Celebrating LGBTQ Canadians is an integral part of Canada Day
he car was packed with all of the essentials for a Canada Day celebration in our nation’s capital: beer, sandwiches, music and the excitement of eager young Canadians to take part in a grandiose affair.
Ottawa had all the appeal for youth seeking excitement on Canada Day. Canada was turning 145 and the capitol filled with tens of thousands of citizens, mulling around the Parliament buildings and city streets, free performances by Feist and Simple Plan, ceremony, celebration, a fly over by the Snowbirds and, of course, a fireworks display.
As Harper has made the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 a cornerstone of his administration, this theme would resonate throughout celebrations. It would resonate as strongly as it did because our illustrious Prime Minister hired a theatrical expert to turn the Canada Day Celebration into a commemoration for the War of 1812.
Overall, the celebration in Ottawa cost Canadian taxpayers roughly $3.7 million.
This was what I expected and wanted my Canada Day to be. I sought to find out firsthand what it truly meant to be a Canadian, in the nation’s capital, on Canada Day; indeed, what setting could better provide the answer?
Imagine my surprise when roughly five hours later I was standing in downtown Toronto, surrounded by a large mixture of people celebrating both Toronto Pride and Canada Day; what an eclectic mix indeed.
Due to car troubles and general poor planning, like many who have attempted to travel before me, I found my plans rapidly change before my very eyes.
Thus, on July 1, my friends and I ventured to downtown Toronto, and began to take part in Canada Day celebrations like I have never witnessed before.
I was dismayed to find out that Canada Day celebrations in Toronto were not nearly to the degree that they were in Ottawa. Indeed, there was a parade at Queen’s Park and music and celebrations throughout the day. However, most festivities didn’t start until late afternoon. While I missed the fireworks display closing at night, I also missed the shooting that occurred which left one man injured.
For the most part, Canada Day activities in Toronto focused on multiculturalism and inclusiveness, including traditional and contemporary dance from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Congo, Southern Africa and Egypt, Columbian dancers, Mexican and Latin American music, African music, Brazilian martial arts and percussion and Aboriginal dance.
Perhaps it is fitting that I am writing my Canada Day piece in Windsor, which should have been written about Ottawa’s festivities, but which evolved into a piece about Toronto on Canada Day and Pride, all while sipping a Scottish oak aged beer, that was bottled specifically to celebrate Canada Day 2012; indeed, multiculturalism at its finest.
Toronto Pride was an experience unlike any other. The event, while historically targeted towards members of the LGBTQ community, has grown into a massive all inclusive celebration that was more reminiscent of Canada Day festivities than the actual events of the day.
Tens of thousands of people walked Queen Street, visiting booths, displays, contests and concerts, while dining and drinking to a level that would make a Hedonism Bot proud.
And while indeed, the line between ‘family friendly’ and ‘outright outrageous’ was often blurred, it didn’t detract from the experience from anyone who was participating; children were not fazed by their surroundings, nor were parents seemingly afraid for the ‘sanctity’ of their children.
It was mid-afternoon when a man stumbled by while I was drinking a few pints with my friends on a designated patio. He was dressed outlandishly, reminiscent of a sideshow clown, wearing bright red pants, a mesh white shirt, red and white face-paint and Canadian flag tattoos which dotted his arms. After he picked up his drink which he dropped near our table, we began to talk about the overlap of Pride and Canada Day.
“I love that both events happen on the day,” Brock Anderson explained to me. “It’s the perfect celebration of everything that is Canada. As a gay man and a proud Canada, what better way to spend the day?”
This comment stuck with me all day; indeed, it was a poignant overlap.
Twenty minutes later, a father with two children explained to me that he wanted to bring his children down to both events, to act as a means of educating his children about both their native country and a segment of society.
“Things tend to get blurred for children,” the man explained, adding, “Between what they see on TV, what they hear at school and what the actual truth is, often times, they’re left confused. Bringing them down to both events allows for me to teach them about important issues first hand. Plus, they get to experience a great party. Talk about win-win!”
As the day turned into night and the festivities really got into swing, my friends and I spoke to a group of Americans visiting from Texas. Overall, they were overwhelmed by the festivities, but not to the point that they were uncomfortable.
“It’s hard to imagine a festival like this happening in our small town,” Texan Frank Taylor bluntly stated, before quickly attempting to remedy the situation. “And not because these folks wouldn’t be welcome, but it’s just different back home.”
Indeed, Toronto Pride is quite different than other festivals. Rough estimates of the crowd which attends Pride Week can range from anywhere between 500,000 to over 1,000,000 for the week, while the parade itself can attract roughly 100,000. The festival is often counted as one of the largest cultural events in North America.
While Canada Day for me morphed into something else, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. What better way to celebrate being a Canadian, than to be with friends, celebrating multiculturalism and our national birthday, all while spending time at a festival which embraces and preaches inclusivity, mutual respect and individual rights. That seems fairly Canadian to me.