“Musings” reprise

July 4, 2008

In contrast to Paul’s rather placid day on July 1, Alex had a different experience. He was in Ottawa, trouncing around Parliament Hill, taking in the celebrations. It was hard to count, but there were thousands, maybe tens of thousands, swarming the streets of By Town, dressed in red and white, waving flags, pushing strollers, singing songs, holding hands, selling ice cream, juggling and playing guitars. It was quite an orgy of patriotism.

Alex felt a little out of place for wearing a t-shirt with a Saskatchewan flag emblazoned on the front and a subtitle that read “Saskatchewan Youth Return Home to Relieve Your Parents and Elders”. At every turn there were maple leafs, either painted on faces or on banners. The joy was directed towards an image – that of a symbolically united Canada – and there was little space for anything else. There was not a provincial insignia in sight, nor were there any emblems of Canada’s distant past and certainly nothing – save one or two musical acts – that represented any of the Native traditions.

The crowd was a diverse set, but nowhere could be seen the multi-national flagfest of the Euro Cup tournament. Even the – surprisingly numerous – French-speaking attendees foresook their Quebec or Franco-Ontarian fleurs-de-lie for more neutral, more reserved colours.


Some local townsfolk told Alex it was the largest crowd they’d ever seen for Canada Day. Could nationalism be on the rise in English Canada? Well, it seemed like it in Ottawa. But a certain type of nationalism, one that relies on a single unifying symbol, rather than an amalgam of historical markers. And a nationalism that is tied into the culture of a specific locality. July 1 in Toronto, as Paul pointed out, is quite a different experience. Torontonians don’t feel their lives entertwine as intimately with the maple leaf quite so much as Ottawans do. It makes sense: fewer people are reminded of Canada on a daily basis because fewer people work directly for Canada.

In Toronto, the urge is to escape. To escape the routine of a job and to escape the confines of the city. The country is found, for the Toronto urbanite, not in the community of other like-minded celebrationists, but in the great outdoors – in the country.