ST. MARY’S – Staff at the Municipality of the District of S. Mary’s will use Heritage Canada funds normally reserved for Canada Day festivities to stage a multicultural festival this month, replete with workshops, public talks, a children’s luncheon and fireworks display.
“There will be a little bit of everything, but it’s definitely not on the same kind of path or structure as what Canada Day usually is,” Director of Community Development and Recreation Kerri Penney recently told the council’s committee of the whole, adding that the federal government permits municipalities to use national birthday funding for multicultural events, “If we do one before September 2.”
St. Mary’s, along with dozens of other Canadian municipalities across the country, chose to forgo traditional celebrations last month in light of the discoveries of more than 1,300 unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools across the country.
“More than ever, Canada Day is a time for all Canadians to show empathy, understanding and humility,” Heritage Canada stated in a post to its website on June 30. “It is also an opportunity to educate ourselves, to reflect and to redefine our relationship with July 1, while reaffirming our commitment to ending the systemic racism and discrimination faced by Indigenous peoples. We must learn from the lessons of our past and move forward on a shared path of reconciliation.”
According to Penney, the St. Mary’s event is in the “early planning stages”, but activities will likely include a fireworks display, an outdoor movie, a children’s luncheon with story time and cultural workshops. “The whole event really depends on people telling us what they can offer in the community as far as a cultural workshop or talk,” she said. “We have opened up the calls for that and people can just kind of submit ideas to us.”
St. Mary’s decision to cancel Canada Day festivities this year received both support and criticism from members so the community, with some describing the action as necessary and “compassionate” and others as excessive and even “dictatorial” in social media posts.
Penny, who is now researching the district’s shared history with Indigenous people, told the committee of the whole she hopes to have a final report ready in September. “I have mainly been talking to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation,” she said. “And I’ve reached out to Mi’kmaq cultural centers across the province. What I’m doing is just figuring out what kind of educational programming they offer to make a list of what could be accessed by us and what’s appropriate for us to take as both council and staff.”
The multicultural festival is tentatively scheduled for August 28.
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal