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Canada Day festivities attract hundreds at ceremonies, parties across the country

Parks and public spaces across the country teemed with flag-waving revellers on Monday as thousands of people marked Canada Day, with many — including newly minted citizens — celebrating the unique privileges that come with being Canadian.
A member of the Skyhawks Parachute Team passes over people attending the Canada Day noon hour show at LeBreton Flats, during a flypast celebrating the RCAF centennial, in Ottawa, on Monday, July 1, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Parks and public spaces across the country teemed with flag-waving revellers on Monday as thousands of people marked Canada Day, with many — including newly minted citizens — celebrating the unique privileges that come with being Canadian.

Under a cloudless July sky, thousands of people dressed in red and white made their way to Ottawa’s LeBreton Flats Park for the annual celebrations in the national capital.

People were in high spirits as they strolled down Wellington Street to the festival site, taking the airport-style security checks and porta-potties in stride. The sun was blazing by the time things got underway at noon, and many ducked under umbrellas they brought for shade.

Algonquin elder Claudette Commanda opened the events with an Indigenous reflection, talking about the importance of the canoe as a symbol of hope and healing.

"Learn from the past, appreciate the present and honour the future, for the future belongs to the children. Together let us journey in peace and friendship," she said.

Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland also spoke. Freeland was greeted with loud cheers as she said it was time to set aside "our national modesty" and declare that Canada is the best country in the world.

"Most importantly, ours is a country of good, kind people," she said.

Freeland was there in place of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who offered greetings via a recorded video while he attended events in St. John’s, N.L.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, July 1 begins as Memorial Day, a time to honour soldiers who have died in combat.

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the National War Memorial in St. John’s, and Trudeau attended an interment ceremony for a soldier from Newfoundland who died on the battlefields in France during the First World War.

The Unknown Soldier was flown home from France in May and was laid to rest on Monday in a black granite tomb.

Trudeau also attended a Canada Day party at an arena in nearby Mount Pearl. He shook hands, took selfies and hoisted babies for about 20 minutes as kids jumped in bouncy castles and local band KitchenParti played a few traditional Newfoundland folk songs.

Back in Ottawa, Melchor Turdanes travelled from Winnipeg to watch his son perform with a choir group. His excitement was palpable as he explained it was his first trip to the capital in the 17 years he's lived in Canada.

"It's awesome, everybody here is friendly and we like the atmosphere," he said.

After musical performances by Bedouin Soundclash and Montreal artist Marie-Mai, attendees turned their eyes to the skies.

More than 40 planes, helicopters and jets buzzed over Parliament Hill, making their way along the Ottawa River to the main stage where the crowd craned their necks to see the "parade in the sky."

The aircraft represented the past, present and future of the Royal Canadian Air Force, explained the two commanders on stage who introduced each one in turn — from Second World War-era planes to modern Chinook and Cyclone helicopters.

The grand finale featured the tremendous roar of a pair of F-35 fighter jets, travelling at more than 350 knots, or around 650 km/h.

Canada has a $19-billion deal to buy 88 of the jets, but the first of them won't arrive until 2026. This pair was flown in by the Vermont Air National Guard.

It was, for Garrett Morgan and his five-year-old son Owen, a true highlight of the day.

"I'm proud to be Canadian, a Quebec Canadian as well," said Morgan, who came in from Valcourt, Que., for the day. "I like what Canada stands for: friendly, open."

At Thomson Memorial Park in Toronto, families set up picnics and children played on inflatable bouncy castles.

"Honestly, (Canada Day) didn't really mean that much to me until I had my own family, and now it means a lot more," said Darren Yeh, who has attended the festivities in Toronto for the last five or six years. "I'm very lucky to travel around the world. I've seen other places and Canada is a great place to live."

Eight-year-old Diya Patel said Canada is a beautiful place.

"It's fun to have friends and learn new things and explore a lot of new stuff," she said.

Bhuwan Ghimire, who immigrated to Canada from Nepal in 2015, said he hopes all Canadians will try to get along and "work with each other rather than against each other."

"Let's make it a better country," he said.

His nine-year-old son, Shuvam, was particularly excited about the bouncy castles. "I love this place," he said. "Everything's been fun."

In Vancouver, 40 people from 18 countries became Canadian citizens in a ceremony to mark the beginning of the festivities at Canada Place.

Beauty Mosquiola came from the Philippines 10 years ago and her husband, Dwight Santillan, joined her in 2020. The pair said becoming citizens was a momentous part of their journey as a couple.

"I am so blessed. I am so grateful and thankful for Vancouver, for British Columbia, for Canada to give me an opportunity to be a Canadian citizen at the same time we celebrate Canada Day," Santillan said.

Nicolaj Erhold, who is part Danish and part Austrian, said being able to attend his citizenship ceremony in person rather than virtually was particularly special.

"I just want to get started on my future here. Canada has become my home and I just feel even more connected now that I have become a citizen," he said.

Leslie Benisz has attended each Canada Day citizenship ceremony since 1990 and calls them the highlight of the holiday.

Benisz, who took his citizenship oath in 1980 after spending his first 10 years in Israel, said he doesn’t take the freedoms in Canada for granted.

"I have met so many people who sometimes risk their lives to come here. They were sometimes coming from places where their lives were in danger or where they didn’t have the same rights we have," he said.

Not all cities marked the occasion in their usual style. The organizers of Montreal's Canada Day parade announced last month the event had been cancelled, citing politics and logistical red tape for the move.

The celebrations in the national capital will be capped off by a fireworks display at the LeBreton Flats Park around 10 p.m.

Last year's record wildfire season disrupted fireworks shows in a number of cities across the country because of air quality concerns, but that has not been a factor in this year's festivities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2024.

— With files from Ashley Joannou in Vancouver, Sarah Smellie in St. John's, N.L., and Rianna Lim in Toronto

Sarah Ritchie and Maura Forrest, The Canadian Press