Canada Day Cancelled In Ottawa, Will Be Celebrated In ‘Virtual’ Event: Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault

Fireworks explode above the Peace Tower and Centre Block during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2019. (Photo: Justin Tang/CP)
Fireworks explode above the Peace Tower and Centre Block during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2019. (Photo: Justin Tang/CP)

Canada Day will be celebrated “virtually” this year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal minister of heritage said Friday.

Steven Guilbeault made the announcement at a press conference in Ottawa, where he touted a new, $500-million emergency fund from Heritage Canada to support the arts, culture, and sports sectors struggling during the public health crisis.

Guilbeault said Canada’s 153rd birthday would be marked “differently” than in past years, where tens of thousands of Canadians gathered on Parliament Hill for concerts and fireworks, broadcasted across the country.

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The government has said demands for Canadians to practice social distancing and physical distancing to slow the virus’ spread will be in place for weeks or months to come.

“The Canadian population is facing one of the biggest challenges of our recent history,” he said in French. “And it’s together, in a virtual event, that we will celebrate our strength, our resilience, and our values.”

Guilbeault lauded artists and creators who are helping Canadians dream in dark times.

“We are reminded each day how fortunate we are to have such talent here in Canada,” he said.

While few details have been provided about what the July 1 event will look like, a media release from Guilbeault’s department promised it will highlight “the strength that unites us.”

“For Canada Day 2020, we are working with Canadian artists and artisans to put together a virtual program, reflecting our diversity and values, and showcasing the immense talent our country has to offer,” he said in the release.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson took to Twitter Friday to call the cancellation “regrettable,” but said it was the right decision in the interest of public safety.

“I’ll be celebrating our country virtually with Canadians from coast to coast on July 1, and I look forward to welcoming you all back to Ottawa in 2021!” he wrote.

Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill have been an annual summer tradition — with different levels of pomp and circumstance — since 1958 (when it was known as Dominion Day).

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The party was also scrapped in 1976. But Matthew Hayday, a University of Guelph historian, told The Canadian Press last year that the election of René Lévesque’s separatist Parti Québécois government in the fall of 1976 spurred the federal government to bring back the event — and make it an even bigger show — the next summer.

In 1977, the Liberals announced they intended to change the name of the celebrations to “Canada Day,” much to the chagrin of former prime minister John Diefenbaker who accused them of “eroding” the country’s heritage.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Julie Payette would have been expected to address crowds in Ottawa on July 1, visiting members of the royal family have also taken part in the fun in the past.

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, celebrated Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, took part in the festivities in 2011, part of a cross-country tour months after their wedding. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip attended Canada Day on Parliament Hill in 2010.

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Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip watch a dancer perform during the Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2010.  (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip watch a dancer perform during the Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2010. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

With a file from The Canadian Press

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.