It's Canada's birthday and I'll hide if I want to

Peter
Peter Jackson
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Is there any more useless - and more important - holiday as Canada Day?

I don't mean to pick on Canada in particular. All countries have that one navel-gazing day of the year, although Canada's birth was nowhere near as dramatic as that of Mexico and the United States. Wars and revolutions are not pleasant affairs, but they do generate more heightened and sustained feelings of patriotism.

These national birthdays carry a built-in conflict. Pride in one's country is a wonderful thing; not so wonderful when it degenerates into belligerent nationalism.

Is there any more useless - and more important - holiday as Canada Day?

I don't mean to pick on Canada in particular. All countries have that one navel-gazing day of the year, although Canada's birth was nowhere near as dramatic as that of Mexico and the United States. Wars and revolutions are not pleasant affairs, but they do generate more heightened and sustained feelings of patriotism.

These national birthdays carry a built-in conflict. Pride in one's country is a wonderful thing; not so wonderful when it degenerates into belligerent nationalism.

And that is why Canada Day inspires both joy and apathy in equal measure. Some citizens flock to the face-painting and fireworks, while others prefer to just fire up the barbecue and lounge in the backyard.

The same sentiments prevail here in the United States, where my wife and I are visiting family in New York. My wife is an insatiable fireworks junkie, but we will likely avoid the pyrotechnics on July 4 in favour of a quiet barbecue at the homestead, something I'm told most of the locals opt for. Manhattan will pull out all the stops, as usual, but most of the revellers will likely be out-of-towners.

Canada Day, needless to say, won't even register on the radar.

On at least two occasions in the past, my wife and I have taken in Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill. It's a spectacle worth checking out at least once. For the most part, the day consists of throngs of people wearing red and white, weaving to and fro and, feeling consummately "Canadian." There are concerts and other entertainments throughout the day and, of course, the requisite exploding rockets at nightfall.

In Newfoundland, Canada Day presents a special dilemma. The date of the national holiday conflicts with the local commemoration of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel.

Anyone who has visited the famous site in France will never forget the experience. The tragic slaughter was a central event in Newfoundland history, and it's a crying shame that veterans have to share their solemn ceremony with a festival of frivolous flag-waving.

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: all Newfoundlanders should make at least one pilgrimage in their lifetime to the site of the French battleground.

So, now that I've sufficiently smothered the occasion with a soggy duvet, let me add one important qualification.

Canada is a truly great country.

Familiarity breeds contempt, and it's easy to deride some of the individuals and institutions we hear about every day. Provinces have their grievances, none so much as Newfoundland, and the gnomes in Ottawa always manage to piss people off in one way or another.

But when you step back and look at some of the strife and volatility around the world, Canada's weaknesses fade from view.

For refugees and immigrants, landing in Canada is like coming to the Promised Land. One can only appreciate this by stepping back from the petty politics and problems.

I guess, in a way, that's what Canada Day is all about.

So, you can have your flag-sized birthday cake - and eat it too, if you want. I won't roll my eyes.

In fact, here at our little retreat on the outskirts of the Big Apple, we'll probably toast the occasion with a burger or two.

Happy birthday, Canada!

Where's the ketchup?

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Battle of Beaumont-Hamel, Big Apple, The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada, United States, Newfoundland Mexico New York Manhattan France Ottawa Promised Land

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Recent comments

  • Clyde
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    Wow. I guess you also sleep in until noon on Remembrance Day, or just watch soap operas while swilling back whatever ... ? I've read some lame editorials on Canada Day, but this one takes the cake. While you're down there, watch how the Yanks celebrate Independence Day (July 4th). And, if you ever get a chance, go see how the Dutch celebrate Liberation Day. Maybe then you'll get it with regard to why we need to commemorate both Beaumont-Hamel, and Canada Day ... otherwise, with your enthusiasm and logic we might as well just start cancelling Christmas, too ...

  • Edward
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    Sophie, you're right about Beaumont Hamel. It's the only reason July 1 matters. Otherwise, it's just a midsummer stat holiday away from the orifice or wherever else you earn your biweekly bread. YAY!

  • Paul
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    Just wanted to wish my fellow Canadians in St. Johns a Happy Canada Day. Please check out my Canada Day Story at
    http://a-canada-day-story.blogspot.com .

    Bonne Fête !

  • Sophia
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    It should be even more of a celebration/commemoration of Canada Day and Newfoundland and Labradors anniversary of Beaumont Hamel Canadians celebrating Canada Day and the essence of being Canadian which is also what soldiers from this great province exude and have exhibited in the past. Does a soldier not join a battle to defend their home and beliefs? Further, both of these anniversaries concern patriotism. Overall, someone who is willing to risk their life for their countrys efforts is the epitome of being Canadian, in this case. Therefore it is fitting that the anniversaries coincide bitter sweetly so perhaps, but we will all think of the pride of being Canadian and those who exhibited that both in wars past and present.

  • Clyde
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    Wow. I guess you also sleep in until noon on Remembrance Day, or just watch soap operas while swilling back whatever ... ? I've read some lame editorials on Canada Day, but this one takes the cake. While you're down there, watch how the Yanks celebrate Independence Day (July 4th). And, if you ever get a chance, go see how the Dutch celebrate Liberation Day. Maybe then you'll get it with regard to why we need to commemorate both Beaumont-Hamel, and Canada Day ... otherwise, with your enthusiasm and logic we might as well just start cancelling Christmas, too ...

  • Edward
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Sophie, you're right about Beaumont Hamel. It's the only reason July 1 matters. Otherwise, it's just a midsummer stat holiday away from the orifice or wherever else you earn your biweekly bread. YAY!

  • Paul
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    Just wanted to wish my fellow Canadians in St. Johns a Happy Canada Day. Please check out my Canada Day Story at
    http://a-canada-day-story.blogspot.com .

    Bonne Fête !

  • Sophia
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    It should be even more of a celebration/commemoration of Canada Day and Newfoundland and Labradors anniversary of Beaumont Hamel Canadians celebrating Canada Day and the essence of being Canadian which is also what soldiers from this great province exude and have exhibited in the past. Does a soldier not join a battle to defend their home and beliefs? Further, both of these anniversaries concern patriotism. Overall, someone who is willing to risk their life for their countrys efforts is the epitome of being Canadian, in this case. Therefore it is fitting that the anniversaries coincide bitter sweetly so perhaps, but we will all think of the pride of being Canadian and those who exhibited that both in wars past and present.