AssalyBen Mussett is a Toronto-based general assignment reporter for the Star. Reach him via email: bmussett@thestar.ca 

Canada Day is Anne-Marie DeSouza’s favourite holiday — next to Christmas — which explained her festive getup, complete with Canadian flag-themed sunglasses, face paint, and red-and-white balloons in her hair.

“My brother was laughing at me,” said DeSouza at Nathan Phillips Square, one of several Toronto locations with events marking the country’s 156th birthday.

“I’m celebrating 50 years as a Canadian citizen this year, so I wanted to go all out,” explained the Pakistan native.

“I think this is the greatest country in the world,” she continued, citing Canada’s multiculturalism and what she described as a general “sense of acceptance” towards others.

How, and whether, to celebrate Canada Day has become a recurrent debate as the country reckons with its colonial legacy and ongoing dispossession of Indigenous Peoples.

But that painful part of Canada’s story didn’t stop DeSouza and other first-generation Canadians interviewed by the Star from celebrating a country whose identity, to them, is shaped by its diversity.

“Why not work together and make this the country that you are proud of?” said DeSouza, who believes everyone should do their part to advance Indigenous reconciliation.

In Ottawa, thousands gathered to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, the first Indigenous person to hold the office, deliver a similar message.

“If we put in the hard work, if we do so together, there is nothing we cannot do,” Simon said in a speech that touched on her pride to live in a country she said is striving to be better.

Two weeks after Canada’s population surpassed a landmark 40 million people, Trudeau emphasized diversity as a strength.

“People are coming to Canada to proudly call it their home and build their lives and our communities and our country, all together,” Trudeau told a cheering Ottawa crowd.

Many of the country’s festivities unfolded under hazy skies clouded over with smog from wildfires.

Air quality warnings blanketed much of Quebec and prompted the cancellation of fireworks displays in Montreal and many of its on-island suburbs. But in the downtown core itself, hundreds of people packed a 12-block route for the city’s first Canada Day parade since 2019.

Fireworks in the GTA were set for 10 p.m. sky-wide shows at several locations including Ashbridges Bay Park and Canada’s Wonderland.

In Toronto — where celebrations took place in muggy temperatures pushing 30 C — Jacqui L. said she came to Canada from Grenada in 1990. She was originally planning to stay a few years and, after more than three decades, she’s still here.

To Jacqui, her chosen home is a microcosm of the rest of the world. That’s especially true in Toronto, of whom immigrants compose nearly half the population — a number that’s rising.

“It’s just so amazing,” she said. Instead of travelling to Italy, she can attend the Taste of Little Italy festival on College Street. Interested in Greece? “Go to the Danforth.” Not to mention the Caribbean influence on Toronto, she added.

“Everything that I never had at home is here,” she said.

As Jacqui spoke, the stage at Nathan Phillips Square outside city hall transitioned from Celtic folk music to West African drumming. Earlier in the day, the festivities began with a blessing and welcome by Ojibway Elder Garry Sault.

Mayor-elect Olivia Chow, soon to be the city’s first racialized mayor, also addressed the crowd.

“My family came to Canada when I was 13 because they saw Toronto as a place of hope,” said Chow, who was born in Hong Kong. “Toronto is where my family could build a new life.”

Jacqui said she hopes Chow will engage with local First Nations — such as the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples — to help advance Indigenous reconciliation in a “genuine” way.

“It’s funny,” added Jacqui’s friend, Marcia. The pair had just been talking about Toronto singer Jully Black’s performance of ‘O Canada’ at the NBA All-Star game earlier this year. Black changed a word in the anthem, singing “our home on native land,” rather than “our home and native land” — a subtle but impactful tweak.

“Some things are changing,” she concluded.

With files from The Canadian Press and Richie Assaly

Ben Mussett is a Toronto-based general assignment reporter for the Star. Reach him via email: bmussett@thestar.ca

 

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