The Canada Day fireworks have been postponed in the city of St. Albert due to the location of the celebration being on the site of a former residential school.
Over the weekend, City of St. Albert administration decided to not proceed with the Canada Day fireworks this year, although the rest of the celebration in the city will carry on as planned.
St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said she agrees with the decision made by the city.
“If we didn't have a residential school on that hill, we wouldn't have (postponed) the fireworks,” Heron said.
“There was a residential school on that site and we should be very sensitive to that.”
The city had been concerned with hosting the fireworks due to COVID-19 restrictions before the discovery of the graves of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, but the discovery and renewed focus on reconciliation helped made the decision to postpone the event.
Heron said the thought on celebrating on an unmarked grave is nauseating and it is time to take a pause.
“Until we know for sure or until we have permission from the Aboriginal community to celebrate there, it's the right decision,” Heron said.
The mayor said the likelihood there are unmarked graves on the hill itself is small, but it won’t be known until the ground is looked at, which may be done in the future through provincial and federal grants.
“There's federal funding that is coming. We're monitoring how to access that, but we don't want to go and scope out the whole hill without permission,” Heron said.
Heron said the postponement will only be for this year, and she wants to get fireworks back on the hill for Canada Day next year, but the city will re-imagine how that will work and approach the day through a more inclusive lens.
The hill is an important event space in the city, with the New Years' Day and Canada Day fireworks hosted there, along with the Seven Hills Music Festival, and Heron doesn’t want the hill to be off limits to future celebrations and activities.
“We need to figure out a way to either reconcile if there's unmarked grave sites there, and whether there are or not, how do we make space available," Heron said.
The mayor said, in talking with local Indigenous community leaders, there have been suggestions put forward to help include the history of the site and ceremonies that will honour the location.
For this year, Heron said the city is looking at hosting fireworks in September to celebrate the dedication of the two new flagpoles outside City Hall that will permanently fly the Treaty 6 flag and the Metis flag, although the finer dates and details of the plan still need to be sorted out.
The mayor is still encouraging residents to celebrate Canada Day, and activities in the community and region are going forward, including a drive-in movie in St. Albert and pop-up performers and activities in city park spaces.
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette