Did you know that the Fourth of July isn’t the only national holiday celebrated in North America each summer? Canada Day is an equally patriotic occasion and, from coast to coast to coast, Canadians are eager to honor their heritage and celebrate with friends old and new. That includes visitors from other countries. If you have the chance to spend Canada Day, July 1, in Canada, you’ll be welcomed with open arms — especially if you show up wearing red and white! Here’s what all travelers should know about this important day.
What Is Canada Day?
On July 1, 1867, the colonies Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada (now known as Ontario and Quebec) were united as Canada, a single dominion within the British Empire. Canadians commemorated this occasion with Dominion Day, but soon the holiday was long overdue for a name change.
The impetus for a change to “Canada Day” came in 1982 when Canada’s constitution was repatriated from Britain. Impress your friends: This meant that Britain could no longer amend Canada’s constitution. The name change also signaled Canada’s status as a diverse, multicultural country, much more than just a British colony.
However, if you ask most Canadians what Canada Day means to them, they won’t be talking about dominions and empires and constitutions. They’ll just say that it’s Canada’s birthday. That sounds like a pretty good reason to celebrate if you ask me!
When Is Canada Day?
Canada Day is celebrated every year on July 1. It is a federal statutory holiday and nearly all workplaces close. Should July 1st happen to fall on a weekend, either the Friday before or Monday after becomes a workplace holiday.
How Is Canada Day Celebrated?
Everyone marks Canada Day in their own way. Many people celebrate the day with friends and family in their own backyard, at the cottage, or a public park. Other people love spending time in nature, and campgrounds across the country fill up quickly. You can bet that all the radios will be playing Canadian bands and that red and white food (reflecting the colors of the Canadian flag) will be on every picnic table.
People also use the day as a time of reflection, to think about what being Canadian means to them, to meditate upon difficult chapters in history, and support others. Reflecting this, Canada Day is a popular day for volunteering and you’ll see people engaged in activities like park clean ups, playground repair, maintenance work at cultural centers, and working together on fundraisers like barbecues, pancake breakfasts, and corn boils.
For those eager to celebrate with their community, virtually every town and city in Canada plans special public events, including concerts, parades, fun activities for kids, fireworks, and street parties.
Celebrating Canada Day In Ottawa
In my hometown of Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, Canada Day is a huge celebration. Parliament Hill is packed with spectators eager to catch a glimpse of politicians, celebrities, and, occasionally, members of the Royal Family. There is a full day of programming, including concerts, dramatic presentations, and displays from the military. My personal favorite moment is watching the Snowbirds, Canada’s military air demonstration squad, fly over Parliament Hill. It always gives me chills!
Ottawa’s Canada Day events spill over from Parliament Hill into nearby public parks, where additional activities are taking place. Public transportation is usually free and the roads are just packed with people walking around from venue to venue. Most folks are decked out in red and white clothing, adding to the festive mood. A word to the wise for out-of-country visitors: Ottawa might be known as a winter destination but it is hot in summer. It’s not unusual for the city to hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or higher with the humidity.
Celebrating In Other Cities
Ottawa isn’t the only city that goes all out for Canada Day. Every provincial capital offers a full program of activities but in tiny Charlottetown (the capital of Prince Edward Island), it feels like the entire city turns out to bolster the Canada Day plans. Charlottetown was the host city for the men known as the “Fathers of Confederation,” when the terms for the dominion of Canada were first discussed. As such, Charlottetown is nicknamed the “Birthplace of Confederation.” No wonder they’re into celebrating. This is where it all began! People decorate their homes, attend concerts at multiple venues across the city, have fun interacting with actors dressed up as the “fathers,” and enjoy the largest fireworks display east of Ottawa.
The words “July 1st” carry a solemn weight in Newfoundland. This is Memorial Day in Canada’s easternmost province, commemorating the Battle of the Somme and absolute devastation of the Newfoundland Regiment. Approximately 700 Newfoundlanders were killed in a matter of minutes in this World War I battle. Their losses that day in the Beaumont-Hamel region still reverberate in the province, more than 100 years after the fact.