Summer Shen waves a Canadian flag while sporting a patriotic outfit during Canada Day celebrations in Vancouver, on July 1, 2019. The true north remains just as strong but might not feel quite as free with Canada Day celebrations being a little quieter and physically distant as people keep their guard up against COVID-19. From coast to coast to coast the usual festivities, parades and fireworks that accompany Canada Day have been cancelled in many communities this year because of COVID-19, but Canadians are still finding ways to mark the country’s birthday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Despite pandemic, country figuring out different ways to celebrate Canada Day

People are finding ways to come together safely

The true north remains just as strong but might not feel quite as free with Canada Day celebrations being a little quieter and physically distant as people keep their guard up against COVID-19.

From coast to coast to coast the usual festivities, parades and fireworks that accompany Canada Day have been cancelled in many communities this year because of COVID-19, but Canadians are still finding ways to mark the country’s birthday.

In British Columbia, orchestra conductor Stuart Martin said he knew his neighbours were curious about what he was doing in his backyard when one peered over the fence as he pointed his baton and wildly moved his arms.

The neighbours couldn’t know, but the musical director of the Surrey City Orchestra was conducting his orchestra’s Canada Day virtual version of “O Canada” while standing on the grass.

The finished product is a unique version of the national anthem played by 28 musicians who have been missing each other due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On this particular day, I had a neighbour peak over the fence trying to figure out what I was doing,” said Martin. “It’s an amusing thing to watch, but when the video’s all together it actually kind of looks like an orchestra. It was pretty neat.”

The Surrey City Orchestra was billed to perform in Surrey on Canada Day, but the pandemic cancelled the celebrations on Wednesday, he said.

Orchestra members suggested producing a virtual recording and each member recorded “O Canada,” with their parts all being stitched together for the final production, said Martin. The videos shows some people recording from their balconies, living rooms and yards.

“At first I was skeptical that we could pull this thing together in such a short time or whether or not it would sound any good,” Martin said. “I think it’s really great.”

He said this is the first time he’s been part of a recording of “O Canada.” The experience, especially during a pandemic, will make for a memorable Canada Day, Martin said.

“Overall, as distinct as Canada Day is going to be this year, I think connecting virtually is something that we’re all really starting to enjoy and really starting to cherish,” he said.

“This is just kind of an extended version of a Zoom meeting.”

READ MORE: Artists pull out of Surrey’s virtual Canada Day event as anti-racism petition grows

In Montreal, sibling singer-songwriters Rufus and Martha Wainwright will be among the artists playing to an empty house at the city’s iconic Olympic Stadium.

In a 60-minute, pre-recorded show promoted as an “immersive experience,” performers will take to the stage at centre field of the massive multi-purpose venue.

The lineup also includes Quebec-based artists Charlotte Cardin, Hubert Lenoir and Patrick Watson, as well as Inuit folk singer Elisapie.

Interspersed with the musical acts will be speeches from politicians, including Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante and federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, along with every-day Montrealers describing their vision of the city and the country.

Promoters call it a “historic event,” describing it as “the first show without an audience in the centre of the Olympic Stadium grounds.”

Toronto has moved its Canada Day celebrations online starting with a pancake breakfast at 9 a.m.

Mayor John Tory will be participating in a full-day of festivities that includes Jully Black, Kardinal Offishall and Gordon Lightfoot, among others.

Meanwhile in Hamilton, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum may do a flyover, weather permitting.

In New Brunswick, the RB Bennett Commemorative Centre in Hopewell Cape will celebrate the 150th birthday of the 11th Canadian prime minister on Wednesday.

Bennett led the country through the Great Depression, and instituted some of the most recognizable changes to Canadian culture, including the Statute of Westminster Act (1931), the establishment of the CBC, Bank of Canada, Canadian Wheat Board, and employment insurance.

Dawne McLean, president of the Historical Society, said the celebrations will end on Friday, which is Bennett’s actual birth date.

On Canada Day, 150 cupcakes will be given to the first 150 guests at the centre.

Programs will be held outdoors, and will include the unveiling of newly acquired Bennett artefacts donated to the Albert County Museum, a video greeting the former prime minister’s nephew, William Herridge, and live music featuring the local group Fundy Ceilidh.

On the West Coast in Victoria, Mayor Lisa Helps said the virtual program this year aims to reflect the diversity of experiences in the country and the city.

The crowd-sourced content will be sprinkled throughout the show, with members of the community demonstrating “What it means to Me to be Canadian” and singing “O Canada,” she said.

“With everything we have experienced locally and as a country due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, this is a Canada Day we won’t soon forget,” Helps said.

“Even though we can’t physically be together on the legislature lawn, we can still come together virtually to celebrate Canada’s diversity and its strengths.”

— With files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


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