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Canada Day will have a different look this year in Barrie

'I think this is a moment we need to seize to rebuild that relationship in this country,' says Coun. Keenan Aylwin
2021-04-10 Canada flag RB 4
File photo

Barrie’s Canada Day celebrations, such as they are, have not been cancelled for 2021.

While there are no fireworks and organized gatherings at the waterfront to celebrate Canada’s July 1 birthday, because of the pandemic, a motion to essentially cancel the mostly virtual events and final alternatives to the annual celebrations never made it to the city council floor for a vote Monday night.

Coun. Keenan Aylwin said he could not get a seconder from other Barrie councillors for a motion to direct staff to put on hold any announced plans for Canada Day 2021, and do nothing further with respect to July 1 events this year.

The downtown councillor was able to refer a staff memo on Canada Day to the Aug. 9 meeting.

“I’m hoping we can talk about further actions we can take to advance reconciliation in our communities,” Aylwin said. “I’m thankful for the work that city staff have put in with input from Mamaway Wiidokdaadwin and the Barrie Area Native Advisory Circle to transform the city's July 1 programming into something more reflective and respectful.”

Aylwin brought forward his motion because of the recent discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at former residential schools, and the potential for many more.

“Those children are leading the way, they’re showing us the way forward toward a renewed relationship,” he said. “And so we need to take action to improve that relationship. I think this is a moment we need to seize to rebuild that relationship in this country.”

Several municipalities across Canada have voted to cancel Canada Day celebrations this year, including Victoria, Kamloops and Vancouver in British Columbia; Rankin Inlet in Nunavut; Belleville, South Huron Township, Assiginack Township and Wilmot Township in Ontario. There are also municipalities in Alberta, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan that have voted not to have Canada Day celebrations.

Aylwin was asked about not being able to get a seconder for his motion.

“For many settlers, this is an uncomfortable and challenging conversation. Many of us were told a sanitized and inaccurate version of history on this land,” he said. “Challenging the assumptions behind Canada Day also challenges many settlers’ very identity and values.

“And it forces us to look at the truth of how this country we call Canada came to be. That truth is difficult and disturbing, but it’s a truth we must confront,” Aylwin added. “I hope that all of us  city council, city staff and residents of Barrie  will take this opportunity to reflect on the racist violence of colonialism on this land and how we can work toward reconciliation and relationship with Indigenous peoples and nations.” 

His motion to essentially cancel Canada Day also said the city would work with partners such as Beausoleil First Nation, Rama First Nation, Georgina Island First Nation and other local First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples and organizations to explore and implement alternatives to the July 1 celebrations to be held virtually and/or in-person, as public health measures allow, by Sept. 30, which is Orange Shirt Day. And that the city engage in ongoing work with these nations, communities and organizations to explore and implement alternatives on an annual basis, including but not limited to: local oral histories and cultural celebrations; the history of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and Millennial Scoop, and any other alternatives recommended.

Last week, a UserVoice suggestion was posted to the city’s website asking council to consider cancelling Canada Day festivities ‘and working with local nations and peoples to find alternatives this year and in years to come,’ says the petition.

By Monday it had 550 signatures.

Once this suggestion reached the 500-vote threshold, its status was updated to ‘under review,' which includes a memo on council’s circulation list. The deadline for circulation list items was 9 a.m. last Wednesday, but it was decided to post a late memo on the June 28 circulation list.

The city staff memo also mentions what it calls ‘Canada Day activities’ this year. Council has delegated the authority for event programming to city staff.

“Staff have done a great deal in the last several days to reflect the need to reflect the need for Canada Day this year to be about education and remembrance,” said Mayor Jeff Lehman.

As part of the planning process for an appropriate, informative and respectful recognition of National Indigenous Peoples Day, the special events team spoke to representatives of Mamaway Wiidokdaadwin Primary Care Team from the Barrie Area Native Advisory Circle. During those talks, they also discussed recognition of Canada Day.

The team had subsequent discussions with the Mamaway Wiidokdaadwin Primary Care Team to obtain further feedback related to an acknowledgement of Canada Day in a manner that is respectful. 

The theme of this year's Canada Day website and activities have been updated to remove the red and white celebration theme. The updated theme will be reflective of shared history, with a focus on education, reconciliation and reflection. 

The city's Canada Day webpage will provide extensive resources that celebrate the heritage, diverse cultures and significant contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. It also includes a link to the Barrie Public Library virtual hub that contains resources and programming include reading recommendations for both adults and children, book chats, family activities and story time, National Film Board short film screenings, mental health and wellness resources, and more. 

Virtual programming for Canada Day includes videos that were recorded to showcase Indigenous heritage and culture for National Indigenous Peoples Day. 

The lights at Meridian Place and the Five Points Theatre will remain orange on July 1 in support of residential school survivors, their families and Indigenous communities across Canada. 

In partnership with Red Quills and Mamaway Wiidokdaadwin Primary Care Team, a sacred fire at the Spirit Catcher is being planned for July 1, subject to health restrictions. 

Additional details regarding Canada Day activities will be provided in the days leading up to July 1. 

Planned activities had included encouraging the community to show Canada Day spirit, with households dressing up or decorate homes and yards in red and white, snapping a photo and post it to Discover Barrie for all to enjoy. People were also invited to dress up in red and white, then head outside to join together in singing Oh Canada. There were also to be Canada Day greetings from Town Crier Steve Travers, Mayor Jeff Lehman and others sharing their messages to kick off Canada Day.

Bob Bruton

About the Author: Bob Bruton

Bob Bruton is a full-time BarrieToday reporter who covers politics and city hall.
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