With the recent and horrific news of hundreds of unmarked graves discovered near former residential schools in both B.C. and Saskatchewan, some cities and towns in Canada have grappled with whether or not to host Canada Day celebrations this year.
And while one Manitoba mayor said her city will not cancel Canada Day, she does hope this July 1 will be a day to reflect and show respect for residential school survivors, and those children who didn’t make it home from residential schools.
“Plans are to respect the lives of children lost by being low key,” Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook said. “My hope for Canada Day is that we reflect and realize the atrocities that came to light starting with the Kamloops residential children, and realize it is going to be ongoing for what could be a long time.”
On Monday, the city of Churchill, which sits on the shores of the Hudson Bay about 1,000-kilometres north of Winnipeg, announced they would outright cancel Canada Day celebrations this year, stating the decision was made after talks with residential school survivors and members of the Indigenous community.
The town now says it is encouraging people to use the day to learn about the history of Canada and its residential school system, and to work towards advancing reconciliation.
City council in Thompson, 400-kilometres south of Churchill, voted against cancelling Canada Day events. They will display orange on all of its materials on July 1 this year, stating on their website “to honour the victims of residential schools, the 60's scoop, and the numerous past injustices in our history, we'll be displaying orange on our materials this Canada Day. And we encourage everyone to take advantage of educational resources available to them to learn more about the development of Canada, and how its development has impacted Indigenous people over the centuries.”
Smook said that in Thompson a few smaller events will take place, such as small virtual kid’s events and a small parade, but she said she hopes and believes that this year people will use Canada Day to start to really understand the history of Canada and Indigenous people.
She added she wants to see that understanding because of the number of Indigenous people that live in and around the city, and have been affected by the residential school system.
“Thompson has been part of the trauma and pain for decades,” Smook said. “My prayer is that this brings more empathy and understanding to the issues we face daily.
“The ones suffering have not been understood in the past, but I am already seeing a change in community support that has not always been there.”
Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun